Saturday, November 15, 2008

Civic's one-acts: Buy your tickets now

You have until Nov. 23 to catch some of Spokane's best recent stage performances in the double bill playing in the Studio Theater.
Infrequent theater-goers especially should go.
{See previous posts here on Oct. 28.]
Whichever your gender, you'll profit from the entertaining study of male one-upmanship that is Daniel MacIvor's "Never Swim Alone." Even better, it achieves most of its effects in ways that are particular to live performance. If you want to see what theater can do and movies can't, get into the "Swim."
In the opener, "Graceland" by Ellen Byron, two distinct women face off three days before the opening of Elvis' Graceland mansion. They bicker, they reconcile, they reveal secrets. Kathie Doyle-Lipe discards her comic mannerisms to turn in a serious performance that's convincing about her character's devotion to the memory of Elvis in the face of a less-than-ideal marriage. But the revelation here is Ashley Cooper's affecting, Southern-drawl eccentricities as Rootie, the too-young Bayou wife who has put up with too much from her husband and who's now determined to put everything she has into Elvis-worship. Director George Green wisely chooses to keep Cooper remote, isolated and motionless during Rootie's big self-revelation monologue near the end. Nothing innovative here, but both actors are good enough to make us feel the joy they feel over sharing a Mallomar or three. The rockin'-out-Elvis-medley dancin' was infectious, too.
Bobo's just gotta rave about "Never Swim Alone": Sure, this show's exaggerated to make a point, but if you want to know the silly/destructive kind of alpha-dog thoughts that go through straight men's minds all the time (without necessarily acting on them), this is your show.
In a show that requires lots of split-second timing, there was very little that was mistimed. As the eye-candy referee in the red one-piece bathing suit, Lauren Waterbury was fetching and mischievous; the stylized swimming sequence brought stature to her character, but she was also flirty and fun in the way she judged all the rounds of competition between the two men.
It can be off-putting, how much MacIvor uses repetition and doubled, simultaneous lines -- in performance, as opposed to on the page, it seemed over the line, excessive. But bear with him, because it's stylization that pays off later.
Yvonne A.K. Johnson took over directing this macho-dog production from a man who had to step out because of other commitments, but the show retains a cutthroat masculine tone. Much praise to her for varying the rounds, shifting the tone from comic to shocking, and for the show's haunting final image.
George Green and Luke Barats make a great, funny, fuck-you-too pair. Their performances, always angling for the upper hand, are full of insincere "compliments," one-liner put-downs, and grasping at any advantage (whether physical or intellectual, sexual or imagined, refashioned from shared memories or just made up). They've choreographed a fight sequence that drew audible gasps from playgoers (and not just the guy getting pummeled onstage).
There's so much going on in MacIvor's scripts, and so many insightful moments created by Barats and Green, that this show easily would reward a second viewing. But at least, make a point of at least seeing it once.
These two shows have been playing to two-thirds-full houses in the Civic's black box. Spokane should bust down the doors between now and next Sunday.

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