Friday, February 27, 2009

A Goth *Othello*

Director William Marlowe has given a Goth look to his production, coming up March 5-15 at SFCC. (See the Feb. 17 post here.)


Bobo: Does the production have a concept or non-Jacobean historical setting?
Marlowe: As you can tell from the photos, the concept is to put it in a modern romantic context with strong “Goth” overtones. Think *Underworld* in flavor. Much of the play takes place in the dark and I thought it would bring in the younger demographic.

Bobo: During table work, what misperceptions did students have about Shakespeare or Jacobean London or iambic pentameter or revenge tragedy?
Marlowe: I did not delve into discussions about revenge tragedy. We did some comparative talking about this play and *Titus Andronicus* as a reference. A good amount of time was spent on the language and scansion. We used the *No Fear* version to help the many first-time Shakespeare actors with what they were saying.

Bobo: How much cutting of the text did you do?
Marlowe: Many cuts, to say the least. I just can’t imagine my audience sitting through the entire play and quite frankly, some of it needed to go. The musicians are gone and most but not all of the clown. We have changed some words to a more modern translation: "horologe," for example. I have included a 1.2 battle between Brabantio’s men and Othello’s soldiers. I also couched the 3.3 Iago and Othello insinuation scene as a practice with quarterstaffs. It makes for some nice visual punctuation of the dialogue.

Bobo: Is Iago gay, envious of Cassio, racist, angry over Emilia's infidelity, or what? In other words, is Coleridge's formulation ("the motive-searching of motiveless malignity") correct, and he's satanic -- we simply cannot explain his evil, or what?
Marlowe: We did discuss the idea that Iago is in love/lust with Othello and becomes satisfied when he gets Cassio’s position. I will not have Iago die between Othello’s legs as Mr. Brannagh did. Iago embodies evil but not evil just as a device. He has real jealousy about his position and his perceived infidelity of his wife.

Bobo: In their own ways, how are Othello and Desdemona a) naive and b) admirable?
Marlowe: It is important to the play that we clearly see Othello as the outsider who has overstepped his social status in marrying Desdemona. I like the idea of full and true love between them and that Iago is primarily motivated by the loss of being lieutenant. We do provide a sort of “Branded” moment to make that visually clear when Cassio is demoted and then Iago becomes the lieutenant. Othello is inexperienced in domestic matters and I think the script supports that idea. Desdemona is in complete love and cannot see the danger until 5.2. Even then she does not understand it and forgives Othello at the end by naming him “kind lord."
Stylistically we are playing the fourth wall with everyone but Iago. He is taking the audience in and sharing all his secrets with us in his asides.

Labels: , ,

A Judas kiss

Two nights left on *The Last Days of Judas Iscariot* at GU's Jepson Center. (Fri-Sat at 7 pm; see Feb. 18 post below.) You should consider going to see it. It's free. Director Kevin Connell has cut a 2:40 play down to 1:10. It's well acted. Scripts are in hand, but large swathes are memorized. Actors are costumed, and they make entrances from all over the house. It's irreverent as hell -- there are a couple of lines so shocking and blasphemous that the audience just went quiet -- but Guirgis' play will make you rethink, not just your attitude toward biblical accounts but your whole notion of forgiveness. It feels much more like a full production than most readers theater shows. Oh, sure, there are weaknesses -- a couple of characters "act black" because apparently those roles were played by African-Americans in the premiere, including ghetto expressions that seem ungainly coming out of the mouths of white Zag undergraduates -- but this is a mere quibble. Connell has directed inventively, his actors are living their characters' problems, and it's a remarkable study of how moral absolutes (Mother Teresa, perfect; Judas, despicable) are merely labels. All this, and one of the main visual effects of the entire show simply didn't function at all on opening night. Plus no basketball game to conflict with, so the last two shows should be even better. It's laugh-out-loud funny but also profound, and it's short and free. You can go out later and be decadent -- just like Satan and Judas talk about in this fine production.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

SCT's *Bridge to Terabithia,* March 7-22

a Spokane Children's Theater production at SCC's Lair auditorium, Bldg. 6, near Mission Ave. and Greene St.
(runs March 7-22)
directed by Reed McColm
a musical version of Katherine Patterson's classic children's novel
Jesse Aarons (Bryton Martin) learns to break through some self-imposed constraints when he gains a free-spirited best friend, Leslie Burke (Ellie McDonald).

Tickets: $10; $8, children.
Visit or call 325-SEAT.

Saturdays, March 7 and March 14, at 1 pm and 4 pm
Sundays, March 8 and March 15, at 1 pm
Saturday, March 21, at 10 am and 1 pm
Sunday, March 22, at 1 pm and 4 pm

[following text and photo above from]
"*Bridge to Terabithia* hits all the big late-elementary-school-novel themes: believing in yourself, keeping an open mind about people, standing up to bullies, not judging your family too harshly, art is good — all the biggies."

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Belle of Amherst

Ellen Crawford, who played Nurse Lydia Wright on E.R. for 10 years (1994-2003) and who starts her run at Interplayers this week as Emily Dickinson in William Luce’s The Belle of Amherst, will interrupt her run next week and miss three performances so that she can fly back to L.A. to film the two-hour finale of the long-running medical drama.

Crawford spoke the first lines in the very first episode: “Dr. Green? There’s a patient for you, Dr. Green.” “That way, in my first line, I introduced both Anthony Edwards and George Clooney,” she says. “Clooney’s character came in drunk,” she adds, confirming that George is quite the jokester on-set. She hasn’t yet seen the script for the E.R. finale.

Crawford just returned from doing A Touch of the Poet at the 14th Street Theater in New York with Daniel J. Travanti (Hill Street Blues). Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal called included the show in his year-end best-of list, calling the acting duo “galvanically powerful.” Teachout remarked that he hadn’t liked the Gabriel Byrne production years before, but that sometimes critics make mistakes, and that what he thought wasn’t a very good play was in fact, given a good production like Crawford’s and Travanti’s, a good script by O’Neill.

From a 2001 mini-bio of Crawford
Fresh out of high school, Ellen was chosen out of 3500 hopeful actors for her first professional role in the Chicago company of "Hair" performing with Joe Mantegna, Alaina Reed-Hall and Stan Shaw. This set the stage for Ellen, who grew up in Normal, Illinois with aspirations of becoming an actress and who now plays Nurse Lydia Wright on the award-winning NBC series "ER."_Ellen attended Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and worked her summer breaks with regional and national tour companies. On Broadway, she received critical praise for her role as Sister Lee in "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?"_While currently in her eighth season on "ER," Ellen has also appeared in numerous television series' such as "China Beach," "thirtysomething," "Tales From the Crypt," "Murder She Wrote," "Night Court" and "Diagnosis: Murder." Ellen's telefilms include "Twice Upon A Time" (as Molly Ringwald's mother), "The Story Lady" (as Jessica Tandy's acting teacher) and "Cradle of Conspiracy" (as a villainous baby broker)._Ellen's feature credits include "Soldier," "Ulterior Motives" and "War of the Roses." In 1999 she starred in the short film "Entropy," which was directed and produced by Daniel T. Green and also starred David Ackert ("General Hospital") and Rob Porter ("Final Justice").

Belle will be directed here by Christopher Schario of the Public Theater in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine: “He’s a Carnegie-Mellon alum like me.”
Schario brought in Crawford and her husband Michael Genovese (who played a cop and Nurse Lydia’s love interest for awhile on E.R.) to do A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters as a fund-raiser.
In about 1997 and again in 2003, Crawford performed The Belle of Amherst under Schario’s direction at the Public.
And now the same team is bringing it to Spokane.

