By Nathaniel Cayanan
Many of you may not have heard of the small theatre company Parson’s Nose. For the last fifteen years, the company has been providing “condensed classic adaptations,” all while using a pay-what-you-will admission plan. Currently, they are performing the Tom Taylor play Our American Cousin, which (some of you may know) was the production Abraham Lincoln was attending when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. This showing is certainly no lavish production, but this small non-profit theatre company offers light-hearted entertainment motivated by an admirable mission.
Adapted and condensed by the company’s co-founder and Artistic Director Lance Davis, Our American Cousin tells the typical story of clashing cultures. This time around however, the exotic foreigner is an American, Asa Trenchard, who, on his visit to “the other side of the pond,” baffles his extended British family with his boorish, straightforward personality. As they butt heads, this family finds that, as the old adage goes, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
While the story is nothing new to today’s audience, it is funny to see an American on the receiving end of stereotyping. We may gawk and giggle as Asa, played by James Calvert, walks around with a racoon hat on his head, whittles wood on his downtime, and carries an ax in his belt. Yet these characters are extremely charming, mainly because the actors are so passionate about what they’re presenting. This is especially true with Paul Perri’s sympathetic Abel Murcott, Barry Gordon’s sinister Mr. Coyle and Tina Carlisi’s lively Florence Trenchard.
These amusing performances may contrast with the venue’s small space (the actors are at times in arm’s distance), the minimal sets (one set piece and four chairs) and limited lighting equipment (a row of lights at the foot of the “stage”), but, somehow, these actors pull you in and keep you smiling from beginning to end.
True, this production could benefit from more fancy-schmancy aesthetics to better exhibit this cast’s talents, but, as Davis explains before the show, the company’s intent is to give more of a taste of these classics, a taste that should encourage audiences to look more into these plays and support local theatre.
Surely, there is a lot to appreciate about Our American Cousin. The play is a modest yet delightful taste of great theatre that is increasingly losing out to pervasive pop culture. And with a charming, fun cast and admirable motivation, Parson’s Nose deserves our support.
Our American Cousin will run at Lineage Performing Arts Center, 89 S. Fair Oaks, Pasadena, CA 91105. Remaining show dates and times are: Saturday, April 11th at 7 p.m.; Sunday, April 12th at 3 p.m.; Saturday, April 18th at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, April 19th at 3 p.m. Tickets available online at www.parsonsnose.com, by calling (626) 403-7667, or at the door. Price is Pay What You Will, but donations are accepted and appreciated. Reservations encouraged.