Sunday, March 30, 2008

Interplayers' Sweet Sixteen

Spokane Interplayers Ensemble has announced 16 plays that it's considering for its 2008-09 season:

A.R. Gurney, The Dining Room
Yasmina Reza, The Unexpected Man (woman encounters a famous novelist on a train)
Reed McColm, Together Again for the First Time
Mary Murfitt, Cowgirls (expecting an all-girl country group, a Kansas roadhouse hires the Cog Hill Trio instead; they're a classical trio)
Anton Chekhov, The Seagull
Tennessee Williams, The Notebook of Trigorin (TW's darker take on The Seagull, with sharper characterizations and a gay novelist at its center)
Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
Edward Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Rosary O'Neill, The Awakening of Kate Chopin (the family life in 1884 of the author of The Awakening)
William Luce, The Belle of Amherst
Oliver Goldstick, Dinah Was (musical bio of Dinah Washington)
Horton Foote, The Trip to Bountiful
Frederick Knott, Wait Until Dark
Athol Fugard, Exits and Entrances (a South African actor and his dresser debate apartheid and perform Shakespeare)
Nicholas Van Hoogstraten, Johnny Guitar: the Musical (based on the 1954 western with Joan Crawford, plenty of lust, and a 1950s blacklisting motif)
David Cale, Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky (musical about two country singers)

It can't be a good sign that Interplayers misspelled several titles and names in this list -- or that in the program for its current two-man production, it managed to reverse the two actors' characters' names.

opening-weekend review of *The Foreigner*

at Spokane Civic Theatre through April 20

What would we be like if only we could really let ourselves go? What secrets do other people harbor? What if we were really popular?

Larry Shue's 1983 farce with a heart, *The Foreigner,* combines the appeal of these questions with slapstick and verbal humor to create a perennial comedy. While Shue's play suffers from too much exposition and from hammering its moral of self-discovery too hard, it's receiving a Spokane Civic Theatre production (through April 20) that's diverting, sometimes dull, but mostly entertaining.

It's a fish-out-of-water story in which the fish decides to try things out up on dry land for a while. A shy Brit finds himself in a backwoods Georgia hunting lodge pretending that he speaks no English. (Discovering why he decides to do so - and how he maintains the ruse and then transforms and freshens it -- is most of the fun that Shue's having.)

This is a strong ensemble in which nearly all the actors are effective nearly all the time. As a slick preacher with a dark side, Jaylan Renz combines an ability to talk his way out of any sticky situation with the slithering movements of a snake oil salesman. As an ex-debutante, Kari Severns channels Jean Smart in *Designing Women,* alternating between comic consternation and vulnerability. Andrew Biviano gets beyond the Southern-dimwit-hick-with-a-heart stereotype, finding his way in Shue's script to justifiable resentment at others' condescension and some salt-of-the-earth cleverness. And even if it's a throwback, Troy Heppner's characterization of "Froggy" LeSueur -- British military, stiff upper lip but mischievous -- is amusing for the way Heppner pulls off comic slow burns of consternation and then rebounds with cleverness and good cheer.

As the heavy, Will Gilman is effective at throwing his weight around and voicing repulsive attitudes, though he needs to erase that bemused expression when his Owen Musser character becomes the butt of other people's jokes. As the little old lady who runs the hunting lodge (and has apparently never been outside it, so enthralled is she with the prospect of a real, live foreigner), however, Kathie Doyle-Lipe overdoes the *Hee-Haw* mannerisms. Betty's various enthusiasms don't need so much head-waggling.

In the title role, Joe Vander Weil is delightful in displaying the giddiness of a reticent man finally figuring out this business of "acquiring a personality." He should work on the setup, however: Despite the bowtie and conservative duds, Vander Weil is never really convincing as a man so consumed with shyness and low self-esteem that he'd agree to put himself in the position of eavesdropper and freak. And some of Charlie's second-act newfound fluency in English seems too polished. But Vander Weil's expressive face, gangly dancing and histrionic babbling in a made-up language create several laugh-out-loud, affecting sequences. Charlie has such good (if unexpressed) emotions that we're rooting for him, and Vander Weil's confused, reticent expressions over on the sidelines (when he's compelled into silent-eavesdropper mode) are a joy to watch. While he stepped on about three laugh lines during the first act on Saturday night, Vander Weil and the cast will learn over the course of the run where the chortles reliably come, making that problem likely go away.

Director Wes Dietrick's casting and the costumes of Susan Berger and Jan Wanless make for comic contrasts: military khakis vs. Argyle sweaters, dingy overalls vs. tweed jackets, early '80s neon-print dresses with big shoulders vs. Grandma's floor-length wool skirts; fat/skinny, tall/short, Mutt/Jeff. Dietrick keeps traffic moving generally well, though in a couple of sequences (gather 'round for storytelling, hide in the dark cowering as the bad guys advance) in which groupings were arrived at by rote, too automatically.

