Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe


Albuquerque Little Theatre
Review by Carla Cafolla

Mario Cabrera
Photo Courtesy of Albuquerque Little Theatre
Albuquerque Little Theatre (ALT), in its first presentation since COVID-19 prematurely closed their beautiful production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast in early 2020, brings us Barrymore. Written by William Luce, premiered at the Stratford Festival in 1996, this almost one-man show is a fictionalized account of John (Jack) Barrymore's preparations to resurrect his (in real life) much acclaimed and eulogized interpretation of Shakespeare's Richard III in an effort to revive his sunken, drink-sodden career.

Under Henry Avery's direction, with Mario Cabrera in the title role, Barrymore escapes the fate it might deserve if enacted by any other. Just as he did as Salieri in Amadeus, (another ALT production), Cabrera excels. His onstage presence leaves us with little doubt that "Mr. Profile" lives among us for a short couple of hours.

Cabrera's Barrymore, flitting wildly and seamlessly back and forth between euphoria and morose mania, skillfully, with often beautiful, meandering, and tragically amusing anecdotes, shares the accumulated disaster of his life. Casually ignoring even the notion of a fourth wall, Cabrera draws us into his story, and we reside in his head, listening to him amuse himself with his great appreciation for his own wit and wonderfully unmatched talents. And there I would have happily stayed for the entire performance, living his world of reminiscences and enjoying his raconteur, except I was constantly dragged back and reminded where I was. The decision to make this "almost one-man show" into a very definite two-hander demolishes the illusion every time "The Prompter" makes his physical presence felt. Parker Owen, through no fault of his own, changes the nature of the play, reminding us that it is a play. If Owen, while well cast for his part, had been directed to be heard and not seen, a sole appearance by him just before curtain, with the ghost light, would have elevated this production all the way up to spectacular.

Through Luce's clever, amusing, but sometimes "tries too hard" dialogue, we learn how a maternally and emotionally orphaned child stumbles into a stunted and apparently endlessly rudderless adulthood. This engaging lush, a ruination of a man, with the wholehearted and desperate prodding of his prompter/stage manager, makes a distracted and ultimately futile effort to redeem himself professionally as he tries to rehearse on the stage of an empty rented theatre.

By virtue of the few years which separated him from the older children, the youngest Barrymore had the misfortune of spending undiluted time with his predatory stepmother and his probably deranged father, John Drew Barrymore. This resulted in his becoming sexually active and alcohol dependent many years before he was of age. In a series of seemingly unfeeling observations, we hear how Pere Barrymore, like his father before him, was an alcoholic of impressive repute. The story of his succumbing, via a series of strokes, to dementia and the eventual messy death triggered by untreated syphilis, climaxes with a priceless yet emotionally revealing recounting of his father's inadvertent, yet so typical, abusive exit.

In a quickly glossed-over tale we learn why young Barrymore reluctantly emulates his siblings, Lionel and Ethel, and "joins the family business" on stage. Then a rare pathos emerges, as he honors his long dead friend who motivated and cajoled a more youthful John to the success he knew was, at that time, so easily and effortlessly attainable.

Jack Barrymore was personally wildly extravagant, excessive and unrestrained. Recognized in his own lifetime as America's most brilliant (if short-lived) Shakespearean actor, he was also renowned for his abilities as an impersonator. Ribald, arrogant, rude and mocking, a litany of personalities flow from Cabrera as he regales us with legendary yarns. Playing each character with a sly wit and devilish appreciation of his own villainy, Luella Parsons, Lionel and Ethel Barrymore, G.B. Shaw, a whore and others appear and disappear effortlessly, with much appreciation from the audience. Later, amid various rehashings of marital events, endless partying, and general debauchery, Cabrera, with great finesse, heartachingly reveals echoes of genius, and ephemeral silhouettes of his former, casually squandered, brilliance.

This script is a perfect vehicle for the multi-talented Cabrera. He has a beautifully rich speaking voice, a wonderful sense of timing, and is unfailing in his obvious enjoyment of this role. Beneath the gleeful lobbing of salacious limericks, continuous sexual references, and shameless recounting of his many conquests, Cabrera allows us an occasional peek at the painful reality the once lauded, celebrated actor of both stage and screen tries to hide from both himself and us.

The Barrymore legacy lives on in Drew Barrymore, granddaughter of the titular character. As a charming six-year-old she found fame as the little girl in Stephen Spielberg's E.T. and continues to occasionally grace our screens in a variety of lighthearted movies. If her stated wish comes to pass, both of her children will follow a different life path. Drew, now 46, is a rehab alumnus who received long term treatment for alcohol and cocaine abuse at the age of 13, has discouraged ideas of continuing the four hundred recorded years of illustrious thespian history attributed to the Barrymore family.

Lighting and sound design are spot on, as are costuming and scenic design.

Barrymore is the first in the trio of ALT's "summer series" offerings and I highly, highly recommend you see it. Please note that each in the series runs for one weekend only. If you don't catch Cabrera in this role this weekend, you will miss this truly great production with only yourself to blame—and tickets are at general admission prices for a limited time.

As a very generous donation enabled this theatre to purchase a COVID fogger/sanitizing unit, and with all volunteers fully vaccinated, masked, and trained in its usage, the additional decision by the board of ALT to limit admission numbers in order to provide socially distant open seating for individuals, couples or groups is a very considerate and gentle way of inviting you back to the theatre. Please support your local and community arts as we take careful baby-steps into a safe and healthy future for all.

Barrymore runs through July 11, 2021, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and information, call 505-242-4750 or visit Tickets also available at the door.