Wrong Turn at Lungfish

REVIEW by Willard Manus

Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz's touching WRONG TURN AT LUNGFISH, first seen locally in a 1992 production starring George C. Scott and Laurie Metcalf, has been successfully revived at the Falcon Theatre, which is owned and operated by Marshall, one of the few Hollywood luminaries who is deeply involved in local theatre life.

Marshall, a veteran TV and film director (Happy Days, The Princess Diaries), invited one of his longtime collaborators, Hector Elizondo, to play the George C. Scott role this time around. Elizondo, who has appeared in all 14 of Marshall's movies, is a superb actor who first came to prominence in 1970, playing God in Steambath, a role that earned him an Obie award. TV and films claimed most of his time for the next three decades (he was the hospital chief on Chicago Hope), but now Elizondo has returned to the stage, and L.A. is the better for it.

His performance as the near-blind, curmudgeonly Peter Ravenswaal in LUNGFISH is a marvel: bold, assured and compelling. In the role of Anita, the young, working-class girl who comes to read to him, Ana Ortiz doesn't have Elizondo's experience and polish, but she manages to hold her end up in the May/September relationship that forms the core of the play.

The layers of Anita's character are peeled back as the story unfolds and she's revealed to have a less than savory motivation for wanting to read to the book-loving, retired college dean. Sure, she enjoys learning about literature and life from him, but she's also being egged on by her thuggish boyfriend Dominic (Jason Gedrick), who sees the near-helpless old man as a big, juicy meal ticket.

The Anita/Dominic subplot is the weakest part of LUNGFISH--it smacks of farce, unlike the rest of the play, which is a bittersweet comedy about an unlikely couple coming to understand and appreciate each other's humanity. The two styles clash in the second act, but ultimately the good writing blots out the bad and LUNGFISH becomes effective and moving.

LUNGFISH'S cast, which includes Joanna Canton as a brisk student-nurse, is well-directed by Marshall, who was also greatly aided by his creative team (Keith E. Mitchell, set; Jeremy Pivnick, lights; Denitsa Bliznakova, costumes).

The Falcon is in its third subscription season, with such shows as SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO MOTOWN (Nov. 26-23), MORE, starring Yeardley Smith (Feb. 9-March 6, 05) and SLEUTH (May 30-April 24) next in line.

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. Call (818) 955-8101 or visit falcontheatre.com