Saturday, April 16, 2016

Noises Off at Lakewood

 …and a plate of sardines as The Beaver.
 by Michael Dresdner

   Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson     All photos by Tim Johnston

The rollicking Michael Frayn comedy Noises Off, directed by John Munn, opened last night at Lakewood Playhouse to a house filled with both patrons and laughter. There’s a good chance you know this play, since it is done very frequently by school and community theatres because it’s a fine excuse for physical comedy, scantily clad bawdiness, and over-the-top acting, three things such folk seem to adore.

The opening music (sound designer Nena Curley) is a foreshadow of the sort of entertainment you are about to see. It’s the theme from Fawlty Towers. And to cap things off, the play music ends with Liberty Bell, the theme from Monty Python. Yep, it’s that sort of comedy.

   L to R, back row: Ferguson, Chambers, Rogers, Davy, Bury, Fitzgerals, George. Front: Tarry 

The premise, with its play-within-a-play double character list and both backstage and onstage personality quirks, is so complex that I’m likely to lose you by outlining it, but I’ll try anyway. Fortunately, it hardly matters if you catch it all, since the real hilarity comes from the manic farce that unfolds. Think of it as a three ring circus that gets progressively more inane as it melts down further in each act.

The play opens with droll and frustrated Lloyd Dallas (Jonathan Bill) trying to direct the dress rehearsal of the first act of Nothing On, a comedy that is nowhere near ready to open. Lloyd is secretly canoodling with both Brooke and assistant stage manager (ASM) Poppy.

   L to R: Bill, Davy, George, Rogers, Chambers, Ferguson, Tarry

Stage manager and all around handyman Tim Allgood (Nick Fitzgerald) also understudies several roles, and is assisted by Poppy Norton-Taylor (Ana Bury) who is far more unstrung and histrionic than real ASMs usually are.

Dotty Otley (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson), who has a thing for cast member Garry but plays up to Fred to generate envy, is scattered both on and offstage, unable to remember proper exits and prop handling, in particular the constant movement of a plate of sardines that probably deserves its own billing. She plays Mrs. Clackett, the housekeeper, in the play, Nothing On.

   L to R: Chambers, George

Garry Lejeune (Gary Chambers), whose name is an apt play on jejune, is inarticulate offstage, but not on, and plays Roger, a real estate agent. Brooke Ashton (Jennifer Davy) arrives with Roger playing the quick-to-undress but clueless Vicki, an amorous tax agent.

Frederick Fellowes (Jim Rogers) and Belinda Blair (Diana George) play Phillip and Flavia Brent, the husband and wife owners of the home where this all takes place. While Blair is stolid and mature one who tries to keep everything together both on and off stage, Fellowes, who also plays a sheik in the play, is timid and so unstrung that he gets constant nosebleeds from any stress. Finally, there’s an aging booze-hound of a once great actor named Selsdon Mowbray (Steve Tarry) who plays a burglar.

Got it? I thought not.

   L to R: Tarry, Bury, Ferguson, Rogers

In each act we see a repeat of Act I of the play-within-a-play. First we see a not-ready-to-open dress rehearsal where we meet the quirky characters and their characters. In act two, the stage spins around and we see the same act later in its run, this time from backstage. By now, things have deteriorated and injuries, mix-ups, jealous actors sabotaging one another, and problematic sets help derail the play. Act three is from the front again, where we see the same Act I later in the run, this time so riddled with inter-actor contention and mishaps that the whole thing has devolved into a maelstrom of non-stop inanity.

In this play, the set (by Larry Hagerman and Dyan Twiner) is a critical element, since the whole thing must spin around from front to back for each successive act. It also must be two stories tall with a very functional staircase and an abundance of sturdy, slamming doors. While it worked great, its painting and appearance was definitely on the drab side for such an upscale country home. Perhaps that was intentional, to get us to ignore the set and focus on the action. Then again, perhaps not.

Props, including more sardines than you think should ever appear on stage, were nicely done by Karrie Nevin, quite appropriate costumes were by Diane Runkel, and lighting was by Brett Carr.  

Like all ensemble plays, the whole cast must work together to make it all gel, and therefore all deserve the same level of praise. However, I’ll admit that my personal favorites were Steve Tarry, Jonathan Bill, Jim Rogers, and Diane George. Oh, and Nick Fitzgerald. And…, oh, forget it, go back to what I said before. It’s an ensemble cast and they all sink or swim together.

