Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Poetry Live! on April 17

Actors will read and perform the poems of 17 finalists (grades 2-12) on Saturday, April 17, at 2 pm on the main stage at Spokane Civic Theater. Tickets: $5. Coordinated by Sandra Hosking and run in conjunction with Get Lit! Call 325-2507.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

George Green will lead Lake City Playhouse

Effective today, George Green has been appointed as executive artistic director of Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d'Alene.

The current artistic director at Lake City, Brian Doig, will stay on through June as an artistic consultant to Green (and to help Green, as Doig says, "figure out where the staples are").

Green's already engaged in marketing for CdA's community theater: He has announced that tickets for the final three performances of Amadeus (April 1-3) will be sold on a buy one, get one free basis. Visit lakecityplayhouse.org or call (208) 667-1323.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Best of Broadway Spokane announces 2010-11 season

Oct. 6-9, 2010
South Pacific

Oct. 18
Liza Minnelli

Oct. 27
The Capitol Steps

Nov. 5

Dec. 1
Spring Awakening

Feb. 10-13, 2011
Legally Blonde: The Musical

March 24-27
9 to 5: The Musical

April 22-23

May 15-29, 2011

Well, for one night in December and a couple of weeks in May 2011, Bobo and plenty of musical theater fans got their wishes granted. (Makes us feel downright "Popular.")

But are we legally required to sit through weeks of dreck to get there? Cats feels like a nasty, recurring skin rash.

And I'm pretty sure they got the date and venue wrong for Liza Minnelli, because just two weeks from now at the Arena is that Walking with Dinosaurs thing.

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Let this be a warning ...

... to Wes Deitrick's cast, now in rehearsal at the Civic: Megan Mullally has exited stage right (and in a huff), abandoning the planned Broadway production of Lips Together, Teeth Apart.

Everyone play nicely, now.

[ photo: from 2space.net ]

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fun theatrical reading

Bobo browses sites, gets behind, fails to post ...

In an effort to spread the word about recent articles of note, here goes:

In The Guardian, John Caird's 10 tips for directors:
Unfortunately ends with a plug for his book, but — despite a couple of the commenters — some reasonable advice for those who want to break into or improve their stage directing. Note how obvious (and yet frequently ignored) Nos. 1 and 2 are.
Bobo's often reminded — in casual conversation, in looking around at shows — at how seldom local actors and directors attend one another's shows. (Probably I'm missing something. But if I'm not ...)
What are the chief reasons that you, Local Theater Person, don't get out to shows more often? a) money, b) time, c) unconvinced of quality, d) not that passionate about theater, would rather play with my cat, e) too baked to care.

In The London Times, Sir Peter Hall and Sir Alan Ayckbourn reminisce about theatrical good times — worth reading if for nothing other than Hall's reverse-psychology approach to giving notes at rehearsal.

Also in The Guardian, a piece about Juliet and Her Romeo — an adaptation for geezers, as it were, in which Sian Phillips (I, Claudius) and Michael Byrne (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) play the lovers in old age: Juliet's in a nursing home, and her daughter decides to marry her off to wealthy man — that is, until fellow nursing-home occupant Romeo catches sight of Juliet's lustrous gray hair and distinguished wrinkles.

The best profile of Sam Shepard I've ever read, by Carole Cadwalladr in (again) The Guardian: Shepard on feeling like a misfit, on the effects of his fame on his children, on doodling in his notebooks because that other Sam (Beckett) did.

But most important of all:  Theresa Rebeck's speech on sexist discrimination against women in the theater.
In this area, we are fortunate to have Yvonne A.K. Johnson running the region's oldest — and, currently, most stable and successful — theater, and to have Sandy Hosking writing as co-Resident Playwright, also at the Civic (and directing, too!). Rebeck cites the abysmally low numbers of female playwrights and directors in the business. And yet women are earning most of America's academic degrees, now at all levels — and they buy most of the theater tickets.

The link to the misogynistic review (from Oct. 2000) that she refers to is here.

(For now, Bobo is following a strategy of posting theater-community-only-oriented material here on this blog while posting theater-related-but-more-general-interest stuff both here and at Inlander.com. For the 13 of you who are listening: Is that a good procedure? ]

[ photo: Theresa Rebeck, from theinsider.com ]

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Monday, March 22, 2010

*Amadeus* at Lake City Playhouse: interview with director Jhon Goodwin

Bobo's phone interview with Jhon Goodwin, director of the Lake City Playhouse production of Amadeus (March 25-April 3), took place on Saturday, March 20. The show will be featured as an Inlander Pick in the Calendar of Events section of the March 25 Inlander.

Goodwin marvels at the “beautiful, almost Shakespearean language” of Peter Shaffer’s 1980 stage drama.

This production will star Eric Paine (Lend Me a Tenor at the Civic) as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. “Tom Hulce played the role in a much more sarcastic vein,” Goodwin says. “Eric has an incredibly sincere take on this role. The love between Mozart and his wife Constanze is emphasized much more in our production, as is his admiration for Salieri.” In this production, Goodwin says, “Mozart is an artistic genius who is simply aware of his genius, as opposed to being arrogant about it. He’s just aware that he is that good.”

In rehearsals, Goodwin has been so impressed by Damon Abdallah’s characterizaion of Salieri “that it’s almost more interesting than the film. Salieri’s conflict within himself, in wanting to be what Mozart is [a genius] and in getting God to allow him that — he has an understanding of Mozart’s talent that other people don’t. But in railing against God, Salieri sees this vile little libertine get what [Salieri] wanted — so he commits himself to God to get this gift.” But what we’ll see in Shaffer’s playscript and Abdallah’s performance, even more than in the 1984 film and its central, Oscar-winning performance by F. Murray Abraham, says Goodwin, is that “there isn’t any nobility or holiness in Salieri’s desire. It’s just very selfish. The audience becomes aware of his underlying motive, and they’ll leave knowing far more about him and about themselves.”

“Over the years, Shaffer has made it clear that his play is not history. He’s aware that there is no historical evidence that Salieri actually poisoned Mozart — these are the ramblings of a deranged man,” Goodwin says. “But Shaffer also makes it clear — and our production, too — that all the historical content doesn’t matter. For our purposes, we live within the world of the text.”

Goodwin also thinks that Paine’s portrayal will depict Mozart as “one of those flawed artists who had their fatal flaws. He was a child artist, of the kind who grew up to have issues — kind of a Lenny Bruce/Picasso/Jimi Hendrix kind of figure. The genius who’s creating the conflict as well as the beauty.” He had a substance abuse problem, says Goodwin: “He drank a lot of wine.”

The “Venticelli” (“little winds”) don’t appear in the movie at all, and they’re intended, in the stage version, to be played by men. Instead, in Goodwin’s Lake City production, two women dressed in white and black (visually distinct from the 10 other cast members) will hang on Salieri’s shoulders, always hovering near him.
“In the original script,” Goodwin says, “Salieri sends them out to get information — they are his spies and advisors. We gave them a questionable reality instead: Are they people, or are they not? We also want them to represent Salieri’s desires and doubts, his paranoia. It’ll be obvious that they’re doting on him.”
Other aspects of the staging will be non-representational and obviously theatrical as well. As Salieri, for example, Abdallah will step in and out of scenes, take the audience into his confidence.
“This is going to be a great showcase for Damon and his abilities.”

As a first-time director, Goodwin has “learned that acting is far less complicated than directing. And I’ve been surprised by how lonely I’ve been while directing [this show]. You’re out there by yourself. I’m a social animal, and I’m used to being up onstage, interacting with other people. But sitting out there and having to watch, it’s not nearly as social.”
And then there are the self-doubts, too. “I keep worrying,” Goodwin says. “Am I putting them in the right places? Are the pictures that I have in my head going to look good when they’re actually onstage?”

Goodwin says his best memory from rehearsal will be of commuting to CdA with Paine and Abdallah. “It’d be 30 minutes in the car with the two of them, riffing on The Simpsons and The Family Guy, going back and forth. I’d have Jerry Lewis on one side of me, and Peter from The Family Guy on the other. I was laughing so hard, I nearly drove off the road.”

Amadeus • Thursdays-Saturdays, March 25-27 and April 1-3, at 7:30 pm; and Sunday, March 28, at 2 pm • Tickets: $16; $13, seniors and military; $10, children and all Thursday night seats • Lake City Playhouse • 1320 E. Garden Ave, Coeur d’Alene • Visit lakecityplayhouse.org • Call: (208) 667-1323

For more theater news, visit inlander.com and click on “Arts & Culture” (theater blog).

[ photo of Amadeus (1984) from flickdirect.com ]

Sunday, March 21, 2010

*Lysistrata* and "Greek Week" at Gonzaga U

Lysistrata ... isn't that the comedy with the men stuck in an endless war, so the women go on a sex strike, and the men can't fight anymore because (as becomes enormously evident when they reappear onstage) particular bodily appendages of theirs have become enflamed with desire?

Yeah, some jokes -- even when they're 2,400 years old -- never grow old.

The Civic's production in 2004 had the men flouncing around with polystyrene swimming pool "noodles" protruding upwards from their groins. (Wires provided added, um, stiffness.)

And when you're attached to a stiff noodle, it's difficult to maintain even a modicum of dignity. (That Aristophanes, such a joker.)


Kevin Connell -- the Jesuit priest who is principal at Gonzaga Prep and who will be directing the Gonzaga U production of Lysistrata at the Magnuson Theater in College Hall, March 25-28 -- has advised Bobo that the G.U. males actors won't have any noodles, "though we've found an interesting and, I think, unique way" to represent the men's, er, predicament.