On relearning her lines:
“I was mumbling all over L.A. I mean, it’s two hours onstage by yourself. I thought about putting a Bluetooth on, just so people wouldn’t think I was crazy.”

On researching Emily Dickinson:
“When I started this project, all I knew was the two or three poems that everybody learns in high school,” she says – “I heard a fly buzz when I died” and “Because I would not stop for Death.”
“One thing I love about being an actor is that you are perpetually a student.’

What she found surprising:
“The joy of life in her works, the ecstasy. Her sensuality.”
She mentions a couple of suitors that Dickinson had, that a contemporary witness saw her sitting once on one of those men’s laps.
(An amazing image: Emily D. before she became a recluse.)

… to be continued. (Bobo has 1,300 more words of notes, so brace yourself … )


ADDED on March 3:

“I look at us now, with iPods in our ears, or else we’re on our Blackberrys … what’s important about Emily Dickinson now is that we don’t really look at things, we don’t really SEE. Whether it’s being joyfyl at work or being sorrowful, she embraces it. She even embraces the search for what’s on the other side [of death].”
Crawford’s husband, Mike Genovese, made her a present of a first edition of Dickinson’s letters. And what did she learn from reading the letters? Tidbits about Henrietta Sweetser, a nosey neighbor who brought out Dickinson’s sarcastic side. About Mabel Todd Loomis, the woman with whom E.D.’s brother Austin had an affair. (Austin was a year older, Lavinia [the possessive sister] three years younger, than E.D.)

Crawford on working on Interplayers’ extreme thrust stage (she and Schario did this show six years ago in Maine on a proscenium):
“The voms really help. But you can’t do everything in those corners (while seated on those corner benches). We’re trying to make her movements somewhat circular. You try to share, but not everybody is going to be able to see everything, see her face, all the time.
But there’s an exciting quality to it – it’s very intimate, and you’re never very far from the audience.
Oh, yes, we’ve reblocked it entirely. Some business is the same – sitting at a desk is sitting at a desk . But we have a bedroom and a parlor, and a window seat down left and a garden area down right, and we define those areas with lights.”

Any stop-gap measures if she were suddenly to go up?
“That’s a nice idea,” says Crawford. “But I’ve never had to use one, and that’s all I will say about that,” she says, pointedly. “But it’s a nice idea.”
Then she mumbled something about how “George [Clooney] used to write his lines on his sheets.” There was a slightly disapproving, dare I say schoolmarmish tone in her voice.
“Theater is an actor’s medium,” she continues. “It’s very verbal. When I was doing regional theater [regularly], we would do what we would call ‘creature features’ – you know, school matinees at 10 a.m. or something. But it’s so important to guide the next generation of the audience. If they don’t see [good theater], they won’t know what it is.”

She tells a story about an acquaintance who came to see her in *Lulu,* the German Expressionist drama. “
“And he’d never seen a live stage show before. Now, I’m not sure German Expressionism is where you want to start your theater-going experience. But he loved it - -he said, ‘If this is what theater is, then I want to come all the time.’”
“I come from the Midwest, and I was always told that they won’t go for anything but basic comedies there. Now, there’s nothing wrong with sheer entertainment – but if it’s good [she mentions Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?], people will respond to it.”

On Emily’s reclusiveness:
“Luce’s take on it was that she did it on purpose, that it was a game for her. It may have become that. There may have been some problems with her eyes later in life.
If you look at the letters, she was very involved with the life of her town. In many ways, she was fine staying at home. She was with people she loved, and why should she spend time socializing with the village gossips?”

Everyone has their own theories about E.D.’s suitors. They were all married, and all older, she says in the play. There are several candidates, thought Luce’s belief is that Charles Wadsworth, a Philadelphia preacher, was the love of her life. He was married, and they met only twice – in 1860 and 1880 (when E.D. was 30 and 50).

Dickinson wasn't religious but spiritual.
Lucky for us, she was articulate and that she left an extraordinary volume of correspondence.
Living in seclusion, she tended to ask the greater questions about life.
She was criticized by scholars later on for writing her poems while the Civil War was going on. But as she says in the play, "war was so oblique to me."
She can be very funny, very witty in the letters. But a lot of them were burned: "You did burn letters in those days."
Crawford emphasizes that E.D. lived in a house full of other people -- her father, her brother Austin, her sister Lavinia. So she wasn't completely like a nun, and may have had the outgoing interpersonal skills that you see in Luce's play.
She lowered gingerbread out her window to schoolkids down below.
Crawford visited the Evergreens, E.D.'s house in Amherst, and actually got volunteered to play the role of the woman who lowered gingerbread in a basket to school kids who were on a tour. She was dressed all in white, and sure enough, one of the schoolboys whispered, "Do you think that's REALLY Emily Dickinson?"

About that Yo-Yo Ma cello music that you'll hear at acts' ends in the show: Independent of each other, Crawford's director and husband — asked to find music for the show — selected the exact same pieces.

Her advice to young actors:
Stage actors should get some film training, "even if it's just an introduction."
"You need to do whatever you can do to make a living." Making the transition "from theater to film is easier" than the other way around.
Film acting is much smaller, of course: "Lots of times, it's just thinking — it's less than you would do in real life."
"Get theater training and then bring it way down."
"You really have to want it. I've found, in talking to students, that the parents either are afraid, or the parents want it."
In the former case, she says, "I tell parents, there's really no way to stop them — because if they really love acting, then that's what they have to do to be happy. I absolve the parents of all guilt."
"If you're not gifted, you find out very quickly. And then it's no longer really fun."

"I love it, but it's a tough business. Security? Forget about it. But I've been a union actor since I was 18." (SAG, AFTRA, and Equity)

"We don't think of film or theater as a business, but it is." Belonging to a union makes it a better and more serious product: "When everybody is doing everyone else a favor, it shows. When it's a business, it's a different kind of work."

To prepare for playing Dickinson, Crawford assembled:
a couple of the biographies; cookbooks from the period (and taken from recipes used at E.D.'s house); books on Victorian manners; lots of books about E.D. and that she herself read -- Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Mill on the Floss; a biography of Helen Hunt Jackson, the author of Ramona and E.D's friend, who's mentioned in Luce's script; baked goods and gingerbread; the collected poems and letters.

"All of Emily's suitors were married, and older than her."

And then, our lunch concluded, off Crawford went in her jaunty red beret — off into the Spokane rain to do a run-through and her first open dress rehearsal. She was eager to put Emily Dickinson in front of an audience again.

Labels: , , ,

William Luce's one-woman show at Interplayers

Ellen Crawford as Emily Dickinson

*Museum* at Whitworth, March 6-14

[Tina Howe photo:]

Tina Howe's play about dozens of people wandering through an avant-garde art exhibit
will be performed
on Fridays-Saturdays, March 6-7 and March 13-14, at 8 pm; and on Sunday, March 8, at 2 pm

YouTube preview of the Whitworth production:

40 characters, played by 19 students, will wander fictional artists' work, including blank white canvases, animal-skeleton sculptures and life-size human dummies hanging on a clothesline. Some of the roles include tourists, art snobs, curators, janitors, art students, donors, photographers, a vandal, and one of the artists.

"Museum" is about art and the way it affects its audience — and how their reactions can reveal as much about human nature as they do about the artwork. It was first performed in L.A. in 1976 and in New York the following year. There's no traditional plot; the scenes add up in meaning, like a montage.

Even though Cowles Auditorium holds well over 1,000, only 200 playgoers will be admitted to any given performance. Director Brooke Kiener and her cast have set up a mock art exhibit, which you can wander around in and explore starting one hour before showtime. In effect, playgoers will become more self-aware, because they will have been browsing through the exhibit just like the actors.

