Saturday, January 28, 2006

Interplayers' future

The only bright light on the Interplayers horizon lately was the relative success of its readers theater version of *To Kill a Mockingbird,* which played to larger-than-usual and at least one nearly sold-out house.

Ann Whiteman, who directed *Mockingbird* and had a small role in it, has been asked by Interplayers management to perform one of the two roles in the upcoming reading stage version of A.R. Gurney's epistolary two-hander, *Love Letters.*

But everything else about *Love Letters* is up in the air: the director, the male actor, all the logistics, etc. Whiteman jokes about the show, saying, "I just wanted to get Jim West and Shannon Sullivan up there."

*Mozart and Salieri* has certainly been scrubbed as a project. *The Miss Firecracker Contest* may not be produced at all, or may be produced only as a readers stage show. That leaves the possibility of *Romeo and Juliet* -- and the fact that, as of February, Interplayers will have presented only three main stage shows -- *Someone To Watch Over Me,* *The Mystery of Irma Vep,* and "The Fantasticks* -- in season that at one time was supposed to be seven shows.

Whiteman says, for the record: "I suggested [to Interplayers management] that they not hire an artistic director, that they save that salary for a year. Don't fill it -- instead, let local directors make suggestions about shows that they would like to do. Make a pitch about a show you'd like to do. You'd pick a play that you'd have passion about."
"I know that theaters don't usually give that much freedom to directors," she continues. "But despite what some people might say, in some areas of the country, this [idea] would be considered kind of progressive. I think it would be a good way for local directors to come to the forefront and help this theater."

Whiteman also says, on the record, that she has urged Mary Ann and Jim McCurdy to go ahead with *Romeo and Juliet,* "but to move the time up so that it's on when people are still in school and can study it. I think they ought to do it with the fewest number of actors possible, and make it very high-concept. And I told them that I would like to help make that happen."

Full disclosure: Back when Robin Stanton was artistic director at Interplayers — and in response to a comment of hers that she would like to do a Shakespeare play, but that they were so expensive because of the cast size involved -- Bobo volunteered to her an outline of how to cut and rearrange *R&J* so that, in a pinch and with gender-bending, it could be done with six actors. (Could be _done_ -- not necessarily, done _well_. Seven or eight actors, still with doubling and tripling of roles, of course, makes it much more manageable. And there's precedent: the (admittedly, not very good) five-actor *Macbeth* done at Ashland circa 2001.) Bobo also forwarded that six-actor outline to Nike Imoru and Braden Abraham (who was slated to direct *R&J* but is apparently off the project). Bobo is not implying that a six-person *R&J* would be the magic bullet for Interplayers, not by a long shot. The theater has far more pressing problems. In an atmosphere of "What's happening over at Interplayers?" I'm just broaching some possible developments.

Whiteman emphasizes that, whatever some people may think or whatever negative rumors may fly, the McCurdys (Mary Ann is executive director; Jim is on the board) and the Interplayers board "are working very hard to make it happen" -- i.e, to safeguard Interplayers' future.

An example: a proposal has been made -- and perhaps already been enacted? Bobo's trying to make the necessary contacts with the Interplayers board -- that a member or members of the Interplayers board should purchase the theater ($390K was a _rumored_ price) for the purpose of leasing it back to the theater for a rate considerably below the $2,500 monthly rent they're apparently paying now. If true, that's conceivably a courageous move by Interplayers management to try to save the theater, or at least greatly improve its longterm financial outlook. Somebody, in effect, is stepping up to the plate and making a big contribution to try to keep Interplayers alive. Details still unfolding -- but not all rumors are necessarily destructive.

Additional posts keep being appended to the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof cast list post, the Proof review, and the rumors? post as well, so keep hunting around for what people have to say about these developments.

Darkness Sells

Actors Rep Artistic Director Michael Weaver reports that of the nine shows his theater has produced so far, the biggest money-makers have been *Dirty Blonde,* "The Drawer Boy,* "Mrs. Warren's Profession* and *The Dazzle* — with sobering conclusions, every one of 'em.
People want light, escapist fare — get away from their troubles, right? But apparently plays that pose problems, count on intelligent listeners and conclude in bittersweet indecision (sort of like life) are not at all the kind of box office poison that some folks assume them to be.
Weaver says he'd been planning a "light and frothy" 2006-07 season for ARt. It's not going to be light and frothy anymore. And with the Patty Duke comedy already scheduled, it's time to find some of the serious stuff.

Opening-night review of *Proof*

by David Auburn
directed by Marianne McLaughlin
at Spokane Civic’s Firth J. Chew Studio Theater through Feb. 11

Words are no deeds; intentions, not even words. If you love your work — really love it — then don’t leave projects unfinished. If you love the people around you, don’t let your love go unspoken. The proof of love falls in the acts of caring and generosity; simply talking about it, not doing anything to express it, is leaving the job undone.

