Friday, October 31, 2008

Gonzaga readers theater, Nov. 7-11

with performances Nov. 7-8 at G.U.
on Nov. 10-11 at two Spokane-area libraries
directed by Katie Roth
(816) 668-8268

*Katrina: The K Word* features 11 actors, each playing one main role and several bystander roles.
The play is based on interviews that were conducted starting in May 2007.
The show premiered in December 2007 on the campus of Montclair State University, in Montclair, New Jersey. It has only been produced a handful of times.
Testimonial-interview plays like this can have great impact when you're in the moment, in the same room with the actors. As director Katie Roth, a recent Gonzaga grad, cites the comment by Vivie, a sort of narrator-character, who says that *Katrina* isn't a Hollywood sort of story because it isn't a cliffhanger.
"It's like to be continued," Vivie says, and Roth adds that "New Orleans is still rebuilding and no one really knows when things will be back to what they were before the storm — or if they ever will be."
Roth refers to the play as "a tag team story of sorts," with rapid interchanges among the characters. Topics covered include "outrage at the government for their slow response to the people of New Orleans, to lamenting the loss of a grandfather who wouldn't leave and who was then found dead in his home when the flood waters receded. There is one haunting paragraph that describes walking through the water to the SuperDome and passing floating bodies."

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Government Inspector

at SFCC's Spartan Theatre, Nov. 6-16
directed by William Marlowe

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vipers with notepads ... not so viperish?

In Fugard's *Exits and Entrances,* Andre Huguenet refers to critics in that way. But Chris Wilkinson in Britain's
The Guardian makes the point that local critics have their place: they know their regional audiences, aren't as jaded as the national critics, and so on.
This is an ENTIRELY self-serving post, I know.
But local arts coverage — truly — is going to be the salvation of print. That and local sports. (And the I Saw You's.)
Because where else are you going to get them? National and international news, state-level news, local weather, crossword puzzles -- you can get all those online, anytime.
Alt-weeklies like *The Inlander* are well-positioned: free, locally focused on the arts ... and with our new Website to launch in Jan. (this blog will be fed into a mega-blog of about three other Inlander blogs -- separable from the rest, but appearing on the start page, apparently), increasingly more responsive and less bound to once-a-week schedules.
On the other hand, says
Michael Riedel of the N.Y. Post, critics don't matter anymore — only bloggers do.

(Honore Daumier, The Critic:)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Michael Weaver is moving to Seattle

For 23 years, he has been a major player in theater around here. It's not as if we're losing him completely — "I'll be coming back, you know," he says — but you can't help but feel as if a chapter in Spokane theater is coming to a close.
He'll get work — his resume's pretty good, after all — but much of that work will be in states far-flung from here.
Break a leg, Michael.
As for you Stage Thrust readers: Any recollections of favorite Michael Weaver performances?

(photo: M.W. promoting *Souvenir* at KPBX with a copy of some truly awful singing by Florence Foster Jenkins)


George Green on acting in "Never Swim Alone" and directing "Graceland"

What follows are outtakes from a recent conversation with George Green, who plays Bill in "Never Swim Alone" at the Civic — in other words, this is some of the stuff that Bobo had to cut out of Thursday's preview in *The Inlander.*

"We're always working the X and trying to get angles" in "Graceland" (which he's directing), says Green. "But 'Graceland,' set at a temporary campsite just outside Elvis’ mansion, feels more constrained in movement. But ‘Never Swim Alone’ is, boom, much more open and all over the place. We use every inch of space in that theater," he says, right from the moment that they burst in and greet the audience.

"‘Graceland’ offers resolution: By the end, these are two changed women. A decision has been made. But at the end of 'Never Swim Alone,' you’re left wondering: What will these two guys do?"
Green links the two plays in this way: While "Swim" will be the more thought-provoking script, viewers may, while discussing the shows afterward, come around to the idea that aggression and accommodation may be linked. The two very different women in "Graceland" are suspicious of each other at first, then tussle, then reconcile, then squabble again. There's a clearer kind of resolution at the end of Byron's play than there is in the genuine ambiguity of MacIvor's ending. But in both plays, compassion and antipathy are linked.

“Kathie [Doyle-Lipe] has a wonderful knack for timing. She knows when the beat is, when the play needs energy and then when it needs to slow down. She’s working to make it funny but not over-the-top funny, to try to avoid stereotypes," Green says. "There’s a lot of work between the lines” in "Graceland."

There’s a short dance-of-joy sequence in "Graceland," but Green hasn’t been worried about how to choreograph it.
With Doyle-Lipe and Ashley Cooper, he says, he has "two of the best dancers in this market. I just had to make sure that somebody didn’t start doing five backflips.”

Green’s eagerness to get going as an actor in 'Never Swim Alone is obvious. At one moment, he says, the two alpha males trade insults — “And oh, the look we share — the hatred, the resentment. But then, when we become boys again [in a flashback], all that stuff is gone, and it’s just ‘Let’s race!’”

As the woman in the bathing suit who acts as referee in a dozen rounds of psychological fisticuffs, Lauren Waterbury doesn’t simply have a small part. As Green says, "She runs the show. She has to know all our lines.”

“There’s a point in the play when Frank seems to have it all, and he’s very arrogant. but bill has something on him.” Bill, in other words, has some crucial bits of knowledge that Frank doesn’t know.
And in the eternal faceoff between alpha dogs, knowledge is power.

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"Never Swim Alone" at the Civic

Daniel MacIvor's play about competition between alpha males
Oct. 31-Nov. 23, 2008
at the Civic's Studio Theatre
Spokane, Wash.
directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson
with Lauren Waterbury as the Referee, George Green as Bill and crazy-faced Luke Barats as A. Francis DeLorenzo

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Bev and Rootie

Bev and Rootie
Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek
"Graceland" by Ellen Byron
(about two very different women who meet at the 1982 grand opening of Elvis Presley's mansion)
at Spokane Civic Theater (downstairs)
Oct. 31-Nov. 23, 2008
directed by George Green

Daniel MacIvor wins $100K

And who's he? One of the playwrights represented in the evening of two one-acts that opens at the Civic's Studio Theater on Friday night. MacIvor, originally from Nova Scotia and now based in Toronto, wrote "Never Swim Alone," which will appear on a bill with Ellen Byron's "Graceland" in the Civic's downstairs black box.
The $100,000 is from Canada's biggest theatrical prize.
Look for more on the play in Bobo's preview in The Inlander on Thursday, Oct. 30.
Bobo's psyched because "Swim" is an exceptionally good script and because
Richard Ouzounian's article in The Star lists five other plays by MacIvor, whose work is worth investigating.
( See also the MacIvor happy face at
bsaf/images/macivor_l.jpg ) More later ...

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Free Theater Night

An NPR report indicates that a program that has grown from three to 120 cities in just three years suggests that half the gratis attendees return at some point to pay full price. (If you're not filling 100 percent of your seats every night, it's a wasted opportunity, points out a TCG spokeswoman.) So why isn't Spokane one of those 120 cities?

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

*A Christmas Carol: The Musical* -- Civic's cast list

*A Christmas Carol: The Musical*
Book by Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent; lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; music by Alan Menken; based on the story by Charles Dickens
Directed by Troy NIckerson
Choreographed by Troy Nickerson and Cameron Lewis
Musical direction by Trudy Harris

at Spokane Civic Theatre, Nov. 21-Dec. 20
Tickets: $26; $24, seniors; $18, students
Visit or call 325-2507 or -2508.

