November 27, 2010
'Frost' is charming, poignant
Joining forces with Glendale's Luna Playhouse, SkyPilot Theatre Company currently offers the West Coast premiere of Jeff Goode's "Yes Svetlana, There is a Grandfather Frost."
Having been named the Luna's resident company, director Gideon Potter and his top-notch ensemble have elevated the bar when it comes to quality in small-venue theater.
Only the most cynical of viewers would leave untouched by the myriad messages contained in this charmingly constructed story.
Set in 1950, a group of Soviet newspaper employees are forced to choose between ethics and personal survival when they uncover a pre-ordained attack on a group of Christmas worshipers by Stalin's oppressive regime.
Constantly censored by the "Party," the journalists are confronted by a local Security Committee member and his physically imposing support thug.
It's set against the backdrop of a letter from a young girl asking whether Grandfather Frost, the Party's nonreligious alternative to St. Nickolas, actually exists.
Obviously the correlation to the 1897 New York Sun editorial titled "Is There a Santa Claus?" inspired by 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon was an intentional stepping-off point for Goode's story.
As Devuchka, an 18-year-old interning as the paper's receptionist thanks to her uncle's Party connections, Lisa Younger is cute as a button as she exhibits a refreshing sense of humanity that has yet to be tarnished by politics.
Erika Godwin is strait-laced and guarded at every turn as she brings to life the publication's editor whose own father was hauled away by the state, never to be seen again.
Godwin's second-act transformation is truly touching as her hope for a better future is rekindled through a simple act of kindness.
As the paper's primary correspondents, Morry Schorr and Tyler Rhoades represent the past and future of the Russian people.
Rhoades is excellent as Zloveschii, a womanizing scamp whose desire to cover his own tracks doesn't quite work out the way he had hoped.
Schorr's portrayal of Tserkov, the veteran of the group, who experienced the Bolshevik Revolution as a child including Grandfather Frost's "birth" or rather imposition on the children of the U.S.S.R., is superb.
As the villains in the story, Ken Lyle and Bob Rusch make a perfect team as Comrades Bolyshoi and Shiroky. Relying on subtlety and the smallest of glances, inferences and unspoken threats, this gifted duo infuse a palpable sense of fear into the proceedings.
Although the perfectly chosen costuming is uncredited, Potter himself has designed a sparsely appointed office set lit with exquisite detail by Azad Abed-Stephen.
Particularly effective is Schorr's emotional dictation answering Svetlana's query on a darkened stage illuminated by only a tiny onstage desk lamp. It's a poignant conclusion to this riveting production.
Dink O'Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.
What: "Yes Svetlana, There is a Grandfather Frost"
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 19
Where: The Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale
Tickets: $12.50 to $15
Contact: (800) 836-3006 or visit http://www.SkyPilotTheatre.com