The last word? This is the epitome of what farce is all about, and one of those shows every theatre goer should see at least once and, if you actually want to catch all the action and nuance, more than once.  

Noises Off
April 15 to May 8, 2016
Lakewood Playhouse

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at TLT

The Divine Miss M
by Michael Dresdner

     L to R: Sonia, Masha, Vanya  (Childs, Leeper, Larson)            photos by Dennis K Photography 

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, directed by Frank Kohel at Tacoma Little Theatre, may well be one of the best comedies you have never heard of, in part because it debuted only four years ago. Funny, fast-paced, and rich with enormous personalities, it’s both a dream and challenge for the right cast of actors, and this production definitely has the right cast of actors.

   L to R: Sonia, Vanya  (Childs, Larson) 

Gay, tranquil Vanya (Martin Larson), lives with his sister Sonia (Dayna Childs) in a gorgeous Bucks County, PA house. After caring for their parents until death, they’ve hit middle age with no jobs and not much of a life to speak of outside their comfortable digs amid a cherry orchard. Named by parents who were fond of Chekov, they bemoan their rather pointless life and comically argue about trifles while Sonia frequently reminds us she alone is adopted. They’re attended by a flamboyant cleaning woman named Cassandra (LaNita Hudson), who, like her namesake in Greek mythology, uses her gift of second sight to make constant dire predictions that no one believes.

   L to R: Spike, Masha, Cassandra (Tse, Leeper, Hudson)

The siblings are supported by their movie star sister Masha (Stephanie Leeper) who owns the house and whose very successful career as an actress is starting to wane. Having blown through five failed marriages, she shows up to visit accompanied by her latest boy toy, Spike (Freddy Tse), a preening, lusty youth deeply enamored with his own well-toned physique. He brings a neighbor’s visitor to the house, a young aspiring actress named Nina (Leena Lambert) who inadvertently inspires envy in Masha, whom she idolizes, and lust in Spike, whom she doesn’t.

    Masha (Leeper) 

Masha, grandiloquent and controlling, decides they should all go to a costume party with her dressed as Snow White, Spike as Prince Charming, and the others as dwarves. Sonia alone balks and dresses in a sequined purple gown which inspires her to break out of her shell and channel “Maggie Smith going to the Oscars.” After the party, a frustrated Masha, who failed to be the center of attention, announces she’s selling the house, making the jobless siblings homeless and adrift. 

    L to R: Vanya, Nina, Sonia  (Larson, Lambert, Childs) 

Cassandra, who has more or less predicted this, decides she should change bad tidings instead of merely warning of them, with, among other methods, a voodoo doll. Eventually, calm is restored, a happy ending ensues, and all three siblings discover the peace they can give one another.  

While the play is admittedly short on plot, it is very long on character development, and all of the outstanding actors in this ensemble cast get their chance to shine. Leeper’s Masha is a sweeping, stage commanding divine Miss M sort, a grand hurricane of a character. It’s the best work yet I’ve seen by this fine actress. 

    L to R: Masha, Spike  (Leeper, Tse) 

Larson’s charming, mild mannered Vanya gets his chance to break out in act two, where he brilliantly erupts into a long tirade about the decay of society as seen through a staccato litany of dozens of lost cultural references. His wonderful performance hit home with references all too familiar to people my age.

      Vanya  (Larson)

Childs, whose Sonia is initially mousy and self-questioning, does her delightful character change as Maggie Smith cum Norma Desmond, but returns only partially to her other persona once the purple dress comes off. Hudson, who always commands the stage whenever she steps on it, crafts a Cassandra that is exotic, riveting, and just intimidating enough to be thrilling. Tse makes Spike everything the older generation loves to hate about the younger; flip, insensitive, selfish, and phone-tethered. Lambert, as Nina, contrasts them all with ineffable sweetness and youthful purity.

    L to R: Nina, Vanya  (Lambert, Larson)
The production crew is equally deserving of accolades. Michele Graves did a wonderful job of costumes, both normal and party version. Lighting by Niclas Olson and sound by Chris Serface were, as they should be, appropriately right and unobtrusive. The stunning set built and painted by Blake and Jen York and propped by Jeffery Weaver was dripping with stone work, wood beams, and just the right furniture and knickknacks to satisfy those of us, like me, who’ve actually lived in Bucks County.

