Monday, November 30, 2009

Join me in giving these actors a big hand ...

According to Broadway World, Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane will debut on Broadway (Feb. 15 previews, March 4 opening night) with the following cast:

Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Everybody's Fine [which opens on Dec. 4])
Zoe Kazan (Revolutionary Road and the upcoming Me and Orson Welles and It's Complicated)
Anthony Mackie (8 Mile, The Hurt Locker)
Christopher Walken (you may have heard of him)

Walken will play the guy searching for his lost hand; Mackie and Kazan are two con artists; and Rockwell is an overly inquisitive hotel clerk.

Link to the local story is here.


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Buddy, Irving, and William Barfee

Spokane Civic Theatre has announced three of its five musicals for the 2010-11 season:

Sept. 2010, Main Stage:
Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story
directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson

Nov.-Dec. 2010, Main Stage:
White Christmas
directed by Troy Nickerson

Jan. 2011, Studio Theater:
The 29th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
directed by George Green

[ photo: from a May '09 production of "Spelling Bee" at the Marriott Theater in Chicago; from ]

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Friday, November 27, 2009

opening-night review: *Underneath the Lintel*

What if you went on a wild-goose chase and the goose turned out to be God?

Underneath the Lintel is a play of nervous laughter — of the playwright, Glen Berger, who composed this spiritual quest of a philosophical comedy, this vaudeville routine for harried clown filled with mysteries and angst; of the solo actor performing it; of those of us in the audience, out in the dark, who wonder about what our lives might mean, or if they mean anything at all. (We’re willing to laugh at ourselves, the possibility of our insignificance, but not much. Not so very much.)
During Reed McColm’s one-man rendition — amusing, flawed, halting, eventually moving — a lot of people will find themselves laughing nervously.

Reference librarians, world travelers, vaudeville comedians, Jews and mystery lovers will all find themselves reflected in Berger’s play. Also anybody who has ever looked up at the nighttime sky and wondered what the hell we’re doing here, and what it all means.

McColm’s Dutch librarian appears to us at first from out of the shadows, emerging from behind the blackboard nervously, clutching his suitcase of “evidences,” halting and too deferential. Will he be soft-voiced and anxious all night? We could be in for a long two hours.
Right away, there are references to death and transience, erasure, the insignificance of our lives. There’s the nervous laughter. This is a comedy?

In the overnight bin, the Librarian has found a book that’s 113 years overdue. (Much smacking of the forehead.) Inside are clues that lead him successively to a village in China, to a shtetl in Poland, to a dry cleaner’s in London. It becomes an obsessive historical quest that Berger’s script manages to make, in succession, ridiculous, unlikely, questionable, probable, profound.

There’s much that’s delightful in McColm’s performance — the librarian’s love of trivia; the funny little skips and jigs; the way he breaks down the fourth wall and our expectations; the way how, when the prospect of an international journey opens up, his face brightens with anticipation. But there is also much that could be improved.
McColm’s overdone initial nervousness makes us nervous; so do Berger’s references to death and decay. More energy and eccentricity from the outset would be reassuring: “We may be stuck with this odd Librarian fellow,” viewers might think, “but at least his tics and strange perspectives might make the time pass agreeably.”

On opening night, McColm experienced multiple writing-implement failures — his chalk kept cracking and flying away from the chalkboard — and the way he improvised his way around that and into comedy was instructive. “American chalk,” he deadpanned; later, he explained verbally what he was supposed to have drawn (before the chalk broke). The audience recognized the spontaneity and laughed all the harder.
The contrast, unfortunately, was with some of McColm’s more obviously contrived and halting moments.
He’s too nervous at the outset. Sometimes he’s reaching for his lines. There’s much fussing and dithering — with an eccentric European nerd, we expect as much — but there are also limits. In several instances, the grasping for cues during jokes led to pauses that overextended or undermined the punch lines. There was some misnumbering of evidence items and some miscalculating of dates — forgivable, but they popped us right out of the play.
And there were two larger flaws: an accent of indeterminate origin that went away for long stretches and then returned, unannounced, along with a noticeable first-act lack of energy.
Midway through Act One, our Librarian friend finds himself poring over the account books for an English estate sometime in the early 18th century — something to do with a fox hunt, don’t inquire too much — and McColm delivers an entertaining playlet between a proper British twit and a grotesque intruder. Problem was, when it was time to revert to the Dutchman’s (Russian? East European?) accent, it was nowhere to be found, and for several minutes. Then it showed up again.
And then the pace lagged: too many pauses and umm’s, too much loss of momentum. The Librarian is feverish: the hall’s rented for tonight, and he has this fantastic story to tell, and he’s taken a huge chance (his “daring gambit,” he calls it) by leaving work and going to places that this stay-at-home bookish fellow never thought he would go, and he’s onto his huge philosophical mystery…. There needs to be frenzied, commanding mania, nearly from the outset. But director Damon Abdallah and McColm have chosen too tentative a path for the opening. Berger’s little rest stops (the Librarian’s recollections of lost love, the petty grievances with co-workers, the wonders presented by exotic cultures) allow the respites we need (in case they’re worried about being too intense from the beginning and then having nowhere to go).
So the performance lacks a sense of increasing mania. But it also has its delights: McColm’s self-satisfied little shake of the head (for when the Librarian has unearthed a tidbit of knowledge); the glasses on the end of the nose; the index finger held up for attention; the crucial, tagged piece of evidence held triumphantly aloft. He plays to our guilt: Audiences love the I’ve-been-naughty-you-caught-me tone in accounts of what librarians feel and say when some unthinking patron violates the library’s rules.
And there was evidence of another kind — that McColm had entranced his audience — when the big reveal was made (the identity of the character whom the Librarian has been hunting down) and you could (apologies for the cliché) hear a pin drop; he had them in the palm of his hand. Soon after, a re-enactment of a biblical episode, and again the watchful quiet.
The first act ends with a characteristic joke. The Librarian — the homebody, the man of routine, is going to risk all and gallivant off to China in search of clues. “The land of rice!” he exclaims. He can’t believe these things he’s planning and places he’ll go — “… me, who had Hunan chicken once … and got the runs for a week.”

My recurring thought — “this’ll get better as the run goes on” — was borne out within the opening-night performance itself: The second act, as compared with the first, feels more accomplished, frenetic, funny, profound and moving.
Even then there are the unnerving references to death and destruction (a flood in China, the vastness of the universe). We’re indifferent to the fate of people we don’t know, the Librarian explains: “Unless you knew him, it’s all just behind the couch,” he says. Millions die halfway around the world, and we turn to another section of the newspaper.

McColm is especially good at comic deflation — those moments when he arouses anticipation, then lets it fall flat. (“And do you know what I found? … nothing.”)
There are some second-act passages about regret over lost love and raging against the injustice of fate (of having to live in a world ruled over by a God who allows our lives to be fated) … that seem unprepared for.
But by and large, Act Two is funnier. The merger of the Librarian and the audience and the fugitive whom he’s searching for seems clearer; and McColm makes his bookish fellow more obsessed, more despairing and more defiant — all of which ratchets up the performance’s energy level and interest.

We are all, each one of us, the legendary, mythical biblical character whom the Librarian pursues so obsessively. We’re none of us content with all the frantic running around that we find ourselves doing on the surface of this rock that’s hurtling around an insignificant star. Both funny and sad, Berger’s play taps into the mixed existential mood — just as Charlie Chaplin and Samuel Beckett did, just as McColm will once his act finds its groove.

