by Michael Bowen

Interplayers, the Civic and Lake City Playhouse are all under new management; CenterStage is trying out a new strategy (selling season tickets); over at SFCC, the Actors Rep is just plain new. Time, then, to renew your ticket-buying commitment to local theater. What'll probably turn up is something new.


At the Opera House, Best of Broadway leads off with what could potentially be the season's best show, The Producers (Sept. 21-26; see page 21). When nerdy accountant Leo Bloom mentions to down-on-his-luck impresario Max Bialystock that there might actually be more profit in producing a flop, the pair get busy producing the worst show they can concoct: a musical-comedy spectacular celebrating the carefree life of Adolf Elizabeth Hitler.

That wacky singing political satire group, the Capitol Steps, make a Spokane campaign stop on Oct. 10, right in the middle of all the presidential and vice-presidential debates. But we feel sure they won't have anything irreverent to say about either Kerry or Bush.

It's been 18 years since Les Miserables (Nov. 16-21) had its American premiere; it was running in Paris six years before that. Long before The Exonerated, there was Jean Valjean: Unjustly punished for the crime of stealing bread, he strives to do the right thing in a world gone sadistically wrong.


Interplayers welcomes back Bob and Joan Welch after a three-year absence in Painting Churches (see story), which runs through Sept. 25. Tina Howe's drama, which the Welches starred in 18 years ago at Interplayers, focuses on an elderly couple and their portrait-painting daughter.

On Sept. 26, the day after this season-opening production closes, Interplayers will pay tribute to its husband-and-wife founders by naming the acting space the Bob and Joan Welch Auditorium, with reception at 1 pm and a free open house from 4-6:30 pm. In between, the third member of the Painting Churches cast, Libby Skala, will present her one-woman show Lilia!, a tribute to her grandmother. (Lilia Skala, after being forced to leave behind her stage and film career in Austria, emigrated to America, toiled in thankless jobs for years and then earned a leading actress Oscar nomination for her 1963 performance opposite Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field; the show develops as a dialogue between Lilia and her granddaughter Libby.) The Welches' dedication ceremony will follow the show.

Just in time for Halloween, Interplayers goes back to the well - in this case, a well of gore - with the 1927 British stage version of Bram Stoker's classic tale, Dracula (Oct. 14-Nov. 6). Once Professor Van Helsing has confirmed that poor Lucy Seward has been stricken with a fatal malady that could only have been caused by - gasp! - a vampire, suspicions naturally turn to the neighborhood's mysterious new count with the unusual orthodontia.

While Lake City Playhouse is offering the traditional Dickens version of A Christmas Carol and ARt is reexamining the Scrooge story from his business partner's point of view in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, Interplayers will offer the most heavily adapted version of the tale (first developed at the Seattle Rep in 1992 and now a theatrical Yuletide favorite all over the country, Inspecting Carol (Nov. 18-Dec. 18). A community theater is about to stage its annual Dickens show when an inspector from the National Endowment for the Arts arrives; then Tiny Tim quits the show, another (untalented) actor (assumed by all to be the inspector) steps into the vacant role, the real inspector shows up after all, and the entire production becomes messier than a microwaved fruitcake.


Spokane now has a second professional theater with salaried actors, and it's housed in SFCC's Spartan Theater: Michael Weaver's Actors Repertory Theater of the Inland Northwest, to give it its full name (or ARt for short).

"I made myself platinum, but I was born a dirty blonde" - Mae West's famous line provides the title of ARt's next show, and Claudia Shear's play celebrates a woman who was frankly sexual at a time when openness about anyone's sexuality -- especially a woman's - was frowned upon. Christina Lang - remembered locally for Keely and Du, along with several other Interplayers roles - returns to play the Dirty Blonde from Sept. 24-Oct. 10.

Everybody knows that grumpy old Ebeneezer Scrooge gets transformed in the Dickens version of A Christmas Carol. But what about his business partner, poor old Jacob Marley? At the end, he's still stuck rattling his chains. Playwright Tom Mula thought that wasn't quite fair, so he wrote a play: Turns out the only way Marley can save himself from the torments of Hell is to reform Scrooge. ARt presents all the fun in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol (Nov. 26-Dec. 12).


