By Gordon Meyer
A friend of mine is co-starring in a play called “Judy and Patsy on a Blue Day” and I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it. That’s because it was created by one of countless community theatre groups here in Southern California, whose members are passionate about live theatre. I was about to say, “…even if their members sometimes lack talent,” but in the case of the Toluca Lake Players, the group who created this particular bit of entertainment, there was quite a bit of talent on stage, and even more passion even with a miniscule audience on hand.
This is really more of a salute to the pluck of the TLP rather than a formal review of the play, which was written and directed by Dean Scott Schulman, who also served as the show’s pianist. Getting the formalities out of the way, the play begins in 1972. Alice Blue (Cali Rossen) and her pre-pubescent daughter April (Gabrielle Cheldin) are coping with the absence of David, Alice’s husband and April’s dad, who’s stationed in Vietnam as a chopper pilot. April gets teased at school because instead of listening to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, she prefers Judy Garland, while her mom idolizes Patsy Cline. Meanwhile, up in Heaven, Garland (Theresa Falco-Callari) and Cline (Yvette Nii) are close friends who keep an eye on the Blue girls with the help of a heavenly Messenger (Allan Anderson).
It’s very much in the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show,” school of theatre. The performance space is the community hall of the Toluca Lake Methodist Church. There’s no proscenium, stage or curtains. Lighting and sets are about as simple as you can get. In other words, technically, it’s a bit rough. At the performance I attended, the one spotlight they had blew in the middle of the show forcing them to improvise with the use of the remaining stage lights, but it was OK. As for the play itself, while genuinely touching at points, it’s really more of an excuse to showcase classic Garland and Cline songs than anything else. But there was something infectious about the show and the performers that I really admired.
For one thing, the actors in the three singing roles (Garland, Cline and the Messenger) have dynamite voices and really delivered, especially Nii as Patsy Cline. I also liked Rossen and Cheldin, who were very believable as mother and daughter and in the darker second act, both delivered very heart felt performances as their characters dealt with a personal tragedy.
But what I really want to tip my hat to is the idea that this small band of artists, with more passion than budget, had such a strong commitment to live theatre and stretching their creative muscles that they and their supporters put in a good deal of time and energy into writing, staging and performing a show populated by truly talented people. Unlike many Equity waiver shows around town, it’s not about being a talent showcase since not a whole lot of people even know about this group and its work, in spite of a nice article in the Toluca Times. This was a labor of love for the people involved. It’s about wanting perform for the pure love of performing, whether there are less than a dozen people in the audience or an auditorium packed to the rafters.
Is “Judy and Patsy on a Blue Day” great theatre? Honestly, no, more than anything else because of what I consider an adequate, but far from exceptional book that focuses much more time on replaying the classic songs of Garland and Cline than on telling a story. In spite of that weakness, I salute writer/director Schulman and his very talented cast for getting it done as well as they did and for having so much fun in the process. Given the choice between staging a play from the Samuel French catalog or creating something original, they took the braver road of creating an original piece. I liken it to one of the first out of town tryouts for a new Broadway show. You know going in it’s likely to be rough in spots, but you hope to see the gem beyond the roughness.
It’s the kind of community theatre that deserves support not just from the Toluca Lake Methodist Church and neighboring community; it deserves support from anyone who likes to encourage talent. This is one of the places where new talent can develop and be nurtured, which is why I think it’s important to support the efforts of not only the Toluca Lake Players, but similar groups as well.
“Judy and Patsy on a Blue Day” runs through November 18 with performances on Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the door. The church is in North Hollywood on Cahuenga at Whipple. For more information, call (323) 653-3498.