Yesterday's news doesn't play well today.
Thursday, September 30, 1999
In this case, there are seven of them, plus the hero of the evening, the charming, devil-may-care, ace reporter Hildy Johnson (David Parker). Hildy wants to get married, but, in order to tie the knot, he''s got to give up the newspaper business. But his editor, Mr. Burns (Richard Courtney), will stoop to any depths to keep him on the payroll. Thrown into the mix are a condemned anarchist (who obviously has problems of his own), a tart with a heart of gold (is there any other kind?), corrupt politicians (ditto) bent on execution, an impending election (is there a connection?), mobsters, goons, and a very loud toilet.
With all this to offer, how could this production possibly go wrong? It does. Aside from a few fine moments, it does not measure up to the Western Stage''s usual high standards.
There are two problems. The first is the script, an outdated blend of madcap and dark comedy, social satire, and outright misogyny. (None of the female characters fare very well in this show.) And while the issues of political corruption and journalistic ethics are still very much with us today, the condescending treatment of women in this play--which surely could have been edited--is so insulting as to distract us from what could make it both relevant and funny.
The second problem is in the production itself. It can be summed up in a piece of business in which Hildy, preparing to marry his wealthy fiancee, Peggy Grant (Rachel Binder), changes his wrinkled, rumpled shirt. After removing the shirt, he unwraps a brown paper packet fresh from the laundry, and proceeds to put on another wrinkled, rumpled shirt.
This lack of attention to detail permeates the entire production. Instead of dixie cups a la 1928 next to the watercooler, we get large paper cups from Costco. Instead of spiral-bound notebooks, the reporters carry glue-bound tablets from Staples. The cleaning woman comes in with an empty bucket, moves it around a bit, then doesn''t really clean. Perhaps this sounds overly picky, but if the audience is to be fully engaged in the action we can''t be distracted by anachronisms and oversights.
The performances are also affected by the general aimlessness of this production. It is frenetic yet crisp pacing and rhythm that make madcap comedies work. The physicality should be quick, clear, and precise. However, in this production the dialogue is muddy (the first ten lines of the show were incomprehensible), and the comedic timing largely missing.
The playwrights meant their characters to be, by and large, stereotypes. They are meant to satirize societal types. This kind of performance requires craft, and a technique that includes a slightly heightened sense of urgency in every action. But the actors'' postures and mannerisms were clearly from the ''90s rather than the ''20s, which made the dated material even more unpalatable.
There were some exceptions. Hal Peiken as The Mayor fairly oozed power and corruption. His choices were clean and clear. We may hate him but we are fascinated nonetheless. Michael Mertz as neatnik Roy Bensinger brought the energy up a notch when he was on stage. His frustration with his loutish co-workers was painful and funny. His "hiring" scene with Richard Courtney''s Walter Burns was one of the best of the evening. JoAnn Birch as Mollie Malloy had moments of real clarity and she and Dohn Grube''s Earl Williams played well off of each other. And Mrs. Grant (Jeannie Dick) was feisty and had a good presence.
At The Western Stage, 755-6816.Theater Openings
A Girl On the Prairie Tuesday and Wednesday, 8pm. Drama. Children''s Repertory Theater founder and director Marcia Gambrell Hovick appears in a tender one-woman play based on the life of Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Indoor Forest Theater, Mt. View and Santa Rita streets, Carmel. $12/General; $10/Children. 624-1531. Through: 10/17.
Alice In Wonderland Previews Tuesday & Wednesday, 7pm. Comedy/Fantasy. The MPC Theater Company presents The Portable Theater''s Alice in Wonderland, based on Lewis Carroll''s classic children''s novel and inspired by the 1970 Manhattan Project adaptation. Audience members, particularly children with parents, are encouraged to sit on stage. Free Tuesday, $3/Wednesday. Show opens Thursday 10/7. MPC''s Morgan Stock Theater, 980 Fremont St., Monterey. 646-4213. Through: 10/24.
