By Joseph N. Feinstein
Those of you who can remember and enjoyed Tamara, which appeared in an old mansion in Hollywood a number of years ago, will resonate to the current offering of Alma: Widow of the Four Arts, now running at the aging Los Angeles Theatre on 6th and Broadway until December 5. This play, like Tamara, is made up of fifty - count 'em - 50 scenes in which you can follow any one of three different Almas as they flit from room to room - upstairs and down - inside the theatre and out - providing you with insights, excitment, and glimpses into her most unusual life. There is tenderness, angst, and a host of other emotions in-between, as Alma's affairs with her three husbands - Gustave Mahler, Walter Gropius and Franz Werfel - are played out in this most inspiring setting. Alma also managed to have an affair with Oskar Kokoschka, the artist, whom she didn't marry.
Despite the creative acting and the three-course dinner provided half-way through this four hour extravaganza, the real "hero" of Alma's escapades is the Los Angeles Theatre. It was built in 1931 and may well be the most ornate edifice ever constructed for showing motion pictures. It probably served as the premier design for all the movie palaces to come.
This theatre has four levels, and you will be expected to descend and ascend all four during the evening, so keep your track shoes on. Dinner, alone, is two flights down in two other exceptionally beautiful rooms, candlelit and glorious. I could only wish the food was as sumptuous as the setting. Ryan Templeton, Tiffany Elle, and Maria Vargo serve as the different aged Almas and do a most convincing job of emoting. Magnus Stefansson is a delightful, believable Gustave Mahler with diction and mannerisms that indicate faithfulness to the original. Hans Hoffman, as Gropius, and Anthony St. Martin, as Franz Werfel, acquit themselves beautifully.
My favorite was Flo Lawrence, whose characture of the older Alma Mahler-Werfel was wonder-full. She had the necessary mannerisms, looks, and demanor of this woman who could turn a thousand heads in her direction, for she was the epitome of grace and distinction.
The brains and wisdom behind this amazing production include Joshua Sobol as the author, and, especially, Paulus Manker as the producer - director and the force who brought the play from Europe to our shores. Thank you, Mr. Manker!
It will be a rough, tough evening for anyone who is older or slower of foot. I felt a real pang for two aged gentlemen walking with canes. It's a full-block walk from the parking lot to the theatre. The pace of the action never lets up, except for the hour of dinner. And this theatre is bigger than one could ever imagine - no escalators, no elevators!
For those who are lucky to be with the Alma and Franz Werfel group, fifty minutes after the play begins, you will be in for a rare treat: a bus ride through Jerusalem. I kid you not!
An incredible theatre, an impressive script, some jolting acting, the marvelous music of Mahler heard through many speakers, all the European beer,wine, and champagne you can consume, a tasty dinner, a most incredible theatre (I know, I said it twice) all add up to $125 worth of entertainment with a capital "E"
Alma at the Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway, Los Angeles.
213-688-2994. Thurs. - Sat. @ 7:00 PM; Sun., @ 6:00 PM. All Tickets - $125.
Closes December 5, 2004