Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Review: Californian Lives at the King's Head Theatre

Californian Lives
King's Head Theatre
Reviewed on Monday 22nd April 2013

The successful delivery of a one-act, one-person play is difficult to achieve and this series of three disconnected monologues, written by Martin Foreman, is unfortunately indicative of this. The evening, entitled 'Californian Lives', presents perspectives of modern day America from three different life-stages: young adulthood, middle-age and old-age. The setting of California seems arbitrary; these stories are universally first-world and the location should not be seen as the connecting seam the evening's title suggests.

The first play, 'Los Feliz', tells of a chauvinistic divorcee and his encounter and pursuit of new love. Robin Holden gives an overly-masculine performance of a man who is at once sure-footed in his opinions and individuality and also insecure about his mediocrity and blandness. The man interacts with two unidentified and undefined interlocutors and this lack of clarity makes Holden's performance come across as rather forced. However, the fault may lie with the play itself: it feels that Foreman has made this piece into a monologue for the sake of it being a monologue and the story-telling suffers as a result.

The second play, 'Ben and Joe's' is by far the most convincing of the evening in terms of both the writing and performance. John Vernon invites the audience to listen in to his reminiscences of a rosier time. His tone is warm and naturally conversational; it feels like a dear friend is telling a story and the injection of realism he gives is refreshing. The play shows that generational and racial prejudices can rip apart communities, in this case a local gay bar serving as a microcosm for society at large, and lead to their eventual demise.

The final play, 'Sunset', interrupts an older woman just after her husband's death. Carolyn Lyster gives an emotional performance which is only slightly hampered by her dubious accent and repetitious cadences. Foreman's exploration of a woman's state of mind in her final years is interesting but the heavy-handed use of both the sunset and roller-coaster metaphors is somewhat off-putting.

The whole evening was set in traverse. Why? Who knows, I was subjected to lots of 'back-acting'. 'Why' was a question I asked myself a few times during the piece: Why these three monologues in one evening? Why have them as monologues at all? Why California? I'm not sure, but I do know that I had an okay evening at the theatre and that I enjoyed John Vernon's honest performance.

Reviewed by Ted McMillan

Californian Lives runs at the King's Head Theatre until Sunday 26th May.

Please visit www.californianlives.co.uk for further information and to book tickets.

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  1. I always find back acting really annoying!

  2. The stage is set in thrust ("traverse") to meet the needs of the other production at the King's Head. We are aware that some seats have poor visibility, so we place audience members to get the best view and we apologise if we inadvertently gave this reviewer a poor seat. Some people chose to sit in areas where we warned them there was not a good view. At least one other reviewer has specifically praised the thrust setting and as far as we know, no other reviewer has suggested that it detracted from the production.