Witty Performances Shine in La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Babbitt’

Genevieve Angelson and Matthew Broderick (photos courtesy of Jenna Selby).

Genevieve Angelson and Matthew Broderick (photos courtesy of Jenna Selby).

The life of a bored man might not sound like a barrel of laughs, yet La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director, Christopher Ashley, writer, Joe DiPietro, and a memorable cast led by Matthew Broderick, manage to inspire laughter from dissatisfaction in the strong world premiere production of the comedy-drama, Babbitt.

Based on Sinclair Lewis’ 1922 satirical novel, George Babbitt (Broderick), is a real estate broker who feels like his existence amounts to nothing, despite being devoted to his wife, Myra (Ann Harada) and two kids, Tinka (Anna Chlumsky) and Ted (Chris Myers). He starts to become motivated to live life to the fullest after writing a speech for a real estate conference.

DiPietro’s script does not feature a straightforward narrative. Instead, he depicts vignettes that focus primarily on George, Myra, and Ted. The dialogue is so frequently funny, that it is easy to enjoy spending time with the flawed and realistic family.

His script tackles relevant themes from politics to crumbling marriages. And DiPietro handles these messages with humorous and smart dialogue.

One main part of the script that could be developed a little more is George and Ted’s conflict about the latter’s dreams of becoming a mechanic. Though entertaining, their final conversation about the issue is a little rushed. There is still a touching resolution to the father and son’s relationship towards the very end of the show.

Ashley’s direction flows beautifully from big ensemble sequences to intimate discussions between characters.

Cha See’s lighting contributes to the creative atmosphere and helps heighten the adventures George goes on, and Mark Bennett and Wayne Barker’s music strengthens the emotions of comical and dramatic moments. Also worth noting are Linda Cho’s costumes, which include mainly modern attire with the exception of George’s clothes, inspired by the original tale.

While the scenes take place at numerous locations, everything is visually set at a library from set designer, Walt Spangler. Onstage storytellers, make up most of the players outside of Broderick, and highly contribute to the unique experience as narrators speak as though they are reciting text from the book.

Matthew Broderick and Ann Harada.

Matthew Broderick and Ann Harada.

As the dissatisfied George, Broderick brings a befuddled and deadpan presence that keeps the protagonist consistently engaging. His casual delivery is often hilarious, even when darker situations occur.

All the other performers are on the same level as Broderick, and Harada and Chlumsky in particular shine opposite him. Harada is deeply empathetic as the increasingly liberated Myra and Chlumksy portrays several comedic roles from the upbeat Tinka to Lucille, the annoyed wife of George’s friend, Charles McKelvey (Matt McGrath).

McGrath, Myers, Julie Halston, Genevieve Angelson, and Francis Jue each give colorful performances as well, playing numerous characters George interacts with from family members to friends.

Babbitt takes audiences on a journey involving the evolution of personal growth with witty prose and a terrific ensemble. DiPietro has written a well-crafted and intelligent adaptation of Lewis’ classic novel.

View the program online.

[box] Show times are Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 8:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. [/box]

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Photo of La Jolla Playhouse
La Jolla Playhouse
2910 La Jolla Village Drive La Jolla CA 92037 USA Work Phone: 858.550.1010 Website: La Jolla Playhouse website
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