Tickets: $7; $5, students and seniors
Visit or call 777-3707.

Here's a 2002 review of a New York production.

audition for *Big River*

Monday-Tuesday, March 2-3, at 6:30 pm
at the Harding Family Center, 411 N. 15th St., CdA
for the Lake City Playhouse production (May 8-23) of the 1985 musical with music and lyrics by Roger Miller and book by William Hauptmann

Director Brian Doig is looking for 6 women, 6 men and ensembles of 10-15.

Huck and Jim float down the Mississippi and have themselves some fine adventures, sho' 'nuff.

Lake City Playhouse, 1320 E. Garden Ave., CdA
(20) 667-1323

Trivia time: What *Deep Space Nine* cast member was in the original production of *Big River*? And when director Des McAnuff was trying out the show at the La Jolla Playhouse, what future and highly influential Spokane theater critic** did Roger Miller find himself face to face with?
(**This five-word phrase appears in your dictionary next to "oxymoron.")

Study the IBDb entry here.

Frank Rich's 1985 review in the N.Y. Times is here. And John Goodman played Pap! I'd forgotten that.

Labels: , , ,

*Forum* auditions, March 22-23

*A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum*

Try out at the Civic's Studio Theater on Sunday, March 22, at 6 pm or Monday, March 23, at 6:30 pm. (Callbacks: Tuesday, March 24, at 6:30 pm. Rehearsals will begin on Wednesday, March 25.)

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Burt Shevlove and Larry Gelbart

Directed by Diana Trotter

Roles available for a dozen men and a dozen women.
Cold readings; Also perform a verse and a chorus from a contemporary musical. Please bring your own sheet music. An accompanist will be provided.

Performances: May 15-June 14

Featuring the unforgettable tunes "Comedy Tonight," "Lovely," and "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid."

Of COURSE you know that Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane starred as Pseudolus in the '62 and '96 Broadway productions. But to find out who starred on Broadway in the rather ill-fated '72 production, go here.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 23, 2009

CdA Summer Theater auditions

... will be in CdA on April 18, but in New York and Seattle before that — all in preparation for their June-August season of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Producers, Dames at Sea and Miss Saigon.

NYC auditions:
Saturday, March 14, from 10 am-5 pm
Shetler Studios
244 W. 54th St., 12th floor

Seattle auditions:
Saturday, April 11, from 10 am-5 pm
Theatre Puget Sound at the Seattle Center, Room G

Coeur d’Alene auditions:
Saturday, April 18, from 10 am-5 pm
North Idaho College, Boswell Hall, Room 102
1000 W. Garden Ave.

Roger Welch, Producing Artistic Director
Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre
PO Box 1119
Coeur d'Alene ID 83816
(208) 769-7780
(208) 769-7856

Labels: ,

Friday, February 20, 2009

opening-night review of *No, No, Nanette"

at Spokane Civic Theatre's Main Stage through March 15

In *No, No, Nanette,* everyone is on holiday. Nothing's really at stake. You just know that everybody's going to stay fat and happy.
The over-complicated plot weaves and twists, with elaborate ruses covering up minor peccadilloes. Then somebody resolves the latest problem with a quick revelation, which cues the chorus to kick up their heels and dance.
It's a celebration of naughty but harmless fun, sprinkled with songs that demonstrate how clever and beautiful we can be if we just put our minds (and voices and tap-dancin' feet) to it.
*No, No, Nanette* is a show with a heart of gold and a head of cotton candy.

"I want to be happy," sings the rich guy in this show (Robert Wamsley), "but I won't be happy / Till I make you happy too." It's a lovely, generous notion, and Wamsley -- light on his feet and lightning-quick in switching from munificent to muddled -- embodies it in a big-hearted way. The good will echoes in the show right through to the final number, when the assembled cast gestures toward the audience: All they've been doing is trying to make us happy too.

That's how they ought to be judged, anyway, so here's what made me happy about the Civic's *Nanette*:
The Mutt and Jeff marriage of Wamsley and diminutive Kathie Doyle-Lipe as the tycoon couple. Wamsley can overdo the heartiness, but his character is a generous fellow -- and Wamsley can downshift from bonhomie to befuddlement in an instant. Doyle-Lipe looked uncharacteristically uncertain in her opening tap solo on a short staircase, but her show-ending front-flips were delightful in a younger-than-Grandma way.
The way that director Jean Hardie and lighting designer Peter Hardie call for a full-flood light cue at the moment when Nanette suddenly asserts herself. (Having been told "no, no" all her life, she's gonna do a little naysaying of her own.) It's a silly, playful moment in keeping with a silly, playful show.
Peter Hardie's set design features art deco designs with a peacock motif for the rich folks' fancy apartment and an Atlantic City boardwalk background drop that lights up for an elegant outdoor party late in the show.
The sheer number and variety of Jan Wanless and Susan Berger's costumes is very impressive: pastel flappers with elaborate headdresses, golfers in Argyle sweaters and plus fours, sequined gowns that leave room for tap shoes, tailored and vented suits for the "Arrow collar men" of the show (at least before they appear in tuxes).
Cameron Lewis' wise-cracking and tap-dancing as the sidekick lawyer. He's full of double-takes and a suddenly growling voice and a quick grin when chorus girls caress his face, his shoulders.
Ashley Cooper's leggy flapper as Lucille, the lawyer's wife and rich gal's best friend. In the opening number, Cooper had projection (and sound system?) problems, though getting thrown around and lifted overhead by a half-dozen choristers might explain that. In the second act especially, though, Cooper and Lewis carried the show with their dance moves -- twirling and spinning in "You Can Dance With Any Girl," hinting at the tension that will arise when Lucille starts to suspect that her hubby is a philanderer too.
Jean Hardie's choreography creates frequent delight. Chorines undulate their arms to create "waves," and Lewis emerges "swimming" above the surf. There are Busby Berkeley tributes, kept brief. Arms reach up high and then down low; chorus lines with arms interlinked circle and stomp and undulate their arm; Cooper sings while reclining on four guys on their hands and knees; soon she's swooping up from the floor and into the splits while held aloft; then she's flung across the dance floor and splaying her impossibly long legs atop a nearby table.

The Civic's Nanette didn't create an uninterruptedly pleasant dream, however. In a show that aims at the creation of happiness, here's what didn't:
Susan Hardie gets saddled, as the sarcastic maid Pauline, with too many repeated jokes involving vacuum cleaner malfunction and an over-insistent doorbell. (Hardie was funny-inventive in the role; the script is what's at fault.)
The men's chorus could afford to smile more: When they're grimacing even before they catch the spinning dancers -- well, that's not fun to watch.
During the "I Want To Be Happy" number, too much comic mugging spread from Wamsley to both choruses, undercutting the comedy instead of helping it. "Tea for Two" -- a lovers' duet envisioning marital bliss -- seemed too sedate to be the first-act curtain number. An elegant mood prevails near the end, only to be shattered by Doyle-Lipe's character calling for a mass tap number.
Worst of all, in "Peach on the Beach," we were introduced to the playland of Atlantic City by a gaggle of old-fashioned bathing costumes. Now these costumes were fine, but the characters inside them were morons. They could imagine nothing more exciting than tossing beach balls back and forth and forth and back, and they giggled at, oh, just every little thing. Elsewhere in this show, you can trust folks who've got themselves in a pickle to think their way out of it; but the beach ball people had been directed to act like performing seals, and not the smart ones.
Fortunately, we're not on the beach for long, and soon kind-hearted figures with brains resume their places.

