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