There's a certain elegance that steps on stage with Michael Learned and Granville Van Dusen in their duet performance of Southern Comforts at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.
Whether it's the physical grace and agility with which both actors move, the innate talent and sincerity they bring to their lonely, widowed roles of Southern belle Amanda and the New Jersey-born Gus, the immediate likeability factor they exude or a combination of it all. Either way, the grandeur is clear as a belle and a handshake, words that fittingly describe their opposing characters in this solid, charming, pensive and romantic comedy.
Amanda and Gusare lonely, but only she owns up to the fact, at least initially. His machismo and overt pride keeps him from this inevitable truth. His ways are simple; he can't bare to clutter up his thoughts – or his home – with the likes of any fresh perspective, no matter how sincere. But Amanda's many charms and matter-of-frankness prove to be an unbeatable opponent.
Under the careful guidance of director Jules Aaron, Learned and Van Dusen deliver writer Kathleen Clark's words with such aplomb and truth the audience is flawlessly brought into their world without missing a beat.
Beloved for years on television by way of her thrice Emmy-winning role of Olivia Walton on the heralded classic, The Waltons, (CBS, 1972-1982; NBC, 1994-97), Learned is perfectly paired with Van Dusen, an accomplished thespian of the stage and screen, whose countless performances include classic TV appearances as the voice of Race Bannon on the animated favorite, Johnny Quest, and ground-breaking guest-star roles like Darwin Jones on the Biofeedbackepisode of The Bionic Woman (ABC, NBC, 1975-78).
As Gus in Comforts, Van Dusen apprehensively invites you into his hushed world right along with Amanda. Seemingly and seamlessly the magic of live theatre somehow teams the audience with her to bring the two together. We root for them and they don't disappoint – on any level.
Gifted and poised Learned and Van Dusen literally play into each other's arms – and into the hearts of the audience whose hopes are never dashed but only paired with hers and ultimately his in what we can only pray becomes a warm embrace.
A play on words and emotions, Southern Comforts is presented at classic TV giant Garry Marshall's beautiful and intimate Falcon Theatre with a top-notch and unwavering production in every aspect. Composer Max Kinberg's sweet sounds set the melancholy yet cheerful tone. The music carries us along, in between the appropriately jarring sounds orchestrated by the clearly capable sound master Claudio Radocchia;as a blaring TV and a commanding thunderstorm ultimately helps to ignite Amanda and Gus' mutual love. Keith E. Mitchell's set design is finally cozy, although initially stark and to the point, perfectly signifying the transition that Amanda brings into Gus' life. Kim DeShazo's tasteful earth tones for Gus and bright pretty colors for Amanda add the stylistic balance of salt and pepper that again so pristinely represents each character. A clever blur of character and stage management conducted by Learned, stage manager Brigid O'Brien, and production team players Oliver Melendez and Katie Witkowski at intermission plays into thewelcoming hands of the audience who on this night – and assumingly every night - applauded with rousing joy at so sweet and daring a presentation that exuded the endless charms of Southern Comforts.
Southern Comforts plays through Sunday, November 13th at Garry Marshall's Falcon Theatre in Burbank, CA. See this link for more detail: http://falcontheatre.com/
Photos: Chelsea Sutton