No, No, Nanette isn't merely a curiosity -- the kind of musical Americans liked before they started liking better ones -- because it has a touching generosity of spirit. But it's also self-conscious, and its style of communication is presentational: All the energy is out to the audience, and seldom if ever directed from one character to another. It's a floor show that says, "Let us entertain you" while skidding right past anything like, you know, an actual relationship.
*Nanette* is about floating on a bubble, only now our economic bubble has burst. It's an 83-year-old musical that's arriving about a year too late. (We're not in any dot-com boom anymore, and we're certainly not in the Roaring Twenties.)
But then there's always hunger for escapism, and the Civic's *Nanette,* if it doesn't deliver the goods in a continuous flow, still boasts plenty of high points. All they're trying to do, you know, is make us happy.

[ Tammy Marshall photo for The Inlander; Kathie Doyle-Lipe and Robert Wamsley as Sue and Jimmy Smith in *No, No, Nanette* at Spokane Civic Theatre, Feb. '09 ]

Labels: , , ,

*The Affections of May* auditions

Monday-Tuesday, March 16-17, at 6:30 pm, on the Civic's Main Stage; callbacks on Wed.

Performances: in the Civic's Studio Theater, May 8-31

by Norm Foster
Director Heather McHenry-Kroetch seeks three men (appearing age 35-55)and one woman(appearing age 35-55)

Cold readings.

When May's husband drains her bank account and leaves her for another woman, she finds herself the object of desire amongst rural Romeos.

[ photo: ]

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 19, 2009

audition for *K2*

on Monday, Feb. 23, at 7 pm
at the Harding Family Center

Director Brian Doig is looking for two men, age 25-40, for this Lake City Playhouse production.
Prepare a monologue; cold readings; must learn how to rock climb.
Call (208) 667-1323.

In Patrick Myers' play, Taylor and Harold are stranded high on the world's second-tallest mountain; Harold has a broken leg. As Taylor attempts to climb higher to retrieve a longer rope -- one that might make Harold's rescue possible -- they carry on a conversation about what they value in life.

*K2* will perform at the regional AACT Festival on April 15-18 in CdA

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pissing off Jews ... and Germans

Caryl Churchill's new eight-minute (!) play about the Gaza conflict is angering right-wing Jewish commentators. But read through to the final paragraph of Charlotte Higgins' article today in The Guardian — has it gotten to the point where we can criticize no one for anything but the accused plays the race/ethnic/religious card?

ADDED 2/19/09:
Text of the play, *Seven Jewish Children,* is here.

A New York Times blog response, with links to reactions by theater critics, is here.

Note how the script is full of contradictions: tell the children this / no, tell them that. While it's true that the Royal Court production is a benefit for a Palestinian medical organization and that Churchill is clearly being critical of some Israeli political positions, the main impression I get from reading it is that she's portraying how conflicted Israelis themselves are about this intractable situation in the Middle East.

Productions are planned in L.A. and in New York.

An appeal to local theaters, whether professional, amateur or academic: Churchill has licensed the play for free to any theater. It's only 10 minutes long. The script is available above. We ought to produce it in Spokane. Invite representatives from Temple Beth Shalom. Invite Palestinians (if any) from the new South Hill mosque. The news dept. at the Inlander has contacts with local and regional Palestinian activists

Bobo is not well informed about the Middle East, but he'd welcome a brief bit of political theater that could get Jews and Palestinians in a room talking, along with world citizens who don't otherwise have a stake

We could do this two weeks from now on a Monday night. Why NOT take it on? Because it might lead to controversy? Personally, I don't mind being told that I'm uninformed or naive or stupid IF the criticism is accompanied by reasonable arguments pro and con about an issue like this one -- an issue on which, just possibly, there might be diplomatic developments within the next few years (despite the prospect of Israel's rightward tilt under Benjamin Netanyahu).

[ photo of Caryl Churchill from ]

Labels: , , , ,

There aren't any gay people in Orange County

We sure don't want high school kids thinking that there might be any gay people lurking in the bushes nearby.

The principal at Corona del Mar High School has replaced *Rent* with *You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

Bobo went to high school a dozen miles from there; he thought the good ol' days (?!) of the O.C. being a John Birch sanctuary were over. (Don't laugh: His high school Civics class was taught by a John Birch Society member, straight out of the Birch playbook.)
Disgusting. Stupid. Reactionary, discriminatory, small-minded bilgewater.
(Other than that, Mr. Bobo, how did you like the play?)

ADDED 2/20/09:
It seems that the drama teacher at Corona del Mar had backed down. The toned-down School Version of Rent has also been banned at other schools.

Here's a snippet from the N.Y. Times on the fiasco:
[Drama teacher Ron Martin] said his principal, Fal Asrani, had objected to the show because of its treatment of “prostitution and homosexuality.” “When I heard that, I stopped her and looked her in the eye and said, ‘First, there is no prostitution in ‘Rent,’ and second, homosexuality is not wrong,’ ” Mr. Martin said. “She made no comment. It was the most demoralizing, disappointing moment in my career as a teacher.”
Martin says he planned the production in response to what he termed "creeping homophobia" on the Corona campus.

ADDED 2/26/09:
The L.A. Times reports that *Rent* has now been un-cancelled. Sounds to Bobo as if the drama teacher didn't comply with some SOPs, then the principal overreacted, then the students and community overreacted.
Why do we settle for "nice and pleasant" when we could instead be discussing things that might change somebody's life?
Why do we shy away from discussing serious matters just because someone might be offended? Sometimes, what comes out of being offended is self-examination, an exchange of opinions, and so on. We have elevated "offending someone" to the worst of mortal sins.
I mean, after the Oscars, you think there aren't at least some gay kids in America who feel better about themselves, just because of the speeches by Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and by Sean Penn?

[ photo: CBGB in Greenwich Village -- NOT alluded to in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" ]

Labels: , , , ,

*The Last Days of Judas Iscariot*

a readers theater production of the courtroom comedy/drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis
on Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 26-28, at 7 pm
at Gonzaga University's Wolff Auditorium, which is a large lecture hall inside the Jepson Center, which is just east of the Jundt Art Center (with its distinctive copper steeple)

directed by Kevin Connell, S.J., principal of Gonzaga Prep

[ photo: playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, from ]

A 2002 British Theatre Guide interview with Guirgis (who has an Egyptian father and Irish-American mother) is
A snip:
Guirgis was possibly "the worst-ever student [at SUNY Albany]. He studied theatre, occasionally, and spent seven-and-a-half years over his four-year degree course. The degree that he came out with was as much in Partying as in Theatre.

A theatrical trailer for the May 2008 London production is at:

[photo of top of this post is the production poster for the London production at the Almeida Theatre, March-May 2008]

The Talkin' Broadway review is here.

A March 2005 review by Ben Brantley in the N.Y. Times is here.
A snip:
"The colorful vernacular speech, studded with obscenities and brand names, and flashy performances, steeped in Frank Capraesque whimsy, can't disguise the impression that the play is a heavily footnoted position paper on a big, big subject.
Set in a courtroom in a corner of purgatory called Hope, "Judas Iscariot" considers nothing less than the conflict between divine mercy and human free will. If God is all-forgiving, the play asks, then why is Judas condemned to an eternity in hell?"

Phillip Seymour Hoffman directed, with Sam Rockwell as Judas and Eric Bogosian as Satan; this performance at the Public Theater was its premiere.

from Wikipedia:
*The Last Days of Judas Iscariot* tells the story of Judas while in purgatory litigates with his lawyers for the for entry into heaven. The play uses flashbacks to an imagined childhood, and lawyers who call for the testimonies of such witnesses as Mother Teresa, Caiaphas, Sigmund Freud and Satan."

