Monday, January 26, 2004

Private Lives (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

‘PRIVATE LIVES’ delights at Great Lakes

Playwright Noel Coward is the crown prince of Restoration comedy, in which the battle of the sexes is subjected to amusing scrutiny in order not merely to entertain but to reveal the human compromises, treacheries, and incapacities that lie beneath the mannered sophistication of its protagonists. In a good production, the audience is both entertained and enlightened.

Coward’s ‘PRIVATE LIVES,’ now in production by the Great lakes Theatre Festival, clearly illustrates what happens when a blending of a well written play, a brilliant cast, a talented technical team, and a director who both understands the play and has the creativity to wrench everything from the script, come together. And, as intended, it leaves the audience entertained and enlightened.

It is the 1920’s and divorcees Elyot and Amanda are honeymooning in the same French hotel with their new spouses Sibyl and Victor. Inevitably they meet—they are, after all, staying in rooms with adjoining balconies. Realizing that they are made for each other, Elyot and Amanda abandon their new husband and wife without a backward glance and run away to Paris. There they discover their original true love and then rediscover just why they were unable to live together in the first place, and then discover their original true love, and (you get the point). Sound like a comedy of errors? It is! A delightful comedy of slapstick, double entendres, and hysterically funny lines and deeds.

In order for the play to work we must fall in love with Elyot and Amanda and root for them to find true love, or at least not kill each other with love. We must realize that Elyot really doesn’t believe that “some women should be struck regularly-like gongs” and that love really isn’t “best when it is wise, kind and undramatic.” We must endorse Amanda’s words, “I think very few people are completely normal, really, deep down in their private lies.”

Under Victoria Bussert’s finely tuned directing, we get everything we need to make the play work…empathy, humor, perfect comedy timing, the right degree of stylization blended with drama, and farce blending well with melodrama. Her staging of the fight scenes and a hysterical dance sequence, all show a keen awareness of what it takes to delight an audience while sticking to the intent and purpose of the author.

While the Cleveland Play House traverses the country in search of actors with mediocre results, GLTF plucked its perfect cast from the local talent pool. And, what a cast it is!

Noel Coward may not have know an Andrew May would come along, but he seemingly wrote the part of Elyot for May. May is a laugh riot as the pompous, ill-tempered, “do-and-later-think-of-what-you just-did” lout. May covers the world of comic devices. With eyes bulging, voice reaching ear-splitting pitches, body quivering, mumphering articulation, and mid-sentence stuttering, charging around the sage like a bull in the proverbial China shop, May develops an endearing character.

As Amanda, Eloyt’s emotional foil, Laura Perotta is wonderful. She uses her body as a comic tool. In the scene where she realizes that Elyot is on an adjoining balcony Perotta becomes like a lizard on a wall, scaling and shrinking in order to see and not be seen. In the delightful fight scenes with May, Perotta lets totally lose, giving life and limb for the comedy effects. Her Amanda is a combination of loving, hateful, shallow, caring, manipulative and emotional vulnerability. This is a career highlight performance.

Kelly Sullivan and Scott Plate, as the cast-off partners are also wonderful. They both develop clear and delightful characters. Their play-closing scene is a masterpiece of hysteria. In her brief appearances on stage, Adina Bloom, as the maid Louise, milks laughs with ease.

There is a tradition in the theatre that kids and animals can be disasters on stage. In this production, even the dog (who is not identified in the program) performs with gleeful perfection.

John Ezell’s gorgeous sets, Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, Mary Jo Dondlinger’s lighting, Stan Kozak’s sound effects are all totally on target.

CAPUSLE JUDGEMENT; Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s ‘PRIVATE LIVES’ is a must-see theatrical treat. It’s too bad it is only scheduled to run to weeks. If this were an open ended run, it would be a sure fire hit that would play to happily full houses for a long, long, long time!

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Stacy Burris reviews the reviewer

I really respect your write ups, love to read them, and I know the whole place would be thrilled to have you come.

Stacy Burris
President GLTG

Friday, January 23, 2004

Raised in Captivity (Dobama)

'RAISED IN CAPTIVITY' disappoints at Dobama

I was among the original group of local thespians who left Euclid Little Theatre and followed Don Bianchi, Barry Silverman, and Mark Silverberg and into a new theatrical adventure to become known as DOBAMA. The name has no mysterious meaning. It was simply the first two letters of the guys first names (DOn, BArry, and MArk).

Therefore, it is painful to watch a production at this theatre that is poorly directed, and is generally poorly acted. Unfortunately, Nicky Silver’s ‘RAISED IN CAPTIVITY’ fulfills these negative criteria. It is also painful because Dobama has become the shining light of the off-Broadway-like professional theatres on the North Coast.

The play starts with a brother and a sister reuniting at their mother’s funeral, after several years of not seeing each other. It follows the problems of the siblings, which includes a ghost from the past that reveals some secrets, a psychologist who blinds herself out of guilt, a husband who runs off with the psychologist upon the urging of his wife, a several month old baby who walks, and new level of understanding between the siblings.

