Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SSC does *MND* at WU

Translation: the Seattle Shakespeare Company, as reported here earlier,
will perform A Midsummer Night's Dream at Whitworth University's Cowles Auditorium
on Saturday, May 8, at 7 pm. Tickets: $5.

Some comments from director George Mount of the SSC:

"We have been wanting to get our shows to the Spokane area for a few
years. When we developed or regional touring programs, Spokane was always
an area we hoped to book into. However, traveling that far can be costly
and we want to keep our performance fees as low as possible.
"This year, we used money from a grant from the National Endowment for the
Arts as part of their Shakespeare in American Communities initiative. With
their support, a lot of the cost to schools and community theaters (our
primary "customers" for these tours) is greatly reduced. So I arranged with
several high schools in the area to come out and perform. We'll be in your
area for about a week and a half with performances in places like Deer Park,
Ritzville, Colville and Wilbur."

(On May 5 at noon, they'll perform a show for local high school students at Whitworth, then return on May 8 at night for a general-public show.)

"The production has seven actors playing all the parts," says Mount. "Each actor plays at
least two other characters, and most play three. And their third character
is a puppet! I've focused on the fairy tale-like nature of Midsummer and
costumed the cast in a style reminiscent of Victorian-era children's
literature illustrations, like the work of Arthur Rackham. The characters
of Puck and the fairy attendants to Titania are played by near life-sized
puppets manipulated by the actors. It's a highly theatrical approach to the
show, yet also keeps it streamlined and simple for touring. As you guessed,
the show has to fit into the back of an SUV with the actors arriving in a
separate vehicle. And while children's literature was the inspiration, the
show, despite the puppets, isn't really a 'children's' show. It's a great
show for all ages. Younger audiences will like the puppets and the goofy
situations; older audiences will not feel "talked down to" and will still enjoy
all that Shakespeare has to offer.
"Well, not quite all that Shakespeare has to offer — we've reduced the
length of the show to about 90 minutes. But we didn't change the
language — except for a couple of muttered actor ad libs."

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

*Lips Together* photos

Lips-Together, Teeth Apart (1991), by Terrence McNally
at Spokane Civic Theatre from April 29-May 23, in the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre

directed by Wes Deitrick
with Dave Rideout as John Haddock, Melody Deatherage as Chloe Haddock, Amy Nathan as Sally Truman, and Ron Ford as Sam Truman

photos by Young Kwak for The Pacific Northwest Inlander
see the preview in the April 29 issue, and visit the Blog at

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interplayers' 2010-11 season

Dates firmed up, and some titles added, from what has been announced before:

Sept. 9-25, 2010: Together Again for the Next Time, by Reed McColm
This time, Chinelle and Carey are getting married.

(Fundraisers will be held on Oct. 1-2, 2010, and on Jan. 14-15, 2011.)

Oct. 14-30, 2010: The 39 Steps, by Patrick Barlow, adapted from John Buchan's novel and Alfred Hitchcock's movie
Four actors play more than a hundred roles.

Nov. 24-Dec. 11, 2010: Honky Tonk Angels Holiday Spectacular, by Ted Swindley
Angels. In a honky-tonk. At the holidays. It's spectacular.

Jan. 20-Feb. 5, 2011: Opus, by Michael Hollinger
A world-famous all-male string quartet fires its violist and replaces him with a young woman.

Feb. 17-March 12, 2011: Privilege, by Paul Weitz
Two teenage brothers on the Upper East Side find out that their father has been up to some big-stakes financial hanky-panky.

March 31-April 16, 2011: Cotton Patch Gospel, by Tom Key and Russell Treyz; music and lyrics by Harry Chapin
Jesus appears in modern-day rural Georgia.

May 5-21, 2011: The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson; directed by Patty Duke
Annie Sullivan tries to tame Helen Keller.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

*Spring Awakening* in winter

There's been a date change: The touring version of Spring Awakening will visit Spokane not on Dec. 1, as previously announced, but on Jan. 19, 2011.

And don't pretend you have a conflict. You'll be there. Because despite the bitch of living, the song of purple summer allows us all to go on believing.
And the sex is good, too.

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Seattle Shakespeare Company at Whitworth

SSC will present MND in two performances, on May 5 and May 8.

The Wednesday, May 5, performance is free, but it's at noon and in a lecture hall (inside Weyerhaeuser Hall on the Whitworth University campus, 300 W. Hawthorne Rd.).

The Saturday, May 8, performance will cost you five bucks (though students and graybeards get in for free), and it's (a presumably more fully staged version) in Cowles Auditorium at 7 pm.

Visit or call 466-4263.

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review of *Eleemosynary*

at Interplayers through May 1

Interplayers’ production of Lee Blessing’s Eleemosynary doesn’t entirely succeed: as the grandmother, Tamara Schupman works too hard at appearing eccentric; Blessing’s script spells out its conclusions too much; the onslaught of crises can seem wearying; and there’s no visual interest at all. But Eleemosynary also presents a nonlinear, poetic experience that’s filled with insights and with characters who, like the rest of us, are a strange assortment of good traits and bad.

[Young Kwak photo: Nancy Gasper as Artie]

You couldn’t film this dreamlike story of a grandmother, her daughter and her grandchild (who’s a spelling bee champion, hence the fancy word of the title). For a story with a lot of chronological leaps that appeals to the audience’s imagination — first she’s alone in a strange apartment, then she’s making a home movie from years ago, now she’s waking up from a coma — you need a theater’s neutral space and close-ups.

In Eleemosynary, there are deaths and resentments and rejections, but also foibles and aspirations and quiet acceptance. Filled with sensitivities and nuances, it presents a mixed mood that can pall when extended for two hours.
But director Maria A. Caprile gets mileage out of simple expedients: three women strolling around a dreamlike space, avoiding eye contact, spewing their resentments, sitting at odd angles, their backs to one another and staying like that.
The costumes and setting are so minimal that they call attention to themselves, so it’s all down to the script and the acting: There’s nothing else here to occupy your attention.
At least Caprile’s direction adds interest in the second act’s spelling bee sequence: a recessed area becomes the stage for big event, with Echo showing off her prowess while a lighting trick denotes her main rival in the spelling bee.

Blessing’s chief insight about this family’s matriarch, Dorothea, is that she self-consciously adopted eccentricity as a way to fend off conventional and patriarchal expectations: If her husband wanted a meek housewife, what he’d get instead was a psychic tuned in to astral projections. Schupman has an inspirational moment when encouraging her girls to fly — face uplifted, arms wide, the enchantress invoking the spirits of possibility — but mostly she overplays the mannerisms. Dorothea’s eccentric displays have become, for her, a habit. Treating them in a more matter-of-fact way would lend them more credibility.

As Dorothea’s daughter and Echo’s mother, Artie — short for Artemis, because Mom expected her daughter to be like a goddess, so no pressure there — Nancy Gasper delivers a sterling performance. Tragic events assault Artie, and Gasper persuasively portrays their effects. Squatting, her face buried in her knees and rocking slowly back and forth, she muffles her voice, then raises her head to reveal glaring, tear-streaked eyes. Artie has run away from her mother, repeatedly, and she’s no good at expressing affection. She doesn’t even know how to touch her child. And yet when Artie curls up, depressed, she whispers that while her daughter only sees poor parenting during the day, “what she doesn’t know is how good I am, at night, as a mom.” In trying to break away from an overbearing mother and draw closer to a daughter whom she doesn’t really know, Gasper will break your heart. Her life, she says, has been “a long apology.”

Rainee Palmer — an EWU student making her Interplayers debut — plays Echo as childlike and headstrong. From the outset, she displays a spelling champion’s delight in words — “clamjamfry,” “bijouterie,” “logodaedaly” — that’s intended to suggest the Wesbrook women’s tendency to show off what they know. Problem is, each of them has an EQ lower than her IQ. They hide what they feel (and most of what they feel is about themselves, anyway).
The qualified achievement of this Interplayers production — particularly in Caprile’s direction and Gasper’s acting — is to show us the value of struggling toward generosity. In the end, Echo, Artie and Dorothea don’t want to be brainiacs anymore; they’re just trying to become charitable human beings.

Eleemosynary depicts three generations of Wesbrook women through May 1 on Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 pm, and Saturdays-Sundays at 2 pm at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St. Tickets: $15-$21; $12-$19, seniors; $10, student rush. Visit or call 455-PLAY.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

*Eleemosynary* at Interplayers: photos

at Interplayers though May 1
written by Lee Blessing
premiered in 1987
directed by Maria A. Caprile

with three generations of Wesbrook women:
Tamara Schupman as Dorothea
Nancy Gasper as Artie
and Rainee Palmer as Echo

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Cast list for *Annie Get Your Gun*

May 21-June 20 at Spokane Civic Theatre

Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields (who were siblings)
Directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson
Choreographed by Troy Nickerson and Jillian Wylie

In order of appearance:

Frank Butler ................. Patrick McHenry-Kroetch
Buffalo Bill Cody ............. Doug Dawson
Dolly Tate ...................... Ryan Patterson
Tommy Keeler ................. Todd Kehne
Winnie Tate ........................ Alyssa Day
Charlie Davenport ................ Gary Pierce
Foster Wilson ..................... Mark Sims
Mac, the Prop man .............. Dan McKeever
Chief Sitting Bull ............. Paul Villabrille
Annie Oakley ......................... Tami Knoell
Jessie, Annie's little sister .............. Natalya Ferch
Nellie, Annie's other little sister ......... Bailey Heppler
Little Jake, Annie's little brother ........... Evan Achten
Running Deer ....................... Jason Coleman-Heppler
Eagle Feather .............................Mario Zavala
Dining Car Waiter ..................... Stephen McKinney
Sleeping Car Porter .................. Peter Gardner
Pawnee Bill .............................. Dan Griffith
Messenger .......................... Adam Peterson
Moonshine Lullaby Trio ...........Dan McKeever, Adam Peterson, David McCarthy
Band Leader ........................... Mike Saccomanno
Mrs. Sylvia Potter-Porter/Queen Victoria ...... Vera Oro-Winslow
Mrs. Schuyler Adams .................. Julie Beeman
Cowboys/Roustabouts .......David McCarthy, Jessie Hulsizer, Will Dubiel, Hayden Ward
Indians/Roustabouts .....Mario Zavala, Jason Coleman-Heppler, Logan McHenry-Krotech, Frances Charles
Kings of Europe .... Dan McKeever, Mark Sims, Stephen McKinney
Female Chorus ..... Madison Clarry, Alyssa Day, Lauren Goldblum, Lexie Hofpauir, Katie Kennedy, Keyonna Knight
Male Chorus ....... Peter Gardner, Todd Kehne, Dan McKeever, Stephen McKinney, Adam Peterson

Annie Oakley, 1860-1926
the original composer, Jerome Kern, died before completing the score
the 1946 musical ran for more than 1,100 performances on Broadway and more than 1,300 in London
Mary Martin toured as Annie in 1947-48
1950 movie: Betty Hutton replaced Judy Garland
the only Rodgers and Hammerstein production without an R&H score (they acted as producers)
the 1999 Broadway revision (Tonys for best revival and for Bernadette Peters)  ran for more than 1,000 performances before it closed — 10 days before 9/11

[photo: from]

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Patty Duke to direct *The Miracle Worker* at Interplayers

Artistic director Reed McColm announced on Friday night that Patty Duke will direct the show in which she has played both leading roles -- at Interplayers, sometime this fall, perhaps as early as September.

Anna Marie Duke played Helen Keller in William Gibson's play on Broadway at ages 12-14; at age 15, she starred alongside Anne Bancroft in the 1962 movie. For a made-for-TV movie in 1980, Duke (at age 33) took over the role of Annie Sullivan (with Helen Keller played by Melissa Gilbert).

And now, at age 63, Duke will return to the show with which she is identified -- right here in Spokane, both as director and by taking a cameo role.

Even before that, sometime "in the first week of June," Duke will appear here (date and venue TBD) for an In the Actors Studio-style interview.

Two months ago, Duke ended her run as Madame Morrible in the San Francisco production of Wicked.

Visit the arts blog at
[photo: from the 1962 movie; from]

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Lake City Playhouse announces 2010-11 season

Sept 1 -Oct 10
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Oct 28-Nov 14
The Elephant Man
by Bernard Pomerance

Dec 2-19
A Taffetas Christmas
by Rick Lewis

Jan 13-30, 2011
Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck

Feb 17-March 6, 2011
Almost, Maine
by John Cariani

March 24-April 3, 2011
Dearly Departed
by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones

April 21-May 8, 2011
The Miracle Worker
by William Gibson

May 26-June 19, 2011
Music by Mark Hollmann
Lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis
Book by Greg Kotis

[ photo: John Cariani, who is from Presque Isle, Maine, where Bobo was once offered an English professor job; from; you may recognize Cariani as the over-eager forensics guy from Law & Order, or possibly from Numb3rs ]

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*Next to Normal* wins the Pulitzer

The soundtrack has some overlapping songs that are just chilling, given the big twist (not be be revealed here). The Pulitzer server is jammed, so no word yet on finalists or judges. (Bobo was calling The Orphans' Home Cycle by Horton Foote as the winner, with Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room, or, the Vibrator Play as a finalist.
But then what does he know? More later.

ADDED later on Monday:
Brian Yorkey has an Issaquah connection.
(In fact, he was associate a.d. at the Village Theater for seven years.)

Here is a link to the Pulitzer ("pull it, sir") announcement, with the plays by Diaz, Joseph and Ruhl listed as finalists.
Can anyone clarify the "moved into contention by the Board" phrase? Does this repeat the squabbling of the year Rabbit Hole won after the Board rejected the Jury's choice? Or the time long ago (1961?), when Virginia Woolf lost out to How To Succeed?)

ADDED early Tues. morning:
Charles McNulty of the L.A. Times, who chaired this year's drama jury, explains: They got overruled, and he's not too happy about it, and he chalks it up to the board's geographical chauvinism. (If it wasn't produced on the East Coast, then it must not be very good.) Bobo had a review-writing workshop with McNulty two years ago, and he is fastidious with detail, committed, reasonable and insightful. As for the board -- there isn't a theater person among them.
And look at those stats: 15 times the board has overturned the jury on drama (as much as three other categories combined). Makes me feel kinda good: theater is still considered dangerous, subversive. At least in some towns.

[ photo: from Washington City Paper -- with Alice Ripley, in the New York production ]

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Give 'em what they don't even know they want

In the Wall-Street-Journal, Terry Teachout laments the lowest-popular-denominator script-massaging that takes the edge out of potentially edgy material like a musical built upon the cynical nonconformism of Charles Addams' cartoons.
"Such are the ways of big-budget franchise theater, in which the goal is to give the public what it already knows it wants," Teachout says in his review of the new production with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth -- a musical, apparently, without very good music.

Better art, of course, gives the audience what it doesn't know that it already wants. For example: Mormons, Roy Cohn, Ethel Rosenberg, an Antarctic drug fantasy and HIV-positive gay men, all tossed into a five-hour, two-play brew that summed up half a century and more of American history? People would have scoffed at the very attempt before Tony Kushner produced Angels in America. Or earlier: an episodic dream play about a family in denial, with the narrator-figure revealing his own ugliness alongside his idealism? Not standard fare in 1945, but then The Glass Menagerie, like all great plays, broke molds.

And then this article by Chloe Veltman in the New York Times, which describes the Bay Area as a breeding ground for more adventurous musicals, citing several examples.

Artistic directors and their boards often argue the need to play it conservative, gotta sell tickets, these are tough times, recognizable titles sell, maybe we'll try something more adventurous when the economy turns around.
Except the good times never roll, and American theater is always in a state of crisis.

Which brings us to the part where Bobo is going to get himself in trouble.
Honky Tony Nonsense, Annie Get Your Stupid Gun, Forever Staid and Plaid, Criminally Bland: The Musical, and a Very Special Evening with the Minnelli Fossil: Giving the audience what they know they want, duplicating past pleasures while driving more nails into the coffin of theater's irrelevance.
Metamorphoses, Spring Awakening, Lips Together (if this was 1992, which it isn't), boom (if Interplayers adds it) and would somebody please do McDonagh's The Pillowman?: giving playgoers something they don't yet know they want.

I know: too tough a sell.
But consider, after the economic dust settles: the buzz that Bobo hears (no corroborating evidence just yet) is of more and more Portlanders and Seattlites, etc. moving into the area. Theater can't just be for gray-haired people with mortgages.

Which is why Michael Mayer's attitude -- and a new way of measuring theater's effectiveness, on which more in a moment -- are inspiring.
Mayer, who won a Tony in 2006 for directing Spring Awakening, is quoted as follows in the theater section, p. 79, of the current, 4/16/10 Entertainment Weekly (with Chewbacca on the cover; seems not to have it, however). Mayer is directing Green Day's American Idiot, which opens on Broadway on April 20; he's been working on adapting the album for the stage (and adding four songs from 21st-Century Breakdown) for the past two and a half years.
Signicantly, says EW writer Simon Vozick-Levinson, the creative team of American Idiot "stayed true to the album's copious profanity, snarling attitude, and distorted guitars. Mayer isn't worried about how audiences will react. 'No one ever thought, 'Oh, we've got to make it safe for Broadway.' I love my Carousel as much as the next person, but the supertraditionalists are not the majority of the theatergoing audience anymore. It's time again for Broadway to have music that is what people are listening to now.'"

The tyranny of conservative old farts over theaters' programming choices has got to end. Escanaba in da Moonlight is hardly high art, but it is very well done at the Civic, and surely it proves (I heard belly laughs all over the house on opening night) that audiences in Spokane are not such straitlaced prudes that they can't uproariously enjoy sex jokes, fart jokes, a smattering of off-color language, and depictions of hare-brained schemes.

So how about local artistic directors employing the following survey?
The gist: measure audience members' emotional involvement with a show, by means of a questionnaire (which you can access here and here and here). (It was developed by the Independent Theatre Council; visit
Right now in Spokane, as means of evaluating a given production's "success," we have box office numbers, reviews by two middle-aged white guys, and word of mouth. The third's unquantifiable, and what if the first two produce mixed results?

The questionnaire asks, in a particular form, questions such as: Were you absorbed? Did you learn something valuable? Did you notice time passing? Did you notice the reactions of other audience members? Will you discuss the show with friends afterwards? and so on.

Note, in the comments, the skepticism: It's still a subjective measure. It'd be better to set up a video booth. If somebody was bored by a show, they're less likely to fill out a questionnaire -- hence you get an over-representation of positive answers. And there are no directions, even should local theaters use such questionnaires, of how to use them further to produce even more good shows.
So this is far from a panacea.
But Bobo's point is that this might offer a new way of assessing what really matters to audiences may not be what theater managers expect. And taking chances, talking about controversial issues -- may be a way of re-attracting to the theater people who have just assumed for years now that theater is a dead institution -- irrelevant, moldy, and fit for stuffy museums.
It doesn't have to be. And more's the pity if the people who love it most consign it, by dint of conservative and uninteresting programming, to the dustheap of moldy irrelevance.

Because I'm sorry, but I really doubt that even the fans of Honky Tonk, Annie and Liza sat through (or will sit through) those shows and honestly say afterwards, Yes, I was engrossed; yes, I learned something new; gee, I noticed everyone was enthralled; never once looked at my watch (never thumbed through the program to see how many more songs they were gonna sing); can't wait to talk about it after.
Sure, people will say they were entertained, nothing wrong with a nice, light evening out. By which they mean they're content to settle for the Thursday Night Special at Shari's.
But theater can cook up even better meals. And we should always be trying to cook them.

[ photos: Green Day; from -- also, Charles Addams himself, from ]

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Friday, April 09, 2010

review of *Escanaba in da Moonlight*

at Spokane Civic Theatre through April 25

A man with a rifle brings it to bear directly at us. He cocks the hammer. Takes a big, calming breath.
On the way in to the huntin’ lodge for openin’ day of deer season, you see, he’d had a vision. (Maybe it was all those PBRs he drank -- but to him, it was a vision.) A vision of a huge buck, dancin’ on the highway, as he was drivin’, right before his eyes. So he raised his .30-.30 (this being the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, he calls it his “turdy-turdy”) and then he “cocked back the hammer and blew him off the face of the earth.”
This is David Gigler as Remnar Soady -- all mismatched plaids and camo pants -- inviting us into his world for opening’ day here at the world-famous Soady Deer Camp somewhere out in the woods outside the town of Escanaba, where boys become men when they bag their first buck, and all the women have come to the conclusion that all the men are merely morons.
Gigler’s portrayal of Remnar is one of the funniest features of one of the funniest productions the Civic has created in recent years. Director Troy Nickerson’s gift for portraying men making fools of themselves, along with Peter Hardie’s man-cave of a rustic huntin’ lodge set, Hardie’s ominous lighting -- there are creepy things out in the Michigan woods -- Jan Wanless’s costume design (plenty of flannel and ear flaps) and Jeff “Dumberer” Daniels’ comic-onslaught of a script all combine, at breakneck pace, to create an enclave of eccentrics who think they see happiness, don’t know what to make of it, and decide to fire off a few rounds just to work off their frustrations.
Escanaba in da Moonlight, which has been produced all over the country ever since Daniels premiered it in 1995 at the little Upper Peninsula theater that he oversees, is full of sex jokes, gross-out jokes, cockamamie conspiracy theories and concern for the male pecking order.
It’s not men behaving badly, in other words -- it’s men behaving normally.
All that, and Act Two has the Mother of All Extended Fart Jokes.
And there, my friends, is where the comedy lingers.

Wes Deitrick -- with dumb geniality straight out of The Red Green Show, and with the befuddled looks and excess of flannel plaids to prove it -- acts as the clan’s patriarch and the audience’s goofball narrator. If scratching yourself constantly, fantasizing about 18-point bucks, staying in a hootch-induced stupor all day, and making fun of anyone who’s not from northern Michigan seems like it might be a foreign experience, Deitrick’s Albert Soady is there to guide you.
Gigler knows how to play the confident doofus, sure of his hunting mastery right up until he isn’t. (Then the little superstitions tumble out.)
The plot (more like a series of boyish squabbles over nothing’, but funny) revolves around the fact that the other Soady son, Reuben (Civic newcomer Scott Miller, persuasively desperate) has dishonored the family by remaining, at age 35, “buckless“ and “without venison.” (He’s “just not a straight shooter.”)
As Reuben pursues his buck-bagging quest, the action gets entangled with alien abductions, maple-flavored whiskey and Native American rituals (in ways you’ll just have to witness for yourself).
In a show that hurls its eccentricities at you relentlessly, the most eccentric characterization belongs to Todd Kehne as Jimmer Negamanee of Menominne. (Say that fast five times, and you’ll be talking gibberish just like he does. Jimmer hasn’t been the same since strange things happened to him out in the woods, you see.) Kehne is a revelation, with incredibly high energy, antic fits, and expressions that convey his puzzlement that the backwoods boys around him don’t realize that they’re just as insane as he is. (Slightly better diction, is all.)
For a glimpse of the attention to detail, both by Nickerson and his cast, watch the episode when Reuben introduces the gang to some foul-smelling stuff that supposedly wards off evil spirits. The joke -- and as in much of Daniels’ play, you may see it coming, but it’s funny anyway -- is that once it gets all freaky-deaky outside, the guys are going to go for the liquid they were just now acting all squeamish about. One dabs it daintily, with two fingers grazing his neck; one splatters himself; another slathers it on.
Or when characters, seemingly catatonic, suddenly but briefly rise up just to clarify a point or two -- you can see where rehearsals paid off, where Nickerson and his inventive actors had experimented, tried things out, and opted for the funniest bits.