Don't bring the kids, but do bring your sense of humor.

Bring your sense of historical curiosity, too, because the production will be surrounded by the activities of "Greek Week." Here's a rundown:

Monday, March 22
Crosby Student Center, 9 am-7 pm, "The Homer-athon"
Students and faculty read The Odyssey. Yes, all 12,000 lines of it.

Tuesday, March 23
Jepson Center, 4:30 pm
G.U. prof discusses Lysistrata in the context of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE)

Wednesday, March 24
Jepson Center, 4:30 pm
G.U. lecturer discusses the "desperate housewives" of Aristophanes' comedy

Thursday, March 25
Jepson Center, 4:30 pm
Whitman professor discusses the physical layout of ancient Greek theaters
(Lysistrata, 7:30 pm; see below for details)

Friday, March 26
Jepson Center, 4:30 pm
big-name Univ. of British Columbia prof discusses the play's stagecraft
(Lysistrata, 7:30 pm)

Saturday, March 27
10 am, somewhere on campus
"Student Olympics," which sounds like a lot of frat boys in togas throwing javelins at each other
noon, Jundt Art Center:
Reed prof discusses ancient comedy and Athenian politics
2 pm, Lysistrata
4:30 pm, Jundt:
Utah prof discusses modern productions of Greek plays
7:30 pm, Lysistrata

Sunday, March 28
Lysistrata, 2 pm (all performances will have post-play discussions, too)

Real-life sex strikes were conducted by women in Colombia in 2006 and in Kenya in 2009. Also, the tail end of this post by Michael Riedel in the New York Post about the upcoming all-black production on Broadway of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage includes a mention of a new musical based on Lysistrata. It's by a playwright who's been produced at two Spokane theaters, and it's called Give It Up! (Seems the cheerleaders are holding out on the basketball team.)

Thursday-Saturday, March 25-27, at 7:30 pm, and Saturday-Sunday, March 27-28, at 2 pm
Tickets: $12; $10, G.U. employees; $8, students
Gonzaga, Magnuson Theater, east end of College Hall
502 E. Boone Ave.
Visit: gonzaga.edu/theatrearts
Call: 313-6553

For Spokane theater news, visit both stagethrust.blogspot.com and inlander.com under "Arts & Culture," theater blog.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review of *The Spitfire Grill*

at the Civic’s Studio Theater through April 11

You’re feeling depressed. You need comforting. You seek out a friend.
Your friend consoles you, but she also keeps calling attention to how kind she is for doing it. She even keeps reminding you of how she's doing it -- this memory here, that joke there, the shared memory that always makes you smile. (Remember?)
Pretty soon, you don't feel consoled anymore. Your friend is taking more pride in her own counseling skills than in actually comforting you. You feel a mix of uplift and manipulation.
That's what watching The Spitfire Grill is like.
Director Marianne McLaughlin's production of the 2001 musical (downstairs at Spokane Civic Theater through April 11) offers highlights: David Baker's cozy backwoods set, three compelling performances, several lovely musical moments, the inspiration of seeing regular folks overcoming adversities. But vocal weakness, a score and lyrics that are serviceable but usually not memorable, and too many emotional crises undermine this rendition of the popular musical.


The three standouts are Manuela Peters (as Percy, the outcast who reinvigorates these small-town folks and teases out their secrets), Brian Gunn (as her love interest, the local sheriff), and Liberty Harris as Shelby (the domineered housewife who asserts herself and forges a friendship with Percy).
Peters has a tour de force in "Out of the Frying Pan," when she sings expressively and cooks ineptly, all at the same time. (Baker's working diner pays attention to detail.) Harris rises to the show's vocal peak in the following song, "When Hope Goes," a lament for a small-town hero. With affecting simplicity -- just a few economical movements -- Harris conveys a parade passing by; for the song's conclusion, Harris made "We are waiting still" convey all the disappointment of hopes that have been smashed. Peters and Harris together generated lots of girlish excitement in "The Colors of Paradise" and in the whole flurry over the future of the Grill. (Despite some quavering in her unaccompanied show-opening solo, Peters demonstrates that she can hit the high and joyous notes.)
Gunn looks more like a choir boy than a sheriff, but he has the knack of acting while singing: In a couple of songs about the forests looming outside this small Wisconsin town, he switched from skepticism to appreciation. (Percy, we're supposed to think, has that kind of magical effect on everyone.)

