Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Without Walls" Wows 'Em at Taper

Michael Sedano

If there's one constant in the seats around the middle of the house at the Mark Taper Forum, it's me. I've sat these seats for the longest time and grown accustomed to seeing the same faces. The past two performances have seated new people to the left, and most recently, the seats in front filled with new heads. Maybe it's temporary, the old people will return for Culture Clash's Water and Power in July.

Without Walls offers a star turn for Laurence Fishburne. The actor stands center stage to open the three character drama, and remains in the spotlight throughout the no intermission play. Fishburne shares the stage with Matt Lanter and Amanda MacDonald.

The pair of ingenues held their own. Ms. MacDonald delivers her lines in an ear-catching cadence that is the only distinction of an otherwise thankless role. Mr. Lanter plays the confused boy as playwright Alfred Uhry wrote him. With an Oscar, a Pulitzer, and a pair of Tony's to his credit, I expected Uhry to write Lanter's Anton McCormick with more intensity. Leafing through the program, I found myself disappointed not to catch the understudy, to see what an actor named Amelia Jean Alvarez would do with Lexy Sheppard.

No matter, Fishburne's over the top personification of Morocco Hemphill would hold center stage against the strongest cast. Teacher. School. Plot. That's all you need to know. It's the performance that counts this time. I've enjoyed Fishburne's work since he busted Martin Sheen's ass on that boat heading upriver in Apocalypse Now. His Napoleon Fortlow was effective in the Walter Mosely tv epic Always Outnumbered. Still, I suspect a lot of the thunder behind the star's curtain call was offered up in homage to Fishburne's character in The Matrix movies.

As most of the audience rose to beckon the cast out for a standing ovation I remembered Morocco's warmest memory of taking three ovations during his uneventful chorusboy career. Would Fishburne get his three? Exeunt. The audience demands the cast return for a second round. The cast exits, enthusiasm wanes, the house lights come on. Exiting, I get another reminder that it's a new crowd; they don't know how to get out in a hurry, so snaking down the steep steps takes forever. When the Saturday matinee sunlight on the plaza warms my face I ask myself if missing this was worth the hours in the darkened auditorium?

Without Walls runs through July 16 in Los Angeles' Mark Taper Theatre. An afternoon or evening well spent.

Independence Day coming around the bend. What to read on a lazy holiday weekend?

te wacho.


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