Shue created a well-made play, so pay attention to the professions, props and personalities introduced in the early going, because they're sure to pop back up again. There are several very funny sequences involving pink plastic cups, foreign-language instruction and an allusion to the melting of the Wicked Witch in *Oz.*

Shue's farce, moreover isn't divorced from reality. With personal sadness and racist greed co-existing alongside silly improvised dancing, *The Foreigner* shows us ugliness and shows us joy. Dietrick's production allows all of that room for expression. It may be overlong for comedy and it may miss some of its laugh lines while straining too hard to underscore others, but the Civic's *Foreigner* is amusing and even hilarious often enough to remind playgoers of why Shue's farce has become a staple of American playhouses in the last quarter-century.

*The Four of Us*

A new play by Itamar Moses (*Bach at Leipzig*) at Manhattan Theatre Club. Two young men, friends. Ben "hits the celebrity jackpot" with his new novel while David is still a struggling playwright. How will that affect their friendship and careers?
Also, the reviews of Patti Lupone in Arthur Laurents' staging of *Gypsy* are glowing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

three pics of *Pete 'n' Keely*
April 4-19 at Actors Rep

*Man of La Mancha* cast list

May 16-June 15 at Spokane Civic Theatre
directed and choreographed by Troy Nickerson
musical direction by Gary Laing

by Dale Wasserman, Mitch Lee and Joe Darion

Patrick McHenry-Kroetch as Don Quixote
Gary Pierce as Sancho Panza
Tami Knoell as Aldonza
David Gigler as Governor/Innkeeper
Gavin Smith as Duke/Dr. Carrasco
Hannah Kimball as Alonso's niece, Antonia
Heather Lee as Alonso's housekeeper
David Williams as the Padre
Benjamin Lee as the Barber
with Justin Gray, David McCarthy, Daniel McKeever, Steve Porter, Justin Roney, Amanda Rood, Mandy Shumski, Kristin Wilkinson

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Moises Kaufman's *33 Variations* wins award

The American Theater Critics Association gives a new play award every year, and it's worth $25,000, which is a big deal, considering that the Pulitzer is worth $10,000.

Two runners-up won $7,500 each: Deborah Zoe Laufer's *End Days* and *Dead Man's Cell Phone* by Sarah Ruhl (*The Clean House*).

This year's winner is *33 Variations* by Moises Kaufman (*The Laramie Project*). It debuted in September at Washington's Arena Stage. It offers a fictional imagining of Beethoven's creation of 33 brilliant variations on a prosaic waltz. The composer's obsessive pursuit of perfection parallels a modern tale of a terminally ill musicologist struggling with her own obsession to unearth the source of Beethoven's creativity.

Laufer's *End Days* premiered in October in Florida. A Jewish family copes with the aftermath of 9/11; the mother, now a born-again Christian, tries to convert them before the rapture arrives — next Wednesday.

Ruhl's *Dead Man's Cell Phone* made its bow at Washington D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in June. The quirky comedy examines the fallout when a lonely woman takes the cell phone from the body of dead man she discovers sitting next to her in a café and begins answering his calls. (It will also be produced in 2009 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.)

opening night: more than jitters

From the London Times:
First nights are ghastly ordeals for actors. A recent study indicates that the stress endured is equivalent to being involved in a minor car crash....

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

*The Foreigner* and *Rounding Third*

three pictures each, now posted at

criticize the critic and review the reviewer ... for real

*Inlander* photographer Tammy Marshall shot the cast of *The Foreigner* at the Civic the other night and let slip a remark about Bobo's doing *The Zoo Story* next month.
Yeah, well, maybe we'll start our own blog, came the reply (evidently).
I think — sincerely — that would be really healthy for all concerned.
Good for us to hear whatever criticisms; good for viewers to compose their thoughts by, say, midnight that night.
Opening night is Thursday, April 24, at 8 pm at Empyrean; it's just a 50-minute show, leaving plenty of time for playgoers to post to this blog (I'll create a dummy entry) a review of Russo and Bowen's production.
Fourth and final performance: Sunday, April 27, at 4 pm.
Oh, sure, there will be the insulting one-liner potshots. But I'm talking about a crafted review with specific assertions.
I hope that you — you there, sitting at your computer right now — will write it.

two upcoming Broadway musicals

*Glory Days* opens in April at Circle in the Square: four guys reunite a year after their high school graduation, with folk, rock, pop songs

a musical based on Dickens' *A Tale of Two Cities* will open on B'way in September

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

You can't smoke onstage in Colorado

In Colorado — alone among the 50 states — you cannot legally smoke so much an an herbal cigarette onstage. The state's ban on smoking in indoor places is not restricted to tobacco products. Being in a play doesn't provide legal cover, either.

"In its ruling, the [Colorado] Court of Appeals said that theaters were already in the business of make-believe, and that barring smoking was essentially no different from barring the use of illegal drugs or real violence.
"'Murders are not committed, actors do not fire live bullets at each other or at the audience, the theater is not set afire to illustrate the burning of Rome in *Julius Caesar,*' the court said. 'The audience is aware that the scenes are not real.'"

Which leads to some thoughts about stage realism — which itself needs to be selective. (Here Bobo begins to philosophize.) Within the bounds of the fiction, keep real the things that help maintain that fiction. Otherwise, trust to the audience's imagination.
If you need a working kitchen sink and working refrigerator and iced tea with real ice in it to maintain the ilusion of a kitchen-table conversation on a sweltering day, then by all means make your set designer and prop master make those things happen.
But if the conversation could usefully be regarded as universal, then dispense with the details and just have two actors sitting at a table.
Theater can pull off the dream-like: Best friends morph into one's parents and then into strangers, and it's sudden and has the startling reality of dreams. (Contrast the fuzzy-bordered, wavy cinematography and/or sepia-tinged scenes with bad wigs of so many go-back-into-memory scenes on TV or in movies.)

Can theater "beat" the movies at realism or at spectacle? No.
Given the close-up shot, can theater even beat the movies at intimacy? No.
But can theater beat movies at farce and comedy? Quite often: Being in a room, present with hundreds of others, laughing at people who appear smaller than ourselves way down there onstage (as opposed to having 30-foot-tall cinematic faces) is more conducive to humor, yes.
And theater can beat the movies at partaking in ritual, in dream-like transformations that viewers participate in with their own imaginations, as opposed to special-effect changes that were created by some guy in a computer lab and imposed upon the audience as an already fully finished product.

Interplayers' *The Clean House*: a so-so production, but what a script! Characters blended into others; brutal realities were interrupted by dream sequences; characters addressed us directly; life's simultaneous joy and sadness is something we were invited to participate in and reflect upon.
They'll never make a movie out of that.

Monday, March 24, 2008

coming up in Spokane-area theater

New Works Festival (four one-acts), March 26-April 6, UI Kiva Theater, Moscow
Rounding Third, March 27-April 12, Interplayers
Pvt. Wars, March 27-April 20, CenterStage
The Foreigner, Civic Main, March 28-April 20
On Golden Pond, March 28-April 12, Lake City Playhouse
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown March 28-April 12, Northwoods Performing Arts
Love Letters, March 29, NIC (benefit for CdA Summer Theater)
Moliere Than Thou, March 31, Whitworth

Don Juan, April 2-6, Gonzaga's Russell Theater
Menopause the Musical, April 2-6, The Bing (benefit for CenterStage)
Showstoppers, April 3-12, Northern Quest Casino
Pete 'n' Keely, April 4-19, Actors Rep (at SFCC)
Sylvia, WSU, April 9-13
The Syringa Tree, April 15, Whitworth
Urinetown, April 17-27, UI Hartung Theater, Moscow
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, April 18-May 4, Stage West Community Theater (at Cheney City Hall)
HMS Pinafore, April 23, Panida
Relatively Speaking, April 24-26, NIC
The Zoo Story, April 24-27, Empyrean
Hollywood Arms, April 25-May 18, Civic Studio
Hamlet, April 25, Idaho Shakespeare Festival tour at Panida
High School Musical, April 29-May 4, INB Center

Talking With, May 1-24, CenterStage
TBA, May 1-18, Interplayers (as of April 3, still undecided)
Into the Woods, May 2-24, Lake City Playhouse
Broadway Bound, May 9-10, Lake City Playhouse
Proof, May 14-18, EWU
Man of La Mancha, May 16-June 15, Civic Main
Annie, May 16-June 8, SCT at SCC
Antigone, May 29-June 8, SFCC Spartan Theatre

Playwrights Festival Forum, June 5-8, Civic Studio
All Shook Up, June 7-21, CdA Summer Theater
Pot Luck, June 12-15, CenterStage
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, June 19-Aug. 15, CenterStage
Forever Plaid, June 26-July 27, Idaho Repertory Theatre
La Cage aux Folles, June 27-July 12, CdA Summer Theater
The Nerd June 28-July 29, Idaho Rep

Alexander and the Horrible ... Day, July 3-24, Idaho Rep
Twelfth Night July 10-Aug. 1, Idaho Rep
Once Upon a Mattress, July 19-Aug. 2, CdA Summer Theater
Love Letters, July 31, Idaho Rep

Hate Mail, Aug. 1, Idaho Rep
Les Miserables, Aug. 9-23, CdA Summer Theater
The Importance of Being Earnest, Actors Rep, Aug. 22-Sept. 6

*GWTW: The Musical*

*Gone With the Wind: The Musical* opens in London next month, with Trevor Nunn directing.
Frankly, my dears, should we give a damn?

blocking done

Brian and Bobo have *Zoo Story* blocked and mostly memorized. We'll have our first "stumble-through" (not really a run-through, not yet) on Wednesday. Some plays you work on, you see their flaws up-close; this one, we just have greater regard for, the more we get to know it. Peter (the conventional one) has more anger in him than I'd thought. But I'm leery of the ending, in which I think I'm going to be awful.

Bobo's big weekend includes a triathlon in Lewiston and then a chance to see both *Foreigner* at Civic and *Rounding Third* at Interplayers, both opening this weekend.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

readers theater auditions: *Rope*

*Rope* by Patrick Hamilton
directed by Renae Meredith
Booklight Readers Theater, Ignite! Community Theatre
auditions on Thursday, March 27, at 7 pm at the Blue Door Theatre, 815 W. Garland Ave.
Call: 993-6540

*Hollywood Arms* cast list

by Carol Burnett and Carrie Hamilton
based on Carol Burnett's memoir, *One More Time*
at the Civic's Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre
April 25-May 18
directed by Thomas Heppler

Paige M. Wamsley as Older Helen
Kate Cubberley as Young Helen
Jackie Davis as Nanny
Kate Vita as Louise
Dave Rideout as Jody
Mark Hodgson as Bill
Logan McHenry-Kroetch as Alice
Antoinette Imholt as Dixie
Quinn Klaue as Malcolm
David Denton and Andrew Raugust as the Cops

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

open casting call: *Deal or No Deal*

somewhere in Spokane on April Fool's Day (no fooling)
no, you don't get to rub Howie Mandel's bald head
just heard
details to follow

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Elliot Spitzer is Angelo

*Measure for Measure* is one of Bobo's favorite Shakespeare plays.
Moralistic guy turns out to be a horndog: Wish I'd made this equivalence first.

True story: Last time I saw *M for M* was at the Utah Shakespearean Festival, c. 2003. In the audience was one of the architects of Mr. Bush's War, Paul Frickin' Wolfowitz, (The war had just started a couple of months before, I think.) Some Secret Service, but not much. He's talking at intermission to a couple of smiling rich folks. I came THIS CLOSE to barging in, faking some story about meeting him before at that party in Georgetown, you remember, at the Gustafsons'? Anyway, I just wanted you to know, Paul, that tens of millions of Americans and I KNOW that you're wrong about Iraq, wrong about the cost, and that tens of thousands of people are going to die because of your egotistical little schemes, you toe-sucking cockroach. And you look a lot better on TV.

Didn't do it. Gutless. My red-phone moment.
You don't want me taking that call at 3 a.m.
But you don't want Paul Wolfowitz or his lackey Bush taking it either.

Monday, March 17, 2008

*Man of La Mancha* auditions

directed and choreographed by Troy Nickerson
16 men and 8-10 women needed
Monday-Tuesday, March 24-25, at 6:30 pm
Spokane Civic Theatre, in the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre
dress comfortably; be prepared for cold readings and for singing a verse and chorus from a Broadway show
call 325-1413
rehearsals begin March 31; show runs May 16-June 15

*Moliere Than Thou*

Timothy Mooney performs a one-man play at Whitworth's Cowles Auditorium on Monday, March 31, at 7 pm. Free.

Mooney — who has been an artistic director and theater professor and is an author of an acting text — has adapted 15 of Moliere's plays (in rhymed couplets), snippets of which he delivers during this show (one of three one-man plays that he performs on the road). And they loved this show in San Francisco and Chattanooga, Tenn. Call 777-4372.

interpreting *Conversations in Tusculum*

a new play by Richard Nelson (*Some Americans Abroad*; *Two Shakespearean Actors*; *New England*; several adaptations of Chekhov, Pirandello and others; now head of playwriting at Yale Drama School), set in 45 B.C., but in modern dress, now through March 30 at NY's Public Theatre, with a cast that includes Brian Dennehy, Aidan Quinn, Gloria Reuben, David Strathairn and Maria Tucci.
Listen to Strathairn's speech at

Couldn't the Syrians stand in for Islamofascists, and Caesar for Bush, so that the whole speech _endorses_ Bush's "war against terrorism"? But then I don't know the play or its full context. My hunch is that I've misinterpreted -- but can others clarify?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Civic's '08-'09 season

belatedly — this was announced long ago ... sorry

Spokane Civic Theatre's 2008-09 season
on the Main Stage:

Sept. 26-Oct. 26, 2008
music by Richard Rodgers
book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
directed by Kathie Doyle-Lipe

*A Christmas Carol, the Musical*
Nov. 21-Dec. 20, 2008
book by Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent
lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
music by Alan Menken
based on the Charles Dickens novella
dir. Troy Nickerson

*One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest*
Jan. 9-25, 2009
by Dale Wassserman
based on the Ken Kesey novel
dir. Yvonne Johnson

