This is the worst Interplayers show in nearly 20
years. Pandering is no way to rescue a theater
some actors showed up at a cowboy bar and started enacting dramatic scenes from
Tennessee Williams? They’d get shoved out into the parking lot.
Why then are
theater managers allowing balloon-breasted Dolly Parton caricatures and
hot-pantsed farm girls in pigtails to croon pickup-truck music inside a
You want some Patsy-Tammy-Loretta-Dolly melodies, one after another,
with rote patter and corny choreography interjected? Fine. They have casino
ballrooms for that.
People go to the theater to be exposed to new sensations
and ideas, not to be talked down to as if they were a bunch of mindless,
Honky Tonk Angels, a musical revue seldom
produced (for good reason), is at its most depressing when the audience feels
the need to clap along feebly to the pre-recorded, drum-machine beat of “Delta
Dawn” while a trio of low-rent angels (white satin dresses, silver belts) act as
cheerleaders, their eyes pleading with their onlookers.
By the end of that
“Delta” song, I didn’t care what goddamn flower she had on — and as for “Ode to
Billie Joe,” I wish Billie Joe McAllister would hurry up, jump off the
Tallahatchie Bridge and take this show and its “playwright” with him.
Honky Tonk Angels — bravely performed by
a trio of women with pasted-on smiles — has its moments of harmonized
prettiness. But it’s a floor show, not a musical.
At the outset, unfortunately,
Jennifer Jacobs is required to stroll out and start jabbering about her fellow
actresses (instead of doing exposition and actually interacting with them). The
effect is like one of Disney’s animatronic World of Tomorrow exhibits, and just
about as realistic and engaging. Soon they’re threatening us with a
Jacobs has the trio’s loveliest singing voice and a gift for
engaging front-row onlookers while riffing on “playwright” Ted Swindley’s
predictable patter. Marina Kalani gamely tries to inject some hubba-hubba
excitement into a mostly anemic “9 to 5.” As the farm girl, however, Emily
Cleveland’s throatier delivery didn’t project as well. But there was some lovely
three-part harmony at the end of “Paradise Road,” and “I Will Always Love You”
was a stirring highlight.
And while the singers were hampered by piped-in
music — there are no live musicians here — the evening prompted a lot of “Five
down, 26 musical numbers to go” thinking. Because characterization is not Mr.
Ted Swindley’s strong suit. At least his Always… Patsy Cline (performed at Interplayers
in 2003) had the benefit of the developing singer-fan friendship and Cline’s
tragic story arc. Unfortunately, as subtitle for this show, apparently he chose
“Two and a Half Hours of One Damn Thing After Another.”
No, I’m not a country fan.
But as my review of the Jeff Bridges movie Crazy Heart
(page 39 of the Feb. 11 Inlander) demonstrates, I like it
fine when it’s sung to express genuine dilemmas and accompanied by credible
behavior that doesn’t talk down to its listeners.
The purpose of selling out
like this — of doing a show for people who don’t really like theater — was to
rake in the bucks so that Interplayers can live to fight another day. And maybe
the theater will sell a few more tickets to country fans who aren’t regular
But later this season, will those country fans return to the
likes of Eleemosynary and Psychopathia Sexualis?
Pandering doesn’t mean
profit. Pandering just drives away your core audience.
The way to make people
come back to Interplayers is to perform intelligent comedies and dramas, not the
high jinks of dreck like this.
And as for ticket sales: The opening-night
house was almost exactly half full.
Artistic director Reed McColm
is working hard to rescue a Spokane cultural institution that people care about,
as the capacity and near-capacity audiences for the recent Love Letters fundraisers indicate. But
his board’s decision to pin their hopes on a Honky Tonk
hit were unfounded.
The conclusion was emotionally manipulative, with the
sadness unearned and the bid for significance unrealized. And then the sound
In my 18 years of going to Interplayers, Honky Tonk Angels is the worst show I’ve seen.
Only one or two others even come close.
So it’s fitting that
Honky Tonk’s bumpkin characters sing “I’ll Fly Away” four
After Feb. 21, thankfully, they will.
Angels continues at Interplayers,
174 S. Howard St., on Wednesdays-Sundays through Feb. 21. Tickets: $15-$21;
$12-$19, seniors. Visit interplayers.com or call 455-PLAY.