Over on West First Avenue, in Quilters (through Oct. 16), seven pioneer women stitch together a legacy quilt, musically commemorating significant events in their lives. The 1982 musical has the women riding in wagon trains, fighting fires, building log cabins, and dealing with birth, marriage, old age and death.

A lot of people around town feel pretty sure that, for some time now, Tim Behrens has been hearing voices inside his head. Now those Voices are telling him to put on a one-man show and name it after themselves - only this time, they say, no Pat McManus. Judge Michael Donohue acts as Behrens's writing partner in this venture and presumably has retained power of subpoena. Behrens and his Voices perform their one-man (?) show from Oct. 28-Nov. 20.

Spokane Civic Theatre

In Noises Off (at the Civic Oct. 1-23), a third-rate British acting troupe tries, through all its petty jealousies and sexual dalliances, to put on a door-slamming farce entitled Nothing On. Playwright Michael Frayn's gimmick is to show us, in succession, a rehearsal from a front-of-house perspective, a performance from backstage and then, in the third and final act, yet another performance, but this time from the front of the stage (only to have all the backstage bickering and resentments spill over into public view).

As for Seussical (Nov. 19-Dec. 18), Rosie O'Donnell liked this show so much, she filled in for a month on Broadway as the Cat in the Hat. With the Cat acting as narrator, Horton the Elephant tries to save his friend Jojo and the other inhabitants on Who, "even though everyone else in the Jungle of Nool thinks Horton is the 'Biggest Blame Fool' for believing in people who live on a small speck of dust."

How can black Americans escape the horrible legacy of slavery while still honoring their African-American ancestors? In The Colored Museum (Oct. 22-Nov. 13 in the Studio Theater), playwright George C. Wolfe, in a series of vignette scenes, celebrates and satirizes what blacks can be proud of and what they need to own up to.

Staged readings will continue in the Civic's Studio Theater: Michael Frayn - the author of Noises Off - will also get a downstairs hearing at the Civic in the single performance of Benefactors (a satiric look at Britain's Margaret Thatcher era) on Oct. 10. In Six Degrees of Separation, a young black con artist insinuates himself into the lives of some wealthy white NYC art collectors (Nov. 14); and in the sensual intrigue of 18th-century France, Madame de Merteuil wants vengeance on a couple of her ex-lovers in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dec. 12).

Lake City Playhouse

As yet another theater that's struggling financially, Lake City Playhouse has kept going with new artistic director Tracey Benson and new managing director Neil Barbuto. They're forging ahead with a theatrical schedule that has actually expanded rather than diminished. In the season opener, Elwood P. Dowd tries to stay out of the loony bin while insisting that his best friend is an invisible 6-foot rabbit named Harvey (through Sept. 25).

Lots of theaters would like to capitalize on the release of the movie version this December of The Phantom of the Opera but don't have the resources for the chandelier and candlelit boat ride. Thus it is that Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has authorized a slimmed-down version of the same musical - called, simply, Phantom, and to be produced at Lake City Oct.15-Nov. 6.

Lake City plans a stark "black box" production for A Shayna Maidel (Nov. 11-20), the story of Mordecai Weiss and his younger daughter Rose, who left Poland in 1930 intending that Rose's mother and older sister would follow. But a world war intervened, and in 1946, when the sisters finally reunite, one is a New York career woman who wants to hide her Jewish heritage, while the other is a survivor of the death camps.

Even misers can learn to give their employees a raise and a Christmas turkey. Watch the dancers turn a caper at Mr. Fezziwig's ball in A Christmas Carol (Dec. 3-19).

Lake City's Readers' Theater has three events coming up. First, the onstage clocks in 'Night, Mother suggest there's not much time for Jessie to explain her decision to her mother - and Jessie has decided to kill herself (Oct. 20). On Nov. 3, enjoy local playwright Robert Casemore's Back to the Blanket (in which a U.S. senator, a Navajo, gets involved with his opponent's assistant); staged readings of local playwrights' short new plays will be held on Nov. 17.

