Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Comedy of Errors at Lakewood Playhouse

Buttons and bows
by Michael Dresdner

   Front row: Sabrina Ebengho, Ben Stahl, Isaac Gutiereez       photos by Kate Paterno-Lick 

Re-imagining Shakespeare into different time periods and settings is part of the grand tradition of theatre, and that’s what opened last night at Lakewood Playhouse. This time around director Kristie Worthey has plunged A Comedy of Errors into the present day Pacific Northwest, with the two lost pairs of twins hailing from Seattle and Portland respectively.  

First, a quick recap of the highly confusing story line, just to refresh your memory. Egeon (called Aegeon in this version) and his wife had twin boys, both named Antipholus, for some reason. The parents bought a poor woman’s twin boys, born the same day, to be slaves for their boys. Both slaves are named Dromio. Perhaps there was a name shortage.

The family was riven in a shipwreck and divided as such: Aegeon raised one Antipholus and his Dromio, who are now “away” searching for their siblings. Meanwhile, the other pair were separated from their mother. The searching pair arrive in, well, Portland, in this case, unaware that their father and their mother, now an Abbess in the town, are both there, but unaware of one another. They are also unaware that the orphan twins they seek live right there in town, as a well-know, highly respected, and wealthy married man and his slave.  

   L to R: Ben Stahl, Frank Roberts 

As they make their way through the day, all four of the twins, in pairs and alone, are constantly mistaken for one another by townspeople, wives, and even each slave to his master. What ensues are inexplicably locked homes, seemingly illegitimate debts, lost gifts and money, confused sexual liasons, an arrest; you name it, whatever can go wrong does, until all parties are comically aggrieved and thoroughly confused. Eventually, all is revealed; the Abbess reunites with her long lost husband, Aegeon, and the two sets of twins discover each other, and their parents, for an all-around happy ending.

Worthey chose to set the play in a Portlandia version of Portland, OR, one chock full of weirdness in both behavior and dress, and even more odd, one where there are no long lines in front of Voodoo Donuts (named Zombie Donuts here.) The townsfolk cavort, joke around, make balloon animals, and generally act out with unfettered frivolity. They also trot out and play a variety of instruments , including flute, guitar, recorder, and saxophone, a nice tribute considering yesterday was the 201st birthday of inventor Adolphe Sax.

Naturally, this conceit gave Worthey the chance to add local references, timely gentle insults, and regional jokes to the text, some quite good. (Note to the community at large: “Deja Brew,” the punch line of one such gag, is actually a damned good name for a barista kiosk, and certainly appropriate for a Java Tacoma installment.)

As for the play itself, the original still shines through, relatively unaffected and largely unharmed by this local and modern treatment, with one minor exception. I was sorry to see the famous and outrageous “spherical like a globe; I could find out countries in her” rant get truncated.

And the actors? With all Shakespeare, the most important challenge for the actors is twofold; they must truly understand what the language is saying (since, after all, it is not in present day English), and they must make sure, with expression, delivery, and body language, that they somehow convey that meaning clearly to the audience.

On that score, the leads did an excellent job. A tip of the hat to Ben Stahl, who played both Antipholus parts superbly, to Frank Roberts, who likewise did an outstanding job of the two Dromios, to the flashy and brazen Jodie Chapin for a delightful Adriana, the wife of the local Antipholus, and to Cameron Waters, who not only played a wonderful Aegeon, but then morphed into the second Dromio for the final reveal scene. Stahl, in comparison, does the reveal alone, playing both Antipholus brothers via rapid onstage costume changes reminiscent of the train scene in The 39 Steps.

The set and lighting design by Brett Carr was simple and unobtrusive, which is, at least in my opinion, exactly what works best for most Shakespeare. Skyline and bridge cutouts let us know where we were, but otherwise the stage contained merely ramps, a platform, and hiding spots for the actors to create settings. Costumes by Nena Curley were, I assume, meant to be intentionally haphazard, and were. Clothing ranged from a “hey, look what I found in my closet” top hat and tee shirt pairing, to the “let’s raid the costume shop for something improbable” harlequin top dress sported by Balthasar.  