David Auburn’s *Proof* seeks evidence of more than just an elegant mathematical proof, no matter how earth-shaking the equations might be to all the geeks in the math department. For all the focus on the intellects of the father-daughter pair in this play — Robert’s a highly creative, world-class mathematical genius, but also sporadically insane; his daughter Catherine has inherited either his genius or his curse — *Proof* is really a psychological family drama. If you know what cubes and prime numbers are, you’ll follow along with as much math as Auburn puts on display. He’s not after attempted proofs of arcane formulas; he wants to explore what it takes to deliver actual, palpable proofs of human affection.

In the central role of Catherine, Wonder Russell offers proof of her vulnerability, proof of her rage, and abundant proof of her acting ability. For one thing, she pulls off the subtleties of screen acting while managing to project to an entire theater. Shades of assertiveness and anxiety flicker across her face, and it’s subtle, but somehow she manages to distribute the emotion all around the house. She’s loving and loathing, vulnerable and then angry. She displays genuine enthusiasm over a description of the beauties of higher math, and then genuine fear over the onset of the (symbolic) cold. Like her father (who’s older, however, and facing death), she shows her fear of the future. Sometimes completing a full proof involves some risk.

Sometimes in Act Two, Russell seems too whiny, though that’s mostly because Auburn has written a couple of confrontation scenes that begin to repeat themselves. At two and a half hours with intermission, Auburn’s script itself felt about one revelatory scene too long. (He’s fond, without sensationalizing, of withholding the emotional kicker until the ends of scenes — just as in a mathematical proof, as reviewers have noted.)

A couple of scenes are dislocating for the audience, in an effective way: Are we watching reality or fantasy? Are we witnessing what happened objectively or what’s felt subjectively? Turns out that the pinnacles of math, like the valleys of the heart, involve introspection and art. They can’t simply be quantified. In a play in which the audience and Catherine herself are continually wondering about her sanity, Auburn has a way of turning the tables and getting the audience to question its own understanding of what’s going on.

Marianne McLaughlin’s direction takes advantage. From the symbolic long shadow that Robert casts at his first appearance, to the natural mid-conversation swirling of the action from the back porch out to the patio and back, to the way that lovers tentatively circle one another during the checking-each-other-out phase, McLaughlin guides her actors naturalistically without losing necessary emphasis on the thematic high points. She quickly sketches how the two sisters really don’t know one another very well; she allows for the oscillation of affection and resentment between siblings.

The circling moves don’t work so well during the second act’s loving father-daughter scene; but there’s a very good reason that McLaughlin forces her pairs of actors to keep their mutual distance in the opening episodes. There’s a reason that the first scene isn’t touchy-feely. Above all, McLaughlin’s direction helps us appreciate that life isn’t lived fully only through the kind of rah-rah freneticism that our society calls “intensity”; sometimes intensity lies in the quiet life of the mind.

As Hal the grad student, Paul D. Villabrille skimps on the social awkwardness but lives up to the role’s generosity. With so much self-deprecating charm on display, he’s too cool to be a math geek. Auburn has provided Hal with a couple of great moments of ineptitude, and Villabrille plays those moments well. He’s playing the leading man when his character is rooted in the obsessions of a specialist, the deceptions and accusations that an ambitious young man might make. Hal is convinced of his own intelligence and willing to twist the means to achieve the ends that he figures he deserves anyway. It’s a likable but too-nice performance.

In the most thankless role of this quartet – Claire the responsible older sister and mother-figure — Rita O’Farrell acquits herself reasonably well in a plot-device part. Claire does go on and on about the virtues of New York, New York — and somewhere around the edges of her overeager smile, O’Farrell conveys the strain of the insecure yuppie who means to do good but doesn’t fully understand.

J.P. O’Shaughnessy, as the genius father, demonstrated evident affection for the favored daughter — Catherine, the one nearer in temperament to himself. When he raged at her — she can be quite mercurial — his intensity betrayed a mind teetering on the brink. When caught in his vulnerability, he became quite touching indeed. Despite a couple of distracting mannerisms — crooking an elbow and holding a hand aloft like a game-show host, bringing the tips of all his fingers together to signify thought — O’Shaughnessy strides like a patriarch through most of this show. As a man who’s supposed to be exceptional, craggy, fragile, he’s convincing.

The sound design, credited to Janna Cresswell and Peggy Soden, pipes in between-the-scenes jazz to suggest the element of improvisation in concocting one’s proofs of love and logic, along with enough rock ‘n’ roll to hint at Hal’s and Catherine’s wild sides.

This is a very good production of a thought-provoking play — one that the packed opening-night audience clearly appreciated and enjoyed, and which ought to be seen by a wide variety of local theatergoers. If you’re thinking of going — haven’t been to a show in awhile, really should get out more, wouldn’t mind something that makes you think — then don’t be satisfied with partial measures or intentions that fizzle halfway. Go for the complete and elegant *Proof.*

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Proof, by David Auburn

Would you like to come inside and see my logarithms?

