by INLANDER STAFF & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ur arts editor and theater critic, Michael Bowen, has been suggesting for years that The Inlander someday publish a "role reversal issue" in which all of us writers -- just for one week -- take on subjects and genres and issues that are the opposite of what we usually cover. So our indie- and hip-hop-obsessed music editor, Luke Baumgarten, would write about a visual arts gala, and our food critic, Ann Colford, would take in a monster truck rally. While some of us have occasionally bristled at his seeming perception that we're all monomaniacal specialists ignorant to the world outside our areas of expertise, it's been an interesting notion to consider.
This week, he's getting a taste of his own medicine, as Spokane's presiding theater critic becomes the subject, and the rest of us are the Statlers and Waldorfs (think Muppet Show) crowing from the balcony. Over the weekend, Bowen and local actor and Gonzaga theater professor Brian Russo gave four performances of Edward Albee's classic play The Zoo Story -- about two men's chance encounter in New York's Central Park -- at Empyrean Coffeehouse. Four of our writers attended the shows -- to support our colleague, surely, but also to see if the renowned critic could himself take the heat.
-- JOEL SMITH
JOEL SMITH, Staff Writer
It's been years since I've acted, true, but I still recognize a plum role when I see one. Bowen's Peter has about eight lines in the whole play, and until the end, when his uptight middle-class twit begins to unravel, they're mostly reactions to Brian Russo's Jerry, the roving, raving loudmouth who talks circles around him in the park. (Russo is brilliant in this role.) Bowen doesn't even stand up until the last 10 minutes of the show. Given that this is also his first performance in six years, it's safe to say that Bowen may be the laziest man in Spokane show biz. For this, we applaud him. (Now could he please grow that mustache back?)
ANN COLFORD, Associate Editor
When I first heard that Bowen was playing the role of Peter -- a polite intellectual milquetoast -- I assumed it was typecasting. But, like Joel, I didn't realize just how few lines Peter has in the play. Which is where Bowen's theatrical genius emerged. I mean, anybody who knows him can tell you: There's no way he could go 45 minutes without telling somebody his opinion about something -- anything -- unless it was damn good acting. The anguish that Peter expresses at the end? That cry like a wounded animal? Everybody thinks that's the hard part, yet I've heard those sounds emanating from his office before. The silence, though -- that was eerie.
LUKE BAUMGARTEN, Music Editor
Michael Bowen is not a man of temperate emotion. On any given week (especially as deadlines loom) I hear passing through the thin door separating our offices anything from deepest despair to cackling laughter to towering anger. I hear it all. It wasn't entirely surprising then, when Bowen's portrayal of Peter -- a slight, effeminate man of tiny passions -- seemed showy. He oversold Peter's shrinking middle-class queasiness time and time again. Once Peter gets pissed, though -- when he goes half mad, laughing and screaming and shouting for help -- Bowen nailed it, imbuing Peter with as much reality as anything I've seen onstage. Then, when his character does the unthinkable, murdering a man, I saw in his portrayal of Peter what I see in Bo himself all too often. Guilt-ridden bloodlust.
JACOB FRIES, News Editor
For a solid 10 minutes -- during one of Russo's many monologues -- I thought Bowen had died right there on stage. He didn't blink. His body was frozen in place. Sure, the guy's older than God, but might he really have suffered a stroke? Or was this all part of the drama? Had his character actually suffered the stroke? It was all so confusing for a theater neophyte like myself. Then he spoke and blinked and moved his head. No, everything was OK. He was acting -- and maybe taking a little bit of a breather. He'd need to conserve his energy for the big finale, when he inadvertently kills Jerry, sobs in his hands and runs off stage screaming, "Oh, my God!" Now that's good drama.
The Critic's Retort
MICHAEL BOWEN, Arts and Culture Editor
You bastards have no idea how hard it is to do what I do!