THEATER REVIEW: ‘Tenor’ evokes a grange and hilariously wacky world

“Lend Me a Tenor” / Copake Grange

THE TWO OF THEM, Constance Lopez and Steve Sanborn, who produce theater as “The Two of Us Productions,” are intrepid. They gather community actors, musicians, techies and costumers together to do big musicals (with full, live orchestras), and small murder mysteries. Now, they have taken on… what shall we call it? Maybe “Grange Entertainment” (Bands, karaoke, and yes, smaller-cast plays.)

More and more, producers are touting their wares in terms of the “total experience,” and The Two of Us now gets to tout Copake Grange. The Grange building is a major player in the experience of their production of Kenneth Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor.” The environmental connection is not logical. It’s just a decidedly unstuffy, mood-maker in which to toss a play.

The wonder of the building called Copake Grange in southern Columbia County is that no interior decorator has come near it. The unimposing wood structure sits close to the road. Inside, theater-goers witness two big rooms, one of which features worn wood floors and interesting old photographs, and the other (the theater), mixes radiators with dark wainscoting, 95 comfy old movie seats, an elderly, sound-quenching ceiling, and a small stage. The place smells great—of dust and old wood, and the lived-life of small-town history.

The Two of Us Productions’ staging of the vintage comedy ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ at the Copake Grange through May 27 includes cast members (l to r): Diane Boice-Yorck, Karissa Payson, Frank Leavitt, Josh Gurwitz. Photo contributed

A first look at the stage does not entice. The set is two rooms, one painted comic-book red, furnished with a lonely beige sofa—the kind of sofa that looks as if a giant mold has overtaken its arms and will shortly take over the world. The other room is painted comic-book blue. It is furnished with a double bed, lopped off in order to fit the room, if not the human body. (Feet tend to hang off of it.)

On opening night, the first act of “Lend Me a Tenor” droned on, and this audience person longed to take a nap. Then suddenly playwright, actors, and director, found the groove and leaped into farcical action. (Yes, there are five doors in this set. Bathroom-beige doors.) From then on to curtain, we Grange denizens just gave up on common sense and laughed ourselves silly–as Ludwig and director Sanborn intended.

In spite of a need for more vocal heft and sung vowels, the lovely teenager Karissa Payson, was effective as the operetta style ingénue, Maggie. Cyndi Miller, as opera-singer Diana, was sexy in sequins—and without them. Frank Leavitt, as a sleazy mid-western opera producer, was appropriately sleazy with vocal decibels to spare. Lopez, as the excitable Italian wife of world-famous “Otello” tenor Tito Merelli, brought her stunning stage-face and character sureness to the supporting role of Maria.

No one should believe that a person as young and hapless as the character of Max could pull off a wildly successful performance of “Otello,” as the plot insists; but Hunter Anderson drags the audience to surrender.

All of the women in this play seem starved for sex, and if “Me Too” has a “Him Too” auxiliary, Diane Boice-Yorck as the head of the Opera Guild had better watch out.

The play-stealer, however, is Mark Leinung as Tito, the famous “Otello” tenor. He struggles (in wonderfully understated victimhood) to make sense of a situation that definitely does not compute–except to us out there in the old movie seats.

This is not an A-list play, but what the heck? Giggles are good.

A whiff of the Copake Grange, Kenneth Ludwig, and The Two of Us is available through May 27. Get tickets on-line at stephensanborn.tripod.com.

Comments are closed.