None of the rest of the cast, however, is vocally strong. They were in earnest, but their emotions sometimes got splattered by flatted and off-key notes.
Aaron Waltman avoided cliche by tempering the grouchy, controlling husband's grouchiness and control issues. But his singing has projection and pitch problems.
As the elderly owner of the diner, Judi Pratt was too grandmotherly from the outset: More aloofness and distrust would better suit her few tight-lipped lines in the early going and, in addition, set up an emphatic contrast with the rejuvenated woman she becomes. Sallie Christensen found the comedy as the local gossip-monger.
At the keyboard, music director Janet Robel leads cello and mandolin in musical accents that support the action, right down to the plink-plink of a telephone being dialed.
McLaughlin's direction is best in its simplicity: stand-and-deliver solo moments, a nice three-part madrigal for the passage of winter into spring that underscored the townspeople's hopes and disappointments.

On opening night, part of the sound system went out. Lighting cues were slow, and actors sometimes strolled into dark dead spots (and remained in them). But those technical difficulties will soon be fixed.
What won't find a remedy is the show's herky-jerk sentimentality, in which characters' emotional sore spots and long-withheld secrets, barely hinted at, are suddenly broached in one song and smoothed over in the next -- so we might as well wipe our hands on our aprons and move on to the next emotional crisis, because thank God, that one's taken care of. Peters, for example, packs emotional wallop into Percy's big second-act revelation, but then a redemptive song like "Wild Bird" soon follows, and that's all sorted out, then. Fred Alley's lyrics over-rely on repetition, and they tend to literalize their metaphors -- again, over-emphasizing the symbolism and yanking on our heartstrings.
In the show's least believable redemption, Percy reintroduces a fellow outcast to society in "Shine." McLaughlin and Peters deserve much credit for the beauty of this testimonial song, with the actress extending two hands toward a heavenly light and pleading, it becomes clear, for her own and everyone's redemption. But I couldn't shake off the feeling, while watching, that a deeply entrenched problem stretching over several years had just been solved in the space of a few minutes.

Puppy dogs and the National Anthem -- they make me tear up every time. But when you stuff a two-hour musical with the distrust of outsiders, prodigal sons and daughters, controlling spouses, long-held resentments, the protection of family secrets, sinners in need of redemption, touching complaints about hard times, unlikely romance, marriages busted and mended, busybodies and small-town American values, by gum, it all gets too frothy. There's too much insistence on the audience's fellow-feeling.

In just nine years, Spitfire has been produced hundreds of times, all over the country and even internationally. Problems are overcome, lives are redeemed, the value of community is affirmed. The show obviously appeals to plenty of folks.
I had high hopes for this production, and it has its moments. But mostly, I was disappointed. Spitfire's flame shines brightly at times, but mostly it's weak and flickering.

Added on March 21:
The initial version of this review attributed the set and lighting design incorrectly. David Baker designed the set and lights for this production.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Audition for *'Til Death Do Us Part*

Auditions: Friday, April 9, at 6:30 pm
Auntie's Bookstore, second floor, 402 E. Main Ave.

Be ready to play improv games.
Seeking 15-20 male and female actors to appear ages 21-65.

Performance: Thursday, April 29, in the evening at the Glover Mansion, 321 W. Eighth Ave.
All volunteer actors will receive a free dinner on the night of the event.

Call Rebecca at 999-4984 or visit www.outspokane.com.

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*The Comedy of Errors*: review by Reed McColm

A cheerful production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, the Bard’s earliest comedy (possibly his first play ever), was staged by Bill Marlowe’s Revelers Drama troupe at SFCC this month. Marlowe himself directed with expected energy and verve, using an unusually swift, clean, and locally flavored adaptation of the original by none less than The Inlander’s busy theater critic Michael Bowen. In addition to cutting, revising, and retouching the prose, Bowen also undertook a role of crucial authority onstage, in the person of the Duke, whose judge-like appearances bookended the play and both triggered and concluded the delightful confusion. That Bowen pulls off all his roles rather well was perhaps the happiest news of the evening, given the many ways his ambitious efforts could have disappointed.

The Comedy of Errors depends on something of a stretch. Identical twin brothers, sons of a wealthy merchant (here called Cleon), are separated soon after birth in a storm at sea. In the same storm, another set of identical infants, sons of a poor woman, are also separated. One boy from each set is thereafter raised by Cleon, while the other two mismatched boys are kept by the mother in another city, neither set knowing what happened to the other. (Hate when that happens.) And all of this happens decades before the play even begins. Whew.

