Sunday, January 30, 2011

*Spelling Bee* preview and review: links

Over at Bloglander, The Inlander's scrolling moshpit of various blogs, you can read Q&A interviews with two cast members from Spokane Civic Theatre's current production (through Feb. 20) of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Lance Babbitt as William Barfee and Maureen Kumakura as Rona Lisa Perretti.
And then — be warned! — a VERY LONG, blow-by-blow account of how opening night went.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

partial review of *Opus*

at Interplayers through Feb. 5

If a great artist stops loving other people, is he still a great artist? Do you have a worthwhile legacy if you created great art but everyone remembers you as an expletive?

Ultimately, Opus says no. But Michael Hollinger’s play about a classical quartet springs surprises along the way....

The play's four middle-aged guys (plus one female interloper) are like any bickering family of co-workers. They’re just trying to create good and beautiful things while putting up with one another’s absolutely infuriating flaws.

Flaws like the flighty, artsy, ineffable irritations of Dorian, the quartet’s violist (played here by Patrick Treadway). Dorian revels in music some days and is disgusted by it on others. With fingers fluttering near his forehead and a faraway look in his eye, Treadway delivers the opening scene’s paean to music’s beauty: “The whole thing rises,” he says, “floats together, falls back, arches upward, no one leading, no one following, it’s just … pulsating. Like it’s alive.” Cracking jokes about being off his meds, Treadway delivers all the facets of a man who sniffs and cuddles violins (he loves them so much) but who can, nevertheless, be such a pill sometimes.

As the group’s perfectionistic leader, John Oswald is fussy enough without needing to turn on the mad-scientist mannerisms. Yes, Elliott is high-strung, demanding and intense. But in a drama for five hands like this one — intimate, psychological, refined — the grimaces and grasping fingers seem too jarring. Yet in the hiring scene — allowing a new musician into what has been a closed circle of four egotists — Oswald also displays more than Elliott’s usual phony charm. It’s a rounded portrait, but with the darker corners etched too deeply....

The conclusion tips toward the melodramatic: Would the startling news really be delivered just before the big concert? And would the career-altering decision really be made immediately after it?

Opus, at least, is crammed with incidents — many of them comic, as we watch the bickering of a dysfunctional musical family. Director Jadd Davis could quicken some of the blackouts between those incidents, but it’s to his credit that the musical excerpts are performed realistically (and briefly) enough that we can easily imagine that we’re watching actual professional musicians....

Opus • Wed-Fri 7:30 pm, Sat 2 pm and 7:30 pm, through Feb. 5 • $18-$22; $13-$16, matinees; $10-$12, students and teachers • Interplayers • 174 S. Howard St. • • 455-PLAY

(Full review in Thursday's Inlander, or at Photo by Young Kwak: Dave Rideout as Carl, Bethany Hart as Grace.)

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

*Opus* slide show

You can listen to director Jadd Davis as a dozen images slide by.  

Opus, by Michael Hollinger, opens tonight at Interplayers and runs through Feb. 5.

In a nice show of mutual support among local arts community members, the Spokane Symphony Orchestra has bought the house for an added performance of Opus — which is great for Symphony employees and their families, and terrifying for actors who have to mimic playing instruments in front of musicians who actually do so for a (partial) living.

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Interplayers announces 2011-12 season

Here are the questions that we hear most often about Interplayers: "Are they still open?" "Are they gonna make it?" "Is the board going to start doing some actual fundraising and marketing? And are they going to stop interfering with Reed [McColm, the artistic director]?"

Well, with David Mamet's Race replacing Cotton Patch Gospel this April, and with the slate of plays that McColm announced at last Thursday night's fundraiser, the folks at Interplayers are obviously planning on keeping the doors open. Better yet — despite pressures logistical, political and economic — McColm is going ahead with some adventurous programming.

[You can visit a version of this same post with photos and hyperlinks to reviews of several of the plays at The Inlander's Theater blog.]

First the new season, then some comments.