Wonder Russell and Paul Villabrille

Proof at Spokane Civic Theatre

Wonder Russell
J.P. O'Shaughnessy
Paul Villabrille

directed by Marianne McLaughlin

Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 19, 2006

Rita O'Farrell as Claire, Paul Villabrille as Hal

Proof, Spokane Civic, Jan.-Feb. 2006

Ignite's readers theater *Barefoot in the Park*

Audition on Monday, Feb. 6, at 7 pm at 1003 E. Trent Ave., the Rendevous Event Facility
Director Signy Nall needs five actors (3M, 2W). Cold readings from script; synopsis at
Rebecca Cook, 993-6540
Single performance on Friday, March 10, at 6:30 pm at Auntie's Bookstore, and it's free.

rumors: useful or simply destructive?

There's been a good discussion of the purpose of this blog, the value (or worthlessness) of rumors and the future of Interplayers following a completely unrelated thread. (See the comments to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof cast list, below.)
I'm posting this entry to get subsequent related comments moved here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

McManus stretched out; variety show still coming

*McManus in Love* has sold so well at CenterStage that it will extend to a third weekend, with performances on Feb. 10-11.

As for the CenterStage Live! variety show directed by Kim Roberts, originally set to open Feb. 10: It will open Feb. 24 for Friday-Saturday performances through April 1 (no foolin'), with the theme of "Love." You can get in to see a preview on Friday, Feb. 17 only for just $10. The writing team is now reported to be composed of Reed McColm, Pat McManus, Tim Behrens, Janean Jorgensen, Maria Caprile, Leslie Grove and Superior Court Judge Michael Donohue.

Some math: If CenterStage sells out (as it is, or is close to doing, for its first four performances of "McManus") all of its 165 seats for dinner theater, and IF -- big if -- all 165 folks buy both dinner and show at $39 per, that's a gross of $6,435 per night.

script reading and response

Since Jan W. (at least) responded to my recent *Pillowman* post, I thought maybe others might be interested in sharing here what scripts they're reading. It could be a means of dipping into who's reading what, what might or might not work onstage, how scripts read and perform differently, the practicalities of actual staging, etc.

I'll start. I'm rereading David Hare's *Racing Demon* now, about a crisis of faith and unresponsiveness to the poor among Anglican clergy in impoverished south London, circa 1990. Part of a loose trilogy of his, I gather, and political like all his work. I saw *Stuff Happens* in L.A. last May -- startling to see Cheney, Bush, Powell, Condi represented onstage; reasonably fair-minded on the war for a raging liberal. Not a work for the ages, but surprising in showing Bush to be not stupid but wily, and in depicting Powell's conscience-crisis and caving-in to the Bush-Rumsfeld hellbent-for-war bandwagon.

I just special-ordered *Shining City* but was disappointed. It's by Conor McPherson (This Lime Tree Bower, The Weir). Like The Weir, it has a ghost-story motif: Therapist in run-down part of Dublin talks with a man whose wife just died. The guy's overwhelmed by grief -- so much so that his story of seeing his wife's ghost seems attributable to extreme emotion. But McPherson has some tricks up his sleeve. Second scene, months later, therapist confronts and breaks up with his girlfriend. Some shared phrases from first scene, so you're thinking, OK, the two men will be paralleled somehow, both suffering some kind of separation anxiety. Third scene has the client from scene one in a long and riveting monologue about his guilt over how he wasn't a good husband. Then an almost gratutitous fourth scene, leading to final confrontation of "cured" client (?) and guilt-ridden (?) therapist. Might be haunting onstage; on the page, it seemed like remarkable, David Mamet-style ability to capture colloquial speech but a forced attempt at metaphor and symbol.

3M, 1 W, single set; 5 scenes, no intermission. But it left me thinking, Big deal.

So tell us what plays you've been reading. I mean, Cate Blanchett is playing Hedda Gabler off-Broadway in March; I'd pay a lot to see her in that role. So you can even share what old classics you've been revisiting. Children's plays and melodramas and musicals, too -- whatever might be viable at some point for local stages at least to consider.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof cast list

Tennessee Williams' drama, at Spokane Civic Theatre, Feb. 24-March 11
directed by Jessica McLaughlin

Maggie the Cat: Chasity Kohlman
Brick: Damon C. Mentzer
Mae, “Sister Woman”: Caryn Hoaglund
Gooper, “Brother Man”: Paul Huck
Big Mama: Jean Hardie
Dixie: Katie Nave
Buster: Jacob Newell
Trixie: Kelly Kopczynski
Big Daddy: Lauren Bathurst
Rev. Tooker: Gary Pierce
Dr. Baugh: Kim Berg

Thursday, January 19, 2006

local theatrical memories

Anyone remember who played Dorothy Brock (the past-her-prime diva) in the productions of *42nd Street* either at CdA Summer Theatre in 2004 or at the Civic in '99 -- and how I could contact either woman?
I'm inquiring through the usual channels, but wanted to cast the Net of Inquiry farther ... Thanks.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

opening-night review of *The Dazzle*

at Actors Rep Theatre (at SFCC) through Jan. 28

Our lives are imperception. Miracles occur all the time, inches from our eyes, and we yet we refuse to see.
What if our blindness were cured? We'd never wrest our eyes and ears away from myriad sensations. We'd be enraptured, perpetually, and utterly unable to function. "Childlike wonder"? More like lifelong rapture. Very involving, very beautiful — and also, sadly, very self-involved and impractical.

