May 22, 2008

Arsenic and old lace

Already just a few minutes into the show, the signs were not promising. One of the characters was playing with teacups, which was correct, but he was clinking them so loudly that it was distracting from some of the dialogue. One of the first characters we met is (we later find) meant to be the father of a marriage-age daughter, but he carried himself like a college student. It was amateurish, with swallowed or fumbled lines, overenunciation in weird places, and that perennial problem of actors not knowing what to do with their hands and therefore gesturing weirdly. There were some great one-liners ("Oh, religion never gets as high as the choir loft"), but on the whole it was falling flat.

Then the dead body got discovered, and it was like someone flipped a switch and I was watching a different play. "Ok, folks, setup's done, we're going to start the actual show now." Everyone got better! Most of the litany of criticisms that I was amassing actually went away.

It still wasn't the Studio's best work. Russian accents are not German accents; I suppose this was mostly forgivable because it was at least a consistent Russian accent that Eli King ("Dr. Einstein"—"no, not Albert Einstein") put on, although they might have at least changed the line that identified it as German. There were some big prop problems, with matches blowing out, liquids spilt, and not one but two wineglasses breaking (they need to either glue down the ones they don't need to move, or be a lot more careful—there were also a few near-misses). Several of the guys need to learn how to tie ties so that they lay flat and right-side-up. There were a number of missed cues; at one point Eli had a glass of wine at his lips for close to a minute without drinking because the line that was supposed to interrupt him before he took a sip hadn't happened yet, and there were quite a few line stumbles, including one that had to be covered by someone else. (Though, to be fair, there also were a lot of cutoff cues and stage business, this being a farce, and they made most of them just fine.) Though Willi Goehring's makeup (as Jonathan, not Boris Karloff) was Spot On, the rest was sort of hit-or-miss, ranging dreadfully cakey to not enough, and bad grey-hair jobs all around.

But really, after the switch was flipped and we moved from exposition to development, the acting took off and made the show. The dotty old maiden aunts in particular (Liz Roemer and Kelsey Ingle, both freshmen I'd not seen before) pitched the perfect tut-tut no-nonsense attitude that made the other actors' double-takes really work and made the audience howl—and I never once saw them crack a smile over these contextually hilarious lines, a seemingly herculean task. Willi (with, again, a great makeup job) glides into the room and maintains an alarming unhingedness right through to the end of the show; it turns out he does scary sociopath really well, and you really get the impression that the other characters are pretty brave even to talk to him, much less stand up to him. And general props belong to the whole ensemble, because a lot of the laughs in a show like this really are in the back-and-forth delivery, and in giving the audience just a beat to see it coming: for most of the show, they kept us howling.

So it's a mixed bag, but worth the trip. Underattended tonight, but hopefully the three remaining shows will get a better turnout.

"Just insert one more comma, get an extra cup of coffee, and relax." --Eva Sweeney

Posted by blahedo at 11:47pm on 22 May 2008
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