Spot's Light on Local Stage

by Michael Bowen

Got stood up at the mailbox: At one time, didn't the daily newspaper invite others to help celebrate the accomplishments of local theater people?

Back in the day, there was some legitimacy in calling ourselves the Spokane Theater Critics' Circle. Then we became the Spokane Theater Critics' Line Segment. Now, apparently, I'm just a dot. I'm Spot, the Spokane theater critic Whose Newspaper's Name Shall Not Be Spoken (at least by Jim Kershner's bosses).

Actors are supposedly empathetic and caring people, but there was a whole lot of goin' along not to get along in the Spokane theatrical community this past year: Jack Phillips got fired, and that was only the tip of the Civic's iceberg of turmoil; Interplayers and ARt agreed to disagree and go their separate ways; CenterStage is being hassled by its landlords; even Lake City Playhouse has a new artistic director.

After all this tumult, can't we at least agree that talented people in our area who work for next to nothing (and often, literally nothing) deserve as much recognition as we can muster? Sure, theater reviewers differ on occasion, but the end of the season, in June, was a good time to come together and celebrate the best of local theater. Now we're no longer doing even that.

It was always just one guy's opinion anyway. Still, a single opinion is mere subjectivity; two opinions could be the start of a consensus.

Allow me to be subjective.

Spot's Picks for the Best in local Theater, 2003-04

Best Scenic Design -- John Hofland, The Turn of the Screw and The Underpants, Spokane Interplayers Ensemble -- A Victorian mansion complete with an eerie boat landing; an off-kilter German apartment to complement the odd perspective of a door-slamming farce.

Noteworthy: Dean Bourland, Stones in His Pockets, Interplayers

Best Choreography -- Gary John LaRose, Fiddler on the Roof, Coeur d'Alene Summer Theater -- Authentic movements helped create a sense of community among the Russian Jews of Anatevka.

Best Costumes -- Susan Berger and Lisa Caryl, Gypsy, Civic Main Stage -- From sailor boys to strippers, from matrons to starlets, the look supported the message of this vast musical fable.

Noteworthy: Judith McGiveney, Fiddler on the Roof, CdA Summer Theater

Best Ensemble -- The Underpants, Interplayers -- Caryn Hoaglund, David Seitz, Kathie Doyle-Lipe, Sean Cook, Damon Abdallah, Ed Cornachio, David Partovi: Constant Delight.

Noteworthy: Music From a Sparkling Planet, Interplayers; Over the River and Through the Woods, Civic Main Stage; Stones in His Pockets, Interplayers

Best Actor, Local Musical -- Reed McColm as Herbie, Gypsy, Civic Main Stage, and in multiple roles in I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, CenterStage

This man is an acting (and singing) clinc.

Noteworthy: Frank Jewett as Amos Hart, Chicago, Coeur d'Alene Summer Theater; William Rhodes as Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof

Best Actress, Local Musical -- Danae Lowman as Louise, Gypsy, Civic Main Stage -- Singing and tapping forlornly in "Little Lamb" and "All I Need Is the Girl," emerging as a shining Gypsy moth at the end, Lowman anchored a show that was - and wasn't - centered upon her character.

Noteworthy: Jana Tyrrell as Woman #2, Side by Side by Sondheim, Interplayers; Patty Duke as Mama Rose, Gypsy, Civic Main Stage; Taryn Darr as Roxie Hart, Chicago, CdA Summer Theater; Jan Neumann as Agnes, I Do! I Do!, Civic Main Stage

Best Actress -- Annie Lareau as Tamara Tomorrow, Music From a Sparkling Planet, Interplayers -- Silvery space goddess, grouchy old broad in a bathrobe: Lareau showed us the facets of Tomorrow's despair and hopefulness.

Noteworthy: Caryn Hoaglund as Louise, The Underpants, Interplayers

Best Actor -- Sean Cook as Versati, The Underpants, Interplayers -- Not a lead performer, just a featured actor - but no single performer captured the eye as much as Cook's flamboyant poet.

Noteworthy: Michael Weaver and Craig Dingle (in multiple roles), Stones in His Pockets, Interplayers

Best Director -- Braden Abraham, The Underpants, Interplayers -- Exquisite timing, verbal dexterity, playing ridiculous situations with solemnity: Abraham demanded - and got - the prerequisites for intelligent, outstanding farce.

Best Director, Musical -- Gary John LaRose, Fiddler on the Roof, CdA Summer Theater -- From the bottle dance to the prayer shawls to the way Tevye said goodbye to Hodel, LaRose brought the authenticity born of his involvement in multiple Fiddler shows.

Noteworthy: Marilyn Langbehn, Gypsy, Civic Main Stage

Best Local Musical -- Chicago, Coeur d'Alene Summer Theater -- Director Roger A. Welch assembled wonderful acting and dancing into a glitzy assertion: Too many of us would rather be famous than morally right.

Noteworthy: Gypsy, Civic Main Stage; Fiddler on the Roof, CdA Summer Theater

Best Touring Musical -- Jesus Christ Superstar, Opera House -- Not coincidentally, the only Equity show among the six roadshows that made Opera House stops last season.

Despite the alleged anti-Jewish bias in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the blatant anti-Semitism in this JCS (with its comic-book Sanhedrin) went unremarked. But the updating and the vocal performances made this a Passion play with real impact.

Best Play -- The Underpants, Interplayers -- Steve Martin's script offers a wild but uncrazy experience: play around all you want in the silly and sexual senses but you still have to play within the rules.

Noteworthy: Music From a Sparkling Planet, Interplayers; Stones in His Pockets, Interplayers

Biggest Challenge Discontent at the Civic -- Now that the board has chosen to divide and conquer by firing Jack Phillips, can it win back the confidence of actors, backstage personnel and volunteers who have been compelled to play a cautious will-I-be-one-of-the-chosen-few waiting game? The middle name of SCT might just as well have been Community. The Civic needs to welcome everyone in the community; it needs to be civil to the people who are its foundation.

Best Development New Artistic Leadership -- Four local theaters feature new artistic directors for next season: Michael Weaver at the new Actors Repertory Theater of the Inland Northwest, Nike Imoru at Interplayers, Tracey Benson at Lake City Playhouse and a person to be named at the Civic. They're charged with changing the grumbling into congratulations. They can do it.

Publication date: 07/01/04