Some All About Eve cast members could pass for alumni of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts.

Star Turns 

Some All About Eve cast members could pass for alumni of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts.

As the kickoff of a proposed "Hollywood on Stage" series at the Alanz Theatre, where scripts reportedly are downloaded from the Internet, All About Eve gives new meaning to the phrase "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." It is wobbly as parody because it's not very funny. And its liberties with the story (a dropped scene here, an added bit there) keep it from being an homage. Better to call the show an experiment that reveals nothing new about the source materials.

The unparalleled Joseph Mankiewicz script for one of the few perfect movies ever made is repeated here by a few actors who clearly get it and others who seem to have learned their lines phonetically; motivation is sketchy and comprehension dubious. In the famous party scene, for example, where Miss Caswell is disingenuously referred to as an alumna of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts, there's a sense that not everyone on stage understands what "dramatic arts" means, much less the use of "Copacabana" as a slanderous adjective.

The play begins lazily with a nearly ten-minute audio recording of the movie's opening scene; we hear not Shawn Smith, the actor who plays Addison DeWitt in the play, but the film's Oscar-winning George Sanders. And then on to Celeste Holm's narration of the film to begin the second scene, rather than that of Michelle Atkinson, who plays Karen Richards in the Alanz production. The fear that the entire film's dialogue track would be played to mute actors became, in a couple of cases, a desperate wish when the Alanz Theatre company finally took over.

In this venomous tale of theater people at their worst, Mark Alan plays Margo Channing, the glamorous Broadway star who has just turned 40 and sees her pedestal begin to crumble around her, thanks in large part to the scheming Eve Harrington (Michelle Cotton). Margo's coterie of loyal friends -- playwright Lloyd Richards (Darren Karr) and his wife, Karen (Atkinson); her director and lover, Bill Sampson (John Eric Campbell); her maid, Birdie (David John McMichael Biritz); and her dyspeptic producer, Max Fabian (Nita Norris) -- does everything possible to hold up the star's sagging ego. But Eve's will is too strong and her talons too sharp. When her blushing flower transforms into a Venus flytrap, only columnist DeWitt (Smith) wields the proper pruning shears to keep her in check.

Alan captures shades of Bette Davis' Margo at her most vulnerable, yet these touches become all too sporadic -- rather like cloves stuck in a glazed ham. Cotton exhibits admirable conviction as Eve; she starts as a sticky-sweet cipher, making her turn and eventual comeuppance all the more delicious. Campbell and Atkinson have their moments (Atkinson and Cotton's scene in the ladies' room is the best of the evening), but Smith, Norris, Karr and Biritz are wooden to the point of appearing sedated. Smith's mumbled lines (including the great quip to Margo "You're maudlin and full of self-pity. You're magnificent!") are particularly ruinous to the show's momentum.

No names are credited for sets, lighting, sound or costumes -- or, rather, lack of costumes. Absent from the party scene is any semblance of Davis' iconic off-the-shoulder dress, and the scene is inexplicably played with Margo in a bathrobe. The light cues can be summed up with "on" and "off," leaving large chunks of dead air amid the flying zingers. Missed opportunities like this abound in All About Eve, leaving it the theatrical equivalent of Elian Gonzalez -- a pitiable thing lost at sea.


Cupit's arrow: Watching Jon Piggy Cupit nail so many targets in a recent abridged version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Unicorn Theatre, one wishes he'd been given the chance to do the whole show. Cupit was enlisted as star Rick Hammerly's understudy but, in the never-miss-a-performance vein of Lauren Bacall, Hammerly did every show and Cupit was left with his homework done but no one to read it. So Unicorn artistic director Cynthia Levin and the supporting cast agreed to do something unprecedented: honor Cupit's hard work and stage a condensed, fifty-minute Hedwig with him in the role. On the afternoon of December 30, an audience of about 35, which included most of Cupit's Late Night Theatre cronies and such actors as Scott Cordes and Jennifer Mays, gave Cupit a deserved standing ovation for a performance that played like the Reader's Digest Hedwig. The whole effort provokes a possibility for budget-minded theater consumers: Get the theaters to charge half-price for a performance with the always prepared but seldom tested understudies in the spotlight.

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