Patrick McHenry-Krotech as Scrooge
Cody Garner as Bob Crachit
Danae Ervin as Mrs. Crachit
Kate Cubberly as Martha Crachit
Benjamin Worden as Tiny Tim
Quinn Klaue as Peter Crachit
Danille Martin as Belinda Crachit
Marshall Rochon as Tom Cratchi and Ebenezer (age 8)

Christmas Present/Sandwich Board: David Gigler
Christmas Past/Lamplighter: Heidi Gnos Kuban
Christmas Future/Old Hag: Ryan Patterson
Mrs. Mops: Evelyn Renshaw

Marley: Gavin Smith
Mr. Fezziwig: Gary Pierce
Mrs. Fezziwig: Melody Deatherage
Young Ebenezer (18): Jarod Mola
Young Ebenezer (12): Cade Martin
Fred: Mark Charyk
Emily: Jillian Wylie
Fan: Bailey Heppler
Jonathan: Peyton Cooley

... and a Chorus of 13

(photo: Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens)

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Sage Players present *Our Town,* Nov. 14-23

A staged reading of Thornton Wilder's play.
Fridays, Nov. 14 and Nov. 21, at 7 pm at Corbin Senior Activity Center, 827 W. Cleveland Ave.
Sundays, Nov. 16 and Nov. 23, at 2 pm at Manito United Methodist Church, 3220 S. Grand Blvd.
$10 donation
Call 327-1584, 263-0434, or 326-4517.

The Sage Players formed in summer 2008 with the purpose of performing plays with senior citizens as the cast, and grew out of
the Institute of Extended Learning’s (IEL’S) Senior Program Readers’ Theatre class.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Survey your audience ... or your imagination?

Michael Riedel in the N.Y. Post castigates the practice of audience surveys, as if musicals and plays aren't already workshopped to death and now require assembly by committees numbering in the thousands. Here's the most incisive comment, from Hal Prince on the current state of Broadway shows:
"We've become very good at giving people what they want. But there's got to be something more on the menu. The whole point should be to offer them something they didn't even know they wanted to see."
Artists and artistic directors should be leaders. Audiences didn't KNOW they had anything in common with people who want to kill presidents, or with domineering mothers, or with little old ladies from Appalachia. Show your audiences new facets of themselves.
(photo: Hal Prince with *Phantom* in Las Vegas)

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Bart Sher part-time to N.Y.

Bartlett Sher (on Broadway, South Pacific and The Light in the Piazza -- and A.D. at the Intiman in Seattle) has been named resident director at Lincoln Center in NYC. He'll direct one show a year there but also remain at his post in Seattle

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kevin Connell on directing *Curse*

Kevin Connell, S.J., is the principal at G-Prep and the director of *Curse of the Starving Class* (opening Friday at G.U.)
Here he discusses such topics as why nudity doesn't work onstage; Sam Shepard's sometimes unrealistic stage directions; Shepard's slight revisions for the 30th anniversary of *Curse*; why Connell chose *Curse* for production; the amazing prescience of *Curse* in these our benighted economic hard times; alcoholic and abusive parents; how Shepard's "family" plays echo Greek tragedy; how even ancient plays can have contemporary resonance — and especially, the considerable dangers of "space llamas."

Bobo: As a Jesuit priest, was it any easier for you to get administration clearance for the onstage urinating, semi-nudity and implied lamb-killing?

Kevin Connell: My position as a Jesuit really didn’t have any bearing on the approval of the play by the department. We discussed only the practical problems of “faking” someone urinating onstage and the potential headaches of involving a live animal in a production. There is no actual urinating or physical exposure, so that wasn’t a problem.
Even when I first considered the play, I knew I wouldn’t ask to include the nudity because I don’t think nudity ever really “works” onstage. I think it destroys our suspension of disbelief by forcing us to think about the actor as an actor, rather than as a character. Because of the way our culture thinks of nudity, it is very difficult for an audience not to focus more on the actor’s potential personal discomfort as a person more than on the character’s experience. The artistic obstacles nudity creates seem to me to outweigh any potential gain it offers, so I never considered including it.

We are not using a real lamb for two reasons: First, nearly every review of every production I could find mentioned how distracting the lamb can be on stage. Twenty years ago I appeared in a Flash Gordon-style production of Shakespeare’s *Pericles* at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. That show featured a “space llama” which, in just one brief scene, caused far more headaches (including spitting at audience members) than he was worth. That memory made me very hesitant to include a real lamb in our production.
Second, Sam Shepard is a brilliant playwright, but the prop demands he makes of theater companies are not always realistic. The stage directions of *La Turista* call for a chicken to be killed onstage, and when I appeared in *True West* at Harvard, we had to find an expensive-looking electric typewriter to destroy with a golf club in each performance. (The actor involved was also a college hockey player, so we ended up replacing most of the golf clubs too.) Shepard’s current Broadway show, *Kicking a Dead Horse,* requires as its main prop a life-size, completely realistic-looking dead horse. (I’ve read that in the stage directions Shepard helpfully suggests using a real dead horse, if possible.)
When he wrote a real live baby lamb into *Curse,* Sam seemed to forget that not every production of the show would take place in the spring. I did locate a local man who offered to provide us with a real lamb, but he informed me that come late October, it would be about the size of a German shepherd. That (together with memories of the horned space llama) was enough for me to pass on the lamb.

Bobo: I posted a link on my blog to a review of that ACT performance on the 30th anniversary. The insult "meatloaf" got changed to a more vulgar epithet — and of course Act Two divides in two for intermission. At what point, exactly? Any other updating of the language? When did you first seriously consider the play this time slot? How long ago did you realize that the "invisible money" and piling-up-debt passages would reflect our current financial crisis — the day the market first plunged?

Connell: We have retained the “meat ball” insult intact and not updated the language in any way. In fact, our production —helped along immensely by Prep’s costumer, Summer Berry, and by student designer Michael Cowley — is anchored firmly in the late 1970s. Then-president Jimmy Carter and the Partridge Family even have surprise cameos. Our major departure from the script is the re-imagining of the character of “Ellis,” a “Boss Hogg” –style character who appears in the play’s second act.
I contacted the ACT about getting a copy of the script they used (which Shepard himself adapted), but had no luck. We have divided the play into two acts right in the middle of the second act when Weston, the patriarch, passes out drunk on the kitchen table. This gives us very manageable play of two acts, each of which runs just under an hour.
I [wanted to do] *Curse* for several reasons. I think Sam Shepard is the greatest American playwright of our time, and I have wanted to work on a production of *Curse* ever since I saw the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production in the 1980s. I think *Curse* is the perfect Shepard play to produce at a university since the struggle between parents and the emerging adulthood of children is part of the students’ own experiences — and because it offers better acting roles for women than other Shepard works like *Buried Child,* *True West* or *The Tooth of Crime.*
I also wanted to do the play because I think it addresses the glaring injustice of the widening chasm between the very rich and everybody else in this country. But I really began to notice the freakish accuracy of Shepard’s economic prophecies as I was re-reading and researching the play this summer. The director of the San Francisco production commented on the appropriateness of their doing the show “when the half the homes in America are being foreclosed.” I started noticing the horrible similarities between our world and that of play after reading that. In rehearsals, we’ve spent more time on those sections of the play than I think we would have if the Tate family’s economic problems were only a dated 20th century “curse” facing them.
Even when it involves space llamas, I love it when our theatrical past illuminates our political present. I recall reading how just a year or so into the U.S. invasion of Iraq, audiences in New York were silenced when a character in production of Aeschylus’ 2500-year old play *The Persians* said, “We listened so closely to the rattling of our swords, we could not hear the rotting of our country.”