Final notes:
Painting: by Marc Chagall
Underneath the Lintel runs at Interplayers through Dec. 12. Visit
Jim McCurdy should not butt into curtain speeches and double their length with rambling sales pitches.
I counted 80 in attendance on opening night (in a theater that holds 250). Some playgoers left at intermission. Too bad, because they missed the better of the two acts and the resolution of the mystery. (McColm pauses early in the show, peers out, asks, “Is this all there is?” — and the moment is, for now, too self-reflexive for comfort.) Here’s hoping for bigger houses….
For a video preview of Underneath the Lintel, visit either (under “Arts and Culture”) or

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*Curtains" cast list

Scarcely 18 months after the David Hyde Pierce/Debra Monk production closed on Broadway, it'll be Curtains for musical-theater fans on the Main Stage at Spokane Civic Theater, Jan. 15-Feb. 6. (The Australian premiere of Curtains won't take place until a week after the Civic's production closes, and the U.S. tour doesn't start until March.)

Music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book and additional lyrics by Rupert Holmes
Original book and concept by Peter Stone

Directed by Troy Nickerson
Music Direction by Gary Laing
Choreography by Troy Nickerson and Jillian Wylie

Boston, 1959
Robbin' Hood: A New Musical of the Old West is the musical-within-a-musical

Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (of the Boston P.D.; a fan of musical theater; the David Hyde Pierce part): Andrew Ware Lewis
Carmen Bernstein (co-producer; the Debra Monk part): Mary Starkey
Niki Harris (the ingenue): Liz Oyama
Aaron Fox (the show's composer): Patrick McHenry-Kroetch
Georgia Hendricks (the show's lyricist, divorced from Aaron Fox): Maureen Kumakura
Christopher Belling (the show's director): Lance Edwin Babbitt
Oscar Shapiro (the show's financial backer): David Gigler
Bambi Bernet (chorus girl): SaraEllen Hutchison
Johnny Harmon (stage manager): Thomas Heppler
Sidney Bernstein (Carmen's skirt-chasing husband; he gets his comeuppance): Gary Pierce
Daryl Grady (the theater critic, so obviously he's a douchebag; see definition 3): Doug Dawson
Jessica Cranshaw (the no-talent leading lady who meets a premature demise): Nova Kaine (no WAY this is a pseudonym, no way)
Bobby Pepper: Henry McNulty
Sasha Ilinski (the conductor; obvious typecasting here): Gary Laing
Ensemble: Cynthia Bauder, Kate Cubberley, Victoria Gatts, Siri Hafso, Craig Heider, Shawn Hudson, Todd Kehne, Daniel McKeever, Ross Mumford, Rachel Packard and Christopher Wooley

Ben Brantley's 3/23/07 review in the New York Times is here

[ photo from, with David Hyde Pierce — no relation to Gary? ]

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

*The Best Christmas Pageant Ever* at the Civic

Nov. 20-Dec. 20 on the Main Stage (alternating nights with A Tuna Christmas)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

*A Little Princess* at Lake City Playhouse, Dec. 3-20

Yes, it has only been three years since the Lake City Playhouse produced A Little Princess — but hey, a feel-good musical at the holidays and during a recession ... and Lake City could use some good box office.

Directed by Laura Little and Emily Bayne
Musical direction by Wanda Condon
Starring Maliah Oliver as Sarah Crewe and Kent Kimball as her father
with Brian Gunn, Liberty Harris, Shirley McDaniel and Emma Beaumont

Thursdays-Saturdays, Dec. 3-5 and Dec. 10-12 and Dec. 17-19, at 7:30 pm
also on Sundays, Dec. 6, 13 and 20, at 2 pm
Tickets: $16; $13, seniors, military and students; $10, kids; $10 for everyone on Thursday nights
Call (208) 667-1323.

The three Friday-night performances are designated as father-daughter date nights.
Please bring a new book to drop off at the Playhouse for the Books for Tots program (part of Toys for Tots).

A Little Princess is based on an 1888 novella and 1904 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924), who also wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden. Born in Manchester, England, she moved to Knoxville, Tenn., experiencing poverty in both places; she was orphaned by the age of 18 and had to support her siblings by writing.

Director Laura Little is doing a version written by her friend Katie Wilson — originally intended for children's theater, but being performed here for the first time with adults (12 of them, out of 35 altogether in the cast). "The songs have been upgraded," says Little. "We added some harmonies, and took out some of the cheesier scenes that were just put in so a lot of kids could have a lot of lines."
Two of Little's favorite numbers are "Mail" (when Sarah goes to the train station, hoping that Daddy will return, only to hear other soldiers lamenting their homesickness, and how much it means for them to get mail from loved ones) and "My Darling Papa" (sung by Sarah when she finds out that her father has died; she's praying for him to return).
It's a real tear-jerker: They're even gonna sell $1 pack of Kleenex with the Little Princess logo on them, in the lobby.
"Most scenes are realistic," says Little, but there are two fantasy sequences: in one, "Princess Penny," Sarah is telling a story to the other children, and adults come to life behind them and enact the story that Sarah is telling; in the other, Sarah encourages the kids to use their imaginations in "Use Your Mind's Eye."
Little directed the show for children's theater — twice in San Diego, and once three years ago here in CdA. This time, she's training co-director Emily Bayne to take over the reins — the idea is for Lake City to produce the show once every four years, giving little girls a chance to grow up and play the big-girl parts four years later. "Several girls came in [to auditions] with the show memorized" from three years ago, Little says.
Little calls Maliah Oliver (who's only 9 in real life, but playing 11-year-old Sarah Crewe) "a masterwork in the making, a real find."
Kent Kimball's biggest number will be "My Little Girl" (right after Capt. Crewe's wife dies, and he's left graveside holding the infant Sarah).

Unlike Hodgson Burnett's books, this musical version (one of several) borrows the sentimental device from the Shirley Temple movie of having Sarah searching through the hospital for Daddy — who has amnesia and only recognizes her because of a lullaby that they had shared.

[photo: from a 1986 British TV version]

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Monday, November 23, 2009

*Tuna* review addendum

[photo of Joe Sears, one of the Tuna creators, as Aunt Pearl Burras, from the Austin Chronicle]

Bobo's Nov. 26 print review of A Tuna Christmas at the Civic is gimmicky, as you'll see. It says what I intended, but I want to expand on some points.

This is a good show that's consistently funny. I don't think it's a great show, because I don't think that it conveys the loneliness and sadness of some of the characters. To pull off physical comedy as well as Dan Anderson and Damon Mentzer do is remarkable. But in my view, a production that's predominately full of hilarious physical and verbal comedy but which also has touches of pathos and sentiment is superior to a show that serves up comedy alone.
Petey Fiske is pathetic and funny, but also touching: He's an inept fool and he keeps getting brutalized and overwhelmed by animals, but he LOVES those animals, and at least he's trying to help creatures that are literally society's castoffs and discards. I remember seeing flashes of that personal, pathetic sadness in Bill Marlowe's own performance three years ago at ARt, but not in Anderson's this time around.

But you can only admire the logistics of this show — all the memorizing and quick changes and rapid-fire timing.  The five-person backstage crew (were there even more?) deserve much applause for the quick changes and momentary impersonation of the two actors, the UFO, everything.

I can imagine playgoers who are seeing Tuna Christmas for the first time being really pleased with and amused by this production.
But it may have a different effect on those who've seen the show before. 
Because you can't just cite the ADVANTAGES of remounting an often-produced play (Tuna Christmas hasn't been done at the Civic before, but it has elsewhere, and it's hilarious, and it has name-recognition in this market). There are also, from a theater's point of view, some DISadvantages: Folks around here may have already seen this script performed elsewhere (2001 at Interplayers and 2006 at Actors Rep for Tuna Christmas, and that doesn't count at least a couple of other Greater Tuna productions).
(Click here for Robert Faires' April 2002 article in the Austin Chronicle on "The Secret History of Tuna.")
And you have to measure up to the memories. And this production, in my opinion, mostly does, but not completely.
Take the final scene: divorced Arles Struvie maneuvering for a dance with Bertha Bumiller (reluctant to drink alcohol, yearning to have her husband and a stable home life back, but lonely and not unwelcoming when it comes to being the recipient of an advance by a locally famous radio personality). Mentzer's progressive drunkenness and stiffening with pleasure at the touch of a man after so long were very well-observed. But since two earlier exchanges about Bertha's loneliness weren't given their full weight, the scene seemed more cute than Christmas-sentimental. (I'm referring to Bertha's reply to Stanley, that all she wants for Christmas is his father at home; and Stanley's frank admission to Aunt Pearl that the husband ain't never gonna come home.)

I didn't think Anderson vocally differentiated Didi Snavely (the gun-shop owner "with a voice like an ashtray full of burnt-out cigarette butts," as I think one reviewer put it) from Petey or Jody Bumiller (the little boy). (I thought Didi could be angrier -- she's arming herself to the teeth and has a no-good deadbeat UFOlogist of a drunken husband.)
But both Anderson and Mentzer were amazing, stunningly good in the Dixie-and-Pearl scene that closes the first act. They must have studied the characteristics of elderly women, because they captured all of it — aching bones, facial tics, eagerness to be regarded as lively still, even if their more energetic glory days are long gone.
The Civic's Tuna isn't a perfect show, but it's very good, and funny, and entertaining.

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*Guys and Dolls* at LC, Dec. 3-12

Guys and Dolls, directed by Greg Pschirrer
Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling, Abe Burrows, Damon Runyan 
Thursdays-Saturdays, Dec. 3-5 and 10-12, at 7 pm
$10 or 354-7043
[photo: Stubby Kaye as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls, from]

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review of *The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie*

at EWU; seen on closing night, Nov. 21

Director Sara Goff's production was impressive and impressively acted.
Don McLaughlin (credited as a "scenographer') designed a set that was half classroom, half art museum. Actually, imagine the corner of a cloister, a classroom and an artist's studio arrayed across the forestage, with stairs, a ramp and what looked like an art museum (with a neutral playing space, but underneath an ornate archway) across the upstage area. Lots of gilt frames; spotlights to (literally) highlight the pictures (from Giotto to Mussolini) whenever they were mentioned in the script. Elegance, propriety. It was impressive from the moment you walked in.
One of the most striking differences between Spokane in the 2000s and Edinburgh in the 1930s was the assumption (then) that art and literature were not only worthy of study but actually exciting.
(Judging from their intermission behavior, the Eastern undergrads sitting near Bobo were more interested in texting to find out parties' locations and football scores than they were any of the issues raised by the Spark-Allen narrative. Also, it's really hard to still and pay attention for such a long time. Nothing, really, to really occupy your mind.)
Molly Ovens made an impressive Brodie: shriek-voiced for emphasis, arms spread wide to embrace life, head erect and posture correct to convey self-confidence as she imposed values on her girls for the vicarious thrill of it.
(I kept thinking of Gregers Werle, the do-gooder in Ibsen's Wild Duck: convinced that she is shaping lives for the better, Miss Brodie is actually making matters worse.)
Ovens, a senior theater major, has the goods: rebellious, convinced she's the right educator in the right place, alluring but repressed, unpredictable, mentioning — with a little self-satisfied smirk in her voice — the little nerdy things that those who love the art tend to pepper their conversation with (just so others will know how cultured they are).
As the artist-love interest who's a little too interested (especially for a married man) in having affairs and ogling schoolgirls, Joel Chiswell properly combined creepy with principled. And as Sandy the rebel, Lenea Tomoson didn't tip her hand too early, then rose to the challenge impressively for the final face-off with (and put-down of) her teacher.
There was very little, if any of the drop-off you sometimes find in college casts -- this was well acted from the schoolgirls to the faculty.
Miss Brodie is a flawed, fascinating character: an inspiring teacher who makes a lot of bad choices; a woman too self-pitying (because of her lover's wartime death) to risk venturing real love anymore -- so she "takes it out on"/imposes romantic idealism on her young charge. She's a puppet-mistress whose understanding of life is cracked.
Ironically, she defines education to the school's headmistress not as intrusion into students' minds, or an imposition of ideas upon them, but instead as a drawing-out of what already resides in the students' minds ... and then proceeds to act in an exactly contradictory way.
(I've probably misunderstood much of it -- but that's the joy. Goff's production was so good, I wanted to be able to discuss the experience afterwards with someone.)
The Scots accents seemed credible to me, though diction sometimes suffered. 
The sense of sexual repression was strong but subtle. 
Interesting to observe how both Jenny and Sandy, the schoolgirls, came to regard themselves as above morality (mimicking their teacher -- a dangerous stance). 
I should have known but didn't until just now that Muriel Spark and Jay Presson Allen both died in 2006 (both in their 80s) and that Allen revised her 1966 script, so there are two versions. From a few details in reviews, I'm inferring that the EWU production used the earlier, original script.
EWU has Dec. 1 auditions for Romeo and Juliet, followed by a spring production of John Cariani's Almost, Maine.

[ photo: Maggie Smith, who played Miss Brodie in the movie, as a different teacher at a different British school]

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December pays the bills

In the Denver Post, John Moore ruminates on theaters' programming of holiday shows.
As in retail, December sales keep the rest of the year flush.

Note the list (at the end of the article) of the Christmas classics, alternatives, subversives and holiday-free theater-going options now playing in the Denver area.
Spokane, in its much smaller way, has something of the same going on: two Christmas classics playing at the Civic; one each at Lake City Playhouse, Spokane Children's Theater, and Pullman Civic Theater; an alternative coming at CdA Summer Theater; a non-holiday play at Interplayers; and so on. Will the non-classics come in "a distant second," as Moore's article suggests?

A snip:
"Sneed has a suggestion for anyone grousing about the prevalence of safe and predictable holiday programming: 'They need to be advocates for greater public funding of the arts, so we don't have to rely so much on this public-revenue stream.'"

Ah, but public funds should be spent on things we really need, like roads and bridges and sewers. Art is an expendable frill.
Oh, really? How much do state governments and municipalities spend on football stadiums and youth sports programs? Take away the Friday night high school basketball game, and people scream, feeling that their quality of life has been degraded. Take away the middle school art department or high school theater program, and people yawn. Why is that? Sports stir the emotions, bring back memories of playing catch with Dad, tap into atavistic us-vs-them emotions.

As a result, theater would do well to become (1) more interactive, (2) more competitive, (3) more tied to even more holidays.
1) more participatory; break down the fourth wall; hold talkbacks at intermission
2) What about a scene vs. scene Spokane Theater Idol competition? At a neutral site like the Bing, three local theaters present scenes from ongoing productions, which are judged; there are celebrity judges -- it's just a publicity gimmick, but it would get the attention of non-theatrical jock-Muggles
3) Halloween plays, Valentine's plays, and even Fourth of July plays (if you have A/C). People like festive, communal, etc., if there's a holiday tradition tied to it.

You really think there ISN'T such a thing as an artistic infrastructure? We can't just whine about how important the arts are. We have to demonstrate it.
Why isn't anybody doing flash-theater, sudden scenes at the mall, flyers distributed soon after to shoppers who wonder, "What the cuss just happened here?"