Those are the attitudes Tralen Doler portrays in Richard Greenberg's *The Dazzle* (at ARt through Jan. 28) -- and Doler's projecting of such contradictions in a well-rounded performance is only one of this show's many triumphs.

Michael Weaver's well-observed production features a brilliant trio of actors, an informative set, and moments of whimsy and sadness that never condescend to listeners' intelligence. Greenberg's literate script overflows with verbal and philosophical surprises, yearning to display humanity at its best.

Humanity striving toward the ideal — how short of the mark we fall.

Two men, brothers, die after living together in a four-story mansion in Harlem for nearly 40 years. All around them, the world has changed. But inside their cluttered Victorian domicile, the only change has been the inexorable accumulation of junk. It took workmen weeks to clear out all the detritus and discover one of the bodies.

Really happened. But why? Why would two agoraphobic and compulsive collectors choose to live this way? What was in it for them? On such curiosities, Greenberg hangs a tale about idealism and defeat, living life fully and living it not at all. His much-fictionalized Collyer brothers, bind themselves in a self-devised nutshell prison and count themselves kings of infinite space. But they're choked by their own tchotchkes.

Many of us are packrats, but few of us delight in detritus the way Langley does. He's a concert pianist, the kind who's such a connoisseur of music's power that he never quite gets around to sharing his gift in public -- you know, in things like concerts.

Good things happen at ARt when Doler is on the scene. He was in *Dirty Blonde* last season and directed *The Drawer Boy*; now this, another funny/serious drama about brothers. Quirky and compulsive and inspiring in the first act, his character's tantrums reveal themselves as self-indulgent later on -- and Dolen has too much youthful vigor in those scenes for a character who's supposed to have aged visibly. But his Langley finds something exquisite in the quivering of a musical note or a tree leaf, and there's a lesson in that for all of us.

Julie Zimmer plays the heiress who sees a way to get back at her family by throwing herself at an eccentric. Her wide-armed, life-embracing spins denote a woman who'll be attracted to a man who hears syllables and responds with novels. Zimmer lights up whenever she sees Langley, but also conveys her distrust of the meddling (in her eyes) Homer. In the first act, she performs a seduction scene with no-touch dancing that's, well, quite a bit more alluring than all the brothers' jabbering (good as it is) about philosophy. A wise and sexy performance.

Mathew Ahrens (the overeager scholar in *The Golden Age,* ARt's season opener) is a revelation here — sarcastic and a little jealous in the early going (while still conveying the depth of affection he has for his addled brother Langley), then tragic later on without ever giving up on Homer's hopes for a better life. Like his brother and the woman who once loved him, he's an idealist who doesn't quite know how to make his ideals come true. Ahrens' rendition of Homer kept evoking Oscar Wilde for me: exquisitely witty and sensitive, unjustly treated by the world. (And Homer is a lawyer!)

Jamie Flanery's set and Kimberly Crawley's furnishings practically constitute a fourth onstage character: bicycle rims and bric-a-brac, the tea service teetering on mounds of magazines, crap cluttering every cranny. For the second act, they wheel in cartloads of newspapers. Flanery and Crawley ring the stage with their junk piles, as if distributing them to the poor inhabitants of the front row. (No, thanks, I gave at the office. And in my garage. And in my basement.) So many objects, strewn about, visually engaging and yet repulsive at the same time: exactly Greenberg's intent, and a good example of set design that supports the theme while still giving the actors room to maneuver.

"Tragedy," one of Greenberg's characters tells us, "is when a few of us sink to the level where most of us usually are." And it's true that tragic things happen to the quietly desperate trio in this nonetheless often very witty and funny play. Along the way, there's the loneliness of the eccentric, the regret of self-denied pleasure, the costs of choosing an unconventional life.

As full of drawing-room-comedy zingers as Greenberg's first act is, there's a scene late in the play that recalls Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit: Three characters, trapped in a hell of their own devising, each longing for one of the others and yet blocked from their desire by the third. If that sounds a little too black-beret-and-cigarettes serious for you, know that the emotional moments in *The Dazzle,* both comic and sad (and other than Langley's tantrums) tend to be understated. Through it all, the dazzle of life's miracles shine forth.

Greenberg's witticisms crackle by so fast that grins escalate to chuckles and on to outright laughter ahead of the audience's awareness. And yet the ending — full of love that's misdirected, misconstrued — brought tears to many eyes. For a couple of concluding scenes, the opening-night audience was as quiet and attentive as any in my experience.

Enraptured? That's saying too much. But few will leave Greenberg's play — or a production of it as dazzling as this one — emotionally untouched. For attempting much and achieving nearly all, ARt's *The Dazzle* will be the show of the year in Spokane's theater season.