Bobo: Weston/Wesley, Ella/Emma — in what ways are you emphasizing the childishness of the parents and the grudging need to be responsible by the two teenagers, that whole inversion?

Connell: I think it’s easier for me to understand at 46 than it is for my actors to grasp at 19 or 22 that no matter how determined one is not to let it happen, we all to some degree turn into our parents. We have to tried to catch that in key physical moments — when the mother’s and daughter’s poses in a doorway are nearly identical, for example.
In many ways, I think Weston — who is very closely based on Shepard’s own father — is a textbook abusive alcoholic parent, physically and mentally mistreating his family out of his own self-loathing. We have tried to bring out that dynamic in the family’s interactions.
The strongest focus for our production, though, is the idea of the “curse” of the seeming impossibility of becoming something different than what you are — the mountainous obstacles to attaining even the simplest dreams in this country, which fills our heads with impossible dreams every chance it gets. I think *Curse* is an incredibly funny play, but I also think it’s incredibly sad. We have tried to emphasize that every character in the show, not just the Tates, have dreams they long to achieve — but the only ones who seem to succeed are the absolutely worst people in the play, whom we barely even see.

Bobo: The fridge strikes me as a heavy-handed, over-emphasized symbol. Perhaps you disagree. But if you agree, what steps are you taking not to hit the audience over the head with it?

Connell: I agree that the refrigerator is not exactly the subtlest of symbols, but we have not shied away from using it. A lot.
I took a cue from my director when I played Austin in *True West.* We thought the toasters were a rather goofy symbol of picket fence / “Beaver Cleaver” America. Still, rather than ignore them, we embraced them. We’d go through two loaves of bread every performance making toast. It actually made the show much funnier and oddly anchored it even more firmly in reality.
I have tried to do the same thing with the refrigerator. We actually use it more than Shepard calls for, but I’ve encouraged the actors to find creative ways of dealing with it that emphasize each character’s “hunger” for something better than what they have. A creative actor can do a lot more with a cool prop like a refrigerator than just open it.

Bobo: Naturalistic (trashed kitchen) vs. non-naturalistic elements (the poetry of Wesley's speech about his dad coming home drunk, etc.): Do you seek to balance the two, make your production a blend of real and unreal? Or not?

Connell: I think the technical aspects of our production balance the naturalistic and poetic aspects of Shepard’s writing very well.
Our set design, by GU’s visiting Technical Director, Marcus J. Todd, and two student designers (Laurel Clark and Ann Zimmerscheid) is insightful and eloquent. Just as the Tates’ house isn’t worth nearly what any of the Tates think it’s worth, our set both physically is there and isn’t there. One of the student designers suggested encircling the set with a fence. This has made staging the play more difficult, since it limits the amount of playing space and possible entrances and exits. But I think it has also made our staging truer to the world of the play and is a brilliant way of communicating the image of being “trapped” which dominates many of Shepard’s best plays.
All three of Shepard’s “family trilogy” of plays (*Curse,* *Buried Child,* and *True West*) follow the example of classical Greek drama in embodying the hopes and fears of a whole culture in a single family. The only difference is that instead of the House of Atreus, Shepard gives us some failed California avocado farmers in *Curse* — which also adheres faithfully to Aristotle’s call for a “unity of time.” Each act in the play’s original three-act structure covers one day from morning to evening. Our student lighting designer Katie Brosz has worked with Marcus Todd to catch that in a subtle shifting of lights that suggest the rapid passage of time, while limiting self-consciously artistic lighting to only the ends of acts.

Bobo: Funny/sad elements ("Why'd you cook my chicken?" and the sometimes complete disregard of others' needs or even physical presence) — in rehearsal, did you talk to your student-actors about how to make certain passages simultaneously funny and sad?

Connell: What I love about Sam Shepard’s writing is his ability to find epic poetry in 20th- and 21st-century English the way we speak it west of the Great Plains, while writing plays like *True West,* which explore the lighter side of the story of Cain and Abel. What I’ve tried to help my actors discover about playing Shepard is that his characters are just like us. Most comedies are funny because the characters are saying and doing things that even a grouchy middle-aged Jesuit like me can see are supposed to be “funny”: Malvolio is in love so he puts on some silly socks. Shepard sees that the rational, level-headed, and “important” things we do are usually the craziest, goofiest, funniest mistakes we ever make.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

apropos of nothing

A nice scenic shot from a Broadway show. A slide show in the theater section of the *New York Times* illustrates an evocative, half-naturalistic, half-fantastical set for the John Lithgow *All My Sons,* which just opened on Thursday, as directed by Simon McBurney, with sets and costumes by Tom Pye. See also this.

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Maynard Villers and Damon Abdallah in Athol Fugard's *Exits and

Originally uploaded by Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Friday, October 17, 2008

opening-night review of *Exits and Entrances*

at Spokane Interplayers Ensemble through Nov. 1

It’s a play about lives in the theater that, ironically, isn’t very dramatic. Athol Fugard’s remembrance of the “ageing old gay ham” who changed a young man’s life is simply too talky and static. Fugard’s *Exits and Entrances* — a two-hander for idealistic young playwright and rueful old actor, directed without much energy here by Karen Kalensky — spends too much time telling us about emotions instead of enacting them. It’s a meandering play of reminiscences without many effective points to make, and even in its set pieces of dramatic intensity — three soliloquies in which the veteran actor is expected to display his craft — Maynard Villers isn’t entirely up to the role’s demands.
*Exits and Entrances* (at Interplayers through Nov. 1) intensifies in a second-act debate about political versus escapist theater — and it nicely advocates the necessity of humility in a couple of sequences — but for the most part, and despite the understated sincerity of Damon Abdallah as the youthful idealist, it’s talky and uninspiring evening (even at just 100 minutes, and even with an intermission added).
Fugard (who’s 76 now) has written a memory play spanning 1956-61. Calling himself, simply, the Playwright, he inserts himself (as a dresser and fellow actor) into the stage-life of Andre Huguenet, the preeminent South African actor of his era. The two men talk and reminisce and talk. After an effective scene-setting monologue by Abdallah delivered in a good-enough-for-my-ears South African accent, we’re thrust backstage at an amateur-except-for-Huguenet production of Oedipus Rex, with the veteran running his lines, dabbing on makeup and then venturing out under the lights after his calamity has struck and he’s self-blinded.
Much of the problem is that for the Oedipus sequence, costume designer Janna Cresswell has put Villers in a ridiculous purple and gold toga that’s supposed to evoke the grandeur of ancient Greece but instead looks like John Belushi in *Animal House* crossed with Liberace. It’s a fatal blow. Villers delivers Sophocles’ lines about the inescapability of fate without too much sawing of the air, but he can hardly be expected to achieve tragic eminence when he’s draped in a gaudy eyesore of a bathrobe. (Villers’ opening lines, ironically, are about the ugliness of a spear-carrier’s knees. Didn’t anyone think to put Oedipus in a simple floor-length white toga?) ...

