Variety’s Bob Verini On Stoneface

The Core Belief

My friend Vanessa Stewart’s play Stoneface, currently running through August 5th at Sacred Fools Theater in Los Angeles, has gotten some wonderful reviews.  Few were as good as this gem from Variety’s Bob Verini:


Little links these two world premiere plays for me, except that I saw them on consecutive nights and each is inspired by, and celebrates, a real-life figure. One production had me leaping from my seat; the other had me squirming in it.

The triumph was Sacred Fools’ “Stoneface,” whose subtitle “The Rise & Fall & Rise of Buster Keaton” seemed to promise one of those standard, clichéd, name-dropping bioplays in which you can practically hear the 3×5 cards fall as the author shoehorns in all the researched facts of a Hollywood life. But Vanessa Stewart’s approach to structure is considerably fresher and more complex than that.

It’s most ingenious of her to careen back and forth in time to reveal the perfectionism, fecklessness, and childhood traumas that contributed to Keaton’s lifetime’s worth of great (professional) and poor (personal) choices. It’s equally impressive how she and helmer Jaime Robledo weave in actual Keaton film clips, as well as clips newly created for the production, on top of live re-creations of cinematically inspired conventions performed live on stage. The marriage to Norma Talmadge, for instance, is narrated and staged as Mack Sennett would have included it in a Keystone comedy; and home life briefly shared with Scott Leggett’s Fatty Arbuckle opens Act Two with a hilarious sequence involving a Rube Goldberg–like “machine for living.”

Always aware of Keaton as a man both in and of cinema, Stewart and her collaborators skillfully employ cinematic DNA to craft a detailed, persuasive portrait. I do think she could have made more of the convention of having two actors portraying the old and young Buster: They have a few brief confrontations and one sweet homage to the mirror sequence from “Duck Soup,” but a brooding fellow like Keaton ought to be even more in touch with, and inquiring of, his younger self. Still, in the remarkable hands of French Stewart (the author’s spouse) and Joe Fria, old and young Buster together made me feel I was learning quite a bit about an artist I felt I’d known pretty well when I walked in.  (To read the rest of the review, click here.)

Stoneface: make sure you catch it gang!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Every Friday, get 2 for 1 movie tickets when you use your Visa Signature card.

Recent Comments