by Michael Bowen

My fellow thespians: We are gathered here today that we might pay tribute to the generations of theatergoers before us, who have filled playhouses all over our Evergreen land in pursuit of jubilation, edification and concatenation. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow our Inland theaters.

Not unless we get some butts into some seats. So whether you opt for Interplayers or the Opera House, Lake City or the Civic, CenterStage or the Met, this fall presents an opportunity for you to shoot your TV and enter instead into the marketplace of ideas that local theater provides. Can I get an "Amen"?

Itinerant Companies -- Early acting troupes were often on the move, and a wide variety of local theatrical groups provide quality entertainment without having a green room of their own. (For children's theater, see the Kids section on p. 36.) But don't discount acting companies like Spokane Theatrical Group, which puts on shows everywhere from the Davenport Hotel to Central Valley High School. All STG did earlier this year was to produce a drama, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, which was merely named the best community theater production in the nation.

This fall, STG will produce an original musical by Molly Allen Ritter and Becky Moonitz, The Day Spring Wouldn't Come Out, in the impressive new theater at CVHS (Oct. 16-19); in it, Walter the Weatherman teaches two kids about the importance of the four seasons. October will also bring Stage West's production of a comedy about the unlikely relationship between a middle-aged bachelor and the eccentric bag lady he hires to work as The Housekeeper (at City Hall Auditorium in Cheney, Oct. 3-11). This past summer, three guys put on The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), going from Bard to worse as they covered all 37 plays in both Spokane and Coeur d'Alene; they'll deliver an additional performance in Moscow on Oct. 9 at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Center. The Old Orchard Theater in Green Bluff will offer another murder mystery, Murder's in the Heir (Oct. 24-Nov. 1); the twist here is that the audience gets to vote on who done it, with the actors accordingly improvising a new ending each night.

College Theater -- Shakespearean comedy has long been a staple, and Whitworth's Cowles Auditorium obliges with A Midsummer Night's Dream (Oct. 17-25), in which the course of true love eventually runs smooth, even for lovers constrained by patriarchy, social class -- or the appearance upon one's shoulders of an ass-head. North Idaho College will offer both of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Oct. 31-Nov. 8) -- not necessarily at half-price, though neither one of them deserves Julia or Silvia. From Nov. 7-15, the University Theater at EWU will produce another classic comedy, this one by Moliere (probably The School for Husbands, according to theater professor Gene Engene). In Life Is a Dream at Gonzaga (Oct. 24-Nov. 2), Calderon's 17th-century Spanish play, Prince Segismund wakes up from a fantasy, renounces revenge, learns forgiveness and gets the girl. The final college comedy hereabouts will be Strange Bedfellows, a turn-of-the-century comedy about the woman's suffrage movement, directed by William Marlowe at SFCC (Nov. 13-22).

Three dramas are on tap from universities to the south. First up is Wit (at UI's Kiva Theater, Oct. 14-26), in which an English professor who knows about death in the abstract -- she's an expert on John Donne's brooding poems about mortality -- must confront her own actual, impending death. Next is Equus (at WSU's Jones Theater from Nov. 6-15), in which a neurotic psychiatrist investigates the strange case of a boy who has used a spike to blind several horses. If you attend Our Country's Good at the University of Idaho's Hartung Theater (Dec. 2-7), about a bunch of criminals in an Australian penal colony in 1789 putting on a play, acquaint yourself beforehand with the play they produce: George Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer. Somewhat surprisingly, there's only one musical to be performed by a local college company this fall: Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods (at EWU, Dec. 3-6). Beware of the wolf and all baking accidents, and behave yourself -- because children will listen.

Readers' Theater -- Four years ago, Spokane Civic Theater, wanting to provide at least a public hearing for great scripts that sometimes aren't produced because of large cast sizes and other challenges, initiated its Reading Stage with readings of classic American plays. Now Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d'Alene is following suit. With scripts in hand, actors will present Death of a Salesman on Oct. 19 and Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Nov. 16 at CdA's community theater.

The Civic's own Reading Stage is now in its fifth season, and the organizing principle this year is historical. Series director Kim Roberts hit upon the idea of presenting readings of plays from the 1967-68 Broadway season, one of the American theater's most influential. Abe Burrows, Harold Pinter, Robert Anderson and Tom Stoppard are the playwrights for this fall's four semi-staged readings. Cactus Flower (Sept. 14) is a comedy about a bachelor who fends off marriage by pretending to be married already. The Homecoming (Oct. 12; directed by a certain local theater critic appearing regularly in this newspaper) is about an all-male family that doesn't know quite how to react when the long-absent son returns from abroad with his assertive wife. Perhaps You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running (Nov. 9) has such a long title because it's really four one-act plays -- comedies about such matters as bickering about buying a mattress, trying to remember all the names of one's deceased spouses and brushing one's teeth in the nude. Finally, in Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead (Dec. 14), a comic absurdist riff on Hamlet, two minor characters don't do things so much as things are done unto them.

