by Michael Bowen
Spokane's theaters offer shows in categories just like those at the nearest Blockbuster: romantic comedy, drama, classics, musicals, based-on-real-life works, satiric comedy, kids' shows, holiday shows and more. Instead of curling up on the couch with the remote control this fall, consider getting out sometime and going to the theater. Going to a play is a lot like watching a video, except that you're in a really, really large living room with a whole lot of other people. Besides, at a play, the picture quality is so good, you'll swear the actors are real.
The season begins with a satiric comedy, The Complete History of America (abridged) (playing through Sept. 28; see review on p. 17). While Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor's spoof topples all kinds of American statues, it also touches upon the violence and injustice in the American story. But don't assume it's a show just for bleeding-heart liberals. Artistic Director Robin Stanton reports that "my father is a right-wing conservative, and my mother is an independent married to a right-wing conservative, which speaks for itself, and they were here for the first preview, and they adored this show."
The second offering is God's Man in Texas (opening Oct. 17), about a minister auditioning for the role of chief pastor of the largest Baptist church in Houston. Is Stanton, who's directing, drawing on her Texas background? "We'd do this play even if it were God's Man in Maine," she declares. And she's serious about marketing this play to local churches: "The play is also important for people who are examining their own faith. I want people to understand, this is not a play about the religious right, or about Jerry Falwell or Dr. Graham. It's about placing a man of faith in a position of temptation."
Next at Interplayers this fall (Nov. 21) is Fully Committed, a comedy about a reservations clerk at a chi-chi Manhattan restaurant. As she fends off more than 40 callers, the clerk learns a bit about self-assertion.
In the spring, the Ensemble will present Cobb, Lee Blessing's theatricalized biography about the baseball legend's awful competitiveness and worse racism. After so many male-oriented shows, Stanton gets her feminist fix with Anton in Show Business, Jane Martin's piece for seven actresses. It's about self-realizations among the cast members of a Texas production of Chekhov's Three Sisters.
The other show that Stanton will direct -- the one she singles out this season as "the most perfect match of a very talented cast with a script of high literary quality that will challenge the attitudes of the community" -- is Lillian Hellman's examination of what happens when motiveless malignity confronts the idealism of a Nazi hunter in Watch on the Rhine.
To conclude its 22nd season next May, Interplayers presents its first-ever musical, Always... Patsy Cline. Associate Artistic Director Michael Weaver admits that the Howard Street theater's extreme-thrust platform "is not a good stage for musicals like The King and I, but it is a good space for cabaret-style, smaller, more intimate musicals like this one." Kittra Coomer plays Patsy.
The Best of Broadway series at the Opera House ranges from anger to comedy, from traditional to funky, from child-like wonder to jaded cynicism. First up is Cinderella (Oct. 3-6), which Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote directly for a Julie Andrews production on CBS-TV in 1957. Is it idealized? Well, recall that earlier versions of this age-old tale involve the cutting off of toes and heels (gotta make those glass slippers fit) and birds pecking out the eyes of a particularly nasty set of stepsisters.
On some enchanted evening in the South Pacific (Nov. 7-10), somewhere near Bali Hai, those gals will be washing those men right out of their hair. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote this one, too, and it's full of lovely tunes, though playgoers tend to forget that it won the Pulitzer Prize because the lyrics of "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" decry the staying power of some people's racial prejudice.
In February, Savion Glover himself is coming to Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk to what will be this snowbound and less-than-funky town. Hip-hop and urban percussion give way to more traditional Swing! dance from March 6-9, when the bugle boys will do the boogie-woogie and the crowd will be stompin' at the Savoy.
Earlier, however, Best of Broadway has added two bonus shows. Just after South Pacific closes, for one night only (Nov. 11), the Capitol Steps swing into town to take some indiscriminate swipes at political animals of all stripes. P.J. O'Rourke says that these five musical-political satirists are what the Washington on the other coast would be like "if everyone were smarter and could sing." The final show of 2002 hereabouts (Dec. 19-22) will be the 1996 Pulitzer Prize winner, Jonathan Larsen's Rent, a tragic love story based on Puccini's La Boheme, but with Greenwich Village standing in for the Latin Quarter of Paris and HIV-AIDS taking over from tuberculosis as the scourge of those who struggle to pay their monthly bills.
