THEATER REVIEW: Try as they might, the farce isn’t with them

“The Decorator” / Theater Barn

AUDIENCES ENTERING THE THEATER BARN to see “The Decorator” are met with a deliberately ugly stage. There is a room with lavender-pinkish walls that were probably fine until the designer (on purpose!) put dirtyish earth-green drapes on the window and filled center stage with an antagonistic bluish-green sofa and matching chair. Some may hope that the title’s “decorator” will ply his trade before the end of the evening.

The decorator (played by Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon) enters and prepares to paint walls. He seems a bit goofy. Perhaps he is going to be a character of questionable intelligence. Then he tunes his radio to a Mozart horn concerto and listens happily, so one can’t be sure.

When a nice-looking, possibly upper-class woman appears, first in a towel and then in a dowdy plaid skirt, with blouse hanging from under an appalling black-speckled jacket, hope for design and color-candy on the stage is squashed. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Bee’ here now earns good words for all involved

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” / Theater Barn

IT’S ALL ABOUT WINNING, isn’t it? A spelling bee exists to teach children to compete, compete, compete! That’s how we Americans know who is worth something and who is disposable. Just ask the Prez.

At the Theater Barn, six neurotic, high IQ youngsters (played by adults) demonstrate their adeptness with “I” and “Q” and the other twenty-four letters of the alphabet in exotic combinations.

Adults playing kids could get icky, but it never does in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” It doesn’t because of the tart, free-wheeling imaginations of its creators, starting with a theater group’s improv led by Rebecca Feldman, a book by Rachel Sheinkin, an appealing score by William Finn (which had an especially well-functioning brain attached to its composition), and clever Finn lyrics. (Who cares if the lyricist must have consulted the “Unabridged Rhyming Dictionary” and employed every rhyme listed there under the word “erection”? No, he wasn’t talking about buildings.) Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Lillian’ echoes another era rife with scoundrels

“Lillian” / Taconic Stage Company

A ONE- OR TWO-PERSON PLAY is a good fit for the beautiful little structure atop a hill in Copake Falls. At the Church of St. John in the Wilderness, artistic director of Taconic Stage Company, Carl Ritchie, has found a warm and elegant home for his smaller productions. This summer it is “Lillian,” a monologue-summary of the life of playwright Lillian Hellman, author of “Toys In the Attic,” “The Little Foxes,” “The Children’s Hour,” et al.

The author of “Lillian” is William Luce, who has attracted some of the century’s most interesting actors to his work: Julie Harris (twice), Zoe Caldwell, George C. Scott, Christopher Plummer, Eva Marie Saint, Geraldine Page. In Copake Falls his Lillian is Diedre Bollinger, a local favorite. They are all more than he may deserve.

Among other good things, Diedre Bollinger has voice. That probably doesn’t sound like radical praise, but because voice is the main vehicle for all the hard-fought reality that actors seek, it is radical praise. Bollinger’s voice, laced with meaning, does the exact amount of decibels for the space. She has clarity of diction—I should say “dictions,” as she goes all over the map with pitch, regionalisms, rhythms, and accents, making quick, easy transitions among the characters in Hellman’s life and carrying the story. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: ‘She Loves Me’ makes scents, mostly fragrant

‘She Loves Me’ / Theater Barn

The ’60s musical “She Loves Me” reeks of quality. It is always aromatic.

The genius parfumerie-creators seem to have moved this show along without breaking a sweat. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick are witty, character-right and inventively crafted. Music has rolled tunefully from Jerry Bock with a sophistication that is never self-conscious or egotistical. (And thank goodness, it is never obliged to thump its way to audience id.) The book by Joe Masteroff is gently funny and simply brilliant. The story is enough to give you renewed faith in humankind and, surprisingly, all of its elements are stirred together without even a spoonful of sugar.

The production at Theater Barn is part of an especially well-chosen musical season, and it exposes the good stuff of “She Loves Me”–while allowing some major missteps. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Ancram play shrinks distance to Kabul

“Homebody/Kabul” / Ancram Opera House

PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER and actor Danielle Skraastad say it at least twice in his play, “Homebody/Kabul”: “I love the world!”

There is a spare yet generous look to the stage at Ancram Opera House. There are books and more books in piles tall and short. There is a cozy corner for the woman at home in London. (Her monologue is coming.) At the end of the play, there is an up-stage group of nicely lit, gray-sandy walls that summon up Kabul’s beauty and its dry, modern threat of non-life.

Watching Skraastad is like becoming an attentive therapist who listens to the outpourings of a patient’s teeming mind. The mind is not just neurotic; it is brilliant, funny, pathetic, informed, passionate, peripatetic, and, above all, world-loving. Read more…