Other plays by Guirgis:
In Arabia We'd All Be Kings (a grim portrait of life on the streets; Guirgis grew up on the Upper West Side and went to school in Harlem -- a life much like that of the young adults in Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth)

Our Lady of 121st Street (an alcoholic nun dies -- and then her body miraculously [?] disappears)

Jesus Hopped the A Train (about an underdog who won't give up)

Den of Thieves (a black comedy about a burglary that goes south)

ADDED 2/19/09:
Q&A with director Kevin Connell:

Bobo: How will you differentiate the courtroom drama from the flashbacks?
Father Connell: The means by which the characters enter the play will, I hope, distinguish the scenes which take place outside the trial itself.
We will be relying greatly, however, upon the audience to “piece out our imperfections with your thoughts.”

Honestly now: Would the Gonzaga administration have approved a play with lots of F-bombs in it if it WERE NOT being directed by a Jesuit?
I do not think we really asked them. The play itself has a great Jesuit pedigree through James Martin, S.J. He’s a New York Jesuit who was a theological consultant on the original production and wrote a highly regarded book about it called *A Jesuit Off-Broadway.*
The play’s language is incredibly rough, but so is Dante’s in *The Inferno,* one of the greatest pieces of Catholic literature ever written. What is important, I think, is not whether some the characters talk like sailors (which several of the Apostles were, sort of), but whether its depiction of Christ and Christianity is fair, reverent, and respectful. I think this play is utterly sound on that point. (And Jesus doesn’t swear.)

I'd love to hear from a priest on the topic of religious doubt: Doesn't it undermine belief to raise it, especially in the provocative, iconoclastic way that Guirgis does?
This play deals with the religious value of religious doubt very honestly. As a Catholic and a priest, I think religious doubt is vital to the development of religious faith. When I was a little boy, I asked my father, who was a very devout Catholic, why all the fish died during Noah’s flood. He told me, “There was so much water their gills clogged.” For a 4-year-old, that answer worked. If I had been happy with answer my whole life, however, I’d have grown up to be a pretty lame Christian. I probably AM a lame Christian, but whatever of value there is to my faith is the result of doubts and questions. Guirgis picks the Latin scripture quotation "Domine Adjuva Incredulitatem Meam” (“Lord, help my unbelief!” ) as the epigraph for his first act.
What I love about this play is that it challenges us to tell the difference between doubt and despair. Many, many of the play’s characters find that Christ does not live up to their expectations. Some of them find a way beyond that and some choose not to.

Does the play ultimately suggest that God is not ALL-forgiving, especially of those who betray him?
I think this play resoundingly affirms the loving, forgiving nature of God. As Jesus says in the play, “If you hate who I love, you do not know me at all. And make no mistake, ‘Who I love’ is every last one.”

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

*Othello* at SFCC, March 5-15

Thursdays-Saturdays, March 5-7 and March 12-14, at 7:30 pm
also on Sunday, March 8, at 2 pm

"I am your own, forever": Look for the Act 3 satanic wedding in which Iago inverts Othello's marriage with Desdemona and twists it into a pledged murder pact with guess who as the victim. (Creepy.)

with Aaron Lee Lewis as Othello and Andrew Parish as Iago
directed by William Marlowe and designed by Renae Meredith

SFCC, Spartan Theatre, Communications Building, Bldg. 5, 3410 W. Fort George Wright Dr.
Tickets: $8; $6, faculty, staff, seniors and students
Get in on Sunday, March 8, at 2 pm with $1 and a non-perishable food item for Second Harvest Food Bank.
Call 533-3592.

photo: *Othello* at London's Globe Theater, July 2007, with Zoe Tapper as Desdemona; from

Labels: , , ,

*No, No, Nanette* at Spokane Civic Theater

*No, No, Nanette*

Feb. 20-March 15, 2009
Spokane Civic Theater

Book by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel
Music by Vincent Youmans
Lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach

Directed and choreographed by Jean Hardie
Musical direction by Janet Robel

( left to right in photo: Carrie Arrington as Flora Latham, Cameron Lewis as Billy Early, Ryan Patterson as Betty Brown and Maureen Kumakara as Winnie Winslow)

*No, No, Nanette*premiered on Broadway in 1925 and played 321 performances; revised by Burt Shevelove in 1971, played 861 performances and won four Tonys (actress, featured actress, costumes and choreography). It ran for two years and brought Ruby Keeler back onto the stage after 41 years
The ’71 adaptation was by Burt Shevelove, who’d had a success in 1964 by co-writing the book of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (with Larry Gelbart).

Rosie O’Donnell and Sandy Duncan appeared in the NYC Encores! production in May 2008.

Supposedly, this is the show that caused the Curse of the Bambino, when Boston Red Sox owner H.H. Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees just to finance this dumb ol’ show. (At least that’s how Boston fans see it. In fact, the 1919 precursor to this show is the one that Frazee needed to finance.)

In the plot, Sue and Jimmy Smith forbid their bubble-headed protegée to head off for a weekend in wicked Atlantic City (hence the title).

Jimmy Smith, a millionaire Bible publisher, is married to frugal Sue.
They just want their ward (adopted daughter? protégée?) Nanette to be respectable.
Nanette has other ideas.
She’s engaged to Tom Trainor, who has a lawyer-uncle, Billy Early.
Jimmy, meanwhile, is the sort of guy who just wants to be happy — and he likes to see other people being happy, too.
So the naïve schmuck (never thinking that his wife would mind), bankrolls Betty in Boston, Winnie in Washington and Flora from Frisco.
This leads to complications — namely, the girls are now expecting more and more money.
So Jimmy hires Billy as a fix-it man.
Billy tells Jimmy to cool it by going off to Philadelphia.
Billy arranges to take his nephew Tom down to a little place that the Smiths have just outside Atlantic City — Chickadee Cottage — there to discuss matters with Betty, Winnie and Flora.
Guess who else decides to take a vacation at Chickadee Cottage?
Two other pairs of characters: First, the wives (Billy’s wife Lucille and Jimmy’s wife Sue) – since their husbands are “away,” you know.
And then, of course, we’ve got to find a way to get Nanette to Atlantic City. (Whenever she asked, she was always told, “No, no.”)
So of course her own guardian, Jimmy, takes her. (He didn’t really want to go to Philadelphia, anyway – and besides, what would be the harm?)

Well, when everyone collides at Chickadee Cottage, there’ll be plenty of harm. For starters, the husbands (Jimmy and Billy) are gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do.

Musical highlights:
Act 1: “I Want To Be Happy”
Act 2: “Tea for Two”
Act 3: “The Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone Blues”

cast at the Civic:
Susan Hardie as Pauline
Ashley Cooper as Lucille Early
Kathie Doyle-Lipe as Sue Smith
Robert Wamsley as Jimmy Smith
Cameron Lewis as Billy Early
Cody Garner as Tom Trainor
Jessi Little as Nanette
Carrie Arington as Flora Latham
Ryan Patterson as Betty Brown
Maureen Kumakara as Winnie Winslow
and a chorus of 13

*No, No, Nanette*

Ashley Cooper as Lucille Early in "No, No, Nanette" at Spokane Civic Theater, Feb.-March 2009, directed by Jean Hardie


*No, No, Nanette* at the Civic

Cody Garner as Tom Trainor and Jessi Little as Nanette

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 15, 2009

*The Doctor in Spite of Himself* at NIC

Thursdays-Saturdays, Feb. 19-21 and Feb. 26-28, at 7:30 pm
at North Idaho College's Boswell Hall (Schuler Performing Arts Center), in Coeur d'Alene
directed by Joe Jacoby, NIC theater instructor


Bobo: This play is always identified as Moliere's attack on quack doctors. But isn't the satire broader-ranging than that?
Joe Jacoby: The satire is broader-ranging than that. Doctors are a favorite theme of Moliere's, but he has something to say about sincerity in general here. The father loves his daughter, but doesn't seem to notice or care about her happiness. Sganarelle loves his wife but doesn't recognize that showing her disrespect communicates that he doesn't love her. The young man in love with the daughter is the character with the most integrity, sincerity, and honesty, since he returns to ask for the daughter's hand properly (albeit after he has received his inheritance).