Further complicating the bustle is that both sets of boys are identically named. Where Shakespeare called both twin noblemen Antipholus, Bowen renamed them Nicholas; the two servants, formerly each known as Dromio, were here both Yoyo. (Comical, yes — but is that more credible a name?). These sobriquets are of course necessary for misidentifications to work, but the befuddlement could easily spread out from the stage and hopelessly into the house. Shakespeare helped satisfy the problem by identifying one set as being from Ephesus, and the other from Syracuse; Bowen helpfully reset the towns as Hillyard and Kennewick, and — what do you know? — that was fun. Marlowe’s deft direction and, especially, his bright costume plot (Renae Meredith designed the set and coordinated costumes) made relationships clear, without betraying the (in)credibility of mistaken identities made by the characters.

review of The Comedy of Errors
by Shakespeare; adaptation by Michael Bowen
Directed by William Marlowe
SFCC Revelers Drama, Spartan Theatre
reviewed by Reed McColm; based on the March 13, 2010 performance

Bobo comments:
Reed was awfully generous here, given that he had directed the Interplayers production in February of Honky Tonk Angels, which Bowen savaged in print. Errors closed on March 14, but it's nice to hear another voice in local theater reviews.

[ photo: Reed McColm, from booksinmotion.com ]

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Marianne McLaughlin on *The Spitfire Grill*

Here are some outtakes from an e-mail interview with Marianne McLaughlin,
the director of The Spitfire Grill (at the Civic’s Studio Theatre, March
19-April 11). A fuller preview of the show appears in tomorrow's Inlander, pp. 19-20.

Synopsis at the musical's official site is here.

For three production photos from The Spitfire Grill, visit the new inlander.com (starting tomorrow, March 18), click on "Arts & Culture" and then "Theater-Blog" ... and you'll see the same content as here -- at least, going back to Feb. 12, 2010 (but not the four and half years' worth of blog posts at stagethrust.blogspot.com before that).

INLANDER: If you had to choose, would you say that this musical is more about Percy’s or
Hannah’s redemption? The ex-con or the crusty matriarch?

McLAUGHLIN: The bond that Percy and Hannah form as the show progresses, even if they are not aware of it, roots itself in a need for redemption, but also the realization
that they must face their demons and then finally forgive themselves.

What particular song has been most complicated to stage, both vocally and in terms of choreography and blocking?    
“Shoot the Moon,” while not vocally the most difficult, had the cumbersome detail of large mailbags and a wheelbarrow to deal with in the small space representing the seating area of the grill in the Studio Theatre. Troy Nickerson [the Civic’s resident director] did assist on some of the large-group numbers, but this particular one had to be my own work in progress,
as I was never satisfied with it and constantly making changes, finally coming
to the decision that less is more.

Which tunes will the audience be humming on the way out?
“Colors of Paradise” always seems to stay with me after it’s been sung.

When Percy moves into her new, Spartan room at Hannah’s,
it’s like her old prison cell. Any special lighting effects at this point?   
The bedroom at the end of the dark hall is indicated as we
see it through Percy’s imagination. Because this is the Studio Theatre and
because the only time her room is indicated is in her first song, “A Ring
Around the Moon,” the choice was made not to include it in the set design. In
this case, it is the job of the actor [Manuela Peters] — with the aid of some
dark, shadowy lighting — to suspend the audience’s belief and take them there.

Is “A Ring Around the Moon” Percy’s optimistic song of liberation?
The song serves two purposes: exposition at the beginning of the show and indicating Percy’s decision to start a new life. There is certainly optimism, but there are also strong feelings of uncertainty as to whether she will be accepted by the residents of Gilead — and whether she will succeed in finally putting her past to rest.

When the townspeople gather at the grill, how are you staging the overlapping songs?
I wanted to communicate to the audience that this was another morning at the grill — everyone’s regular meeting place, seeing the people who they have known all their lives — the caveat being, on this particular morning, the arrival of Percy Talbot. So while the staging is
stylized in many ways, I wanted it to be relaxed and natural. The overlapping and difficulty of this number [reflects] the growing agitation and curiosity over Percy’s arrival. 

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spokane Children's Theatre: *The Nightingale*

A stage adaptation by Michael Nelson of Hans Christian Andersen's 1843 tale about an emperor who's enchanted by the song of a nightingale — until he's presented with an even more fascinating (to him) mechanical bird.

Well, when the emperor later lays dying, which bird do you think has more compassion for him — the one made out of feathers or the one made out of metal?

Director Sara Edlin-Marlowe has transferred the action to Japan to enable a Kabuki-style presentation.

Spokane Children’s Theater presents The Nightingale • Saturday, March 20, at 1 pm; Sunday, March 21, at 1 pm and 4 pm; Friday, March 26, at 7 pm; Saturday, March 27, at 10 am and 1 pm; and Sunday, March 28, at 1 pm and 4 pm • Tickets: $10; $8, children • SFCC, Spartan Theater, Bldg. 5 • 3410 W. Fort George Wright Dr. • Visit: spokanechildrenstheatre.org • Call: 328-4886 or (800) 325-SEAT

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Cast for *Lips Together, Teeth Apart*

at the Civic's Studio Theater, April 30-May 23

Directed by Wes Deitrick

with Amy Nathan and Ron Ford as Sally and Sam Truman, and Tami Rotchford and Dave Rideout as Chloe and John Haddock

Two married couples spend the Fourth of July weekend at the home of one of the women's brothers, who recently died of AIDS. The 1991 play was written by Terrence McNally (b. 1939); the original Manhattan Theater Club production starred Christine Baranski as Chloe, Anthony Heald as John, Swoosie Kurtz as Sally and Nathan Lane as Sam. McNally uses interior monologues, ghost characters (the gay men next door), and a symbolically upscale house and swimming pool to examine the couples' loneliness and insecurities.