[photo: Peter and Tim Crachit in a 2007 production of A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta ]

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Diverse responses

As an example of subjective responses to the same production, read the split comments on Charles Isherwood's review of Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room, or, The Vibrator Play.
I haven't read or seen the play, so can't judge. But based on the review and 16 (so far) comments, it's hard to tell what's going on here. I'm a Ruhl fan, so fingers crossed.
Responses seem to divide (please tell me what you think) along the lines of "It's just a one-joke sex comedy" to "No, it's that and also an examination of sexual politics and other such issues."

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Seattle's a great theater town

Here's proof.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

video preview: *Underneath the Lintel*

at Interplayers, Nov. 25-Dec. 12

See snippets of Reed McColm as the Librarian both in performance and in rehearsal with director Damon Abdallah (who really needs to get back on his meds, as you'll see).


Visit them here at

[ photo of book jacket from ]

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*In a Grove* review

remaining performances on Fri-Sat at 7:30 and Sun at 2, at SCC's Lair; see Nov. 5 post, below

The "Four Japanese Ghost Stories" of In a Grove add up to a tedious 90 minutes; I can't recommend this show. But there are a few bright spots, and the various areas of deficiency are the kinds of things that beginning actors can learn about.
This is student theater; it's a training ground; it's not yet ready for the prime time of public exposure, except for friends and family of the cast members.
But you have to appreciate the efforts of director Adam C. Sharp and his cast -- they accomplished some good things, and they have enthusiasm for the same things that theater-lovers love.
Sharp designed a simple but effective set: paper lanterns, branches, rocks, Japanese scrolls, tea lights, long skeins of fabric (simulating snow) against a black backdrop. The lighting was eerie when it needed to be. Sharp himself, up there in full view of the audience, supplied percussion, vocals and some freaky sound effects; the show's sonic presence was a real strongpoint.
Sharp directed well, bringing villagers down the aisles to surround us, planting the narrator sometimes in the audience, sometimes appearing from behind a screen or from the wing opposite where you thought she might be.
As for the acting, there were some teachable moments. (On the other hand, Kendra Meredith, who plays the narrator-figure, Obasan, was very good and expressive. Still, I gather that the cast has lots of first-time actors who can capitalize on their varied ethnic and national backgrounds to bring extensive cultural knowledge to a production like this, which is Japanese and universal at the same time.)

Don't act with your hands. Yes, a hunched-over body with pleading hands bobbing up and down does characterize your mood. For a while. Don't overdo it. Sometimes self-pity and desperation can be in the voice, the eyes. Basic stuff: Know your character's objectives in every moment. And if you're called on to portray fear, jealousy, cruelty ... then think back to the time when you yourself felt (or witnessed) genuine fear, jealousy, cruelty ... and mimick what you recall. (What does Bobo know? He's no acting instructor. But dammit, you can do better. And I just wanna hug you for being as enthusiastic about theater as you are -- it takes some guts to get up onstage in public like this. But you're in it now, and there are thousands of years of theater tradition behind you. So honor the tradition; do it proud. And whether you end up still doing plays 20 years from now or not, you will have learned self-confidence, cooperation, memorization, nuance ... stuff that will help you as an actor, Realtor or jet-fighter pilot. [Maybe Actor should be capitalized all the time, the same way they insist that Realtor needs to be. Just a random thought.])

Remember the impression your character is trying to make.
Don't laugh with nervousness onstage (unless the character you're playing is having a chuckle). And don't stand all in a line. If you're in a foursome who are mostly listening to one other character speak, walk out around campus and study people who are talking in small groups. The leg-shifting, the eyes wandering, the arms defensively crossed, the polite smiles and little self-primping gestures — study those and imitate them.
If your character is written as desperate to learn something, act like it; don't look bored or distracted.
Volume. Projection. Talk to people in the back row. 
Of course you're self-conscious onstage. But if they've put you in an unusual costume -- say, fright wig on your head and branches for hands. Don't fixate on the costume or makeup or props and call attention to them by writhing around. Make another choice: Make a choice to convey the emotions the script calls for. You're supposed to be ominous, scary, creepy. Waving arms connote "maniac." You're not a maniac; you're a scary old legendary snow-lady. What if you remained motionless, deepened your voice, and lasered-in your eyes so that they fixated on nothing but intimidating the hell out of that poor guy? The costume is just a means to an end, not the goal itself.

Clear, genuine dialogue can be more effective than flailing physical movement.
One scene presents the three Oni demons. Are they supposed to be scary, or the Three Stooges? It wasn't clear. Coble apparently wants both, which is asking a lot of any actors. You had to admire the somersaulting, growly-voiced high jinks of the three SCC actors -- but maybe less is more here, too. Maybe less movement, combined with really hitting the sarcasm vocally and playing the jokes straight (as if they were serious, not absurd) could have improved this scene, which was very difficult tonally.
My notes, I now realize, read, "Comic zombies bickering over whether to eat other zombies' brains." Is that close? Was that the goal? (Personally, I gotta say, I've never liked zombies, don't get the attraction at all. But plenty of people, especially today, er, eat 'em up. So ARE the Oni demons like zombies? If so, clarify your goal: What impression are you trying to make on the audience?

No conflict equals tedium.
Something's got to be at stake. If not, it's just chatter.
And the way that scene resolved with the daikon root? Left me scratching my head. But that's Coble's fault, not yours. Maybe daikon roots are as common as spaghetti dinners over in Japan, I don't know. My own cultural ignorance; but it sure fell flat for me and at least two other audience members (who I overheard wondering about the same thing, right at the start of intermission).

Even in children's theater, children don't want to be talked down to.
Maybe I'm missing Coble's point: the singer who has to sing for 48 hours straight? Silly. But maybe kids will giggle. It's hard to be ridiculous and scary all at the same time. At least the sarcastic asides and pop-culture references, delivered especially well by the evil landlord and his henchman, created some enjoyable humor.

Undulating bodies under flimsy veils don't look creepy. They just look silly.
There were these three young women gyrating around with wispy shawls. It was distracting. Very, very distracting.

Why did the monk have to keep singing?
She doesn't sing well. Give up and de-musicalize her lyrics into regular spoken dialogue. That way, we won't wonder all through the scene why she's being put through such torture instead of being allowed to bring out the scene's emotions.

Keep the pace up.
Clap hands, run lines at hyper-speed, whatever. But don't let the action lag. In the fourth story in particular, the comic/creepy juxtaposition would have been helped if only contrasting moods had been crashed into each other more quickly: Keep it moving, folks.  The whole get-food-from-the-scary-flesh-grinding guy sort of worked out like a Japanese trick-or-treat tale. But the joke was set up at great length, tediously, and then the smirking tone at the end seemed to trivialize the demise of the entire village (which we supposed to regard portentously throughout). So what is a playgoer supposed to think at the end? It was all tonally muddled, IMHO.

Scaring people onstage is harder than in the movies. I've been scared by plenty of movies, but seldom in the playhouse. I've been startled and momentarily creeped out by plays, but the sensation fades quickly. That's because of logistics: If the severed head doesn't pop up exactly on cue, if the ghost is visible in the wings before making an entrance, the spell is broken. It's the willing suspension of disbelief: I'm willing to believe that that woman over there is Viola and we're in some made-up country named Illyria, and if she forgets her lines or fumbles a prop, it may even add to the humor, and no harm done, because she's not trying to threaten me. But if the creepazoid monster or ominous otherworldly omen suddenly stumbles, or enters too soon or too late, or coughs, the illusion's broken, and I'm no longer scared: That's just Phil Myers over there in the werewolf suit.
Coble's script makes matters worse by aiming at both creepiness and chuckles. Tell me if this is just one of my blind spots, folks -- horror-comedy seems to be a minority but persistent genre that some people seem to enjoy -- but I feel that you just can't do both. Comedy, by and large, makes you feel superior to the people onstage; ghost stories and horrific characters are supposed to make you fear for your own safety -- acknowledging, in effect, that somebody onstage is bigger and more powerful than you. Lurch back and forth between spine-shivers and quiet smiles, as Coble's play does, and I feel whiplash -- manipulated one way, then another.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that the tonal shifts in Coble's script set awfully high standards for the SCC students. And they don't have the skills, yet, to reach them.

