Wednesday, May 25, 2016

WOBT: "The Curious Savage"

John Patrick's The Curious Savage (1950) at Prattville's "Way Off Broadway Theatre" is an old-fashioned comedy with a serious message or two that still resonate after more than half a century, due largely to director Sam Wallace's talented ensemble's ability to delineate credibly eccentric characters and speak Patrick's witty dialogue with perhaps the best vocal clarity heard recently from the Prattville stage.

Set in "the common room of The Cloisters rest home" [a polite euphemism for an insane asylum], the play is long on exposition but has its pay-offs. -- Wealthy eccentric title character Ethel Savage had lived the traditionally dutiful life of a wife who sacrificed her own wishes to support her husband's, but who always wanted more bohemian experiences. Recently widowed with a $10-million inheritance, she intends to distribute the funds to people who might use it for harmless artistic or altruistic enterprises, much to the dismay of her three greedy and unscrupulous adult stepchildren who do everything in their power to claim the fortune for themselves; and their first step is to have her "committed" [a task much easier in the 1950s than today].

Mrs. Savage [Michon R. Givens] fits right in with the other "guests" at 'The Cloisters' by treating them politely as if their individual foibles are normal; none of them is violent. Clutching a stuffed Teddy Bear, her own idiosyncrasies are accepted by them in turn. -- It is to their credit that all of the actors treat their characters' erratic behavior as if it was the most common thing in the world...and audiences tend to like them. Florence [Abby Brasel] treats a doll as if it was human, being the substitute child she had lost and now grieves; Hannibal [Matthew A. Givens] plays the violin badly, but has an encyclopedic knowledge; Jeffrey [T. J. Maddox] hides an imagined facial scar that represents the guilt he feels for surviving a war which took the lives of many friends; Fairy May [Meghan Yapana Ducote] needs constant confirmation of love from others to give meaning to her life; and Mrs. Paddy [Rae Ann Collier] recites litanies of all the things she hates but is otherwise silent.

When the Savage stepchildren scheme to wrest the millions from Mrs. Savage, they find that she has put all the money into negotiable bonds that she has hidden, but she refuses to say where. As they gang up on her, Titus [Eric Arvidson], a corrupt Senator, Lily Belle [Letha Moore], a spoiled and often married social-climber, and Samuel [John Collier], a ne'er-do-well petulant sort, stoop to threats that the kindly Dr. Emmett [Mike DeLaura] and sympathetic nurse Miss Wilhemina [Tracey Maggard] try their best to keep under professional control.

It seems there is only a small difference between madness and sanity. Patrick's script makes ample use of metaphors that clearly cast these opposites against each other, and moralizes a bit on themes of justice vs. the law, regimented behavior vs. freedom to be foolish, and the distinctions between monetary worth and individual value. The greedy stepchildren vs. the altruistic "guests" at 'The Cloisters'. -- How we treat others is the mark of our own worth.

And the WOBT Players invest such honesty in their portrayals, provide audiences with plenty of laughs at the expense of the greedy characters, and earn the applause they receive.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wetumpka Depot: "I Hate Hamlet"

I Hate Hamlet, Paul Rudnick's 1991 comedy, is on the boards at the Wetumpka Depot. Director Tom Salter guides a top-notch veteran acting ensemble who garner abundant laughs through clever characterizations and adept delivery of Rudnick's witty dialogue, and while Thespian cognoscenti might enjoy the numerous theatre and film references, there is a lot in it for everyone to enjoy.

West Coast television star Andrew Rally [Clint Evans] moves to New York to star in a "Shakespeare-in-the-Park" production of Hamlet; his real estate broker and sometime "medium" Felicia Dantine [Kristy Meanor] secures a lease for him in the one-time apartment of iconic 1920s American Shakespearean actor John Barrymore; it is a Gothic pile that still contains much of the furnishings of its former resident.

Though Andrew has misgivings about playing the most challenging role [he is, after all, a mere TV personality, and claims to "hate Hamlet"], his long-time girlfriend Dierdre McDavey [Elizabeth Bowles] is there to urge him on; a would-be actress herself, she is infatuated with the apartment's connection to "the perfect...American tragedian", whose reputation for womanizing and boozing add to his dangerous appeal -- this in spite of the fact that Dierdre has been holding off on a sexual relationship with Andrew until she is sure that everything is right in their relationship.

Joining them is Andrew's agent Lillian Troy [Janie Allred], a Teutonic force to be reckoned with, who claims to have had a romantic fling with Barrymore many years ago.

As Andrew's self-doubt escalates, Felicia conducts a seance, after which the ghost of Barrymore [Stephen Dubberley] arrives to coach Andrew and prepare him to play the Prince of Denmark, and simultaneously to get Deirdre to relent to having sex with Andrew.