The play, according to its author is about "guilt, redemption and self-punishment.” Yes, there is guilt and sorrow, but who cares. The characters don’t earn our empathy.

Our lack of feeling is somewhat strange since The New York Times said that Silver’s dialogue “skillfully juxtaposes the banal and the outlandishly whimsical. New York Magazine referred to the NY production as "....funny, original, imaginative and possessed of a furious energy that makes it spin like a top....full of wittily prickly lines and riotous exchanges, and it uses the stage in splashily irreverent ways that can be exhilarating."

So, what’s the problem here? It lies purely on the shoulders of director Russ Borski who appears to lack any insight into what the play is all about. It is the responsibility of the director to set the tone for the production and guide the actors in achieving the playwright’s intent. On this count, Borski fails. No one in the cast seemed to know how to develop their character. In spite of this, there were some funny moments, but far, far too few and any meaning that might have been present evaporated in a pile of confusion and lethargy.

Not only was the cast lost, so was the audience on opening night. They didn’t seem to understand or want to understand the goings on either as shown by the number who left the theatre at intermission.

Credit has to be given to the cast consisting of Tyson Postma, Tyler Postma, Sean Derry, Juliete Regnier and Jeff Staron. They really tried to pull it off. The odds were just too stacked against them.

CAPSULE JUDEMENT: Every theatre has some good productions and some weaker ones. It hurts to say it, but ‘RAISED IN CAPTIVITY’ must go on the list of one of Dobama’s weakest moments.

Urinetown the Musical (Playhouse Square Center)

Tony Award winning 'URINETOWN THE MUSICAL' at Palace

When it opened on-Broadway ‘URINETOWN THE MUSICAL’ was billed as a “simple story of two kids who fall in love in a city during a water shortage.” The question most often asked about the production was, “what’s with the title?” That title, plus a wonderful cast, a no-holds barred production, and some wonderful word-of-mouth, propelled the show into becoming Broadway's most unexpected phenomenon, and the winner of the 2002 Tony Awards for Best Direction, Best Book, and Best Music and Lyrics.

This musical-comedy tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a city where water is worth its weight in gold has been hailed by Entertainment Weekly as "fresh, exuberant and even moving-somewhere beyond the sublime and
beyond the ridiculous."

The idea for the show came to author Greg Kotis when he visited Luxenbourg and was confronted with having to use the city's pay-per-use toilets. He, along with his friend Mark Hollmann, developed the show. Theatrical producers took one look at the title and subject matter and wouldn’t take on the project. Luckily, they happened upon three of Cleveland’s own, who were fledgling New York want-to-be stage legends. Matt and Mark Rego and Hank Unger had already produced ‘VAGINA MONOLOGUES’ and were ripe for another hit. They optioned the script, mounted an off-Broadway production, and, against the odds, they became the Big Apple’s new “wunderkinds.”

The First National Tour of ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ is now running at Playhouse Square Center's Palace Theatre. The response to the show was very different here than in New York.

Part of the difference is that times have changed. When the show opened, the world was at relative peace. Seeing only the escapist message was all right. Since then the show’s messages have begun to ring clear. Messages such as what happens when big business is given the right to control our lives. Think of the pharmaceutical and medical companies and their stranglehold over our health. What happens when the citizens have their human rights taken away from them? Think Patriot Act and prisoners being held in jail without being officially charged with a crime? What is it like to be lied to continually in an attempt to push a political and economic agenda? Think of the missiles of mass destruction hoax, resulting in the Iraqi war, and the amount of money being made by the oil and military-industrial complex and influential public officials. Think of the rape of the environment caused by loosening of the clean air act. The fantasy of the situation described in ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ has become near reality.

The second factor for the difference in reaction to the show is a combination of a weaker cast and a the sometimes less-than dynamic presentation. While the Broadway production literally jumped off the stage, the touring show is more subdued. Does this mean there aren’t any laughs? Oh, believe me, there are. Does this mean that the show isn’t fun? Parts are a hoot.

The touring cast includes Tom Hewitt as Officer Lockstock, the show’s narrator. Hewitt has perfect comic timing, a wonderful ironic-sounding voice, and just the right presence for the role. Meghan Strange is wonderful as his foil, Little Sally. Whether roller skating, singing, or whining her lines, she is fine. Charlie Pollock, who played the lead role of Bobby Strong on Broadway, doesn’t quite win us over as a romantic hero, though he sings extremely well. Christine Noll is not affectionate r vulnerable enough as Hope, the daughter of the tyrant who controls the local urinals and Bobby’s love interest. The rest of cast is fine, but not wonderful.

Special production numbers are “What Is Urinetown?,” “Snuff That Girl” and the minstrel show inspired “Run Freedom Run.” “Follow Your Heart” is a lovely ballad.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Having loved the Broadway production of ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL,’ I wanted to love this production. I didn’t love it, I liked it. Should you go see it? Absolutely, just reserve a little of your expectations.