*No, No, Nanette*
Feb. 20-March 15, 2009
book by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel
music by Vincent Youmans
lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach
adapted by Burt Shevelove
dir. Jean Hardie

*Shakespeare in Hollywood*
April 3-19, 2009
by Ken Ludwig
dir. Wes Deitrick

*A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum*
May 15-June 14, 2009
music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
book and by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
dir. Diana Trotter

in the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre:
an evening of two one-acts: Oct. 31-Nov. 23, 2008
by Ellen Byron
dir. George Green
"Never Swim Alone"
by Daniel MacIver
dir. Doug Dawson

*The Affections of May*
by Norm Foster
Jan. 30-Feb. 22, 2009
director TBA

March 20-April 19, 2009
music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
dir. Troy Nickerson

*The Women of Lockerbie*
by Deborah Brevoort
May 8-31, 2009
director TBA

26th annual Playwrights Forum Festival
June 11-20, 2009

Monday, March 10, 2008

what the arts can and can't do

A Dec. '07 article by Robert Fulford

Horrible people create and appreciate art, and art doesn't make you any smarter or more virtuous. So don't make exaggerated claims about how wonderful the arts are. Still, they're indispensable. They increase our capacity for empathy.

Friday, March 07, 2008

opening-night review of *Crimes of the Heart*

at the Civic’s Studio Theater, through March 30

BLACK Comedy

*Crimes of the Heart* as exaggerated Southern Gothic: For too long, Beth Henley’s 1979 play (and 1981 Pulitzer winner) has been performed as a gathering of Mississippi freaks to gawk at. Lordy, those three Magrath sisters — they play the fool around the men folk, then wonder why their lives are so ridiculous and end up by sticking their heads in ovens. Somebody ought to whomp them upside the head, knock some sense into them. Laughable little ladies, is what they are.
In his director’s notes in this production’s program, George Green talks about “avoiding stereotypes” and about his desire to bring out the “sincere” emotions of the “real people” whom Henley has created. Green evidently wants to prevent audiences from dismissing the good-hearted if wacky residents of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, as little more than oddballs. And his intentions are good: The Magrath women, and their beaux, and their pursed-lips society girl of a mean-spirited cousin are more than just cartoons.
But the attempt to restore gravitas to a play that’s been seen as mostly comic creates a serious imbalance in the Studio Theater production at the Civic (through March 30): It’s an overreaction, resulting in a show that’s too heavy on the depressing details and too light on the comedy of bizarre contrasts that Henley wrote in.

Early on, a sheepish ex-lover (Doug Dawson) of one of the sisters shows up briefly to scope out if Meg (Nancy Gasper) — the one who’s gone off to L.A. to pursue a singing career — might still be available. His interview with the responsible, borderline-spinster eldest of the three Magraths, Lenny (Chasity Kohlman) is played at a somber pace, with heads bowed and movements slow. Without any guidance from the actors in the early going that *Crimes* is going to be a black comedy or tragicomedy, the scene translates as overly gloomy.
Lenny, meanwhile, is sad because she’s turning 30 and she’s alone. There’s a little running joke about how her pathetic attempts to celebrate her own birthday by herself keep getting interrupted — but by not highlighting the scene’s comic potential, the audience’s main impression is one of loneliness.
A woman singing “Happy Birthday” to herself while staring at a single candle stuck in a cookie could be funny, could be sad. The early minutes of any play, after all, need to set its tone. If Kohlman displayed more frantic gestures — more exaggerated sadness — about Lenny’s turning 30, then the audience would have a guide: Tonight we’re going to see both moods, both seriousness and comedy. But there’s no guidance given here — with the uncomfortable result that for long stretches of Act One, it felt like a funeral inside the Studio Theatre. The audience was quiet; they weren’t sure whether they could laugh or when; it was all so depressing.
The Magrath women confront Big Problems: murder, addiction, abuse, suicide, adultery, divorce, disappointment, loneliness, depression. Henley’s achievement was to give those their weight, but in an absurd and amusing way. Again and again, Green’s directing choices override the comic potential to emphasize the pathos and the seriousness instead — making a black comedy mostly all black and without much comedy.
If, instead, Green’s cast confronted death and disappointment with more frantic mannerisms, audience members would feel as if they’d been permitted to laugh at sobering material. It’s sort of like this: Confront death, but with comic mannerisms. That way, we’ll feel reassured that Henley’s characters, who are likeable, after all, aren’t going to be overwhelmed by their grief.

