Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Theater Review: The Human Comedy

Adrian A. Gamez, Ben Kientz, Jessie Oriabure, Eva Abramian and Rachael Maye Aronoff in The Human Comedy. Photo by Larry Sandez.


In June 2018, Violet, produced by Actors Co-Op, was the subject of my first theater review for The Larchmont Buzz. Since then, it’s been a fascinating journey that has included pandemic-inspired outdoor performances and Zoom productions, as well as a wide range of more traditional (and non-traditional) theater. These past five years have taken me from the all-you-can-drink firehose of the Hollywood Fringe Festival to notable shows like Ain’t Too Proud, Metamorphoses and Poor Clare, and to transcendent experiences like Andy Warhol’s Tomato and Sleep with the Angels.

Now, almost five years later, this review of Actors Co-Op’s The Human Comedy is my 150th for the Buzz.

The show is a worthy production that showcases Actors Co-Op’s wide range of talent, both onstage and behind the scenes. A clever and adaptable rotating set, by scenic designer Tim Farmer, is almost cinematic in its ability to present at least half a dozen locations and support an opening tableau featuring the entire cast, a rowdy classroom, an intimate scene for two, and a single speaker.

The Human Comedy was born as an autobiographical screenplay by William Saroyan. It then became a novel, a movie, an early television program, and a short-lived Broadway musical. This new play was adapted and directed by Thom Babbes. It’s a sprawling story of a small California town circa 1942, where sunny times are threatened by the darkness of World War II.

Brendan Shannon plays 14-year-old Homer Macauley with impressive stage presence, enthusiasm, and willingness to go crashing to the ground multiple times in service of the story. He spends much of the play limping convincingly. The fatherless Homer is forced to grow up prematurely when he takes a job delivering telegrams. Too young to be eligible for the job, Homer talks his way in to help support his family.

Tom Spangler (Kendall Lloyd), a father figure to Homer, runs the local telegraph office and hires the boy. Homer delivers telegrams announcing battlefield deaths to distraught mothers. He helps save the sickly and alcoholic telegraph operator Willie Grogan (Bruce Ladd). In school, he’s mistreated by Coach Byfield (Ben Kientz) and nemesis Hubert Ackley (Mitchell Lam Hau). It’s a lot for a kid to handle.

Homer’s father Matthew (Marc Elmer) narrates the proceedings from beyond the grave; he died two years before the story begins. Homer’s older brother Marcus (Mitchell Lam Hau, in a second role) is serving in the Army. References to The Odyssey, including character names and a Fresno disguised as Ithaca, lend a sense of gravity and reinforce the theme of obstacles to returning home from war.


Marc Elmer, Mitchell Lam Hau and Tiago Santos in The Human Comedy. Photo by Larry Sandez.


With a running time of almost three hours and a cast of 15 playing more than twice that number of characters, the play could use a little trimming. Even naming all the characters is daunting. In Homer’s family alone there’s struggling widow Kate (Jessica Woehler), mother to him, his younger brother Ulysses (Finn Martensen), and his older sister Bess (Eva Abramian), as well as soldier Marcus. There’s Marcus’ girlfriend Mary (Rachael Maye Aronoff, who also plays Mr. Spangler’s girlfriend Diana Steed), Homer’s teacher Miss Hicks (Tricia Cruz) and, as the commercials used to say, many more. Over time, the characters reveal themselves through plotting expected and unexpected, as well as strong direction and acting.

A religious theme includes prayers said before meals and hymns sung around the piano, as well as some moralistic speechifying. While these feel appropriate to the 1940s timeframe, and to a venue that’s part of a church, they could be truncated without affecting the plot. A dream sequence is intriguing and well-staged, but feels out of place.

Its expansive nature, though, does give The Human Comedy room to breathe. It’s an old-fashioned stage experience, beautifully capturing an era when terror lurked in the tapping of telegraph keys as towns tried to find normalcy and face the future without fear.


Finn Martinsen is carried by cast members in The Human Comedy; Marc Elmer is at right. Photo by Larry Sandez.


The Human Comedy runs through April 23 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sunday matinees with talkback at 2:30pm. There are additional Saturday matinee on March 18 and April 1 at 2:30. No performances Easter weekend, April 7-9. The play is performed by Actors Co-Op in the David Schall Theatre on the campus of First Presbyterian Church, 1760 N. Gower St. There is plenty of free parking in the lot on Carlos Ave. east of Gower. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased here.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }