Sunday, February 28, 2010

*Romeo and Juliet* at EWU: preview with director Jeff Sanders

Jeff Sanders, who’s directing Romeo and Juliet at EWU’s University Theater (March 5-7, 11-13), is married to assistant professor of theater Sara Goff. For more than four years, he acted with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, an Equity acting company in which, in addition to roles in King Lear and other Shakespeare plays, he also performed in three separate productions of Romeo and Juliet (as Mercutio, as Prince Escalus, and then — tripling roles in a daily educational outreach touring show that had only half a dozen actors in all — as the Prince, Paris and even the Nurse). He has worked his way up from adjunct professor to full-time lecturer in Eastern’s theater department.

The following is an edited mashup of interviews by phone and e-mail.

Bobo: So why return to Romeo and Juliet? Aren’t you sick of it by now?
Jeff Sanders: It’s such a humbling bear of a play. It’s kind of like Our Town — everyone thinks that they know it, but it’s so difficult to pull off.
He’s not excessively demanding on the actors who are playing the roles he played, mostly because he didn’t specify which roles he had taken, just that he’d been in the show professionally.
“I’ve been most sensitive about Juliet, just because I think she’s one of the finest creations in Shakespeare,” he says. “If the ensemble were polled, they’d say, ‘He’s really big into that Juliet role.’ But that’s because, for an act and a half, Romeo goes off to Mantua and has pina coladas.”
And then there’s that great irony in the play, when she takes the potion and goes under like death [at the end of 4.3], he enters and relates his beautiful dream, in which he dreams "my lady came and found me dead — ... / And breath'd such life with kisses on my lips/ That I reviv'd and was an emperor" (5.1.6-9).

Bobo: How much of the text have you cut? rephrased? rearranged?
Sanders: Quite a bit. I have no idea how a full text version of this play could be “two hours traffic." However, we have it down to two and a half hours with intermission. The are some surprises to the cutting and rearrangement of the script that I think will be provocative to audience members no matter what their level of familiarity is with the play. But it would be buzz-kill to ruin the surprise, so you must come to the theater.

Bobo: What's the chief way in which this R&J is distinct from all the many other R&J's that have ever been performed?
Sanders: It’s dark, hip, and provocative. We use classic Italian Renaissance silhouettes blended with contemporary gothic fashion to create a world that is both classic and contemporary. The show charts the distance between Shakespeare’s time and our own.

Bobo: What's the set design like, and what ideas are you trying to convey with the set?
Sanders: First, I needed it to be functional for Shakespeare’s play. I wanted lots of open space with areas that could be defined in many different ways. I didn’t want scene changes — you can hear in the text how each scene springboards into the next — so I wanted a space that could help drive the play.
Also, I was attracted to having something that was once beautiful but is now decaying because the “ancient grudge” has taken its toll. Also, I see R & J as a corrupted world filled with hate and violence — and in the midst of this darkness, something incorruptible is born. The reason Shakespeare says “There never was a story of more woe” is because something perfect dies.
Shakespeare would be pretty surprised that we sit around and read plays silently. The Elizabethans said that they were going to hear a play, not see a play.
Tybalt will be very striking-looking. The Capulet side will be more goth, with more makeup and crazier hair. The Montagues will show more skin and be earthier.
Without billboarding the Capulet-vs.-Montague thing — I don’t want this to become black vs. white or Israel vs. Islam — I wanted to create a world that is dark and decaying and corrupted — and out of that, something incorruptible is born.
The image that I shared with our designers was two torches in the darkness.
Sanders acknowledges the influence of Sofia Coppola in Marie Antoinette — “how she mixes classical with contemporary in both music and clothes.”

Bobo: We don't have arranged marriages anymore. So isn't R&J more of a cautionary tale against teen suicide than it is any kind of statement about parent/child relationships?
Sanders: I think we like to make this play about teen suicide because it’s a hot-button topic of today. For me, I think Juliet looks at suicide like a Roman falling on his sword — it’s an honorable testimony to her Romeo. I like this idea because it gives her strength and doesn’t victimize her.
Parent/child relationships have a great influence on this play but in a surprising way. Friar Laurence is really Romeo’s father and the Nurse is really Juliet’s mother. Romeo and Juliet's parents are always confused and left in the dark when it comes to the children because they have no idea what’s going on. And due to this distance, they react emotionally, irrationally.

Bobo: What's the Queen Mab speech about? And how are you staging it?
Sanders: For the Elizabethans, "queen" (or "quean") meant "a degraded woman, a harlot." Mab is the fairies' midwife and helps give birth to dreams. Mercutio is a hard-core sexual realist and characterizes love as nothing but fantasy brought about by an evil hag fairy who comes to men and women in their sleep and plants these vain fantasies.
Elizabethans thought of fairies as evil little creatures who could do you grave harm — when it came to fairies, they didn't think of Tinker Bell.

Bobo: You’ve had a lot of experience with the play. Did anything surprise you during rehearsals?
Sanders: Yeah, the importance of hope in the piece, especially in the second half. With all young actors, the temptation is to play it tragic, because we all know how it turns out. But I keep saying, ‘Don’t play the tragedy before it turns tragic.’
Shakespeare is a master at sprinkling in hope. At any moment, this train wreck may not wreck.
So in Act Three, scene two — the “Gallop apace” speech, Juliet is waiting for news of the massacre, and she’s ready to kill herself. And the Nurse says, I know where Romeo is. And it’s a light bulb moment of hope. I want to have the actors really believe in that.
Or when the Friar is breaking down this building that is Romeo, and he’s a mess — and he adds, “Hello, my comfort is revived by that.’
It’s one thing to say that aloud. It’s another thing to feel it down to your feet.

Bobo: We all have an over-idealized view of the star-crossed lovers — impossibly attractive, incredibly articulate, hopelessly in love, tear-jerkingly tragic. It's an ideal that no production, not really, can attain. So why even attempt it? Isn't R&J, as one of his early, very poetic tragedies, better when read and studied than performed?
Sanders: In my estimation, nothing can touch a theatrical event. Shakespeare was meant to be performed. These plays were never written for a desk but for a theatre. Seeing an actress take on Juliet’s poison speech is a thrilling event that can’t be touched in a classroom. I want to hear her breathe — I want to see tears well up in her eyes. Nothing can touch the immediacy of theater.

Sanders also points out that while colleges may strain to cast middle-aged and older parts, that Prince Escalus can be almost any age, and that Lady Capulet, Juliet's mother is only 28.

Sanders and EWU are also working hard to sprinkle some Shakespeare magic on the younger, non-graybeard crowd: An Intro to Lit course with 300 students this quarter is coordinated with the production, and a morning performance on March 12 for high school students is already sold out.

[ photo: Olivia Hussey, 15, and Leonard Whiting, 18, in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film — still the most commercially successful Shakespeare film of all time. Hussey was not allowed to attend the London premiere, because the film contained glimpses of nudity. That would have been, by the way, her own nudity. ]

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

review of *Blackbird*

At West Central Community Center, tonight and next Saturday, March 6, at 3 pm and 7:30 pm. Tickets: $10.

Director Sandy Hosking's Blackbird, both in the fact of its production and in the quality of its performances, is the kind of show that Spokane ought to see more often.

In an intense drama about sexual abuse and its tragic results, Jamie Flanery gives a nervous-fingers, eyes-welling-with-anguish portrait of vulnerability and shame, while Emily Hiller brings on the flirtation, resentment and manipulation. David Harrower's poetic-but-colloquial dialogue and Pinteresque situations, combined with Hosking's direction, add up to believability that's significant and thought-provoking.

The premise involves the meeting of a middle-aged man and late-20s woman, 15 years after he was convicted of sexually abusing her. It takes place in an actual meeting area with kitchen facilities, and the actors are up close and personal, lending the proceedings verisimilitude. It takes place, in other words, in exactly the kind of sterile, fluorescent-lit, unloved room in which Harrower set his play -- maybe not an employee break room exactly, but close.
Both actors delivered some speeches literally within arm's reach of the front row. (There were only two rows. They only set out a couple of dozen chairs. Theater-lovers ought to flock to this show and make them put out twice as many seats, if not more.
It's gripping, it's only 70 mins. long, and it involves two actors doing exceptional work that ought to be rewarded with attention from their fellow actors and theater folks.)

It's not for kids. Not only are there sexual situations, there's some simulated sex. It's disturbing, even perplexing material, and words like "fuck" and "cum" are uttered. Perhaps some will let it pass for just those reasons.

But consider what the script accomplishes: Making the creep human, making the victim more than merely victimized.
Having sex with a 12-year-old girl is wrong, period. I think the play makes that point — then goes on to make the situation more complex than a moralistic, legalistic approach would assume. What if she were mature beyond her years? What if both were attracted to one another? And why exactly has she sought him out, 15 years later, when both of them have very different and (until now) very separate lives?

Flanery is a revelation: Overwrought, nervous, ashamed, angry. Hiller prods and cajoles him; she has pounced on him out of the past, and we see glimpses of how seductive she can be, and what a lost soul she is.

There are flaws, of course. Hiller, directed by Hosking into flirtatious, come-hither poses, isn't entirely convincing in her anger. An outburst of violence was pretty darn good for a confined space but still stagey. The Portland production I saw created more menace just outside the room, and left much more ambiguity about Ray's and Una's future choices. (There's a major plot point near the end, and we ought to be left wondering more what decisions Ray and Una will make, and why, and how we feel about those.)

But when she kneels before him; when she bends over for him; when he towers over her; when they stand side by side, nostalgic for what they shared, fingers searching for a hand-hold, then realizing that their relationship was wrong, is doomed, and has ruined lives all around them and left their existence like the strewn garbage of their pig-sty break room environment; when he bows his head in shame as she pounds on his chest; when she stares daggers into his back during a long confessional speech ... those are the moments when being in a tiny, makeshift theater really pay off.

Blackbird highlights solid performances, and in closeup. Hiller and Flanery's performances will stick in your mind for days after. And then, after next Saturday, they'll be gone.

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review of *To Kill a Mockingbird* (readers theater version)

continues Monday, March 1, at the South Hill Library, 3324 S. Perry St.
on Wednesday, March 3, at 7:30 pm at the Barnes & Noble just east of the Spokane Valley Mall
(See Feb. 18 Inlander, p. 55, and the Calendar of Events)

One of the revelations of a streamlined readers theater version of To Kill a Mockingbird is its emphasis on plot and action: no time for the adult Scout’s narrative voice, ma’am -- or for a few of the characters and several episodes.
All sacrificed for the sake of intro / trial scene / aftermath.
But there were gains, too: Atticus’s appeal is directed right at us, the virtually all-white audience. Scout, Jem, Dill and the Reverend all sat in the “courtroom’s Negro balcony” in the row right in front of me inside Wolff Auditorium inside Gonzaga’s Jepson Hall.
Director Brian Russo had actors entering and exiting through all four available aisles.
The impact of being in the room when a white man stands above Tom Robinson, glaring at him and repeatedly calling him “boy.”
The reminder, which you get in performance and not in reading the book, of Tom’s crippled left arm (a crucial plot point, you’ll recall) -- sitting there, stoic and silent.
Well-acted, costumed and blocked. No weaknesses in the cast at all; if I had to pick standouts, I'd select Nate Clemons' marked, younger-version resemblance to Gregory Peck as Atticus, and Kiki Wright's impassioned fear of being humiliated when on the witness stand as Mayella Ewell, the girl who accuses Tom Robinson of rape. 
In the novel, Miss Maudie (here, Lindsay DeLong) delivers the title speech about one-third of the way through; in Christopher Sergel's stage adaptation, it comes almost at the top of the show -- pointing a big index finger toward the interpretation that the generosity of Boo Radley (Ryan Knowles) is the kind of thing that is beautiful and should never be dismissed, and that the dignity of Tom Robinson (Christian Santa Maria, who's not black, but then this is readers theater) likewise is a rare and beautiful thing. It is indeed a sin to kill (or want to kill) either one of them.
It was like watching the novel, all sped up, and also more visceral: Bob Ewell (Chris Wheatley, effective as a racist hillbilly, and then, in quite a contrast, remarkably articulate during the post-show discussion) spitting in Atticus' face; Atticus leaning into the faces of witnesses; seeing the final attack and rescue in the light, and not imagining it in some dark field at night; and so on.
Bobo co-led a talkback afterwards (with some interesting audience comments) along with Prof. Vik Gumbhir, who specializes in sociology and criminology and who set forth the details of the Scottsboro Boys case (nine black youths accused of raping white girls in 1931 Alabama -- a notorious case that Harper Lee is clearly alluding to in her novel).
These are the kind of events that the NEA's Big Read brings to our community -- and next year, while it's not yet official, it looks as if we have a good chance to have the Big Read again, with a more recent American novel, accompanied by the novelist himself making an appearance. But that's for more than a year from now.

[ photo: Harper Lee in Aug. 2007; from ]

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Being reminded

Going through the slog of rehearsals (and all the rest of life) lately, Bobo has been reminded of the time, energy and commitment that it takes to put on a show.
(While I'm playing the Duke in The Comedy of Errors at SFCC, directed by Bill Marlowe and running March 4-14, local theater types will have plenty of chance to sneer at Mr. Critical Critic Head.)

Those of us who have theater hobbies do it because we love it. But it's salutory for Bobo to be reminded, periodically, of what it all entails. How will I do at auditions? Will I get the part I want? Are these other actors any good? Are they better than me? Will they like me? And how bad will the dressing rooms smell?
What kind of director will he be? Is he going to subject us to some outlandish interpretaion? Will I be able to memorize my lines? What am I gonna look like in my costume? Do the tech people know what they're doing? Will anybody show up to watch? Will I get along with the other actors? Are they really that young? Am I really that old? Is there an alternative to pounding my lines by reading, typing, annotating and reciting them in the car on the way to work? (No, there is not. And as for mouthing the words while riding the bus -- well, people tend to give you concerned looks.) And does it all feel, in the days just before opening, as if it's all going to crash and burn? (Of course. It always does.) And is there anything like that can't-wait-to-open, ready-for-an-audience, got-a-wonderful-story-to-tell feeling? (No, there isn't.)
We MAY crash and burn -- I'm taking a stereotyped chance with my character that some are going to hate -- but Bill has proven to be a master at directing physical comedy, and the cast is great. (They're just kids. Old enough to be their father, I don't fit in, not really. And yet, as usual, there's that don't-really-know-him, I-only-know-her-first-name nodding acquaintance, and yet when running lines or experimenting with a new bit of comic business -- and Marlowe LOVES his bits of comic business -- there's also that wonderful sense that we're all in this together, walking the tightrope, might belly-flop but also might not, we're just adults playing and creating and trusting one another, exposed to public glare and to hell with the nay-sayers.

None of which is unique or special -- there are millions of people bitten by the bug. But as a kind of corrective to the next time I might feel like savaging a show, it's useful about once a year, when scheduling permits (and even when not), just to do what the people I criticize do. And be reminded that it ain't so easy.
And yes, I savaged Honky Tonk Angels. But then apparently the director of that show, Reed McColm (who I am honored to call a friend) is going to review our Comedy of Errors right on this very blog.
(And I adapted the script, too, so if you're a Shakespearean purist who's offended by the replacement of archaic insults with words like "wanker" and "douchebag," then you're also going to get all riled up about that.)

[photo: Royal Shakespeare Company actors rehearsing Henry V; from]

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Friday, February 26, 2010

*Is He Dead?* preview and interview with Rick Hornor

Is He Dead?, a recently discovered comedy by Mark Twain, plays at Whitworth University on March 5-13.
Tickets: $8; $6, students and seniors. Call 777-3707.

A short preview will appear in the March 4 Inlander. But in the meantime, here's an e-mail exchange between Bobo and director Rick Hornor of Whitworth's theater department. (Once upon a time, back in 1990-97, they were colleagues.)

Bobo: David Ives, I've learned, cut from three acts to two, added some jokes, retained but revised some subplots, threw out some characters. Is that accurate? Can you tell where the changes are?
Rick Hornor: Your description of Ives's edits is accurate. When sitting down with the original and the revised, the changes are obvious but I doubt the audience will be able to say, “Oh, that was Twain and that was Ives.” Ives wrote, “In everything I did as an adapter, I took it as my job not to replace Twain but to complete his work, to do to the original what he himself would have done had he had 97 more years to think about it and few more plays under his belt. He turned out to be a superb collaborator. Except for the cigars, we got along just fine.” I think Ives did a wonderful job of tightening the play by streamlining the action and reducing the cast size. The original is clunky, which explains in part why Twain couldn’t get anyone to produce it.

Bobo: Do you have any rat-a-tat-tat, slam-bang door-slamming farce sequences that are especially demanding to stage?
Hornor: Twain loved and frequently attended melodramas and farces so yes, we’ve tried to incorporate acting styles and characterizations typical of classic melodrama and farce. More challenging for the actors than the physical doing of some of the antics is the timing. Comic timing is tough.

Bobo: Actors always say that comedy is harder to do than drama. Do you agree? What specifically is difficult about this comedy? And a man in drag for extended sequences -- doesn't that make your job easier?
Hornor: Yes, I agree comedy is generally harder to do well. What I think is funny is not necessarily what you think is funny. With farce, especially, we walk a narrow edge between funny and banal. Yes, Twain helps us out by keeping our leading man a leading woman and by employing disguise with a number of other characters.

Bobo: Twain's humor got more bitter in his later years. Any trace of that here? I mean, isn't it about his feeling under-appreciated, and they won't really know what they've lost until I'm dead, etc.? Or is it mostly just silliness?
Hornor: Twain wrote this play while on a speaking tour in Europe to raise money because he couldn’t pay his bills with what he was making/not making in the U.S. At about the same time, the real Millet died and there was a bidding war between the U.S. and France for one of his paintings. Twain’s recurring admonition is initially spoken by Dutchy: “Vhat a fool vorld it is. Ven it haff a great Master, it don’t know it und let him shtarve. Und venn he is tead, zenn he is recognized! Zenn come ze riches! Und vhat can you do mit zese riches, being dead?” However, the plethora of jokes, eccentric characters, and physical comedy balance Twain’s declamations on the state of art and artists.

Bobo: Please describe the set.
Peter Hardie has designed a brilliant set. We are leaving the curtains open during the intermission to allow the audience to watch the magic of changing the poor artist’s studio of Act I into the elegant Parisian apartment of Act II.

Bobo: Will you use any Millet painting-facsimiles? [Twain's main character is loosely based on the French painter Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-75]
Hornor: Yes. The play references "The Angelus" and "The Gleaners" specifically. One of our art students who is also in the play, Giselle Stone, painted facsimiles for us.


Is He Dead? notes:
Bobo got to watch a costumed run-through this morning. 
19th-century art song. Vintage show posters with screaming headlines: "a brilliant effusion of comedy, caprice, mayonnaise and mirth ... Desperate Encounters! Exciting Denouement! ... a rip-roaring farce with thrills and laughter."
Corn-pone exposition. Melodramatic villain. National stereotypes: Irish clown with a brogue, German clown in lederhosen making Limburger cheese and "the wurst comes next" jokes. Stop-action, gaslight asides. The artist and his buddies comes up with a ruse to increase the value of his paintings -- but somebody's gonna have to put on the wig and balloon breasts. Odd to watch a comedy in a mostly empty auditorium: Where will the laughs occur?

more notes:
Dec. 10, 2007 review by Ben Brantley

Spokane connection at two removes:
David Pittu, who played (Basil Thorpe/Claude Rivière/Charlie/the King of France) in this Lyceum production, starred in the musical spoof What's That Smell?
in which Spokane's own Max Kumangai-McGee (LC, Civic, CdA Summer, U of Mich., etc.) played a featured role

1898 play, much like Charley's Aunt (1892)
In 2002 -- 104 years later -- it was discovered in Twain's papers housed at U.C. Berkeley in 2002 -- in the back of a filing cabinet, untouched, in Twain's handwriting.
It was supposed to have been produced by Bram Stoker (as in Dracula).
It's set in Paris in 1846.
Yet apparently it was long known to scholars -- just, nobody did anything with it until Stanford's Shelley Fisher Fishkin fished it out of obscurity and got it staged.

Theater Mania interviews of cast, director, adapter (video):

Elyse Sommer's Dec. '07 CurtainUp review (which quotes the title phrase):

good preview of a Dec. '08 production in Jacksonville, Fla.:

a National Review review, with some of the same photos and jokes as the other reviews:

[Millet's The Gleaners, 1857, from]

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Family may not Focus on Lucy's lady lumps

At last, evidence that Spokane is not the worst when it comes to prudish, holier-than-thou objections to not-all-that-racy aspects of pop culture.

There are those in Colorado Springs who object to obsessive [um, excessive — now there's a Freudian slip for you] cleavage.

On a foam-rubber puppet.

Now, depictions of homosexuals -- as long as they look like nice, clean-cut Republican boys -- well, that's just hunky-dory.

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Enacting Knightlife

A shout-out to our own Dan Anderson (The Graduate at Interplayers, A Tuna Christmas at the Civic, most recently), who's the drunken warrior on the cover of The Inlander's bar guide issue (Feb. 24). Since Jerry Sciarrio was the cover boy for Cheap Eats (Feb. 3), are we steering some exposure actors' ways, or what?


Audition for *The Boxcar Children*

Sunday, March 14, at 2 pm, and on Monday, March 15, at 6 pm
Callbacks, if needed, on Tuesday, March 16, at 6 pm

at St. Aloysius School, 611 E Mission Ave.

Based on the popular children's series of books by Gertrude Chandler Warner, this dramatic play follows the adventures of four orphans determined to remain together in Depression-era America.

Director Dawn Taylor-Reinhart seeks four children (ages 8-16) and four adult actors: 2M, 2W.
This show is NOT a musical.
Cold readings.
Performances: May 22-June 6
Visit or call 328-4886.

[ image: from Roanoke Children's Theatre in Virginia ]

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

*Steel Magnolias* photos

Feb. 26-March 21 on the main stage at Spokane Civic Theatre
directed by George Green

See the Jan. 24 post on this blog.

by Robert Harling (off-Broadway, 1987; the movie premiered in 1989)
directed by George Green

Kelsey Strom as Annelle Dupuy Desoto (played by Daryl Hannah in the movie)
Bethany Hart as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie (Julia Roberts)
Melody Deatherage as M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field)
Molly Parish as Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton)
Wendy Carroll as Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis)
Kathie Doyle-Lipe as Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine)

Truvy's beauty parlor is the gathering spot for six women. M'Lynn's daughter Shelby is getting married, Annelle is the newcomer to town, Clairee and Ouiser do a fair amount of bickering, and the action extends over three years.

In a small town in Louisiana, six women frequently gather at Truvy's beauty parlor to share stories and friendship. M'Lynn's daughter Shelby is getting married, Annelle is the newcomer to town, Clairee and Ouiser do a fair amount of bickering, and the action extends over three years.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

*Blackbird*: Sandy Hosking interview

For four performances on the next two Saturdays, the Civic's co-playwright in residence, Sandra Hosking, is bringing Scottish playwright David Harrower's harrowing sexual-abuse-but-there's-more-to-it two-hander drama, Blackbird, to Spokane.

Bobo conducted an e-mail interview with Hosking. (The production is an Inlander Pick in the Feb. 25 issue.)

Bobo: Harrower's dialogue looks like free verse on the page. How has that affected rehearsals?
Hosking: The story drew me to the play, and the poetic dialogue made me decide to produce the show. The lines have repetition and a certain pattern that have created a challenge for the actors. Our goal is to bring out the rhythms of the poetry, so the story is compelling to watch and beautiful to listen to.

What specifically have Harrower and you, as director, done a) to make Ray seem like less of a creep and b) to make Una seem like less of a victim?
Good question. Blackbird would be an uninteresting play if the characters were so simple. The audience will hear both sides of their stories and each character will have his and her moments of grace and ugliness. I give a lot of credit to my actors: Jamie Flanery has found Ray’s vulnerabilities, making him more human and less of a monster, while Emily Hiller has tapped into Una’s strength.

Fifteen years ago, he had the power over her; now she has the power over him (she could ruin his life). What specific details of your production indicate this power reversal?
Harrower has written that power struggle in his dialogue and storyline. Once the characters enter the room, they are moving along a narrow metaphoric ledge. At various moments in the play, they come dangerously close to the edge and take turns nearly falling off. At any moment, Una can decide to walk out the door and tell Ray’s co-workers about his past. He knows this, and this creates a wonderful tension. Even a seemingly insignificant action, such as one character asking the other for a drink of water, becomes a struggle between them.

Would you prefer, or not, that I write around the premise, maybe not reveal their ages? ( see 10/1/08 post on this blog )
I don’t think it’s a problem to mention their ages, but please don’t give away the twist at the end. You could say there’s a twist though. I’m telling people it’s for mature audiences only.

And Hosking continued:
I didn’t get to see the Portland production, so our presentation is completely without influence from outside sources. I’ve had a great time collaborating with the actors and my stage manager, Toni Cummins, has had wonderful insights too.
The interesting thing about doing a contemporary play that isn’t yet an audience favorite — like a Neil Simon play — is that there’s nothing to compare it to. Putting on the play is the road less taken. I saw that as a challenge, so I guess that’s why I decided to do it.

As a teacher, I’ve known several girls like Una. The relationships they have with these predators isn’t as black and white as the rest of us think (not to trivialize the damage, which is enormous). In Blackbird, those girls finally get to have their say.

Blackbird • Saturdays, Feb. 27 and March 6, at 3 pm and 7:30 pm • Tickets: $10 • West Central Community Center • 1603 N. Belt St. • Visit: • Call: 953-9928

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Coming soon to a Spokane-area theater near you

Just some reminders, listed by closing date ...

Charlotte's Web, Spokane Children's Theater at SCC, thru 2/28

High School Musical, Lake City Playhouse, thru 3/4
Blackbird, West Central Community Center, Feb. 27 and March 6
Is He Dead? (by Mark Twain), Whitworth, 3/5-13
Love, Sex and the IRS, Ignite readers theater, 3/12 at G.U. and 3/14 at Blue Door
Beauty and the Beast, Theater Arts for Children, Spokane Valley, 2/26-3/14
The Comedy of Errors, SFCC, 3/4-14
Romeo and Juliet, EWU, 3/3-15
The Wizard of Oz, Christian Youth Theater, 2/26-3/17
Steel Magnolias, Spokane Civic Theater main stage, 2/26-3/21
Dearly Beloved, Sixth St. Melodrama, Wallace, 3/5-24
Art, Interplayers, 3/11-27
The Nightingale, SCT at SFCC, 3/20-28
Lysistrata, Gonzaga, 3/25-29

Amadeus, Lake City Playhouse, 3/25-4/4
The Spitfire Grill, Civic's Studio Theater, 3/19-4/11
Little House on the Prairie, INB Center, April 8-11

[ photo: playwright Yasmina Reza (Art), from ]


Gleaning details on *Behanding*

Patrick Healy surveys Christopher Walken's career in the New York Times today. What comes across is Walken's remarkable insecurity and nervousness about his more than four decades as an actor. What doesn't come across is much about Martin McDonagh's play, now in previews on Broadway. (It runs March 4-June 6; visit In A Behanding in Spokane, Walken's character, Carmichael, lost his left hand 47 years ago. He encounters a couple of con artists (played by Anthony Mackie of The Hurt Locker and Zoe Kazan) who are willing to give him a hand, so to speak, by selling him one. The entire play takes place nearly in real time (in 90 mins.) and inside a hotel room -- so not much chance for local color there.
[poster from]

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Best American plays?

John Moore of the Denver Post has surveyed 177 theater professionals for their opinions about the 10 greatest American plays. Top-ten results are here.
Complete list of all 296 plays that got votes is here.

For what little it's worth, Bobo named eight of the top ten off the top of his head.
The two I missed reveal my own provinciality.
But in the overall rankings, note how August: Osage County is knocking on the door.
Women and ethnic minorities might wish for more representation.
I think the list is muddied: Best play by an American that's on ANY subject vs. best plays about the American experience.
I've seen the top 24 plays in performance — then, Little Foxes and Children's Hour, only in the movie versions — and Nos. 27-29 (Topdog, Blue Leaves, Normal Heart), I've never seen in any form.
I'll admit my ignorance: I've never even heard of Mud or My Head Is a Sledgehammer. And I am embarrassed to say that I have never even read A Moon for the Misbegotten
I think Buried Child is ranked ahead of True West because people admire it, respect its artistry, not because it plays better onstage or is more beloved.
Sorry, but Iceman Cometh is a duty, not a pleasure. And I saw Jason Robards in it. 
The plays of Horton Foote should move up; so should Sondheim's.  Musicals, in general, undervalued here.
But your mileage will differ. 

Best candidates for Spokane productions?
Our Town, Osage County, American Buffalo, Little Foxes, Dutchman, Grapes of Wrath, Kentucky Cycle (first half is best, and phenomenal), The Goat, Indians (big production values have lessened its perceived value?), The Boys in the Band. And that's just in the top 100 (after which, in my opinion, choices start getting quirky -- though I've long been an old softie for Christopher Durang's The Marriage of Bette and Boo).
Things would clarify if you restricted these, as the Pulitzer does, to an American focus.Enough. Your choices and comments?
[ photo: Arthur Kopit, who wrote Indians]

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Laura Little named exec director of CdA Summer Theatre

Longtime arts and community supporter Laura Little has been named executive director of Coeur d'Alene Summer Theater.