In Pride's Crossing (at the Pullman Civic Theater, Nov. 4-13), Mabel Tidings Bigelow ages from 10 to 90, revealing that while she was brave enough to swim the English Channel, she wasn't courageous enough to marry outside the confines of her Boston Brahmin social caste.


Living in a small town doesn't mean you can't like Shakespeare. That's why the National Endowment for the Arts started its Shakespeare in American Communities initiative - and why Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland, Ore., has been selected to present A Midsummer Night's Dream in at the Panida Theater in Sandpoint, Idaho, on Oct. 30. Here's the twist: The fairies will be Vietnamese wood sprites, half the cast will be from the Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam, and you'll need the Vietnamese/English supertitles to understand these bilingual actors. The arranged marriage of Hermia and Demetrius takes on a different meaning in a Vietnamese context.

Spokane Theatrical Group will present a musical murder mystery, "Dinner To Die For," on Oct. 16 at CenterPointe; they'll also perform another murder mystery on Oct. 30 at the Davenport Hotel.

Moscow's Sirius Idaho Theater presents Pyretown at the Kenworthy from Oct. 6-14. John Belluso uses the health care crisis as backdrop for the romance of a paraplegic and a single mother who's twice his age.


A Protestant college presents a play glorifying a man who could have helped the Protestant cause but instead chose death. In A Man for All Seasons (Oct. 15-23 at Whitworth College), Sir Thomas More's saintliness and tenacity in his face-off against Henry VIII make him a tragic hero in a play that's necessarily more Spartan and psychological than the epic 1962 film.

Tim Robbins has turned his 1995 film, Dead Man Walking, into a "play in progress" and authorized it for production at only 28 Jesuit high schools and universities across the nation; Gonzaga's on the list, and will present the large-cast meditation on capital punishment at the Russell Theater from Oct. 22-31.

At the University of Idaho, My Way - in which a quartet sings more than 50 Sinatra songs - will be presented in the UI Admin Building on Oct. 9.

Step, kick, leap, turn, pivot, back: If you're humming "I Can Do That," then get ready for A Chorus Line in the Hartung Theater (Oct. 14-24). OK, so Marvin Hamlisch wrote the music, and the movie got panned -- the story of 18 singers and dancers trying out for the only eight parts in a Broadway show still speaks to the against-the-odds wanna-be in all of us.

In the theater-in-the-round space of the Kiva, UI presents Lee Blessing's Independence (Nov. 10-14), in which three Iowa daughters, each in her own way, try to break free of their strong-willed mother.

The Adding Machine (Dec. 2-11 in the Hartung) sounds like just another we're-all-dehumanized-by-technology play - until you realize that Elmer Rice won the Pulitzer for this classic of expressionism 80 years ago. Rice even squeezed in some elements of sexual harassment and going postal.

Listen to Lady Bracknell scream, "Prism, where is that baby?" in The Importance of Being Earnest in the Spartan Theater at SFCC from Nov. 4-11.

In Gint (at NIC, Oct. 28-Nov. 6), Romulus Linney translates Ibsen's Peer Gynt into Appalachia in 1917. Once Peer becomes a billionaire, his sordid past with the hog-woman starts to haunt him.


For improv comedy played like a team sport - with penalties for working blue like that Dick Cheney did on the floor of the U.S. Senate - check out ComedySportz every Friday and Saturday night at its new location, 227 W. Riverside Ave.

And on Fridays through Oct. 8, gossip interactively with those artists of improv at the Blue Door Theater on Garland Avenue in "Small-Town Talk." They'll be sure to offer more Friday-night improv later on, too.

And finally, the Inland Northwest welcomes not one but two comedic heavy-hitters as Margaret Cho and Drew Carey stop in for two separate engagements. Cho comes to the Big Easy on Oct. 2 as part of her "State of Emergency" tour; Carey and his "Improv All-Stars" are scheduled at WSU's Beasley Coliseum on Oct. 30.

Publication date: 09/16/04

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.