CENTERSTAGE -- Up in the second-story dinner theater on West First, Menopositive! The Musical (through Oct. 11) offers a quirky musical look at the joys of hot flashes and mood swings. Greetings will be presented from Nov. 7 until at least Dec. 6 (and perhaps longer). Tom Dudzick's fantasy-comedy focuses on what happens when Andy takes his atheist fianc & eacute;e to meet his conservative, dysfunctional family -- and when his little brother, a mute, begins to speak with the voice of an angel.

THE CIVIC -- The Spokane Civic Theater is clearly counting on Gypsy (Sept. 20-Nov. 1) to be the theatrical sensation of the season. Patty Duke has acted in four stage plays in the last four years -- three of them in Spokane, and there would have been a fourth if her schedule had permitted her to play the stage manager in Our Town. As Mama Rose, Duke will be portraying the same kind of overbearing stage parent that she herself was subjected to when she was a child. Will everything come up roses during this show's six-week run?

In Months on End at the Civic's Studio Theater from Oct. 3-25, we examine a year in the marriage of Phoebe and Ben as friends and family meddle and pry, month after comic month. Playwright Craig Pospisil will be in town for four days around the time of the play's opening.

In A Christmas Story (Nov. 21-Dec. 20), Ralph returns to the Indiana town he lived in during the Depression. His nostalgia for what life was like for little Ralphie, however, turns out to be the stuff of satiric comedy.

Other Community Theaters -- The Kenworthy Center will be the site of the Moscow Community Theater's production of Godspell (Nov. 7-9), the musical hippie version of the Gospel According to Matthew. Pullman Civic Theater will produce Nagle Jackson's This Day and Age, a comedy about some adult children who return home to pester their empty-nester parents (Nov. 6-15).

Lake City Playhouse, with its four productions, is offering more opportunities for entertainment this fall than any other local community theater. Already on the boards (or, perhaps, on the road) is Route 66 (through Sept. 20), an odyssey that travels from Chicago to L.A. while wondering just how many oldies can be crammed into one's musical vehicle. Next up at LCP is the comic mystery, Who's on First? (Oct. 10-25). That'll be followed by Hoodwinked (Nov. 7-22), a musical based on the tale of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. The Christmas season play in CdA will be the venerable Miracle on 34th Street. (This is the non-musical, straight-play version of the Kris Kringle fantasy, opening on Dec. 5 and closing on Dec. 20 -- not to be confused with the musical of the same title to be produced by Spokane Children's Theater at the Met, which closes on Dec. 5 after opening on Nov. 27. Got that?)

ON TOUR -- The music says "Let's get physical... physical" in Blast! (at the Opera House through Sept. 14): A dozen tunes -- classical, jazz, New Age, pop -- are performed in color-themed extravaganzas by a huge contingent of brass and percussion players, all gyrating in synchronicity with a precision dance troupe.

Hal Holbrook has impersonated Samuel Langhorne Clemens for half a century, presenting his one-man show more than 2,000 times. In performing Mark Twain Tonight, he selects from among 16 hours' worth of comic monologues. Holbrook was the voice of Twain in Ken Burns's PBS documentary, and he will embody the humorist once again on Oct. 25 at the Opera House.

The Capitol Steps return on Nov. 10 with their musical-skit brand of political satire. Surely they won't fire off any jokes about swaggering presidents, soaring deficits or the name Wolfowitz.

In The Sound of Music (Nov. 13-16), nobody knows what to do about Maria, especially after she goes on and on about all of her favorite things and sings some nonsensical do-re-mi piffle. When she starts fantasizing about the hills coming alive, her gang of brats say so long, farewell, and have to climb every mountain before they can get the hell out of Austria.

To help usher in the new year, Rum Tum Tugger and Munkustrap prepare for the Jellicle Ball while Grizabella is all alone with her "Memory" in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats (Jan. 2-4, 2004).

INTERPLAYERS -- In Stones in His Pockets (through Sept. 27; see review, p. 15), while a Hollywood film is being shot on location in Ireland, two actors flash in and out of 15 different characters. But Marie Jones' play isn't simply a tour de force acting display; instead, as one manic (or depressed) character slides into another, we learn how close we might be and how distant we actually are. Adapted from the Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw (Oct. 16-Nov. 8) is a ghost story -- with a performance on Halloween night! -- about a governess who exiles herself into a country mansion to care for two children. Is the house haunted, or is the young woman delusional? Finally, instead of a tried-and-true Christmas play, Interplayers has chosen a new play for the holiday season. The two guys who are sitting on The Bench (Nov. 20-Dec. 13), waiting for their wives in a mega-mall, learn to follow the Ten Commandments of Shopping. God rest ye lonely gentlemen....

With such a cornucopia of theatrical delights spread out before thee, 'twould be the basest ingratitude not to flood the turnstiles with your discretionary income.

My brothers and sisters, defy not the Cultural Gods, lest ye be devoured by the Flames of J.Lo's Misguided Ignorance. Hie thee to a playhouse.

Publication date: 09/11/03

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.