At Spokane Civic Theatre, the Main Stage season features seven plays. In Inherit the Wind (playing Sept. 27-Oct. 19), based on the 1922 Scopes "monkey trial," it's William Jennings Bryan vs. Clarence Darrow, Biblical literalist vs. skeptical atheist, with both sides able to claim a kind of victory in the end. Kim Berg and Robert Wamsley face off as the courtroom titans. On Oct. 8, for one night only, a special reading of Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy will take place. Director Jack Phillips intends the story of Jewish men being detained by Nazis in Vichy France as a commentary on racial profiling in our society today, among other things. A panel discussion will follow the reading.
For A Child's Christmas in Wales (Nov. 22-Dec. 21), Dylan Thomas' reverie about his childhood, Phillips has incorporated techniques he learned alongside Julie Taymor, the magician behind the sets, costumes and props in The Lion King on Broadway. Memories that are sharp, dim or fantasized will be represented by three kinds of puppets: bunraku, shadow and mirror.
Epic Proportions (Jan. 10-Feb. 1) is a comedy that represents one of those Cecil B. DeMille desert extravaganzas -- not with a cast of thousands, but with a cast of seven. February brings the longed-for return of the Little Sisters of Hoboken in Nunsense, the wacky musical about five nuns trying to raise enough money to bury the four deceased sisters they're temporarily keeping in the meat freezer. Jean Hardie will reprise her role as Mother Superior.
In April, five sisters try to escape loneliness in Brian Friel's memory play, Dancing at Lughnasa. While the play is set in 1936 in rural Donegal, the action is retold from by one of their nephews, an illegitimate child, now grown into adulthood. Next May and June, Lola will get whatever she wants and the Washington Senators will finally win the pennant in Damn Yankees. Too bad Senators fan Joe Boyd has to sell his soul to the Devil for his heroes to succeed.
Firth Chew Studio Theater
The only offering this fall in the Civic's Studio Theater will be Pearl Cleage's Flyin' High, about pioneer women in the 1890s who took advantage of the Homestead Act to settle a particular township in Kansas -- every one of them African-American, most of them former slaves.
In the rest of the Studio season, The Laramie Project debuts in January. It's a docudrama about the experiences of several New York actors visiting Wyoming in the aftermath of a brutal murder. In Spinning into Butter, set at an elite liberal arts college much like Middlebury, the dean, a white woman, is forced into some self-examination when hate messages are scrawled on the door of a freshman who's an African-American. Rebecca Gilman's play opens next Feb. 28, and it contains the best discussion of race relations in America -- white guilt, black self-hatred, mutual misunderstanding -- that you're likely to witness in contemporary theater.
In May, the Studio season concludes with Lives of the Saints by David Ives, an evening of five one-acts by a master of bizarre comedy. A Stone Age farce, a murder mystery spoof and lots of wordplay about doubled doppelgangers are only part of what Ives serves up.
The Civic's fourth annual slate of Reading Stage plays focuses on conflicts within families. Take Her, She's Mine (Oct. 13) "is the prototypical campus comedy, told from the perspective of the parents," according to Civic Marketing Director Marilyn Langbehn. In Three Tall Women (Nov. 10), Edward Albee's dissection of his adoptive mother, the women argue among themselves because they're emotionally so close. Waiting in the Wings (Dec. 8) is a Noel Coward comedy about petty jealousies in a retirement hotel for ex-theatrical divas.
In King Lear (Jan. 12), the old man learns how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have daughters with names, Goneril and Regan, that sound like sexually transmitted diseases. Cloud Nine, to be performed on Feb. 9, is a Victorian gender-bender of a satire that twists time, ethnicity and sexuality: in the second act, old white men come back as young black women. In Herb Gardner's I'm Not Rappaport (March 9), Nat, who's white, and Midge, who's black, both in their 80s, resist any and all attempts at putting them out to pasture. In Kindertransport (April 13), we witness the life of a woman named Eva, raised in Britain, but only because in 1938 she was secretly put on a train and evacuated from Nazi Germany.
The 2002-03 Reading Stage concludes with Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery (May 11), about a family's concern for its aging matriarch, whose dilapidated art gallery is about to get replaced by a yuppie coffee bar.
Lake City Playhouse
Over in Coeur d'Alene, the community theater, the Lake City Playhouse, has already opened its season with The Fantasticks (see review, p. 19). October will bring Oscar Wilde's exquisite comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest.
The November show is Radio Gals, a musical which features Hazel and the Hazelnuts taking over a 100-watt Arkansas radio station so they can sing some novelty songs and share some homey chat over the airwaves -- until the government inspector shows up, that is. Most of the cast from last season's Smoke on the Mountain and A Sanders Family Christmas will return for all the shenanigans.
And speaking of Christmas shows, Lake City will deliver The Best Christmas Pageant Ever just before the holidays -- even if the Herdman kids in Barbara Robinson's play are doing everything they can to rain on the pageant's parade. And this just in: Lake City has also instituted a nine-month reader's theater series, set to begin on Sept. 15 with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams.
