A packed house greeted the gala opening of A Noise Within’s new Pasadena home in the Stuart Pharmaceutical building on the corner of Sierra Madre Villa and Foothill Avenues last Saturday night, October 29.
ANW is a professional repertory company dedicated to the classics which has been in business in Glendale for two decades. Their six-play seasons always include a few Shakespearean productions and plays by authors as diverse as Corneille and Moliere, Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller.
The new theater complex (33,000 square feet costing $13.5 million to build) preserved the cement-block frontage of the historical landmark building, which sits just north of the Stuart Apartments and the current terminus of the Gold Line. The lobby looks out to the mountains past a long, low fountain (an architectural allusion to the Music Center, or an attempt to dampen traffic noise: either way it’s a nice touch). On opening night, search lights announced the inauguration of the season. The new theater auditorium is below ground, a gently sloping bowl with a thrust stage so that the excellent company can play to all sides.
Board member Sheila Lamson laughed with her friends in the audience about the vast improvement the expansive, custom new digs are over the old theater (a skinny, five-story Mason’s hall seemingly built to frustrate, rather than perpetrate, performance). The new space will allow twice as many audience members to see plays, and double the educational outreach program to 20,000. Sheila and her husband Alan, a former professor of English at PCC, have been loyal supporters of ANW since 1992.
It’s easy to see why. The productions are top-notch, starting from the material; artistic co-directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott encourage innovative direction and clearly want actors to take risks. The company of actors and technicians are pros; dialogue crackles, body language helps get the point across in sometimes obscure scenes — and everybody looks like they are having fun. Using a repertory system means the audience gets to see old friends take on different roles and it becomes fun to see who will get which part. It’s like knowing the players on a sports team — you always enjoy watching the game more.
A Noise Within’s focus on the classics is a great complement to innovative Boston Court Theatre and Pasadena Playhouse’s mix of originals and revivals, musicals and plays. When director Rodriguez-Elliott came on-stage before the first performance, she got a standing ovation. Her Cuban-infused Twelfth Night started with a shipwreck scene as harrowing as anything on reality TV, and the contrast between that and the sparkling comedy that followed showed as much promise as the brand-new theater itself. As Duke Orsino said from his clawfoot bathtub a couple of minutes into Act One, “Play on!”