Sunday, February 24, 2008

Theatre Droppings: Catholic Tastes

I saw three local productions this week, all of which included a zealous Catholic influence.

I caught up with The Tricky Part at Signature Theatre on its last day. Martin Moran wrote and performed the one-man piece, and has been doing the show, off and on, for several years (in fact, the show was announced for last season at Signature, but Moran landed a gig in Broadway's Spamalot and postponed). I found this piece to be both touching and alarming. Moran is a quiet, ingratiating presence onstage, as he wanders out from the wings and begins chatting with the audience. Gradually, his story unfolds, and the picture of himself as a child, which sits on the table behind him, takes on added significance. The show is well-directed, and the climax of the piece, in which Moran reads from his journal, is set apart from the rest of the show, as it should be. It's a horrific story of child abuse, and a redemptive story of healing, all told in Moran's eloquently quiet, conversational style.

Olney Theatre Center, the scene of one of my recent crimes, is producing the John Patrick Shanley winner, Doubt. The buzz in the lobby beforehand was all about the touring production which had swung through DC a little while back, with Tony winner Cherry Jones in the central role of the Nun on a Mission. So, local actress Brigid Cleary had her work cut out for her, and in fact, I haven't read a single review of her work that did not mention Cherry Jones. So perhaps I had an advantage because I had never seen the play, and I could absorb Olney's production on its own merits. It's a terrific piece of writing, and is well-played by this cast. As with The Tricky Part, the abuse of an adolescent by a member of the clergy is at the center of the show, though here, we are never really sure if the abuse took place. Doubt will continue to generate debate through this production, and through the upcoming release of the film version, with Meryl Streep taking the role of the accusatory Sister Aloysius.

Keegan Theatre is remounting their 2003 production of Brendan Behan's The Hostage, a show which figures in my professional history. Back in LA, I appeared in a production directed by my late mentor and coach, Bobbi Holtzman, so of course, I'm sure her direction is superior to any others I may encounter. But I can say without hesitation that Keegan's Dave Jourdan, playing the central role of "Pat," is far superior to the sour, embittered actor with whom I worked. (In one of her few missteps, Bobbi hired a broken down old drunk to play a broken down old drunk. Big mistake.) But back to Keegan's production. It's a large and unwieldy script, full of musical diversions and audience interactions, but I think Keegan did a creditable job. I'm afraid some of the dialogue was lost to the audience, a result of poor projection of thick Irish brogues, and frequent clompings of actors' feet as they stomped up the stairs and onto the upper platform which framed the playing area.

The story concerns the Irish Republican Army's abduction of an English soldier to be held hostage, in retaliation for the Brits having condemned one of their own IRA boys to die. Joe Baker is goofily likable in the title role, and in fact, all of the major roles were very well played. As so often happens in a non-union production, the actors surrounding the leads were occasionally a bit wobbly, but I came away with a renewed affection for this unusual play, as well as lots of memories of my production so many years ago.

(that's me, standing in the "O", as hustler/crossdresser Rio Rita)