And Now Miguel Friday and Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Musical. Based on the award-winning children''s book by Joseph Krumgold, and inspired by a real-life Miguel, this musical tells the story of two Mexican-American sheep-farming families near Taos, New Mexico. This production is the world premiere of the play written in 1996 by Will Gravemen. The Western Stage Main Stage, Hartnell College, 156 Homestead Ave., Salinas. $20/General; $10/Children; $18/Seniors. 755-6816/375-2111. Through: 10/17.
Carmel Performing Arts Festival Three weekends of music, dance, theater and other performance in various venues around Carmel (see article p.40). Call 624-7675 for tickets and information, or visit www.carmelfest.org. Through: 10/17.
King Lear Previews Friday, 8pm; Opens Saturday, continues Sunday, 8pm. Drama. Often called Shakespeare''s greatest tragedy, Lear is a brutal story of family jealousy, children who turn against their father, men who betray their friends for power and money--basically, a timeless tale of human nature as appropriate to today''s world as the ancient world in which the play is set. Michael Jacobs stars as the beleaguered monarch. Saturday ticket prices: $20/general, $12/seniors, students and military. Friday and Sunday: $9/general, $5/seniors, students and military. Outdoor Forest Theater, Mt. View at Santa Rita streets, Carmel. 622-0100. Through: 10/17.
Continuing On Stage
Christopher Robin and We Saturday 2pm and 4pm, Sunday 1pm and 3pm. Children. A collection of poems by A.A. Milne, adapted by Unicorn Theater founder Carey Crockett and put on especially for children by the Family Fantasy Theater troupe. Hoffman Playhouse, 320 Hoffman St., Monterey. $5/General. 649-0259. Through: 10/17.
Fortinbras Saturday, 2pm; Tuesday and Wednesday, 7:30pm. Comedic Drama. It''s best if you know Hamlet, but even if you don''t, the strong writing (by Lee Blessing), wonderful staging and uniformly excellent performances of this clever take-off of the original Shakespeare tragedy will have you in stitches. John Farmanesh-Bocca is a delight as Fortinbras, the central figure in a "what-if" comedy that pokes fun mercilessly at the tale of the Depressed Dane. $18/General, $10/Students & seniors. Circle Theater at the Golden Bough, Monteverde Street at 8th Avenue, Carmel. 622-0100. Through: 10/16.
The Front Page Friday and Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Reviewed in this issue. The Studio Theater at Western Stage, Hartnell College, 156 Homestead Ave., Salinas. $15/General; $10/Children; $13/Seniors. 755-6816. Through: 10/16.
Merry Wives of Windsor Friday-Sunday, 7:30pm. Comedy. The hard-drinking, womanizing Falstaff is back, trying to woo two local matrons to his bed--but they have other ideas, in this rollicking Shakespeare comedy, brought to life by the Pacific Repertory Company. Saturday prices: $20/General, $12/Students & seniors; other days: $18/General, $10/Students & seniors. Golden Bough Theater, Monteverde Street at 8th Avenue, Carmel. 622-0100. Through: 10/17.
Mizlansky/Zilinsky or "Schmucks" Friday and Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 5pm. Comedy. Set in L.A. at the height of the ''80s-greed decade, this outrageous comedy stars Mark Shilstone-Laurent as Davis Mizlansky, a B-movie producer whose latest project is producing cheesy Bible tapes as a tax shelter scam. He tries to suck his ex-partner Sam Zilinsky (Jerry Gill) into the deal. Together, they push the edge of the morality envelope. Carl Cherry Center for the Arts, Guadalupe Street and 4th Avenue, Carmel. $14/General; $12/Seniors. 646-9478. Through: 10/3.
The Road to Frisco Friday & Saturday, 8pm. Melodrama. This 19th-century melodrama set in the Old West follows the tale of a purloined map of the Golden Dream mine, which is lifted from its rightful owner, our young heroine. The show, performed in California''s oldest continuously operating theater, is followed by the traditional olio revue. California''s First Theatre, Scott and Pacific streets, Monterey. $10/General; $5/Children; $8/Seniors. 375-4916. Through: 10/2.