Sharp, who teaches film and theater at SCC, is holding the student-produced Bigfoot Film Festival on March 6 and then a multi-media production of 1984 (from May 21-30). If we believe in the value of theater as an educational tool (for the participants at first, when they're just starting, then for both the cast and crew AND their audiences, when they get more accomplished), then we should approve of what theater instructors like Sharp are doing all over the world in little out-of-the-way high schools and colleges. They keep theater alive. Glee is the Hollywoodized, mass-media pinnacle of what's going on all over the country.
So, no, the SCC acting troupe isn't yet ready to win the national championship; they're sort of playing in a flag football league right now. And it'll take months of work -- but Sharp and his crew can hope to start playing tackle, and then competing, and then winning a few, and then winning a lot. Right now, he has to keep explaining that no, he doesn't teach theater at SFCC. But wouldn't it be great to have a third high-quality community college theater program in this area, in addition to the ones already at SFCC and Coeur d'Alene's NIC?
[image: Japanese ghosts and demons in an early 19th-century print, from]

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On writing previews and reviews

I knew this was gonna happen.
Somebody anonymously posted this a couple of days ago:

It's too bad you missed reviewing a great production of "String of Pearls" at the studio theatre... I guess you were too busy compiling "tidbits" that related to you personally.

I intended to review String of Pearls. I don't know why I didn't. My workload's been heavy lately. I didn't mean any disrespect to Susan Hardie or the five actresses in her cast.
And I can see the poster's point: Bobo goes off on his lah-dee-dah theater jaunt, writes a bunch of long, manic reviews about shows that nobody around here has seen, then comes back to town and doesn't even perform the most basic services for the theater community here.
(I will try to rectify that problem, very belatedly, in a Special Theatrical Sidebar, coming soon to a blog post near you.)

But here's the deal. In my nine years at The Inlander, it's always been made clear: For plays, you can either do a PREview or a REview, not both; there's not enough interest in the community at large (i.e., among non-theatrical Muggles) to merit what would be, in effect, double coverage of a single arts event when there are so many other arts events across all the genres also clamoring for attention. (Ironically enough, the second exception to that occurs in tomorrow's issue: Both times Lion King has roared into town, I've written about it both before and after opening night.)

But that's for print. And blogs and Websites change the rules: As long as I get my work done, my boss doesn't care if I blog at epic length about what comes out of my nose when I pick it.

Space is no consideration on the Web; no word counts to hit there.

And if theater were my only beat around here, I'd pre- and review the hell out of every show in town.

But I'm also the point man (not the whole team, but it's kinda, go to Bowen for this one) on (in rough order of demands placed on me):

classical music, books, movies, sports (mostly Hoopfest and Bloomsday, but also stuff like College Hoops Preview) and jazz

(I'm even in the Food section this week, though that's rare.)

Oh, and I do holistic edits and line-edits on most of the paper each week. (There are five of us who can sign off on articles; two of those five have to read any given story before it's laid out on the page, whereupon one of us does a third read. I relinquished the arts editor position because I couldn't handle all that AND do all the scheduling and assigning of articles. I'm a writer, not a manager. Besides, I'm an old fart with a bad ticker who's facing the end of being able to do triathlons, woe is me.)

So boo-hoo for Bobo, he has to work so hard. Tough gig.

Just man up, wimpy.

But those other beats get in the way of simply getting to shows, much less doing the research on them beforehand for a preview and then gathering my thoughts about them for a review afterwards.

I read my print reviews on KPBX; we're experimenting with video previews of plays.
And I'm a narrow-focus guy who doesn't do well juggling lots of plates at once.

You get the idea.

The agreement with the Civic, both this season and last, is to PREview the downstairs, less well known plays, and REview the upstairs, better-known titles.

For String of Pearls, there was a print preview. (And I sincerely hope that my screwing up days and times did not impact attendance at that show. I feel bad about that.) Before that, we had the video preview on this blog, along with the Jean Hardie interview.

I'm doing what I can, folks.

[photo from]

A very belated review of String of Pearls (which obviously I cannot do justice, since I saw it weeks ago):

A very wonderful, insightful production that argues for the Circle of Life in a less cartoonish, more grownup way than The Lion King does.

It's a little off-putting at first, when women stroll out and assume, confusingly, multiple identities -- some of which they're clearly not suited because of age. But you get used to it.

Very well directed and acted. Seeing it in performance, as opposed to reading it as I did (twice), made connections clearer: how this woman is related to that one, how the string of pearls ended up with her, and then with her daughter, and then inside a fish, and so on.

Director Susan Hardie achieved a magical effect at the end of the divorced-and-skinny-dipping-women sequence, with three actresses bathed in light, their arms extended upward toward some spiritual source.

All five actresses were always interesting and sometimes riveting to watch. I particularly welcomed the versatility of Sarah Denison: from vapid and drugged-out art student to toddler brat; from the Italian-American working class woman, snapping her gum with great cultural awareness and buried beneath cascades of greasy pin-curls to the obese gay gravedigger.

Katie Carey as a resentful housewife, gnashing her teeth as her career passes her by; Kate Vita as a bitchy resentful daughter. Ela (Jean Hardie) who doesn't want to get involved, gets involved.

Playwright Michele Lowe creates surprises in how the pearls get passed around, and how (by implication and metaphor), the magic of vitality touches our lives at unexpected moments.

One of my favorite moments (out of several) involved an encounter between Tami Rotchford (as the downtrodden undertaker's assistant who has labored for years in taking care of her incapacitated mother) and Kate Vita (as a rich woman's daughter, determined to carry out her resentment against Mom even into the grave): Lowe teaches us here not to trust appearances. The daughter who had been faithful judged herself unworthy; the daughter who had hated her mother gets to be regarded, unknowingly, as a woman who must have really loved her mother.

Rotchford stayed within herself; Vita made her resentment clear; neither went to extremes of over-acting, and the moment was all the more powerful for it.

There are ironies and surprises like that all through String of Pearls, and Susan Hardie's production embodied them movingly.


What theater might learn from *Call of Duty*

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sold 4.7 million copies and did more than $300 million in business on its opening day; people lined up at midnight.
And who says books or movies or music are the dominant art form of our time? (Theater's not even in the conversation.) Videogames, quite arguably, are.
But the question is: How could theater tap into advantages of videogaming? Yes, gaming is predominately (though not exclusively) for young men and violent.
But interactivity creates an opportunity. Sitting in a theater (despite all the talk of energy flow between actors and audience) is essentially a passive experience for spectators.

Not to harp on one of my favorite points, but site-specific theater (especially with some violent acts thrown in, and perhaps decision-junctures or scene-switches that create the illusion of spectators choosing their own focuses or paths) could lure in younger viewers accustomed to concerts and games in which they too are the performers.
What I'm saying: a local theater doing site-specific theater would create buzz and expand its customer base past just the middle-aged-to-elderly crowd (while still including them, too). Examples: a Victorian murder mystery in one of our local B and B's, either in Spokane or CdA. Or, for edgier fare, The Container, which takes place entirely, for actors and playgoers both, inside a ... you guessed it. (To which a local railyard or truck depot might provide access.)
[images from and
And visit

(image from
For a review of Clare Bayley's play (Edinburgh Fringe, August 2007; Young Vic, July 2009; and at, go here.

