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On Theater: 'Ruthless' a murderous satiric delight in Laguna

August 08, 2012|By Tom Titus
(Courtesy Lisa Mansour )

It's not exactly true that "Ruthless," the current production at Laguna Beach's No Square Theatre, is the musical version of "The Bad Seed," but there are enough references to that play to cause eyebrow raising among the most casual theatergoers.

For instance, the child prodigy's surname is "Denmark," one letter removed from Rhoda's name, "Penmark." There's a radio announcer named "Max Anderson," "The Bad Seed" playwright's nickname, and mention of someone named Monica Breedlove, a character from "The Bad Seed." Also, there's a snippet of "Au Clair de la Lune," the tune Rhoda plunks out on the piano after her latest felony.

But playwright-lyricist Joel Paley had more targets than "The Bad Seed" on his mind when he created "Ruthless" some two decades ago. The story line shifts into "All About Eve"and "Gypsy" territory before the bodies finally stop falling. This is satire with a capital S.

The No Square production gleefully capitalizes on these and other circuitous plot points in a deliciously campy rendition marred only by its excessive volume. The Legion Hall is no concert venue, and actors really don't need amplification, especially those with voices as powerful as those of the "Ruthless" cast.

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Otherwise, the No Square show is a consummate treat on both the musical and satirical levels. This is one show where presentational styling (directing everything out front) is forgivable, and director Joe Lauderdale misses no opportunity to stick it to established pieces of theater while bringing out the best — and most outrageous — in his performers.

Chief among these is Yvonne Browning as the little girl's mother, an ordinary housewife who discovers midway through the show that she's actually talented, the beneficiary of a showbiz gene from her unknown actress mother. This whisks her into Margo Channing territory as a Broadway star, and her rousing vocal chords provide appropriate emphasis.

As her equally talented daughter Tina, who'd do anything for a good part, young Charlotte Rubino reminds us what 9-year-old Frances Gumm must have sounded like before she changed her name to Judy Garland. The girl not only has a show-stopping voice, but she excels at the art of parody, a tribute no doubt to director Lauderdale's coaching.

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