Saturday, February 24, 2007

opening-night review of *All My Sons*

at Spokane Civic Theatre’s Main Stage through March 10

As performed by Wes Deitrick with a guttural voice and limp, Joe Keller — the central character in Arthur Miller’s *All My Sons* (at the Civic through March 10) — carries a slightly menacing edge to his man-next-door neighborliness. Keller, we gradually find out, is implicated in a World War II-era scandal involving the sale of defective airplane parts that led to the deaths of 21 American pilots.

But could he actually be implicated in such a sordid business? Could Joe Keller — family man, successful business owner, practically a personification of the American Dream — really be guilty of murder?

Even from the start, Deitrick waggles his hands instead of pointing directly at things, as if to suggest Keller’s indecisiveness. With a dark grin smearing his face, Deitrick sits to one side as others discuss the details of the case that for years he’s been trying to elude. His business partner remains in prison even after Keller got himself exonerated. Was justice actually served?
Deitrick whittles chunks of wood and remains silent; he brandishes a paring knife against the apples that lie helpless in his hand. Small details, but telling ones: The rage simmers just below the surface, and while we may think it’s aimed at his former next-door neighbor and business partner, soon it becomes apparent that Keller’s raging at himself.

One playful-kidding exchange with his son Chris (Damon C. Mentzer) had the right edge of implied rage in it, with Deitrick’s coiled fist pressing against Mentzer’s cheek uncomfortably long. The moment pulled a veneer of pleasantry over father-son animosities that we sensed but couldn’t yet figure out. Yet Deitrick’s accompanying tirade, considered vocally, seemed weak alongside the strength of the physical acting.

And this was one of several moments in director Jessica McLaughlin Sety’s show that didn’t carry their full emotional or tragic weight: the cattiness of a next-door neighbor, the grief of the dead brother’s girlfriend when she first has to impress upon others the finality of his death, the repressive depths to which a mother will sometimes thrust her absolute refusal to believe that her son might be dead, the righteous thirst for vengeance by the son of an unjustly accused man. All of these sequences lacked intensity or failed to be convincing. And yet somehow McLaughlin Sety’s production manages to be consistently absorbing for its more than two-and-a-half-hour length.

Watch Deitrick, for example, when his wife Kate (Kathleen Malcolm) first makes clear that she knows about his guilt: Slouching in a chair, abortive sneers crossing his face, Deitrick turns away in deep repression, an index finger raised to his lips in a self-silencing gesture.

Some of this contrast — between moments that are unconvincing and then turn electrifying — is due to the cast’s achievement in acting and some to the power of Miller’s script. With the character of the son (who would have been easy to typify as a straight-arrow idealist), Mentzer shows us Chris’s vulnerability and naiveté. From his first appearance in pleated trousers, clutching the Sunday paper with confidence, to our final image of him crumpled in grief, Mentzer traces a decline — from idealism to disillusionment — that’s convincing. As Kate, Malcolm demonstrates how much energy it takes to maintain belief in a set of lies; repression like hers would suck the life right out of anybody.

With all the references to fate and guilt and the enmity of neighboring families, it felt like Greek tragedy played in the flouncy dresses and double-breasted suits of America in the 1940s. (Costume designers Susan Berger and Jan Wanless make sure that when Kari Mueller’s fiancée or Mentzer’s upright junior manager need to look polished and clean — not guilt-ridden or unsure — they do.) Peter Hardie’s set design — goldenrod clapboard houses, looming back fences, garbage cans just around the corner of the back stoop — provides an arena for some dark-night-of-the-soul self-examination — and manages to look romantic in the late-night scenes as well.

Miller was only 31 when *All My Sons* premiered on Broadway, and he was still learning his craft. He lays on the symbols a bit thick (a child’s game, a windblown tree) but he could also generate arresting phrases in a play about repression (“a talent for ignoring things”) and the post-war prosperity of those with survivor guilt (“just loot with blood on it”). In a somewhat similar way, this production at the Civic sometimes displays its excesses. McLaughlin Sety’s blocking can be excessively stagy (Mentzer on a raised platform for a speech about manliness, a woman standing at attention midway between two characters vying for control over her). But the biggest emotional wallop arrives where it should, in the third-act finale, and the emphasis throughout on such themes as repression and the impossibility of wholly untainted profits was well placed.

On Monday in Miami, a man named George Myles Jr. will be sentenced in federal court. His offense? Lying about the safety of airplane parts that he had sold to the Department of Defense. The parts were “flight-critical: their failure could be potentially catastrophic and/or cause serious damage to aircraft.”