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*A Tuna Christmas* photos

at Spokane Civic Theater, Nov. 20-Dec. 19
directed by William Marlowe
starring Dan Anderson and Damon Mentzer

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Death of escapist rimshot comedies?

A revival of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs closed on Nov. 1 after less than a week on Broadway.
As Patrick Healy explains in the NYT, that may be down to the lack of stars, or poor marketing, or people just not wanting to hear about the Great Depression when they're still struggling with the Great Recession.

(Digression on a pet peeve: "Times are tough. Nobody wants to go to the theater for something depressing." And when exactly was this mythical era when people were so flush, so content, so spiritually uplifted and joyous that of course they'd be happy to run out and catch a Greek tragedy tonight? Never. Exactly. Which means
After a demanding day at work, I frankly find movies, not plays, a more dependable source of escape. But they don't have to be comedic movies — a good weepie, a drama, effectively filmed, and I'm completely drawn in for two hours. I wake up from my cinematic dream and don't know where I am, momentarily. I forget about my troubles. But Neil Simon-style ha-ha one-liners are certainly not the only way that I can escape. And that goes for romantic comedies, too (the best of which, I treasure; but it's not a genre that I'll leap at instead of a movie such as, for example, the likely very depressing upcoming film version of The Road). (End of digression; back to the Simon play closing early.) (Photo is of Neil Simon in 2006; from

Healy recounts all the recent comedies that have an edge, a dark side. What with terrorism, the recession, climate change, crazed men with guns — people want that ... they want their comedies to acknowledge their fears. Neil Simon doesn't have much of that. Simon's plays are stuck in the Borscht Belt, ta-da-boom rhythms of slender plots with cardboard characters who deliver very funny lines that, at their best, get us laughing for awhile. But you leave the theater, retell a couple of the best jokes, and you're stuck back in the real world/not Simon world that was depressing you before you walked in. A stopgap measure, not a panacea.

When Bobo saw Barefoot in the Park at the Civic a couple of seasons back, he was surprised at how stale the comic techniques seemed. Simon was all the rage, and for many years. And I had good memories of the Jane Fonda/Robert Redford movie.
But to stare down betrayal, disease, the ravages of war, personal failure, addictions — real problems — and still be able to twist them in absurd, counter-intuitive, actually funny ways ... that's where comedy is headed (cf. NBC's Thursday night comedy block and its sensibilities). And that leaves Neil Simon as a relic.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Albee as tyrant

Edward Albee wants his plays performed the way he envisioned them; Samuel Beckett did the same.
Is that so wrong?
Or is the essence of theater so collaborative that insisting on to-the-letter productions demeans innovative directors?
What seemed outrageous and scandalous and more suited to the middle-aged in 1962 (when Who’s Afraid premiered) might well have more impact today if performed as even more vindictive and biting — and with younger, more energetic actors — today. That’s part of how theater evolves, stays relevant, and avoids being mere museum theater.
Because he’s a theater giant and because he's a fellow adopted person (who's willing to explore his neuroses on that topic), I admire Albee. But he’s wrong on this issue.
[photo of Edward Albee from]

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

*Underneath the Lintel* at Interplayers

Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger
Directed by Damon Abdallah
Starring Reed McColm as the Dutch Librarian
at Interplayers, Nov. 25-Dec. 12
Underneath the Lintel premiered in L.A. and New York in 2001
Berger is presently co-writing Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark with Julie Taymor — a musical with music by Bono and the Edge that may or may not open on Broadway in February, or April, or ...
[Tammy Marshall photos for The Inlander]

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

*Take Me Out* review

Only one performance remains (Friday the 13th at 10 pm) and rumor suggests that Gonzaga's Magnuson Theater will be packed. (Donations requested.)
Kevin Connell's more-than-just-semi-staged readers theater presentation is good enough that you wish these nine guys (yes, nine, in a baseball play) could take a few more weeks to rehearse and mount a full production.
Richard Greenberg's play takes on such important, resonant topics -- race, gender, sexuality, class, wealth, non-communication, the National Pastime -- that it deserves to be heard and studied and discussed. Connell stages it effectively, with game sequences in slo-mo simulation, and a shrine to baseball shining up front, and everybody wearing Empires uniforms with their names on the back, and hunks drawing gasps as they stripped to their waists for simulated shower scenes.
Yeah, even if you're not listening all that closely, it's a crowd-pleaser.
Let's start with possible improvements. Diction has to improve by tomorrow night: It's been awhile since I've heard so many dropped final consonants. (The A/C and some over-loud music intro's drown out some bits of dialogue, which is too bad, because Greenberg writes witty repartee.) Projection and volume can be a concern with nearly every character. Laugh lines and significant lines were stepped on in half a dozen places: The cast needs to let the emotional hammer (or tickle of laughter) register with hearers before actors start rushing into the next line.
But these are small flaws, fixable if only this could go on to a full production.
It's remarkable how much of this play the cast has already memorized -- given all the stage business that Connell has engineered, scripts just have to be discarded momentarily.

Everyone will want to hear about the star (played here by a real-life star). Well, Darren Lemming's name is ironic -- Lemming is no follower -- and Steven Gray mostly lives up to the role's demands. He could one-hand his script instead of clutching it with both hands for dear life in some sequences, but he's got the self-assured, lazy coolness of a standout athlete who knows that he's a standout. (Just like Darren; just like Gray himself.) Gray's natural smirk (all this is a joke, right? he's just goofin' on ya) serves him very well for most of the 80 minutes, when Darren IS amused by the all the gay men fawning over him, the rookie who, he says, "am in awe of you." But in the later, darker, more disturbing episodes, Gray's smirk did him a disservice -- Darren's more somber by then. Still, watching Gray act is like watching what college SHOULD be all about: jocks demonstrating that there's more to them than jockdom, that the arts matter too. Gray's engaging, funny, narcissistic, violent, sobered. You won't come across many life-imitates-art opportunities like this performance.
The cast was solid. Bing Blalock, for example, brought the uncomprehending hillbilly rage that's required in the show's bigoted John Rocker character. But the most exciting find in this production is freshman Andrew Garcia in the gay accountant role of Mason Marzac: gangly, fey, bubbling over with baseball mania, star-struck, drunk, ranging all over the stage even as you sensed that his character just wanted to crawl up inside himself and stay there.

Bobo directed this show once at the Civic, also as readers theater, and I gotta say ... in nearly every respect, this show's better. A tip of the baseball cap to "bat boy" Kevin Connell and his cast and crew -- and a wave to everybody who's thinking of rounding third and charging into Magnuson tomorrow night. Come on home and get taken out of yourself. Take Me Out offered a consistently engrossing 80 minutes.

Postscript: Connell announced in his curtain speech, among other upcoming Gonzaga productions, that the next readers theater project there, in February, will be a semi-staged version of To Kill a Mockingbird, in conjunction with The Big Read (the NEA-sponsored national program which encourages entire cities to focus on a single American classic for a month) and that late March will bring "Greek Week" (historians and others illuminating the customs of 2,500 years ago in conjunction with Connell's own production of Aristophanes' sex-strike-and-giant-phalluses comedy, Lysistrata.