*Exits* isn’t entirely a failure. The play’s best exchange arrives after intermission in a debate over the value of political theater. The argument grows heated, with Abdallah pacing about on behalf of brotherhood and Villers practically laughing in his face, stating with assurance that all that white people in 1961 want are nice escapist comedies. Abdallah squats before his mentor, Villers leans over in his chair, and the two men grasp one another’s wrist, almost sharing a moment of almost-insight — but then, like so much else in *Exits,* the moment’s allowed to dissipate, unexplained and unexamined....

In Villers’ defense, Fugard fires up the pressure cooker: We’re told again and again that the speech we’re about to hear Huguenet deliver was his “most remarkable ever,” or something that sent chills up onlookers’ spines, or for once involved an actor who wasn’t merely watching himself act but was utterly and completely consumed in the emotional complexities of his role.
You try delivering a speech after an introduction like that.
On the featured soliloquies, Villers goes 1 for 3....

Kalensky deserves credit for bringing Interplayers a work of ideas and emotions by one of the world’s most respected dramatists. But *Exits and Entrances* doesn’t connect the actors’ humility with universal appeal, and it isn’t written or acted convincingly enough here to have the inside-baseball appeal for drama fans that a life-in-the-theater play should have. Interplayers’ *Exits* should be counted as a failed experiment.

*** For the rest of this review, please pick up a copy of Thursday's Pacific NW Inlander (Oct. 23 '08 issue).

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*War of the Worlds* in Pullman

For the 70th anniversary of the night when Orson Welles scared the bejeezus out of people, Pullman Civic Theatre is putting on an adapted stage version of what it might have been like to have been in the radio studio that night in 1938. *War of the Worlds* (just in time for Halloween!) will feature Foley sound effects (like eerie noises obtained by vibrating the top rims of glass vases) to imitate the whirring of Martian spaceships overhead, and so on. They’re even going to take commercial breaks and advertise things like pie in old-fashioned ways. The Oct. 30 performance marks the 70th anniversary. Visit
Oct. 29 at 6:30 pm, Oct. 30-31 at 7:30. Nov. 1 at 7:30 pm
1120 NW Nye St., Pullman
(509) 332-8406

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Sam Shepard's empty fridge

Andrew Bell as Wesley in Sam Shepard's *Curse of the Starving Class* at Gonzaga University's Magnuson Theater, Oct. 24-Nov. 2, directed by Kevin Connell

upcoming in Spokane-area theater

Phantom of the Opera, INB Center, through Oct. 25
Oklahoma! through Oct. 26 at Spokane Civic Theatre, Main Stage
Dressed To Kill (murder-mystery dinner theater), Cutter Theater, Metaline Falls, through Oct. 25
Alice: The Musical, SCT, through Oct. 26
Exits and Entrances, Interplayers, through Nov. 1
The Uninvited, Stage West Community Theater, Cheney, through Nov. 2
Moira's Crossing (sequel to Tim Rarick's This Child), NIC, Oct. 23-Nov. 1
Hedda Gabler, WSU, Oct. 23-Nov. 1
Curse of the Starving Class, Gonzaga, Oct. 24-Nov. 2
War of the Worlds: The Radio Play, Pullman Civic Theater, Oct. 29-Nov. 1
Tartuffe, U of Idaho, Oct. 30-Nov. 9
A Few Good Men, Lake City Playhouse, Oct. 31-Nov. 14
Graceland and Never Swim Alone, Civic Studio, Oct. 31- Nov. 23
Sweeney Todd, in concert, Civic, Oct. 31-Nov. 1

The Government Inspector, SFCC, Nov. 6-16
No Sex, Please, We're British, Ignite! Community Theater, Nov. 7-9
Peter Pan, Christian Youth Theater at the Bing, Nov. 7-16
Godspell, Sixth Street Melodrama, Wallace, Nov. 7-23
Chicago, Lewis and Clark High School, Nov. 13-22 (354-7053)
Our Town (readers theater), Sage Players, Corbin Senior Center and Manito United Methodist Church, Nov. 14-23
The Foreigner, EWU, Nov. 19-23
Together Again for the First Time, Interplayers, Nov. 20-Dec. 7
A Christmas Carol: The Musical, Civic, Nov. 21-Dec. 20
Madeline's Christmas, Spokane Children's Theatre, Nov. 28-Dec. 13
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, INB Center, Nov. 29-30

Annie, Lake City Playhouse, Dec. 4-21
I Remember Mama, Regional Theatre of the Palouse, Dec. 4-13
A Christmas Story, Christian Youth Theater at Bing, Dec. 5-14
The Nutcracker, INB Center, Dec. 5-7
The Color Purple, INB Center, Dec. 10-14
Miracle on 34th Street, Pullman Civic Theater, Dec. 12-21
Sweeney Todd, the Fox, Dec. 14-15
A Reduced Christmas Carol, Interplayers, Dec. 17-21
White Christmas, in concert, NIC, Dec. 19-21

12 Angry Jurors, Ignite! Community Theater, Jan. 9-11
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Civic, Jan. 9-21
Fences (readers theater), Interplayers, Jan. 15-19
Little Shop of Horrors, Lake City Playhouse, Jan. 16-31
The Winter's Tale, Gonzaga, Jan. 23-Feb. 1
Cowgirls, Interplayers, Jan. 29-Feb. 14
Raised in Captivity, WSU, Jan. 29-Feb. 7
The Women of Lockerbie, Civic Studio, Jan. 30-Feb. 22
Annie, INB Center, Jan. 31
Alexander, Who's Not ... Not Going To Move! -- SCT, Jan. 31-Feb. 15

Kennedy Center, American College Theater Festival (Region 7), U of Idaho, Feb. 16-19
The Doctor in Spite of Himself, NIC, Feb. 19-28
Frankenstein, SCC Lair, Feb. 20-March 1
The Sunshine Boys, Lake City Playhouse, Feb. 20-March 7
No, No, Nanette — Spokane Civic Theatre, Main Stage, Feb. 20-March 15
Cinderella, Christian Youth Theater Spokane at the Bing, Feb. 20-March 14
The Belle of Amherst, Interplayers, Feb. 26-March 14

Othello, SFCC, March 5-15
Museum (by Tina Howe), Whitworth, March 6-14
Bridge to Terabithia, Spokane Children’s Theater at SCC, March 7-22
Much Ado About Nothing, Ignite! Community Theater, March 13-15
Ain’t Misbehavin’, INB Center, March 19-22
Defending the Caveman, the Bing, March 20-21
Godspell, Civic’s Studio Theater, March 20-April 11
Festival of New Works I and II, Kiva Theater, U of Idaho, March 25-April 4
Urinetown, Gonzaga, March 26-April 4
James and the Giant Peach, Lake City Playhouse, March 26-April 5
Waiting for Godot, Interplayers, March 26-April 11

Shakespeare in Hollywood, Civic’s Main Stage, April 3-19
Die Fledermaus, Hartung Theater, U of Idaho, April 16-26
The Graduate (adapted by Terry Johnson), Interplayers, April 23-May 9

One-acts, Gonzaga, May 1-2
Spamalot, INB Center, May 5-10
Sherlock's Last Case, Ignite! Community Theater, May 8-10
Big River, Lake City Playhouse, May 8-23
The Affections of May, Civic’s Studio Theater, May 8-31
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Civic’s Main Stage, May 15-June 14
Heidi, Spokane Children’s Theater at SCC, May 16-31
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Christian Youth Theater Spokane at the Bing, May 22-31
Hole in the Sky, SFCC, May 28-June 7

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

*Curse of the Starving Class* at Gonzaga

It used to be Russell Theater in the Admin Building. Now it's the Magnuson Theater in College Hall.
Gonzaga's done a million-dollar renovation to its '40s-era-gymnasium of a theater, now with raked seats, new lighting and more.
They'll open it with Sam Shepard's 1978 play, *Curse of the Starving Class,* directed by the principal of Gonzaga Prep, Fr. Kevin Connell.
Shepard's seriocomic, poetic, off-kilter treatment of a dysfunctional American family — screaming at each other, about to be invaded from outside, fearful of losing their home, with nothing to eat in the refrigerator — should seem relevant a time in America when there are more than a million foreclosures annually. That's a million families reflected in the bitter/hilarious tribulations of Emma and Ella, Weston and Wesley.

