For Immediate Release
The three acts of Our Town might be better described as orchestral movements. The first two focus on daily life and young love in the small New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners; they are the allegro and andante. The third, which deals with death and metaphysics, is theadagio, and the minor key that was only alluded to in the previous movements suddenly leaps to the fore.
Largely through the efforts of artistic director Reed McColm, Interplayers has taken this concerto and made it a chamber piece. A play once known for the size of its cast (around 30, making it ripe for community theater's take-all-comers inclusivity) has become a much tighter, eight-person ensemble work in which most actors play several roles. Our Town already asks so much of its viewers — props are mimed, and the fourth wall is repeatedly razed and rebuilt — that this doesn't seem too great a demand on the imagination. Beyond that, the change introduces just enough novelty to scrub away the patina of familiarity while accentuating the play's inherent modernity.
Modernity isn't an aspect of Our Town that has gone unnoticed over its 75-year existence, but it often gets mentally sidelined in favor of its apparent glorification of a hardworking, salt-of-the-earth rural community, where the political makeup is matter-of-factly "86 percent Republican" and boys and girls marry for life out of high school. The relaxed, folksy charisma of the omniscient stage manager, played here superbly by Patrick Treadway, conceals his pacifist asides and his theologically abstract thoughts on the afterlife.
In fact, the whole third act gently subverts everything up to that point, acknowledging these quaint small-towners to be more "blind" and "troubled" than they — or we — had previously suspected. Wilder, let's not forget, was a translator of Sartre and an admirer of Gertrude Stein; his approach to Grover's Corners is more Left Bank than Mayberry. If it's hard to think of Our Town in this more ambiguous light, therein lies some of its beauty.
So far this season Michael Weaver has directed Church Basement Ladies and Brighton Beach Memoirs. Neither presented any great challenge to rise to, and he met them on their own terms. This new adaptation shows that Weaver is capable of far more given a bit of meat and ambition. Scene changes are fluid, with actors almost imperceptibly shedding clothes as they exit, only to reappear as someone else a short while later. Nothing seems hurried or lacking with respect to the large-cast original. The stage feels every bit as full.
To achieve that fullness, what little cast there is has to go a long way. In at least one case, it falls to a single actor (here, Jerry Sciarrio) to animate eight different characters, and those that inhabit just one (Sarah Uptagrafft as Emily Webb) or two (James Pendleton and Page Byers) have to provide a solid dramatic core for the rest. Pendleton's bright-eyed, golly-gee George Gibbs charms, whereas Uptagrafft is unfortunately prone to the same gaspy melodrama that has typified her roles since Church Basement Ladies. Byers and Maria Caprile both bring delicate differences to their matriarchal roles, with Caprile adopting a jaded monotone that benefits the wry humor of some of her lines. Sound effects like train whistles or clinking milk bottles embellish the actors' prop-less efforts.
Thematically, Our Town is microscopic as well as macroscopic, seeing the details of mundanity and the vastness of eternity as two essential parts of the same whole. Interplayers' adaptation has remained true to this, shrinking the cast count while keeping both the subtleties and enduring appeal of Our Town unchanged. ♦
Our Town • Through Dec. 14: Wed-Sat, 7:30 pm; Sun, 2 pm • $28 ($22 senior/military, $12 student) • Interplayers Theatre • 174 S. Howard • 455-7529 • interplayerstheatre.org
The Broadway set of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs was barely in storage when the play received its Northwest premiere at Interplayers in 1986. That was the professional theater’s sixth season, and Memoirs had proven such a hit that, at just shy of 1,300 performances, it had run for half of Interplayers’ existence.
Twenty-seven years on, Simon has several film adaptations (the only popular gauge of a play’s true merit, it seems) as well as Tony Awards and a Pulitzer to his name. And Interplayers, having weathered its recent sky-is-falling hardships, is clearly still around too. Its 33rd season is a conscious attempt to regroup by staging material that is tried and tested. Or staid, if you’re feeling uncharitable.
Directed by Interplayers’ go-to guy Michael Weaver, Brighton Beach Memoirs is a fair indication that the theater’s retreat into the conventional was a good move. Though meticulously tidy and about as revelatory as a fortune cookie, Simon’s play nevertheless mixes humor, drama and pathos in equally satisfying parts. In this production, Nich Witham plays oversexed 15-year-old narrator Eugene Jerome as hyperactively exuberant instead of the more common take, introspective and despondent. That makes Witham’s Gene slightly more fun to watch, but he also appears more child than adolescent at the expense of credibility.
Newcomer Phoenix Tage is excellent as older brother Stan, sober pragmatist to Gene’s affable idealism and innocence. Samantha Camp is exquisite: Her matriarch Kate is flawed in all the necessary ways to be sympathetic and human. There’s her unrelenting sternness that so rankles Gene, her seething resentment that leads to the explosion with sister Blanche (Rebecca Goldberg), her exasperated devotion to husband Jack (Christopher Zinovitch), her weariness in keeping a Depression-era household together.
