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LA Theatre Works Presents “A Room with a View” – A Sight for Sore Eyes and Ears

Lisa Lyons

If you’ve never had the opportunity to be present at the recording of a radio drama, it is something you should take advantage of, especially if you are a fan of the spoken word and life in Los Angeles.

L.A. Theatre Works (LATW) is an artistic enterprise that gathers some of the best working actors available to perform adapted versions of books, movies, plays and sometimes original material which are then recorded in front of a live audience. Once recorded, the works are available for purchase on CD, mp3 and are also archived on the LATW website for podcasting.

I had the pleasure of attending the recent production of “A Room with a View,” based on the novel by E.M. Forster and lovingly adapted for radio by BBC Radio 4’s Kate McAll. McAll, who staged “Daniel Deronda” last season for LATW, has hit the mark again with a brilliant cast and Spain production.

In a serendipitous twist of fate, Julian Sands (who played the character of George Emerson in the Oscar-nominated 1985 film) returns to inhabit Forster’s world but this time as George’s father, Mr. Emerson.

Kate McAll

The staging for this recorded drama is a simple lineup of chairs upstage in front of a scrim, and music stands with sensitive mics that each actor stands at Downstage. A sound effects artist is seated off to one side providing the necessary effects (brilliant work by Brian Wallace), and appropriate backdrops are projected behind the cast members. It all works wonderfully, and you find that the exquisite visuals of the original film are barely missed.

If you are not familiar with the story, it tells of a fateful trip to Venice by the beautiful Miss Lucy Honeychurch and her chaperone and cousin Miss Charlotte Bartlett. When the pensione they are booked at turns out to be a disappointment and does not have the promised room with a view of the Arno River, a socially-mobile tradesman Mr. Emerson and his thoughtful son George offer to switch rooms with the women and the die is cast. Hearts will move, minds will change, and love will, in the end, surmount all obstacles.

As the young lovers, Eleanor Tomlinson as Lucy and Eugene Simon as George, are completely and adorably perfect. She is patrician, flame-haired and has a fine vocal instrument; He is soulful and shyly persistent in his pursuit of her. When they kissed (and they actually did, rather than leave it to the effects designer), you could hear the audience heave a collective romantic sigh.

As the genteel, slightly impoverished Charlotte, Rosalind Ayres captured both sides of her personality – the reluctant realist and the romantic dreamer who is the unlikely heroine of the love story. As the senior Emerson, Julian Sands captures the dual sides of a man who, though a “rude mechanical” by profession, is a philosopher-poet by nature. The year in which the book is set in the early 1900s of English society, was a time of great movement within the classes; freed from the restrictions of the caste system and able to move into the rarefied air of the nouveau riche, fortunes were earned that made such movement possible for the first time in centuries.

In the supporting roles of Freddy Honeychurch, Lucy’s cheeky younger brother, and her Mother, a kind and broad-minded widow, are nicely enacted by Alastair James Murden and Edita Brychta. Both actors also portray a variety of characters, as do Moira Quirk (as the Misses Allen) and Matthew Wolf as Lucy’s erstwhile fiancé, the pompous and controlling Cecil Vyse Special mention goes to Darren Richardson as Reverend Beebe the vicar always in search of a spot of tea. Forster created an indelible “tableau vivant” of people we really do want to know what happened to after the curtain descends.

In addition to the direction of McAll, the production is blessed with Recording Engineer and Sound Designer Mark Holden and Senior Producer Ronn Lipkin.

The opening night audience at the James Bridges Theater located on the UCLA Campus gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation and were delighted when several cast members remained in the lobby to meet and greet their fans.

As is their tradition, LATW will make the recording of “A Room with a View” available soon for purchase in CD or mp3 format, as well as via podcast and an archived version for listening online.

In a world of portable culture, perhaps there is a new role for radio podcasts in opening the ears and eyes of new generations to the beauty of literature. If so, LATW is poised to be the theater of choice for lovers of the word. Check out their current season of productions on their website at www.latw.org.

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