Monday, October 31, 2005

Nike Imoru is resigning

By the end of December, Nike Imoru will leave her post as artistic director of Spokane Interplayers Ensemble, says Carol Shore, who works in group sales for the theater.

One immediate effect is that The Fantasticks, scheduled for Dec. 1-17, will be directed not by Imoru but by another locally prominent director long associated with the theater.

Imoru is obviously leaving on friendly terms: She's staying in Spokane, and executive director Mary Ann McCurdy is quoted on the Spokesman-Review's Web page saying that she hopes that Imoru might return as a guest director a couple of times a year.

Bobo had predicted privately -- and hoped he was wrong - that Imoru would only stay one full season at Interplayers before moving on to other assignments. Well, we only had her as official A.D. for not quite one and a half seasons. It's a loss to the Spokane theatrical community: Nike is a gentle, creative soul and an accomplished theater artist.

Asked for a reaction -- and specifically about how Imoru's resignation might affect the rumored "merger" of Actors Rep and Interplayers (if at all) -- Grant Smith of ARt had this to say: "Nike is a wonderful world-class artist, and we are fortunate to keep her in Spokane. Michael [Weaver] and I look forward to seeing future projects that she helms."

Sunday, October 30, 2005

CYT needs your help

After the warehouse fire on Thursday, Christian Youth Theatre-Spokane can use donations of time, building materials (tools, lumber and painting supplies) and money. Details at

Oliver! will still be performed at the Met on Nov. 4-6 and Nov. 12.

The Velveteen Rabbit will be performed at 708 W. Nora Ave. on Nov. 18-20.

Call 487-6540.

opening-night review of The Lion King

at the Opera House through Dec. 4

Having gone on and on in The Inlander’s special 16-page insert last week about the virtues of this show -- you might say I lionized it -- I thought I’d try specifying what doesn’t work as well. No show’s perfect, after all.

Yet while I have some criticisms, I found myself (on second viewing, having seen the show once already in Portland) taking note of aspects of the show that I liked even better this time around.

Any long-running Disney show like The Lion King is going to possess obvious virtues: simultaneous appeal to adults and children; a score that ranges from catchy pop to rock anthems to haunting South African chant; lyrics that skim the surface of the mundane but which, in the context of performance, ascend spiritual heights; a plot that incorporates elements of myth, Shakespeare, the Bible and world religious traditions; director Julie Taymor’s inventive means (i.e., puppets of all kinds) in pulling off what she calls the “double event” (human-animal interaction); and the kind of technical wizardry you expect from Disney Imagineers (along with much more).

Still, sometimes the gears grind; even at Disneyland itself, sometimes the gizmos that animate those buccaneers on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride go haywire, too. On Saturday night at the Opera House, the sound quality and spotlight steadiness wavered in a few places. During “Hakuna Matata,” Young Simba didn’t swing out on a vine so as to set up the Tarzan-exuberant first entrance of Simba the young man. After the Timon doll fell to its “death” on the waterfall, a stagehand could be seen crawling out on hands and knees -- out there among the crocodiles -- to retrieve it.

But those are just happenstance problems with a particular performance. There are some missteps in the show itself. The “trickster” characters that accompany Young Simba and Young Nala during “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” while colorful, seem silly. Maybe it’s because those are the show’s only full-body puppets (with the actors concealed entirely inside); maybe that’s why they seem inconsistent with the rest of the production. But by the time the child actors came out riding on top of enormous birds, all I could visualize was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and badly decorated floats. Speaking of kid actors: I didn’t buy Young Simba’s grief after the stampede, either here or in Portland. In an otherwise very good performance, Khaleel Mandel Carter has to sell, at that moment, desolation and loneliness. Dad’s gone, and he’s all alone; the moment depends on it.

A second defect crying out for a script doctor: The vaudeville routine that Timon and Pumbaa break into at the start of the final Simba/Scar face-off is badly misjudged. Clearly, the Disney folks felt a need to lighten the mood lest matters get too heavy for young ones’ minds. And just as clearly, they’re right in an important way: Both audiences I was part of laughed and applauded. But we get that the meerkat-warthog combo are a team meant to provide comic relief. The pink-feather-boa nonsense descends into silliness and cheapens the good-vs.-evil combat that follows. Another overly silly moment arrives in one of the Elton John tunes added to the stage show, “The Morning Report.” I was amazed by Derek Hasenstab’s rubber-limbed dexterity, puppetry skills and vocal inflections as Zazu. But the song comes off as a contrived attempt to show that Mufasa has a lighter side and to insert some comedy in among the first couple of trips to Scar’s scary cave. For plot purposes, dialogue conveys what we need to know anyway (when Mufasa surveys the Pridelands with Young Simba).

It’s not just that Taymor (or Disney cajoling Taymor) isn’t trusting the kids to cope with the more serious or lyrical or tragic plot events; she (and they) aren’t trusting the adults. There’s so much good comic byplay in this show (Zazu telling off the usurper in “The Madness of King Scar,” for example), that we don’t need entire comic numbers to hold our fears at bay.

And proof of that arrives late in the show, when the Lion King script juxtaposes moments in which seriousness is undercut by comedy, and comedy strengthened by its proximity to seriousness. At the end of “Endless Night,” when Simba is encouraged by the chorus’ affirmation that “the sun will rise” (with its Christian sun/son wordplay also hinting at religious faith), Rafiki (the baboon woman and shaman) appears to intuit that Simba, long thought dead, is actually alive. “He’s alive!” she exclaims -- and the next line of dialogue has Pumbaa waddling in, frightened of an unfamiliar lioness (Nala) and screaming, “She’s gonna eat me!” Life, death; the gift of life made more meaningful by being snatched out of the jaws of death; our fears of death made less frightening by the needless fretting of the worrywart warthog. _That’s_ the way to balance the profound and the ludicrous: not by inserting a contrived comic musical number, but by juxtaposing moments and letting the audience make the connection (as so much of The Lion King does anyway, and does so well).

