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Dead End
a kate west review
written by Sidney Kingsley; directed by Nicholas Martin
at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 North Grand Ave, Los Angeles 90012
running August 28 - October 16, 2005; ($20 Hot Tix available)
contact box office at (213) 628-2772 or www.taperahmanson.com

Sidney Kingsley's dramatic play "Dead End" shocked Broadway audiences in 1935 with its depiction of slum living and coarse street lingo. Audiences may also remember the Oscar-nominated 1937 Humphrey Bogart movie directed by William Wyler. Now Michael Ritchie makes his spectacular debut, as the Center Theatre Group's new Artistic Director, with an even bigger splash in a slick 2005 modern version for the Ahmanson Theatre.

With 42 actors (including a great supporting cast) and an orchestra pit filled with 10,000 gallons of water, New York's 1930's East River front is stylishly recreated. Scruffy neighborhood boys joyfully jump off the dock into the water, splashing any audience member daring to sit in the front row. James Noone's amazing set is the first thing that takes your breath away as the curtain rises. A wooden dock, the edge of the East River, brown slum buildings next to posh avenue apartments all blend to create a world of feuding classes. Costume Designer Michael Krass also does wonderful work with authentic period pieces and Director Nicholas Martin seamlessly weaves the upper and lower classes together, doing justice to Kingsley's strong story.

The real life-inspired Dead End kids, made infamous back in the play's first incarnation, start off the show with rabble-rousing hijinks. Milty (Josh Sussman), the newest and most Jewish kid on the block is tormented by the ragamuffin gang prowling the waterfront. Tommy (Ricky Ullman) is their leader, who eventually accepts Milty but still raises hell whenever possible. His sister Drina (Kathryn Hahn) tries to keep an eye on him but can't be everywhere at once. Philip Griswald (Benjamin Platt) is also drawn into the fray, although he can never really be of their world, as he is of the privileged variety, jeering at them from high up in a penthouse luxury balcony. They wallop him good, however, when is he caught unawares in the street. This sets off a chain of events which eventually leads to Phillip's irate father (Charley Lang) demanding that Tommy be hauled off to juvenile prison, in spite of his sister's pleas. Displaying a rough street-smart charm, one dead end kid is more captivating than the next and all (Trevor Peterson with his tragic cough as "T.B.", Ricky Ullman, Greg Roman as "Dippy", Adam Rose as "Angel" and Sam Murphy as the Judas-like "Spit") have their own appeal.

Baby-Face Martin ("Six Feet Under's" smoldering Jeremy Sisto) returns to the old neighborhood as living testament of a boy gone wrong (he's the Humphrey Bogart role in the film). He also started in reform school, the lesson being that it's small wonder he became a notorious gangster who will soon receive his comeuppance. His old pal Gimpty (the likeable Tom Everett Scott) reluctantly turns him in. Martin's mother (Joyce Van Patten) gets applause in a heartbreaking reunion scene between killer son and devastated mother when both realize there is no going home. Gimpty too, finally realizes he doesn't belong in either world, having come from the slums, but having higher aspirations, and is thus spurned by posh girl Kay (Sarah Hudnut). The stark contrast between rich and poor is eloquently portrayed and we are left with a sense of sorrow at the inevitability of fate. Some of the language may seem a bit dated, but it still aptly conveys the message that apparently the problems of the 30's are still prevalent today. Timely, but unfortunate.

 

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