Tuesday, February 25, 2014

12 Angry Men at Lakewood Playhouse

 Zoo Storyor Fear and Loathing on the Acting Trail
by Michael Dresdner

    The cast of 12 Angry Men                                                                       Photos by Kate Paterno-Lick

Here’s the good news/bad news, folks. I won’t be reviewing 12 Angry Men at Lakewood Playhouse (you decide whether that’s good or bad news) because I am in the cast.

Instead, I’ll supply a peek behind the testosterone curtain and reveal what it is like to be in a man-cave of this magnitude; a play with nothing but men in the cast, and thirteen of them at that. 

But first, I need to deal with the fear and loathing comment.

Truth be told, the normal theatrical fear has been eliminated in this play thanks to one cast member who shall remain nameless. I’ll get to him in a minute.

By fear, I refer to every actor’s greatest dread: “going up.”  It means being on stage in front of an audience with no earthly idea what your next line is. The silence is deafening.

This is the stuff of literal nightmares for most actors. My own personal version, which I normally have at least twice with every show I do, has me in the wings, knowing my entrance is nigh, not only with no idea of my lines but no clue as to the nature of the play itself. I grab other actors and ask them “Can you at least tell me what this play is about, so I can make something up?” About that time I usually wake up and quickly remind myself that someday I’ll grow up to be a reviewer and will no longer have to suffer these night sweats.

At any rate, that can’t happen in this show. Why? Because one cast member has, remarkably, memorized THE ENTIRE PLAY and adroitly inserts the correct line whenever anyone goes up. We all love him for it, but most of us think he’s actually a flesh-toned robot, since no real human could do this. He’s like the Deep Blue of live theatre.

The best part of any all-male cast is the notable lack of backstage drama, something that varies with the composition of the cast. At the “way too much drama” end are plays heavily populated by a mixture of both sexes of hormone-infused teenage actors. Plays like that should issue seatbelts, because trust me, they’re a rocky ride, replete with the angst-ridden lovelorn forever donning sack cloth and ashes because of the fickle affections of fellow thespians.

In the middle are the normal mixed-gender plays, with their olio of mild flirting, awkward conversations, and dressing room fights over whether it’s way too hot or way too cold, who owns the makeup that eight people have now used, and whether or not you have a legal right to a particular spot at the mirror simply because you’ve adorned it with something of yours in a theatrical version of peeing on one’s territory.

This play has none of that. Instead, there’s an odd mix of helpfulness and the obligatory male, insult-laden banter, delivered with more affection than vituperation. We may be 12 Angry Men on stage, but we’re frighteningly amenable in the green room. Perhaps the contrast is part of it; several people, notably jurors #3 and #10, release plenty of rage on the boards in what must be a very cleansing ritual, and almost everyone gets to pop off at least once.

Maybe that’s the real secret behind creating good theater; balancing the natural lunacy of actors with a healthy outlet for their mishegas. (It’s a Yiddish word meaning “craziness.”) That and plenty of air freshener.

At any rate, what has emerged onstage is a surprisingly good version of a surprisingly good play. Although I have a hard time seeing it fairly from the inside (I see mostly warts and flies), I’m told by those I respect that it is a damned good play indeed.

Perhaps you should take their word for it and come see for yourself. Hey, you can always come back to this blog and post your comments if you disagree too vehemently.

12 Angry Men
Feb. 21 through March 16, 2014
Lakewood Playhouse

Friday, February 7, 2014

True Love: The Cole Porter Love Songbook at Centerstage

The Perfect Valentine 
by Michael Dresdner  

This year, David Duvall, in the guise of Purple Phoenix Productions, has come up with the perfect concert/performance for Valentine’s Day weekend. 

Four outstanding Seattle-based singers – Laurie Clothier, Connie Corrick, Hugh Hastings, and Eric Polani Jensen – backed by Duvall’s outstanding 9-piece Purple Phoenix Orchestra will present True Love: The Cole Porter Love Songbook at Centerstage.

