Blueprint for Paradise
Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
The Hudson Mainstage Theatre
Through Sept. 4
There was a time when gas was eleven cents a gallon, a new car might run you a thousand dollars, average wages were under two thousand dollars a year, and thousands of unsuspecting American citizens deemed unfit and undesirable were forcibly sterilized by the government, with the full aid and blessing of some of the most wealthy, influential citizens and institutions of the era. Such is the backdrop for Laurel Wetzork’s flawed, sporadically entertaining drama that’s set in Los Angeles weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Herbert and Clara Taylor (David Jahn, Meredith Thomas), are a wealthy, very waspy couple who seemingly have the world at their beck and call, with a stylish Hancock Park manse and a pair of toadying servants (Ann Hu, Alex Best), at their command. Clara is the picture of the devoted wife and society lady who is involved with civic organizations such as the Mothers of America and the pro-eugenics Human Betterment Foundation, while Herbert is a successful business man who always has his eyes on the horizon.
But all is not what it seems. Clara is inwardly quite frail and miserable about her demeaning role as an unquestioning dutiful housewife, and Herbert, underneath the gentlemanly façade, is an abuser and devious manipulator. Both are bigoted snobs who freely demean Jews, “coloreds” and immigrants (in spite of having a Chinese maid). Things get difficult when Herbert invites fanatical pro-Nazi sympathizers Wolfgang Schreiber (Peter McGlynn) and Ludwig Gottschalk (Steve Marvel), into their home to discuss plans for building a compound for German “refugees.” Complicating the situation is the selection of the accomplished African-American architect Paul Revere Williams (Regi Davis), as designer for the project. Ultimately, Herbert and Clara’s involvement embroils them in a large scale conspiracy that threatens their lives.
Wetzork draws on strands of historical data for this tale, and successfully constructs a jarring portrait of some of more the more social and political currents of the time; however, the finished product here is equal parts faux spy-thriller and tepid domestic melodrama. Especially puzzling is the pivotal relationship she draws between Williams and Clara (which takes up a lot of ink) that early on strains for credibility. The performances are uniformly decent under Laura Steinroeder’s direction, although it is very hard at times to understand Hu because of the overworked accent. Gary Lee Reed provides a stylish drawing room set piece.
The Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Sept. 4. (Note: An alternate cast will perform on August 19th and 21st.) (323) 960-4412 or www.blueprintforparadise.com. Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.