How do you direct *Three Stooges*-style slapstick comedy? Please discuss a particular scene in which it's proving to be a challenge to extract comedy from violence.
The most difficult scene here is the scene where Sganarelle beats his wife, and when a neighbor intervenes, the wife suggests that she might like the beating and runs the neighbor off. We're stylizing the violence, using slapstick, and making it obvious that they don't make contact. We're providing Martine the means to surprise Sganarelle but also to get interrupted by the neighbor, and we're hoping that the neighbor is played comedically enough that the audience can laugh at the scene. Whether we've succeeded here is, of course, up to the audience.

The mute girl's being forced into an arranged marriage. But our society doesn't really do those anymore. Isn't that a stumbling block?
We aren't treating it as a stumbling block because in the world of this play, a forced marriage seems to be such a strong reality. While the father's judgment is questioned at one point, his authority is never disputed.

Which translation are you using? You could've chosen more famous Moliere plays. Why this one, and why now?
We're using an adaptation by Timothy Mooney, who has a great deal of experience with Moliere's plays. He tours a one-man show called *Moliere Than Thou* that played at Whitworth last spring. His version uses rhymed couplets, and that device restores some of the wordplay lost in translation from the original French to English. Also, this version embraces both the wit and the earthiness of Moliere. We hope that our production does the same.
The reason for this play is the opportunity to work with the physicality of characters. Moliere's *commedia* influence is more plain here, and with the slapstick style, the actors get to work on a well-written play that calls for them to think about how they're using their bodies.

Any discoveries you've made in rehearsal? A scene that's most complicated in terms of direction?
The most complicated scenes happen during Act II and III when people are talking to each other, and not much action is suggested. We're trying not to impose "bits" into the scenes while still trying to exploit the comic possibilities. We think that we've made some discoveries that respond to that issue, but we won't know for sure until we're in front of an audience. I always want to make sure that we tell the story clearly first. The danger with plays like this is that self-indulgence is so seductive, and actors don't always realize that they've been seduced. Finding comic moments that are not only fun for us in rehearsal but fun for the audience as well is a difficult challenge. The best comic moments are funny because they're truthful to the character and the situation. These characters are exaggerated, and we're trying to let them be as exaggerated as they want to be, while still being grounded in the reality created for them by Moliere. If someone can't figure out why they're doing something, we stop immediately and try to come to a clearer understanding of the scene and what the characters need.

Anything else you want to emphasize about this production?
It's going to be somewhat bawdy, in keeping with the script.

[ photo by Justin Van Eaton: Shane Brown as Sganarelle and Emily Cleveland as Martine in Moliere's *Le Medecin malgre lui* by Moliere, at NIC in CdA, directed by Joe Jacoby, Feb. '09 ]

Labels: , , ,

Friday, February 13, 2009

*Frankenstein* at SCC, Feb. 20-March 1

at the Lair-Student Center, Bldg. 6, near corner of Greene St. and Mission Ave.
Fridays-Saturdays, Feb. 20-21 and Feb. 27-28, at 7:30 pm; and Sundays, Feb. 22 and March 1, at 2:30 pm
Tickets: $5; $4, students and seniors
directed by Adam Sharp (533-7387)
from Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, adapted for the stage by R.N. Sandberg
Sharp and SCC English instructors will lead discussions on Feb. 20 at 1:30 pm and on Feb. 27 at 6:30 pm in the Lair
[ photo: plaque at St. Peter's Church, Bournemouth, Dorset, England: "In this churchyard lie the mortal remains of Mary Shelley, author of "Frankenstein," her father William [Godwin], author of "Political Justice," her mother Mary [Wollstonecraft], author of "The Rights of Women," her son Percy, Jane his wife, and the heart of Percy Bysshe, the poet" ]

Labels: , , ,

KCACTF in Moscow, Feb. 16-20

Next week is the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival '09 for Region VII (covering seven Western states) at UI and the Best Western University Inn in Moscow, Idaho.
Check the sked.
College productions in competition:
UI's Tartuffe on Monday night; Linfield's Crave (by Sarah Kane) on Tuesday; Boise State's A Dream Play on Wed.; Labute's The Distance From Here, presented by Colorado State, on Thursday
Keynote address on Wed. at 1:30 pm in the UI Admin. Bldg. by Oskar Eustis (SF's Eureka Theater, where he world-premiered Angels in America; Mark Taper Forum; Trinity Rep; and now NY's Public Theater)
One-acts; 10-minute plays; lots of workshops

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 12, 2009

*The Belle of Amherst* at Interplayers

Feb. 26-March 14
starring Ellen Crawford
directed by Chris Schario (Public Theater, Auburn, Maine)

Crawford is best known for appearing in 112 episodes of ER (1994-2003) as Nurse Lydia Wright.

Emily Dickinson is best known for having composed 1,700 poems, mostly in the 1860s.

William Luce's one-woman play appeared on Broadway in 1976, and the following year, Julie Harris won the Tony for Best Actress.

Crawford says that "though people frequently think of Emily Dickinson as a sad recluse ... she truly grabs life with both hands ... as she says, 'I find ecstasy in living.' Those who assume a visit with her will be a dose of doom and gloom are in for a big surprise.'" 

Crawford recently appeared in New York in Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet with Daniel J. Travanti (Hill Street Blues). 

Tickets: $10-$21. Post-play receptions on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 27-28. Talk-back session with Ellen Crawford after the show on Thursday, March 5.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

*Cuckoo* (competition version)

See the one-hour version of the Civic's *One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest* before it goes off to compete at the state level (March 6-9 in Edmonds).
Sunday, March 1, and Tuesday, March 3, at 7 pm
Dress rehearsals. First come, first served: No reserved seating.

Labels: ,

*Godspell* cast list

by Stephen Schwartz
directed by Troy Nickerson
musical direction by Becky Moonitz
at the Civic's Studio Theatre, March 20-April 11

with Robby French as Jesus, David Gigler as Judas, and Mark Schurtz as John the Baptist

There will be an ensemble of nine including Gigler and Schurtz along with Emily Bayne, Mike Hynes, Hannah Kimball, Manuela Peters, Mary Starkey, David Williams and Jillian Wylie.

And they'll all be joined by a quartet of Lei Broadstone, David McCarthy, Steve Porter and Amy Schoedel.

(photo: soundtrack of the 1973 film)

Labels: , , , , ,

*Epic Proportions* at LCHS

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 19-21, at 7 pm
$5 at the door
Call 354-6907
by Larry Coen and David Crane
directed by Greg Pschirrer

In the 1930s, two guys join in the filming of a biblical epic in the Arizona desert. Screwball comedy ensues.

( photo: promotional art from the Nevada Rep production, also being used in promoting this LC show )

Labels: , ,

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Stealing ideas about actors' day jobs ...

... and from Christopher Piatt, as Melodie Bahan suggests (as discussed in a previous post).

(See her final paragraph.)

