Thursday, October 26, 2006

*Moon Over Buffalo* cast

Ken Ludwig's comedy, Nov. 9-25 at Interplayers
Wednesdays-Sundays, with weekend matinees
Tickets: $10-$21 or 455-PLAY

directed by Paul Villabrille
costumes by Janna Cresswell and Rose Martin
set by Brian Durbin

Jean Hardie as Charlotte, Gary Pierce as George, Kari Mueller as Roz, Dan Anderson as Paul, Damon Mentzer as Howard, Robert Wamsley as Richard, Alba Jeanne MacConnell as Ethel, Ryan Patterson as Eileen

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

*Barefoot* auditions

*Barefoot in the Park,* by Neil Simon
auditions: Monday-Tuesday, Nov. 6-7, at 6:30 pm in the Civic's Studio Theatre
directed by Yvonne Johnson
two men, four women; a one-minute contemporary monologue and cold readings from the script
performances: Jan. 12-Feb. 3 or 325-1413

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Opening-night review of *Isn't It Romantic*

at the Civic’s Studio Theatre through Nov. 11

Despite all the leg warmers and hefty cordless phones (with antennas!) — despite the Members Only jackets, the women’s giant shoulder pads, and a soundtrack filled with Lauper, Bowie, Newton-John and America’s “You Can Do Magic” — Wendy Wasserstein’s *Isn’t It Romantic* hasn’t dated too badly since its revised version appeared in 1983. (The original version premiered in ’79.) Women are still trying to juggle careers, husbands and kids while defending themselves against their parents’ accusing stares.

In fact, all the Yiddish kvetching of this very New York Jewish comedy presents more obstacles for a West Coast audience in connecting with this work than does its quarter-century-old vintage. This is the story of two best friends in the Big Apple: Janie Blumberg (Rebecca McNeil) and Harriet Cornwall (Juli Wellman). Janie — schlumpy, a freelance writer, quick to fend off emotional remarks with a quick one-liner — presents quite a contrast to Harriet — a career woman like her demanding mother, always well dressed, always falling for the wrong kind of man. It’s part of this play’s charm that Janie is the one who attracts the eligible bachelor while Harriet wastes time with men who are beneath her. And yet, when it comes time to contemplate marriage — well, both these women have their self-destructive tendencies.

Though this is a production that will get better, it has noticeable problems right now. Dropped lines, long pauses, missed cues, underemphasized emotional beats — there were far too many of those on opening night, though presumably those will fall away over the course of the run as this cast gets more comfortable with the material. As if director Todd Jasmin didn’t already have his hands full with an overcrowded set and all those scene changes, costume changes and long voice-mail messages, he even had to take over one of the key roles. As Janie’s boyfriend (a nice Jewish doctor, she should be so lucky), Jasmin capably filled in for Mark Hodgson on opening weekend. In fact, Jasmin’s aw-shucks, understated demeanor worked extremely well in portraying a humble high-achiever.

Probably the biggest revelation here (to Spokane audiences, not to those in Coeur d’Alene, who already know her work) is the talent of Rebecca McNeil as Janie in the Wasserstein stand-in role. McNeil makes one of her character’s lucky breaks seem deserved, and she makes an apparently bad decision seem wise; she’s often playing off opposites in an appealing manner. McNeil overuses some gestures — hands to the forehead in shock, arms extended in pleading — and she misses how Janie uses comedy to keep people at arm’s length, but she’s got the disheveled, creative-type look down, and she’s persuasive when it comes to expressing affection toward her maddening parents and uncertain friend.

Despite the slow pace and glitches, there are already some good moments in this show. The energy level rises just before intermission during a scene cross-cut between the two apartments, with Janie’s parents playing matchmaker while their daughter frantically tries to cook a chicken and her friend starts making kissy-face with a sleazy marketing exec. The Blumbergs share a nice, genuine-seeming family hug. The shorthand-conversation closeness of the two best friends failed to come out in an opening park bench scene and later on as well, but at least there’s a nice welcome-to-your-new-apartment ritual in which Wellman (appearing for the only time in Janie’s apartment, and in casual clothes) shares genuine sisterhood with Janie.