Little has been a subscriber and committee member for several theaters; has been on the board of the Civic; has served on the board of a charitable foundation; has founded a talent agency; and served until recently as executive director of Christian Youth Theater--Spokane.

"My overall focus will be to ensure that the Northwest understands what a treasure in has in CST. Why go to Seattle to enjoy the arts? We have Broadway right here!” Little says.

She'll be concentrating on "promoting the summer camps, booking master classes, starting a volunteer guild, finding housing for the actors, setting up auditions" along with enriching audience development, performing employee evaluations and doing community outreach.

According to her job description, she will also develop and oversee budget guidelines and generally act as the face of CST to the community.

Little adds that "Roger is still in control of the artistic end and Grant will continue running the business side of things."

This year's season runs from June 12-Aug. 21 and includes The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Cinderella, Pump Boys and Dinettes, and Hairspray.

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review of *Avenue Q*

at the INB Center through Valentine's Day

You know how psychologists sometimes encourage troubled little kids to talk to dolls? Externalizing feelings like that — talking to a pretend-friend — helps the tykes reveal and examine anxieties that they otherwise might not be willing to discuss.
That’s what it’s like watching Avenue Q.
The puppets do the heavy lifting for us. Are you a lot more likely to discuss the weather and the latest sports scores than you are to earnestly engage another human being on issues that really matter, like sex and race and the meaning of life?
Well, join the club. We could all use a little puppet therapy.
Bobo feels fortunate to have witnessed a musical as amusing, edgy and yes, inspiring, as Avenue Q.
Brent Michael DiRoma has expressive voices in both halves of his significant gay-straight equivalence doubling as both Princeton and Rod.
And while I was initially disappointed that the Thursday night audience was getting the understudy Kate Monster, Ashley Eileen Bucknam and her talented doubling demonstrated that conventional Kate & provocative Lucy live, at least a little bit, inside many women.
From the soundtrack alone, you wouldn’t know how extensively this show uses TV screens to spoof the simple-minded teaching methods of Sesame Street, then twists them to give them a wicked adult kick.
The sound mix, however, was off: some voices were shrieky-squealy; sometimes the five-man band simply overwhelmed the lyrics with too much volume.
The doubling of puppets could be confusing -- three actors have no puppets, some have two, some have more than two, some throw their voices over to puppets they’re not holding; some puppets have two operators, one of whom never speaks or sings. Couldn’t the creators have divided the roles more generously? (But as I said, the doubling of Rod (gay) and Princeton (straight) does highlight how romantic-longing is a human emotion, not exclusive either to my kind of sexuality or yours.
Face-to-face puppet squabbles are funny. (In general, the puppet-choreography was remarkably expressive and well done.)
Because of the puppet confusions, personally, I never quite resolved the look at the puppets/look at the humans dilemma.
Bobble-head chirpiness and dance moves, when shared by both humans and puppets, are funny -- it mocks the over-serious side of ourselves and unlocks the playfulness. That’s what Avenue Q does: It gives us permission, during a two-hour recess for overworked adults, to pause and be creative and accepting again. It allows us to look at ourselves from the perspective of the kid inside, who always wanted better things — back when we first were dreaming our dreams.

And I feel embarrassed about having bought into WestCoast Entertainment’s cautions about not over-stressing the profanity content.
(Hey, cussing is nothing to be proud of, and we should all limit it, especially in public -- which I DO find offensive — but studies have shown that a little cussing is physiologically a good thing, and we should stop being in denial about how we all do it from time to time. Sort of like this show’s themes about admitting that racism, porn, sexual desire and schadenfreude are not exactly utterly foreign to the vast majority of us.)
But it’s about time to shed the poor-little-provincial-Spokane attitude. Yes, we’re in the red half of a blue state, and I did see two walkouts tonight, and the mega-church members probably aren’t flocking to a gay-porn-puppet show. But judging from the ample size and laughter of Thursday night’s opening-night crowd, there’s a critical mass of folks here now who aren’t fazed by those New York City liberal ways.
Avenue Q, far from being childish or obscene, is enlivening, enspiriting, and very human and forgiving.

DiRoma’s voice was particularly expressive on “Purpose,” his longing-song. In general, Bobo was pleasantly surprised by how often this show, often marketed as being full of potty-mouth puppets and oh-my-God-somebody-might-be-offended, instead has plenty of quiet, touching, serious, wise, well-integrated moments. And DiRoma made his “I want” song dramatic.
The pair of Bad Idea Bears (Kerri Brackin and Jason Heymann) were hilarious: They were externalizations of our guilty impulses. (So is Trekkie Monster.) The show lets us see how easy it turn one Long Island Iced Tea into four, how easy it is to fall into bed with the wrong/right person.
Treating serious stuff in a silly manner is cathartic, too. (Monsters are discriminated against as “people of fur.”) The song about racism devolves into a soft-shoe routine: silly but serious, but silly, all at once.
The cast was vocally strong.

The best test of your threshold for what’s funny or not in this show might be Kate’s crabby old bitch of a boss at the kindergarten where she teaches, one Miss Lavinia Thistletwat, who insists on being called by her last name, because otherwise the kids wouldn’t respect her.
As for the "Porn" song, it’s hilarious when Trekkie self-censors (covering his mouth instead of chiming in for the 15th time with “for porn!”) — especially when juxtaposed with the line soon after: ‘Hey, guys, just grab your dick and double-click ... for porn!”
A cheap joke that appeals to my own sensibilities: Rod, as a Republican and an investment banker, is good for ... absolutely nothing. And therefore he might as well just stay in the closet.

Soon after, Princeton and Kate are having loud, screaming missionary-position sex! (Can they do that onstage?) And then you realize, they’re just puppets.
Dislocating emotions from the actors to the bunches of fuzz and latex that they’re manipulating can be

In the context of all the puppet play, Gary Coleman stroking the broom obscenely got a bit too crude, too literal. But Gary and then Trekkie burying their faces lasciviously deep, deep into the bosoms of Lucy the Slut --that was hilarious.