[photo: playwright Richard Greenberg; from]

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belated review of *Sweeney Todd* at U-Hi

It was great on Saturday night to catch the closing performance of director Briane Green's production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at University High School -- full house, lots of folks from the Civic both in the crowd and involved in the show.
The buzz was that this was an exceptionally good high school show -- and the buzz proved to be correct. Technical elements were outstanding and the leads' voices and acting were solid. Briane Green (due in December -- congratulations!) has directed and choreographed with inventiveness.
Carolyn Jess sounded ominous chords on the keyboard at the outset, and Russ Seaton served as an energetic musical director. Dan Heggem (before showtime, mischievous, apologetic, lollipop-sucking) designed the dramatic lighting, Briane's husband George did the set. (Let's take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate people like these, who toil night after night at all kinds of shows, each making his or her talented contributions to local theater. Seriously. These are folks who sacrifice time (away from loved one) and money (they could be doing something else to bring in more income, God knows) and yet they keep on working at stuff that they love. That's not time wasted -- that's a life well lived. Bravo to all. Without artists like you, we wouldn't have a local theater scene.)
More on George Green's set design: Angular 2-by-4's descend from the ceiling. A practical and elaborate shop for Mrs. Loveit, with baking implements hung out front, rickety stairs on the side leading up to Sweeney's abbatoir up top: no walls, but a barber chair-with-death-slide that brought creeped-out-then-amused reactions from onlookers. When a two-story set piece swings out into view with a knife-wielding maniac up on top (or the damsel in distress, Johanna, rolls out, singing, on top of industrial scaffolding, whirling around her lover Anthony as they share a duet, it not only makes for effective and quick scene openings and exits, but it also creates a dizzying sense of visual variety.
Jordan Taylor's Sweeney had a commanding presence, both vocally and physically.
For "Pirellis' Miracle Elixir," he adopted far too casual body language -- I would have preferred remote, motionless, creepier -- but that's a minor quibble.
Kylene Peden (Mrs. Loveit) has mastered the art of subtly augmenting lyrics with gestures that reinforce their meaning. In "A Little Priest" and "By the Sea" in particular, she helped the narrative along by using her entire body while avoiding grandiose, melodramatic mannerisms. Sassy, practical, lower-class and conniving, she was a likeable Mrs. Loveit, an offhanded accomplice to butchery with a wicked sense of humor. Well done.
Right from "There's No Place Like London" and on through "Johanna" and its reprises, you could tell that Ross Mumford had an expressive voice as Anthony. Maybe it was the high-waisted sailor's trousers that he had on, but Mumford adopted a forward-leaning, slender eagerness in his posture that suited Anthony's love-yearning very well.
I would definitely pay to see Taylor, Peden and Mumford again, and I hope to see them again on local stages.
Most of the other roles were fulfilled capably -- of course there was some drop-off in the ensemble, and the Johanna was far too operatic and diction-bobbled for my taste** -- such that the thought "this is really good for a high school show" blended over into "this is just a really good show."
In the light of (unsuccessful) challenges to "controversial" high school shows in Las Vegas recently, it's great that U-Hi has encouraged a Sondheim show like this one (even if all the blood was edited out. Silly, if you think of it -- turn on any popular police procedural on network TV, to cite any one of numerous examples, and you'll see plenty of blood and guts.) ...
In fact, there is a serious argument to be made to high school administrators that excising the blood was a LESS moral move than leaving it in: Serial murders kept spotless only perpetuate the comic-book and summer-movie FANTASY that offing somebody doesn't really involve harm. It's like the Bush administration denying any photos of coffins returning from Iraq. It's like movie violence in which the guy gets shot but there's scarcely any blood. Ask anybody who's actually seen a victim of violence -- there's plenty of it. When are people gonna learn that images of violence (when not allowed to become addictive, and when discussed probingly by parents, friends, teachers) are actually a means of helping small children, teens and adults deal with our fears (of muggings, terrorism, war)?
But the CV district, still, deserves kudos. And so do Green and her cast. I'm glad I added another Sweeney to my collection. 
** Note to Breanna Duffy: In the his first college show -- and in a very positive review of Shakespeare's The Tempest — Bobo was singled out as the worst part of the production. Playing a young lover was beyond my talent, it seems. (One guy's opinion. I bounced back, lived, resolved to do otherwise in other shows.)

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Spokane-area auditions and performances

Arron Craft of Spokane Valley has started a Website for announcing upcoming auditions and performances in our area.
You can visit Craft's site here and write him at
[photo by Joe Jacoby of NIC's theater dept.: Tim Rarick's Moira's Crossing at NIC]


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

*The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie* at EWU

[Maggie Smith in the 1969 film; from]

Nov. 13-21; directed by Sara Goff
at the University Theater (on Washington St. on the EWU campus in Cheney)
adapted by Jay Presson Allen in 1966 from the 1961 novel by Muriel Spark

Fridays-Saturdays, Nov. 13-14 and Nov. 20-21, at 7:30 pm; Sunday, Nov. 15, at 2 pm; and Thursday, Nov. 19, at 5 pm
Tickets: $5; free, EWU students
Call 359-2341 or 359-2459

In 1930s Edinburgh, at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, students (ages 10-16) follow with fascination the outspoken, assertive, flawed Miss Brodie. But one of the girls will betray her.
Vanessa Redgrave won an Evening Standard Best Actress Award in London for the role; Zoe Caldwell, a Tony; and Maggie Smith, an Oscar (for her performance in the 1969 film).

[Muriel Spark in the '50s; from London's The Guardian]

From an e-mail exchange with director Sara Goff, an assistant professor in Eastern's Theater and Film Dept.:

Bobo: How did you solve the problem of 20-year-old students appearing too old for middle-school age girls (ages 10-18 in the novel) and too young to resemble a Maggie Smith-in-the-movie kind of woman?
Sara Goff:  The age of the characters is hard to translate to an audience in a college production — not only the age difference between the students and the teachers but also in the girls themselves. They play 10-year-olds in Act I, 14-year-olds in Act II, and 16-year-olds in Act III. But I think if the acting is good the play will work. So I focus on what I can do something about — making the dramatic action believable. 
I also worked closely with our costume designer, Jessica Ray, to deal with some of these issues. As the girls age, their silhouettes become more and more defined — also, hair and makeup helps. But again, I really believe audiences forgive a great deal as long as the acting is good, and I think the performers are meeting this challenge.

Why'd you choose this play? (Because it has a large cast, lots of women, good moral ambiguity, and deals with issues close to the experience of adolescents?)
First, I select plays that move me, plays that excite me. I am seduced by Brodie and my heart bleeds for Sandy. The play is provocative and sexy and ripe with conflict. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie fires my imagination. In addition, it's an actor's play.
Second, I was committed to doing a large-cast female show. I have a cast of 14 women and four men.

What scene or design element is most distinctive?
I was really inspired by beauty and history of Edinburgh, and Brodie is obsessed with art and anything Italian, so I wanted to highlight those things in the design. Don [McLaughlin, EWU's technical director] constructed a towering arch with columns — that’s my favorite design element. It has all kinds of sculptures carved into it — it’s beautiful.