For this review's revision, see the Jan. 19 Inlander.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

opening-night review of I'll Be Back Before Midnight

at Spokane Civic Theatre through Feb. 4

What's it like to feel paranoid, to really feel that everyone around is teamed up against you? And what's it like then to witness proof that you might be wrong? Pretty soon you're paranoid about being paranoid.
Action that gets into audience members' heads -- a comedic thriller that strews guffaws and chills among its listeners -- a play that keeps us on the edge of suspense, never sure what we've perceived, what's actually real, what terrible thing might happen next ... that would be a really gripping play.
Peter Colley's *I'll Be Back Before Midnight* isn't that play. And director Wes Deitrick's production doesn't do much of anything to revive this turkey, which should have been left to waddle around the barnyard after its neck had been wrenched, or whatever it is they do to theatrical abominations.
While there are a few bright spots that show up during the abysmal darkness of *Midnight,* the Civic production is mostly tone-deaf -- a collection of misjudged, unscary, just plain ludicrous moments.
This is the kind of script that calls for characters to commit acts of violence and then cower at the thought of ... placing a phone call. It's a dark and stormy night, you see. The curtains are drawn, the windows locked. But somehow -- who knows how? — once, then twice ... really creepy things have come through that window. So naturally, what does our heroine do when unearthly sounds start to emanate from beyond the window? She goes over to the window and draws the curtains.
Yeah, that'll keep 'em out.

*Back Before Midnight,* in its best moments, is involving because it tries to turn tables on us continually: Is the heroine deluded and laughably weak, or can she stand up for herself while maintaining a firm grip on reality?
Jan, after all, is emotionally fragile, and Angie Dierdorff Petro conveys that through crossed arms and slumped shoulders. She's up against the creepy farmer next door (Ron Ford), a bossy and devious sister-in-law, Laura (Heather Swanstrom), and ... can she even trust her own husband (Dave Rideout)?
With all the counter-plotting and paranoia going on, however, the cast resorts to indicating excessively. Petro keeps crossing her arms and slumping her shoulders. As for Rideout, there are ways to convey submissiveness without cowering and lunging away to the far side of the sofa.
Playwright Colley relies so much on characters' self-labeling ("I guess I'm just over-sensitive, and you're not sensitive enough" and "I'm just an insensitive clod") that maybe the cast can be forgiven for over-emphasizing the traits they're trying to project out into the audience.
Ford fares best. After a career in bloody horror movies, he's got the creepy drunken dirty old man act down. His George, whether in overalls or a polka dot tie, fairly slathers over the details of gory crimes and the bodies of the women he holds in contempt. If he's asked to enact bad slasher-film antics later on, it's not his fault.

Deitrick directs to set up suspense pretty well, though in truth neither of the late-in-Act-One payoffs pays off very well at all. (In terms of suspense, anyway. Maybe in terms of humor.)
There's a bit of stage business early on between the husband and the weirdo farmer that practically gives away the plot. And Colley's script, for all its reputed meticulousness about staging the special effects just so, tends to point fingers at the source of the upcoming screams so that -- when the frightful stuff does finally appear -- all the scariness has drained away.
There are episodes of *Scooby Doo* scarier than Colley's play.
Comic thrillers like *Back Before Midnight* have a basic problem: They want us to deride characters who are laughably beneath us -- and then, in the next supposedly terrifying moment, they're trying to get us to identify closely with the poor beleaguered victim. Which end of the telescope are we looking through? Either way, we're not getting goose bumps. We're just getting the giggles.

Hey, I know I've been rough on shows like *The Fantasticks* and *Mamma Mia!* of late.
But this is not a case of me overdosing on my cranky pills. The Civic's *Midnight* reaches some kind of local theatrical nadir.
But then what about all the people who liked this show? (At the curtain call on opening night, much of the audience stood to applaud.) What if I'm wrong? What if it's all a plot to get me to think that *Midnight* is a bad play when actually it's very good?
Maybe I'm losing my mind. I'm all alone in this office, after all, typing my review, and ... Maybe the audience was planted, and the actors were just pretending to be bad. Maybe I'm hallucinating, and I only think that *Midnight* is a bad play.
Nah, just kidding. It really is bad.

For a revised version of this review -- and for comments on Heather Swanstrom's performance as Laura, Charles Mix's sound design, Maureen Purdy's lights, Peter Hardie's set, and more on what all the opening-night laughter was about — pick up a copy of the Jan. 19 *Inlander.*

Friday, January 13, 2006

CenterStage Live! a variety show

Opening Feb. 10 for a series of six- to eight-weekend runs. Artistic Director Tim Behrens describes it as "Ed Sullivan meets Monty Python meets Saturday Night Live."
A writing team -- Reed McColm, Behrens, Patrick Treadway and Maria Caprile -- are busily writing skits and lyrics for the show, which may change slightly from week to week. Figure on about a 90-minute show with stand-up comedy, skits, cabaret, magicians, singers, dancers and more. The show's music advisors include Janean Jorgensen, Danny McCollim, Leslie Grove and Janet Roble.
CenterStage Live! will be a kind of offshoot of The District variety show on First Night (Dec. 31), which featured stand-up, solo guitar, belly dancing, cabaret singing and a female impersonator. The show's theme will change every few weeks; Behrens mentions radio, vaudeville, war, cabaret and the 1890s as possibilities.
The second floor of CenterStage, says Behrens, has been reconfigured with fewer eight-person tables and "more two- and three-tops."
Asked if there were plans for any musical plays in dinner-theater format at CenterStage, Behrens said no -- the variety show is it.