The description of the exact circumstances of the mother’s suicide (16 years ago), for example, should arrive as an absurdist jolt. The report of her death needs to seem faintly ridiculous; instead, here it’s just depressing. And there are too many lost comic opportunities as the evening wears on. The accumulation of depressing details — instead of leavening the sadness along with a few jokes — makes this version of *Crimes* feel, often, like something to be endured and not savored.
It’s almost as if somebody forgot to account for the presence of the audience, as if somebody proposed doing *Crimes of the Heart* all serious without recalling that viewers need some signals about how some portions are meant to be funny.
Baby sister Babe (Ashley Cooper), we learn, has shot the most powerful man in town. And she has her reasons, we’ll discover. But when she shares the news with one of her sisters and they both seem awestruck instead of excited. “Awestruck” impresses listeners with the gravity of the offense: This must be serious stuff indeed. On the other hand, frantic “excitement” would expose a gap between an attempted murder and somebody being rather proud of herself that she had the gumption to pull off such an outrageous act. (And gaps like that lead to comedy.)
Later on, Babe starts pasting the local newspaper’s coverage of one of her misdeeds into her scrapbook, as if it were an accomplishment to be proud of. The gap in attitudes is there again — but the sequence, at least on opening night, wasn’t played for laughs at all.

It’s a very tricky balance, laughing at depressing behaviors, and while this show mostly drags and misses too many opportunities, there are scattered moments of success as well.
Kohlman has a couple of them, demonstrating how humor derives from a clash of perspectives. When Meg confesses that she’s merely had a clerical job out in LA., Lenny naively advises her sister that not having a show-business job is not going to do her any good at all. And in Act Two, Kohlman pulls off a nice comic surprise when her characters is angry at Meg for eating some of her food and for wandering off with another man again. Just when she’s about to yell at Meg for the adultery, she suddenly displaces her anger onto a nearby box of chocolates. The exaggerated arm-waving and refusal to face up to the more serious “crime” made Kohlman’s contribution here all the funnier.
This production needs more moments like that — and like Cooper’s coy encouragement of that cute lawyer (Luke Barats) who’s defending her and who is pursuing a “lifelong vendetta” against their legal opponent. She offers reassurance, he’s after vengeance, and the contrast is funny.
Some of the acting moments reach a high level. In the evening’s first example of exaggeration in the face of a serious threat, Cooper snaps her fingers disdainfully, dismissing her unseen, abusive husband just like that. (He bores her so much, she falls asleep, just like that.) Cooper’s account of how close Babe has come to suicide was persuasive: She really does understand the depths of despair in which her mother was trapped.
In the second act, when Meg and her ex-lover meet again, Dawson glares over the top of a bourbon glass with a look that’s a mixture of resentment and desire. Gasper and Cooper are effective in Meg and Babe’s final bucking-up scene, holding out hope even though lately they’ve gone through a string of really bad days. Barats seems too restrained in the early going, but he’s effective with his nervous tics and standing around at oblique angles whenever he’s around the Magrath sister he’s grown “fond” of.
And in general, the second act did a better job of mixing humor and pathos: With all the running around trying to commit suicide, and with all the sudden hilarity about characters (whom we never see) lapsing into a coma, it’s just a regular laugh-riot there for awhile.
As it should be. Oh, sure, Henley’s play is showing its age a bit: There’s too much exposition, for one thing — and that's deadly if, as in a production like this, we're overly concerned for the characters' happiness and not reminded enough of just what silly and absurd things they've made of their own lives. Also, too much is made of the lack-of-nourishment motif: What seemed, a quarter-century ago, like shorthand for Lenny's emotional starvation (she doesn't get to eat her cake, much less enjoy it too) now feels familiar from many plays since.
But the Henley's tale of the Magrath sisters — with their adulterous, violent, self-destructive, wandering ways — still combines serious commentary with laughable hijinks. The current Civic show emphasizes the serious side too much, shortchanging the comedy, and the result is that the sisters' recitations of their woes, minus the comedy, start to feel after awhile like a collection of soap opera scenes. While there are some scattered successful moments, the Civic's production of *Crimes* doesn't come near the difficult-to-attain peak of Henley's tragicomic outlook.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

fourth rehearsal: Bobo and Brian

50 days until we open *The Zoo Story* at Empyrean: the luxury of a leisurely rehearsal period. We marked the beats, then devised physical gestures for each and ran the scripts as best we could, sort of improvising as we went. Nothing new for many actors, I know -- just breaking down the script, getting on our feet, and making motivations in each subsection foremost by associating gestures with the emotions in each chunk. When Jerry (the angry man) is pumping Peter (the bourgeois conformist) for information, basically interrogating him, Brian came up with the idea of literally spinning me, twirling me about as if I were his plaything. Another sequence had us basically fencing: He'd poke at me with my fingers while I tried to fend him off with open palms, like a trainer in boxing who takes punches in those big catcher's mitts they wear. Nothing radically new, but a lot of fun and a great way to internalize the shifting emotions within a script.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

three photos of *Crimes of the Heart*

at Spokane Civic Theatre's Studio Theatre, March 7-30
directed by George Green

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

beginning the Bard,,2261650,00.html

RSC says Shakespeare should be taught to children starting not when they're 14, but when they're 4

Monday, March 03, 2008


Bobo just read a review that made him angry.
It recounted nearly every plot twist in a two-hour play.
Reviews don't have to do that.
So, readers, which makes you angriest about reviewers' work? Plot summaries? Snooty comments? Vague bits of advice? A lack of a clear thumbs up or thumbs down? Any of that crap they print in The Inlander? Or what?

the critic and the professor rehearse

Brian Russo of Gonzaga's theater department (as Jerry the rebellious Albee-figure) and Bobo (as Peter the strait-laced conformist) are going to attempt Edward Albee's *The Zoo Story* at Empyrean (April 24-27).
Brian thought of it, reserved the space, got the rights, and is directing it. So basically the whole thing is his fault.

