Theater Review: "The Twentieth Century Way"

This is Johnson’s third turn at ion, and he gets better every time I see him.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

Here’s a novel setup: Two actors – “ruggedly handsome” Warren (Richard Johnson) and “pretty boy” Brown (Colton Iverson) do improv while waiting – and waiting – for auditions for the same film role.

The more assertive Warren suggests a vice theme based on an actual obscure law passed in California in 1914 which called oral copulation “social vagrancy.”

Warren (or is it a character?) points out that they can make money ($15 a head) while waiting for acting jobs by entrapping men in public bathrooms and reporting them to the police. He slaps a police cap on Brown’s head and the game begins.

It’s the local premiere of Tom Jacobson’s wild 85-minute piece “The Twentieth-Century Way,” brilliantly (and speedily) directed by Claudio Raygoza, that turns out to be an actors’ showcase of character types, accents, gestures and voices.

The piece is in an oddball gem, but you’ll have to hurry to see it because it’s in a very short run (closing July 24) as part of ion theatre’s “Off-the-Radar” series.

It’s also a nod to the local Pride celebration, because as it progresses, it becomes clear that both actors are gay – and increasingly attracted to each other.

The collection of hats and accessories hung on a simple onstage frame facilitate the parade of characters, which include a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, an attorney, a Scottish druggist, a Minnesota florist, a housewife and of course that Long Beach police officer.

As it goes on, it becomes more difficult to decide who’s real and who’s acting, and when – or, as Warren suggests, are we all acting all the time?

This is Johnson’s third turn at ion, and he gets better every time I see him. Here he outdoes himself.

Newcomer (to ion) Iverson is a welcome addition, playing the more malleable of the pair, at first shocked by Warren’s suggestions, then settling into the game (or is it?) and enjoying it.

The more conservative audience member may be a bit nonplused (if not turned off) by increasing nudity and discussion of, shall we say, less standard sexual practices, not to mention an ending that comes fairly out of nowhere. But there’s plenty of food for thought for all.

Anyone who wants to see two actors at the top of their game had best hurry to get those tickets.

The details

“The Twentieth-Century Way” plays through July 24, 2016 at ion’s BLKBOX, 3704 6th Avenue in Hillcrest.

Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm.; Saturday at 6 and 9 pm; Sunday at 5 and 8 pm

Tickets: (619) 600-5020 or www.iontheatre.com