‘Vivien’ at the Acting Artists Theatre Hollywood, reviewed

by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Taking on the subject of mental illness and institutionalism is Vivien by playwright Percy Granger, currently running at the Acting Artists Theatre 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA.

As written, Vivien is a powerful story of a father (Vivien), a psychiatric patient living in a nursing home and son, Paul, a theatre director, who attempt to reunite after almost four decades apart.  The play is supposed to explore the tenuous ties that bind a family together.

It didn’t go well for the opening of this show.  Both lead males played side by side on stage like two entities unto themselves barely making an emotion connection.  It was difficult to discern the chemistry between lead actors Craig Braun and Ilia Volok which created an awkward, unevenness that registered far beyond the difficult meeting between two men.  Subject matter that should have been incredibly potent, leaves the audience particularly dissatisfied…except for the powerful presence and masterful character work of Mr. Braun.

Mr. Braun goes deep on this one and takes the audience on a passionate journey that touches an enormity of emotional levels. Intricately nuanced, he displays the gravity of his psychological state bringing the audience back and forth into reality and fantasy – which ultimately becomes merged into an striking clarity. The breath of the work is entirely uncovered through Mr. Braun and thus the real guts of the story exposed and made palpable and heartfelt.  Mr. Braun fiercly embodies Vivien , fleshed out, believable, empathetic and heroic. He carries the show like a champion.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Mr. Volok, who stays in a perpetual state of angst and dispatches a more or less one note delivery.  Mr. Volok’s consistent tension never changes and is troublesome throughout. It keeps the audience from experiencing an emotional resolution of any sort even at the finale.

As the nurse, actress Tracey Silver also makes some very perplexing physical as well as psychological choices, which are confusing enough to give the impression that at times she may even be a mildly deranged patient herself and not a medical professional.

The show does pace fairly well and the set & lighting design works, but there are not many reasons apart from Mr. Braun to see this work.  It doesn’t take on the subject very well. It needs a re-think.

Written by Percy Granger
Directed by Tracey Silver
Produced by Cabiv Production

Featuring: Craig Braun, Ilia Volok and Tracey Silver

Photo (above) by Jack Storm: Craig Braun and Ilia Volok

2 responses to “‘Vivien’ at the Acting Artists Theatre Hollywood, reviewed”

  1. Craig BRAUN Avatar
    Craig BRAUN

    Tracey…a brief note in contrast to your perception of the beginning of the play
    My character, Vivien, has been institutionalized for 4 decades…. Taking a variety of drugs all the while… Has serious mental/ memory problems…
    Therefore not visually reconciling the 10 year old boy with the 50 year old man who’s picking him up that morning
    Plus Vivien wants that there be a cost to his son for dumping him and not communicating with his dad for 40 years… So huge resentments and denial of his son are also in the beginning… So you experienced the divide but saw it flawed the work.
    In any event, I’m deeply grateful for your acknowledgement of my work…
    All the best, Craig


    1. GiaOnTheMove Avatar

      Mr. Braun,
      Thank you for writing in and commenting. I so much appreciate and really.. am thankful to have you here with insight from your point of view of the show and the characters. I can only express what I see and hear in a performance on any given night which is not necessarily what another audience member will see or hear in the exact way. So it’s important that people know all sides of a story.
      Just a note, I did see all of the things that you mentioned. The resentments the denials. It wasn’t necessarily a flaw in the text. I just thought you were “unmatched”. You and your delivery made perfect sense in every way. That just wasn’t the case with the rest.
      Please know that I have a great respect for your talent and your efforts. What you brought to the script was genuine and riveting. And it is I who am deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to experience you.
      All the best, Tracey/Gia


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