Bucknam was touching on “a fine, fine line between love and a waste of time.” Again, lots of serious, thoughtful emotion here, given all the more impact by the fact that moments before, you were laughing at puppet-silliness.

And you’ll never think the same way again, ever, about the relationship between a slang word for orgasm and the word “commitment.” (Brilliant. Summarized in just two words the whole battle of the sexes.)

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review of *Honky Tonk Angels*

Honky Tonk Tanks

This is the worst Interplayers show in nearly 20 years. Pandering is no way to rescue a theater

What if some actors showed up at a cowboy bar and started enacting dramatic scenes from Tennessee Williams? They’d get shoved out into the parking lot.
Why then are theater managers allowing balloon-breasted Dolly Parton caricatures and hot-pantsed farm girls in pigtails to croon pickup-truck music inside a theater?
You want some Patsy-Tammy-Loretta-Dolly melodies, one after another, with rote patter and corny choreography interjected? Fine. They have casino ballrooms for that.
People go to the theater to be exposed to new sensations and ideas, not to be talked down to as if they were a bunch of mindless, lovesick stooges.
Honky Tonk Angels, a musical revue seldom produced (for good reason), is at its most depressing when the audience feels the need to clap along feebly to the pre-recorded, drum-machine beat of “Delta Dawn” while a trio of low-rent angels (white satin dresses, silver belts) act as cheerleaders, their eyes pleading with their onlookers.
By the end of that “Delta” song, I didn’t care what goddamn flower she had on — and as for “Ode to Billie Joe,” I wish Billie Joe McAllister would hurry up, jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge and take this show and its “playwright” with him.

Honky Tonk Angels — bravely performed by a trio of women with pasted-on smiles — has its moments of harmonized prettiness. But it’s a floor show, not a musical.
At the outset, unfortunately, Jennifer Jacobs is required to stroll out and start jabbering about her fellow actresses (instead of doing exposition and actually interacting with them). The effect is like one of Disney’s animatronic World of Tomorrow exhibits, and just about as realistic and engaging. Soon they’re threatening us with a hootenanny.
Jacobs has the trio’s loveliest singing voice and a gift for engaging front-row onlookers while riffing on “playwright” Ted Swindley’s predictable patter. Marina Kalani gamely tries to inject some hubba-hubba excitement into a mostly anemic “9 to 5.” As the farm girl, however, Emily Cleveland’s throatier delivery didn’t project as well. But there was some lovely three-part harmony at the end of “Paradise Road,” and “I Will Always Love You” was a stirring highlight.
And while the singers were hampered by piped-in music — there are no live musicians here — the evening prompted a lot of “Five down, 26 musical numbers to go” thinking. Because characterization is not Mr. Ted Swindley’s strong suit. At least his
Always… Patsy Cline (performed at Interplayers in 2003) had the benefit of the developing singer-fan friendship and Cline’s tragic story arc. Unfortunately, as subtitle for this show, apparently he chose “Two and a Half Hours of One Damn Thing After Another.”

No, I’m not a country fan. But as my review of the Jeff Bridges movie Crazy Heart (page 39 of the Feb. 11 Inlander) demonstrates, I like it fine when it’s sung to express genuine dilemmas and accompanied by credible behavior that doesn’t talk down to its listeners.
The purpose of selling out like this — of doing a show for people who don’t really like theater — was to rake in the bucks so that Interplayers can live to fight another day. And maybe the theater will sell a few more tickets to country fans who aren’t regular theatergoers.
But later this season, will those country fans return to the likes of
Eleemosynary and Psychopathia Sexualis?
Pandering doesn’t mean profit. Pandering just drives away your core audience.
The way to make people come back to Interplayers is to perform intelligent comedies and dramas, not the
Hee Haw high jinks of dreck like this.
And as for ticket sales: The opening-night house was almost exactly half full.

Artistic director Reed McColm is working hard to rescue a Spokane cultural institution that people care about, as the capacity and near-capacity audiences for the recent Love Letters fundraisers indicate. But his board’s decision to pin their hopes on a Honky Tonk hit were unfounded.
The conclusion was emotionally manipulative, with the sadness unearned and the bid for significance unrealized. And then the sound system wavered.
In my 18 years of going to Interplayers,
Honky Tonk Angels is the worst show I’ve seen. Only one or two others even come close.
So it’s fitting that
Honky Tonk’s bumpkin characters sing “I’ll Fly Away” four times.
After Feb. 21, thankfully, they will. 

Honky Tonk Angels continues at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St., on Wednesdays-Sundays through Feb. 21. Tickets: $15-$21; $12-$19, seniors. Visit or call 455-PLAY.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Shameless plug for online book discussion before Get Lit

Not really theater-related, but ...
(On the other hand, Bobo counted nearly 500 folks at Gonzaga on Tuesday night for Sharon Olds. And poetry readings are a kind of theater: Focused on the words and not the gestures, of course, though it was pleasant to be reminded how much facial expressions can add humor and foreboding, even when the speaker's stuck behind a podium.)

Anyway, Bobo's trying to get the word out on a literary thing he's trying to pull off:
A couple of online book clubs devoted to works written by two novelists, both of whom (by coincidence) will appear in Spokane at Get Lit! on April 17:
Richard Russo and Victor Lodato

Specifcally, I'm trying to inaugurate online discussion forums centered on Richard Russo’s novel That Old Cape Magic (about a middle-aged writer caught up in memories of his snobbish parents and the way his marriage used to be) and Victor Lodato’s novel Mathilda Savitch (in which a secretive teenage girl investigates her sister’s death). 

Bobo met Lodato briefly at the O'Neill National Theater Center in Connecticut, back in July 2005. (I remember; he won't; he was workshopping a play; I was there as a practicing critic.)
Russo's going to be interviewed onstage by Jess Walter as the premier event at Get Lit this April. 

