Saturday, April 22, 2017

Exit Laughing at TLT

Cotton candy
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Richmond, O'Hare, Ferguson     All photos by Dennis K Photography

Last night, Paul Elliott’s comedy Exit Laughing, superbly directed by Rick Hornor, opened at Tacoma Little Theatre to a packed house simply roaring with laughter from beginning to end.

Densely packed into this brisk, airy comedy are enough zingers and one-liners to fill at least three episodes of your favorite TV sitcom to bursting. If you are looking for pure, rib-tickling diversion, go out and buy tickets now. This show will sell out.

L to R: Richmond, O'Hare, Ferguson

The plot, which exists mostly as a platter on which to serve up classic humor, involves three women who’ve played cards together for years and, somewhat in absentia, their fourth who has just died. I say “somewhat” because her urn of ashes joins them for one last hurrah.

Connie (Carol Richmond) is the sensible, somewhat repressed mother of a 22 year old daughter, and the host of tonight’s gathering. Leona (Sharry O’Hare) is a classic, snarky, quick-witted and sharped tongued inebriate who loves her friends, though possibly not as much as her booze.

L to R: O'Hare, Richmond

Then there’s Millie (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson), the quintessential clueless ditz who brings along the dead Mary’s ashes, which she has stolen from the funeral home. Why? Because Mary’s white trash relatives, whom we never see, are violating what this trio knows were her disposition wishes.

L to R: Parobek, Ferguson

Rounding out the cast of archetypes are Connie’s daughter Rachel Ann (Margret Parobek) beautifully filling the role of a volatile young woman with all the explosive passion and fickle heart of a stereotypical teen, and her missing date, who stood her up, showing up instead in the guise of ‘Officer Grayson’ (John Naden), a handsome young man working as a stripper but hiding a challenged past and the requisite heart of gold.


The small cast of five were all excellent, but far and away the most entertaining is the pairing of  O’Hare and Ferguson. These two, both outstanding actors separately, are pure comic gold together, and worth the price of admission all by themselves. They play off one another alternately setting each other up to show off their flawless punch line deliveries. Damn, they’re good.

All this plays out in one room of Carol’s house on a perfect set (by Blake York) right out of Golden Girls, only slightly more northern, and festooned with appropriately awful wall art (set dresser and props man Jeffery Weaver). Even Mary’s urn of ashes is a character in itself, a paradigm of the abhorrently tasteless. 

Ferguson, with an urn full of Mary's ashes 

The otherwise spot-on costumes (by Michele Graves) were all overshadowed by those of stripper Grayson (you’ll see what I mean). Predictably solid were the sound design by York and Chris Serface, and lighting by Niclas Olson. Oh, and let’s give a nod to stage manager Nena Curley and (temporarily absent but just as vital) assistant Noelle Shai Edlin for keeping it all running smoothly.

Bottom line: I’m willing to bet that you will find this silly, fluffy romp funny, thoroughly enjoyable, and over too soon.

Exit Laughing
April 21 to May 7, 2017
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead at Lakewood

“It insists upon itself, Lois.”
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Paul Richter, Frank Roberts    All photos by Tim Johnston 

Lakewood Playhouse is currently presenting a long Tom Stoppard double feature of Shakespearean bent; The Fifteen Minute Hamlet followed by Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead.

Both plays are quite well done, with strong individual and ensemble casts, good direction by Beau M. K. Prichard, a thoroughly appropriate set (Blake York) and props (Karrie Nevin), and excellent sound (James Venturini), lighting (Aaron Mohs-Hale), and costumes (Rochelle-Ann Graham). In short, the theatre did a fine job with both these plays, but let’s look at them more closely, one at a time.

The Fifteen Minute Hamlet 
The Fifteen Minute Hamlet is a thirteen minute, lickety-split, highly truncated, comic version of Hamlet, followed by a two minute version of the play as an encore, and in this iteration, another one minute encore of the same.

I assume it was presented beforehand merely as a refresher for those who are shaky on their Shakespeare, since it does not go into enough depth to explain Hamlet if you don’t already know it. There is perhaps some irony in the fact that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are not actually in The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, but we’ll ignore that.

Led by a very impressive and physically adept actor playing Hamlet (Dylan Twiner), the ensemble cast did an excellent job. The same actors appear in both plays, and appropriately, in the same roles.

My one complaint was with the signs actors wore with their character’s names on them. Because they were written in fine lines on white cardboard under strong lights, we could not read them from where we sat. (Yes, I know who they were by their lines, but then, I know Hamlet.)

L to R: Paul Richter, Dylan Twiner, Frank Roberts 

Once over, it is followed immediately, without intermission, by the main event, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead. As you probably know, Rosencrantz (Frank Roberts) and Gildenstern (Paul Richter) are two very minor characters in Hamlet. Old friends of Hamlet’s, they appear briefly, are enlisted as spies against their old friend, accompany him to England, and conveniently disappear, only to be announced as dead at the end of the play.

Here they become the main characters, spending much of their time where the actors playing them really would be; backstage waiting for their entrance. This explains the brick wall set, that looks, appropriately, like the wings of a stage.

L to R: Frank Roberts, Paul Richter 
While waiting around, they engage endlessly in games, deep and largely directionless philosophical discussions, and various contemplations of the purpose of their existence. This is ironic because they are, after all, merely fictional characters.

They meet a troupe of actors (led by the excellent Nathan Rice, who is also the fight choreographer) heading onstage to do the “play within a play,” meant to trigger guilt in Hamlet’s murderous uncle. This inspires yet another foray into the meaning of life, theatre, and the universe.

Nathan Rice (foreground) and his troupe of actors

As I said, the entire cast and crew are worthy of praise, with a special nod to Roberts and Richter for doing the heavy lifting with massively wordy line loads. Kudos to everyone involved, on and off stage.

Now for the tough part, where I have to give you enough information about the nature of the play to decide if it is something you would enjoy, or at least want fervently to see.

Sigh. Here goes.

This is a long, and more pointedly, a long-winded and very wordy play, heavily larded with the sort of philosophical musings reminiscent of Waiting for Godot. To be honest, it reminded me of the many endless nights I spent at college in just such meandering discussions with my fellow philosophy majors. Of course back then, we were often – oh, who am I kidding – ALWAYS stoned.

Was it well executed? Yes, absolutely.

Is this sort of thing going to be compelling for you? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead and The Fifteen Minute Hamlet
​April 14th through May 7th 2017
Lakewood Playhouse