5/13/08 *New York Times* review by Charles Isherwood of a production at ACT in S.F. is
here. Read all the way to the end of the review for a couple amazingly prescient quotes from Shepard's play -- for example, about how our American dream (recently shattered by a worldwide financial implosion) was all built on "invisible money."

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 24-25, at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Oct. 25, at 2 pm
Thursday, Oct. 30, and Saturday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 pm
Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 pm
Tickets: $12; $10, faculty and staff; $8, students
Call 313-6553
Be prepared for some (implied?) onstage urinating, male nudity (here, underpantsed -- this is a Catholic school, you know) and some (mercifully offstage) animal cruelty. Baa, baa ...

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McColm goeth before a Lane

Broadway will have Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane in *Waiting for Godot* starting in late April 2009 — this, according to Michael Riedel in the N.Y. Post — but Interplayers will have Maynard Villers and Reed McColm as Vladimir and Estragon a month earlier.
Riedel includes some interesting commentary and photos on the connections between Lane and Bert Lahr.

Added 2 Nov 08:
The Guardian reports that a couple of actors you may have heard of will be touring *Godot* next year (March-June) in Britain: Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen.
Some of the reason for this flurry of productions? Beckett wrote *Godot* in its original French version from Oct. 1948-Jan. '49 -- the play is 60 years old.

Added 19 Dec 08:
Two familiar names have been added to the Broadway production, opening April 30. The cast now includes Nathan Lane as Estragon, Bill Irwin as Vladimir, John Goodman ("The Big Lebowski") as Pozzo and David Strathairn ("Goodnight, and Good Luck.") as Lucky.

{ John Goodman triple photo: - via, probably, Vanity Fair magazine }

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

That’s being Community-Minded

Local theaters, start your self-promotion engines.
CMTV (channel 14) is offering local nonprofits an opportunity to film a three-minute commercial for free. Just write or call 209-2652 to set up an appointment on the fourth floor of 25 W. Main Ave. for Oct. 29-31 or Dec. 3-5. You just know you can create something way more interesting than those middle-of-the-night infomercials.
Read more here.

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Alison Carey, Director of American Revolutions

A New York Times article, "Liberal Views Dominate Footlights," has some real dog-bites-man news: Most American plays are liberal. It's so bad that the 10-year project at OSF in Ashland can't find any conservative playwrights.
Could it be that there's no money in writing plays? The fat 'n' happy stereotype about conservatives, while merely a cliche, is a cliche for a reason. Theater thrives on conflict, on wanting to change things, on undermining complacency. Liberals are the rebels who dare to criticize a country when it goes to war, then pick up the pieces after eight years of inept ... oh, sorry. Liberal rant.
Mamet's Oleanna, on the other hand, is cited as an exception: conservative backlash against p.c. run amok.
(And why has "political correctness" been foisted on the left? As if right-wingers don't have their code phrases and thou-shalt-not shibboleths.)
I mean, is the problem (as the article sort of suggests) with the theatrical establishment (a bunch of liberals who won't let righties darken their stages)? Or is it that smart, creative people of a conservative stripe seek out money-making ventures and not the theater? Or that creativity in itself breeds a hankering for tolerance, diversity, ambiguity? (McCain plays, by and large, to people who see a large proportion of blacks and whites in their moral universe, whether the issue is Iraq, abortion, immigration or the free market.)
But why NOT put on *Stonewall Jackson's House*? Why NOT get white audiences squirming about slavery and blacks uncomfortable about the long-term effects of the welfare state and affirmative action? Why NOT examine our premises all the time? Because that's not comfortable. Because in hard times, people just want pacifiers, to be comforted, a bit of an escape.
All the time, Bobo hears people whining, Oh, times are so hard, there's so much sadness in my life, I just want a little escape.
But there's sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll for that, not to mention late-night TV and gallons of ice cream. We all need to tune out momentarily, sure. But why does it have to be for what matters in life, art and entertainment, the hours we carve out to come together and be parts of a community? Why not reserve plays, movies and books for challening (or at least nudging) ourselves?
I've never bought the argument that times are tough, so we should content ourselves with pleasant pablum. When are times NOT tough? (Granted, this now may be tougher.)
But that argument is hogwash. Hard times are the best times to question our assumptions and foment change.
We could do it here.
Spokane should put on the most conservative-viewpoint play that we can find.
And in general, we should seek to put on plays that UPSET expectations. Even if it's just our expectations about how Play Y or Musical Z "has always been done" or "should" be done.
Added Nov. 11, 2008:
Terry Teachout in the WSJ makes the point that liberal or conservative, the playwright's political stance shouldn't matter, because dramatists should pose important questions and then get out of the way, allowing playgoers to discuss amongst themselves and reach their own conclusions.

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Not a crisis but an opportunity

An L.A. Times article suggests the economic meltdown may provide a chance for theaters to draw in more of their lukewarm customers by offering "Pay What You Can" nights out.
(photo: La Jolla Playhouse at UC San Diego)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fugard in Spokane

The bottle of gin looms large in front of Andre Huguenet, "the Olivier of South Africa" (played by Maynard Villers; that's Damon Abdallah as the Playwright, on the right).
Exits and Entrances, by Athol Fugard
Spokane, Wash.
October 2008

The Playwright and Andre

Athol Fugard's Exits and Entrances
directed by Karen Kalensky
Spokane Interplayers Ensemble
opens Oct. 16, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Lake City Playhouse announces Summer Rep

Running June 18-Aug. 29, 2009 ... a four-musical season in repertory at CdA's community theater: Forever Plaid (for sure), I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and Tintypes (probably) and Stop the World, I Want To Get Off (possibly). Two men and two women as a resident company, augmented by the cast of the recently successful production of Forever Plaid and other regional performers. Lake City artistic director Brian Doig reports that auditions for the resident company will be in Feb. or March, with regional actor/singers to try out in May.
Six shows a week -- Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm -- with ticket prices at $18, or $55 for all four shows.
Directors will include Tom Nash, Maria Caprile, Doig, and (possibly) Reed McColm.
"We're going to 11 shows a year, so this is pretty aggressive for us," says Doig. "But for *Nunsense,* our audience figures have jumped, even though the economy is going down."

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Actors Rep is gone

The board of directors of Actors Repertory Theatre of the Inland Northwest has voted to dissolve the nonprofit organization. The vote was unanimous; artistic director Michael Weaver was in attendance and concurred.