There are even more things about this show that I found myself jotting down, even on a second viewing. In an overwhelmingly white town, how great is it to see a predominately black cast? And outside of pop music and sports, where else in America today (as playwright Richard Greenberg puts it) do people of pallor adulate people of color? In Portland, a Disney flack told me a story about an African-American family in Atlanta treating this show just like another trip to the movies -- until the opening parade of animals showed them their people, enacted their story of displacement and lost parents. The Lion King’s universal themes have built up its years of success, but its sheer African pride may resonate especially with people whose lineage can be traced back to that continent.

More good aspects of the show that I just couldn’t help noting the second time through: The lionesses’ choreography, for one. Swirls, leaps, legs brought to horizontal, hip thrusts, those elegant and stoic masks atop their heads, that fabric billowing behind them as they scurried across the savanna -- Garth Fagan’s dance designs are powerful. One of my companions commented that the lions in this show had something to learn about catlike moves from the cast of Cats. But I disagree. There is goal is impersonation; here, Taymor wants the human only partly submerged in the animal.

Speaking of joyous choreography, check out the energy of the three lead dancers and singers in “One by One,” the entr’acte number that reappears so forcefully (even when you know it’s coming) at the end of “He Lives in You.” When you think of eight shows a week and what city are we in now and the same old routine every night, those men get the award.

I was impressed with how forcefully Ta’Rea Campbell transformed “Shadowland” from a quiet ballad to a forceful plea. While her projection wavered a bit in “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” here she was persuasive and defiant, fulfilling Taymor’s intention of having forceful women more prominent in the Lion King’s stage version.

The aerial ballet during “Can You Feel,” just as beautiful, seemed unduly short: Because I understood its symbolism better (three couples embodying friendly, romantic and erotic love), I just wanted that episode to go on and on. It also hit me that this is a Peter Pan kind of moment: the dream we all have of being free of responsibility, of being able just to fly. A little bit of Cirque du Soleil, but in a narrative context that empowers the acrobatics with deeper significance.

And now I’m reduced to simply listing all the other additional things I enjoyed about The Lion King: the Simba and Nala puppets chasing through the grass held aloft; Rafiki’s extended joke; the swirling elephant-graveyard bones; the gray palette for the sterility of the hyenas; those giant banana leaves flown in from above; the way Nala, upon being reunited with Simba, leaps at and straddles him, hinting for a moment at the eroticism to come; and a couple of light shifts that simply had me scribbling “green!” and “blue!”

For comments on how the show differs by being seen from the good seats and from the cheap seats; on whether a spectacle-laden show like The Lion King truly appeals to our imaginations as much or more than movies do; and on how this 800-pound gorilla of a theatrical extravaganza at the Opera House fits into Spokane’s local theater scene, please pick up a copy of The Inlander this Thursday with a revised and condensed version of this review. And thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

preview-night review of The Mystery of Irma Vep

at Interplayers through Nov. 12
reviewed on Friday, Oct. 28

Watching ham actors can get tedious. Watching good actors ham it up, though -- that can be sublime.
Damon Mentzer and Christopher Bange are good actors -- which is a good thing, because they constitute the entire cast of The Mystery of Irma Vep, the madcap monster mash that has werewolves and mummies springing through open doors on Interplayers' stage through Nov. 12.
Playwright Charles Ludlam's plot is 19th-century mellerdrammer with dollops of '20s Egyptology -- large, ridiculous, dripping chunks of it -- hurled into a comedic stew.
In a parody of all the bad exposition at the start of every well-made play ever written, the maid of the mansion and the crippled caretaker discuss how much the widower of the manor misses his first wife despite having already married his second. (It's actually Mentzer in drag, a Scots coquette in a baggy housedress, and Bange doing the Igor routine, dragging his bad leg behind him and catching all the burrs that his thick Yorkshire accent has strewed on the ground behind him.) Soon Lord Edgar and Lady Enid themselves appear; now it's Mentzer with as the stiff-upper-lip aristocrat and Bange who's in drag, all flouncy hair to go with his equally flouncy dress and wrists. And so the fun begins -- in and out of costumes, swapping accents and genders in a riot of thespian fun.

Bange is the scream of this show, with four of his personas on display: Lady Enid Hillcrest, with hands ever fluttering to her breast, a fussy old baggage who makes warming up to play the zither a comic ritual all its own; Nicodemus Underwood, the beastly stable hand who struggles simply with sitting down -- the one leg's wooden, you see; Alcazar, a mustachioed Egyptian guide who drives a hard bargain on everything _but_ the hieroglyphics; and Pev Amri, a dusty nymph of the Nile who knows how to do a lot more than just walk like an Egyptian.
I kept taking notes on the highlights of Bange's performance and his technique. (He's a trained clown and mime, and it shows.) He has the vocal intonations to clearly differentiate among the characters he inhabits: the imperious dame; the werewolf, greedily sniffing the air; the flunky who puffs out his cheeks to punctuate perilous pearls of pompous palaver; thrusting his palm skyward to display the dreaded Mark of Cain, all Christopher Lloyd-style exasperation; the strange little Egyptian who makes an entire comedic tour out of the syllables of "sarcophagus," mispronounced.
Bange's quartet of weirdos is, collectively, the performance of Spokane's season so far.
There are flaws in the pacing. Both actors need to take the air out of some overlong pauses; at just the second preview performance, they hadn't yet properly gauged all the audience guffaws. The first-act curtain line fell badly flat, failing to signal intermission's arrival. Some stage business went on too long; other bits weren't pointed enough. Even at just two hours with intermission, the evening occasionally dragged. But what's remarkable is how well Ludlam sustains the hilarity, piling one threadbare development on another until it feels like we've seen every bad haunted-mansion, curse-of-the-werewolf yarn ever told.
Ludlam's campy humor will perhaps not be too everyone's taste -- prudes and curmudgeons come to mind -- and the humor sometimes teeters near the juvenile. (But Ludlam's sex jokes and literary allusions assume an intelligent audience --which helps to leaven the silliness.) But I have not felt that wave-upon-wave-of-laughter feeling in the theater in some time -- no war, no gas prices, no looming constitutional battles, just the contentment of smiling and anticipating the next laugh as I watched two lunatics prance and cavort across a stage: good old belly-laughing, escapist comedy.