So now it’s time to ask the big question, the one that will tell you whether this version of the classic will delight or vex you. Since we’re so near Christmas, I’ll pose a seasonally themed version of the querry.

When you look at a stately spruce tree, do you think it is majestic and perfect as is, or just waiting to be made special with drippings of tinsel and brightly colored ornaments? Answer that and you’ll know whether what awaits you is an unbridled treat or well-executed burr beneath your saddle.

A Comedy of Errors
Nov 6 to Nov 29, 2015
Lakewood Playhouse

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Night of the Iguana at Dukesbay

The sound and the fury
by Michael Dresdner

   L to R: Malcolm J. West, Ellen Peters   photos by Jason Ganwich

The small but sometimes stellar Dukesbay Theater is currently showing The Night of the Iguana, directed by theatre co-founder Randy Clark. If you are a fan of Tennessee Williams, this is a chance to see one of his less frequently performed plays, though there may be good reason for that. In my view, this production does not represent the finest work of either the playwright or the theatre company.

It’s 1940 on the west coast of Mexico, where former Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (Mark Peterson,) at one time locked out of his church and into an institution for exhibiting borderline atheism, has morphed into a bus tour guide. He deposits his all female group at the cut rate hotel of his friend, the recently widowed and decidedly salacious Maxine Faulk (Stephanie Leeper), who is more interested in bagging Shannon than gaining hotel customers.  

   Mark Peterson 

Shannon, peacock proud and intrusively loud, eschews both alcohol and Maxine’s advances, but his irrational and irritable behavior has turned the tour group against him. That and the fact that he indulged his penchant for young girls, this time with 16-year-old tour member Charlotte Goodall (Chevi Chung.) The leader of the tour group, a strident, square-jawed bulldog named Judith Fellowes (Maggie Knott,) is the tour’s own Carrie Nation, assailing Shannon while guarding, albeit unsuccessfully, Charlotte’s morals.

   L to R: Chevi Chung, Mark Peterson

New England spinster Hannah Jelkes (Ellen Peters), an itinerant artist who ekes out an existence traveling with her 96-year-old grandfather Nonno (Malcolm J. West), a former poet seeking to finish his last great work before his death, also show up at the hotel. It is sensible and sensitive Hannah who, after the raging Shannon is restrained from attempting to drown himself, manages to get through to him. Like oil on the waters, she calms both him and the play, and manages to stand out as a rare gentle voice amidst the otherwise rather intrusive on-stage din. It’s much appreciated; in an intimate, 36-seat venue like this, a little volume goes a long way.

  L to R: Ellen Peters, Stephanie Leeper 

As Shannon finally succumbs to alcohol, apparently one of his other self-destructive demons, he oddly becomes both calmer and kinder. The play moves to its resolution as he and Hannah both manage to clarify their own minds and actions, past and future, by letting down their guard and sharing their stories with one another.

Rounding out the cast are other bit parts, including Shannon’s downtrodden driver Hank (Robert Osborn,) and his replacement, an amiable zhlub named Jake Latta (Jeffery Weaver.) Zhlub, if you were wondering, is one of those hard to define Yiddish terms that suggests a sloppy, compliant, unremarkable plodder. That’s the character, mind you, not Weaver.

All this is played out on one of the nicest sets imaginable, an all faux stone hotel patio replete with ocean view, which was designed by Burton Yuen, built by Hector Juarez, and exquisitely painted by Jennifer York. Bethany Bevier did sound design, Nic Olson handled lighting, and Jeffery Weaver did triple duty as actor, costumer, and props master. Together they provided estimable production support.  

In spite of some well-crafted characters, including Weaver’s Latta, Leeper’s stridently sexual Maxine, and the welcome quiet of Peters’Hannah, the production in general suffers from a lack of modulation, nuance, and chemistry, which could be chalked up to actors, director, opening night irregularity, or something else entirely. Hopefully, it will calm down and mesh better as the run continues.   

The Night of the Iguana
Oct 30 to Nov 15, 2015
Dukesbay Productions

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Rabbit Hole at TLT

Painful realism, finely honed
by Michael Dresdner

 L to R: Vinny Peitz, Dana Galagan, Jed Slaughter, Alissa Cattabriga. Photos by DK Photography

Last night, Rabbit Hole, directed by the redoubtable Suzy Willhoft, opened at Tacoma Little Theater. The most apt description for this production is “exceptionally fine,” embodying that magic combination of a well-crafted script, particularly adroit directing, spot-on set, lights, props, costumes, etc, and most importantly, a top-to-bottom flawless ensemble cast.  

Becca (Alissa Cattabriga) and her husband Howie (Jed Slaughter) have recently lost their young son to an accident via a car driven by a teenager named Jason (Vinny Peitz.)  The pair struggle to deal with the loss as it takes its toll on their relationship, and emerges at times in their interactions with Becca’s sister, Izzy (Elena Martinez), and their mother, Nat (Dana Galagan.) Separately and together they endeavor to maintain a normal life while sometimes being cracked open by their profound loss, the pain manifesting itself as interpersonal frictions and quickly capped outbursts.  

   L to R: Jed Slaughter, Dana Galagan, Elena Martinez, Alissa Cattabriga 

And yet, this is not a play that leaves the audience exhausted with depression. You feel the various characters’ pain, but you are not disabled by it. Neither a story of hopeless descent into oblivion, nor a polyanna where, “poof,” everything becomes rosy at the end, it is the play’s very realism that makes it endurable in the face of the palpable emotion it releases.  

  L to R: Alissa Cattabriga, Jed Slaughter 

As for the cast, I could cite each actor, call out one of their standout scenes, and laud each in turn, but there’s no point. Perfectly cast, they all deliver polished, nuanced performances, separately and as a well-oiled ensemble. Go ahead; you can all take a bow on this one.

    L to R: Jed Slaughter, Elena Martinez, Dana Galagan 

Their respective characters are so finely crafted and believable that we end up caring about and liking every single one of them. All are wholly recognizable rather than exaggerated; people grappling with their pain, sometimes succumbing to irritability when it is overwhelming, but trying to help one another when they are able. Their essential humanity shines through and reaches us in a way that is endearing, aching, and yet bearable. It calls to mind a line from a very different play: “Pain makes man think, thought makes man wise, and wisdom makes life endurable.”

Blake York’s outstanding set is a thoroughly recognizable Larchmont home owned by neat, respectable folk; a neat, sensible living room replete with suble, but eerily prescient rows of empty picture frames, a clean, practical, focus-of-daily-life kitchen, and a bedroom that appears and disappears like a Chesire cat. Everything else fits the setting perfectly as well; costumes by Michele Graves, light and sound by Niclas Olson and Chris Serface, respectively, and Jeffery Weaver’s apropos, and often mouthwatering, props. It’s a challenging show to stage, so Stage Manager Becca Rex and her ASM Noelle Edlin also deserve a bow.

Look, I’m not going to pretend this play is joy unbounded. While there are laughs, its more about feeling something real along with the cast than about mindless entertainment. On the other hand, great theatre like this is quite rewarding in its own way, and this stellar production is very much worth your time.

Rabbit Hole
Oct. 23 to Nov. 8, 2015
Tacoma Little Theatre

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jen and Blake Wedding Circus

Debauchery under DeBigTop
by Michael Dresdner

   The venue 

Last night The Jen and Blake Wedding Circus opened to a sellout crowd (a crowd of unabashed sellouts) made up mostly of devotees, minions, and, not surprisingly considering the venue, an odd assortment of sideshow freaks. It all took place under the big top at Circus McGurkus in McMillan, causing miles long backups of vehicles on the adjacent road.  

   "... an odd assortment of sideshow freaks."

As you know, a review is simply one person’s observations of an event, and may differ markedly from what other attendees observed. Here then, is how I saw events unfold.

               The Godfather

Overseeing the event was godfather Don Guido, shown above in distinctive red ascot, and later while granting a wedding day boon to a supplicant.  

                   Don Guido with a supplicant 

The wedding scene opened with the couple’s minions gathering on stage, well disguised in costume, yet each showing some indication of the distinctive “minion yellow” in the form of a tie or shoes. They formed an honor guard around the groom and the Ringmaster, who was dressed in the traditional red tophat, black boots, and garish cutaway and vest.

               Minions wore distinctive yellow markers 

The aisle consisted of a thick, brocade red carpet interwoven with images of cavorting mystical creatures and strewn with rose petals by a gaily prancing flower girl. As the bride entered, resplendant in green silk and leading a 10 foot Bengal tiger named Sophie by a satin ribbon, the crowd erupted in applause.

   Sophie, the Bengal tiger

Crossing a wide swath of religious traditions, the Ringmaster’s readings were drawn from a variety of scriptures, including the Book of Farnsworth, the Bible of Guisel, the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, and, bowing to more conservative tradition, the Kama Sutra. As the couple sealed their vows, the audience erupted in a well deserved standing ovation, with dozens of overcome attendees swooning left and right.

   The vows and vowels 

Following the nuptials were the suptials; a succulent feast served in nine courses by a bevy of scantily clad waitpersons of several genders, only a few of which were easily recognizable. Along with the typical introductory courses and side dishes of pommes frit, harricot verdes mascarpone gratin, and ortolan in lemon halves was an elongated tubular cutlet of meat that tasted vaguely of capybara or giraffe, I wasn’t sure which, garnished with a coulis of beurre de cacahu├Ęte.

   Only the best for these attendees 
After the sumptuous meal, guests were offered a sampler of single malt scotches and a selection of Cuban cigars brought out by liveried servants on silver salvers, all leading up to the cutting of the wedding cake.

          The discreet, understated wedding cake under the big top

In addition to a discreet, understated wedding cake, shown above, each guest was offered an individually chosen discrete tartlet which they had to retrieve from various fairway rides, including ferris wheels and carousels. You can imagine the outcome.

              The happy couple holds their only wedding gift 

At various times the feeding frenzy was interrupted by so-called “dancing,” a Rabelaisian bacchanal that soon devolved into writhing throngs of partygoers in various degrees of deshabille conjugating furiously in twos, threes, and fours. Eventually the revelers were dispersed by the local gendarmes assisted by two National Guard brigades, after which the venue was hosed down and disinfected by a hazmat team. 

               Revelers reveling revelously 

And that’s how it happened at the Circus McGurkus.   

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Boeing Boeing at TLT

A light meal of airline fare
by Michael Dresdner

   L to R: Robert Alan Barnett, Brynne Garman, Greg Lucas   Photos by Dennis K Photography

Tacoma Little Theatre opened its 97th season last night with an early 1960’s bit of dated dating fluff called Boeing Boeing. The “parental warning” sign by the box office gives you a great heads up as to the tenor of what’s about to happen on stage. It warns that you are about to see “suggestive situations, doors slamming, and pancakes with ketchup.”

If you are looking for nuanced emotion, political correctness, or intellectual challenge, keep moving; there’s nothing for you here. What is here is heaps of rather well done physical comedy and suggestive lustiness; frenetic kissing and hugging, pratfalls, walking into slamming doors, near misses, and men whomped with purses. All this unfolds with the dynamic range, subtlety, and sensitivity of Benny Hill, replete with on-stage grappling, implied (but never seen) sex, and even the titillation of accidental homoerotic posturing.

