Saturday, November 18, 2006

opening-night review of *Mame*

at Spokane Civic Theatre through Dec. 17

If you’re doing a show about fighting the dull, hidebound habits of conformity, you’d better have a unicorn in your show — a character who’s other-worldly, a little forbidding, nonconformist, unique. And the Civic’s current production of *Mame* (through Dec. 17) has its unicorn, all right — it’s just that the horn’s on the wrong woman. Despite several delightfully varied dance sequences, some amazing costumes, a couple of stellar vocal numbers and a storyline that’s all about living life to the fullest, most of the joie de vivre in the Civic’s *Mame* lies with the sidekick and not the star.

The exuberance, the unconventionality, the comic gusto — in the bosom-buddy role of Vera Charles, Kathie Doyle-Lipe shows more of these qualities than does Melody Deatherage in the title role. The result is an imbalanced show.

Deatherage never does or says anything in the role that gives us reason to smack our foreheads and exclaim about that unpredictable, sensational Mame. But Doyle-Lipe does: popping through doorways and out of the bedclothes, jamming one-liner retorts right into the maw of her conversational opponents, nearly falling headlong down stairwells, she may be stealing scenes, but she’s alive up there. Doyle-Lipe pops her head up like a prairie dog and skitters across the stage; in contrast, Deatherage is an Irish wolfhound, elegant but lumbering. Granted, Doyle-Lipe’s Vera is just a martini-swilling eccentric, the wacky sidekick, whereas Deatherage’s Mame has to carry the show with moments both comic and serious.

Which may explain why Deatherage is so transcendently good in Mame’s big 11 o’clock song of regret: “Would I make the same mistakes / If he walked into my life today?” she asks, right after her adopted nephew Patrick, now all grown up, has opted for the conventional girl and her conventional lifestyle. It’s what Mame feared most for the boy she had taken into her life so long ago.

Deatherage’s voice can sometimes strain in the lower register, and she isn’t particularly light on her feet. But director Troy Nickerson wisely plays “If He Walked” simply, with Deatherage in an elegant gown, standing her ground, isolated in a spotlight, with self-doubt and sadness pouring out of a woman who had styled herself one of New York’s hardest partiers. She was so busy being unconventional, she forgot to make the best parenting decisions. Deatherage stands and delivers on the song — her voice a little raspy, a lot anguished — and it’s a moment, rare in the look-at-me-being-silly atmosphere of Mame, when a character’s emotions (rather than the external situation) propel the lyrics. Deatherage delivers the mood of “If He Walked” magnificently.

But it’s only one song. While Doyle-Lipe does the physical comedy and the quick outbursts, Deatherage stands out most in expressing her character’s quasi-maternal love and occasional sadness. And we’re still stuck with an imbalance.


The extended version of this review in the next issue of *The Inlander* (available a day earlier than most weeks -- on Wednesday, Nov. 22) will contain remarks on the choreography, costumes and some of the supporting players in *Mame,* along with a description of the hilarious "Moon Song" sequence.


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