Step out of the cold into something hot at The Stagecrafters Theater. SOMETHING INTANGIBLE, currently playing, transports the audience back into the golden age of Hollywood. Two brothers, one the ‘creative’ mind and one the financial are collaborating to create a full length feature animated film set to classical music. If this sounds familiar, then the allusion to Walt Disney and Roy Disney working toward the creation of Fantasia shines through.
Disney scholars will no doubt relate to the overall plot while forgiving the fictionalized aspects of the truth. Two brothers, one chairman of the board and one animator are highlighted, though there were over 1000 animators who actually worked on Fantasia. Dale Wiston, the financial brother, is seeing a therapist, to figure out SOMETHING INTANGIBLE. Sonia Feldman, the therapist, is unclear about the purpose of the sessions, as is the patient. The story is told using a play within a play convention, allowing Dale Wiston to step in and out of therapy sessions and become a part of the action. Tony Wiston, the creator of the illustrations, is obsessive over the idea of the new animated feature film set to classical music. Dale is the caretaker in many ways including things financial, physical, and moral. Leo Baxter, the single animator who represents the entire animation team, feels he is overworked and under credited. Gustav Von Meyerhoff is the pretentious, demanding, conductor responsible for the musical life of the animated film. Doc Bartelli, the chairman of the board, is understanding about the process, concerned about the financing and money making potential of the film, while still interested in cultivating creativity. Creativity is the crux of the plot. Who is creative and in what ways? Is it creative to have the vision? Is it creative to find the finances, the necessary finances, to make the vision come true? The method behind the creative process is fully explored in conjunction with the struggle to find the funds, producers, and major collaborators. The play has sharply drawn characters played with precision.
Dale (Anthony Marsala), and Tony (Chris Anthony) portray a great and believable partnership. As brothers they are convincing, illustrating the yin and yang of siblings. The need to create vs. the want to create is explored. There is the need to create, along with the need to make money. Then there is the want to leave a legacy, somehow becoming symbiotic with the want of the investors to recoup their investments. Each of the minds of each of the Wiston brothers somehow needing and always wanting to understand the mind of the other is at the core of the drama and the humor.
Questioning whether what he feels is rivalry or envy Marsala as Dale talks his way through the creation of the film with a psychiatrist. Marsala plays the financial man, the realist at odds with the madness and frenzy of idea man Tony, portrayed by Chris Anthony. Marsala makes a perfect foil for the character of Tony. He is solid, steady, honest, caring, and a mastermind by his own right. Marsala’s performance gives over to all of that and more. Playing the straight man is always tricky and Marsala does so with power, never overplaying for attention. Chris Anthony gives his all to making clear the pain of the creative process, the ups and downs of genius, and the mania of working toward artistic perfection. His is a mature, complex, complete performance. Chris Anthony gives over to the passion, desperation, focus, madness, demons of creativity, and the unraveling of a creative powerhouse. Chris Anthony’s performance is one of a creative powerhouse as well. He delivers a finely detailed, nuanced, likable, bold, detestable but lovable, crumbling while healing, madman. The character’s genius and the actor’s genius complement one another to perfection. His is a performance that makes an audience want to stay seated, hoping for an act three. Susan Mattson, as the psychiatrist does an admirable job with her character who does not have the luxury of leaving stage at all during the performance. She is quiet and strong. Danny Donnelly, as the lone animator, makes the most of his character and delivers a touching scene of desperation. Mike Mogar is sympathetic as the chairman of the board. Michael Tarringer’s portrayal of the composer has the right tone.
The set is brimming with all things Hollywood in the Art Deco style. There is a charming poster of Petey Pup, a nod to a certain animated character with the initials MM. Palm trees, stylized furniture, a water tower, artwork, a signature including a very familiar script on the water tower, round out the decoration and deliver a cohesive feel. Costumes are good with a Hollywood 1940s feel to the suits of brothers. There is no requisite Disney knowledge necessary for complete enjoyment of this production. The script is well conceived and detailed, and the performances exceptional. Enjoy SOMETHING INTANGIBLE, a hot ticket on a cold winter night.
by Bruce Graham
Directed by Barbara Mills
January 30 – February 15, 2015
The Stagecrafters Theater
8130 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118