This rather formulaic sixties tale introduces us to Bernard (Greg Lucas,) an American bachelor in his Paris apartment, and his housekeeper Berthe (Brynne Garman), who outline the setup. With Berthe’s help, Bernard is juggling three air hostesses (no, they never use the word stewardesses) whose schedules keep them from meeting or finding out that he is engaged to all three. Of course, he has no intention of marrying any of them; it’s the sixties, people, and he’s a cool Playboy type.

   L to R: Ana Bury, Robert Alan Barnett 

Gloria (Ana Bury) is an American working for TWA, Gabriella (Holly Rose) is an Italian flying for Alitalia, and Gretchen (Jana Guek) is a German with Lufthansa. Get it? All the names start with G so he can even monogram gifts and robes without the fear of slip ups. As each shows up in turn, he turns the large spinning portrait so her photo adorns the room. The recessed crown molding lighting also changes to match the color of each woman’s uniform. Yes, the play boasts that level of contrivance.

     Holly Rose and portrait 

But wait; you know this can’t last, right? Of course not. Bernard’s old friend Robert (Robert Alan Barnett) comes to visit just as the schedules of the three hostesses get rearranged. Yes, they all show up more or less at the same time (I bet you didn’t see that coming) and it falls to Robert to somehow keep the juggled balls in the air. That’s the basis for the endless funny lines, comic set-ups, and outrageous falls, leaps, and blocks, and the very talented and very entertaining Robert shoulders the bulk of it. I won’t tell you how it all resolves except to say that it maintains its utter impracticality in order to have a happy ending.

   L to R: Robert Alan Barnett, Brynne Garman 

Director Curt Hetherington chose brisk intensity over dynamic range, so the action never really lets up, which seemed to delight the heartily laughing packed house on opening night. A wonderfully appropriate set designed by Blake R. York was propped and dressed by Jeffery Weaver with just the right touches of sixties kitsch. Spot on costumes by Michele Graves added to the image, aided by period sounds (and sound effects) by Jay Biederman and appropriately unobtrusive lighting by Niclas R. Olson.  

When you need a break from serious reality, light fare like this goes down easily, especially if lubricated with the array of alcoholic temptations the lobby offers. If you promise not to overthink it, I promise you a diverting trip to the lighthearted, politically incorrect, completely improbable past that really only ever existed in the imagination of mid twentieth century adult (read “painfully adolescent”) males.

Boeing Boeing
Sept. 18 to Oct. 4, 2015
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Few Good Men at Lakewood

Quite a few, and more than good  
by Michael Dresdner  

L to R: Tice, Jenkins, Mohs-Hale, Curley     All photos by Kate Paterno-Link 
Last night, on (coincidentally?) 9/11, Lakewood Playhouse opened their 77th season  with an impressive production of Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant drama A Few Good Men. Director Beau Prichard assembled a tight, well-meshed ensemble cast that was nonetheless peppered liberally with outstanding individual performances by some ideally cast actors.  

Lance Cpl. Dawson (Aaron Mohs-Hale), a strong, natural young leader and singularly committed marine, and Pfc. Downey (K. E. Jenkins), a somewhat slow youth who trusts and follows Dawson’s leadership, are accused of murdering a fellow member of Dawson’s unit stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

L to R: Mohs-Hale, Jenkins 
They are assigned Lt. Kaffee (Jacob Tice) as their lawyer, who brings along his friend and fellow lawyer Lt. Weinberg (Jim Rogers). A prickly female lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Callowy (Cassie Jo Fastabend) manipulates her way into the third seat of the legal team, and the interplay between the three diverse personalities provides an undercurrent to the already problematic case.

L to R: Tice, Rogers, Fastabend 
Much of the complication revolves around whether or not the hapless defendants were ordered by their superior officers to conduct a “code red,” an unofficial and illegal form of hazing used to bring weak members of a unit into line. This time it turned unintentionally deadly; hence their situation. The complication comes as their loyalty and integrity leaves them trapped between ratting out their superiors and maintaining the unit’s rather closed code of honor.

