Friday, April 4, 2008

Theatre Droppings: Shaw, Seuss, and "History"

I've had the chance to catch a few local droppings in my off-hours. My new buddy Gillian Shelly (whom I now call "My Barbara," as she shares the Shear Madness salon with me) is pulling double duty. In addition to her four shows a week at KenCen, she is one of the stars of Seussical the Musical, Jr. at Toby's Dinner Theatre. I drove out to Columbia, MD, to see her belting the hell out of the role of Gertrude McFuzz, for a full house of elementary (and younger!) school kids. I have been curious about the show since it first appeared on Broadway, and judging from the cast album, the role of the Cat in the Hat seems a good fit for me, so I welcomed the opportunity to see the show, even in an hour-long, truncated format. Gillian and her cohorts are having a ball playing the piece, and it zips along with almost no libretto. This junior version resembles an opera more than a traditional musical, though nothing seems lost with the elimination of large chunks of the original Broadway book. (Between you and me and the lamppost, the role of the Cat, which I covet, was the one real loser in this reduction. I have a hunch the character is much more central to the action in the full-length show...).

I was so glad I got a chance to catch the final matinee of Major Barbara at The Shakespeare Theatre Company, as it felt a bit like old home week. Though the show was presented in the new Harmon Center, the cast was filled with the regulars who put The Shakes on the map. Helen Carey and Ted van Griethuysen played the battling Undershafts, and in their hands, the show's focus shifted from the younger generation to the elder. I worked with Helen and Ted during the year I interned at The Shakes, and came away from the experience certain that I had been working with truly gifted actors. I was disappointed that I missed another of my favorite local actors, Floyd King, who had been excused from the show I saw in order to prep his next adventure at Studio Theater (see below). Catie Flye, my previous director and fellow actor, was playing one of the homeless misfits in the mission, and Vivienne Benesche, with whom I worked in Henry V, played the title character. The whole project was guided by director Ethan McSweeney, who was greatly involved with the intern company at The Shakes during my time there. He directed a bang-up version of Major Barbara, full of wit. I loved everyone casually sitting around on bombs during the final scene. I had a bit of trouble with the over-the-top stylings of Tom Story as Stephen Undershaft, and was more comfortable with the performances of Karl Kenzler as Cusins and Kevin O'Donnell as Lomax, both of whom lent realism to their portrayals. Ethan made a swell decision to include some of Shaw's stage directions on the show curtain each time the setting shifted. I wondered, though, why The Shakespeare Theatre hadn't released seats to this performance to the half-priced TicketPlace. I sat in the balcony, which was almost empty, and could see many empty seats in the orchestra as well... This cast deserved a fuller house.

I have been curious about Alan Bennett's The History Boys since it made such a splash in London and New York a while back, so I caught Studio Theatre's new production. I did my very best to enjoy it, but I made the unfortunate choice to attend a student matinee, where a group of inner-city teen-agers were bored, restless, and downright disruptive. I suppose some genius thought that, because the show dealt with teen-aged boys, this group of rude students would be interested. Not so. I finally moved away from the distracting group at intermission, and enjoyed Act Two from the back of the house. Floyd King did his usual bang-up job as the odd-ball teacher whom his students alternately loved and tolerated, and Simon Kendall was terrific as the new young teacher with a secret of his own. But the real fun was in the interaction with the boys of the title, with Owen Scott as the lovelorn "Posner" and Jay Sullivan as the cocky "Dakin" real standouts. The Washington Post made some noise about Scott's singing, but the fact that he occasionally wobbled off-key struck me as endearing rather than distracting. I may try to catch another performance of the show a little later in the run, with an adult audience whom I know will better appreciate this stylish debate on Education vs. Examination.