For comments on Nike Imoru's directing, John Hofland's set, Damon Mentzer's acting and more, pick up a revised version of this review at Inlander racks on Thursday, Nov. 3.
If you read this online, consider buying tickets for Oct. 29 -- your last chance to catch this show before the wolves howl and the goblins creep on Halloween.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Scarlett in Oakland

Scarlett Hepworth (the lead in Wit at the Civic's Studio in 2002, and several other local productions) is one of 14 cast members in the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht comic melodrama, Happy End, playing Nov. 4-Dec. 4 at Woman's Will in Oakland (; the Bay Area's all-female Shakespeare company). The production is being directed by Erin Merritt (Scotland Road, Sylvia, How I Learned To Drive in 1997-99 at Interplayers, among others).

Saturday, October 22, 2005

opening-night review of Picasso at the Lapin Agile

at the Spokane Civic's Studio Theatre through Nov. 12

A thoughtful and funny script is given an uneven production in the Civic's current Studio show, Steve Martin's intellectual-absurdist comedy, Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Absurdist humor shuns self-consciousness. If you perform stupidly ridiculous (and cruelly hurtful) acts, yet demonstrate no awareness of just how laughable and harmful they are -- now that's Kafka, that's Beckett. But if your anxiety is manifest, and your nervousness betrays that you're aware of just how foolish and mean-hearted your acts are, that erases all their absurdity. Then they're simply silly; then they're merely mundane.

On opening night, the Civic's cast let its self-consciousness show. There were several funny episodes, but too often the Civic cast performed like actors fully aware of how hard they had to work to make the audience get the jokes -- when what we need instead are people behaving onstage in ways fully reasonable to them and completely irrational to us. As Einstein might comment, it's all relative.

It's 1904 in a bar in Paris, and in walks not only the master relativist of physics but also the master relativist of art. Einstein and Picasso are both right on the verge of making comparable discoveries -- that the observer changes the observed, that reality isn't anywhere near as solid and graspable as we'd hoped.

Sounds like a scream, doesn't it? But playwright Martin really does ladle on the comedic opportunities -- especially with anachronisms that are out of place in 1904 but outrageously funny with the hindsight of our century of "progress" since. And besides, it's just a smart-guys-getting-drunk-and-getting-told-off-by-the-barmaid kind of play.

Nearly every one of the nine actors has funny bits to go with the missed chances.

As Gaston, the elderly barfly, Fred Strange overemphasizes his bodily woes and malfunctions instead of just behaving them. But Martin lends the old coot some one-liners, and Strange, with his swept-back hair and antic eyes, embodies the oddball.

As the bartender, Bill Mykelbust excels at the comic timing of retorts and insights tossed in from the margins. But his long speech testing Einstein's skills needs to accelerate to warp-speed -- and without self-consciousness.

As the bartender's wife, Darcy Durgan takes too many pauses in her recitation of the wonders that the 20th century will bring -- but in her flirtation scene with Picasso, combining desire with defiance, she nicely toys with a flower even as she's asserting the rights of women.

Tessa Gregory establishes herself as the sort of smart, sexy woman who just might be Picasso's next muse. But one of her monologues -- an erotic crescendo that climaxes on a couch -- seemed mistimed and fell oddly flat.

As an art dealer, Dave Rideout got big laughs with his camera but small ones with his photo album.

As big men in small but showy roles, both Will Gilman and Max Nightser have to remember that a Santa Claus who isn't jolly is just a schlubb. It may not be over until the fat men sing, but they've got to really sing, with no signs of self-criticism apparent. When Santa's down on himself, he's just depressing. And both of these characters -- Schmendiman and the Visitor, both of them con men in their own ways -- are anything but down on themselves.

Again and again, I kept wanting the actors to let go and pursue the outrageous -- not in the sense of hamming it up, but in the sense of behaving in the belief that whims are thoughts, and thoughts actions, and who cares if anyone's confused by my actions? Behave with gusto in the moment, and your excitement will carry out beyond the stage's edge.

In Picasso (which premiered in 1993), Martin provides a script that's probably more cerebral and less farcical than The Underpants, but very much in the thinking-person's-comedy category. The witticisms have to sparkle and flow. The audience will be questioning if they're supposed to laugh at this allusion or that conundrum, so the actors have to guide them with precision. (An Immanuel Kant joke fell flat, but then most of them do.)

There are several laugh-on-top-of-the-last-laugh sequences in this show -- two geniuses have a drawing competition, Einstein suddenly has a big idea. Picasso's vanity is suddenly deflated -- but the difficulty of describing them has to do with how those jokes are in my past but your future. Time isn't linear or absolute, you see....

For more examples of comedic opportunities that peaked or fell flat in this production of "Picasso at the Nimble Rabbit," along with comments on Jeremy Lindholm as Einstein and Paul Villabrille as Picasso, on Peter Hardie's set, on Donovan Stohlberg's direction, and on how the passage of time will change this cast's performance (relatively speaking) -- and even an attempt to write a kind of E = mc[squared] kind of formula for success in comedy -- pick up a copy of the Thursday, Oct. 27 issue of The Pacific Northwest Inlander.

