Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Review: Latest theatre arts production is impossible to ‘Catch’ – Los Angeles Loyolan.
“Catch-22,” the latest production put on by LMU’s theatre arts program, which is currently running in Strub Theatre, is a bit like a machine. For the first act, the machine appears to be operating perfectly – as long as one doesn’t take too close a look. Its second act, however, is more akin to watching the machine’s external façade fall apart.
There are extremely bright highlights in “Catch-22,” from some of the supporting actors to the phenomenal set design. It is therefore upsetting to watch such an underwhelming show fail to support these fantastic elements.
For those never forced to read the book in school, “Catch-22” is the story of U.S. army soldiers in World War II, particularly one officer, Yossarian (played here by sophomore theatre arts major Alex Ford). Yossarian attempts to get out of the army after flying over 51 missions and fails in all his efforts as he watches other soldiers on his missions die. Despite the heavy subject matter, “Catch-22” finds the comedy in the absurdity and inescapability of the war.
Directed by theatre arts professor Jim Holmes, this production of “Catch-22” suffers from pacing issues and an overall feeling of exhaustion emanating from the cast. Perhaps the actors are tired of trying to keep up with the ever-changing speed of the show. In the first act, the action is on constant fast-forward: The actors deliver their lines as quickly as possible, as though the goal is not to put on a great show but merely to get to the end of the show. The second act almost immediately throws on the brakes, slowing the show down to an almost interminable slog. There seems to be no end in sight among all the flatly delivered lines and lack of any noticeable action.
Almost all the highlights come in the first act. The show opens with projections on the walls immediately drawing the audience into the 1940s. The set, designed by theatre arts professor Charles Erven, is quite appealing – all the different combinations and formations made possible by the rotating walls and interchangeable sets allow for a great diversity of setting, automatically elevating the show beyond other productions of this caliber. The setting can also change quickly, allowing for a quick pace that should have been used to slow down the action.
Many actors in small roles use their limited time in the center of the action to leave an immediate and lasting impression. Freshman theatre arts major Adam Dlugolecki is perhaps the most realistic in his role as P.F.C. Wintergreen. Dlugolecki has a natural gift for comic timing, made obvious from his precise and effective line readings. He steals almost every scene in which he appears.
One scene in a hospital is gifted with four great talents, all freshman theatre arts majors: Kyle Lynch as a patient who has more energy flailing in a hospital bed than most of the more prevalent cast members do when they’re up and walking, and Jakob Rodriguez-Berger, the patient’s father who, along with Melanie Abrams as his mother and Michael Chiaverini as his brother, get served a comedic hardball and knock it out of the park.
As a psychiatrist, sophomore theatre arts major Joe Hospodor is an absolute character, a perfect fit for such a quick-witted show. He’s capable of moving at the same pace as the rest of the show.
The strongest talent isn’t limited to the minor roles, however. Theatre arts major Brett Bezad is full of energy as Colonel Cathcart, and unfaltering in his delivery. Cathcart is one of the more zany characters, and Bezad is unafraid of squeezing every comedic drop from the source. Freshman theatre arts major Scott Bosely is similarly energetic, giving his paranoid Corporal Whitcomb a powerful presence on-stage.
Unfortunately, the show rides on the shoulders of Ford, and sadly, he disappoints in his role. He plays almost every scene with the same level of energy – not that he has low energy, but rather that he has no variation whatsoever. There are no peaks and valleys in his performance: it’s a completely static portrayal. While he has a charm that helps with humor, his delivery leaves something to be desired. He appears to still mentally be in rehearsal – he sounds like he’s reading his lines rather than inhabiting the role of Yossarian. In fact, on opening night, he was still tripping over lines in the final throes of the performance. The sense of exhaustion that permeates the majority of the cast seems to affect no one more than Ford.
With the only real change in tone throughout the play being the odd mood whiplash halfway through the second act, all the humor disappears, and with it goes the life of the production. “Catch-22” is meant to be a seriocomedy, with the elements melding well. Instead, it is three-quarters hit-and-miss comedy and a quarter poorly executed drama.
The most accurate description of “Catch-22” might be that it defies definition in the worst way. The production is all over the place, making it virtually impossible to catch – but there still remain true highlights to grasp in stronger aspects and actors in the play.