Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Frenetic “LIGHT UP THE SKY” exposes the world of theater @ The Shaw

“The theater is not so much a profession as a disease.”  (Moss Hart)

Moss Hart, the author of “Light Up the Sky,” now in production at the Shaw Festival, is a comic genius as a writer, and a recognized superstar as a director and producer.   His list of hits is awesome.  The plays he wrote solo, or with a collaborator, include “You Can’t Take It With You,” which was awarded the 1937 Pulitzer Prize, “Man Who Came to Dinner,” and “Light Up the Sky.”  His film directing included “Gentleman’s Agreement,” “Hans Christian Anderson,” and “A Star is Born.”  He was the original director of “My Fair Lady,” for which he received the Tony Award, and also “Camelot.”

Who, then, would be better equipped to write a script about the highs and lows of business of theater?   The play, which is often moving, and continuously funny, is a cynical portrait of the theater, highlighting the fragile egos, fickleness, desperate for praise performers and producers who revel in over-wrought dramatic interludes. 

The play centers on a group of theater professionals trying out a play in Boston.  The script is written by a first time playwright, but stars a cast of seasoned veterans.  They all believe the script and production is wonderful, until they are so filled with self doubt, that they believe the show is everything other than brilliant.

The curtain rises on the flower-filled Boston hotel room of Irene Livingston, a temperamental Broadway diva, just prior to the opening night performance.  Present are the star’s sarcastic mother, the lowbrow producer, his wife, who is a sharp-tongued former professional ice skating show star, the truck-driver playwright, and the high strung director. 

They toast the show, leave for the performance and return in a state of hysterical panic, thoroughly convinced, based on the audience’s reactions, that the production is a major flop.  Their previous glee turns into vicious personal attacks.  No one is spared the barbs.

Two factors affect the outcome.  First, the audience was composed of many drunk Shriners, and secondly, the reviewers unanimously give the show rave reviews. 

The Shaw production is a fun-filled romp.  Director Blair Williams understands farce, and he pulls out all the shticks and gimmicks to make the fast-paced staging work.  He is blessed with a cast who understand that for farce to work, every part must be over-exaggerated, but realistic.  As such, we laugh with the actors, not at them.

William Schmuck’s lush hotel set design creates the perfect attitude, as does Louise Guinand’s warm lighting.  Marek Norman’s original music enforces the farcical mood.

Thom Marriott, though he sometimes screams his lines so that they become incomprehensible, is properly offish as Sidney Black, the wealthy overpowering producer.  Claire Jullien effectively creates Irene Livingston as an overindulged diva who must be the center of attention.  Steven Sutcliffe is properly hysterical as Carleton Fitzgerald, the play’s melodramatic director. 

Charlie Gallant is totally believable as the idealistic novice playwright, the one person who has a realistic grasp on the real world, not having been spoiled by the “theatricality” of the whole “all the world’s a stage” venture. 

Kelli Fox as Sidney Black’s wife and Laurie Paton, as Irene’s mother, form a card playing duo that is long on chutzpa and short on tact.  Shawn Wright is right on target as the wealthy Elkhart, Indiana theatre-struck Shriner, who naively pushes the plot along by trying to buy into the “failed” show. 

Graeme Somerville is believable as Owen Turner, a successful playwright who has weathered these opening night hysterics before, as is Kelly Wong who plays it straight as Irene’s uptight stockbroker husband, and Fiona Byrne as Miss Lowell, who is a ghost writer for Irene’s biography.

Capsule judgement:  Recognizing that at its best, the theatre can elevate and maybe even change the beliefs of an audience, “Light Up The Sky” is filled with farcical slapstick, ironic comedy, great character sketches, and funny twists and turns.  As a script it is moving as well as funny and to add to the mix, it gets a superlative production at The Shaw.

What: “Light Up The Sky”
Where:  Shaw Festival, Festival Theatre
When:  June 25 to October 11, 2015
For tickets or information:   1-800-5111-Shaw or http://www.shawfest.com/