Though the prosecutor, Lt. Ross (Tom Phiel) and Kaffee are both willing to set up a plea deal of manslaughter, the boys refuse, insisting on nothing less than a plea of innocent. As the case starts to fall apart in the face of uncooperative senior officers and a lack of clear proof, the team decides to gamble it all by calling the camp’s senior officer, Jessup, to the stand.

Lt. Col. Jessup (James A. Gilletti) is a latter day George Armstrong Custer; arrogant, unyielding, and overly self-confident in his own leadership ability. It’s only by tripping him up into blurting out what he really thinks does Kaffee turn the tide of the case.

L to R: Phiel, Gilletti 
As I said, the thoroughly believable ensemble cast was very well chosen and meshed beautifully. Still, allow me the indulgence to wax effusive about just a few of the outstanding performances that particularly caught my fancy, by actors who created some disarmingly believable characters.  

Let’s start with some of the small roles. Darrel Shiley, Jr. was so spot-on in the very minor role as the quintessential military desk jockey Capt. Whitaker that it took me a while to realize the actor was one who I had shared the stage with just last season. Curtis Beech believably crafted the well-intentioned but easily coerced doctor, Cmdr. Stone. Tom Phiel held his own as the prosecutor who would rather make a deal, and must quash his reluctance to press the murky case.  

Mason Quinn did yeoman service as the rigid, single-minded, bible-quoting Lt. Kendrick, making his classic character more Marine than human, and more religious than understanding. In contrast, Christian Carvajal crafted a very believable and frankly very likeable Capt. Markinson, an older officer whose varied past assignments, some in undercover work, nurtured a Marine lifer with a rare combination of wisdom, compassion, honesty, and integrity.   

Mohs-Hale brought a quiet strength to Dawson, making his commitment, leadership, and wide-spread respect entirely believable. He is both guide and bulwark for Jenkins, playing his convincingly weaker and trusting fellow defendant Downey.

L to R: Rogers, Tice 
Jim Rogers as Weinberg created another interesting pairing; his mostly calm, common-sense persona was the yin to Kaffee’s yang, and the two balanced and completed one another beautifully. Cassie Jo Fastabend’s insistent and intentionally annoying Galloway manages to, in turn, goad and shore up the other two.

And that brings us to Jacob Tice, the play’s lead, Lt. Kaffee, and its shining light. It’s no mean feat making a well-recognized movie role your own, but Tice did it in spades. His Kaffee was perfect; a glib, easy-mannered hot-shot whose flippancy is not a cover-up for insecurity, but rather an indulgence only one with real brilliance and skill can comfortably afford. That’s a tough combination to portray, but Tice did it superbly.

A simple set by James Venturini and director Prichard works well as courtroom, jail cell, and several offices with only a few lighting (Daniel Cole) and furniture alterations. The wide range of military costumes (Frances Rankos) was no doubt made even more challenging by the fact that one of the male characters was actually played by a well-disguised female actor.

Unlike some productions in thrust configuration, Prichard’s blocking did not favor the center section but rather worked at all angles. You’ll have great lines of sight no matter where you choose to sit.

And yes, you most certainly should choose to sit somewhere. The opening night audience was a bit sparse, perhaps because it coincided with the first day of the Puyallup Fair (no, I won’t call it by its new name). This production deserves packed houses. Make it a point to be in one of them. That’s an order, private.   

A Few Good Men
Sept. 11 to Oct. 11, 2015
Lakewood Playhouse

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Lakewood

by Michael Dresdner

   Photos by Kate Paterno-Lick

At the outset, you need to know that The Mystery of Edwin Drood , the final show at Lakewood Playhouse this season, is not, as its name would imply, a dark, Dickensian piece, or even, for that matter, much of a murder mystery. It’s a campy, boisterous romp of a musical with elements of vaudeville, Gilbert and Sullivan operatic melodrama, English Panto, and old style music hall.

For instance, there’s a lead male played by a female (touted as a renowned “male impersonator”), a set of “identical twins” of different genders who could not possibly look less alike, and magnificent flashy costumes, all of which are common Panto elements. There’s a classic vaudeville “set” consisting of word play insults, a thousand-word-per-minute song a la Gilbert and Sullivan, and lots of music hall flummery.