Though the pacing is brisk, this is none-the-less a very long play, about three hours with intermission. It’s also one that is heavy on Easter eggs and theatrical and literary references, including a dose of Chekov, but don’t worry, everything you need to know is cleverly explained in exposition by the characters. 

In the final analysis, this is a terrific ensemble cast and crew, both separate and together, bringing a delightful and richly crafted play to life. On top of that, this is a rare chance to see a great work by a fine cast before it becomes a well-known classic.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
April 8th to 24th , 2016
Tacoma Little Theatre

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Last Night of Ballyhoo

Southern Comfort Shabbos
by Michael Dresdner

    L to R: Steven Walker, Stacie Hart                 All photos by Dennis K Photography

Set in Atlanta at Christmastime in 1939, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, which opened Friday at Tacoma Little Theatre, opens a window into the world of well-off Jews in the deep south. Presented as an unabashed comedy, it abounds with funny, quirky, and thoroughly entertaining characters blessed with equally funny dialog. Director Jeff Kingsbury kept the pace apace, and chose an extremely talented ensemble cast that made the play delightful to watch.

Ballyhoo is a yearly festival for southern Jews, and culminates with a socially imperative dance on the last night. It’s a time when a young single Jewish woman wants to appear in the right dress and on the right squire’s arm.  Much of the action in the play revolves around the two young women in the Freitag/Levy household , a grand home in a wealthy section of Atlanta, and how these two very different characters approach the problem of whose arm to grace at the Ballyhoo dance.

    L to R: Jill Heinecke, Russ Holm  

Adolph Freitag (Russ Holm) is the patriarch of a household that consists of his widowed sister, Boo Levy (Stacie Hart) and her daughter Lala Levy (Katelyn Hoffman), and his widowed sister-in-law, Reba Freitag (Kim Holm) and her daughter Sunny Freitag (Jill Heinecke). Where Sunny is a smart and somewhat reserved Wellesley student more interested in her mind than her dates, her cousin Lala is a would-be social butterfly, consumed with the new Gone With The Wind movie and focused largely on snagging just the right beau.

   L to R: Steven Walker, Kelly Mackay 

Sunny rather inadvertently lands Joe Farkas (Kelly Mackay), a New York Jew who Adolph hired and brought south. The problem is that Joe, a “real” Jew, is baffled and rather disappointed with Sunny’s lack of religious awareness.

   L to R: Jill Heinecke, Kelly Mackay 

Meanwhile, the somewhat envious Lala sets her sights on Peachy Weil (Steven Walker.) Peachy is the one character on stage that is almost a flat-out comic stereotype, a wealthy, garishly dressed, loud braying ass of an entitled young man, one of the “right” sort of Southern Jews. While this can be called scenery chewing in some situations, here it works perfectly as a single glaring counterpoint, in part because Walker crafted the character so adroitly.

These Atlanta Jews are what my mother would have called “g’ligum layd’n din Jews” (ersatz  or imitation Jews), and what Hillel calls “bagel and lox Jews,” or Jews in name only. Almost completely clueless about religious rituals, holidays, or even common Yiddish or Hebrew words and phrases, they are seen in the opening scene decorating their annual Christmas tree.

   L to R: Kelly Mackay, Katelyn Hoffman  

What they are aware of is that in spite of their wealth, they are at times discriminated against. Strangely, though, they belong to a subset of European Jews who in turn discriminate against another subset of European Jews, those who come from east of the Elba river. Bear in mind this is 1939, and that sort of local origin discrimination went away, for the most part, after the Holocaust was revealed.

New Yorker Joe Farkas is one of the “wrong” type of Jews, yet on another level, he looks down on Sunny’s lack of her own religious awareness. But don’t worry. It’s a comedy, so it will all work out fine in the end.

   L to R: Jill Heinecke, Russ Holm 

Every member of this superb ensemble cast deserves praise, for convincingly consistent southern accents and beautifully crafted characters, but allow me to spotlight just a few. Russ Holm creates a wide ranging, rubber faced, picaresque Adolph whose perfect comedic timing and offhand droll responses, both physically and vocally, are simply flawless. But after Sunny asks if he’s ever been in love, he changes the pace convincingly with a shy, bittersweet story of an unrequited crush from afar.

   Kim Holm 

Kim Holm (coincidence?) does an equally fine job creating a comical and thoroughly endearing Reba, a chirpy, well-intentioned mix of motherly wisdom and genteel Southern cluelessness. I just loved watching her. In perfect counterbalance was the more serious and focused Boo (Stacie Hart) who is all about steering and protecting her daughter, whatever course that may take.

      L to R: Stacie Hart, Katelyn Hoffman    

All this is played out on a beautifully elegant set by Blake York, painted by Jen York, and in a huge array of superb costumes by Michele Graves, from Lala’s bizarre Tara dress and Peachy’s shocking argyle, to the more sedate and apt outfits befitting the station and nature of the others. Lighting by Niclas Olson was excellent (I especially liked the car headlights behind the oriel windows), and sound was jointly by Chris Serface and stage manager Nena Curley. 

As thoroughly impressive as this was, there are just a couple of minor points that bothered me, and one was Joe Farkas. Don’t get me wrong; Mackay was charming, delightful, and perfect for the role. It’s just that a New York Jew familiar with Yiddish speaks a certain way and with a rhythm that goes beyond mere pronunciation. At one point he says to Sunny “a shaynum dank dir im pupik,” (thanks for nothing) and I had trouble understanding what he was saying even though I grew up hearing that phrase, and a whole lot of other Yiddish as well.

Again, it’s a minor point, but while I am on minor points, the curtain call was, well, overdone, especially for what really is an ensemble offering. It had me yearning for something shorter and simpler, and I’m undoubtedly not alone in this. In my experience, most actors despise elaborate curtain calls, but it seems many directors love them. Ok, enough whining about minutiae.

Here’s what you really need to know. This is a charming, very funny, fast-paced, and thoroughly engaging play chock full of some of the finest actors you’ll see plying their craft. There was not a single weak link in the entire cast, and their skill and synergy turned an excellent, lighthearted slice-of-life ensemble offering into an absolute must see play.

The Last Night of Ballyhoo
March 4 to March 20,2016
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Death of a Salesman at Lakewood Playhouse

Gut punch
by Michael Dresdner

    L to R: Gabe Hacker, Joe Grant, Tim Samland                              Photos by Tim Johnston 

We thespian fans like to nurse the curious belief that when all the literal and figurative stars are aligned, community theatre can rival the best anything on screen or stage, professional or not, can offer. Last night, Lakewood Playhouse proved that belief at the opening of Death of a Salesman.

To begin with, Arthur Miller’s famous play is superbly written. Set contemporaneously in 1949 in Brooklyn, NY, it walks around inside the challenged and deteriorating mind of Willy Loman, a plodding salesman slipping into failure at age 63. Through flashbacks, memories, and current events we are introduced to a man baffled that his lifetime belief in getting others to admire and like him never built the bridge to success he always pictured.

    L to R: Martin Goldsmith, Joe Grant 

Willy’s failure to snag the ideal life he imagines for himself causes him to alternately resent or admire those who succeed, beginning with his deceased older brother, whose wealth came fast and easy. He at times idolizes and vilifies his sons, who learned from their father to present a false personal fa├žade to the world . They are, like him, deeply flawed and on some level aware of it. His favorite older son Biff is a high school football hero whose life becomes derailed after the one-two punch of a personal failure followed by the devastating discovery that his adored father has feet of clay. His younger son Happy keeps his father as a shining example, recreating much of both the good and the bad.

   L to R: Joe Grant, Kathi Aleman 

Propping Willy up is an unconditionally supportive wife who tries valiantly but vainly to protect his inflated self-image. She cajoles her sons to come to his aid and to help her save him from himself, while at times defending them to their father. With an insurance policy that means he’s worth more dead than alive, suicide seems not merely a way out, but a way for Willy to save his wife, his finances, his sons’ potential and dreams, and even his own delusional self-image.   

Pacing, blocking, and a solid overall vision are all important in making an almost three hour play fairly zip past, and director James Venturini nailed them all, but the real key to creating such flawlessly amazing theatre is casting. It’s here that he really shines, putting together a top to bottom cast, each and every one of whom is stellar.  

