Review: ‘Arms’ no laughing matter at TAG
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
Carol Burnett is so widely and rightly known as a stellar comedienne that it may come as a surprise that “Hollywood Arms,” written by Burnett and her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, and currently in its second week at The Actors’ Group (TAG) in Iwilei, is not a comedy. It isn’t even a dark comedy.
Inspired by the surprisingly dark experiences of Burnett’s life growing up in Los Angeles between 1941 and the early ‘50s, “Hollywood Arms” is a slice-of-unhappy-life story that will make most who see it thankful that it based on Burnett’s life and not their own.
Presented by The Actors’ Group
» Where: The Brad Powell Theatre, 650 Iwilei Rd.
Three generations of an unhappy and dysfunctional family struggle to survive in a cramped and dingy apartment somewhere in Hollywood. Nanny (Laurie Tanoura), old and bitter, married six men for their money yet somehow never got her hands on any of it; she now gets her kicks stomping on the dreams of her daughter and granddaughter.
Her daughter, Louise (Kitty Hinds), divorced and a single parent, is living on dreams of striking it rich as a writer for movie magazines. Louise is also pinning her hopes on a man who works occasionally as an extra in Hollywood westerns; she expects to marry him as soon as he divorces his wife.
The narrator of the story is Louise’s daughter, Helen. We meet her in Act I as a pre-teen in 1941. Ten years pass during intermission — it’s now 1951, and Helen in a young adult.
Director Brad Powell has three marvelous finds in the actors who portray Helen (Kira Stone is younger Helen, Joanna Mills is older Helen) and her younger half-sister, Alice (Kaili Delos Santos). Stone is adorable throughout Act II; the scene where Helen asks her surprisingly prudish grandmother for some basic information after accidentally seeing a naked man is beautifully played.
Mills is equally engaging as older Helen struggling against the continual negativity of her bitter alcoholic mother and greedy grandmother. Mills owns the show in the scene where Helen demonstrates how she entertained a restless crowd during an equipment malfunction at the movie theater where she works.
Delos Santos has a showcase scene with a shorter acappella song-and-dance number. A scene where Alice reveals her budding wild side — she’s a pre-teen living life in the fast lane — shows that Delos Santos is equally talented as dramatic actor.
Tanoura is utterly convincing as the manipulative and unfailingly negative grandmother. Hinds givesa chilling portrayal of a fragile and self-centered woman whose fleeting possibilities for success are slowly ground away by her own bad choices, alcohol and Nanny’s toxic negativity.
S. Rick Crump makes Helen’s ailing father a figure of tragic dignity; the man wants to help his daughter but knows that his own weaknesses and previous bad choices leave him little to contribute. Brian Gibson is similarly solid and dependable as a deluded fool who loves Louise despite her lack of any feeling for him, and who deserves better than to be used as a “meal ticket” by Louise and Nanny.
Be prepared for a painfully slow-paced slog through a morass of shattered hopes, falseness and self-destruction, but a slog brightly illuminated by the vivid performances of key performers.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.