In a time of Iraq war profiteering by Halliburton and other companies — and 60 years after it was first performed — Miller’s *All My Sons* still has an eerie resonance. We hold up the dollar as an almighty god, forgetting that all the men and women who have died in Iraq — Republican and Democrat, Shia and Sunni, all of them — are linked inextricably to our own lives. Wealth, family, nation … men like Joe Keller need to learn that there is a world beyond even these noble values, and that it is populated by all our daughters, all our sons.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

pix of *All My Sons* at Civic

Go to
Search for "Sir Andrew Aguecheek's photos" and/or for "theater" "Spokane" and that should bring you to three production photos.
Arthur Miller's *All My Sons*
directed by Jessica McLaughlin Sety
Feb. 23-March 10, 2007
Spokane Civic Theater, Main Stage

JOE KELLER Wes Deitrick
KATE KELLER Kathleen Malcolm
CHRIS KELLER Damon C. Mentzer
ANN DEEVER Kari Mueller
SUE BAYLESS Karla Morrison
FRANK LUBEY Maxwell Nightser
LYDIA LUBEY Michelle Philbin
BERT Nikolaus Hofer

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

*Assassins* encore on March 4

If you missed the Civic's outstanding Sondheim production, catch the one-hour version on the Main Stage on Sunday, March 4, at 7:30 pm for $18.
The show's going into state and regional competition on March 9-11 in Walla Walla.

Monday, February 19, 2007

auditions for *Cinderella,* Feb. 25-27

Rodgers and Hammerstein's version doesn't open until May 13 with Spokane Children's Theater, but auditions are soon:
Sunday, Feb. 25, at 4 pm (ages 7-15) and at 6:30 pm (age 15 and older);
also on Monday, Feb. 26, and Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 6 pm
all at the SCC Lair, Mission Ave. and Greene St.
Call 328-4886
Fifty years ago, 107 million people watched Julie Andrews in the TV version -- to that point, the largest TV audience ever.

Friday, February 16, 2007

*Annie* podcast

If anyone out there cares, Bobo's on channel 11 on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 6 pm for his "Backstage to Broadway" chat with the actors who play Annie, Oliver Warbucks, Sandy the dog, and the ensemble member who acts as Lola's (the dog's) handler. Also at for several weeks afterwards.
Despite Bobo's jaded cynicism going in (oh, God, another *Annie*), this really is an uplifting show. Marissa O'Donnell as Annie is surprisingly soft-spoken and almost shy for a girl who belts out "Tomorrow" as well as she does.
But then you want to know about the dog. This is the 30th anniversary show, and they've always used mutts -- rescue dogs from the pound, often from the Connecticut Humane Society. Bobo identified Lola on-air as a golden retriever, mostly because he's stupid: She's some kind of Airedale terrier mix. Her dog handler, also an ensemble dancer and singer, had interesting things to say about the visual cues given to the pooch in mid-performance.
John Schuck has given more than 3,000 performances as Oliver Warbucks; he started on 7/3/79.

Friday, February 09, 2007

cast for *The Cover of Life*

*The Cover of Life* by RT Robinson
directed by Susan Hardie
at the Civic's Studio Theater, March 9-31
Tickets: $14
In 1943, three military wives are compelled to move in with their mother-in-law, and a big-city reporter arrives in their small town to do a story.

Sara Nicholls as Kate Miller
Tanya Morton as Tood
Melanie Simka as Weetie
Susan Creed as Aunt Ola
Lauren Waterbury as Sybil
Donna Skoog as Addie Mae
Andrew Biviano as Tommy

Interplayers fund-raiser March 31

Interplayers annual Dinner and Auction
Saturday, March 31, from 5-9:30 pm
Unitarian Universalist Church
4340 W. Fort George Wright Dr
Call 456-7131 or 495-2436 or e-mail or e-mail

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ignite! reading of *King Lear*: auditions Feb. 15

Audition: Thursday, Feb. 15, at 6 pm at Riverwalk, 1003 E. Trent Ave.
Reading: Friday, March 16, at 6:30 pm at Auntie's Bookstore, 402 E. Main Ave.
Director Mary Stover seeks 16 men and three women for the cast.
Visit or call (509) 993-6540 or e-mail

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lake City Playhouse's 2007-08 season

Dueling Divas (Aug. 25 only)

Man of La Mancha (opens Sept. 14)

Broadway Bound (Oct. 12-13 at the Old Church Arts and Cultural Center in Post Falls)

The Rainmaker (opens Oct. 26)
"The Littlest Angel" and "The Gift of the Magi" (opens Dec. 7)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (opens Jan. 11, 2008)

An Evening of Vaudeville featuring Michael McGiveney (Feb. 15-16)
Charlotte's Web (opens Feb. 28)

A Skull in Connemara (staged reading, March 14-15 at the Old Church Arts and Cultural Center)

On Golden Pond (opens March 28)
Into The Woods (opens May 4)
Tommy (spring 2008: The Who's rock opera performed in concert at North Idaho College)

Monday, February 05, 2007

*Six Dance Lessons* at Interplayers, March 1-17

"Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" by Richard Alfieri

When Florida retiree Lily (Kathie Doyle-Lipe) signs up for dance lessons, it doesn't look like she'll last the course.
But an unlikely relationship develops between the prudish woman and her cynical yet equally lonely tutor, Michael (New York actor Joel Richards). He may know all the dance moves, but perhaps she can teach him a thing or two about life.