Another Christmas-themed show is The Little Drummer Boy (Dec. 20-21 at the Met), an original musical by Matthew Harget, revived by the Spokane Theatrical Group from its premiere a year ago, with Tom Heppler as the Narrator and Melody Deatherage and David Geigler as the drummer boy's parents. Troy Nickerson will choreograph and direct.
In theater for kids, Spokane Children's Theater is up first this fall (Oct. 5-20) with Aladdin. The approach won't be like Disney's, says director Kim Roberts: "People don't realize that while the frame story is the 1,001 Arabian Nights, the actual story is set in ancient China." That's why Roberts has wangled a 75-foot Chinese dragon, authentic Chinese spinning scarves and fans, and even a genuine gong. Stage assistants, dressed all in black with silk and masks and ribbons, will mimic some of the conventions of Asian theater. The second offering from SCT, Honk! (Nov. 28-Dec. 6), a musical version of guess which Hans Christian Andersen tale, will be directed by Kathie Doyle-Lipe (see story, p. 33).
Christian Youth Theater-Central will present The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien's prelude to The Lord of the Rings, from Oct. 17-20 in a special venue for them, the Met. CYT-North chips in with Snow White from Oct. 25-Nov. 3 at a space that's yet to be announced.
Christian theater for adults continues to be offered by a second-year troupe, Cornerstone Theater, with Uhden Hall at Fourth Memorial Church as their home base. From Nov. 8-17, they'll be performing Godspell, a musical that uses mimes, clowns, acrobats and dancers to retell the Gospel According to Matthew.
Farce and melodrama seem to play well in the provinces, so to speak, as Bedside Manor will be presented this month (Sept. 20-29) at the Old Orchard Playhouse out on Green Bluff. At the CREATE Place in Newport, there'll be No Opera at the Op'ry House Tonight from Nov. 9-24.
If you like comic monologues in plays, you'll love the standup comedy at the Brickwall Comedy Club across from the Arena. Amateur comedy competition continues on Thursday nights through September, while professional jokesters take over on Fridays through Sundays, with an open mike available on Sundays.
The two improv troupes in town are pursuing different crowds. The Blue Door Theater improvisers will be presenting mature audiences with some seriously funny themed shows -- but not at the Blue Door. This fall, on Fridays and Saturdays, they'll be doing late-night post-play shows on the Interplayers stage. Meanwhile, over at the Magic Lantern Theater on Post, ComedySportz offers a distinct comedy experience. It's G-rated, competitive improv, with two teams creating skits, racking up points, and putting bags over the heads of anyone who says anything even remotely off-color.
As for college theater, the hills will be alive over at Whitworth, with The Sound of Music resounding from Oct. 10-19. Idaho theater professor Robert Caisley directs his own play, Front, at the Hartung Theater on the UI campus (Oct. 16-20).
Something about Halloween creepiness must bring out the giggles, because three farces will run almost simultaneously at local colleges. From Oct. 25-Nov. 3, Gonzaga's Russell Theater offers See How They Run, a door-slamming British farce set in 1946, complete with constables and vicars, aristocratic ladies and phony disguises. The doors will slam but the nationality will change in Georges Feydeau's French farce, A Flea in her Ear, at WSU (Nov. 7-16). Around the same time (Oct. 31-Nov. 9), North Idaho College will offer yet another farce, Tom Stoppard's On the Razzle (about country mice going off to play when the cat's away in the big city, only upon arrival to run into the cat, along with his mistress).
Eastern's theater department will explore (Nov. 8-16) the borderland between rationality and insanity in Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot, which asks which is the crazier Parisian -- the eccentric who spontaneously sings the praises of nature, or the men who want to destroy the city to get at its natural resources? Diana Son's Stop Kiss, playing at UI in the Kiva Theater (Nov. 13-17), is structured so that the preamble and aftermath of a vicious gay-bashing incident converge. (Stop Kiss must be popular: It was produced earlier this year in the Studio Theater at the Civic, and now an independent group will be using the facilities at NIC for an Oct. 2-4 production of the same play.)
Over at SFCC, Director Bill Marlowe plans a cowboy Merry Wives of Windsor (Nov. 14-23), with Falstaff in furry chaps and spurs. The last local college show before year's end is a production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, or the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, set to run from Dec. 4-7 at EWU.
That concludes our menu of local theatrical fare. So get up off your couch and break the video habit, because we offer a wide selection at great prices -- all playing at a theater near you.