We had our third rehearsal yesterday. I thought it might be mildly interesting to record some in-progress thoughts.

A digression, already (aimed at the minds of local directors / stage managers and techies): In some future Inlander, Bobo would like to pitch the idea of 1. following a production from auditions to closing night. KPBX did a five-part (?) (audio) piece on a Studio show at the Civic (which one?) about four (?) years ago, but this would have the advantage of being fossilized in print and eventually used to line birdcages.
and 2. doing a "ride-along" inside sound booths / alongside stage managers during actual performances at a variety of local theaters (to give readers a sense of how all that theatrical magic is created).
So, artistic directors and designers out there ... when can Bobo invade your sound booths and your protected backstage environments?

If sports can have extensive pregame analysis and locker room interviews and long post-game blow-by-blows, why not the arts?
You can get national and international news way better online. But what the big boys can't do so well is local sports and local arts.
Bobo's always pushin' the coverage, especially when it involves shameless self-promotion.

At our first rehearsal, Russo and I simply recorded a read-through, mostly so I could listen to the recording and hammer the memorization. (The only answer L.A. actors ever gave during my recent trip to the [cringe-worthy] "How do you memorize all those lines?" question was: Just hammer them.)

Second rehearsal:
Brian likes actors to go through the script very slowly, thinking about all the ways any given line could be delivered.
We spent an hour and a half doing the first third of the script in slow-motion, pausing to savor every nuance and possible motivation, keeping eye contact, really considering both our own and the other guy's motivation.

As you may recall, *Zoo Story* is about a 50-minute show bifurcated by Jerry's 15(?)-minute speech in the middle about his landlady's dog.
Apparently rights are still OK for just this 1960 (American premiere) one-act. At the professional level, Albee may now be insisting that his new play *Peter and Jerry* (essentially a one-hour prequel to this one, in which we see Jerry's marital troubles) be performed as a unit, creating a full-length play by splicing two one-acts written four decades apart).

Third rehearsal:
Slow-motion, motivation-analysis again, this time of the play's last third (after the "Jerry and the Dog" speech).
Tomorrow, we're breaking the opening part of the script down into beats and devising a specific physical gesture for each character's motivation within each of those beats.

Memorizing the lines. How to stay fully present. How much I'm going to hate going without a mustache. Will I look stupid and motionless during long periods of onstage listening? I need to get this thing blocked, costumed, get comfortable with my props. There's a violent ending, and Bobo's better at easy cynicism than genuine emotion. (We all know he's just a talking robot.) Will my family be embarrassed? This is much more nerve-wracking than that damn spelling bee. What physical tics can I come up with for Peter? How can I find a way to divest myself of me and become, more fully, Peter?
In other words, all the usual suspects when it comes to pre-performance jitters. Not a bad thing for the Big Bad Critical Wolf to go through.

At the NEA thing in L.A., in an acting class taught by a little elf of a Pomona-Claremont professor, we had to enact a memory/monologue written by someone else. Bobo drew the when-I-met-my-wife recollection of the arts editor at Missoula's alt-weekly: Drinking and making out in a Myrtle Beach Days Inn over spring break.
First time, I rolled all over the bed, hands-and-knees, hubba-hubba with the future wifey. (Keep in mind, many in our group were terrified, stood stock-still and mumbled at their shoes.) The elfin professor sniffed and said something about how many beginning actors, when they are first learning a part, experiment with a physical gesture for each and every line.
Message received.
Second run-through, performing for the class, had to use props and overlap stage business with lines, off-kilter; deliver it TO the audience. I laid out a beach towel, fiddled with water bottle and paperback book, paused dramatically (I thought, at just the right moment) to take a reflective swig — a pause was also a requirement — then finished the speech and did some more stage biz.
The elf smiled.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

opening-weekend review of *The Clean House*

at Spokane Interplayers Ensemble through March 15

Sarah Ruhl's *The Clean House* is about messiness (both literal and emotional) and about living fully and living in denial. Full of jokes about death and sad ruminations about human foolishness, it's a play stocked with dreamy/quirky/absurd situations. It's a play that lurches from silliness to the sublime and back again, and it often requires exaggeration, hysteria and surrealism in its performers.