Sept. 15-Oct. 1, 2011
The Boys Next Door, by Tom Griffin
directed by Troy Nickerson

Oct. 20-Nov. 5
The Receptionist, by Adam Bock

Nov. 23-Dec. 10, 2011
Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters
By Beth Gilleland and Bob Beverage

Jan. 19-Feb. 4, 2012
Tuna Does Vegas, by Joe Sears, Jaston Williams and Ed Howard
Directed by Patrick Treadway
Starring Bill Marlowe and Michael Weaver

Feb. 23-March 10
Mauritius, by Theresa Rebeck

March 29-April 14
An Infinite Ache, by David Schulner

May 3-19, 2012
Taking Steps, by Alan Ayckbourn


The Boys Next Door: A social worker jokes and suffers with the four mentally impaired men who live in a halfway house under his supervision. Nickerson, the Civic's resident director, is branching out to other theaters: He's directing Rent at Lake City next season along with this show at Interplayers. (Wasn't Troy involved with the 1994 production at the Civic?)

The Receptionist: The title character is just dealing with ringing phones and office gossip — until you find out just what kind of business her company is engaged in.

Sisters of Swing: LaVerne, Maxene and Patty were most famous for "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy" and entertaining GI's overseas.

Tuna Does Vegas: This production of the fourth Tuna show reunites the director (currently playing Dorian in Opus at Interplayers) and the cast (the director of drama at SFCC and the former Actors Rep artistic director and Interplayers favorite) who have performed a couple of Tuna shows in Spokane before. The premise here is that Arles Struvie and Bertha Bumiller are driving to Vegas to renew their wedding vows — and everybody from the third-smallest town in Texas joins 'em.

Mauritius: A play about stamp collecting? Actually, it's not a snore, and not even primarily about stamps. Mom dies, leaving behind a rare and valuable collection (including one from the obscure title nation). One daughter wants to cash in, one doesn't — and then the rapacious con men move in, hoping to make a kill.

An Infinite Ache: Dating and the road not taken: What if, at the end of a so-so first date, you suddenly had a foretaste of all the happy and sad things that might happen to the two of you, if only you stayed together? Two twentysomethings see their potential lives flash in front of their eyes.

Taking Steps: A door-slamming farce, set in a three-story Victorian mansion — but with the gimmick, typical for Ayckbourn, that all three floors of the imaginary house are collapsed onto a single level. I still remember Michael Weaver in the 1994 production here, scampering "up" and "down" completely flat stairs (like a running back high-stepping through tires, the way they do in football drills). The idea with this "Interplayers Classics" slot is that the theater will revive, once each season, a hit from its past.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

*Of Mice and Men* review

Sitting cross-legged on the ground like a little boy, he rocks back and forth, self-comforting. With his lips trembling, he tugs on the legs of his filthy denim overalls. Fluttering fingers wipe nervous sweat off his forehead. When he’s worried — and he’s usually worried, because he doesn’t understand half of what people say — he jerks his head spasmodically and averts his eyes.
With his masterful characterization of a mentally impaired man, David Gigler’s performance as Lennie Small in Lake City’s *Of Mice and Men* sets the tone for a production of a script that exerts a primal pull on viewers’ emotions.

Sure, it’s been filmed three times, and you read it in high school. But Steinbeck’s morality tale of migrant workers during the Depression shouldn’t just be checked off as a been-there, done-that classic.
Steinbeck’s characters act generously, form unlikely friendships, envision a better future. Sometimes they’re cruel, of course, and nobody ever has any money. But when the kind-hearted ones have their little victories, we smile the way Lennie does when his traveling companion George tells him bedtime stories.

George Green has played his namesake before, and as with Gigler’s Lennie, it shows in his attention to detail. Portraying the father-figure for this big lunk of a man-child, Green catches both the tenderness and the resentment: He’s glad to care for Lennie but wishes he could stake out on his own. When he can’t supply any ketchup for Lennie’s canned beans, Green’s smiles are clouded with guilt. Later on, when it looks, momentarily, as if George might actually be able to purchase the little farm of their dreams, Green paces around and grimace-grins: He’s happy-anxious in the way people are when their desires crowd in too close.

In the opening scenes, director Dan Heggem lets the tension linger (in low-key lighting of his own design) while Green and Gigler complete their characters with well-observed gestures. But the deliberate pace doesn’t serve the second act’s flurry of incidents. And while Chris LeBlanc provides sage counsel as the foreman, several supporting actors lack conviction. At least the social-outcast theme is carried forward by Norm McBride, who bestows dignity on an old ranch hand, and David Casteal, who lends his resonant voice to a crippled, embittered laborer.
When it comes to tramps like George and Lennie, the world doesn’t care enough even to treat them unfairly — it just happens. After seeking a better future for themselves, they fail. But watching performances as good as Gigler’s and Green’s instills a little hope, at least, that somewhere, somebody like us deserves a little happiness.