Friday, October 21, 2005

CdA Summer Theatre 2006 season

Since they're running an ad in The Inlander's Lion King insert next Thursday, I guess they're announcing it officially (no dates as yet):

A Chorus Line
The King and I
Peter Pan

sexy, political, spectacular, child-like ... a good season, one to look forward to

production photos from Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Studio Theatre production ...

Jeremy Lindholm as Albert Einstein, Paul Villabrille as Pablo Picasso
Spokane Civic Theatre, Oct.-Nov. 2005

Einstein vs. Picasso

two geniuses share a drink

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tales of Terror 2

Just in time for Halloween, a fund-raiser for Ignite! Community Theater and readers' theater event will present The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, The Cremation of Sam MacGee by Robert Service, and stories by Poe and H.P. Lovecraft on Friday, Oct. 28, at 8 pm.
Dress up in costume; spend some money at the silent auction.
The Upper Glen, 309 W. Riverside Ave., top floor.
Tickets: $10. Visit or call 993-6540.

Teenage Dirtbag bit

Local actor Will Lund, who has acted in Reading Stage productions at the Civic, was cast as Dr. Schultz in the Regina Crosby film about growing up in CdA (and shot in CdA). Alas, one of his two scenes was cut before shooting -- but the film will reportedly seek a distributor at Sundance and eventually will be shown here in the Inland NW. ("Amber and Thayer" was the working title of Crosby's film, but it's changed to Teenage Dirtbag.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Pinter prized

Harold Pinter is the 10th (!?) playwright to win the Nobel?
Let's see ... O'Neill, Shaw, Beckett in '69 ... oh, and Dario Fo in a surprise a few years back. I forgot about Pirandello.
And then?
Four other guys I've never even heard of. Well, Maeterlinck and Hauptmann -- barely heard of. But the other two?

I saw the man himself in Old Times with Ursula Andress in L.A. in the mid-'80s. Didn't have the guts to wait at the stage door. If we'd met, there probably just would've been a long pause. And then he would have done something menacing. And then left me scratching my head about what all that meant.

I took a graduate seminar on Pinter, and the amount of criticism on his works even then was appalling. And that was 20 years ago.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical

in concert on the Civic's Main Stage
Sunday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 pm $25 (it's a fund-raiser) 325-2507

directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson
musical direction by Carolyn Jess
book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
music by Frank Wildhorn

Troy Wageman as Jekyll/Hyde; Abbey Crawford as Lucy Harris; Kendra Kimball as Emma Carew

sopranos: Andrea Dawson, Hannah Kimball, Norilee Kimball

altos: Melody Deatherage, Marianne McLaughlin (Lady Beaconsfield), Darnell Preston, Jan Wanless

tenors: David Williams (Bishop of Basingstoke), Jimmy-James Pendleton, Michael Muzatko (Spider*), Tom Barthelmess

baritones: Max Mendez (Gabriel Utterson), Andrew Lewis (Simon Stride), Kent Kimball (Danvers Carew), Noel Barbuto (Lord Glossop), Charles Gift (Archibald Proops**)

* Mike as an arachnid ... sounds about right

** Charles gets one of the all-time best character names

other notes:
opened on Broadway in April '97 and ran nearly four years
four Tony noms in '98, including Best Book of a Musical for Bricusse
"Facade" must be an awfully good song - after it's performed by the Ensemble early in the show, it's reprised THREE more times
Other big songs: Jekyll's "This Is the Moment" (popular as figure-skating music, I gather)
Lucy's "Someone Like You"
"In His Eyes," sung by Lucy and Emma together

audition for Biloxi Blues

Spokane Civic Theater, Reading Stage
single performance on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 7 pm $7

audition on Tuesday, Nov. 1, from 4-5 pm, not at the Civic, but at Whitworth College's Cowles Auditorium, 300 W. Hawthorne Rd., in "Stage II" -- the black box in the basement of Cowles Aud.

directed by Rick Hornor, chair of Whitworth's theater dept.

cast for Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Civic's Studio Theater, Oct. 21-Nov. 12
directed by Donovan Stohlberg

Albert Einstein -- Jeremy Lindholm
Pablo Picasso -- Paul Villabrille

Bill Myklebust as Freddy
Fred Strange as Gaston
Darcy Durgan as Germaine
Tessa Gregory as Suzanne, the Countess, an Admirer
Dave Rideout as Sagot
Will Gilman as Schmendiman
Max Nightser as a Visitor

a Steve Martin-scripted movie is in pre-production but apparently on hold
the Paris bar (which translates as "nimble rabbit") was actually frequented by Picasso

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Mark Twain's shorts

a reminder of an upcoming readers's theater event sponsored by Lake City Playhouse

Short Plays by Mark Twain:
Twain by the Tale + The Diaries of Adam and Eve

Saturday, Oct. 22, at 7 pm
Erlendson Coffee House
116 Lakeside Ave., CdA
(208) 667-0641

ought to be of interest not only to theatergoers but to 19th-century American lit aficionados, too

auditions for Little Women at Ignite!

Mon.-Tues., Oct. 24-25, at 7 pm
Cajun Room, Rendezvous Event Facility, 1003 E. Trent Ave.

Director Rebecca Cook seeks six women (ages 13-60) and four men (ages 18-60). Please be familiar with Louisa May Alcott's story.

production runs Dec. 1-5 or 993-6540 or

cast for Absurd Person Singular

opens Nov. 25 at SFCC's Spartan Theater

the three couples:

Reed McColm will be married to Kathie Doyle-Lipe

Michael Weaver will be married to Therese Diekhans (who, according to Weaver, was a student of Bob and Joan Welch and played ingenue roles at Interplayers through most of the '80s; her last role there was in The Sisters Rosensweig, 1996; she is starring in Wit right now at the Seattle Public Theater and getting raves reviews from both the P-I and the Seattle Times)

an actor who I still can't name -- but who was in three Interplayers shows in the late 20th century -- will be married to Page Byers, who was in both How the Other Half Loves and Blithe Spirit, the beginning and ending plays of ARt's last (first) season

Chad Henry directs

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

review of Nunsense II

three-days-after-opening-night review of Nunsense II (hey, Bobo's been busy ...)

