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Sunday, December 9, 2018

"It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" @ Artists Rep

Artists Rep's 2013 production of "X-Mas Unplugged" still holds the distinction of being the most unapologetically dark holiday offering I have ever seen. Santa is still nursing a grudge that he was beaten to death at the end of "The Reason for the Season," the first of a double-bill of virulently anti-Christmas One-Acts. That play absolutely crushed PCS' now-perennial "A Christmas Carol" send-up, "Twist Your Dickens" in terms of emphatic humbuggery.  So, it is very surprising indeed that I can crown Artist's Rep's current yuletide offering, "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" as the most unabashedly festive production I have seen this year. In fact, it is like an oasis in a desert of Theatrical Grinchiness. This is a Theatre Season which includes the similarly radio-themed "A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol", a pretty drastic departure from Broadway Rose's annual Christmas-themed revues, both in terms of a somewhat depressing plot, and precious little singing, it was the only one of their productions to fail to get me in the mood for the holidays. Even Artist Rep itself can't emerge unscathed from allegations of dampening the Holiday Spirit, with the mortality-tackling "Everybody" playing on their home-stage. (This production plays at Northwest Children's Theater.) I had a post-show chat with Artists Rep's Press Person, who sensed I was a little unnerved by "Everybody," and she worried that George Bailey's contemplation of suicide wouldn't provide the "uplift" I admitted to craving in my review. I giggled a little, because no one is going to mistake "It's a Wonderful Life" for "Whose Life is It Anyway?" This is a thoroughly pleasant adaptation of the Capra classic, and in this climate, I'd run to it if I were you.

Monday, December 3, 2018

"Everybody" at Artist's Rep

The gimmick at the heart of "Everybody" is worth attending. Each night, the roles are chosen by lottery, so the actors must memorize the entire script. I am sure this is no easy task, and I am equally confident that the show would reward repeat viewings, as I found myself imagining how a certain actor would play "Everybody" when they shared a scene with the actor who was playing him. That said, "Everybody" might not be for everybody.  It evokes intense and varied emotions, which of course, is a mark of good theatre, but you have to be in the right frame of mind. It tackles the questions at the heart of our very existence, and one could be excused for desiring lighter fare at this time of year, such as Artist's Rep's next production, "It's A Wonderful Life Radio Play." In fact, it would not surprise me if the two shows split audiences into camps. I have the privilege of seeing both, and while "Everybody" ends on a note of profound truth, and perhaps even hopefulness, I crave the promised uplift of their next show.

Monday, November 26, 2018

"A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol" @ Broadway Rose


"A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol" is remarkably different from Broadway Rose's usual Yuletide fare. On the one hand, there is more story, which I've often wished for in previous years, and there is a comedic section featuring a parody of Private Eye radio dramas, which I appreciated very much as a fan of the genre. On the other hand, there is very little singing, and most of it seems incidental to the plot. As much as my own Inner-Scrooge hates to admit it, the bulk of the show-with its wartime themes registers quite often as a bit of a downer. I must also admit that I would be far more willing to tolerate this change of tone from a company other than Broadway Rose. Their unashamedly festive revues are often a welcome counterbalance to the other offerings around town which aim for a more melancholy, or even negative tone. Last year's Broadway Rose holiday production finally struck just the right balance between book and score, and so I hope that next year's "It Happened One Christmas" is a triumphant return to form.

Monday, November 5, 2018

"Inherit the Wind" @ Lakewood Theatre

I've wanted to see "Inherit the Wind" performed live since Sophomore Year in high school, where we read it in Language Arts, taught by David Sikking, who happens to play the Rev. Jeremiah Brown in this production, which was a pleasant surprise. "Inherit the Wind" is one of the two productions I have been looking most forward to this Season, both of which are at Lakewood, the other being "Dial M for Murder," directed by Mr. Sikking. Lakewood's "Inherit the Wind" was worth the nearly twenty wait. It was particularly nice to see Allen Nause come out of retirement to play Henry Drummond, and be paired with fellow Artists Rep alum Todd Van Voris as Matthew Harrison Brady. I believe "Inherit the Wind" is the best production currently running in the metro-area.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Small Mouth Sounds" @ Artists Rep

Artists' Rep has an affinity for strange shows, and "Small Mouth Sounds" is among the strangest. A significant portion of  the show takes place in silence, meaning that it relies for a long period of time on nothing but the actors' physicality. Fortunately, Artists Rep's formidable ensemble is more than up to the task. This should come as no surprise, given that both Michael Mendelson and John San Nicholas starred as monkeys in "Trevor", but it does.