On the model of Piatt's articles, we could ask:

Is theater in Spokane is too white? How do the road shows that pass through the INB Center both help and hurt local theaters? And how about a photo essay on local actors' day jobs?

1. It can't just be the familiar complaint about how Spokane in general is too white, but rather how and why did Onyx Theater fall into abeyance, and what could be done to improve a white audience's access to theater that reflects cultures other than their own?

2. Local theater folks will say, oh, yes, the big shows raise the attention threshold for theater in general in town. But will they go on record about how (if it's true) that road shows diminish audiences on weekend nights when they're in town? And how do we get the 2,000+ who fill seats in the INB Center (capacity 2,600) night after night for, say, *Spamalot* to fill just 330 seats at the Civic or 250 at Interplayers? And don't big shows create an assumption in the casual theatergoer that drama means spectacle, and that if it's five people just talking in a room -- well, then, that's boring?

3. On this one, local actors, Bobo needs your help: What are your day jobs like? Willing to be photographed doing them and interviewed about the sacrifices you make from 9 to 5 so you can practice your addic ... hobby from 6 to 10? Can The Inlander get anything near as good (refer to Bahan's example) of a prominent local actor dressed up in a job uniform? (Recall that Patrick Treadway drove to the Tri-Cities to endure "costumiliation" as a dancing pop bottle.)

[ drawing: from Tennessee Sierra Club, urging YOU to recycle ... ]

Labels: , , , , ,

Report the arts,don't review them?

The communications manager for the Guthrie in Minneapolis argues that arts journalists should write reported features on rehearsals, behind-the-scenes doings and the business side of theater instead of writing theater reviews.

Melodie Bahan cites a couple of Frank Rich passages as examples of good theater writing that appeals even to those who have little hope of ever seeing the production in question; then she recites the by-now familiar litany of critics at dailies being laid off, and of how actors enjoy deriding reviews. Then she makes the debatable assertion that writing about movies is better. (Sorry, but I see a lot of superficial thumbs up/down writing in overly glowing reviews -- and as for writing about the business of movies, we all know that it's mostly just gossip-mongering.)

Don't just write puff pieces or superficial reviews of theater performances, she says, and of course she's right. Then she cites the financial decline of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, which came as a shock last year. (If you don't know: arguably the best children's theater in the nation. Dissension at the top; apparent financial mismanagement; kaput.) How could local theater writers miss that? Similarly, and it hurts to say this, how could we have missed the demise of Actors Rep here in Spokane? Respected, in its fifth year; then dissension at the top; sudden financial crisis; gone, and Michael Weaver moved out of town just to put the tin lid on it.

Bobo kicks himself for not pursuing the 990s and detecting financial problems at ARt earlier. Wouldn't have "saved" the theater; might have drawn attention from those who might have chosen a different course of action.

"Stop writing reviews and start writing news," Bahan urges. But of course that's a false distinction: Reviews _are_ a kind of news. (News that belongs in an arts section, though, unlike the Spokesman's silly decision under Steve Smith to bury them without photos back in the news section somewhere near the op-ed page, back where no one who has arts on their mind is going to look for them. Jim Kershner writes clear, accessible reviews, and I'm a daily subscriber to the Spokesman; but I regularly read his reviews online instead of trying to guess when and where his stuff will appear in print.)

Notice that Bahan, at the end of her article, says that the future of theater criticism is not in dailies but in weeklies and in blogs. In this economic downturn, Bobo has gotten several sour-faced readers asking about how The Inlander is doing. In Ted McGregor's commentary a couple of weeks back, he made the point that many alt-weeklies are _not_ being swept up in the toxic economic tsunami. What he didn't mention: In the *Editor & Publisher* feature on small-market alt-weeklies that are doing well even in the current climate, The Inlander had the best annual growth rate of any of them. Some possible explanations: geographically isolated market, more conservative in editorial policies and stances than most alt-weeklies, best way for lots of nonprofits to advertise (TV and radio don't cover them much, if at all), and we have very good market share (supposedly, 40 percent of Spokane County adults read us at least once a month -- and Spokane's typical in that about one-quarter of adults in this area have a college degree).

The audience for the blog, of course, is much more limited than for the general-interest print publication that distributes 46,000 copies a week, about 94 percent of which are "read," so we're told, in a typical week. "Read" can mean cover-to-cover, but it can also mean picked up, glanced at, and put back on the rack -- or simply tossed. (There are people who track such things.)
I'd speculate that there's a high correlation between those who read theater stuff in print and online -- they're pretty much the same folks -- and that for the vast majority of readers, a nice photo and snappy headline _might_ attract a few moments' notice, but not much more. Many is the time that Bobo has sat in a coffeeshop and watched readers flip from back to front -- and right on past the feature or review that he spent hours on. Which is fine. What else is to be expected when 93 percent of Americans do not attend even a single play in a given year (and 90 percent don't even attend a single performance in the more popular category of musicals)?

We gross $3 million a year -- and that despite hundreds of papers being flung in disgust against suburban walls because of some crap that Bowen jerk wrote.

But this essay has grown too long and off-point: Bahan accepts that alt-weeklies aren't in the downturn that dailies are. She praises the work of Chris Jones in Chicago's Theater Loop blog (former Interplayers artistic director Robin Stanton once took Bobo aside and told him basically to stop writing like himself and more like Chris Jones) and of Christopher Piatt at TimeOut Chicago. More in the next post on how Piatt's three cited story ideas could play out right here in Spokane....

[ photo: Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis -- from ]

Labels: , , ,

Friday, February 06, 2009

Simon Gray

Bobo's still filling in gaps in his knowledge. Just finished *Otherwise Engaged,* Simon Gray's play from 1975 that Pinter directed and Alan Bates starred in along with Ian Charleson (the BBC Julius Caesar and All's Well, and of course Chariots of Fire) and Nigel Hawthorne (much later, The Madness of King George). *Otherwise* has a cast of seven; central guy is onstage throughout; literate fellow is hassled by a series of eccentrics, only you find out at the end that they're normal and he's the callous, unfeeling, self-centered one. Brilliantly witty.
Makes me want to read *Butley* (guy's wife and male lover leave him on the same day; recently with Nathan Lane in New York) and Quartermaine's Terms (hopelessly lonely teachers in their break room).
Simon Gray died last August. He was 71.
[ photo: Simon Gray, from; read the 11/29/08 article there on "How Simon Gray and Pinter patched it up" ]


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Judy, Judy, Judy -- and good books on theater

Ben Brantley was asked in December to list his favorite books on the theater and came up with four:

Moss Hart, Act One
Peter Hall's Diaries (gossip from the NT in the '70s)
Kenneth Tynan, Curtains
Wiliam Goldman's The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway, in which he analyzes under thematic headings just about every show of the 1967-68 Broadway season.

Bobo can hear you going, "Ho-hum. Forty years ago. Ancient history." But Goldman (who wrote the script for a couple of Paul Newman movies you may have heard of (Harper and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) is a very intelligent and engaging writer.

Imagine Bobo's joy, then, on traipsing down into the basement of 2nd Look Books a few weekends back and scoring a copy of The Season for just $8. (Act One he's read; he's going after the other two, though Brantley advises that Curtains is rare enough that you're really only likely to find it online.)
Right off the bat, Goldman plunges into the adulation, the hysteria, that Judy Garland's cabaret show generated among crowds that season. She can't hit all her notes; she disappoints the Judy fanatics by singing some less familiar or even new songs. But then, magic happens. A snip:

"... pretty soon it's 'The Trolley Song,' and at the very end of it there are the words 'with his hand holding mine,' and 'mine' is a tough note, high and climactic. As she gets to it, she spreads her feet just a little wider, and suddenly she's eating the mike -- it's down her throat, jammed -- and from somewhere she found it, because at precisely 10:30, on the word 'mine,' she hit the high note with all she had and on-the-button perfect, and you could actually hear them gasp because she did it, she got a note right, a hard note yet, and she got it. It wasn't just that she was on pitch -- she's almost always on pitch, or at least you know she knows where the pitch is if she's off it -- it was pitch plus volume plus timbre plus whatever else it is that distinguishes once voice from another, and this was Garland's voice, the old Garland's voice, back again, just like in the movies, and even though it was only for one note it was enough to tear the place apart."
That's great reporting and writing, folks. And Bobo's only five chapters in, but the book's timeless and full of insights about what theater is and could be.