In early April at Auntie’s Bookstore, we're going to schedule discussons at which you’ll have a chance to meet the people you’ve discussed the books with online. Visit “Inlander Book Club” at

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Support shown

Sold out, three-quarters-full, nearly sold out — that's the report from Interplayers' three fund-raising performances of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters. Ellen Travolta and Jack Bannon donated their skills so that all receipts went toward keeping the theater's doors open. Best of all, playgoers opened their checkbooks and made additional donations.
Recession, gloom, nobody cares, blah blah — and yet there's a cohort of folks around here who want local theater to flourish. Travolta reports that after a similar, previous fund-raising performance, Bannon wrote Gurney to express how much that script moves listeners — and that Gurney wrote back in thanks.
We struggle. But the struggle's worth it.

[ photo: Gurney, from ]

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Cast list for *The Spitfire Grill*

runs March 19-April 11 at the Civic's Studio Theater

Music and book by James Valcq; lyrics and book by Fred Alley
Based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff

Directed by Marianne McLaughlin
Music direction by Janet Robel

Percy Talbott: Manuela Peters
Hannah Ferguson: Judi Pratt
Shelby Thorpe: Liberty Harris
Caleb Thorpe: Aaron Waltmann
Sheriff Joe Sutter: Brian Gunn
Effy Krayneck: Sallie Christensen
The Visitor: Bryan D. Durbin

World premiere in November 2000; produced off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 2001.

Elyse Sommer's Oct. 2001 CurtainUp review is here, along with a snip:
The Spitfire Grill opens with Percy getting out of jail. She longs to start over in an idyllic town like Gilead, but ...
"Gilead turns out to be an economically depressed dead-end but Percy's arrival leads to major changes in the lives and attitudes of everyone she becomes involved with: Hannah, the crusty old owner of The Spitfire Grill who reluctantly employs Percy; Hannah's nephew Caleb and his meek wife Shelby; Effy, the post mistress and town rumor monger; Joe the sheriff and Percy's parole officer; a not so mysterious visitor to Hannah's backyard. Of course, Percy herself is not immune to redemptive change."

[ poster: from an Oct. '08 production at Kentucky's Asbury College ]

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Audition for *Eleemosynary* and *Psychopathia Sexualis*

at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St.
on Monday-Tuesday, Feb. 15-16, at 7 pm
Prepare a one-minute monologue; a second, contrasting monologue may also be required of you. In addition, possible cold readings.
"Performers will be paid for rehearsals and performances. Cast must be available for all performances; please do not audition for a show with which you may have a calendar conflict."

Eleemosynary by Lee Blessing, directed by Maria Caprile
(begins rehearsals on March 29; runs April 15-May 1)
Caprile seeks three actresses: teens to 20s; 30s-40s; 50s and older

Psychopathia Sexualis by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Reed McColm
(rehearsals begin on April 26; runs from May 13-29)
McColm seeks 3m, 2w (all 20s-40s, though one of the two men is 40s-60s)

[ photo: Richard von Krafft-Ebing with his wife Maria Luise; from Wikipedia Commons; Krafft-Ebing wrote the, ahem, seminal work on sexual perversions (1886) that is quoted in Shanley's play's title; such a contented-looking, ahem, Victorian-era couple ]

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Sometimes actors know best

An addendum to the video, print preview and blog REview of Sylvia at the Civic:

Spoiler alert:
Don't read if you haven't yet seen the show, or if you just don't care about actors talking about characterizations in light comedies. But do read if you're inclined to think that actors know more about their roles than critics (and even directors).

In addition to the wife, dog and husband in Sylvia, Gurney has created three more roles in the play, to be performed by one actor: Tom, a macho boy-dog owner whom Greg runs into while letting Sylvia run free at a dog park; Phyllis, an NYC socialite and friend of Kate's; and Leslie, a sexually ambiguous marriage counselor who tries to moderate the Greg-Kate dispute about their dog.

What's the through-line in those three roles?
Bobo volunteered that he thinks it has to do with neurosis: All three are screwed up, so at least they make Greg look more sane at least by contrast. Director Brooke Kiener — she was gracious enough to write a long and detailed e-mail in response to many of Bobo's questions ... after a long day of rehearsal -- thinks that the three roles form a commentary on gender roles.

But note the level of perceptiveness in the response of the guy who's actually playing these roles, Jerry Sciarrio (and who will appear, in another connection, on the Feb. 4 cover of The Inlander):

From an e-mail exchange, several weeks into rehearsal for Sylvia:

Bobo: Can you describe any through-line or similarity among your three characters?
Jerry Sciarrio: They all present a voice of authority; Tom has the latest and greatest theories about the condition of human-canine relations; Phyllis knows every one who is anyone in New York and can help Kate get where she wants to be; and Leslie has the cure to any and all relationship difficulties. When portrayed by one actor, it suggests that even though these opinions seem different and independent, they all are the same lame answer to a question that only Kate and Greg can answer for themselves.

Bobo: Why not just cast two more actors? What advantage is there to having one actor play all three roles?
Jerry: Gurney says, "It's all about how we project onto others our own kind of fantasies. Just as the husband sees the dog as a very attractive woman, so we ask the audience to project onto this fourth actor whatever he needs to be."
I would add that three actors would get rather bored with the small parts to play! (ha ha ha)


Actors often know their roles best — and Jerry really taught me something here about a play I thought I knew well — which brings up a related point. Bobo has criticized actors for doing X instead of Y in a show, only to discover afterwards that the director requested X. Conversely, I have praised actors for innovating B instead of A in a show, only to be told later that doing B was the director's idea all along.

Criticism's a crap shoot. Trust to the actor, is what I say.

[ photo by Young Kwak for The Inlander; from left: Bill Forant as Greg, Beth Carey as Sylvia, and Jerry Sciarrio as Tom ]

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*Honky Tonk Angels* at Interplayers

Feb. 4-20
with Marina Kalani as Sue Ellen, Emily Cleveland as Darlene (the youngest Angel) and Jennifer "J.J." Jacobs (the redhead) as Angela
[photos shot at Sunset Junction in Browne's Addition, by Young Kwak for The Inlander]

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