Frank Rich's 6/26/91 review in the New York Times is here.

[ image: from a Sept. '09 production in Upper Montclair, New Jersey ]

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George Green resigns at Civic

Effective in late March, George Green will resign as director of development at Spokane Civic Theatre. He characterizes the parting as amicable and is exploring other opportunities in the Spokane area.

Changes in the leadership at other local theaters have or will soon take place, and I'll report on them once I get confirmation.

Added March 16:

Executive Artistic Director Yvonne A.K. Johnson responds: "We wish George our very best in his future endeavors and during this transitional period. It is our hope that he will continue to be involved at Spokane Civic Theatre as an active performing artist and volunteer.

"Spokane Civic Theatre is in the process of restructuring a few positions as we continue to grow and work towards our long-range strategic plan for our capital campaign for the future three-story addition (new studio theatre, rehearsal space/dance studio, practice rooms, conference/meeting room, additional dressing room, restrooms, offices and hopefully, an intimate cafe/bar. The Main Stage full fly system will also be restored to the original building plan."

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review of *Art* at Interplayers

through March 27

“Art” isn’t about art at all. It’s about friendship: How we try to domineer our friends and mold them according to our own values.
It’s a thoughtful play, but “Art” is also a comedy — because the relationship decisions that playwright Yasmina Reza’s three characters make are all so laughably bad.
Suppose, for example, that your best friend did something that you considered wrong-minded, wasteful, pretentious and embarrassing. Would you tell him?
Would you tell him kindly, and with an eye to preserving your friendship? Or would you tell him unkindly, getting all principled and cold with him?

In director Reed McColm’s production of Yasmina Reza’s play (through March 27), Interplayers has bounced back with one of the current season’s best productions.

As Marc — who scoffs at the purchase by his friend Serge (Roger Welch) of an all-white painting — Jack Bannon offers the evening’s most subtle performance. When mocking the idea that a non-painting can have emotional “resonance,” Bannon clutches two hands to his chest and looks skyward, ever the martyr. When Serge praises an ancient writer for being “incredibly modern,” Bannon repeats the phrase with withering sarcasm. When Serge rebels against Marc’s disdain, Bannon responds with a resigned look, his hands folded, condescendingly calm.

Bannon's Marc seems to assume that his friends will share his taste in art — if they’re his friends, and if it’s really art.

Unfortunately, Bannon’s energy level seemed low at a preview-night performance; his voice, occasionally feeble. All three cast members were guilty of line-wobbles, noticeable lapses, places where the 90-minute, intermissionless pace needed to quicken. Over the course of the run, however, they’ll probably resolve such problems.

As Serge — purchaser of the all-white canvas — Roger Welch sweeps his arm across his prized possession. “It’s plain,” he says, investing the painting with more dignity than it deserves. It has only a few swipes of indiscernible color — enough to test whether we’ll restrain our ego (that’s a nice painting, Serge) or exert it (you’re an idiot, Serge).
Welch is perhaps at his best during the sequences when Serge and Marc gang up on their mutual friend Yvan (Patrick Treadway), who’s caught in the middle. Lounging on a sofa, with drink in hand, Welch tosses off insults with a sour expression, walking the fine line between blunt honesty and supercilious disdain.

Treadway’s finest moment comes in a mid-play rant, a miniature soap opera of a monologue in which Yvan whines about preparations for his upcoming wedding. Watch how Treadway avoids most look-how-frantic-I-am choices, instead choosing to stay seated on the couch, bouncing up only on occasion.

Poor spineless Yvan: caught between two massive egos, his pleas for the civility and consideration of genuine friendship go unheard. McColm emphasizes the dissolving friendships by disengaging his three actors in separate pools of light; for the various two-on-one face-offs, he aligns twosomes shoulder to shoulder while isolating the third actor.

Damon Abdallah's set successfully creates elegant ambience in the Upscale Spartan style.

Bannon invests the play’s final speech with a sobering reflection: We fill our lives with egotism. And then our lives disappear.
Will our legacies involve how many people loved us, or how well we upheld our principles? “Art” is the kind of play that inspires post-performance discussion — because you and your companions might have differing views about it.
At which point you may be compelled to choose: my friendships or my opinions?

