Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life at TLT

A Curate’s Egg

by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Lydia Hedman, Dan Lysne, Kirsten Deane   All photos by DK Photography

In the stage adaptation of the obligatory seasonal indulgence It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s business, the Building and Loan, is a somewhat ramshackle place with a noble mission and a heart of gold. The same can be said for Tacoma Little Theatre’s production, directed by Maria Valenzuela. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but has enough heart to win over its audiences.

L to R: Jordan Talbot,
Jameil Jackson, Dan Lysne 
You probably know this, but bear with me for a short synopsis. George Bailey (Dan Lysne) runs the modest building and loan company started by his parents (Curtis Beech and Leigh Duncan) after being repeatedly foiled in his desire to flee the small town of Bedford Falls and see the world. When his partner and uncle Billy (George Mc Clure) loses enough money to shut down the business on the eve of a bank examiner’s visit, George decides to end it by jumping off a bridge. He’s stopped by a guardian angel, Clarence Oddbody (Gary Spees) sent by the Angel Superintendent (Andrew Fry) who acts as the de facto narrator of Bailey’s background story. Clarence shows George what the town and its inhabitants would be like if he’d never been born, and he realizes he is indeed a valued cog in the gears. Convinced, he returns to his wife and children to find that the whole town has turned out to cover the monetary loss and reassure George of how much he is loved and appreciated.  

Tom Birkeland, in wheelchair, with ensemble 
I must admit that I was particularly eager to see Tom Birkeland, who plays the wheelchair-bound Mr. Potter, George’s nemesis and the wealthiest, crankiest man in town. Birkeland has long been one of the South Sound’s most outstanding actors, but has been on medical hiatus for a number of years. He’s lost nothing; his performance was balanced, powerful, and flawless, and easily the shining light of the play. It’s nice to see the old timers showing the young how it’s done.

L to R: Kirsten Deane, Dan Lysne
A close second was Kirsten Deane, who played George’s wife Mary with just the right mix of warmth, coyness, affection, and ebullience. It’s a huge cast, too big to list, but there were other high spots as well, like the short but well-played role of the young George by Brian Loughridge, and the before-and-after maturation of Violet Bick, played by Allyson Jacobs-Lake.

With 27 separate scenes in a dozen different settings, the task of coming up with a set that worked for all must have been daunting. With a bit of imagination and a parade of moving furniture pieces, Blake York’s complex set held up quite nicely to the play’s considerable demands. The same can be said of Michele Grave’s costumes, Pavlina Morris’ lighting, Karrie Nevin’s props, and the sound design by Darren Hembd, which included a live piano accompanist, Zachary Kellog.

This is not slick, polished, professional theatre, but one could argue that it’s better this way. It’s a Wonderful Life is all about heart, love, and the regular folk of a town, and that’s just the feeling this production conveys. If you, like so many, need a yearly dose of this heartwarming Christmas classic, this play is a far better way to consume it than sitting in front of the TV for yet another rerun of the movie you know by heart.  

It’s a Wonderful Life
Nov. 29th to Dec. 22nd, 2013
Tacoma Little Theatre

Aladdin at Centerstage

The Dog’s Bollocks

by Michael Dresdner

Left to right: Terry Edward Moore, Kate Alden, Casey Raiha

Centerstage has now established a tradition of presenting English Panto each Christmas season, and they do it divinely. This year’s delightful entry is Aladdin, directed by Roger Curtis, and trust me, it’s the dog’s bollocks.

(For you Yanks out there, “the dog’s bollocks” is a British slang term meaning awesome.)

Pantomimes, or Pantos, are raucous, riotous, randy interpretations of fairy tales aimed squarely at families with children, larded with layers of humor sure to hit all ages, song, dance, and lots of audience participation. The players talk with the audience, encouraging them to help out, cheer the heroes, who enter stage right, and boo the villains, who enter stage left.

(Another note for you Yanks: In this case, Pantomime does not mean silent. After an 18th century audience clearly preferred the spoken preamble, a mime show’s savvy producers threw out the silent portion of their two part entertainment. Somehow, the name pantomime stuck, along with a host of traditional conceits.)

This year’s offering boasts incredible sets (Steffon Moody), stunning costumes (Deb Skorstad, Malia Seavy) and wigs (Jonni Whitby, Barbara Peterson), reams of often hilarious props (Becca Hines, Mary Sawyer, Laura Campbell), clever lighting (Amy Silvera), lots of songs, and superbly executed dance numbers (dance captain Katherine Jett) performed by the entire light-footed cast. As always, the heavy music load is adroitly handled by house musical director and resident genius David Duvall and his backup band (Andrew Carson, Mike Eytcheson, Kaarin Lysen, Matt Goodin)

In addition to the attractive and talented romantic leads, Aladdin and Jasmine (Casey Raiha and Kate Alden), Pantos typically have certain obligatory characters, often intentionally played by the opposite sex. For instance, there’s a “male” cop, PC Pongo, played by a young, sexy woman (the stunning Anna Marie Clausen) who is costumed so you don’t ever forget it. Abanazar is this iteration’s personification of evil (Terry Edward Moore ), the Emperor of Cathay (Dale Bowers) is the blustering, foolish father, and the necessary fairy godmother this year is a pair of male and female genies (Josh Williamson and Brynne Geiszler), she in traditional belly dancer garb and he decked out like an over-the-top disco dude. But my favorite repeat character is the ugly old hag of a woman played by a rather large male. Artistic director Alan Bryce took the droll but juicy part of Widow Twankey and made it hilarious. He was but one of many cast members who got to reel out one-liners filled with subtle innuendo, bad puns, topical gibes, and locally-aimed insults.   

One of my favorite bits, and one the audience is encouraged to help with, is a mockery of the song Twelve Days of Christmas where “a partridge in a pear tree” is replaced by “a bra that is made to hold three.” Don’t even ask what the rest of the days are, but be assured there will be enough custard pies hurled to satisfy even the most jaded theatre goer.

If you’re already a fan of Panto, this one is not to be missed. For those who’ve never experienced it, be certain to make time in your schedule to go to Aladdin at Centerstage, and expect what’s possibly the most delightful two hours you’ll spend this holiday season.

Nov.30 to Dec. 22, 2013