Bobo, in his vast ignorance, has just learned that Goldman also wrote the following screenplays: The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man, All the President's Men, The Princess Bride, Misery and Chaplin. He's 77 now, and it's sad to think (given the happy family portrait of Goldman and wife and two small daughters on the jacket of my '69 hardback) that he divorced his wife back in 1991.
Moss Hart, who had already written You Can't Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, also wrote the 1954 script for the remake of A Star Is Born -- which of course starred Liza Minellli's mother -- and then Act One in 1959.
And this June 22 will be the 40th anniversary of Judy Garland's death.

Labels: , , , , , ,

It's Drama Out Loud, too

Tonight Bobo helped judge the E. Wash. regionals of Poetry Out Loud, which is about four years old and NEA-sponsored and much like the National Spelling Bee, only with high school students reciting and enacting poems (two each, choosing from hundreds in a standardized list ranging over the centuries). A couple of kids from East Valley and Mead high schools sweated through their nerves and made it to the state finals in Olympia next month.
The theater connection? First, kudos to the students and to their teachers, who prodded them into doing a pretty scary thing -- get up in front of strangers and recite a poem by Wilfrid Owen or Gwendolyn Brooks or Stephen Crane, Ben Jonson, Siegfried Sassoon, Edna St. Vincent Millay ...

And nearly all those students come from English classes. Which is great. But there were at least a half-dozen high schools from around here that weren't represented at all and should be, and should/could be represented by their best students in theater. The rules spell out subtle differences between enacting the poem's actions and being the poem's meaning (?), but my point is that more kids (period) and more students from drama should strongly consider participating next year. Visit
[ art: from, Francis Philips, 9 Jan 09, "Battered by bleak midwinter blues? Try poetry" ]


Sunday, February 01, 2009

opening-weekend review of *Cowgirls*

at Interplayers through Feb. 14

Pickers vs. Slickers

In Betsy Howie and Mary Murfitt’s *Cowgirls* (at Interplayers through Valentine’s Day), a misunderstanding leads to a classical trio getting booked to play at a honky-tonk. Clashes of culture (highbrow classical vs. lowbrow country) ensue.
The music’s better than the acting or the plot — but boy, does the music make up for the deficiencies.

The fish-out-of-water “Coghill Trio” (Allison Morgan, violin; Janet Robel, piano; and Jennifer Jacobs, cello) play some Beethoven and sing some Gilbert and Sullivan for openers, and the effect is electric: These women are going to be our orchestra all night, and — reassuringly — they can really perform.
A whole series of musical highlights follows. First, a lullaby hints at how the trio can start their transition from Brahms to the blues. Then, a cappella, they sing a kind of sorority song of sisterly solidarity (“We’re bound by gender / Music is our defender”) that even manages to throw in a reference to “the muse Euterpe.” Next, “From Chopin to Country” refashions a nocturne into a country twang by contrasting “Brandenburg” to “brandin’ cows.”
By this point, it’s clear that Murfitt’s lyrics to her own songs are going to create a lot of fun along that lonesome highway from Haydn to Hank Williams. There’ll be “no whinin’ in the Kingdom of Country,” we’re informed, even though at one point, Jacobs comes out in a piled-high country-girl wig to announce that she’s so into country now, “I can feel my truck crashin’ and my dog dyin’.” A country romance is just “a gamble of love,” we’re told, just “a flip of the coin, a twitch in the groin.” In another sequence, a kind of musical showdown has the local honky-tonk girls firing off Patsy Cline hits only to learn that Beethoven and Bizet aren’t so far removed from popular music.

Morgan plays the haughty one in the trio, her nose held high in disappointment that they’re playing in Kansas and not Carnegie Hall. When the hometown women (Janean Jorgensen as the club owner, Micah Hanson as a ditz in pigtails, and Liberty Rose as an aspiring banjo plucker) try to demonstrate country’s appeal, she resists most. Morgan spends too much of the first act overacting, contributing shrieking high notes and piercing sound effects for laughs and getting all big-eyed when the yokels start talking classical down. Predictably, Morgan’s character is the one that needs converting to the ways of just-folks, and predictably, that conversion arrives when she and Jorgensen reminisce about “Songs My Mama Sang.”

But then something amazing happens. The “Mama” duet turns out to be tender and beautiful. And Act One’s closing number, a medley of “Love’s Sorrow” and “Looking for a Miracle,” features Morgan crooning about hope and reeling off a classical-violin cadenza that demonstrates both that she possesses considerable musical talent and that together, country and classical can pack an emotional wallop. With the honky-tonk in financial peril and nobody really convinced that three classical musicians can convert to country ways in time to achieve needed ticket sales, that act-closing number develops in unexpected ways, with singers and instrumentalists on both sides of the country/classical musical divide “looking for a miracle.”

The down-home country feel of *Cowgirls* is attributable to musical director Pamela Brownlee, who runs her own cowboy supper club out near the state line and knows how to vary the boot-stompers and the ballads. Director Reed McColm, meanwhile, maintains proper focus on the two trio’s differences while still highlighting individual performers. He allows Hanson, however, to slip into the excesses of *Petticoat Junction* acting and then remain there for the duration. (Though neither of them are at fault for the string of lame, time-filling jokes that Howie saddles Hanson’s character with in Act Two.) At least Maynard Villers has contributed a set, complete with bar, beer signs and jukebox, that is among Interplayers's most striking.

*Cowgirls,* as I say, isn’t strong on narrative or characterization. Robel’s piano player is underwritten, and her acting doesn’t do much to improve the situation. A contrived crisis has the classical trio implausibly rehearsing country-style until just before the big performance. And interest flags in the second act, which has less narrative impetus than Act One and just provides setups for one musical number after another — with contrived and overly sentimental songs interspersed among the highlights.
And highlights there are, impervious to any snooty critic’s observations. When Jorgensen, as the honky-tonk’s owner, sings in “Kingdom of Country” about her favorite form of music being a kind of religion — and then modulates keys in the middle of the word “prayer” — you just feel you’re in the presence of someone who's walked along those lonesome highways. And an explosion of talent in the show’s final three numbers — “Concert Medley,” Jorgensen’s cry of self-redemption in “House Rules,” and the title song — featured performers scampering up the aisles distributing bags of popcorn. By that point, even the audience’s graybeards were a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’.

This show’s not as broadminded as it would like to be: The classical women get converted to the aw-shucks ways of country, but as for the reverse — well, that dog just won’t hunt. Bassoons lose every time to those big belt buckles.
But Jacobs plays cello and guitar, Morgan switches from violin to fiddle (!) to mandolin, and nearly all the songs are well-performed and rollicking. There is, quite simply, a lot of talent on display on the Interplayers stage. The messages are about sisterhood and — in a departure from country-ballad gloom — self-assertion. There’s no whinin’ in country — or in Interplayers’ lively production of *Cowgirls.*

[ photo: The Guide to Musical Theatre, ]

Labels: , , , , ,