cast for Sunday's Civic fund-raiser

Steam Heat! $25

Molly Allen Philip Atkins Lei Broadstone
Sallie Christensen Abbey Crawford Melody Deatherage
Kathie Doyle-Lipe David Gigler Jean Hardie
Thomas Heppler Kendra Kimball Hunter Klaue
Patrick McHenry-Kroetch Marianne McLaughlin Troy Nickerson
Mary Ormsby Russ Seaton Andrew Ware Lewis
Also Featuring
Academy of Dance Ballet Spokane Box ‘n Hat Players

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Patty Duke for the holidays

In November at ARt, Patty Duke will star in *Together Again for the First Time,* a comedy set in Spokane and written by Reed McColm. The Nov. 24-Dec. 17 production will be directed by Actors Rep Artistic Director Michael Weaver.

McColm -- who used to write for Star Trek: The Next Generation, St. Elsewhere and other TV shows -- has seen his dysfunctional-family play receive 48 previous productions. But this will be the West Coast premiere -- and the movie begins filming this spring.

Duke (who has won two Golden Globes, four Emmys and an Oscar) will play a Martha Stewart figure, newly remarried. Audrey and her new husband Max are eager to host a perfect Christmas with their grown children from previous marriages. Lots of blended-family bickering ensues.

Unless you buy season tickets for ART's '06-'07 season, you won't be able to purchase single tickets for this holiday-season Patty Duke production until Sept. 25.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Dazzle

The Dazzle
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Actors Rep Theatre, Spokane, Wash., Jan. '06
the Collyer brothers: Mathew Ahrens as Homer and Tralen Doler as Langley

The Dazzle

The Dazzle
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Actors Repertory Theatre of the Inland Northwest
Jan. 2006
Spartan Theater, Spokane Falls Community College
directed by Michael Weaver

Julie Zimmer as Milly Ashmore
Mathew Ahrens (standing) as Homer Collyer; Ahrens, an SFCC alumnus, appeared in The Golden Age for ARt last September
Tralen Doler (at piano) as Langley Collyer; Doler appeared in Dirty Blonde last season for ARt, and also directed The Drawer Boy

The Dazzle ARt Jan 06

Spokane, Wash.
by Richard Greenberg
directed by Michael Weaver

Julie Zimmer and Tralen Doler

Julie Zimmer, Tralen Doler, Mathew Ahrens

The Dazzle
directed by Michael Weaver
Jan. 2006

I'll Be Back Before Midnight

by Peter Colley
Spokane Civic Theatre, Jan 2006
Ron Ford as George the spooky farmer
Dave Rideout as Greg the archaeologist
Heather Swanstrom as Laura, who's emotionally fragile and just had a nervous breakdown

I'll Be Back Before Midnight

Spokane Civic Theater
Jan 06
directed by Wes Deitrick

I'll Be Back Before Midnight

from L to R:
Heather Swanstrom as Laura
Angie Dierdorff as Jan
Ron Ford as George
Dave Rideout as Greg

I'll Be Back Before Midnight

the spooky farmer enjoys getting this kind of attention

fire at Civic; show will go on

At approximately 4:30 am Wednesday, Jan. 11, a fire broke out in the tunnel area on the east side of Spokane Civic Theatre, adjacent to the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre, the green room and a storage area.
No one was injured, but there was extensive damage.
"The theater is still operational," says Artistic Director Yvonne A.K. Johnson, emphasizing that SCT still has electrical power for its Main Stage, lobby and office areas. The show will go on: Johnson is quite confident that upcoming productions like *I'll Be Back Before Midnight* (Main Stage) and "Proof" (downstairs) will go on as scheduled.
The Civic recently learned that it needs to replace its steam boiler. The fire burned into the boiler area and actually melted insulation, electrical wires and the control system.
Fortunately, the fire doors in the tunnel area held -- "otherwise," says Johnson, "the entire theatre might have gone up."

While there were no witnesses, the Spokane Fire Department, according to Johnson, pointed to the probability that transients may have set the fire. Johnson says that "transients have a history of living in the tunnel and on the west side of the theater." The fire department, says Johnson, noted that "it got very cold around 4:30, and then the wind kicked up."

While not wanting to appear insensitive to the plight of the homeless, Johnson also has obvious responsibilities to the theater. "The transient issue has been a problem since I've been here," she says. Above and beyond the necessary repairs to the theater and its electrical system, the Civic will need to take measures to improve security. Johnson has gotten approval from the Civic's board to install a gate on the tunnel area, to clear out all brush and trees along the theater's western edge and to install high-intensity lighting in that area.