Nunsense II: The Second Coming
at CenterStage through Nov. 18

If you're looking to revisit the glories of Nunsense (1991, 2003) and Nunsense II (1993-94) at the Civic, the current production of the sequel at CenterStage will get you part of the way there. But you'll have to sit through a lot of missed comedic opportunities and disconnected musical numbers to get there.

An uninspired plot framework, too many lame jokes and a weaker supporting cast than in previous local incarnations of Nunsense combine to dilute the star turns of Jean Hardie as Mother Superior and Kathie Doyle-Lipe as her sidekick.

But boy, is the Jean and Kathie Show ever good.

With her crabby glare, her clicker and her cane, Hardie's Superior sister is one Mother who expects to be obeyed. It's the burlesque bits that we could watch over and over: Hardie doing chorus kicks; Hardie praying for divine help as she lowers herself gingerly into the splits; Hardie doing hip thrusts and then whipping the ground with her red feather boa.

With her bespectacled little head bobbing, Doyle-Lipe's Sister Mary Hubert gets blocked out of chorus lines. She ends up in comic arguments with Hardie's bosom. When the two of them get tipsy, Doyle-Lipe has a scene-stealing get-every-last-drop bit; when Hardie bonks her on the head, she's a vibrating, out-of-control dwarf.

For much of Nunsense II, you’ll shift uncomfortably in your seat, glance at your watch and then realize that your grin feels frozen. Sketch comedy is never continuously funny; there are always going to be dead spots. But there are so many head-scratching moments in this show that one shudders to think of what Goggin’s three other sequels are like.

Hardie and Doyle-Lipe are so good that they almost salvage this production. Almost.

... with comments on the supporting cast, the (lack of a) plot structure, and more examples of great comic bits by Hardie and Doyle-Lipe still coming -- in Thursday's issue of The Inlander.

Monday, October 10, 2005

SAC honors local theater

Tonight at City Hall, three of the Spokane Arts Commission's annual awards went to local theater luminaries:

The Arts Organization Award went to ARt, the Actor’s Repertory Theatre of the Inland Northwest (Michael Weaver and Grant Smith)

The Artist Award went to the creators of “York”: David Casteal, Susan Hardie and Bryan Harnetiaux

And the Bold Strokes Award (new for 2005) went to Nike Imoru, the artistic director of Spokane Interplayers Ensemble.

Congratulations to all.

shortened runs at Interplayers

As a cost-saving (?) measure, Interplayers has postponed a couple of its opening nights while keeping the same closing-night dates.

The new dates are:

The Mystery of Irma Vep Oct. 27-Nov. 12

The Fantasticks Dec. 1-17

Sunday, October 09, 2005

thoughts on The Lion King

Sorry to have been away for a bit.
Bobo just returned from two days in Portland, checking out the touring company that will be in Spokane Oct. 27-Dec. 4. The Inlander will carry a preview in an upcoming issue.
In the meantime, some thoughts and highlights.
This is not a show just for kids -- it's for kids and their parents, for all adults.
There's reason to be a bit leery of all the Disney hype -- the Greatest Show Ever To Hit the Inland Northwest, etc. -- but it is a very good show.
The human/puppet interaction is remarkable, and the extent of its use and creativity is unlike anything you've seen in theater.
Yeah, there are kid actors and pretty costumes and the flatulence jokes of Timon and Pumbaa that will delight the kids. But for the adults - could the meerkat and warthog be metaphors for Democrats and Republicans? Kidding.
But there are plenty of topics of adults: spirituality, death and the meaning of life, parenting, lots of allusions and wordplay that only adults will get.
I was surprised, given Disney's legendarily tight control on all its theme park and theatrical extravaganzas, that it allowed the handful of off-color jokes, and jokes at Disney's own expense.
Anyway. You may know that the opening parade of animals -- all to life-size scale, all blended with human actors in delightful and unexpected ways -- gets its impact from coming down the aisles, out of the audience and onto the stage.
Gonna lose its impact at the Opera House, I thought -- they'll be squeezed in along the sides.
Well, I'm here to tell ya they're cutting aisles down the the middle of our Opera House, folks. Not defacing it, exactly, but certainly changing the seating configuration.
I got the skinny on masks, puppets, costumes, lights and sound, music, the works. As I said, coming up at an Inlander rack near you.
You might be interested to know that in the case of the actor playing Mufasa (the king of the lions, and Simba's father), life imitates art: With the company for years, he has effectively become its father figure -- to the point of developing a company ritual to cement relationships.
The cheetah, the zebras, the way they do the moment when Mufasa speaks "from heaven" -- wow.
The company, predominately black, has a half-dozen South Africans who help to sing the African-inspired score. While the impact of that may be muted in among predominately white audiences in Spokane, it's a different story, according to some cast members, in cities like Atlanta.
Perceptions to overcome: It's not just for kids. It is a long way from a guys-in-fuzzy-costumes show. It's a stage musical that makes imaginative use of several kinds of puppets and re-characterizes a couple of the major characters in significant ways. And it's not sold out.
On the other hand, as Nike Imoru remarked to me -- a couple of $75 tickets in the orchestra for Lion King, that's practically a couple of season tickets for ARt or Interplayers.
My advice? Go for a pair of the cheap seats ($25). It's a big show -- I saw it from the back of the house in Portland, and it was fine -- and then spread your theatrical dollars among the Civic and CenterStage and other local theaters, as much as you can. The Lion King stirred my heart at times -- but then even a six-character costume drama like Mrs. Warren's Profession at ARt messed with my mind. They're different kinds of thrills, and the theater -- done well, as it is in both these productions, as musical theater is in the Civic's My Fair Lady -- can do both of them, moving us in a variety of ways.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Our Town at Whitworth (with added diatribe)

The Whitworth Theater Dept. presents Our Town (1938) by Thornton Wilder in Cowles Auditorium on Oct. 14-15 and Oct. 21-22 at 8 pm, and on Oct. 16 at 2 pm. Tickets: $5. Call 777-3707.