ARt patrons can receive tickets to the six remaining Interplayers shows by handing over their four ARt tickets and $30. Call 455-PLAY.
Spokane Civic Theatre is offering a comparable program through Nov. 1. Call 326-6311.
Those who wish to make a charitable donation to ARt can mail their four remaining tickets to PO Box 12, Spokane WA 99210 (the only remaining way to reach the organization) in an envelope marked "Donation" ($68 donation for an $85 membership; $60 for a $75) by Nov. 10.

Emergency measures

Brendan Kiley in "The Stranger" posts "Ten Things Theaters Need To Do Right Now To Save Themselves."
Bobo thinks child care, more booze and audience participation (#5, 7 and 8) are useful and do-able. Even if you don't agree: Is your theater doing everything it can to make people feel welcome? (And canned curtain speeches don't count. I just want to look away.) *Cheers* the TV show was popular for a reason: People want to feel that they belong.
Bobo would add tired old musicals to no more Shakespeare (#1).
#2, 3 and 6 (premiering new plays, problems with actors' unions, actors' living areas) simply don't apply in a town of Spokane's size and attitude (cf. the end of #1, "surprises not pacifiers").
#10 is just snooty, telling other people what to do.
Brendan has the tweed coats and self-satisfied smirk that you would expect, but he's also very bright and thoughtful.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

*Cuckoo's Nest* auditions at Civic, Oct. 13-14

Audition for *One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest* by Dale Wasserman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey
Director: Yvonne A.K. Johnson
Monday-Tuesday, Oct. 13-14, at 6:30 pm; callbacks on Oct. 15
at the Civic
13 men (appearing to be ages 18-65)
4 women (appearing to be ages 18-45)
We are hoping to cast a native American actor in the role of Chief Bromden.

Cold readings.

Rehearsals: Flexible schedule in November. No rehearsals Nov. 21-Dec. 6 or Dec. 20-Dec. 27.

Performances: Jan. 9-25, 2009
This production will be Civic's entry to AACTFest 2009. See below for competition information.

March 6-9, 2009 — Washington Kaleidoscope State Festival at Driftwood Players in Edmonds, Wash. (Website:

possibly moving on to Regionals in CdA, April 17-19, 2009 and to Nationals in Tacoma, June 23-27

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audition for *Little Shop* in CdA, Oct. 20-21

*Little Shop of Horrors* auditions
Monday-Tuesday, Oct. 20-21, at 6:30 pm, with callbacks on Oct. 22
auditions at the Harding Center in CdA
performances at Lake City Playhouse, 1320 E. Garden Ave., CdA
Director: Marina Kalani
Be prepared to sing a 16-bar song; bring your resume, a photo, and a list of conflicts
Cast needed: 10-15 People
Call: (208) 667-1323

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Diana Trotter on *The Cradle Will Rock* at Whitworth

(photo: Marc Blitzstein at the piano; undated, possibly from c. 1937)
at Cowles Auditorium
Thursday, Oct. 9 (dress rehearsal), Fridays-Saturdays, Oct. 10-11 and 17-18, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, Oct. 12, at 2 pm
$7; $5, students
Call 777-3707

from Wikipedia:
*The Cradle Will Rock* is a 1937 musical by Marc Blitzstein. Originally a part of the Federal Theatre Project, it was directed by Orson Welles, and produced by John Houseman.
The musical is a Brechtian allegory of corruption and corporate greed. Set in "Steeltown, USA", it follows the efforts of Larry Foreman to unionize and otherwise combat wicked businessman Mr. Mister. Blitzstein portrays a whole panoply of societal figures: Mr. Mister's vicious, outwardly genteel philanthropic wife and spoiled children, sell-out artists, poor shopkeepers, immigrant families, a faithless priest, and an endearing prostitute named Moll. The piece is almost entirely sung-through, giving it many operatic qualities, although Blitzstein (as he often did, even in his full-blown operas) included popular song styles of the time.

See the Oct. 9 Inlander, p. 40, for Tammy Marshall's article on the show

** Bobo: Honestly, were you attracted to doing the show even before Tim Robbins’ ’99 movie?
Diana Trotter, professor of theater arts, Whitworth University: I was always interested in the show because I of course had read about it, and was very curious about what it looked and sounded like. When I saw the movie and saw the re-enactment of some of the scenes and heard the music, I fell in love with it. It’s been on my short list of “must-do” plays for a few years now. I love that big presentation style, I love the music, and of course I love the political and social commentary.

** Musically, what’s the most complex moment in the show, the most difficult to stage?
Trotter: A lot of the music is very challenging — one of the most complex aspects is that even the dialogue is underscored and thus has to be in rhythm with the music, and some of those places are really tricky. In the final scene, there is a montage of overlapping singing and dialogue that was a bear to put together — both musically and in terms of staging.

[ Bobo sez: There's a kind of surprise ending to Trotter's staging of *Cradle* -- He wishes he could give it away, but has been sworn to secrecy. Let's just say that Blitzstein's power-to-the-people theme will be embodied by the staging at one point. ]

** Whitworth students tend to be upper-middle-class (and not working class) and conservative (not liberal). Doesn’t that affect the students’ receptiveness to a show like this? And hasn’t this wealthy/conservative bias only GROWN in the 15 years you’ve been there?
Trotter: I think the bias has grown, although in just these past couple of years I have seen a shift in the other direction among the students. There is a lot more concern about the environment and other social causes on campus then there used to be. I think the Murdock grant (five years, $5 million) really changed the climate here — a lot more intentional emphasis on social justice, civic engagement, community-based programming. It’s made a difference. I also think that the very fact that our students come from a particular social and economic background makes this play very important from an educational standpoint, because they don’t know about the history of labor or of unions. They don’t know much about the Federal Theatre Project (until they take Theatre History). But because they’ve been involved with this show, they know more about those issues than they used to. And we’ve talked a lot about how these issues are once again becoming critical as we move in to this global economy with job outsourcing and endless reductions in the very benefits they were fighting for in the 1930s. As the market has crashed and we witness this incredible economic catastrophe, the issues raised in the play become even more interesting to them. As for students NOT in the play, many freshman seminar sections are requiring attendance. And we have a high school audience of more than 700 coming next Thursday morning for our reduced-rate school production.

** You have smart students there, but I bet there were jaw-dropping things that they DIDN’T know about the Depression (setting aside Welles, Houseman, the WPA, unions, etc.) Any examples you care to share?
Trotter: They didn’t realize that most of the benefits we take for granted didn’t exist in those days: worker’s comp, minimum wage, 40-hour work week, anti-discrimination, at-will firings, etc. They also didn’t know about the violence perpetrated by the companies and the government on the workers. I sent them news articles about some of the strikes back in the 1930s, and they were stunned by what they read. At this age, they have an innate sense of fairness and are easily outraged by what they see as injustice once they know about it.