     L to R: Joe Grant, Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson

Willy Loman is the role of a lifetime for the right actor, and knowing his work, I assumed Joseph Grant would be perfect, but he went way beyond even my steep expectations. Grant dragged us into Loman’s tortured psyche and through the roller-coaster of his somewhat delusional aggrandizement, uplifting hopes, crushing disappointments, creeping self-doubts, perceived betrayals, and ultimately, unbearable helplessness. It was an expansive, wide ranging yet finely nuanced creation.

Had he been alone, it would have been brilliance enough for one play, but he was in good company. Kathi Aleman as his long-suffering wife Linda brought to life the ideal balance of believer, supporter, and protector of her husband and sons. She crafted a perfectly believable wife and mother desperately trying to staunch the leaks in the cracking dike of what should have been their American Dream life.  

Tim Samland gives us Biff, the high school hero quick to take advantage of his adoring fans, including nerdy neighbor Bernard (Charlie Stevens) who ultimately makes good, just like his stolid and tolerant father Charley (Martin Goldsmith.) When a failed class sends Biff running to his father for salvation, he instead discovers him in a dalliance with delightfully giggly Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson, and the betrayal makes him see his erstwhile hero as a fraud. Like a caroming billiard ball, his life heads off in another direction, but never really finds its mark. The scene between Samland and Grant where they confront, accuse, attack, and ultimately hug one another in tears is one of the most powerful and finely crafted pieces of acting you’ll ever see.

     L to R: Kathi Aleman, Gabe Hacker, Tim Samland, Joe Grant 

Gabe Hacker is wonderful as Happy, the younger son who follows in his father’s footsteps trying to smooth things between people, paint himself larger than reality, and get others to admire him, even if it takes a lie to do it. The rest of the cast holds their own as well in this estimable ensemble.

An impressive set by Blake York, replete with floating vaulted ceiling beams, established exactly the house we needed to imagine. Costumes by Rochelle-Ann Graham were excellent, as was the subtly supportive sound designed by John Munn, props and set dressing by Karrie Nevin, and lighting (uncredited.) It was all part of a perfect package.  

Look, this is not fluff or light fare. It’s long at almost three hours with intermission, but it is completely captivating and the time flies by. Be warned that you will be put through the wringer emotionally as the characters’ internal pain, delusion, and disillusionment is laid bare. Talk about bated breath; there were scenes when it seemed as if no one in the audience was even breathing.

But when such intense drama is presented so masterfully, and by such skilled, nuanced, and brilliant performers, it is worth the pain. I doubt you’re likely to see a better production of this important work anywhere or at any time. Grit your teeth, gird your loins, and put yourself in this cast and crew’s capable hands for the theatre experience of a lifetime.

Death of a Salesman
Feb 19 to Mar 13, 2016
Lakewood Playhouse

Photos by Tim Johnston 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ring of Fire at Centerstage

It Sizzles, but Doesn't Quite Burn

by Leslie Youngblood

   L to R: Cayman Ilika, Jared Michael Brown                    photos by: Michelle Smith Lewis

Greetings, faithful readers of Dresdner's Theatre Reviews. As Michael is performing in a concurrent production, I was tasked with seeing Ring of Fire at Centerstage. Well, not so much “tasked” as I begged him to let me have his tickets, as I am a huge fan of Cayman Ilika. Ergo, I will try to emulate Michael's voice to the best of my ability, but please send any flowers or hate mail to me.

Ring of Fire, a toe-tapping jukebox musical, is the quasi-biographical story of Johnny Cash. Instead of using dialogue to focus on Cash's life, Richard Maltby, Jr. created a piece that lets the music tell the tale of the man in black. Short monologues weave together classic songs detailing Cash's childhood, rise to fame, romance with June Carter, and drug habit. Orchestrations by Steven Bishop and Jeff Lisenby turn one man's solo work into a harmonious feast for the ears. It's easy to follow if you are a true Johnny Cash aficionado, but a bit muddled if you are just starting to “Walk the Line”.