Philip Lacey plays the Stage Manager and Caleb Barber plays George; both were in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Whitworth two years ago. Kaliene Roth will play Emily -- and there are 17 other Whitworth students in the cast.

So what will this production do that a thousand others haven't?

Director Brooke Kiener has a jokey response: "Didn't I mention that we're doing it in the nude, with glow-in-the-dark body paint and black lights? Just kidding."

Kiener, an adjunct theater instructor at Whitworth, continues: "Really, my intention with this play wasn't to break new ground, or to show the world an Our Town that has never been seen before. Yes this show is performed hundreds of times each
year, in productions that are tired and melodramatic."

She was a little skeptical about Wilder's warhorse -- "But when I looked at the script again," she says, "I was struck by the
show's themes, its complex simplicity, if you will. I enjoyed re-reading it, delighted in all the little theatrical bits (the sound
effects, the stage manager's comments...) that I had forgotten about. I even got a little teary at the end. This show really embraces the concept that the stage is a metaphor for the world, for life. And it is optimistic, and I wanted to work on something that gave me hope."

And the play presents some teaching opportunities, too. "Our Town is a deceptively difficult show for actors, a great learning experience for our students," Kiener says. "The characters age 13 years during the life of the play, and there is a "stiff upper lip" quality that characterizes New Englanders and that is difficult for young actors to grasp."

With the first act seemingly just about humdrum small-town life, does it come as a surprise when Wilder gets all profound on us? *** WARNING: Spoiler Alert (for a 67-year-old play) *** Act One is about establishing the George-Emily (and other) relationships, Kiener notes, " So you aren't that surprised when they get married in Act Two. I think you expect something "dark" in Act Three, so I don't think Act Three is a big shocker really. You realize pretty fast that someone has died. I think the scene that makes or breaks the lesson of Act Three is when Emily returns to life and is trying to get her mother to slow down, stop fussing over breakfast and notice the moments that are slipping by. I think if the actress playing Emily can convey all of her frustration, her efforts, the angst of carrying the perspective that death has provided her while trying to interact with the living ... if [Roth] can convey how painful that is, then the audience gets it, and we can all go home and call our parents and tell them that we love them and promise ourselves we'll slow down and be more observant."

SECOND WARNING *** The following is probably only for folks who are really interested in set design:
Asked about the set for her production of Our Town, Kiener replied:
"Truly, in our auditorium, to not have any kind of structure on the stage that provides levels and architecture is deadly.
Our auditorium just isn't raked enough and the stage is eye level for the front row, so to do the play as Wilder intended, with no scenery, just wasn't possible. So we built small platforms, one on each side of the stage, and we use them as the two houses, and as Mr. Morgan's drugstore, and then we've "spilled" some of the "graves" over the stage left platform as well. I was nervous at first, that I might be doing too much, working against the inherent theatricality of the piece, but they've turned out to be another interesting convention in the world of this play, and they've saved me from major sight line problems."

THIRD WARNING ** a battle that may never be won is about to be re-commenced **
Other than SCC, is there another college or university in this region that doesn't have a dedicated theater space? It's easy to whine -- but Bobo has seen athletic fields and classroom buildings sprout all over the Whitworth campus ... and even after Diana Trotter's really outstanding production of Godspell last spring -- which had a special command performance for the trustees just to raise their awareness about the potential of Whitworth's theater program ...
Well, you know how you can say almost whatever you want after you get tenure? The same goes for after you've been denied tenure. Bill Robinson (who I used to hoop and run with) and Michael LeRoy (who I've never met) ... just about every other college around here has a real theater on campus. What gives?

farting in your general direction

While she was doing research for her show tunes radio program ("Wednesday Matinee" on KPBX at 11 am on guess which day of the week), Janean Jorgensen found out about a contest involving the production of a short music video in honor of the hit Broadway show, Monty Python's Spamalot. And entered it. And is now one of only four finalists in the entire country!! (Bobo will see that exclamation mark and raise you one.)

At , J.J.'s entry is Finalist #2. You have until Oct. 17 to vote for her. You should go do it right now.

You'll need a fast Internet connection, or else call 328-5729 and she'll get you a DVD of the video. Remember, if you can vote for Pedro, you can damn well vote for J.J.

According to Jorgensen, "The video has my little 2-year-old Genevieve, our upstairs neighbor Morrigan, and our friend Shealyn (both of them 5 years old) lip-synching to about a minute’s-worth of music from Spamalot. It includes Knights of the Round Table, the song from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. The video ends with homage to the French scene from Holy Grail (“I [flatulate] in your general direction.”)

Apparently Janean has more delicate sensibilities than the guy who writes the headlines in this blog for me.

Anyway, this borborygmus is for you, kid. Good luck, Ms. Finalist Numero Deux. You've got our vote.

Monday, October 03, 2005

a new York

David Casteal performs his one-man show about the Lewis and Clark expedition yet again, in a previously unannounced performance, at the MAC auditorium, 2316 W. First Ave., on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 3:30 pm. Free to MAC members; $7 for adults. But it's also part of the MAC's every-second-Saturday "Family MAC Fest": from noon to 3 pm this Saturday, an entire family can get in for just 10 bucks, and the kids can make maps and fur trade items, enjoy historical re-enactments and use GPS to find buried treasure on the MAC grounds. Call 363-5328 for the MAC Education Dept. or 456-3931, the museum's general info number.

gone to be with Aunt Ester now

Joe Turner's Come and Gone in '94 at the Civic's Studio Theater; Two Trains Running there in '95, both in conjunction with the Onyx Theater Troupe.