It’s hard to fault Weaver’s unobtrusive direction, though one wishes he’d urged Zinovitch and Sarah Uptagrafft (who plays Gene’s cousin and impossible objet du désir, Nora) to drop their iffy Brooklyn accents. Scott Doughty’s set, on the other hand, is functional and apt. With its yellows, browns and olive drab surrounded by a low brick perimeter, there’s little doubt we’re in 1930s working-class New York.
Brighton Beach Memoirs • Through Oct. 12: Wed-Sat, 7:30 pm; Sun, 2 pm • $28 ($22 senior/military, $12 student) • Interplayers • 174 S. Howard St. • 455-7529 •interplayerstheatre.org
The response has been heartening. The community is responding. Through generous support we have raised a huge chunk of our Annual Spring Drive goal. However we must maintain the present level of support. We must raise another $55,000 and continue selling season subscriptions. You can help by joining us at our end of season PROGRESSIVE DINNER or dancing the night away at “Kicking Up Our Heels for Interplayers” at Chateau Rive June 28th, and donate or pledge at anytime.
We Have Reason to Celebrate
While there is work to be done, the Board believes that the show will go on. We have taken concrete steps to remove our present and future expense columns. Some excellent pro bono advice from a theatre supporter is working toward resolving the Artistic Director's immigration process. We have also sharpened our pencil which has resulted in projected savings on our basic operating overhead. We are developing a short and long term business plan. In short, we are taking the necessary steps to drastically improve our financial foundation.
The Show Will Go On
We are excited to announce that several new committed and invigorated folks have joined the Board. We are creating relationships with local and national performing arts organizations in order to bring exciting new theatre experiences as well as revenue generating opportunities to Interplayers. Several support staff posi- tions have been filled, at no additional costs to the theatre. Interplayers is going through a phenomenal renaissance and it’s an exciting time to be here. Won’t you become a part of this thrilling artistic journey?
The beloved holiday film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) began its own life in 1943 as a short story titled “The Greatest Gift.” In 1986, there was a rocky attempt to transpose its tale of goodwill trumping adversity to another medium, that time as a musical. More recently, playwright Joe Landry penned a different stage adaptation.
Landry’s version is actually two adaptations in one — a dramatic rendering of It’s a Wonderful Lifeas though it were being presented as a radio play. Instead of, say, Todd Kehne playing good-natured George Bailey, here we have Kehne playing Jake Laurents, who voices Bailey. This means there are two narrative layers: the audible, which tells a story reminding us not to take life for granted, and the visible, which tells the story of the actors performing it.
This “layeredness” could easily be contrived or messy, but in practice it complements the heartwarming story it envelops. It functions in the same way as misdirection, a tool of the magician’s trade. We’re disarmed by a false sense of candor. We see the tricks behind the sound effects — the clop of heels (shoes on hands), howling wind (fabric over a rotating drum), a fork and plate replicating the clink of silverware on china — and the actors donning different hats to suit their characters, and it’s as if, by pulling back the curtain on one story, we forget we’re in the midst of another.
So as the audience listens to George Bailey grow up, fall in love with Mary Hatch (voiced by Bethany Hart), take over his father’s building and loan, contemplate suicide over the loss of $8,000 and, ultimately, be guided back to gratitude by his bumbling guardian angel, Clarence (voiced by Patrick Treadway), we begin to take the performance of that performance at face value.
Before long, we’ve lost ourselves. We’re a radio audience, it’s Christmas Eve and the year is 1946. The silhouette of Harry Heywood (Treadway) seducing Lana Sherwood (Tamara Schupman) behind the frosted glass door is happening in real time. The romance between Laurents and Sally Applewhite (Hart) is subtly igniting before us. When the “Applause” sign flashes, we’re clapping for the folks listening at home. And though the harmonized advertisements for hair tonic and soap are tongue-in-cheek, their quaint boasts are also somehow plausible.
Treadway’s Clarence, Jerry Sciarrio’s arch-villain Mr. Potter, and Schupman’s Violet Bick hit the sweet spot between individualization and impersonation. Hart doesn’t aim for Donna Reed and is all the better for it; from time to time Kehne’s George Bailey sounds only like an approximation of Jimmy Stewart. Jeffrey Sanders (previously Brother Olf in Incorruptible) directs in a way that doesn’t totally ham up the sight gags or melodramatize the romance, which would have distracted from the radio play and spoiled the illusion.
The litmus test for any retelling of It’s a Wonderful Life, regardless of medium, is whether you walk away with a tear in your eye and the renewed zeal of its protagonist in your heart. On that basis, this Interplayers production is a resounding success.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play • Through Dec. 30 • Wed-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sat-Sun at 2 pm • Interplayers • 174 S Howard St. • $28 ($22 senior/military, $15 student) •interplayerstheatre.org • (509) 455-7529