The theater was insured, "though there will be a deductible," says Johnson. Technical Director Peter Hardie was one of the first on the scene, at 6:30 am, and has already begun rigging temporary lighting for the Civic's scene shop, costume shop and Studio Theatre.

Unfortunately, the damage from the fire -- and the fact that the entire lower level of the Civic is temporarily without power -- makes the Jan. 15 fund-raiser at the theater all the more imperative. Floods and fire -- are locusts next for the Civic?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Steam Heat!

Troy Nickerson is directing this fund-raiser for and at the Civic on Sunday, Jan. 15, at 7 pm. $25 donation requested -- and more, if you can afford it. (They've got a $50,000 broken steam boiler to replace.)
I don't want to speculate too wildly, but I'm guessing that a certain tune from *Pajama Game* just might be performed.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

readers' theater attendance; profanity and violence in contemporary plays

Yvonne Johnson reports audiences of "about 20" for Reading Stage performances at the Civic this season.

Is the local market saturated, or are people just not listening anymore?

The Civic has held a Reading Stage series for about five (?) years; ARt holds its production previews at Auntie's; both Lake City and Ignite! hold readers' theater events; and now Interplayers is about to open the second of its three readers' theater productions of this seasons (in lieu of one full production, and clearly meant to hold down costs).

Forgive Bobo if he's wrong, but with the exception (perhaps) of one of Ignite's events at Auntie's, none of these are particularly well attended.

They also aren't particularly well advertised. The Civic had a decent hook with its first season of shows: Come see the 20 best English-language plays (many of them with large casts, therefore less likely to be given full productions) -- high-quality scripts, lots of parts, therefore lots of friends and neighbors attending and lots to look at onstage. Season-long themes, it seems to me, matter less: If I decide to take time out of my schedule on a Sunday night (which I'd rather spend with my family) to see a given show, I don't much care if it's part of a 10-part series ... I won't be able to see more than a handful of them, anyway.

Possible solutions: cooperative marketing by several local theaters, to get the word out. A core repertory of the best local actors from which to draw most or at least the leading roles. (Let's face it, ya gotta be good -- If all we have to go on is your voice, then it had better be a pretty good voice.) Rotate the locations, from theater to theater. Make people comfortable; let 'em bring in a glass of wine. Don't direct statically: There's no rule that actors have to stay seated throughout. Do some blocking, use a prop or two -- I agree, don't overtax actors by having 16 rehearsals for one show, but also don't bore the audience. And reconsider showtimes -- something other than Sunday nights at the Civic, perhaps? Put readings in lobbies with comfy chairs; maybe provide scripts for those who want to read along (even at the risk that they won't be looking at actors every second).

And a commitment from local theatergoers and people who read this blog, at least in the next few months, to come out and see some readers' theater shows. There was a good, skeptical comment on this blog awhile back -- and thank you for it -- along the lines of, we SAY around here we want edgier stuff, so it gets tried out in readers' format, and nobody shows. If we want edgy shows to get a tryout, then show up at the reading stage productions and agitate for contemporary stuff during those seasons.

(And yes, Bobo is skirting self-interest here: He's directing a Reading Stage production of *Take Me Out* by Richard Greenberg at the Civic, with auditions on March 13 and performance on April 9. Sorry, ladies, it's an all-male cast. As if women around here were just dying to work with Bobo. Ha! Some folks around here -- they prefer anonymity -- are probably to boycott and throw brickbats at me and my show. What IS a brickbat, anyway?)

Kim Roberts would be best on the following: Didn't the Civic Main Stage production of *Inherit the Wind* more or less result from its having been tried out during that first Civic Reading Stage season? And aren't there others that also resulted in productions? My point is, by under-attending readers' theater, we may be about to lose as a theater community the opportunities to see live performances (in at least some form) of shows that actually take some chances.

IF we started attending edgier readers' shows, at least we'd have those experiences to remember -- and maybe get some of them scheduled downstairs at the Civic or at ARt. (Other venues, I understand, have to consider the bottom line exclusively -- I know, everybody does.)

Example: I like Neil LaBute a lot -- but then there are so many F-bombs in his plays. So he won't get done around here. But he's honest. I just read *Fat Pig* with anticipation and was disappointed. (It's his rumination on misogyny and anti-fat person prejudice; juvenile and predictable.) But "This Is How It Goes" is very do-able: cast of three, minimal set, funny and honest, but also disturbing -- sort of the Othello premise, with black guy married to white girl who's sort of attracted to the Iago-figure who also just happens to be her former boyfriend. On issues like race, misogyny, class and manipulation, it's quite good and insightful. Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Peet and (!) Ben Stiller in one production.)
And there's The Shape of Things and The Mercy Seat.

