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By Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal
Special to the Village News 

'Once' transports audience to Ireland


Last updated 7/25/2018 at 2:45pm

John Howard

The band plays on the stage as part of the play in "Once" at Lamb's Players Theatre.

"What could be more important than love?" Finding it, keeping it, letting it go, or breathing life back into it?

"Once" is a small Irish film out of Dublin that still resonates around the globe. Rewritten for the stage by Enda Walsh with music and lyrics by Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard, "Once" opened on Broadway garnering eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.

Making its West Coast premiere, "Once" is presented locally by Lamb's Players Theatre (L.P.T.) while each actor tries wholeheartedly to speak with an Irish accent. Yet, too often, it is impossible to follow the dialogue.

By the by, it is the fabulous music, not the garbled lyrics, that carry the show. In fact, the entire band is out of the pit and on stage. Counting three guitars, a ukulele, an accordion, a base, a lone fiddle, a beat box, the mandolin, a piano, a jiggy-cello, and drums, all under the baton of Musical Director G. Scott Lacy – it is a great piece of theatre.

Thanks to Lacy, the music is so true to its source, one need not fly to Ireland just to hear it. Therefore, we can sit back and enjoy an Irish reel performed by this talented cast as they cavort about playing various instruments.

Yes, it is the cavorting about that boggles the mind and transports the audience across the pond into a corner pub in the heart of Dublin. Wait, there is more. The set is a working pub, for real. Open for audience members (21 and over) pre-show adult beverages can be purchased at the set's bar. Pretty cool.

Actually, it should come as no surprise since it was designed by the clever Sean Fanning. He truly flexes his design muscles on this set.

When "Once" was rewritten for the theatre and songs were added, we learned about "loving others with an open heart". The pity is it is whether the audience could understand a word of lyrics due to the quasi-Irish-accents. (Note: It would be helpful if the lyrics were inserted into the program). On the flip side, the musical tunes will transport ye to the lush green shores of bonnie Ireland.

Director Kerry Meads embraces the script and brings it to life. Patrick J. Duffy is the house audio master and did his best to balance the sound. Bringing us up from the dark is Nathan Peirson, the house lighting-designer-actor-handyman. Colleen Kollar Smith delivers the choreography when she worked out the movements.

Costume designers Jeanne Reith and Jemima Dutra missed the story line. As it happens, the story unfolds over a five day period. Which poses the question: Who wears the same outfit continuously for five days?

The Girl (Catie Grady) said, "Dublin is about big dreams and all the people who help you realize them." That being true, is there any wonder she admits to "walking on moonbeams". Or to paraphrase yer Da (Kent Brisby) who wisely offers up "Just live".

The book is a bit quirky in that the two leading characters don't seem to have names. They are listed only Guy and Girl. Now "Guy" could be a real name yet I'm thinking probably not. As it turns out, it does not matter one twit what the characters are called.

Michael Louis Cusimano portrays the melancholy "guy" unable to reconnect with women. He lost his heart along with his lady-love when she left for America. Catie Grady as the Girl connects Guy back with his heart when she gets him to admit "it feels like we've started." Even while he fights the attraction, the Girl hangs tough.

Both get high marks for their performances even though they occasionally slipped out of their Irish brogue. None the less, the story line came through.

Rounding out the cast is a fine group of actors committed to the success of this show. You can read it on their faces.

Here is the supporting cast listed in alphabetical order: Abigail Allwein plays the ex-girlfriend, and for this production Sadie Coleman is Ivanka; the alternate Ivanka is played by Bianca Rodriguez and their understudy is Madison Cook; Manny Fernandes is Billy who owns the town's only music store; Reza is played by Temi Hanson; Jimmy Marino is the Emcee; James Michael McHale is the Bank Manager, with Luke Monday as dance captain. All offer great support for the story.

Other featured players include David Rumley as the odd ball playing the beat box, Arusi Santi as Svec, and Deborah Gilmour Smyth is Ivanka's mother Baruska. The band is comprised of the players, so they need to walk, talk and play an instrument at the same time.

Despite all the jiggin' around, this is a very sweet love story. It is one you would enjoy tagging a teenage grandchild along. To prepare you for the show, need I mention, there is an Irish pub just across the street from the theatre.

"Once" is playing at Lamb's Players Theatre at 1142 Orange Avenue and has been extended until Aug. 12, 2018. Box office: (760) 437-6000 or if you are computer savvy go to Free parking in town if you look for it.

Rated 9.5 out of 10. The writer can be contacted at


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