    L to R: Tom Stewart, Jack Dearth, Jared Michael Brown, Sean Tomerlin

The multi-talented six person cast (slash band!) is helmed by Gregory Award nominees Cayman Ilika and Jared Michael Brown. Brown, while youthful and lacking a certain gruffness, demands the audience's attention as the lead on most of Cash's songs. His range, charisma, and energy are the glue that holds the show together. Ilika, the only woman, doesn't shy away from the spotlight; her June Carter is ready to spar with the best of them. While her vocals soar on every number, the true testament to her musicianship are the diction and phrasing she uses in crowd favorite “I've Been Everywhere”. Harmonies and a handful of solos were relegated to the band: Sean Tomerlin on bass, Zack Summers on drums, Tom Stewart on acoustic guitar, and Jack Dearth on electric guitar. A nod to the original production, these gentlemen were required to be triple threats – singing and acting while playing an instrument. While all could handle two of the tasks presented, a true trifecta was not achieved.

The high energy numbers were the most enjoyable. One felt they were watching old friends doing what they loved most; almost an intimate peek into a garage band rehearsal. However, the rehearsal element never truly left the production. With flubbed lyrics, out of tune instruments, and missed cues, the cast persevered, but didn't bring the level of polish associated with a professional production. Proof that opening night jitters can happen no matter how seasoned you are.

   L to R: Tom Stewart, Jack Dearth, Jared Michael Brown, Cayman Ilika 

Ring of Fire presents a directorial challenge. There isn't much of a script and Cash's music doesn't lend itself to large production numbers. Enter Amy Johnson, choreographer turned director. She takes what could be a stagnant, park-and-bark product, and jazzes it up with guitar-wielding movement that utilizes the entire stage and interactive set, designed by Richard Lorig. Johnson worked in tandem with music director Jeff Bell, making sure that any movement didn't overshadow the lyrics and harmonies. Costumes by Rachel Wilkie helped set the scene and add pops of color to a monochromatic background.

In short, come for the crooning, not a history lesson, and be prepared to have as much fun as the cast is at any given moment.

Ring of Fire
Jan 23 to Feb 14, 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Second Samuel at TLT

Baby Ruth
by Michael Dresdner

    L to R: Diana George, Jill Nicole Heinecke, Ellen Peters, Neicie Packer   
    Photos by DK Photography 

Tomorrow is the opening of Second Samuel, directed by Chris Serface, and playing at Tacoma Little Theatre. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but tonight there’s a free preview for those in the know (or in the red.)

I’m not going to review this play. I can’t. I’m in the cast, so it would not be ethical for me to tell you how good (or awful) it is. However, my primary job as a reviewer is to give you enough information about the play itself to help you decide if it is the sort of thing you would enjoy (or hate), and I can still do that. Here goes.

   L to R: Jimmy Shields, Bob Yount 

Contrary to what the name might suggest, this is not a religious or biblical play at all, but a surprisingly funny day-in-the-life glimpse of a clatch of folks who’d fit in perfectly in Mayberry RFD. Second Samuel is the name of the town, and it’s a little slice of heaven, but with a teasingly delicious twist.

Barely 90 minutes long, the play is like a Baby Ruth candy bar; short, sweet, and chock full of nuts.

   L to R: Neicie Packer, Ellen Peters, Aaron Mohs-Hale, Jill Nicole Heinecke 

Nuts, you say? Yep, just look at the character names: Mozel, Mansel, Marcella, Ruby, Jimmy Deanne (female!), June (male!), Frisky, Omaha Nebraska, US (pronounced ‘you ess,’) a doctor named (wait for it…) Doc, and a sweet, mentally slow youth called B Flat, who, as the play’s lead and narrator, neatly threads together both the story and the town.

It’s 1949 in a small Georgia burg where all the women hang out at the beauty parlor and the men at the Bait and Brew. Miss Gertrude, beloved by everyone, has just died, and warmth and caring flood the stage, mitigated only by the ever present comedy.

     L to R: Bob Yount, Marc Carvajal, Kerry Bringman, Tom Birkeland, Jimmy Shields 

There’s a challenge they must deal with, of course. There always is. This one shakes up the close-knit little town’s core beliefs like one of James Bond’s martinis, but they deal with it just like everything else; with way more wit and humor than a small hick town had oughta be able to muster.

  Back row: Mansel, Marcella, Jimmy Deanne, US, Omaha Nebraska, Frisky 
  Front row: June, Ruby, B Flat, Mozel, Doc   

The play’s ultimate message, though, is one of understanding and tolerance, wrapped up and delivered as neatly and quickly as an after school special, albeit with more exclamation points.  