I saw James Earl Jones in Fences at the Huntington Hartford in L.A. in about '87, and a great production of Ma Rainey (with Charles S. Dutton) at the old L.A. Theater Center around '89. Piano Lesson was great on PBS -- but my most powerful memory of an August Wilson play? Derrick Lee Weeden as Harold Loomis in Joe Turner at Ashland in about '93.

And there was that Romare Beardan exhibit at the old MAC here in Spokane.

The greatest African-American playwright is dead at 60, just after completing his 10-play cycle. Wilson had Seattle connections; now I kick myself for not making a special trip to see his one-man show at the Seattle Rep a year or so ago.

Arthur Miller (I missed seeing him by about 12 hours in Conn. last summer) and now Wilson -- a sad time for American theater.

Anybody else with August Wilson recollections? Bobo would really like to hear 'em.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

scam alert


AFTRA has received a report that Fisch Industries Global, Inc.,  a company representing itself as a casting agency for AFTRA-covered programs, is asking performers to pay money to be applied to AFTRA's initiation fee and/or dues. THIS IS A SCAM INTENDED TO DEFRAUD PERFORMERS! All performers are warned that no outside company is authorized to accept payment of initiation fees or dues to AFTRA. If you are asked to sign a contract with a company that holds itself out as a casting agency, production entity, or talent agency, and asks you to pay them any portion of your or someone else's AFTRA initiation fees and/or dues, please contact either the AFTRA National office in New York or the AFTRA Los Angeles Local immediately, so AFTRA can notify the proper authorities.

In New York: Megan Capuano, 212-532-0800
In Los Angeles: Jean Frost, 323-634-8100
In Spokane: oh, that's right, we don't have a lot of AFTRA members. Well, anyway, FYI.

Gonzaga's 2005-06 season

Lewis and Clark, Part One: Manifest Destiny, the musical
Friday, Oct. 21 at 8:15 pm
Saturday, Oct. 22, at 2 pm and 8 pm
Oct. 28-29 and Nov. 4-5 at 7:30 pm
Nov. 6 at 2 pm
Story by Alan Klem
Music and lyrics by Fred Hanna
first performed two years ago at Creighton Univ. in Omaha
directed by Nike Imoru
choreographed by Suzanne Ostersmith
set design by Jon Hofland
musical direction by Robert Spittal

The Trojan Women by Euripides
directed by Janice Whaley
Jan. 27-28 and Feb. 2-5, 2006

The Comedy of Errors, by Wm. Shakespeare
directed by Kevin Bradshaw
March 31-April 1 and April 6-9, 2006

fifth annual Dance Concert
April 27-29

at the Russell Theater, east end of Admin Building, Gonzaga University, 502 E. Boone Ave.
Write or call 323-6553.
Tickets for Lewis and Clark: $12; $10, G.U. faculty and staff; $6, students
Tickets for Trojan Women and Comedy of Errors: $10; $8, faculty; $6, students
Tickets for Dance Concert: $5

Interplayers' Student Summer Theater Invitational

Though its board hasn't yet approved the project, Interplayers is proposing to invite "the 13 greater Spokane-area high schools" to submit a written application, a 15-minute presentation and a one-act play to a panel of judges in return for (in the case of the top three troupes applying) scholarships, workshops, written evaluations, a tour of the Interplayers facilities and the opportunity, sometime next summer, to present three performances of their one-acts -- on a Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night.
Another good example of Interplayers' outreach efforts -- and Bobo hopes that a lot of those high school students and their teachers will take in next June's production of Romeo and Juliet.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

opening-night review of My Fair Lady at the Civic

through Oct. 29 on the Main Stage

There are three moments in the first act of the Civic's current production of My Fair Lady (through Oct. 29) that convince us that we're in for an evening of entertainment that's accomplished in its own right, distinct from whatever Hepburn-and-Harrison memories we may retain from the 1964 movie. Because make no mistake, mate, director Troy Nickerson and his talented cast have stepped up to one of the highest peaks in American musical theater and nearly reached the top. Despite some second-act flatness and some deficiencies in one of the leads, the Civic's season opener is a visually attractive, sometimes raucous, often quite moving rendition of a beloved musical.
The first of those three moments arrives when Kendra Kimball as Eliza Doolittle emerges from behind the men's quartet to join in "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" All any of us wants, after all, is a clean, well-lighted "room somewhere, / Far away from the cold night air." At the outset of a luminous performance, Kimball reminds us how much of this Lerner and Loewe show concentrates on simple pleasures: creature comforts, being cared for, learning generosity. With her face smudged above her red and black flower girl outfit and her Cockney bray in full evidence, Kimball engages in some delightful dance steps with her partners, then uses her beautiful, yearning soprano to depict the kind of world we all long for. It's a sequence that, as it should, puts us in the corner of the underdog flower girl.
The second moment comes when David Gigler as Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle, spills drunkenly out of a pub, soon launching into "With a Little Bit of Luck." Almost unrecognizable underneath his long dustman's coat and bowler, Gigler makes a hilarious and irresponsible drunk. (Just as his daughter is going to be force-fed some phonetics and turned almost in spite of herself into a proper English lady, the amoral Doolittle finds himself nudged against his will into respectability. But that comes later.) No sooner has Gigler boasted that he gave his daughter the gift of life as if it were some major accomplishment but he's hitting her up for money, so he can have "a bit of liquid protection" before he faces Eliza's (unseen) mother. Whether he's wobbling drunkenly into other people's faces or trying to stifle Alfred's intestinal eruptions, Gigler creates a detailed and very funny comic portrait: wiping his sleeve, hogging chairs, toying with expensive instruments, hopping with the delight of a potbellied Bacchus who's light on his feet.
Gigler leads the chorus in some of Nickerson's and Ryan Callan's inventive choreography: step-slide swaying; some unexpected foot stomping; some square-dance moves; and gradual entries leading to a realistic town-square gathering of folks who are showing up just to see what this scalawag Doolittle is up to now. While the opening crowd scene (flower sellers outside Covent Garden) seemed tentative and slow, after that Nickerson and Callan have designed some natural-seeming dance sequences.
The "poor Professor Higgins" sequences are deftly handled, giving us a sense of how much time is passing as Eliza struggles with her language lessons, and there's a hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment when Eliza finally learns how to enunciate all those vowels in "The Rain in Spain" -- and she, along with Thomas Heppler as Henry Higgins and Wes Deitrick as Col. Pickering, executes a Spanish-tinged dance of joy that's among this show's several sets of naturalistic movement.
But the third of the opening-act highlights arrives soon after in Kimball's rendition of "I Could've Danced All Night." She stretches her soprano to impressive heights -- and after a nearly anticlimactic moment when housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (Norilee Kimball, stately and imperious) drags Eliza off to bed, she reappears to repeat the chorus. With able support from Don Malpass on flute in Carol Miyamoto's five-piece pit band, Kendra Kimball croons with arms outstretched, isolated in a pin spot, operatic -- a vision of the kind of joy we'd all like to get out of life.

