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Arts & Entertainment

Theater Review: "Light Up The Sky"

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 24
11/29/2013


by Ben Miles

Moss Hart is perhaps best known for crafting the screenplay for the 1954 Judy Garland, James Mason movie, “A Star is Born” or, maybe, for his Pulitzer Prize-winning collaboration with George S. Kaufman on “You Can’t Take It With You.” Hart also wrote a 1948 farce called “Light Up The Sky” – now on stage at Beverly Hills’ Theater 40 through December 22. It’s an effort that also deserves the attention of avid theatergoers and comedy aficionados.

Directed with a feel for Hart’s sophisticated comedic rants and rhythms by veteran stage auteur David McClendon, “Light Up The Sky” is appropriately kept in the period just subsequent to World War II. Hart’s sly asides and references to the current events of the day – such as the Soviet Union’s take-over of East Germany – allow the era to come alive for us.

Played out on a lush set (designed by Jeff G. Rack), with fetching forties-style costuming (by Michele Young), under an indispensible lighting design (by Ric Zimmerman) and with the aid of a pristine sound motif (by Bill Froggatt), “Light Up The Sky” is a play about a play.

We’re in Boston for a pre-Broadway run of erstwhile trucker Peter Sloan’s (an expressive Nick Denning) first and only play. The producer, Sidney Black (Arthur Hanket in an energetic stage absorbing portrayal), the lachrymose director, Carleton Fitzgerald (David Hunt Stafford in a delightful comedic turn) and the self-absorbed stage diva, Irene Livingston (Stephanie Erb performing hilariously) all become sycophants to the neophyte playwright. Nevertheless, after the show encounters some initial uncertainty, the players and power-brokers turn on the untested scribe.

With an insider’s eye, Hart gives us the credible lowdown on the backbiting, egotism, and even some adages of the theater. Who knew, for instance, that expensive brown liquor is referred to as “opening night Ovaltine?”

With production values that scrape the sky and a devoted cast – which also includes Bryan Bertone, John Combs, Flora Plumb, William Murray, Meredith Thomas, Martin Thompson, and Cathy Diane Tomlin – “Light Up The Sky” is an enjoyable look back into mid- 20th century theater. What’s more, the sensitivities and insights brought forth in this two hour (with one intermission) effort are forever current and, therefore, enlivening to experience.

“Light Up The Sky” continues at Theatre 40 through December 22. Theater 40 is located on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, in the Reuben Corova Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Evening performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, call (310)364-0535. For online ticketing, visit www.theatre40.org.

ben@longbeachcomber.com