For a revised and extended version of this review — with comments on the set, props, costumes and several of the supporting actors, and on Wasserstein’s career — pick up a copy of *The Pacific Northwest Inlander* on Thursday, Oct. 26.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Blumbergs in *Isn't It Romantic*

Isn't It Romantic
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
by Wendy Wasserstein
directed by Todd Jasmin
at the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre of Spokane Civic Theatre
Oct. 20-Nov. 11, 2006
Evelyn Renshaw as Tasha Blumberg
J.P. Shaughnessy as Simon Blumberg
Rebecca McNeil as Janie Blumberg
(509) 325-2507
Yvonne A.K. Johnson, artistic director

Isn't It Romantic sitting on a park bench

Isn't It Romantic
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Mark Hodgson as Marty Sterling
Juli Wellman as Harriet Cornwall
Rebecca McNeil as Janie Blumberg

Rebecca, Jhon, Juli

Isn't It Romantic
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Rebecca McNeil as Janie Blumberg
Jhon Goodwin as Vladimir
Juli Wellman as Harriet Cornwall

Spokane Civic's Studio Theatre, Oct.-Nov. '06

Sunday, October 15, 2006

opening-weekend review of *The Woman in Black*

at Interplayers through Oct. 28

 It’s a ghost story with a couple of literally scalp-tingling, goose-bump moments. It features creepy lighting and sound effects. It’s performed well by a versatile pair of actors. It has that spooky, haunted-mansion feel appropriate to the weeks before Halloween.

So why then isn’t the Interplayers production of *The Woman in Black* (through Oct. 28) more successful? Why is it, so often, not very scary?

Playwright Stephen Mallatratt’s script goes into a long windup about the nature of reality and illusion, then gets all talky on us, even during its most sensational scenes. Then it telegraphs its ending badly, draining suspense out of the final minutes. There’s much discussion of how retelling a tragic story will help exorcise its lingering demons; but really, sometimes, going on and on about creepy creatures just makes them overstay their welcome.

The two Damons in this cast, however — Damon Abdallah as the Victorian gentleman haunted by ghosts and Damon Mentzer as the actor hired to help perform an exorcism through drama — do commendable jobs with this material. Abdallah has the showier part, getting to play more characters and demonstrating his versatility with accents and body postures. He’s an overworked Dickensian clerk, an invalid lawyer, a forbidding coachman, a hunchbacked old fogey, a distinguished landowner — each nicely distinguished by voice and mannerisms. Mentzer (he’s the shorter one) nicely differentiates his officious, skeptical actor from the fellow who later on has to undergo a few nights in a mansion isolated deep in the Yorkshire marshes. Neither actor excels at their characters’ horror-stricken moments, but that’s at least partly because Mallatratt saddles them with a lot of self-talk about just how horrified they are.

The show is also strong technically. Dan Heggem’s lighting design slants sideways to cast oversize shadows, then proves especially versatile during one freaky nightmare sequence with lights flashing on and off all over. In a play set in the late 19th century and which refers often to the wonders of new-fangled sound recording, Patrick Treadway’s sound design has to work wonders, and it does: We hear the crisp sounds of the clock’s ticking and the clip-clop of hooves on pavement, and one mélange of sound effects, just as it should be, is phantasmagoric. As director Ron Ford writes in his program note, “the sound and light effects amount to a third character in this production.”

Too bad they’re in support of a thought-provoking, sometimes involving but mostly plodding script.


