Saturday, June 9, 2007

Theatre Droppings

I've had a bit of free time lately, with one of my shows now closed, so I've had the chance to catch up on some of the theatrical tidbits going on around town.

I caught the Big Opening Night of Betrayal at Everyman Theatre, and was duly impressed by the three-person cast's ability to handle those pesky Pinter pauses. That's Timmie Ray James at right, portraying the cuckolded husband playing mind games.

I next caught the final weekend of Charter Theatre's well-received Sleeping and Waking. This was a very thought-provoking new play, well written and well-played by, among others, my pal Ray Ficca. The story had a bit of the science fiction to it, as the protagonist, 60 years from now, has undergone the first successful head transplant. Not as nutty as it sounds, and the playwright treats the subject with subtle dignity. And good for Charter Theatre, a group whose mission is to produce new plays exclusively. While this sometimes yields a mixed bag, I have enjoyed every show I've seen there. Of course, that would be only two shows, for you see, while I see the need for New Plays, I don't see the need for ME to see them.

I attended the Saturday matinee of Round House Theatre's current offering, The Summer of '42. This is the musical version of the film from the early 70s and dispenses with that film's very famous theme song by Michel Legrand. I'm sorry to report that the Round House production suffers from inadequate direction, and the cast of twentysomethings has been encouraged to grossly overplay their attempts to portray 15 year olds. In his calmer moments, the young leading man has lots going for him, but I found the performance of the "older woman," a role which made a sensation of Jennifer O'Neill back in the day, to be alternately glacial and pert. I enjoyed the music, which was delivered with expert verve, and several tunes deserve further life. And the Andrews Sisters-style trio who commented on the action (a concept shamelessly lifted from Little Shop of Horrors) was fun indeed.

I have an ongoing love affair with 1776, ever since I saw Joel Grey play John Adams in a summer stock production when I was a kid. Even back then, I recognised the show's need for real actors, not just musical comedy performers. This is one of the meatiest books in the musical canon. I saw a very strong production a few years ago at the Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina, and of course, the film does a great job of preserving the original cast's work. (The DVD release restores "Cool, Considerate Men" to the film, which was cut for its theatrical release.) I did not see the recent revival at Fords, though I heard good things, and it's a perfect fit for that historical house.
I was so pleased to be included in a staged reading of the show last year, celebrating the reopening of the National Portrait Gallery; our cast couldn't be beat (I guess it's sometimes easier to get top-notch talent when the commitment is only 5 days long). Steve Kupo and Sherri Edelen were stellar as the Adams family, and absolutely everyone else was terrific too, from Bill Largess's Ben Franklin to JJ Kaczinsky's Richard Henry Lee to Dan Manning's John Dickinson to Tom Simpson's Edward Rutledge to John Macdonald's Col. McKean, and on and on and on.

So there is no doubt that I attended the Keegan Theater's current production with lots of preconceived notions and prejudices. The non-union cast at Church Street Theatre is made up of many community theater regulars and students from local training programs. They have been saddled with problematic musical accompaniment (much of it canned) and troubling directorial choices as well. On the bright side, I've never seen Church Street Theatre house a better set design. But the production can never really rise above the weakness of its leading players, who are all wobbly, both musically and dramatically. The director has failed to instill his company with the necessary sense of urgency, particularly in the big congressional scenes. There is a general lack of focus in those big scenes which torpedoes any suspense the audience might be feeling.

I walked out (after 3 hours! The show should run 2 and a half), humming the set. And looking forward to the rumored production at Olney Theatre in 2008.

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