** And as Trotter notes, the 1937 production of *The Cradle Will Rock* represents the only time in American history when the government sent armed guards to keep a play from being performed.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

*Exits and Entrances* at Interplayers

with Damon Abdallah as the Playwright and Maynard Villers as Andre
runs Oct. 16-Nov. 1
directed by Karen Kalensky

Athol Fugard's somewhat autobiographical script retells encounters in 1951 and 1956 between a young, idealistic South African playwright (unnamed, but clearly Fugard) and Andre Huguenet (known as "the Olivier of South Africa")

world premiere in L.A., July 2004; N.Y. premiere in April 2007

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*Alice: The Musical*

Spokane Children's Theater (63rd season)
on Oct. 11-12, Oct. 18-19, Oct. 24 and Oct. 26 (at various times) at SCC's Lair, Mission and Greene
Tickets: $10; $8, children
directed by Maria Caprile
with Natalya Ferch as Alice and Tony Caprile as Lewis Carroll leading a cast of 26
Call: 325-SEAT

Phantom of the Opera

(outtakes from the Oct. 9, 2008, special pullout section in The Inlander)
Behind the scenes at Phantom of the Opera, at Keller Auditorium in Portland, August 2008: Kim Stengel as Carlotta in the "Hannibal" scene in Act One

Christine's quick change

As Raoul and Messieurs Andre and Firmin look on from the opera box above, Christine (Trista Moldovan) has just completed her quick onstage change and made the transition from rehearsal clothes to leading-lady gown

light board guy

Roger the chief electrician for the national tour of Phantom, at his post in Portland's Keller Auditorium, August 2008

Phantom: stage manager's station

Phantom of the Opera, national tour in Portland, Keller Auditorium, Aug. '08, Amy Marisco, production stage manager

Monday, October 06, 2008

Hedda's further adventures

Jeff Whitty wrote *Avenue Q,* the musical with the foul-mouthed puppets.
He's an Oregon native who actually once won a district spelling bee (Coos Bay, 1983).
And he has written "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" -- receiving only its second production anywhere at OSF now. (It premiered at South Coast Rep; the design team and the director and a couple of the actors re-appear here.)
It ought to receive many more productions, because it's hilarious and thoughtful -- the kind of comedy that has you laughing at things and then squirming in your seat because you're not sure if you should be laughing at such things. And isn't Whitty perhaps making fun of people ... just like me?
It's about Hedda and Tesman and Lovberg, trapped between performances the play in a world of fictional characters: Medea drops by,
Mammy from *Gone With the Wind* is the Tesmans' servant. You might think no two women could be further apart. But just as Hedda has a hard time imagining being anything other than depressed and suicidal, Mammy has a hard time imagining anything other than being a slave. And the whole thing, hilarious and funny and fast, gets us to asking: Can ANY of us change? Or are we all stuck with our fates? Add in feminism and race (a second black woman who's feeling empowered) and sexuality (two very funny stereotyped gay men from the late '60s, Anthony Heald and Jonathan Haugen, all swishy and drunk, wise-cracking and self-hating) and you've got the makings of a thinking person's comedy (lavishly produced here, but could be not quite so camped up -- and a cast of eight, lots of costumes, a couple of set pieces but affordable, and Bobo was thinking, in a few years, this is the kind of show that could be done in the Civic's downstairs.
Bobo *loved* this show. You need a couple of black women who can sing and dance, and a lot of adept comedians, and a lot of costumes (cameo appearances by the Phantom of the Opera, Annie, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw, Beast from Beauty and the Beast, "a spunky housewife with three adorable kids" from a TV sit com, and a host of others. But it's all great and thought-provoking fun. The whole thing starts with ornate golden proscenium, red velvet curtains, an enormous portrait of Ibsen with all his side-whiskers. And then, during the shut-off-your-cell-phones curtain speech, you realize that ol' Henrik's lips are moving. A cheap visual trick, but very funny.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

"Our Town" in the rain

Productions of Thornton Wilder's bare-stage/universalizing classic all look pretty much the same. The three-story facade of the Elizabethan Theater worked against the bare-planks setting.
Bobo had planned well by ordering a ticket under the overhang, in case of rain. It rained, lightly, through most of Acts 1 and 2; but it stopped when it would have worked best, for the the Act 3 graveyard scene. (Photo is of the gray-clad dead in their graves, with Anthony Heald [the vice-principal in *Boston Public,* and much, much else] in the background; Heald was the best Iago I've ever seen onstage a few years ago in the Bowmer; now sharing the stage with this year's Iago, Dan Donohue, who played the drunken/suicidal church-choir director, Simon Stimson [and who, of course, attended LCHS and Whitman]; Bobo forgot to mention the U of Idaho connections of this year's Desdemona, Sarah Rutan, who played many roles at Idaho Rep before coming here and also doing an effective, femme fatale '30s take on Valeria, the 3rd woman in *Coriolanus.*)
So it comes down to the acting. *Our Town* under the stars, except you couldn't see the stars. Can't beat the play for arousing emotions of live-your-life-now-and-live-it-intensely. But the crucial role of Emily Gibbs was poorly played.
Heald, as the Stage Manager, was folksy and got laughs. A nice experiment to do it outdoors, but not particularly impressive.
Color-blind casting: New Hampshire in 1903-11 with black folks who have a white son and an interracial marriage that produces a daughter (Mahira Kakkar as Emily Gibbs) who's East Indian (or perhaps Pakistani, judging from her accent)? The mind rebels, dwells -- but then of course the point (better suited to Wilder's expansive vision that to, say, one of Shakespeare's history plays, which is rooted quite firmly in, say, the battle of Agincourt in 1415 or whatever) is that, as the Stage Manager is always reminding us, we live in the context of the infinite. All the people who ever were (in whatever century, on whatever continent) have had/will have the same hopes and dreams, the same worries and fears for their children. It's a classic for a reason, man: Wilder gets us out of the humdrum and into what matters about our lives. My point being: color-blind casting works here precisely because it gets us thinking about the gap between what's normal/usual/historical and what can be/should be: Seeing that Asian woman over there, not as primarily Asian or even primarily a woman, but as a fallible, variegated, multi-talented, self-defeating, wondrous creature.
Just like the rest of us, just like that janitor over there.
She IS Asian and female, sure, that's part of her makeup. But only parts, substantial parts, of her story.
All the dead were dressed in gray. They knew, better than those us who are alive, that most living people are blind to the little miracles that are all around us.
Yew illustrated some lines (we saw the Polish mother with her twins -- though, oddly, up in one of those Elizabethan casement windows) and we saw the paper boy, grown into a doughboy, charging into a World War I foxhole and into his death. But it's a plain, folksy play, and if not a complete success here, still worth doing and attending to.