The script and acting both veer off occasionally into the kind of excessive silliness that can make an audience become self-conscious about being directed to laugh instead of simply laughing. The eccentricities of the forest ranger, the predictability of who’s behind Reuben’s vision-quest (and why), the childish exuberance of some of these men’s rituals and superstitions (over-indicated, and with too much stepping on the laughter) all briefly intrude on the fun.
But not much, and not for long. Daniels and Nickerson keep the surprises and the goofin’ at a fever pitch, and the result was a whole lot of belly laughs

People were wiping away tears, they were laughing so hard. (I noticed this, right after wiping away my own.)
That fart joke, it’ll really blow ya away, yah sure.
Escanaba in da Moonlight is one of the funniest and inhibition-shattering comedies you’re likely to see.
I may be more like those “white wine-drinking, Winnebago-driving, fun-sucking trolls” who live in urban areas of the Lower Peninsula (like, God forbid, Detroit) -- and I’ve never handled a “turdy-turdy” rifle in my life, but I’d go back to spend a couple hours with the Soadys anytime. Somehow they remind me of the no-slugs, penalty-beer, passed-out-on-the-couch-so-put-his-fingers-in-warm-water days of my misspent youth.
I’d like to spend some more of it. And the Soadys seems to have their fingers in my pocket.

[ video cover (2001) from ]

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*Escanaba in da Moonlight* photos

April 9-25 on Spokane Civic Theater's main stage
by Jeff Daniels

directed by Troy Nickerson
with Wes Deitrick as Albert Soady
Scott Miller as Reuben Soady
David Gigler as Remnar Soady
Todd Kehne as Jiggers Negamanee
Thomas Heppler as Ranger Tom T. Treado
Lynn Komarek as Wolf Moon Dance Soady

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review of *Little House on the Prairie: The Musical*

at the INB Center through Sunday, April 11

Well, it’s better than the TV show. Remember how Michael Landon would do that little chin-dip and grin, signifying that tonight’s moral lesson had been learned?
Director Francesca Zambello’s production of the Little House musical mostly avoids that kind of preachment, with comic snipes undercutting most of the saccharine moments. (When the Ingalls family first gapes at all their new treeless and grassy acreage, the littlest daughter deadpans, “There’s nothing there.”) Even better, Zambello practically conducts a clinic in imaginative staging, instant scene changes and the creation of sudden crowd energy onstage.

While the headliners are Steven Blanchard as Pa Ingalls (who’s macho and kind all at once, bestriding his homestead in a variety of dirtied boots) and Melissa Gilbert as Ma (absent for the Spokane shows due to minor back surgery) — and while Gilbert’s understudy replacement, Meredith Inglesby, brings grace and a strong voice to the role — the fact is that Ma isn’t that big a role. (The fact that the roles usually played by Inglesby, who is Blanchard’s real-life wife, include a schoolmarm and a seriously depressed housewife stuck on a treeless, frozen prairie suggests the kind of range that Inglesby has. The show holds a moment after Ma’s first entrance, anticipating the applause that no doubt usually greets Gilbert’s first entrance; but Spokane theatergoers shouldn’t avoid this affecting and imaginative show just because Gilbert’s not appearing in it.)

The real standouts in this production, however, are the three young actors who play the central coming-of-age role, Laura; Laura’s beau and eventual husband, Almanzo Wilder; and Laura’s conceited rival, Nellie Oleson.
As Laura, Kara Lindsay is hampered by an opening solo, “Thunder,” that’s meant to express the eventual author’s youthful exuberance and wanderlust — but which doesn’t have as much energy as the assembly of hopeful homesteaders in the following number, “Up Ahead.” For comic scenes, Lindsay projects a squeaky-mischievous voice that complements her impish charm.
It isn’t the ring curls, knee dips and proferred wrists that define Kate Loprest’s coquettish and haughty Nellie. Loprest has the show’s most expressive soprano voice and best comedic gestures. In “Without an Enemy,” a second-act bedroom number, Loprest slumps and jumps and hops all over her bed, all in contrast to Laura, working by candlelight behind a scrim, in darkness. And Loprest can wring Lucille Ball comedy out of simply climbing up and over a wooden fence, with hilarious effect.
As Laura’s love interest, Almanzo, Kevin Massey has the athleticism that explains why he got to understudy Tarzan in the Disney musical on Broadway. In “Faster,” Zambello directs Massey and Lindsay to use a simple device — reins hooked to the stage floor, coordinated with riding-in-a-buggy movements that transmute into a kind of love duet that’s tentative, then feisty. Throughout, Massey has a jaunty confidence that marks him as an able horseman.

