Theater

 

What Do You Think?

 

Just another red speedo

What if you had nothing to lose - or everything to lose?  Is there even a difference?

Currently at Studio Theater is the world premiere of “Red Speedo.” The play has a plot that could be ripped from today’s headlines and a story that feels all too common in sports today.   Neither the production nor the script is perfect yet, but it is still a very intriguing concept.

At the center of the play is Ray, a young man on his way to qualifying for the Olympic swim team.  If that happens, he can snag a deal as spokesman with Speedo and he is financially set for life.  Of course his brother/agent gets a percentage and his Coach will no doubt benefit greatly from his success.

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The death of a gay man as theater

Do you remember 15 years ago?  The cable news channels were obsessing about one thing – Monica Lewinsky.  That unfolding scandal dominated the air waves so much that hardly any other news story broke through. 

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Welcome to the dinner party from Hell

Welcome to the dinner party from Hell.

With “Rancho Mirage,” Olney Theater Center begins a series of world premieres.  Working with the New Play Network Rolling World Premier, Olney and three other theaters will mount productions of Steven Dietz’s new play “Rancho Mirage” on the coming months – an interesting new way to let playwrights see their new work and let them fine tune the script. 

And “Rancho Mirage” is a fascinating comedy/drama about where America is right now.  The play has many strong points, and Olney’s production is lovely, but the ending of this new play needs work.

The center of this story is three affluent couples, all hitting crisis points in their marriage at the same time.  One couple is facing bankruptcy with the economic downturn, another marriage is falling apart, and the third couple, the most religious of the group, is struggling with the fact they cannot have kids.

Dietz’s strength is his ability to find comedy is these dramatic and frequently awkward situations, and for the most part the comedy comes naturally from the well-drawn characters.  There are even characters we never meet, like Pam’s father, but we feel we get to know them from what other characters say.

Basically three couples who are longtime friends get together in a gated community called Rancho Mirage and have a dinner party.  Of course everyone wants to keep their troubles secret from the others and of course they fail miserably at it.  The situations may be serious but the attempts to cover it up or explain it away become increasingly ludicrous.  On top of that, from being blacklisted by a pizza delivery service to a popcorn maker gone bananas, nothing at this party works out right. 

Olney’s artistic director Jason Loewith directs this new play with assurance, keeping a nice balance between the hilarious and the more serious moments.  Not easy, because the play can change tone in a single beat.

Loewith is greatly helped by the actors playing the three couples.  Paul Morella and Tonya Beckman play the estranged couple as two types of ditzes, but they add depths to their roles as their situation becomes more apparent.  Michael Russotto and Susan Lynskey also start out as callow people who mature as they struggle with the question of whether they want children or not.

Presiding over all of this are Tracy Lynn Olivera and James Konicek as our dinner party hosts, who seem the most normal couple, but their affluent stability starts to show cracks as the truth of their financial situation becomes more obvious.  While a very short part, Sydney Lemmon does very well in the pivotal role of Julie, an awkward teen baby sitter who forces some decision making in the second act. 

These characters get to go from being totally out of it, to having a deliciously sharp tongue and memorable putdowns, to being emotionally honest as this roller coaster of a plot develops.  It works surprisingly well but by the end of the show Russell Parkman’s lovely and spacious set will be turned into a complete shambles.  There is even a brief introduction showing us how not to talk into a video camera.

The play works very well for a new work, with the characters sharply drawn and the discussions rising and falling naturally.  For me, the only thing that did not work was the ending, which feels too pat and too abrupt.  After this epic battle, and considering none of the characters have it totally together, you are not going to put all the pieces of this scattered jigsaw puzzle back together this easily and this completely. 

Paul Morella’s character has taken up sewing, and this concept of mending runs through the entire play.  It is a very intriguing and simple symbol for what Dietz is trying to convey in this play.  But sometimes things get so torn that they cannot be totally fixed, at least not without a lot of time and effort, and this hilarious dinner party come grudge match feels like one of those times. 

