Sunday, August 30, 2009

Theatre Droppings: Parody, Politics, and Pros

It's a bit surprising that I have attended only two shows in the past weeks; I'm usually eager to leap into as much theatrical goulash as I can. Summer in DC is the quiet season, theatrically speaking, but that doesn't mean there's NOTHING going on. In fact, there is more happening than you might think. I've missed most of it (and I can't blame my involvement with the Washington Stage Guild's staged reading series; I only did a few of those this summer). Whatever, I was able to catch two productions which prove that, even in the Dog Days of Summer, DC is kind to a Theatre Beast.

Today, I popped over to MetroStage to see the first show of their new season. It's actually a remount of their successful production from last year, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! I missed it last time, so was glad to attend today's matinee. The show had an Off-Broadway run a while back, long enough to yield an Original Cast Recording, which reveals that the writers, Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell, were also the original stars. Well, if you could write yourself a showy show, wouldn't you?

The local cast at MetroStage is packed with first-rate musical clowns (two of them, Bobby Smith and Donna Migliaccio, were nominated for Helen Hayes awards for their work in the first incarnation). The show itself has the slightest plot imaginable; this plot is played out five different times, in the styles of five Broadway composing teams. This is Forbidden Broadway to the fifth power, and it's a real hoot. I imagine it helps to have a substantial knowledge of the catalogues of Rodgers, Hammerstein, Sondheim, Herman, Lloyd Webber, Kander, and Ebb, as the writers seem to leave no turn unstoned with their parody songs (it doesn't hurt to be familiar with the directorial cliches of Bob Fosse, either, to which most of the Kander and Ebb routine is linked). If an audience member walked in off the street, never having seen a musical, they would be pretty flummoxed. But how likely is that to happen?

Anyway, the show is a scream. MetroStage is a terrific space, with nice stadium seating providing a great view from anywhere in the house. I usually choose to sit a bit further back than I actually did. Today, I sat in the front row, my least favorite spot in a theatre. The box office dude must have pegged me as a ham, for he asked to plant me down front in order to hand Donna some fake flowers at the Act One finale. I couldn't refuse the poor guy; he obviously had to find someone each and every performance to do this, and that can't be easy. But sitting in the front row is just too close for my tastes: not only do you usually miss the overall picture the director is creating with his staging, but you often get spit on, too. It is almost impossible to enunciate clearly onstage without some spittle escaping at least once or twice. Front row dwellers usually get a spray or two.

But it was fun to watch the work of those two real pros, Donna and Bobby. I've seen them both onstage many times, and actually worked with Donna years ago during a staged reading of a new musical. I've never met Bobby, but he is always good, as I wrote a while back, and Donna doesn't need kudos from me: she is headed to Broadway in the upcoming revival of Ragtime. Matt Anderson and Janine Gulisano-Sunday rounded out the cast, and special support was given by musical director and pianist Doug Lawler, who has a comic timing as precise as any of the actors.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: it's been a month or more since I caught the final weekend of King Lear at The Shakespeare Theatre Company. The show is long gone, but I'm still thinking about it.

From the moment the audience entered the STC's Harman Center and was faced with a row of filthy urinals, well, you knew this would not be your Olivier's King Lear. Director Robert Falls recreated his controversial Goodman Theatre production of several years ago, and provided a raw and visually arresting event. He placed the action in a Britain which mirrored the collapse of the Marshall Tito era in Yugoslavia; I think the concept worked like gangbusters.

His principle cast from Chicago was almost intact, led by Stacy Keach and Ed Gero as Lear and Gloucester. More on them in a mo'. The supporting cast here was pretty swell, with some terrific surprises. Lear's wicked daughters were wicked indeed: Kate Arrington's Regan came across as a blond bimbo with a decidedly vicious streak (think Paris Hilton by way of Lucretia Borgia) and Lise Bruneau's Goneril was the most nympho-maniacal royal since Catherine the Great did it with that horse. She worked that fur coat like nobody's bizness. (BTW, kudos to Bruneau, who stepped into the role with minimal rehearsal, and ran with it.) You had to love Dieterich Gray's skateboarding Oswald, and Chris Genebach's coked-out Cornwall provided the most brutal death scene in an evening full of death scenes. Getting the picture? Edgar wore a diaper and Edmund wore a suit, and somehow, it all made sense here.

As for Keach and Gero, well, I've admired these two gents since I worked with them at The Shakes in the mid-90s. Macbeth was my first show in DC, and though I thought I had lots of Shakespearean experience before I arrived (Feste, Pompey, Cassio, and Dogberry, among others), I learned daily lessons in the muscular attack, language-wise, necessary to make Shakespeare sing. (I wrote about my admiration for our Lady M, Helen Carey, a long while back.) Anyway, I was so glad to see these two experts onstage together again, and this production of Lear deserves a further life. (I have no inside info regarding this, though someone told me the set pieces and costumes were all boxed up for storage, which means there may be hope it will resurface one day. I think this particular production would succeed in New York.)

So, though I haven't seen everything DC had to offer this summer, the shows I did see were terrifically handled by seasoned pros. Happy September!

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