For comments on Mallatratt’s use of the play-within-a-play and attempt at inverting fictional and actual worlds (and for the second half of this review), pick up a copy of the Oct. 19 *Inlander.*

Creepy trivia: Henry Irving, the famous Victorian actor referred to several times in this show, died 101 years (to the day) before Interplayers’ opening night. Irving died on Oct. 13, 1905 — which was also Friday the 13th.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Spokane Interplayers Ensemble
Oct. 13-28, 2006
directed by Ron Ford
Damon Abdallah and Damon C. Mentzer

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
by Stephen Mallatratt
directed by Ron Ford

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Damon Abdallah and Damon C. Mentzer
October 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006

wait for *Long Day's Journey* — but worth it

ARt will not produce O'Neill's tragedy this January but next fall (probably as the second show in its 2007-08 season, approximately a year from now).
Best of all, the role of patriarch James Tyrone will be performed by David Ogden Stiers, who's best known as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on *MASH* (1977-83), but also as the voice of numerous Disney animated characters (Cogsworth in *Beauty and the Beast* (1991), Governor Ratcliffe in "Pocahontas* (1995), the Archdeacon in *The Hunchback of Notre Dame* ('96), and Dr. Jumba Jookiba in *Lilo and Stitch* (2002; and all its TV spinoffs), and such movies as *The Majestic,* *Krippendorf's Tribe* and Woody Allen's *The Curse of the Jade Scorpion* — and many, many TV shows. Stiers also plays the father in next year's film version of Reed McColm's *Together Again for the First Time* (the stage version of which we were supposed to see next month at ARt, but oh, well ...).
Even better, Stiers' "attachment" to the "project" (does Bobo sound appropriately insider-y and all *Variety*-style talk here?) has attracted the interest of other well-known actors for the parts of Edmund and Mary Tyrone. (Can't say more yet.)

Bobo witnessed Stiers' King Lear and Oberon (in *MND*) at the San Diego National Shakespeare Festival, c. 1977-78 -- along with several other roles he did, including a hilarious Dogberry in *Much Ado,* and let me tell ya, folks — this is a stage actor of great sensitivity and renown.

Jan. and April slots at ARt

Michael Weaver reports that the Jan. 12-27 slot in the Actors Rep season is now open, but to be filled by a familiar American play from the last generation or so.
The April 6-21 production will be *Humble Boy* by Charlotte Jones, a six-character play with Patty Duke as Flora.
Jones' play is, get this, a comic retelling of Shakespeare's *Hamlet.*
It starred Diana Rigg as Flora and Simon Russell Beale as her son Felix at London's National Theatre in 2003.
"Themes covered include dysfunctional families, bee keeping, theoretical physics and the gap between reality and our perception of it."
Felix (the Hamlet figure) — in his 30s, unmarried, a Cambridge University lecturer on superstring theory — has returned home for his father's funeral; Dad was a biology teacher and beekeeper. Flora (the Gertrude figure, also a bit of a queen bee) isn't happy with her son and is more fixated on her affair with George, the sleazy owner of a rental car fleet. And there's an Ophelia character, and ... you get the idea.
Apparently Rigg made her first entrance with huge sunglasses on, to drive home the large-eyed insect hint.
(Might overwhelm the diminutive Ms. Duke.)

cast for *Moonlight and Magnolias* at Actors Rep

Ron Hutchinson's comedy about the last-minute rewriting of *Gone With the Wind*
directed by Tralen Doler
Michael Weaver as David O. Selznick
Patrick Treadway as Ben Hecht
John Oswald as Victor Fleming
... one female role yet to be cast ...
Nov. 24-Dec. 9 at SFCC's Spartan Theatre

Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Cameron Lewis as Cosmo Brown and Andrew Ware Lewis as Don Lockwood (on table)
Spokane Civic Theatre Main Stage
Sept. 29-Oct. 29, 2006
directed by Kathie Doyle-Lipe
musical direction by Gary Laing

Singin' in the Rain

Singin' in the Rain
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Dougie Dawson as R.F. Simpson
Thomas Heppler as Roscoe Dexter
Corinne Logarbo as Lina Lamont
... and other cast members in Kathie Doyle-Lipe's production