Why not just rent the DVD?
I’m a soldier of the theater. For me, there is no comparison. If I saw a woman being painted in the nude in a movie, I wouldn’t stir; and yet, if I saw the exact same woman being painted two feet in front of me on the stage, I would be on the edge of my seat.
Theater is about community and immediacy. I had seen Frankie and Johnny and String of Pearls at other theaters, and yet I saw them again. I’m really upset that I missed Doubt, even though I saw Cherry Jones play Sister Aloysius. There aren’t any surprises when I watch a film adaptation of a play. But I never know what I’m going to get when I go to the theater, even if I’ve seen the play several times. It’s dangerous, and I love that.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Brian Doig on the state of Lake City Playhouse

We got trouble, right here in Lake City. With a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for ...
Predicament. Because a predicament is what Lake City Playhouse is in.
"We were $40,000 in the hole when I started," says Brian Doig, who's in his fourth year as artistic director of Coeur d'Alene's community theater.
The deficit climbed to $80 and now $100K. But Doig remains guardedly optimistic, and for a number of reasons: the deficit is leveling out, audiences are growing, profitable musicals are on the way, and the recession isn't likely to get any worse for the financial-sector sponsors that LCP had been depending on in recent seasons.
Average audiences have climbed from 45 to 105 (and even higher, up to around 125, for musicals) in a converted-church of a theater that holds 170.
This year's Christmas show, The Little Princess, "almost sold out when we did it four years ago," says Doig. "And [director] Laura Little is as tireless in her promotional efforts as she is a talented director. It's a wonderful Christmas musical, and we're going to have Kent Kimball [Capt. von Trapp at the Civic two years ago] as the father.
They were selling tissues in the lobby the first time we did it, and I thought, 'Yeah, right....' But dude, you watch this show, you need the tissues."
Doig is philosophical about his theater's outlook. "As bad as things are, people are working hard. We are losing less. Last year, we lost five sponsors, who'd [sponsor] a night of a show for $1,500. But all our sponsors are investment firms, and they all got hit. If we just had those five, we would have made money last year for the first time in 10 years."
Tickets sales only cover about 60 percent to 70 percent of the theater's expenses.

But a guy can dream: Doig envisions, in the long term, the possibility of Lake City finding a location closer to the Sherman Avenue corridor (maybe somewhere around Fourth).
"It may seem dark and dim," Doig says, "but a lot of people are working really hard. And it's starting to respond -- we just need continued support."
"Frankly, for a few years, the product was inconsistent. But we're always trying to be better. At the same time, part of our mission is that we are a community theater -- and that means that we will have actors, sometimes, who are onstage for the first time."
And in an encouraging sign of cooperation among theater-lovers, says Doig, "we're starting to see more people from across the border involved" -- meaning that some prominent names associated with Spokane Civic Theater have offered to help Doig organize a fund-raiser sometime soon for LCP.
"People don't want to see another theater go down," Doig says.
"Right now, we're just focused on getting through this next season, with an eye on making it to our 50th. We're working hard to make sure that our 50th season isn't our last."

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*Dracula* continues through Sunday

at Lake City Playhouse, 1320 E. Garden St., Coeur d'Alene
Tonight through Saturday at 7:30 pm; closes on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 2 pm
Tickets: $16; $13, students and seniors
This is Steven Dietz's 1996 adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, faithful to the plot and directed here by Rebecca McNeill. Chris Schwartz plays Van Helsing and Dave Rideout stars as the blood-sucker.
Call (208) 667-1323.
[ logo: from a Fall 2005 production at Northeastern Illinois Univ. -- "Your fear hemorrhages deliciously within you." ]

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*In a Grove* at SCC, Nov. 13-22

In a Grove: Four Japanese Ghost Stories, by Eric Coble
directed by SCC theater and film arts instructor Adam C. Sharp
Fridays-Saturdays, Nov. 13-14 and Nov. 20-21, at 7:30 pm
and Sundays, Nov. 15 and Nov. 22, at 2 pm
Spokane Community College, Lair Auditorium, Bldg. 6
Mission Ave. and Greene St.
"A hundred years, four stories, one village shrouded in mystery -- a play for the whole family"
Obosan is our guide and narrator. Other characters include Keizuke, who must keep a secret; the Oni demons, who may have something to fear from humans; Uta the singing monk; and Hyroku, the famished and desperate outsider.
Tickets: $5; $3, students and seniors; free, children
Call 533-7387
[ photo: Eric Coble, from]
Coble, born in Scotland, went to Fort Lewis College and to Ohio University. Since 1994, he has written more than three dozen plays. In a Grove, from 1996, is one of his earliest. His Natural Selection was produced at Louisville's Humana Festival in 2005.

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audition for *Leader of the Pack*

on Monday-Tuesday, Nov. 9-10, at 6:30 pm
Harding Family Center, 411 N. 15th St., Coeur d'Alene
Callbacks on Nov. 11-12
Bring resume, photo and list of conflicts; be prepared to sing
Needed: four men; 10 women; extras
director: Marina Kalani
For the Lake City Playhouse production, Jan. 14-31
Leader of the Pack surveys the life and ('60s) times of Ellie Greenwich (who died on Aug. 26 at the age of 68 — the 1984 off-Broadway jukebox musical follows Ellie's life in Brooklyn and Queens, with characters based on Phil Spector and on Ellie's husband and songwriting partner, Jeff Barry)
Songs include the title tune, "Chapel of Love," "Da Do Ron Ron," "Be My Baby," "Hanky Panky," "Do Wah Diddy," and "And Then He Kissed Me."
[photo: from]

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Short plays at Auntie's, Nov. 14

Eight short plays by Sandra Hosking and Nick Stokes
in an evening called "Hit & Run II"
on Saturday, Nov. 14, at 2 pm
at Auntie's Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave.
E-mail or call 838-0206.

Nick Stokes is a Tacoma playwright. Sandy Hosking is co-playwright in residence at Spokane Civic Theatre; she has an MFA from EWU, is editor of Inland NW Homes & Lifestyles magazine, and has had her plays produced all over the U.S. and Canada.

In Stokes' two plays, sisters lie to each other and a couple relaxes at the beach.
In Hosking's six plays, an atheist seeks converts, Vikings have to downsize, a former couple's reunion is bittersweet, and a man must pay a ridiculous tax (among much else).
In addition, Hosking's 7-year-old son will recite a poem entitled "My Bug."

Actors at this staged reading will include Tony and Maria Caprile, Penny Lucas, Will Lund, Emily Hiller, Nina Kelly and Molly Parish. 

[photo: Nick Stokes, from;
also from -- "The Landing of the Vikings," from a 1917 book by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall called This County of Ours: The Story of the United States]

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*Dearly Departed* at SFCC, Nov. 12-22

In this "redneck comedy" by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, everybody in a Southern family starts bickering after an unexpected death.
Performances on Thursdays-Saturdays, Nov. 12-14 and Nov. 19-21, at 7:30 pm
and on Sundays, Nov. 15 and Nov. 22, at 2 pm
(canned food collected at the Nov. 15 performance)
SFCC, 3410 W. Fort George Wright Dr., Communications Bldg,, Bldg. 5, Spartan Theatre
with Daniel Varavin, Rushelle Provoncha, David Honeycutt, Katherine Kruse, Tony Morales, Merrin Field, Erin Schultz, Greg Collinge, Jamie Smith and Geoff Lange
directed by Sara Edlin-Marlowe
Donations requested (suggested donation: $8)
Visit the Spokane Falls Community College Theater program here
or call 533-3222.

[photo: from Psychology Today]

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audition for *Humbug*

In John Wooten's Christmas Carol comedy, Eleanor Scrooge is a power-hungry Wall Street executive with an aversion to Yuletide fun.
Director Theresa Kappus will be seeking eight men and six women in cold-reading auditions 
for an Ignite! readers theater production on
Thursday, Nov. 12, at 7 pm
at the Blue Door Theater, 815 W. Garland Ave.
Performances: Friday, Dec. 11, and Sunday, Dec. 13
Visit or call 993-6540.
[ photo: John Wooten, producing a.d. at Premiere Stages, housed at New Jersey's Kean University; visit them here ]

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