There are still more things to admire about the Civic's Lady. Peter Hardie's versatile set provides plenty of dark wooden furnishings for Higgins' study, serving as a half-dozen exteriors as well. Nik Adams provides opera posters and a far-off perspective of St. Paul's Cathedral that evokes the neighborhood right there 'round London Bridge.
Deitrick mines comedy out of the sidekick role: silly in a pith helmet, drinking too much when worried for Eliza's sake, modeling awkwardly for one of Eliza's "gowns," and lapsing into Eliza's dialect over dessert (asking for some "pline cike" and doing a masterful double-take).
Eliza's gowns alone would have made the costumes of Susan Berger and Jan Wanless outstanding -- but the list goes on, with men in wedding-cake suits, common laborers all grubby, a slew of color-coordinated servants in Higgins' household.
For the "Ascot Gavotte" horse race scenes, Berger and Wanless show off one elaborate black-and-white gown after another in what's clearly intended as the show's peak of couture. But all the Victorian vogueing slows down the pace -- and Adams' pastel tents on the backdrop curtain, while inviting in themselves, detract from the stark B&W colorless scheme. It's a misstep that slows a first act that's full of highlights.
There are twice as many memorable songs in the first half as there are after intermission, which goes a long way toward explaining why this Lady's second act felt emotionally flatter. But in a production that has many beautiful and thrilling moments, several of the less effective episodes congregated around Heppler as this show's Higgins. In the venerable Rex Harrison tradition, Heppler is talk-singing several of his numbers, which is fine. And he has the fussiness, the devil-may-care single-mindedness of a British academic who's been pampered for too long and immersed in the subtleties of his obscure specialization. Problems crop up in the first act in "I'm an Ordinary Man," when both the vocal and instrumental attacks on the chorus ("but put a woman in your life") were weak. On exit lines like "damn you!" and "let the hellcat freeze!" (both aimed at Eliza), Heppler wasn't convincing or irate enough.
Heppler is most interesting near the end, when he subtly allows the cracks in his self-satisfaction to show during the big argument with Eliza. Heppler doesn't quite catch the ambiguity of the medley of tunes (and emotions) that his character is supposed to express in among snippets of "You Did It" and "Without You" and the famous "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." The wavering -- will he surmount his own selfishness and grow in much the same way Eliza transformed herself? -- isn't quite there yet, but may well be in a month's time (by the end of this show's run). But Heppler does achieve real pathos -- in his finest moment of the entire evening -- when, caught in a pin spot, he makes the final refrain of "Accustomed to Her Face" feel like a breakthrough moment: At last, the confirmed bachelor isn't quite sure of just how confirmed he is -- a wonderful moment.

Aside from spine-tingling touches like that one -- and those three stellar snapshots from Act One -- there are other highlights in Act Two as well. Kimball reprises "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" at the same fire where she once warmed herself as a flower girl -- but this time, it's more poignant, because it's a vision of a dream of comfort and affection that she had within her grasp and lost. Kimball's ability to caress the notes and at the same time convey strong emotion convincingly is remarkable. While there was some staginess in her posing among the teacups during the argument with Higgins late in the show, usually Kimball acts convincingly and gracefully. Her Eliza isn't a performance that's merely "good for community theater." This is a performance that's just very good, period.
And the beauty of My Fair Lady is that it offers poignance like that -- right next to the raucousness of Gigler's Alfred Doolittle, who energizes the less satisfying second act with his "Get Me to the Church on Time" number. Dressed "like a ruddy pallbearer," he's risque with the girls, leading them in foot-stomping trios and side-to-side gallumphing that's a delight to watch.
George Bernard Shaw's century-old premise (in Pygmalion, the source for this musical) is dated now: We live in a culture in which bling and cars and flashy clothes are the status symbols. So what if Little Ms. Celebrity causes us to lose all respect for her the moment she opens her mouth? Americans don't go in for all this intellectual stuff -- we're not convinced that the way you pronounce your vowels or talk in general is anywhere near an indicator of character. But there is a way in which, after seeing the Civic's and Nickerson's My Fair Lady, that we do feel elevated. Eliza's ascent toward what is good and beautiful in life is a vision of our ideal, of the kind of home and happiness that we would all like to achieve in our lives. And Kendra Kimball's performance matches that kind of ideal.