REVIEW: The Emperor’s New Clothes (National Pastime)

Naked, Not Ready

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National Pastime Theater presents
  
The Emperor’s New Clothes
   
Written by Keely Haddad-Null
Directed by Carolyne Anderson
at
National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
through July 31st  | 
tickets: $20   |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

National Pastime Theater opened its “Naked July Festival” with a clever re-imagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes by Keely Haddad-Null. In its dystopian future, Los Angeles has annexed surrounding states during the breakup of America. However, the City of Angels is about to go broke, with absolutely zip, zilch,  nada to pay its striking, angry city workers. Its Mayor, referred to more commonly as the Emperor (Don Claudin), orders his emperors new clothes 2public relations team to distract the public from his gross mismanagement. Said team breaks into the mansion of famous, reclusive film director Korminsky (Meg Elliot) to be advised of their next course of action to create the perfect media-based distraction. Korminsky tells them their only recourse is to rely upon The Tailor, who can construct designer clothing that only the enlightened can see.

Haddad-Null’s play lampoons, in a fun and sassy way, our truly American, Hollywood-fueled image obsession, as well as our culture’s corporate strategies for manufacturing consent. Unfortunately, upon opening, National Pastime’s production showed all the telltale signs of under-rehearsal. Sound design miscues permeated the evening. While such things can be cleaned up in the course of the run, the cast performances betrayed a distinct want of pace and comic timing, especially in the opening scene.

Director Carolyne Anderson simply must face the acoustic difficulties of the space. During the whole first scene, blocked on the raised back stage, the actors’ voices were dampened and flattened by the poor acoustics of the room. Korminsky’s quasi Howard-Hughes-on-Jesus look is quite inspired but the oversized beard also muffles Elliots’ delivery of this whacked-out character’s essential lines. Finally, the Emperor’s public relations team, made up of Maggie (Mary Roberts), Marco (David Bettino), and Maylan (Taylor Entwistle), needs to establish their comic cohesion, since they are meant to be the Three Musketeers of LA media manipulation. Poor choices in direction, which create only static interaction between them and Korminsky, deadened this scene’s comic potential.

 

emperors new clothes 1 emperors new clothes 3

Action in the thrust part of the stage faired far better, where the actors delivered with greater clarity and formed a more intimate connection with the audience. Haddad-Null’s script may need a little editing, but for the most part this production needs a better way of actualizing the script. Maggie, Marco, and Maylan seem to do better when they are on the move, entering scenes from different directions, yakking constantly on their cell phones than they do actually talking directly to themselves or other characters. Don Claudin’s performance as the Emperor/Mayor shines above the rest since he does self-important asshole right and his projection from the back of the stage, while other actors’ lines get lost, is a model of proper technique.

Elliot also pours on a magical presence as The Tailor once downstage. Unfortunately, even her powers aren’t enough to transcend that damn back stage. Her scenes with the Empress (Miona Harris) were, fortunately, downstage so that the audience could catch the tenderness and amusement of their growing connection.

Time to head back to the drawing board to rethink direction and sharpen up this show’s comic timing as well. No comedy or satire should be lost upon the stage.

   
   
Rating: ★½
   
   

emperors new clothes 4

     
       

2 Responses

  1. Seeing It Twice Saved This Show For Me

    Did you see this show on the 3rd? Because your experience sounds similar to mine!
    But, I saw The Emperor’s New Clothes, at The National Pastime Theater, on
    two nights- Saturday, July 3rd and Saturday, July 10th, with 2 very
    different results. On the 10th, it was quite entertaining, but the
    week before, it was like a different show! I couldn’t believe it.

    On July 10th, from the very first scene, I was invested. Korminsky,
    played by Meg Elliot, was funny in a Groucho Marx kind of way, instead
    of small and FLAT, the first time I saw it.
    The three actors, Mary Roberts, David Bettino, and Taylor Entwistle,
    playing the emperor’s advisors, had a spark and snap that simply
    wasn’t there the first time. True of the first scene & the rest of the
    play.

    The scene when Don Claudin, as the Emperor, comes out naked, and
    everyone reacts to his “outfit”, was really funny. He was great for
    the entire show.

    The scenes with Miona Harris, as the Empress and Meg Elliot, this time
    as the Tailor, were poignant and connected.

    Plus I could HEAR everything. Everything!

    On July 3rd, the night after opening, the rainstorm was WAY too loud,
    and the sound of shattering glass occured about 2 seconds after the
    actors “broke” a window.

    When the rain stopped, I STILL couldn’t hear MOST of what was said.
    There was another annoying noise, sounding like an ancient air unit,
    like the one in my grandmother’s living room in Florida.
    The loud motor mercifully stopped, but the actors seemed uncomfortable
    & hardly ever connected. Neither issue existed on July 10th.

    I saw this show again, only because my brother, wanting to see it,
    offered to pay for my ticket.

    The second time I saw it, I was SHOCKED! The play seemed new and
    improved, and that aspect held true for the remainder of the show.

    In fact, afterward I overheard ANOTHER patron, whom I also recognized
    from the first time I saw the play, telling one of the performers out
    in the lobby, how glad he was that he saw it the second time! He had
    the same experience. Funny.

    That night this play was interesting, cohesive, funny, and had decent
    production value. Well worth the twenty dollar pricetag!

    I wouldn’t have been able to say that if I had only seen it that first
    night. In fact, if I had only seen it that first night, I wouldn’t
    even have cared enough to write this comment.

    The difference between the two shows earned my respect; enough for me
    to spend some time this Monday evening pointing that out.

    Even though my brother paying for my ticket on July 10th put me in a
    good mood, and even with my expectations being very low-having seen
    it the week before; it was obvious that the artists who put on this
    production did some very necessary tweaking during the week between
    the two showings.

    That’s what I like to see in theater: a living creation, ever
    changing, and always improving.
    Kathleen Marik

  2. I am glad to hear that many of National Pastime’s flaws in its production have been rectified. I’m afraid, as a busy critic, my schedule cannot allow for me to see The Emperor’s New Clothes again, in order to verify your reports. But I wish the production success. Learning from one’s mistakes and turning a production around is indeed an achievement in and of itself.

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