Summary: Progressive Hollywood: Review and Analysis of Ed Rampells Book

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Now onstage at the Sacred Fools Theatre, Stoneface is a beautifully written and performed look at old Hollywood and at a few geniuses who dared to buck the system in order to make a difference. This is one of the best roles ever for French Stewart who relishes every second onstage. Keaton's physical dexterity and stoneface delivery - taught to him from childhood while performing in home movies - dominate Stewart's portrayal. He makes Keaton's deep sadness due to his checkered career and loss of marriage and fatherhood drive the performance forward in a completely natural way.

I never caught him acting. Remarkable work! Vanessa Claire Stewart's outstanding script, Robledo's meticulous direction and French Stewart's consummate performance make Stoneface a must see. This Hollywood story is doubly worthy of your attention - I know I said it before but I must repeat it - because of the production's entire execution, which pulls you in to experience and feel the making of silent pictures. Buster Keaton was the greatest physical comedian to ever walk the earth. Even in this jaded 21st century of ours, our senses dulled beyond recognition thanks to CGI, watching Keaton front-flip down a hillside, or narrowly escape an oncoming train, still elicits gasps of disbelief.

There was never anyone like him, nor will there ever be again. Adding to the mix of his genius was an off-screen life that was every bit as problematic as his most daring stunts, and the notion of effectively forget accurately portraying that life—whether on screen or on stage—is, well, tricky at best.

Stewart is a seasoned stage vet, and has been an active presence in local Los Angeles theater for a number of years, and happens to be a major Buster Keaton fan. At 48, Stewart manages a surprising level of physicality, and he handles the role with wit, strength and dignity. Beginning with a rock-bottom Keaton and his self-admitted stay in a sanitarium, and ending with his marriage to the love of his life, Eleanor, and the re-discovery of his films in the s, Stoneface is told through a non-linear series of vignettes.

The stage direction is highly creative, incorporating silent film-style gags and digital film projection.


We bounce from his close friendship with Arbuckle, to his desperate film work in Mexico, to his Educational short subjects, to MGM, to Chaplin, and back to the sanitarium again. Keaton would have wanted told, but always with an undercurrent of truth, while maintaining our universal Hollywood theme that while film stock may rot, family and friendship lives on past any story told by William Randolph Hearst.

An all around stellar production with a commanding, passionate lead performance from Stewart, make this show a must-see for film fans. These segments are faithfully and expertly reproduced live on stage by this first-rate cast, beautifully directed by Jaime Robledo A comedic sequence where she, a petite woman, tries to get a drunken Keaton into bed is a laugh riot. From the perfect costume styling by Jessica Olson to the daring moves of Andrew Amani.

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It was an evening of mostly tears for me along with some hearty laughs. Busting with the seamless magic of theater.

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Both acts began with scenes fit to astonish like the effects of a circus. Only this play focused on perhaps the saddest most gifted clown of our time, Buster Keaton, played by the stoic and beautiful French Stewart who near but broke my heart. Joe Fria is tender and graceful playing a shadow of what Buster used to be, acting occasionally as his conscience.

Tegan Ashton Cohan playing Natalie Talmadge is lithe and beautiful, each movement of her body a studied perfection of the times. Flawless lighting by Jeremy Pivnick and an incredible live score by the vital Ryan Johnson, making each scene seem risky and yet perfectly timed. What I find especially exciting about Jaime Robledo is that he is just getting started. The same goes for the lovely Vanessa Claire Stewart. What a way to honor Keaton and bring his story to life. Bravo to cast and crew on this moving labor of love. I told Ms.

Keaton that her last name was well deserved, because she had a comedic talent in the tradition of Buster Keaton, and she was touched. In particular, movie mogul Louis B. Mayer Pat Towne is depicted as a tinpot Tinseltown despot. Seems like L. In particular, Stoneface is full of the sight gags and physical comedy that was the hallmark of Hollywood humor prior to the advent of the talkies, as Ms. Stewart matches form with content. Before the movies learned how to talk the medium primarily communicated through a visual language, although one augmented by title cards, piano players or even full orchestras, playing scores before live audiences in darkened theatres to accompany those images shimmering onscreen.