When the silent period stops, the second-most unexpected element of the show is its dark humor. It was this dark humor which led me to misinterpret the play's very oblique ending. It makes reference to a parable earlier in the show, but if you only remember half of it, as I did, you'll miss the brighter point. I don't feel badly, though. In my post-show discussion with an usher about it, she had to consult the director. As I said, the full parable has a much more hopeful spin, and it is welcome. "Small Mouth Sounds" is for the more adventurous among you.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"A Life" @ PCS

The greatest asset of "A Life" is its engaging lead, Nat DeWolf.  He is an animated storyteller. He is instantly likeable. There are also touches within the script that are unique and funny. (The offstage character who screams someone's name constantly outside the apartment.) At times, it can feel like too little is going on, but I think the ordinariness is intentional, but it begins to wear on you slightly. My favorite Bock play was "A Small Fire" and it is similarly-themed in that we see a woman experience a kind of death, as she wastes away from dementia, and the ordinary seems all the more urgent, and heartbreaking. I wished for more of that herre.


Monday, September 24, 2018

"Ordinary Days" @ Broadway Rose

"Ordinary Days" is best when it is true to its title, finding sorrow or humor in the ordinary. (The Starbucks scene comes to mind.) It is admirable when it somehow succeeds in shrinking life in New York. Sadly, I haven't been to The Met in my two trips to The City, but I'd venture a guess that The Whitney Museum at least gives taste of the disorientation made light of in that scene. Be aware that "Ordinary Days", perhaps intentionally given its focus on little things, is a much smaller-scale show than is typical of Broadway Rose. This is not necessarily a negative thing, but it behoove you to calibrate your expectations.

The Color Purple: The Musical @ PCS

There are words that I save for occasions that truly warrant their use, "transcendent' is one of them. I only use it when a certain kind of euphoria envelops me when watching a show. "The Color Purple" had several of those moments. It is the best, most ambitious musical PCS has mounted in years. I opened the playbill after the show and counted the musicians. (You know the show is epic when eight seems a low number.) "Breathtaking" is also among the words to use conservatively, but when one feels short of breath at the end of a number, out of a strange sort of empathy with a performer who appears to have exhausted herself, what other word is there? What an Opener to PCS's Season.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

"Skeleton Crew" @ Artists Rep

There are sequences of movement in "Skeleton Crew" that are used as scene-breaks that are so synchronized, I suspected they were projections, until the dancers took their bows at the curtain-call.  It was at this moment I realized that the synchronicity displayed in those scene-breaks was a sort of microcosm of what I enjoyed most about the play. Not to mention that synchronicity itself is a theme of the play. This is of course intentional, at least insofar as the scene-breaks illustrate the precision workers on an assembly-line must possess, and the play is in large part about how little respect such work receives, and even the dialogue has moments of natural-poetry that takes some rhythmic skill to deliver effectively. (A feat accomplished especially well by actress Shelley B. Shelley, as Faye.) Yet, as apt as the "synchronized" description is, it should not conjure the connotation of being as generic as the products of an assembly-line. Indeed,  the greatest asset of "Skeleton Crew" is its ability to draw truly human characters. It is a timely, perhaps even vital play, and a truly impressive beginning to Artists Rep's new Season.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

"Guys & Dolls" @ Broadway Rose

Well, one advantage of not being raised on Musical Theatre is that even the classics are new to you. I only know of "Guys and Dolls" from pop-culture parodies. As such, I expected it to be a little dated, especially in its humor. It wasn't. Apparently, Relationship Humor is timeless.

This particular production's most impressive element is the sheer size of the cast. It makes for some real "showstoppers." It really is a complex undertaking. I almost missed this show, and I am so glad I didn't, you shouldn't, either.

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