Theater: Falling short

Cinnabar’s ‘City of Angels’ disappoints

by David Templeton

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then perhaps disappointment is the purest reflection of respect.

There are few theater companies in the Bay Area that have earned the level of respect and admiration that Cinnabar Theater has over its 43 years of presenting quality theater, opera and musicals. Perhaps it is because the company has built up such an expectation of artistic excellence, that Cinnabar’s current production of Larry Gelbart’s City of Angels ranks as such a tremendous and baffling disappointment.

While the outstanding lighting, engineering and orchestral achievements of this technically challenging production do meet the high standards that Cinnabar’s audiences tend to look forward to, the woefully uneven cast, despite a few fine performances and some appealing voices, as a whole falls far short of what a show like this requires.

City of Angels, a clever, funny, supremely twisty story-within-a-story, takes place partially in the noir-ish, black-and-white mind of a pulp-fiction-novelist-turned-Hollywood screenwriter (Domonic Tracy, earnest but one-note), as he casually cheats on his long-suffering wife (an excellent Kelly Britt, among the show’s few standouts) while working to turn one of his novels into a Hollywood screenplay. When not in bed with a sweet, hard-luck Hollywood secretary (Cary Ann Rosko, also strong), the unlikable novelist locks horns with his imperious, gleefully amoral movie producer (Spencer Dodd, hollering every line like a cartoon character on animated steroids).

Intermingling with the “real life” story is the fictional tale being adapted for the film, a detective potboiler featuring a hard-nosed gumshoe named Stone (James Pfeiffer, painfully stiff and vocally unsuited to the part), as he tracks down the missing daughter of a wealthy socialite (Maria Mikheyenko, strong-voiced and playfully fetching as the obvious femme fatale).

Most of the actors play dual roles, appearing in the story within—as well as without, adding to the complexity of the show. It is to director Nathan Cummings’ credit that he keeps the flip-flopping narratives clear at all times, assisted by Wayne Hovey’s set, featuring two rotating platforms and crisp projections, Robin DeLuca’s atmospherically double-duty light design and Lisa Claybaugh’s delightful costumes. The musical direction by Mary Chun, leading a fine ensemble of musicians, is also quite precise and effective.

If only the same care had been taken with the performances.

With the above-noted exceptions, the mismatched cast rarely rises to the level of surreal authenticity demanded by Gelbart’s oft-hilarious script, falling far short of the kind of harmonic theatrical magic to which Cinnabar has made us accustomed.

NOW PLAYING: City of Angels runs through September 20 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma; Fri.-Sat. at 8pm; Sunday matinees at 2pm; $25-$35; 707/763-8920.

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