Saturday, May 10, 2008

Theatre Droppings: A Happy Time, and Tony and Cleo's Wedding

Signature Theatre took a beating in New York recently, but at their home in Shirlington, it's a happy time, artistically speaking. I really enjoyed the first show of their Kander and Ebb Celebration, Kiss of the Spider Woman, though the local reviews were mixed. I caught the second show of the series several weeks ago, a production of the little-known, scantly-recalled The Happy Time. The show, initially produced back in the 60s as a follow-up to the team's hugely original Cabaret, was not a success in its first production. This intimate story of the black-sheep son returning to the bosom of his small-town French-Canadian family was given an overblown, Full Broadway Treatment, and apparently, the show's assets were swallowed. But here in Signature's smaller space, the show has been scaled down to become the chamber musical it probably always should have been, and it's a real charmer.

Michael Minarik plays the pivotal role of Jacques, the wayward son who returns to his hometown with wild and wonderful tales of the outside world, which he imparts to his impressionable nephew over the objections of his family. For the life of me, I cannot picture Robert Goulet in the role, for which he won a Tony in the original production. Goulet's only asset was his voice, so I cannot imagine he was at all successful in this role, which requires all the nuance, specificity, and internalized conflict which Minarik provides in the Signature production. The supporting cast here is superb, with the emphasis of the show being the close interaction of the family members as they struggle to regain "the happy time" of the title.

Antony and Cleopatra, currently in rep at The Shakespeare Theatre Company with Julius Caesar, has never been one of my favorite plays by the Bard. I'm told the thing has forty scenes, which take place all over the ancient Roman world. This hugeness tends to dwarf the human love story between the two title characters. There isn't much heat generated between them, though when they are apart, they shine. In particular, Suzanne Bertish as the Egyptian queen mines her early scenes for all their comedic potential, and later, as she waits impatiently for news of her beloved Antony, her histrionics seem justified. She's better waiting for Antony than when she's with Antony. The couple's scenes together never seem to ignite. Several of the supporting players make their mark, notably Ted van Greithuysen, who contributes a hilarious drunk scene, and Aubrey Deeker, who makes some interesting and unusual choices as the upstart Octavius.

Naturally, my buddy Kurt Rhoads contributes solidly as Ventidius (it's a mystery, but my friends always do great work), and really, nobody makes a false move. But it's a lengthy evening with lots of dry politics, men in togas, men in tunics, and men in sandals. But the show did remind me of my first acting class in graduate school, where all the MFA actors were assigned the same scene from Antony and Cleopatra. I was singularly unimpressive as Antony, but the experience did introduce me to what has remained the favorite Shakespearean line I have ever uttered:

"Hence, saucy eunuch!"