February 25, 2005
In the age of Paris Hilton and the Michael Jackson trial, it's touching to find a dramatist intent on believing only the best about her tabloid-tarred subject. But in telling the story of how the high-flying career of pie-hurling silent-film genius Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was destroyed in 1921 by a trumped-up celebrity trial, must playwright Kathrine Bates turn the guy into a bleeding saint?
In "Roar of the Crowd" at Theatre 40, Bates depicts an unfailingly courtly Arbuckle (Wayne Thomas Yorke), after wondering aloud to pal Buster Keaton (Abbie Selznick) "how I'll be remembered," embarking for the debauched San Francisco shindig that would seal his legacy. When a promiscuous young starlet, Virginia Rappe (Nicola Seixas), dies after the revelry, her dubious companion Maude Delmont (Jackie Maruschak) insists that Arbuckle had something to do with it.
Though smaller than Arbuckle, Yorke is an affecting figure, particularly in a joshing but surprisingly sincere rendition of "Vesti la giubba." But he's a mere marshmallow waiting to be toasted by a pair of villains worthy of melodrama: Maruschak's irredeemable harridan and Gordon Thomson's silkily duplicitous D.A.
Keaton, meanwhile, is a narrator-conscience out of Arthur Miller, railing at the injustice done to his friend.
Director Flora Plumb makes the most of Jeff G. Rack's Art Deco set, and Elizabeth Huffman's costumes are unstintingly lovely. But the nostalgia buffs who frequent the Fairfax District's Silent Movie Theater are about the only constituency to whom this belabored effort can be recommended without reservation.
"Roar of the Crowd," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills High School campus, Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; also 2 p.m. this Saturday and March 5 and 13. Ends March 13. $18 and $20. (310) 364-0535. www .theatre40.org. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.