Producing live theatre presents a myriad of challenges: from selecting material that will be entertaining or relevant to the audience, to creating and arranging the technical and creative elements of the piece, to ensuring that the audience willingly suspend its disbelief for a few hours to be drawn in to what is happening before them; creating theatre is a difficult proposition. Producing a play whose source material has become a cult classic adds to the challenge, and if you’re going to attempt a classic, you need to bring something fresh to the experience, as comparisons to the original are inevitable.
Which brings us to Los Altos Stage Company’s production of Harold and Maude. Based on the Hal Ashby film from the early 70s, I was surprised to find out that the play was originally produced on Broadway in 1980, written by Colin Higgins, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. As a result, the text of the play stays fundamentally true to the film.
Lillian Bogovich shines brightly as Maude. As previously stated, one must bring something unique to a performance of something so well known, and Ms. Bogovich does not disappoint. Is Maude indeed a countess, as she claims, or is it merely a fantasy she uses to bring more joy into her life? In the end, it’s not really important. She lives like many of us wish we could – definitely on her own terms. As Harold’s mother Mrs. Chasen, Katelyn Miller is a strong presence. Jonathan Covey is good as the sometimes very awkward Father Finnegan, and Steve Allhoff is solid as Dr. Matthews.
The sets designed by Gary Landis look good (and were well lit by Aya Matsumoto), but the layout made scene changes a bit long and as a result, the pacing suffered a bit. Yusef Islam’s (Cat Stevens’) wonderful music playing in the darkness didn’t help to cover what I felt were overly long transitions. Gary Landis’ projections worked at times, but I would have rather seen Harold’s faux suicide attempts live, as opposed to filmed pieces, and the video montage of Harold and Maude’s history together (complete with computer generated edits and “film” age) just didn’t work.
For me, Harold and Maude at Los Altos Stage Company is a mixed bag: some strong performances mixed with some elements that left me wanting more. Kudos to them for taking on the challenge of a cult classic.
Harold and Maude continues through May 7th at the Los Altos Stage Company. For more information, click here.
Rating: ** (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Harold and Maude” by Colin Higgins. Produced by Los Altos Stage Company. Director: Gary Landis. Music Director: Arlan Feiles. Sound Designer: Ken Kilen. Lighting Designer: Aya Matsumoto. Costume Designer: Lisa Claybaugh. Props Designer: Erica Racz. Video Designer: Kevin Ohlson. Scenic Designer and Projection: Gary Landis.
Cast: Harold Chasen: Max Mahle. Maude: Lillian Bogovich. Mrs. Chasen: Katelyn Miller. Sylvie Gazel, Nancy Mersch & Sunshine Dore: Michelle Skinner. Priest: Jonathan Covey. Dr. Matthews: Steve Allhoff. Inspector Bernard and Garndner: Joshua Klein. Sergeant Doppel and Chief Gardner: Marc Berman. Maid: Erika Racz.