Code good material
By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Just when it seems Honolulu's summer theatre season amounts to nothing more than reruns and warmed over ideas The Actors Group and guest director Brad Powell offer something fresh. "The Code of the West" is TAG's first off-Broadway production, and thus a step forward in terms of material. It offers sophisticated theatre fans the opportunity to enjoy imaginative small-scale modern theatre here.
Sam Polson stars as Joshua A. Norton, a San Francisco businessman who styled himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico in the 1860s. The program notes explain San Francisco citizens indulged Norton's pretensions until his death in 1880. Playwright Mark R. Geisser takes Norton at face value as a sincere eccentric. Polson give a solid and appealing dignity to the character.
"Code of the West": Presented by TAG, Yellow Brick Studio, 625 Keawe St., 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through July 24. Tickets: $10. Call 591-7999.The other characters are fictional. Frank Tremont (Willy Curran) is a newspaperman aware that stories on Emperor Norton sell papers. T. Preston Booth (Peter Bunn) is a banker who finds advantages in being a member of the imperial cabinet.
Both men are evidently jealous of the other. The story opens with cartoonish mayhem eminent as Booth confronts Tremont in the imperial council chambers located in the rear of Parker's Saloon.
Complications ensue with the arrival of a Russian countess (Dorothy Stamp) apparently interested in a marital alliance between the Emperor of United States and the House of Romanov.
Playwright Giesser stops the action sooner and longer than necessary to confirm what the audience already knows -- the "countess" is a fake. Several minutes of conversation between the "countess" and her equally bogus English secretary (Ruthie Wells) fills in the rest of the premise. The faux-Romanov is actually the daughter of a deceased financier who specified in his will that she can only inherit his money if she marries someone with a title. What "countess" Violet Allerton would really like to do is use her financial smarts to rule Wall Street -- but that is something that 19th Century male attitudes won't permit.
Giesser slips historical references into the story as Tremont investigates the credentials of the would-be empress, and Booth seeks her aid in refinancing his bank. Giesser's device of freezing the action while various characters cite clauses in the fictitious "code of the west" was jarring rather than clever.
Stamp is charming in the double role of imperious faux-royal and conflicted free-thinking 19th century woman. Mary Shive completes the cast as a bar girl who carries signboards across the stage.
As with previous TAG shows the props and costumes are rudimentary but sufficient.
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