“Art” sticks an all-white painting in our faces through March 27 on Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, and Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St. Tickets: $15-$21; $12-$19, seniors; $10, student rush. Visit interplayers.com or call 455-PLAY.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interplayers announces most of its 2010-11 season

The nice thing is the realization that somebody thinks -- and is actually working toward -- Interplayers having a next season.
Its 30th.
In memory of Bob Welch, and in tribute to Joan, the theater community and the playgoers of the Spokane area -- both avid and lukewarm -- ought to pull together to keep this concern going.
Because without it, the dream of trying to continue to approximate resident professional theater in Spokane just goes by the wayside.
Enough editorializing. Just don't take your arts NPOs for granted.

In the following, months are approximate.

Sept. 2010:
Together Again for the Next Time, by Reed McColm
Oct. 2010:
The 39 Steps, adapt. Patrick Barlow from John Buchan's novel
Nov.-Dec. 2010:
Jan. 2011:
Opus, by Michael Hollinger
March 2011:
April 2011:
Cotton Patch Gospel, by T. Key and R. Treyz, with music and lyrics by Harry Chapin
May 2011:
Privilege, by Paul Weitz

Six other plays are listed are listed on the subscription sheet handed out at tonight's preview performance of "Art," apparently as candidates for the two To Be Determined slots:

Honky Tonk Angels Holiday Spectacular, by Ted Swindley (I gotta admit, when Reed McColm alluded to this in his curtain speech, I thought he was joking. God help us.)
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (the one-woman show about grief, based on her experience in dealing with the deaths of her husband and daughter in a short space of time)
God of Carnage (another Yasmina Reza play, this one about to go into its third [and this time, all-black] cast on Broadway -- the premise has two wealthy married couples meeting after the 10-year-old son of Couple A has beaten up the son of Couple B)
Tuna Vegas, by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (apparently, this is like the CSI franchise -- it can be set in any locality)
boom, by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (apocalyptic three-hander for horny/philosophical youth and a strange woman who keeps banging on the timpani)
A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage; book and lyrics by Aaron Posner, music by J. Sugg

But back to the plays that are on the docket.
The first, of course, is McColm's sequel to his previous Christmas comedy.
Bobo just read The 39 Steps -- hilarious. Comic spy mystery. Dashing, stiff-upper-lip British hero finds himself embroiled in international intrigue. Plenty of hair's-breadth escapes. Three other actors: a woman to play the femme fatale and Scots farmer's wife; and two "clowns" tp play all the other roles.
Opus, recently done at Seattle Rep, is set in the world of classical music. A world-famous and all-male string quartet, due to the unreliability of one of its members, has to cut ties with him and hire a young woman -- with revelations about the past, both psychological and musical, in the offing.
Cotton Patch updates the gospels to modern-day Georgia.
Privilege, I am not yet privileged to know.

[ photo: from michaelhollinger.com ]

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Paint Never Dries

... that is, unless chandeliers and soaring violins are involved.

The recent London premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies — the sequel to Phantom of the Opera in which the Phantom, Christine and Raoul find themselves at Coney Island in 1907 — has been tagged by some wags with the so-boring, such-a-travesty nickname of "Paint Never Dries."

The reviews of Michael Billington in The Guardian and of Ben Brantley in the New York Times, though, follow a shared theme that suggests why Spokane will feel the Love in a touring version some years from now: a poor book featuring flat characters caught in unlikely situations, but — and here's the point — soaring melodies and lots of spectacle.

If you can hum the tunes on the way out and retain memories of a spectacular coup de theatre or two — well, that justifies the top ticket prices. All that other stuff is just filler. Billington and Brantley both emphasize that while the songs and spectacle are frequently effective, the story lags far behind.

This is exactly the wrong path for theater to follow. Especially in the impending era of 3D, we cannot compete with the movies on spectacle or soundtracks.

Do you want theater that's like an amusement park ride or like adult conversation? There's room for both, of course — but over-emphasis on the former will only drive up ticket prices, make "going out to the theater" a rare treat instead of a habit, and play into the hands of those who ratchet up the excitement factor until all entertainment relies on sensation instead of thought.

Trodding on plain boards, few special effects, appeals to the imagination, verbal exchanges, psychological insights, enough plot twists to keep it interesting ... if it was good enough at the Globe circa 1600 — and in Athens a couple of millennia before that — it should be good enough for us today.

But then Phantom first reached Spokane 11 years after its 1988 Broadway premiere; perhaps we have some time yet before the paint starts drying here.

[ photo: Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo in Love Never Dies, London, March 2010; see Leo Benedictus' review of the London reviews ]

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

R3 at SFCC in '11

A year from now (evidently in March 2011), William Marlowe plans to direct Shakespeare's Richard III at the Falls, with Damon Curtis Mentzer (most recently, A Tuna Christmas and Shakespeare in Hollywood, but also The Importance of Being Earnest at Actors Rep; and Irma Vep, Othello and Woman in Black at Interplayers, along with many others) in the hunchback title role.