In keeping with tradition, musical director Ryan Johnson tickles the ivories throughout Stoneface. Best of all is the inventive wave Stoneface uses an onstage movie screen. Whereas the first act of Stoneface seems primarily designed for the intellect albeit with heaps of laughs plus necessary exposition along the way , Act II goes as unerringly straight to the heart as those pies so often tossed by silent screen comedians hit hapless faces.

Heartbreakingly, the over the hill Keaton turns to his former competitor-turned-benefactor, and Ms. Parenthetically, there is an ongoing Charlie-vs. As the mature Buster, French Stewart delivers a tour-de-force performance.

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From his athletic prowess to his twitches watch his fingers during the show , Mr. But more importantly, this actor goes beneath the Great Stone Face to show what made Buster Keaton tick. The play suggests that Keaton was an abused child who learned to hide his pain from the world, but finally learns to accept and express his own inner emotions.

With so little in the way of finances and pricey production values in this 66 or so seat theatre, Sacred Fools has given us so much, proving that imagination trumps big budgets. The entire production, in fact, is brilliant in its simulation of silent-era camerawork, as the players chase each other with mincing, herky-jerky movements around the stage. They are accompanied by the bouncy silent-era piano-playing of Ryan Johnson and the baroquely lettered title cards that provide some of the dialogue and exposition Stewart plays Keaton in a role written for him by Vanessa Claire Stewart, who co-wrote Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara for them and who recently married Stewart, incidentally, and he proves himself a master of Keaton-style slapstick.

Equally important is the depth he brings to Keaton the workaholic and alcoholic who suffered more behind the camera than he ever did in front of it. The production values are incredible, from a barrel-house pianist Music Director Ryan Johnson who plays along with the silent sequences to a number of film interludes created for the play where the characters actually step into and out of the projections with ease. The cast has to have perfect timing to make it all work.

French Stewart is remarkable as the man who never lets the audience see his emotions. He learned that trick early on in vaudeville from his parents.

What I believe -- by Einstein (1930)

Joseph Schenk, the man who made Buster a star and then lost his contract to Mayer in a poker game, is the likeable Jake Broder,and Louis B. Mayer is the sleazy Pat Towne. Mae Scriven, who engages is some very funny athletics as she tries to get Buster into bed while he in unconsciously drunk. The cast is ready for anything in this brilliant production. Arbuckle and Keaton, working with a bottle on a string as part of a comedy routine, managed quite well,taking a few extra drinks before getting things to work right.

And Sacred Fools in a a great neighborhood with a fabulous cafe or two, an intriguing bar and a book-store just across the street. Be warned: there have been six performances to date and all have been sell-outs, so call your reservations in soon. Period pardon me if my idolization is showing. And what the play is to this Keaton adorer is a love song that is amazingly inventive.

Jake Broder is outstanding in his more prominent role of pioneering studio executive Joseph Schenk, but also demonstrates marvelous comedic skills in a scene with him in a more minor role as a really bad acting costar to Keaton.

I get chills just thinking about it. Because what we have is not only an immensely talented and gifted actor who is at home either in tragic circumstance or in laugh-inducing pratfalls, but who at all times throughout his performance is paying reverent homage to his idol. What Stewart does through his performance is turn a spotlight on and demand Keaton be respected and remembered for the true genius he was, which is genius in and of itself.

I sincerely mean that. In terms of physical ability and comedic chops, he is the closest thing we have to Keaton. But, invariably, any attempt to mold Asian superstar to Caucasian comedy icon would be racially inelegant and open a can of worms that would divert the conversation from well-intended art to raw politics.

Neither of these gentlemen deserves this. There is no pretense here. I realize this.