*Of Mice and Men* • Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Jan. 30 • $17; $15, students and military; $13, seniors; $9, children • Lake City Playhouse • 1320 E. Garden Ave., Coeur d’Alene • • (208) 667-1323

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*Don't Dress for Dinner* review

Hubby wants to shag his mistress, needs to get Wifey out of the house. Wifey discovers that a Cute Young Thing is coming over to cook dinner (suspicious, that). Then Wifey learns that her own lover — conveniently enough for our plot, he’s Hubby’s Best Pal — will also soon be arriving.
The name of the game in *Don’t Dress for Dinner,* then, is Mutual Deception: Wifey and Hubby are each trying to get some quick nookie before the other finds out.
But they don’t get much nookie. And what they do get isn’t quick in, er, coming.
But that’s in the nature of farce: frustrations, complications, recriminations, all in good fun.

Playwright Marc Camoletti’s character manipulation is almost algebraic: A matched with C is much naughtier than A matched with B, especially if D takes an interest in both B and C.
Once the cook goes through pretending to be not the cook but an actress, or else someone’s niece, or else somebody’s mistress — and just before she goes back, drunkenly, to being a cook again — playgoers are going to find their intellects disengaged, unhinged. When plots and counterplots are this convoluted, you can’t figure them out, at least not in the moment. So turn off your brain: You’re just along for the ride.
It’s like playtime for adults who may once have had a lascivious thought or two (which is to say, all of us).

As Bernard the Hubby — who’s always *thisclosetogettingcaught* — Scott Miller is particularly good at quicksilver changes from pretend-contentment to anguish: “Oh, good,” he smiles, brightly; “Oh, God,” he moans, miserably.
As Jacqueline the Wifey — sometimes scorned, so beware the hell of her fury — Leigh Sandness snakes an arm up a column, strikes poses and gets all raspy-voiced in indignation. But she doesn’t usually overdo it, which is important.
Comedy’s funniest when the actors play it seriously. For them, the stakes are high, and mugging for comedic effect just won’t do. It’s for those of us in the audience to giggle at what fools these lecherous mortals be.
So in the opening scene, when Hubby and Wifey are making their separate tryst-arrangements, what if there were less in the way of guilty grimaces and anxious finger-chewing? We’d still get the point, and the characters would seem less like cartoons.

In the meantime, someone (like director Thomas Heppler) needs to tell Shawna Nordman (as the cook) that mincing hands and continual eyeglass-adjustment convey anxiety, and that while mincing hands and continual eyeglass-adjustment may be funny the first three times, they stop making sense once the cook gains leverage on the men and a position of relative power.
Nordman still makes a delightful drunk, though, and she gets to wear one outfit — designed by Dee Finan and her team of costumers — that’s just about perfect for farce: Right before our eyes, it transforms from way too prudish to nearly too revealing to just-about-right sexy.

David Baker’s set design stuffs paintings and sculptures by local artists into the interior of an exposed-timber French farmhouse that’s nearly as eccentric as the characters running around inside it.
At its two-and-a-quarter-hour length (including intermission), *Don’t Dress* could use a trim: Nobody can keep laughing that long, and a comedy with so much extended and multiple role-playing requires a lot of time for explaining who’s playing which role now. And you know what they say about explaining jokes.
The finale of *Don’t Dress for Dinner,* though, is clear enough. The husband has been sleeping around, and the wife knows it; the wife has been sleeping around, and the husband knows it; and at play’s end, they come to an understanding that in the midst of all this philandering, their marriage will go on.
Sounds like spouse-swapping to me — which, in light of recent events at the Civic, is interesting. Funny how what’s titillating and giggly on stage is grounds for firing people off it.
But then farce, for all its artificiality, is like that: It acknowledges our sexual waywardness, then contains those desires within societal norms. Hubby and Wifey acknowledge their flaws, keep them private and reconcile. Maybe even comedies have something to teach us.

*Don’t Dress for Dinner* • Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Jan. 30 • $21; $19, seniors; $16, students; $8, student rush • The Civic • 1020 N. Howard St. • • 325-2507 or (800) 325-SEAT

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