As part of their Contemporary Subscription Series next season, Olney will unveil two rolling world premieres: “I and You” by Lauren Gunderson and “Colossal” by Andrew Hinderaker.  Both of these shows are world premieres and the Contemporary Series is topped off with the naughty puppets of “Avenue Q.”

 “Rancho Mirage” continues at Olney Theater through October 20.  For tickets, call the box office at (301) 924-3400 or go online to http://www.olneytheatre.org.

3 stars

David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

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Pity the small child in Goodnight Moon

Having trouble going to sleep?  Pity the small child in “Goodnight Moon” currently at Adventure Theater MTC.  He does not want to go to sleep, the Old Lady (a grandmother figure) definitely wants him to go to bed, and the entire bedroom conspires to keep this kid awake all night.

For so many of us who grew up in recent years with “Goodnight Moon,” it is hard to believe that this beloved children’s book was first published in 1947 and was not that big a seller at first.  With over 4 million copies sold and translations in numerous languages, it is now a part of many childhood memories.

This stage version kicks off the new season at Adventure Theater MTC, but how do you take this slender bedtime story and turn it into a 50 minute play?

Well, first add music.  Chad Henry, who wrote this adaptation, included a number of songs throughout this production and they are better than what one usually finds in children’s theater.  There is a lot of variety here, ranging from gentle lullabies to much more extraverted jazzy numbers, and the cast at Adventure Theater perform them very well.

Next take a lot of the details in Margaret Wise Brown’s short book and accompanying illustrations and run with them.  Deborah Wheatley’s set design does not slavishly copy the original illustrations by Clement Hurd.  Do not worry, this is still the familiar big green room, but there are plenty of additional props and household objects on hand to keep the eye busy.

And keep the plot busy, as puppet designer Matt Reckeweg has constructed many of these objects so that they come to life as the child reluctantly tries to go to sleep and the room won’t let him.  I do not want to give too much away, but do not be surprised if items on end tables start moving and making noise or characters in painting refuse to stay in their place.  By the time the show is over, this sleepy little bedroom has become Grand Central Station.

The five actors on stage give it their all and director Roberta Gasbarre puts them through their paces.  Jake Foster (alternating with Colin Cech) plays the young child as both deeply inquisitive of everything around him and melodramatic when he does not get his way.  Fans of the original book know the child is really a bunny, and costume designer Frank Labovitz gives the actor a pair of bunny ears but otherwise this is a typical young child fighting sleep.

Anissa Hartline is both patient and increasingly exasperated as the Old Lady who loves her child but would really love it if he went to sleep.  Hartline plays this character throughout the story though she does double as another key role later in the play.

The other three actors play a variety of roles, and the play gives them plenty of fast costume changes as they jump from one role to another.  There is a running gag about a painting of the cow trying to jump over the moon per the nursery rhyme that breaks into the story several times.  In the meantime other paintings come to life, there is a visit by the Tooth Fairy, and a toy house decides to have a life of its own, as do the blankets and pillows and quite a few other things.

If you do go, try to sit in the middle.  The set is beautiful and intricate but that makes some aspects of the show difficult to see if you are off to the sides.  I sat on the left side and had trouble seeing the whole Cow jumps over the Moon gambit and it would not surprise me if people on the other side had trouble seeing other things, such as the toy house come to life.

The play is an ode to childhood imagination and friskiness, but it does not have any deep theme.  The love of a family suffuses this work without being blatantly obvious.  And it teaches children that even when they grow up, pillows and blankets never stay where they are supposed to be.

 “Goodnight Moon” continues at Adventure Theater MTC at Glen Echo Park through October 27.  For more information go online to http://www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org/index.html or call (301) 634-2270.

3 stars

By David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

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Take a waltz to Baltimore through Silver Spring

To open their new season, Silver Spring Stage has mounted a fine production of a deceptively simple play. 

“The Baltimore Waltz” by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (and DC area native) Paula Vogel seems simple enough: a brother and sister go on an increasingly absurdist journey through Europe to find some black market medicine for the sister’s rather silly sounding disease. 

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