Carol’s Culture Corner Review of TAMING THE LION

A World Premiere of a new play, “TAMING THE LION” written by Jack Rushen opened at Theatre 40… and what an interesting play this is. Based on a true incident, the play concerns a gay actor named William Haines who acted in 50 films between 1922 and 1934, and who was the number one box office draw at the end of the silent era. Fearing that Haines’ gayness might prove to be detrimental to the MGM Studio name, Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg attempted to force Haines to marry. Haines was already in a committed relationship with Jimmie Shields, a relationship that lasted until Haines death in 1973. Consequently, he refused to comply with MGM’s wishes, ultimately giving up the business and becoming an interior decorator from then on. Comparisons were made with, supposedly, closeted Ramon Navarro and Rudolph Valentino, but Haines stood his ground and refused to live a lie. And so you have the story. Written with believable conversation by actor playwright Jack Rushen who was a two time recipient of the Julie Harris Playwriting Award from the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild, the play flows comfortably from scene to scene. The second act has more action than the first which naturally contains more exposition. Directed with acute sharpness by Melanie MacQueen, the characters come to life as quickly as the play begins. Landon Beatty does an excellent job as William Haines, while Niko Boles portrays his lover Jimmie with emotion. Marie Broderick portrays Joan Crawford, and while she does not give an impersonation, she is strong and real in her relationship with Haines until the end. Kevin Delude gives another realistic portrayal of Irving Thalberg, as does Jean Mackie as Ida, Mayer’s secretary. But it is Jeffrey Winner, in his portrayal of Louis B. Mayer, who carries the bravado necessary to ‘become’ the head of the MGM Studios. While the title makes you think that Taming the Lion refers to the taming of Mayer himself, I believe it is his pressure to try to influence Haines’ decision to marry that the title of the play refers to. The set design by Jeff G. Rack is another great set for Theatre 40, containing basically 3 areas, the Haines/Shields living room, Mayer’s office, and a table at the Brown Derby, complete with black and white character drawings of Hollywood stars. The costumes by Michele Young served the play well as did sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski, and Hair, Wigs, and Makeup by Judi Lewin, and Stage Manager, Don Solosan. Press is by Philip Sokoloff. Overall the play stands as a lesson in American theatrical history to show us all what a long way we have come to accept this subject matter.

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