Last night Santa Catalina Theatre Arts presented the opening night of its winter production, Stage Door, a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. Magically we were transported back to the year 1936 to the Footlights Club, a boarding house for young girls aspiring to make a career in the theater. I say “magically” because the combination of an magnificently elaborate set, costumes mimicing the styles of the 1930s, and an excellent cast capturing the essence of what it was like to be naive and hopeful young actors during this period were so effectively portrayed.
Most often in school and college theater productions we have come to expect a minimalist approach to stagecraft, such as we witnessed in the previous production of Fiddler on the Roof, where modular pre-constructed units could be instantly shifted around to create effective scene changes. However, in this production of Stage Door, Director Lara Devlin, Scenic Designer Reed Scott, Technical Director Ana Maximoff, Costume Designer Deborah Reed and all the other members of the Technical Crew achieved a truly first-class theatrical ambiance in a stage setting that would have been quite at home in a New York Broadway production.
The action in this play revolves around two stage struck young women, Terry Randall (Marissa Schimpf) who is determined at all costs to make a career on the stage rather than be seduced by Hollywood silver screens, and Jean Maitland (Samantha Scattini), also aiming for a stage career, but who is eventually successful in films in Hollywood and returns at the end of the play to appear in a starring role on the New York Stage. These two young actors basically carry the play and do so with style and energy that helps make this such an effective production.
Two other characters played effective and important roles: Keith Burgess (Maddie Elkin), a leftist idealistic aspiring playwright who woos Terry Randall, and David Kinglsey (India Gonzales), who woos Jean Maitland and eventually makes a career as a producer in Hollywood. Grace Deakyne portraying Olga Brandt, the Footlights Club house mother, brought touches of humor and authority in the management of the girls under her charge. Alix Detrait in a bit role as Pat Devine, an aspiring young dancer, performed a slinky dance solo lying on her back on top of a concert grand piano that was very effective and tended to give us a few moments of relief from the constant chatter about the frustrations of trying to make a career on stage or in films.
This historical period portrayed in this play, the mid 1930s, tends to remind us how much the theater and film world have changed. Silent films disappeared after sound was introduced in 1927, but films were considered inferior as a theatrical medium. All this would change in 1939 — the year of the spectacular success of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Also, the mid 1930s remind us that career choices for young women were severely limited at the time. If you remained single, what career opportunity could a young woman look forward to — sales clerk, office stenographer, waiting on tables, librarian, school teacher, actress, etc. Careers in law and medicine were yet to come. A woman could only apply for a loan, a mortgage or a gasoline credit card if co-signed by a man.
Ah, how things have changed!