Heather Malroy
In other words, it’s jolly, exuberant, in-your-face gaiety with a completely crumbled fourth wall. That’s right; expect the cast to talk to you, beg your participation, and all but climb into your lap in an effort to get the audience to be part of the show.

The basic conceit is a play within a play; the regulars of The Music Hall Royale are going to put on a murder mystery, so all the diverse and wacky characters who populate the venue will try to put aside their competition, squabbling, and insults for long enough to mount a semi-serious play. Obviously, that’s doomed to comic failure. Oh, they manage to eke out a bit of the story in between scene stealing, ego trips, and unrestrained song and dance, but when they come to the unfinished part of the story, they ask the audience to vote on who the killer is and who should play the various roles needed to finish the performance.

Before I get into individuals, let me say that the entire cast is excellent, though too big to name them all. All the ensemble singing and dancing was top notch, and the exuberant dance hall girls particularly compelling. The music hall troupe launched into their numbers with the eagerness of a tumble of puppies being let out into a dog park whenever they got their cue, and sometimes (intentionally) before. Ditto for the acting, and though there are too many for me to name them all, I will say that the entire cast deserves kudos before I indulge myself and call out a few of my favorites.

Steve Tarry 
First and foremost there’s Steve Tarry, who plays the role of The Chairman of the Music Hall Royale, the chief fourth wall violator. Smooth, glib, and funny, with the perfect demeanor and a snarky mien, he blithely insults both audience and fellow troupe members with his slick, non-stop patter. He is the quintessential music hall emcee, and does such a bang-up job of the role that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever doing it as well. 

There are solid leads who play characters who, in turn, play other characters in the play-within-a-play. They include Gary Chambers as John Jaspers, Allyson Jacobs-Lake as Rosa Bud, and Brynn Garrett as Edwin Drood.

However, some of the color roles were so enchanting they caught my eye and my heart. Christopher S. Cantrell plays an absolutely delightful reprobate and sot named Durdles, while his other persona does a perfect vaudeville-style insults-with-word-play routine with Tarry in his emcee role. Jed Slaughter is wonderfully understated as the reserved Reverend Chrisparkle, while Derek Hall is charmingly pitiable as Phillip Bax, who desperately wants some day to be cast in a lead.

                   L to R: Derek Hall, Steve Tarry 

Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson did a hilarious turn full of innuendo and bawdy charm as Miss Angel Prysock (who then plays Princess Puffer.) DuWayne Andrews Jr, and Heather Malroy play the thoroughly unlikely set of  “identical” twins from Ceylon. Since no one in the cast or audience is supposed to know what someone hailing from that part of the world is really like, they are free to endow their characters with clueless absurdity. He tended toward the lead in The King and I, and she reminded me of Princess Caraboo, with her self-described comic accent of “unidentifiable geography” and the constant gyrations of a Balinese dancer.

And the production values? Amazing. Costumes too good to be believed were, not surprisingly, thanks to the redoubtable Alex Lewington. A superb orchestra was led by Deborah Lynn Armstrong and paired with excellent choreography by Heather Malroy. Lighting by Jerry Clausen and sound by Nena Curley (who is also the stage manager) blended beautifully. Lex Gernon’s elaborate set included an entire theater view with wings, curtained proscenium, audience boxes, and a stage that slid to and fro.

Incidentally, this production, directed by Chris Serface, the artistic director of Tacoma Little Theatre, is the other half of the director swap between him and John Munn, who directed Cabaret at TLT. 

Here’s what you need to take away from this: Forget the title, and forget that it is (very loosely) based on an unfinished but typically grim Dickens tale. Go expecting a no holds barred, flashy, high-spirited musical comedy with more than enough audience participation and you won’t be disappointed.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
May 29 to June 28, 2015
Lakewood Playhouse