Blanchard’s best moment, meanwhile, arrives early, in a tribute to natural beauty (“The Prairie Moves”), sung against a starry background.

Zambello, who has extensive experience in directing opera, repeatedly appeals to the audience’s imagination: We are there in constructing all those clapboard houses. It’s like wish fulfillment: Imagine a schoolhouse, a snowed-in shack, a dusty horse race … and suddenly it’s there, with viewers picking up just enough clues to share in the vision.
Certainly her staging outweighs Rachel Portman’s music: Only one or two of the show’s tunes linger in the mind.

The “I’ll Be Your Eyes” sequence that closes Act One, moreover, reverts to the sentimental excesses of the TV show. Laura’s sister Mary (Alessa Neeck) undergoes a misfortune, and Laura’s character suddenly goes in for self-sacrifice and acting “Good” in ways that she had specifically repudiated just minutes before.

The show’s co-originator with Zambello back at the Guthrie in Minneapolis in July 2008, Adrianne Lobel, keeps her scenic design’s cyc alive with a succession of cloud formations and prairie sunsets; Mark McCullough’s lighting brought a high-noon glare to the upbeat townspeople scenes while remaining suitably gloomy for all the adversity that the Ingalls family confronts.
Jess Goldstein’s costume designs kept tomboy Laura in drab prairie homespuns while at one point bedecking her nemesis, that snooty Oleson girl, in a flashy pink gown complete with wispy parasol.
The dance designs of Michael Dansicker and Eric Sean Fogel are at their most inventive in “Fire in the Kitchen,” when the Ingalls family’s hand-rubbing and foot-stomping morph into a jig: double-clap, lift your skirts, waggle heads, go arm-in-arm.
Richard Carsey’s orchestra contributed, among many other effects, an ominous clarinet for the onset of sickness and a lively fiddle for the family’s happier moments.

… to be continued …

[ More notes:  we are blind, too; horse race; doesn’t shy from adversity; two shovels; realistic/artificed tension in step-out; Restless Heart needless and Wild Child not wild; basic emotions, primal; resentment vs. govt.; difficulty of monthly payments; windy day depressing; vogues and cackles; horses > master ]


Thursday, April 08, 2010

Discuss the future of Lake City Playhouse

Sunday, April 18, from 3-5:30 pm
1320 E. Garden Ave. in CdA

an open discussion with Lake City's new executive artistic director, George Green

All volunteers, staff, directors, performers and musicians are welcome.
Get to know George, share concerns, ask questions.

If you're interested in directing for Lake City next season, submit your resume by Sunday, April 25.  Green already has board approval for all (or most) of the upcoming season, so what's on offer and what will be expected are things he'll be able to clarify.

Call (208) 667-1323 or (509) 218-6282, or write

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Rumors of criticism's death

A.O. ("Tony") Scott of the New York Times recently ruminated on the demise of "At the Movies," the Siskel-and-Ebert-inaugurated, thumbs up/down discussion of current films in a format that Scott shared with Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune for the past several months, until it was axed by Disney.

Here's a snippet from near the end. Scott is laughing about how he and Phillips would be told they'd have 60 seconds to discuss, really discuss, an entire movie (as opposed to reading off the TelePrompTer). All critics can ever do, he says, is get people to think, to make a claim that people will agree with or oppose.

"And that kind of provocation, that spur to further discourse, is all criticism has ever been. It is not a profession and does not stand or fall with any particular business model. Criticism is a habit of mind, a discipline of writing, a way of life — a commitment to the independent, open-ended exploration of works of art in relation to one another and the world around them. As such, it is always apt to be misunderstood, undervalued and at odds with itself. Artists will complain, fans will tune out, but the arguments will never end."

Writing reviews — even with all the illiterate, uninformed, idiotic citizen-reviewers on the Web, even with Metacritic reducing entire films to a single number — won't come to an end, because it's a habit of mind. We all do it, all the time. We're always trying to figure things out, or should be.

(Scott's partner on the show, Phillips, is one of the best theater critics - and far and away the best teacher of criticism — that Bobo has ever encountered. I had the good fortune to have him as an instructor twice, in 2005 and again two years ago. But viewers don't want to spend the time time with two talking heads anymore.)

Watching movies and going to plays, even for those who do so regularly, has become too much of a checklist activity: "OK, saw A Serious Man, I can cross that off my list now."
When was the last time you saw a movie or play and discussed -- really discussed, at length, with point and counterpoint in the discussion — what you'd just seen? We're all too afraid of appearing naive or too easily impressed. Or something.

