Theatre for Young America gets a mild buzz on.

Go Ask Alice 

Theatre for Young America gets a mild buzz on.

Whatever Lewis Carroll was smoking when he created Alice in Wonderland, its by-products include a Mad Hatter, a March Hare and a Cheshire Cat who vaporizes himself into just a grin. Theatre for Young America's production -- of a David Mackey adaptation with a Cheryl Benge score -- delivers some of the lunacy resulting from Alice's spiral down a rabbit hole. Yet it's too caught up in trying to get all the players in rotation, and doesn't have enough energy left over for a really good trip.

That famous spiral, for example, begs for a wild light show or a lot of choreography, but we get a dinky playground slide and a disco ball. When Alice finally lands, though, director Valerie Mackey pops all the characters on stage at once for a colorful opening number. From there, the succeeding chapters unfold rather religiously -- some inventively, others predictably.

The encounter with the caterpillar is played minus the haze from the hookah, but it's creatively rendered by four actors who echo each other's lines. At the tea party, the Mad Hatter (Taylor Bennett plays him as a self-deprecating wisecracker) delights in crazy seating arrangements and word puzzles. The croquet game masterminded by the Queen and King of Hearts (Sheryl Bryant and Chris Clegg) is the best bit of theatrical devilry -- the mallets are pink flamingoes on sticks, and actors play the balls and wickets.

Without vast knowledge of the original text, it's hard to understand what lesson the Mock Turtle (Parry Luellen) was meant to impart; here, he's a bit of a windbag. But the climactic courtroom scene to determine who stole the tarts is witty and flavorful, especially when expert testimony is delivered from a swing in the rafters.

In the final number, all seventeen voices declare in unison that life is "but a dream" -- effectively erasing varying dramatic skills of the cast. Up to that point, though, the differing levels of onstage experience prove distracting; several of the young performers (presumably from TYA's acting classes) laugh at their own antics and look into the audience an awful lot. It seems they forgot one acting tip: If you're too taken with your own performance, the audience won't be.



Simon says: Even the slightest Neil Simon plays offer a few chuckles, and Rumors is one of Simon's slightest. A mystery without any measurable tension, it's never frenetic enough to fully ignite into full farce. Even with an impressive set and good work by some of the cast in this production by the Bell Road Barn Players in Parkville, Rumors is an apparition of a play -- it may be there, but you can't say for certain.

It's set on the night of an anniversary party for Charlie and Myra, a couple we never meet. Myra is missing in action -- the first in a series of rumors alleges she's having an affair -- and Charlie has taken a bullet through his ear lobe. The first couple on stage, Chris and Ken Gorman (Joyce Halford and Bill Case), has the task of covering up the problem for the next couple to arrive, Claire and Lenny Ganz (Kathy Kane and Bob Hart). They do the same for the next couple, who repeat the process for the last couple.

Those added to the mix are Cookie (Deborah Hodge) and Ernie Cusack (played at this performance by the show's director, Doug Ford, filling in for an ailing actor), and Cassie and Glen Cooper (Tina Anderman and Max C. DeShon). The party guests quip and quibble for two hours, showing how they're pretentious and shallow and have all grown too comfortable with domestic help. The last scene introduces a pair of police officers (David Meacham and Lathem Scott) who arrive to investigate the Ganz's earlier car wreck and then, only because of a slip of the tongue, Charlie's shooting.

Halford, Hart and Meacham stamp their characters with genuine personality but the rest of the cast (excusing Ford's game, last-minute performance) seems awfully tentative. But it's really Simon's rusty script that should bear the blame. He beats gags to death, such as the bit about a character's temporary deafness, and writes a couple of regrettable scenes related to the fact that the ladies' names all start with C and the guys' names sound alike -- though if you say aloud Ken, Len, Glen and Ernie, they don't, of course. These boners stick out too far to forgive, and the surrounding jokes aren't good enough to make you forget.

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