It's too bad, then, that the cleanup crew of director Karen Kalensky's cast in the current Interplayers production (through March 15) misses quite a few spots. While the actors frequently aren't up to Ruhl's subtle tonal changes, however, they do manage to accumulate several polished sequences along the way.

At one juncture in Act Two, for example, Kalensky's actors collectively create the kind of absurdist, funny/sad hysteria that Ruhl's script expects. Charles (Gary Pierce) strips down to his bathing trunks, chasing after the happiness that his mistress represents. Selena Schopfer (as Charles' proper physician-wife, Lane, forever weariug a white lab coat in her gleaming white-on-white home) crumples onto a sofa, sobbing over her straying husband. A Portuguese woman in black (Silvia Lazo as Matilde, Lane's non-cleaning cleaning woman) paces around, trying to coin the perfect joke. And Lane's sister Virginia (Anne Selcoe) charges around the living room, wielding a vacuum cleaner aimed at the heart of all the dirt and grime that has accumulated in her sister's living room and in both their personalities. Sequences like this -- full of frantic movement, both funny and sad, with characters reacting seriously to others' absurdities and while some make fun of others' misfortunes -- live up to the script's promise.

Too bad the energy/absurdity meter is running so low for so much of this show. In a serio-comic show with surreal sequences (Matilde walks into Lane's dreams, Matilde's dead parents somehow merge with Lane's husband and his mistress), actors need to plunge into the freakiness with heads held high. As the mistress, Jackie Davis shows the way with head held high during a couple of key moments. Lying down like a patient etherized upon a table -- and with Pierce methodically, lovingly "sewing up" the woman he loves after an operation -- Davis rises in mid-operation to recount the course of true love. It's a bizarre episode, but played with dignity and for the high stakes that it demands. Similarly, the entire cast endows the evening's concluding death with signs that are both dignified and absurd.

Yet for too much of the evening, there's the sense that Ruhl's delicate poem is being recited haltingly, unevenly. Often I found myself silently urging actresses just to go for it -- play the scene to the fullest, not by treating extreme situations with calm seriousness, but with the kind of ranting hysteria they demand. Lane confronting the absurdity of a cleaning woman who won't clean; Virginia extolling Charles's charisma even as she finds herself fondling his dirty underwear; Matilde portraying her parents' goofiness in the context of their deaths -- episodes as exaggerated as these could do with more in way of exaggerated acting.

In Tony Kushner's *Angels in America,* the dead speak to the living and prophets explode through the ceiling -- and two brief but comic Alaska episodes in Ruhl's play feel almost like homages. I bring up the parallel because in *Angels,* characters are playing for high stakes, laughing and crying simultaneously over the dual plagues of AIDS and homophobia. Ruhl's characters confront adultery, emotional repression, disease and mortality, agoraphobia, regret. And they cast off the shackles and learn how to laugh -- and then willingly put on the shackles again, if only because we're all chained to our mortality. The difference between the accomplished TV and stage performances of *Angels* that I've seen and the performances in the Interplayers *Clean House* is the difference between playing hysterically because the circumstances are themselves hysterical and playing a scene in a restrained manner so as to point out the distinction between the restrained acting and the highly charged emotions. The first is event-centered; the second is actor-centered. Sometimes you've just gotta scream, you know?
The people in our dreams act in histrionic, high-stakes ways, and Ruhl's play is like a dream. Or should be.

Gesticulating with her gangly arms and wiggling her butt while needlessly dusting an already-been-dusted lamp, Lazo occasionally catches Matilda's free spirit. An opening joke fell flat, probably because it's told in Portuguese (though other, later jokes, because they were told more demonstratively, did manage to cross the language barrier and bounce right into the land of humor). Lazo overdoes the quizzical, scrunched-face bit when confronted with others' strange behaviors, but she excels at floppy-limbed intrusions into others' emotional crises, butting in with "Do you wanna hear a joke?" just when people are taking themselves most seriously.

Kalensky directs effectively, moving Selcoe around the stage's perimeter as Schopfer tails after her in a sisterly squabble, and allowing Selcoe's clean-freak Virginia to revel by letting go of her cleanliness obsession in a brief outburst.

"If I don't laugh for a week, I feel dirty," says Matilde. We all have a lot of crap encrusted around our souls. We should clean them out. We should ignore the voice mail's blinking light, ignore the looming specter of our mortality. What we should do is, we should tell more jokes. The Interplayers version of *The Clean House* doesn't deliver all of Ruhl's humor and pathos, but it gets some of the punch lines right.

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A wonderful discovery made while studying for the next Spokane Is Spelling adult spelling bee:

talk pretentiously and usually inaccurately or boastfully
Bloggers who blague generally alienate their audiences.

The origin of "blog," of course, was a combination of "Web" and "log" -- but isn't it great that there's a French homonym that puts people who bloviate like me in our places?

three pix of *The Clean House* at Interplayers


Bobo's photos are also at