Play by Play Crossroads is a terrific evening

Play by Play Crossroads

Stageworks

Hudson

 

 

It won’t rescue your soul, change the course of your life, or awaken your sleeping genius, but Play by Play Crossroads at Stageworks is a terrific evening of intelligent, lively theater.

The poverty of regional theater companies is often obvious in their productions; but here everything seems scrubbed down to what is truly expressive for clarity and art’s sake rather than for budget’s sake.

Each of the seven mini-plays is introduced with a lovely, spare image on a huge screen at the back of the stage. Besides being visually delightful, the screen is a fast, useful shorthand for “where,” and it leaves a nice actor-centered stage.

 “Spare” is one of the many virtues of this production, thanks to directors Abby Lee and Laura Margolis and their actors and designers. The space is clean, the lines cleanly delivered (if occasionally pointedly besmirched in content), the shape of actors’ movements is etched cleanly. Did I say that nothing is extraneous?

The plays follow a pattern of leaking out significant information in satisfying sequences that usually build toward a final smack in the style of O. Henry or theater-song buttons.  The subjects range from Peter I. Tchaikovsky’s coming suicide (he faces disgrace due to his predilection for sex with young boys) to marketing discussions about a virus invention that can be implanted in brains–in order to tune in to other people’s experiences. (Ooo, sex with movie stars!) The sexual foursome in Swing Factor may make your stomach queasy at the start, but you are soon sucked in (sorry!) by author Rich Orloff, who gathers you to his bosom with snappy dialogue and hilarious humanity. The delicious tantrums delivered by Ryan R. Katzer and Angela Rauscher are a particular joy.

Sometimes at Stageworks one may feel lobbied by apologists for tired 1960s sexual mores; but fortunately the plays almost always offer good writing and good acting. (You are unlikely ever to see a bad actor at Stageworks. Margolis knows actors.)

It is icky, during Sweethearts (by Rebekah Lopata,) when a middle-aged woman announces that she really wanted to become a lawyer. That she gave up everything for her son, who has had the bad taste to commit suicide. But good actors can rescue a spate of unfortunate dialogue, and dialogue spoken by Linda Roper and Richard Vernon is in good hands. (Good throats? Good brains?)

Watching Roper morph from an attractive, upscale lady in Sweethearts, to the shuffling, mordant-tongued crone in William Borden’s Gunning for Life is by itself worth the price of admission to Play by Play. At her husband’s approaching death, she fires shots of black rancor and black, “what-should-we-do-cry-in-our-beer?” humor.Yet, at the end, morphine appears to counter the bravado.

This Is What I Wanted could be even shorter without damage to its impact and its charm, but it is fun to watch Angela Rauscher (of the shapely legs and  Betty Grable poses) tell us and her soldier boy friend what lives she does not want. What she does not want flashes in efficient (clean) shorthand on the screen.

The soldier desperately longs for connection. At the end of this play, the eyes of the two characters meet for the first time along with the guns of war—a possible cure for home-front narcissism.

Costumes by Adrienne Westmore are excellent throughout, but, for the red polka dot sundress Rauscher wears in This Is What I Wanted, Westmore deserves a raise!

Like everything else in this production, the sound is rich, crisp and yes, clean.

All in all, Play by Play Crossroads has got to be the best night out in the county. With a nod to the recession, Stageworks is now offering super-duper admission prices, so buy a ticket and be prepared to get much more than you deserve. There are performances through October 11 at Stageworks in Hudson, after which it transfers to Proctors Theater in Schenectady.

 

 

I know I came in here to review this

I Know I Came In Here For Something

A musical revue by Carl Ritchie and Wayne Moore

Taconic Stage Company

Dinner Theatre at The Lighthouse, Craryville

In its previous incarnation, the Carl Ritchie/Wayne Moore musical revue, I Know I Came In Here For Something, was attended by large, noisy, summer crowds who laughed long and lustily at our familiar, after-40-something woes: forgetfulness, menopause, pot bellies, back problems, erectile dysfunction, etc.