This is a perfect pairing; Porter is the ultimate writer of love songs, and Duvall’s arrangements are consistently superb. In fact, this is Duvall’s tenth tribute to Cole Porter.

Struggling to remember some of the Cole Porter songs you adore? Let me help. In this heartstring-tugging concert you’ll hear, among others, It’s De-Lovely, At Long Last Love, I Get a Kick Out of You, Easy to Love, Let’s Do It Let’s Fall in Love, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, What is This Thing Called Love?, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, Just One of Those Things, Begin the Beguine, From This Moment On, Night and Day, and of course, the title song, True Love.

There are only two shows being offered; one on Saturday evening at 8 pm  on February 15th, and the other a matinee on Sunday afternoon at 2 pm on February 16th

If you’ve been to other concert performances staged by Duvall, you already know that they are a divine, exhilarating, non-stop tidal wave of amazing music performed by equally amazing musicians. If you haven’t been to one… well, what are you waiting for? Take advantage of this Valentine’s Day treat and experience one of the finest performance juggernauts the Puget Sound has ever produced.   

True Love: The Cole Porter Love Songbook
Feb. 15th and 16th, 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Nerd at Centerstage

It’s all geek to me

by Michael Dresdner

    L to R: Chip Wood, Brandon Brown, David Gehrman, Jenny Vaughn Hall

The Nerd is one of the funniest plays ever written. It’s frequently performed by local theatre groups, but rarely this well. Centerstage has put together a terrific director and an absolutely superb cast. It is laugh out loud funny, fast paced, and totally delightful, but there’s only one week left to see it.

The play was written by Larry Shue and is directed by John Dillon, who directed the first production of it. According to the program notes, he also helped convince Shue to write this tale of a nerd who comes to visit and comically upends several peoples’ lives. 

Willum Cubbert, a dejected architect, is unhappy with his current job and about to lose his girlfriend, Tansy McGinnis, who wants to move east for a job as a TV weathergirl. His friend and neighbor, Axel Hammond, wants to prod Willum out of his rut, apparently by constantly peppering their three-way conversations with barbs of hilarious, snarky sarcasm. 

Years before, Willum was wounded in Vietnam and his life was saved by one Rick Steadman, who disappeared before Willum awoke in the hospital. A grateful Willum wrote to the elusive hero telling him he’d do anything for him at any time.  When Rick eventually shows up, he turns out to be a loud, hilariously annoying, clueless doofus. Homeless, Rick moves in, and in short order his antics drive everyone to distraction, ultimately causing Willum to do something rash and life-changing.

L to R: David Gehrman, Brandon Brown (in bag)
The play needs the perfect actor to play the nerd, and David Gehrman is it. With pants pulled up to his chest, a pocket protector in his shirt, and glasses repaired with adhesive tape over the bridge, his rubber-faced expressions, loud braying voice, gawky posturing, and absurdly illogical actions were both hilarious and cringe-worthy. He makes the audience roar while making life hell for the grateful but hapless Willum (Brandon Brown) and the sweet, patient Tansy (Jenny Vaughn Hall). Adding spice to the mix is Axel, played with delicious acidity by Chip Wood, who comes off like a youngish Tony Randall blessed with the wickedly well-timed humor of Paul Lynde.

Then there’s David Natale as Warnock Waldgrave, Willum’s boorish, bombastic hotel-building client, and his obnoxious son Thor (Shane Collins). Dealing with both, largely by breaking dishes, is his angst-ridden wife, Clelia, played by Elinor Gunn, who with her very first line made us laugh out loud and love her at the same time.

The set, by Michael Ward, was spacious and spot on, as were the props by Trista Duval. Outstanding  period and character-defining costumes by Rachel Wilke were wonderful. Added support came from lighting designer Amy Silveria and sound, including lovely between-set songs, from Johanna Melamed.  

By the way, be sure to read the director’s notes in the playbill. They are very illuminating.

As I said, there’s not much time left to see this production of The Nerd at Centerstage, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a smoother, funnier iteration of this gem anywhere.

The Nerd
Jan. 24 through Feb. 9, 2014