Mentzer's on a hot streak, since he's getting married on March 22 (a Monday, natch -- we are theater people, after all). 
And all Bobo has to say is that if Damon proposed to Kari McClure in anything like the way that Richard of Gloucester woos Lady Anne in the play, then he's very lucky that Kari said yes.
We wish the soon-to-be-married couple much happiness and (if they so choose) many little thespians, clustered 'round the hearth for familial readers theater performances. (To be held, of course, on Monday nights.)

[ photo: Antony Sher as Richard III in 1984 for the Royal Shakespeare Company; from a North Texas blog called "Art&Seek," with a good commentary about a production of the play at the Kitchen Dog Theater ]

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

photos: *Art* at Interplayers

March 11-27 at Interplayers
by Yasmina Reza
directed by Reed McColm
starring Jack Bannon as Marc, Patrick Treadway as Yvan and Roger Welch as Serge

premiered in Paris in 1994, in London in 1996, and in New York in 1998
Won the Tony for Best Play in '98
has been translated into 30 languages
last produced at Interplayers nine years ago this month, in March 2001 -- directed by Joan Welch and with a set by Jason Laws; starring Michael Weaver as Serge, Peter Murray as Marc, and Steven L. Barron as Yvan

Serge buys a white painting (with a few white lines on it) for 200,000 francs. He's quite proud of it.
His best friend Marc, nonplussed, can't quite believe that his friend has done such a stupid thing.
Their insecure friend Yvan, who has family and upcoming-wedding problems of his own, gets caught in the crossfire.
What's more important — friendship, or principles of aesthetics?
Would a real friend insist that you should like (and dislike) everything he likes (and dislikes)?

from a 3/8/01 review of the Interplayers production by some guy named Bowen:
Playwright Yasmina Reza welcomes you to a dramatic world where men spout beliefs they don't really feel in order to achieve a supremacy they don't really want.
After all, when a man loathes what his friend loves -- that all-white painting again -- what is he to do? Ultimately, "Art" suggests that sometimes we should just accept our friends' opinions, even if -- especially if -- those beliefs violate our own private criteria for good taste.
.... Like Serge and Marc in the play, we project onto our friends the traits we insist they should have. These are the traits, we like to think, that we ourselves have placed there.
[ a mostly positive review, with some criticisms of each of the actors and of the directing ]

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

*The Comedy of Errors* photos

The Comedy of Errors offers wacky misunderstandings and madcap hijiinks at Spokane Falls Community College's Spartan Theater, Bldg. 5, on March 4-7 and March 11-14 — Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and on Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets: $8, suggested donation; or bring two cans of food for the SFCC Food Bank. Call 533-3592.

[ photos for The Inlander by Tammy Marshall. (1) Michael Brannan as Sir Nicholas of Hillyard, Christopher Lamb as Yoyo of Hillyard, Jamie Smith as Fat-Ass Nell, Geoff Lang as Sir Nicholas of Kennewick and Tony Morales as Yoyo of Kennewick. (2) Rushelle Provoncha as Adriana of Hillyard and Merrin Field as Lucy-Anna Hillyard-Clark. ]

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partial review of *Steel Magnolias*

Portraying “laughter through tears” is a tough proposition: Highlight the one-liner comedy too much, and it’s vaudeville; over-emphasize the pathos, and it’s saccharine.
That’s the challenge taken on by an accomplished ensemble of half a dozen actresses working with Robert Harling’s time-tested camaraderie-plus-tragedy play, Steel Magnolias. Their efforts lead to a good but imperfect production at the Civic (through March 21).

Spoiled, perhaps, by the 1989 movie, viewers may forget how difficult it is to get the tone of Harling’s play just right. His dialogue teeters between being delightfully heightened for the stage and being too clever to be credible: “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” “We went skinny-dipping and did things that frightened the fish.” “The nicest thing I can say about her is all her tattoos are spelled correctly.” “An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.”

Homophobes and zealous Christians come in for some spoofing in Steel Magnolias, but it’s gentle nudging, really. Conversational topics hop around, following their non sequitur paths only to dead-end in realistic ways. Director George Green keeps the six-way conversations going at a lively pace, even if he succumbs to some static blocking in the second act, when everyone stays rooted to the same spots for quite a spell.
Green’s production steers a mostly humorous course. The cast members, in their various ways, are all willing to make themselves look and sound ridiculous. (And that takes some bravery.) The payoff is the solidarity among them, the sense that these six women, over and above all the joking and sniping at each another, really do care for one another.

... with half a dozen more paragraphs in Thursday's Inlander.

[ photo by Young Kwak for The Inlander; Kelsey Strom (left) as Annelle and Molly Parish as Truvy ]

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