Recently, I attended the dress rehearsal for the show’s reappearance.

I liked it better this time.

Three of the four singer/actors, Cathy Lee-Visscher, Diedre Bollinger, Brian Litscher, are returning, and the long summer run has given their performances stronger, cleaner lines. (Actually Lee-Visscher was strong from the beginning, and it remains her show.) The new guy is Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon. At the dress rehearsal he was still a bit shaky, but we (all five rehearsal-guests) got a taste of his comedic talents in several of the sketches.

Ritchie’s lyrics are fun, often witty with piles of fresh rhymes and a clever pun tucked in here and there.Where touching is required, he makes that work as well. His songs sometimes end with a single sentence that takes a pleasantly surprising left turn.

The music, on the other hand, is just too unsophisticated for these lyrics. It is probably meant as pastiche, and it follows the revue tradition, with contrasting tempos, major and minor modes, marches, waltzes, Latin beats, etc. But the harmonies are simply too predictable and the phrasing and stylistic devices too familiar. It is possible that this music pleases audiences of a certain age, and no one would suggest that the composer should rock; but he certainly could tickle the ears with some fresher harmonies, rhythms, and settings of the words.

Brian Litscher is a presence. His singing is rich and sure, and he delivers the lyrics with admirable clarity. Litscher gets to sing one of the show’s best songs during which he visits his aged mother in a nursing home. One might wish that he would struggle in a more focused way to reach her—make her a real presence as well.

In the game show sketch, Schane-Lydon makes especially good use of his gigantic stage-eyes and young Jackie Gleason style. His erectile dysfunction number becomes a bit visually boring, but who can resist a situation in which a man takes all the E.D. pills, forgetting that his wife has gone to her mother’s for a week? And who can resist the lyric that bemoans “a Dick without a Jane”?

Although her singing is beset with pitch problems, Diedre Bollinger is effective in her dark, cynical commitment to her dark, cynical, funny material. In one of her numbers, she repeatedly shrinks into a cramped posture, squeezing elbows and witchy hands toward her body, and contorting her face with resistance to the horrors of mid-life bodily functions. We would keep laughing as long as she was willing to repeat it! 

In “There’s More of Me to Love,” one may wonder why this slim, attractive actress was assigned a song about being overweight. Maybe they could pad her, or something.

As mentioned above, the show belongs to Cathy Lee-Visscher. This is the only actress I know who can do “cutesy” and make you love it instead of inviting you to throw up. Her healthy, optimistic, energetic, dumb blonde is irresistible. However, there is much more in Lee-Visscher’s bag of tricks. She never offers you a character or a whole song in which she plays the same note throughout. People in real life seldom express themselves that way, and she doesn’t either. From phrase to phrase, there is always an evolving, very human take on a lyric, and her quick switches in the sketches are hilarious.

Helen Schneider’s costumes for a class-reunion number have more impact than the number itself, and at the end of the show, the four actors look spiffy with men in white tie and women in glamour gowns.

Occasionally, transitions between numbers are uneasy, but mostly the staging and direction of the comedy are well-conceived and smoothly executed. Ritchie wisely keeps it simple.

It’s $30 for a buffet dinner and the show. For reservations call (518) 325-1234.

 

Eugene’s Ghosts animated by acting not technology

Review: Eugene’s Ghosts at Space 360 Hudson, NY  

THE WORDS ARE O’NEILL’S, though many of them have been excised for this production. Maybe we should be grateful to be spared the playwright’s overlong litany of wounds and salves, poured out in a basically plotless, autobiographical “American masterpiece.” And maybe not.

Harold Bloom, who joins others in calling Long Day’s Journey into Night “an American masterpiece,” also named it “The Ghost Sonata.” (Hence, Eugene’s Ghosts?) I think these characters would be lucky to be ghosts, but it is their misfortune to be intensely, painfully alive.

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