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Coriolanus at OSF

Stunning. Went like the wind, despite being talky and political. Laird Williamson directs with energy -- in the round, actors popping up from the cellar, all four voms, running through the crime-scene-taped-off back rows right behind your neck. First time I felt the tragedy of it all -- Coriolanus caught between extreme patriotism and extreme pride, Menenius (Richard Elmore, perhaps joshing too much but still eye-catching) as the father-figure (where IS Coriolanus' dad?) -- the populace, stupid and wavering, bending first one way then the next. We're in a quasi-contemporary, militaristic society: laptops and cell phones, punk militias, vaguely '30s Fascist in its look. The tribunes sway the people, the people allow themselves to be swayed. When's the last time, though, that America had a military hero with magnetism and extreme values? MacArthur? Danforth Comins in the title role as a kind of hyper-articulate, hyper-patriotic and proud RoboCop.
(photo of is Richard Elmore as Menenius, with his back to us, pleading in Act 5 for Coriolanus [Danforth Comins, standing above, with Michael Elich as Aufidius] not to attack and destroy Rome)

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Skewing old

Arts audiences are graying -- they've always been gray. This, according to an L.A. Times article.
Average age of classical music audiences in 1982: 40. Now: 49. And so on in all the arts. But Diane Haithman makes the sensible point that 20-somethings are out clubbing and 30-somethings have kids and careers. Even so, it's clear that kids have to get bitten with the theater bug early (in their teens) if it's going to pay off decades later (in their 40s and 50s and 60s) with theater attendance.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Clay Cart in Ashland

The phrase that kept coming to mind as I watched this ancient East Indian comedy -- Bill Rauch's introduction of non-Western fare to OSF and a kind of sub-continental commedia dell-arte -- was "overproduced children's theater."
That's harsh -- the production has many fine points, a moving last scene, and it's stuck in my head since last night -- but let me explain.
The Clay Cart was written 2,000 years ago. It's full of stock characters. Open playing space, perhaps two dozen in the cast, usually seated on the perimeter, recliningn on pillows, watchign their fellow actors throughout. People jump up, and wham! they're a gambler, they're the king's brother-in-law, they're the guy who guards the door. Playful. Gorgeous set: golden circular playing area ringed by dozens of golden Hindu statues; three dozen exotic lamps hanging from above (and they all swung in unison during the thunderstorms!); three live musicians at the back; a giant foot from some unseen gigantic statue; a blue runway that circled the playing area and was used for "trips" from one location to another. Stock characters, stock situations: commedia-style.
Long and episodic, the structure just felt like one damn thing after another. Very didactic: they hammered home the idea that character matters more than caste, that wealth does not make your virtuous, that selflessness is the highest form of virtue, and so on. Yes, I know. And yes, great literature often boils down to simplicity: Othello: jealousy is bad. But this kept hammering away at it, as if we were a bunch of children. Pretty to look at, mostly well acted. Raspy-voiced Miriam Laube (too giddy-in-love as Rosalind in a Depression-era AYLI here a couple seasons back, was practically born for the central role of the courtesan (accomplished in singing and dance; cf. geishas in Japan).
Plot turns on coincidence: clever, but over-elaborate. Still, the final scene, with one dispensation of justice after another (when it had appeared that the virtuous wouuld be punished and the wicked would get away with it) was surprisingly moving. A final prayer for virtuous leadership, that we should take care of our poor and live honestly in all ways: good reminders. But at 2:45, it was a long sit for platitudes.
Right next door, Dan Donohue was playing Iago. Did I make the wrong choice?
Richard Howard was fantastic as a thief (I saw him as Richard II here in '95, as Gaev in Cherry Orchard here last year -- almost unrecognizable -- and he's in great shape -- there's a lot of skin shown in this play. In an extremely erotic and non-explicit sequence, Laube stripped off her jewels one by one and desposited them one by one into the hands of her eager lover (Cristofer Jean, as the impoverished but virtuous merchant here; a quirky, rebellious Ariel in the Demetra Pittman-as-Prospero Tempest here a few years ago).
So I would have written a mixed review. But for the money, I want more than just stock characters. And all that didacticism -- it felt like we were being talked down to. A lot of stock situations were predictable.
But boy those Hindus are great categorizers: there are 10 types of drama about humans (as opposed to dramas about the gods), and four skills that any actor must possess, and about 27 dialects in the play, and three central gods, and on and on ....

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Eurydice in Portland

(photo is from a production at Philadelphia's Wilma Theater)
Bobo was sort of disappointed by Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice (at Artists Rep). Where the off-beat quirkiness of Dead Man’s Cell Phone and The Clean House are more rooted in the everyday, Eurydice starts with self-consciously eccentric elements and remains stuck there. (I came across one headline that read, ""Ruhl ruins Eurydice with whimsy.")
At the same time, director Randall Stuart’s production teaches viewers about specifically theatrical effects -- what theater can do that movies or books don’t or can’t.
The play has a killer finish -- Eurydice is separated from her father by death; then she isn’t; then she is, forever -- but there’s avant-garde that produces new ways of seeing things, and then there’s avant-garde that’s just “What the fuck?”
Too much of the latter.
But the staging! Numerous cubes rolled into all kinds of configurations. Eurydice swinging gleefully from the rafters on a swing made of brightly colored cloth, and then contorting and falling and striking joyful poses. A chorus of three otherworldly stones. A room made out of string. A glass elevator that wasn’t filled with rain (as in other proudctions) but just with sound effects -- though a couple of the cubes surprisingly filled in for the Lethe River with actual water. A touching conclusion: wishes for happiness from the dead.
One of the best sound designs I’ve ever heard in a theater, and for a play that takes music seriously.
The Orpheus, a kind of lesser Antonio Banderas, was not good: Despite the character’s obsession with music, he couldn’t sing, didn’t seem passionate. But he delivered half his speeches while hanging upside down from the rafters. Warm father/Eurydice relationship. The Nasty-Interesting Man, also Lord of the Underworld, played by the same hefty, resonant-voiced actor who imitated Orson Welles in Orson’s Shadow at this same theater a year ago.
Ruhl knows how to evoke love and joy and sorrow using techniques that work best in live performance; they’re ritualistic.
Then, to complete the evening’s festivities, Bobo pulled into a Motel 6 in Salem, where he proceeded to sleep the sleep of the dead.
Bobo: a regular one-man moveable party.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

quick reaction to *Blackbird*

by Glaswegian playwright David Harrower
at Artists Rep, 15th and Morrison, Portland, thru Oct. 12
The premise: Ray, then 40, had a three-month affair 15 years ago with Una.
When she was 12.
Now they're 55 and 27 -- and he's done time, moved away, changed his name, gotten a job, may or may not be in a relationship with another woman.
It'd almost be better not to know all this at the outset: the opening minutes are cryptic in an engaging way: What exactly is the relattionship between these two people?
Oh, those damn critics, giving everything away all the time.
An employees' lunch room, trashed. Una's the aggressor at first - she sought him out. He's the one who's scared and vulnerable now.
Beautifully, poetically written. The same motifs keep cropping up -- both of them were loners, both of them want affection.
After Mary Kay LeTourneau, who's to say? But Ray did something that was very, very wrong.
After-play discussion touched on the sexualization of young girls.
My daughter turns 12 next week.
Great surprise ending, thought-provoking.
A.D. Allen Nause as Ray, rubbing his eyes constantly, twitchy, pleading.
Harrower deliberately creates ambiguity. Una's tremendous guilt; shamed by her mother and neighbors. He was in jail 3 1/2 years; she's been abused for 15 years.
Much discussion of the title. Program reprints Beatles song and several others. Harrower said in interview he was listening to jazz pianist Keith Jarrett spin variations on the Beatles tune, thought of how many ways he could spin conversational topics to keep these two people, abuser and abused, talking to each other and in the same room. Actress here, Amaya ???, revealed that Harrower also said he thought of St. Benedict, who had nightmares about blackbirds, which he interpreted as undesirable, sinful thoughts and urges. Ray's rubbing his eyes: ravens of vengeance may also come peck out his eyes. (Una says that's what she's wanted to do all these years, peck out his eyes.
It'd be great to teach this alongside Lolita and How I Learned To Drive. Of Pinter's plays, it's most like Betrayal, or maybe Old Times.
Bobo has to learn to watch plays and not write about them.–-2009-season/blackbird.aspx

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