Spark and fizzle
Quality varies in end-of-summer theater openings in Chico
A Behanding in Spokane, Blue Room
London-born, Irish-bred playwright Martin McDonagh turns his Tony-winning talent toward America for his first play set in the United States. It’s not a pretty portrait he paints, with the whole of the action occurring in the Blue Room’s spot-on reproduction of a seedy motel room between four characters who seemingly stepped out of a Tarantino film.
Carmichael (played by CN&R film critic Craig Blamer) is a one-handed, racist sociopath who’s spent the last quarter-century exacting revenge on a group of “hillbilly bastards” responsible for his handicap and trying to find his lost appendage. Toby and Marilyn (Yusef Swafford and Kate Corey) are a weed-dealing couple who find themselves in over their heads when they try to swindle the man with what is obviously not his hand. Mervyn (Brett Edwards) is a hotel clerk whose initial zaniness is eventually unveiled, revealing a much-deeper psychosis.
Blamer is convincing, even occasionally charming in the role of a charmless nutjob. Almost every word and whimper issued from Swafford’s mouth provokes a laugh, and Corey is also convincing as the sexy, not-so-smart female foil. Edwards has one of the singularly best scenes, a mind-mucking monologue about monkeys and massacres.
The audience might wonder, “Why the hell are these people commiserating with this guy about his mother while he’s got them chained to a radiator,” but therein lies the madcap. Maintaining perspective is essential to enjoyment of the show; even though the violence, language and gore can be occasionally wince-inducing, it’s all in good fun.
The Uninvited, Theatre on the Ridge
Theatre on the Ridge is billing its latest production, The Uninvited, as “a drama of suspense.” And this story of a brother and sister moving into a spooky old house near a seaside cliff and quickly figuring out why it’s been abandoned for so long is slightly suspenseful. If you haven’t seen the 1944 film version (or read the original novel by Dorothy Macardle), you might not guess the twist. I didn’t. But even when the mystery is revealed, and the play is resolved, the response was less surprise and more, “Oh, OK.”
Some of the players here do energetic work, bringing life to the fun archetypes: Andy Hafer, as unspooked head of household Roddy Fitzgerald, is his usual magnetic self, occupying his Doubting Thomas role so comfortably; and Teal Dougherty is pitch-perfect (and hilarious) as hand-wringing Irish maid Lizzie Flynn. But there’s only so much the actors could’ve done to goose up a story that has them standing around in one room spelling out the back story to one another and occasionally experiencing a chill as the lights go dim.
Jake’s Women, Birdcage Theatre
There was a hilarious scene in the second act of Birdcage Theatre’s performance of Jake’s Women, where one character is mimicking another, which had the audience screaming with laughter during a recent performance. It was a good example of the fast, physical comedy for which playwright Neil Simon is known being played well. The question was: Why wasn’t the audience laughing more vigorously throughout the show?
So many funny lines on opening night were met with silence as some in the cast seemed both tight and lacking energy as they missed opportunities to play the readymade jokes for more laughs. That witty Simon dialogue became just words falling onto the stage.
Dennis Perri anchors the show as troubled writer Jake, coming to terms with the women in his life. Perri is a fine actor, but I wish he would’ve been less controlled and played up Jake’s neurotic, self-absorbed characteristics more.
Of the women who swirl in and out of Jake’s life, Katy Ryan, as his troubled wife, notably delivered her lines with expert timing, emotion and humor. And Allison Cardwell as Jake’s most recent girlfriend, also demonstrated hilarious comedic timing.
The play is funny and thought-provoking, and still wide open for the actors to crank the production up to its potential.