Another example: I just read and highly recommend Martin McDonagh's *The Pillowman,* in which the premise is that a writer of short stories (most of which deal with the torture and murder of little children, horrific stuff, not directly portrayed onstage) is being good cop/bad cop interrogated in an unnamed totalitarian state. Crackling dialogue (but full of profanity), takes unexpected turns, alternately hilarious and disturbing, great meditation of the responsibilities of the artist, society's responsibilities to its most vulnerable citizens, free speech, and much to do with the Bush administration's proclivity for torturing bad guys. Kafka, Beckett, Pinter, Stoppard are all over it. But then they say "fuck" a lot in it, so I guess we'd better do The Sound of Music instead. (And I quite liked the last S of M (!!) show at the Opera House; those are delightful and even moving songs. And yet.)

What angers me is that the economics of local audiences prevent local artistic directors from scheduling a play like This Is How It Goes or The Pillowman, because of the f***ing profanity, which would horrify and discomfort the very people who would raise nary a peep about the violence.
Kill fictional people all you want, the sentiment seems to go -- we see that in prime time every night -- but don't make me uncomfortable in my theater seat by having real live actors 20 feet away from me utter the S and F and N and C words, because that violates my own sense of propriety. (We could probably do an entire alphabet of objectionable words. But violence? A couple of knife fights or drive-by shootings -- hey, that's America for ya.)

Sorry for the ramble. Take your pot shots. I want local theater to succeed. I also want it to attract younger audiences. Rodgers and Hammerstein appeal passionately to about 0.3% of the 18-to-29 crowd.
We have remember that we do handmade stuff in a machine-made world. Put a kid right there in the room with a truly convincing Leontes or Maggie or Bette, have him FEEL up close what acting is like, communally and in the same space, and he'll show up. He'll support arts subsidies. He'll urge his kids to do theater. He'll slow down to take a look at something other than the latest spectacular at the cineplex.

wait for Wicked

Bobo has it on good authority that Best of Broadway Spokane was trying hard to bring *Wicked* here for next season. But the show has proved so popular that major cities have doubled their runs (from one week to two or more), elbowing out smaller markets. (That would be us.) So wait for 2007-08?

Lake City — upcoming auditions

Children's Production
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
by Joseph Robinette, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis
directed by Tracey Vaughan
Auditions Jan. 31 and Feb.1 at 6:30 pm
Harding Family Center
411 N. 15th St., CdA
Need adults and children ages 6 and older
Adults are strongly encouraged to audition.
Cold readings
Shows April 13-22

Readers' Theater
Private Lives
by  Noel Coward
directed by Tom Nash
Auditions Monday, Jan. 16, at 6:30 pm
Lake City Playhouse
Show on Feb. 11

From March 17-April 1, Lake City will also produce William Inge's Picnic

Lake City Playhouse
1320 E. Garden Ave.
Coeur d'Alene ID 83814
(208) 667-1323

Thursday, January 05, 2006

jukebox musicals

J.J. made a good suggestion in a recent comment: Why not just open up a discussion (i.e., post your comments here) on what you think of jukebox musicals and why.

That's your cue ...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I'll Be Back Before Midnight

Spokane Civic Theatre Main Stage Production: I’ll Be Back Before Midnight
by Peter Colley
directed by Wes Deitrick

Jan. 13-Feb. 4
Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm
1020 N. Howard St.

Tickets: $17; $14, seniors; $12, students
Call: 325-2507

A comedic thriller:
Jan, an emotionally fragile woman, and her archaeologist husband, Greg, rent a cabin from a spooky farmer, George, who has a penchant for telling dark tales. Unsettling things start to happen even before Greg's manipulative sister, Laura, shows up. Seems that previous tenants have been driven away by the ghosts. Lots of chills and laughs before the heart-stopping conclusion.

Peter Colley (When the Reaper Calls and The Murderer in the Mirror are two of his other mystery thrillers) is a Canadian playwright. The Toronto Globe & Mail called *Midnight* "the most produced Canadian play ever"; it has been produced in 24 countries. *Reaper* will be published by Samuel French this year.

*Midnight* was the basis for a 1992 TV movie called *Illusions,* with Heather Locklear as Jan, Robert Carradine as Greg and Ned Beatty as George.

cast for The Dazzle

a hyper-articulate drawing-room comedy that turns tragic by Richard Greenberg (Three Days of Rain, Take Me Out, The Violet Hour)

Jan. 13-28 at SFCC's Spartan Theatre

featuring Tralen Doler, Julie Zimmer and Mathew Ahrens
directed by Michael Weaver
set design by Jamie Flanery
sound by Patrick Treadway
costumes by Lisa Caryl
props by Kim Crawley

... and the props will be prominent, because ... The Dazzle is takes off on the real-life story of the Collyer brothers, who lived in a Harlem mansion cluttered with junk (eventually, 136 tons of it) from 1909-47 as the neighborhood around them -- and their own lives -- self-destructed.
Homer's a lawyer; Langley, a stay-at-home concert pianist who attracts the attentions of Milly Ashmore. All three are highly intelligent, highly articulate, and surrounded by piles of junk.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

off on vacation again

Sorry, haven't given up, still planning to post in '06 so I can gather more cynical barbs in my butt.
I'm gettin' out the platform shoes for ABBA tonight!