As I said, I can’t tell you to go see it (remember – ethical considerations) but IF you decide to go, here’s a few bits of production values to be on the lookout for.  

Walk around and look at the set designed by Lex Gernon, built by Blake York, and painted by Maggie Knott. Make note of the lighting (very important) by Chris Serface, sound by Stacia Russell, who is also the stage manager, and Michele Graves’ costumes, which may start a trend to make overalls the next de rigueur hipster togs. 
    L to R: Michael Dresdner, Tom Birkeland, Kerry Bringman, Jimmy Shields

And before the play starts, walk close enough to the stage to look at the props by Jeffery Weaver, including my favorite, a period box of Baby Ruth candy bars. (Yes, they actually have real Baby Ruth candy bars inside the wrappers, and there’s a few half eaten ones inside the dressing room too.)

Ok, that’s all I can say. You’re on your own now, but if you do come, let me know what you think.

Second Samuel
Jan 22 to Feb. 7, 2016
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Arcadia at Lakewood Playhouse


by Michael Dresdner

   L to R: Ozburn, Tice       all photos by Tim Johnston 

Lakewood Playhouse has taken a big risk with the current production of Arcadia, a Tom Stoppard play directed by Steve Tarry. Granted, they’ve pulled together some truly fine actors dressed in lavish costumes on a stunning set, but the play itself is nonetheless a challenge, and may be a hard sell.

Wordy, fast paced, and laced with some seriously funny lines and reactions, it’s a play that is very demanding on the actors. Like Shakespeare, thanks to layers of nuance, it may very well be a lot more fun for the actors than for the audience, some of whom seemed either lost or overwhelmed on opening night. 

Stoppard writes for the intellectual elite and lets everyone else either keep up or fail to do so. Thus, there are scientific theories, mathematical proofs, and a brace of poets set against the incongruous contrast of lustful and amorous urges. Perhaps it is intentionally abstruse, written for the sort of theatre goers who are fascinated and invigorated by things they don’t understand.  If that’s you, make sure you see it, but even I know that’s not the majority of the typical community theatre audience.

The plot, such as it is, unwinds in fits, so you really don’t see the whole picture with any clarity until the end. I don’t want to be a spoiler, so I can’t offer you too much of a synopsis, but I can describe the set up.  

   L to R: Quinn. Stahl, Michael Christopher (Capt. Brice)

Two different generations of the Coverly family and associates occupy the ancestral manse, one group in 1809, the other in the present. The parallel scenes hop back and forth between the time periods, and eventually culminate in a final scene where both widely spaced generations reach their climax on stage simultaneously.

The main characters in both time periods are serious scholars, presenting their theories, sparring with fellow intellectuals and, inevitably, engaging in romantic escapades. In 1809, it’s 13-year-old math and science genius Thomasina Coverly (Kait Mahoney), her tutor Septimus Hodge (Mason Quinn), and the sorry object of Hodge’s critiques, Ezra Chater (Ben Stahl.) The present offers us Hannah Jarvis (Deya Ozburn), Valentine Coverly (Jacob Tice), and Bernard Nightingale (Jed Slaughter.)

There are other characters in both time periods, but the modern scholars, trying to peel back the layers of the history and ancestors, are the ones who help us understand both the nature of the former inhabitants, and the mystery of what happened to them. Perhaps the quirkiest secondary character is Gus/Augustus Coverly (Charlie Stevens), who in his present persona is a rather comically lovelorn mute, silently pining for Hannah.

   L to R: Mahoney, Stevens 

In general, the acting was quite good, though I will admit I connected more with the modern troupe, led by Tice and Slaughter, in part because they added the most clarity to this convoluted story. Overall, the pacing felt rushed a bit, doubtless to keep what is already a three hour theatre night from going even longer. It is, after all, a very wordy play.The set, by Blake York, was impressive, and costumes, by Rochelle-Ann Graham, were suitably lavish and period, though at times ill-fitting, a common community theatre curse of too many body types and too few costume options.

All in all, it’s an admirable undertaking, and a night of theatre that will certainly challenge you, if only to keep up. Don’t expect a simple, spoon-fed, linear story. Come looking for a bit of mental challenge and you’ll fish your wish.

Jan. 8 to Jan. 31, 2016
Lakewood Playhouse