Making Theatre Magic: “The Fantasticks”

What does it take to make theatre magic?
Really only two things — actors and an audience.

Oh, it’s fun to have rags or flags, and sticks to put them on … a hat or two, a shawl, an eyebrow pencil … a paper moon …
But the heart of it is people who want to play together in their imaginations, like kids in a treehouse, close enough to touch and be touched by each other’s feelings.

fantas

Such simple magic.
It’s what has made The Fantasticks into the longest-running musical ever, and one of the world’s most often performed plays (watch out, Hamlet).  And it’s what the folks at Good People Theater Company understand and respect.

Under the sure hand and eye of director Janet Miller, they have reincarnated the original 1959 staging as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  And the way they tell it, this tale of love, loss and our fondness for story-making is indeed magical.  Tried-and-true spells really do work.

Designer Robert  Schroeder stays with basic black (in the Lillian’s elegant black box), a few sticks on a platform, two trunks into which everything could fit, and chairs.  Oh yes, and curtains — one of colorful tatters, one with the show’s logo — that the actors loop onto the sticks and lower, as needed.

Katherine Barrett’s lighting gives us day and night, happy and sad, firmly but unobtrusively. Kathy Gillespie’s costumes say everything needed and nothing more (how else can a red neckerchief become a laugh line? ).  And Corey Hirsch uses his keyboard and a harp (in the able hands of Jillian Risigari-Gai) to create the entire score.

The actors, too, pour their full energy and skill into plain containers, without trying to decorate them.  As the naively scheming fathers, Matt Stevens and Michael P. Wallott create a loveable vaudeville duo, delivering every line and plot point with bell-like clarity (not easy when you’re dancing and singing a duet).

Christopher Karbo as El Gallo and Joey D’Auria as the aged thespian Henry have roles that seem to call for exaggeration — but they resist artfully.  Karbo tinges his trickster-narrator with light notes of weary  and wistful, while D’Auria spices his ham with a cloven ego, slipping  it out of the oven before it’s overdone.

As The Girl and The Boy, on the other hand, Audrey Curd and Matt Franta are given such archetypal sketches for characters that any “acting” might undo them.  Not to worry.  Each inhabits innocence with utter believeability; each is stunned into wariness by the world’s stings and arrows, yet not scarred to cynicism.  The two also offer a textbook lesson in tuning their performances to one another — vocally, physically and emotionally.  This technical achievement makes us feel their fated match more than anything they could say.

In its 55-year career, The Fantasticks has been made into a film and has been turned countless times into a Cirque-like spectacle.  But these will fall by the wayside.  What will sustain its life for a very long time is the simple magic of theatre — which is what it’s about.

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The Fantasticks, by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, directed by Janet Miller.
Presented by Good People Theater Company at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way.

Friday June 27 at 7:30, Saturday June 28 at 2:00 and 7:00, Sunday June 28 at 1:00.

Tickets:  <www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1513>