Added April 2:
Phillips' response to the show's cancellation -- with a good Fred Willard joke at the end — is here.

[ photos: Scott, left, and Phillips; from ]

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Review of *Amadeus*

at Lake City Playhouse through Sunday (April 1-3 at 7:30 pm)

Few local productions have been more deserving of a bigger budget than Amadeus. With a powerful performance by Damon Abdallah as Antonio Salieri (the accomplished composer who is nonetheless outshone by Mozart’s brilliance) and several features that distinguish it from what you think you know (from the 1984 movie) about the script, director Jhon Goodwin’s production accomplishes much with minimal resources.

Barren set. The Vienna court nobles, not in powdered wigs and silks, but running around in shirts and ties like so many middle managers or insurance salesmen. Mozart’s wife, Salieri’s prize pupil, and the two Venticelli (here played by two women) displaying cleavage in corsets atop long skirts – plenty of sex appeal, but a contemporary look instead of 18th-century elegance.

The payoff in making such a virtue of (financially constrained) necessity was in Eric Paine’s hipster Mozart, a Hollywood producer type in floppy sleeves and jeans, way cooler and more rebellious than his aristocratic Viennese patrons. Here, the contemporary touch worked: at a glance, you could see who’s uptight and who isn’t.

Playwright Peter Shaffer has revised his script repeatedly, pointedly making room in the conclusion for greater historical accuracy (or at least less self-assurance about the circumstances of the Requiem and Mozart’s death at age 35). That, the de-emphasis of spectacle and underscoring of the language here, Paine’s unself-consciousness about the fact of Mozart’s genius, and the energy provided by the Venticelli are all reasons to take in this show (and not assume that you’re good because once, long ago, you saw the movie).

As Salieri’s gossip-mongerers and hangers-on, Marnie Rorholm and Ariel Cansino emphasize seductiveness over energy. The suggestion that poor repressed, conservative, married Salieri has beautiful admirers sets up his manipulative seduction of Mozart’s wife Constanze (Janelle Frisque, sultry) nicely, but the energy of rapid-fire news-gathering seemed to be missing. The Venticelli, however, allow Shaffer to move the plot along and provide Salieri some allies, so he’s not quite so alone.

Abdallah — at first hunched over as an elderly man in a wheelchair, later the hands-crossed-in-submission schemer at court — delivers one of the best local performances in memory. He achieves great intensity in the Act One-closing sequence, Salieri’s impassioned rejection of any God who would choose vulgar Wolfy instead of dignified Antonio to be the vessel of divine musical brilliance. (“What use is man, if not to teach God a lesson?” – Yikes, I could feel the blasphemy and feared the oncoming thunderbolt.)

Shaffer’s much-reworked plot and some laggard pacing, however, worked against the effect: at two and a half hours, some of Shaffer’s urgings about Salieri as mediocre talent, the resentment of Mozart’s childish behavior, his ravings against God — all seemed over-extended. Goodwin might’ve trimmed here and there — and in the blocking, he sometimes allowed five-person-wide static groupings of actors to impede the onstage progress.

Paine, a talented comedic actor, was engaging the early going, with his high-pitched giggles and calm self-persuasion that yes, I am just about the greatest composer who has ever lived. (You have to admire a guy who commuted weekly, 800 miles roundtrip from Marysville, for the sake of a volunteer acting gig; and he was memorable in Lend Me a Tenor at the Civic in 2002). But the final, tragic sequence seemed beyond Paine’s grasp: the loss of his art and his Constanze still had a kind of bemusement about it, when the script calls for tragedy and despair.

Random notes: Abdallah’s dismissive gesture on “the voice of God in an obscene child” was powerful. Paine looked authentic in plinking away at the “harpsichord.” Paine’s mockery of Italian composing as unimaginative (“tonic and dominant, on and on”) was self-assured. Words like “breeches,” Idomeneo and “seraglio” were mispronounced. Frisque was reluctantly seductive and Abdallah was nervous and awkward — both, just as the script calls for — in their seduction scene. Paine needs more weight in his remorse over the (retold) death of Mozart’s father, Leopold — and more horror and guilt near the play’s end.

Despite flaws, however, Goodwin has presented a meaningful drama that reconceptualizes some of what it means to go on in life, as we all do, knowing that we aren’t the best at what we do. Not even near it. And yet on we trudge.

Salieri, a mediocrity, speaks for and to us. And some of those moments under Bryan Durbin’s light design — Abdallah’s upturned, anguished face; Paine’s quizzical chortling — are moments that will live in your memory. If you get out to CdA this weekend.

Coming up at Lake City Playhouse:
Jekyll & Hyde (the musical), May 1-2, 6-9, 13-16, 20-23

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