Directed by Esta Rosevear; choreographed by Lorna Hamilton. Plays Wednesdays-Sundays, March 1-17.
Visit or call 455-PLAY.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

lagniappe on John Schuck

John Schuck plays Oliver Warbucks in the touring version of *Annie* at the INB Center (Feb. 15-18). Bobo's got an article this Thursday on this veteran of *Macmillan & Wife* (with Rock Hudson), Altman movies like *MASH* and *McCabe and Mrs. Miller,* and even a recurring part in a couple of *Star Trek* movies as a Klingon ambassador.

Here, apropos of nothing, is some stuff that could be filed under Theater Trivia but which just didn't fit nohow, no way into the article. (The *MASH* anecdote is a classic.)

Asked for a final comment, Schuck came up with this:
"I always caution audiences: We’d love it when you bring your young children to *Annie,* and that’s terrific — but don’t bring your 3-year-old. We make no concession in this production to younger children — the first act is an hour and a half long, and the second act runs nearly 50 minutes. Some parents think it will be so cute to bring the little ones, but they don’t understand that their child is disturbing other. And it’s disruptive to the actors.”

Schuck says he bases his Oliver Warbucks (which he has played for 27 years, on and off) partly on the character of Gant in *Look Homeward, Angel* (which he played in college) and also, revealingly, on his maternal grandfather:
"Warbucks is closest to my grandmather on my mother's side — "Gramp Hamik," we called him. He's dead now. He was an attorney in Buffalo, New York, where I was raised. He was powerful of stature and of personality — and he was *cold.* When my mom wrote home from college, he would not answer her letter, but he would send them back red-penciled. But then near the end of his life, he realized that something was missing, and he turned into a human being. Finally, he realized, "Oh, no, my daughter has grown up." He's always going around saying 'pshaw.' I draw on him some emotionally, a) to feel what that must’ve been like, and b) on the other hand, how wonderful it was when he really changed."

Schuck got the part of Painless (the Polish dentist) in the movie version of *MASH* in a convoluted way. Director Robert Altman was looking at Michael Learned (the mother in "The Waltons") for Lt. Dish; Schuck happened to be in the same play as she was; Schuck was briefly considered for the role that was later offered to Burt Reynolds but which ultimately went to Tom Skerritt.
Anyway, somehow all this led to Schuck becoming the first actor ever to drop the F-Bomb in a major motion picture. His account:
"Bob had gone home for the day. All the second unit stuff was being filmed by Andy Sedaris, who came to us from ABC's " Wide World of Sports." [presumably called upon to film the football game sequences in the movie]
"We had no Steadicam in those days, so he was very clever -- he created a mount for the camera inside the ball, so you'd get these ball's-eye views.
"So they set up this one shot -- just taking individual shots one day, during the football game, and Andy says to me, "Just line up across from Ben and say something insulting to him."
"Ben" was Ben Davidson, who played for the Oakland Raiders at the time and who stood 6-foot-8 and weighed 272 pounds. (A four-time all-star in the old AFL and in the NFL, Davidson played pro ball from 1961-71 after attending the University of Washington.)

"And I’d never played football in my life — I was just a sissy little soccer player in high school. And he was huge!"
What Schuck said to Davidson, improvising, was, “All right, Bub, your fuckin’ head is coming right off.”

"Well, he just knocked me out. And as he’s helping me up, he says, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were going to talk to me like that. It was reflex — reflex!"
"Well, Altman just loved the dailies, and he kept it in the final print."
It was 1970, and it was the first-ever use of the F-Bomb in a major-studio motion picture.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

auditions for *Plumb-Nutts" at CenterStage

auditions for *Relative Chaos: The Plumb-Nutts Family Reunion,* an interactive musical comedy by Jean Kavanagh and directed by Jone Campbell Bryan with musical direction by Leslie Ann Grove
Tues-Wed, Feb. 6-7, at 6:30 pm
CenterStage, 1017 W. First Ave.
Call 74-STAGE, ext. 107
prepare a one-minute song and a two-minute monologue; bring your calendar

performance dates: March 22-April 14, at 8 pm
most cast members will earn $35/night and half-off food at ella's

*Humble Boy adds three performances

*Humble Boy* — Charlotte Jones' comic take on *Hamlet,* starring Patty Duke — was announced for April 6-21 but will now end a day later after adding three weekend matinees on two Saturdays, April 14 and April 21, at 2 pm and a Sunday afternoon performance to close the run on April 22 at 2 pm.
Performances at SFCC's Spartan Theatre. Tickets: $14-$20; $10, students.