Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum : 42nd Street Moon : Mostly a Success

“A Funny Thing…” owes as much to 20th century vaudeville as it does Plautine comedy of ancient Rome, and it remains true to all comedic epochs in between. Interestingly, it has much in common with A.C.T.’s current adaptation of the Moliere farce, Scapin.

The latter, however, has the advantage of having the central role performed by the inimitable Mr. Irwin. Here, we have Megan Cavanagh, playing the quintessential male central character, Pseudolus, with less than stellar results.

Ms. Cavanagh gives the role her all, but her comic talents are slight, as is her boyish voice which proved to be ill-suited even for the forgiving spatial dimensions offered by the Eureka Theatre.

Thankfully, the play works mostly as an ensemble piece, and much of the casting is actually quite inspired. Most notably, Rob Hatzenbeller as the classic braggart soldier, Miles Gloriosis, and Michael Rhone as the hysterically “calm” head slave, Hysterium. If scene-stealing were a capital crime, they’d be sitting on death row!

Playing to a full house, the minimal production values were enhanced by the small confines provided by its intimate venue. Kudos to 42nd Street Moon for once again resuscitating a Broadway standard. This surefire crowd-pleaser is time and dinarii well-spent...

P.S.: I've learned that on the day of this performance Ms. Cavanagh's sister had passed away. This undoubtedly explains her subdued performance. I offer my condolences...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Turn of the Screw : Dragon Theatre Palo Alto : Magnificent!

The success of Jeffrey Hatcher’s riveting adaptation of the classic Henry James novella is wholly dependent upon the unity of purpose of its acting twosome. Both must be utterly committed to revealing the emotional reality of their characters without sacrificing the ambiguous supernatural elements suggested by the narrative.

I am happy to report that Katie Anderson and George Psarras are equally up to the task. Aided by minimal yet smartly designed production values, together they deliver an acting performance tantamount to a harmonious duet that’s operatic in scope. Bravo!

Mr. Psarras’ psychological intensity is apparent from the first line. His preternaturally seamless character transitions, accomplished by subtle physical manipulations and nimble vocal transformations, is most impressive!

And Ms. Anderson’s courageous willingness to completely inhabit the governess’ frightening emotional complexity is truly inspirational. She masterfully embraces her torment without making the mistake of lapsing into a caricature of total madness. Well done!

The debate about whether James’ ghosts are a product of tragic mental delusion or actual apparitions may never be satisfactorily resolved. But one thing is certain: the bravura acting talent currently on display at Dragon Productions is a perfect match for the compelling and beautifully written material. A genuinely gripping and memorable experience!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

First Day of School : City Lights Theatre Company : A Star is Formed

In the tradition of the British sex romp, there is no actual sex on display, let alone nudity, in this very funny American variation. Nonetheless, the underlying theme of repressed passion in suburbia is ubiquitous, and on occasion downright palpable.

The cast is uniformly fine, and work together well. Each member of the ensemble hits their marks and reads their lines with sufficient comic timing and humorous acumen to tickle the funny bone more often than not-sometimes mercilessly!

But, I have to say, Mandy Manousos is in a league all her own. To extend the baseball metaphor, she hits her character out of the park. I’ve observed this phenomenon before, and when I do it’s an utter joy to behold. Some refer to it, simply enough, as the “it” factor.

I don’t have the facility with words to adequately describe it, but when witnessed one can’t help but recognize how special it is. It’s a singular, magical quality that transcends mere acting talent. It’s an uncanny ability to make the absurd seem real. The evocation is never artificial, but comes from a vulnerable space that few are prepared to reveal. You can’t take your eyes off her.

In the event she has the appropriate ambition, and fate bestows upon her the opportunity, stardom is inevitable. I’m so happy to have gazed upon this star so early in her formation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sunset Boulevard : Palo Alto Players : Poor Casting and Lackluster Material

Sadly, this is a mess. Where should I begin?

The sound design is so unbalanced that the chamber-sized orchestra drowns out the acoustically enhanced performers. Miscues in lighting, coupled with downright poor design choices, are simply too blatant to ignore. Recitative passages alternate with straight dialogue for no discernable reason to the point of distraction. And with the exception of a few songs, none are moving, let alone memorable.

The two leads, who were most likely chosen for their exceptional vocal acumen, approach the material from two jarringly different styles. It’s hard to imagine a more astounding casting misstep!

Annmarie Martin, despite possessing a wonderful voice of show-stopping potential, is wildly uneven in all facets of her performance. She appears lost, as demonstrated by jarring fits of intensity, all the while clumsily feigning either a Mid-Atlantic or West Coast dialect. One wonders if the character equally perplexed the director!

Ashley Simms, blessed with an oral instrument of pleasant melodious range and warm timbre, is just too immature to play a role that demands such obvious gravitas. While no one expects him to fill the shoes of a William Holden, one cannot fathom why anyone would find him well suited for the part.

On a more positive note, a strong supporting turn, both in singing and acting skill, is thankfully delivered by the sonorous baritone Russ Bohard. Unlike his fellow cast mates, he has a clear grasp of the world his laconic character inhabits and his place within it. Bravo! And honorable mention must be given to the artful set and costume design.

While I wholeheartedly encourage continuing support of the good works typical of the Palo Alto Players, this is not a representative sample of that laudable tradition. Reluctantly, I must recommend that one consider an investment of time and dollars elsewhere.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Murder for Two - A Killer Musical : 42nd Street Moon : A Comic Tour de Force!

Kinosian and Blair have publicly professed their allegiance to the conventions of the venerable musicals of a bygone era. The truth is, however, that they’ve composed a minor classic all their own that is as much subversive as it is respectful to the genre. That is no mean feat!

The nonstop humor is played with both broad and subtle strokes, and a perpetual droll wink, by a talented cast of two. To his credit, Adam Overett plays the straight man with enough comic alacrity and musical finesse to weather the force of nature that is Joe Kinosian. It's a daunting task, to say the least, and he succeeds admirably.

Kinosian, co-creator of the piece, adroitly performs ten discrete characters with a near boundless elan. The sheer physical and mental dexterity needed to convincingly portray several personalities while maintaining an insouciant charm is a genuine tour de force. The man is truly possessed with a prodigious, albeit demonic, talent!

Inasmuch as this comedy is also a musical, one is obliged to mention that the catchy melodies don’t wield quite the same impact as the masterfully honed wit of the lyrics. And Kenosian’s singing voice, while more than adequate, doesn’t live up to his acting prowess.

If one were to make a suggestion, despite its relative brevity, the show would benefit from an intermission. It can actually be exhausting just watching Kinosian, and one does detect a slight waning of both endurance and comic-timing during the latter half.

Be that as it may, this successful exercise in manic hilarity is as fun as it gets in live theatre. And it’s hard to imagine a better venue for this scale of production than the cozy ambiance of the Eureka Theatre. Go see it-now!