When self-obsessed L.A. producer Gary Peter Lefkowits [Lee Bridges] shows up with a "green light" multi-million dollar offer of a television series for Andrew, the plot thickens, and decisions must be made: artistic integrity and little money vs. celebrity stature for doing mediocre TV fare and lots of cash.

Mr. Bridges oozes with a huckster's assurance that can't comprehend that anyone would choose art over money; but he won't be deterred from convincing Andrew to take the TV offer by any means necessary.

Ms. Allred imbues the role of Lillian with sardonic acceptance that signs and omens are everywhere, and that Andrew must pay attention to his fate in playing the role of a lifetime. -- Ms. Meanor again demonstrates a pitch-perfect ability to deliver comic dialogue, and displays a myriad of subtle shifts of vocal energy and timing and movement; she is always surprising us with unexpected but character driven choices.

Ms. Bowles is a revelation in the role of Dierdre, a role so unlike her rendition of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. The vivacity with which she inhabits the absurdity of Dierdre's insistence of maintaining her "virtue", and the uninhibited breathless enthusiasm and excessive gestures she uses in playing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, are so joyfully ridiculous (and credible) that make it a break-out performance.

The key to the plot's resolution depends on Barrymore's ability to convince Andrew to meet the challenge of the role he is about to play with just six weeks' rehearsal time -- and what an uphill battle that proves to be. -- Mr. Evans pulls out all the comic stops as he renders a version of Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy with ridiculous preparatory exercises to "get into the part", absurd histrionic flourishes, and "modernizing" the Bard's language to make it accessible to a contemporary audience [Rudnick wrote the play long before the Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned 36 playwrights to translate Shakespeare for ostensibly the same reason]. -- But Barrymore won't be put off; and Mr. Dubberley is also up to the challenge. Though he can "posture" and "pose" with the best of them, Mr. Dubberley commands each scene with the assurance of Barrymore's talent and ego. He pushes Mr. Evans to engage with Shakespeare's poetry, and in a finely staged sword-fight choreographed by Parke Fech, to acquire the confidence necessary to both play the role and secure Dierdre's favor in his bed.

The Depot has a first-class entertainment here: a witty script matched by a gifted acting ensemble. But greater attention ought to have been paid to a couple of production values: putting a cheap supermarket brand of champagne on stage next to high end bottles of Scotch and bourbon is glaring; and John Barrymore's Hamlet costume is so well known from vintage photos, that the substantial changes for both Mr. Dubberley's and Mr. Evans' Hamlet costumes won't go unnoticed.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Red Door: "Doublewide, Texas"

The Red Door Theatre in Union Springs' production of Doublewide, Texas is one of several comedies from the cottage industry trio Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. -- Director Kim Mason has a lot of veterans and one Red Door debut performer at her disposal in this formulaic comedy, who seem to delight in the assorted character antics that they deliver with straight-faced conviction despite the outlandish costumes they often wear and the bizarre behavior they display.

Many of the one-liners are groan worthy jokes that crack up audiences because the actors' timing and self-awareness are genuinely charming.

Just outside Tugaloo, Texas is a tiny trailer park whose residents form an eccentric family of sorts who band together to thwart the attempt of the town to annex them, with predictably rib-tickling results. -- There are bad guys: Lomax [Steve McCary], a local Lothario in collusion with Sloggett [Ellis Ingram], a neighbor to the trailer park who hates their trashy ways, whose ulterior motives get them to try to annex the park and/or force them out.

But they are up against a gaggle of trailer folks who want to preserve their way of life: Big Ethel [Kim Graham], who encourages everyone to stop making bad choices, the family Crumpler -- Caprice [Janet Wilkerson], the matriarch whose auditions for a commercial are wildly funny as she dresses up in outlandish costumes of famous actresses in order to make an impression and get the job; and her children Joveeta [Elizabeth Roughton] who desperately wants a change in her life when she is passed over for a job advancement, and Norwayne "Baby" [Craig Stricklin] a good-old-boy septic tank cleaner, who competes in a no-woman-beauty contest and gets more and more accustomed to high-heels and skirts.

The action of the two acts is largely in the doublewide trailer of often married Georgia Dean [Leigh Moorer] who has taken in a pregnant stranger named Lark [Lauren White] out of the kindness of her heart. And it is here where the combined efforts of this unlikely tribe make plans, shift gears, wait for "signs" to guide them, gradually become a unified group with a cause, and through sheer determination and a bit of luck with the arrival of the Mayor's wife Starla [Denise Padgett], manage to get the better of the men who want to oust them.

We're in the company of a talented ensemble whose good-natured portrayals help lift the slightness of the script to provide a fun-filled entertaining evening at the theatre.