SHOWING : May 15, 2009 - June 07, 2009
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From the playwright who brought us “Tuesdays With Morrie,” comes the comic story of Tyler Johnes, a self-obsessed movie star, who, finally nominated for an Oscar, dies the night before the awards. Outraged at his bad luck and determined to know if he wins, he bargains with a heavenly gatekeeper to return to earth for the big night. Along the way, he drags his agent, his acting rival, his bombshell girlfriend and his ex-wife into the journey, in a wildly twisting tale of Hollywood, the afterlife, and how we are judged.
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A Different Opinion|
Thursday, May 28, 2009 ||
I've seen many plays at Stage Door, and have been greatly entertained and moved by a lot of them. This was not one of those plays. Normally, not having much nice to say, I'd just keep quiet about it. But since the earlier glowing review was one of the reasons I made the trip to Dunwoody, in addition to the solid work many of the artists involved have done before, I had to say something. I felt it was misdirected, miscast, misdesigned (?), and mis-written. |
No one was well served by Mitch Albom's script - not the director, the actors or the audience. I can handle a ridiculous premise if it's pulled off well. This wasn't. The 'jokes' were creaky, forced and labored, and if you missed the chance to laugh at them once, don't worry - they'll be back around in a few minutes. "Johnes. With an H," for instance: not amusing the first time, or the third, or the tenth.
Nor was the set any help. Act One was played on a postage-stamp sized platform upstage that felt crowded with just two people on it. As, one by one, most of the other actors were forced to compete for footing, it seemed increasingly like the Stateroom Scene from "A Night at the Opera." Except not funny. Meanwhile, downstage, a vast sea of unused space begged to be utilized, a call that went unanswered until the second act.
I don't know if the script calls for Luis Hernandez's character, Teddy LaPetite, to speak with an Outrageous French Accent, or if it was his idea, or director Jessie Dean's, but it should have been nipped in the bud at conception. His dialogue was absolutely unintelligible. If you can't understand it, you can't laugh at it. Simple as that. Look, a high-powered Hollywood agent, cigar clenched firmly in teeth - we all know how he should sound, right? And with a script as rich in stereotypes as this show unfortunately is - why mix it up NOW? There is no comic ore to be mined there.
Someone thought it would be cute to include names of DSDP designers and artists in the list of Oscar nominees announced in Act Two. That person should not be allowed creative input in future productions. One or two audience members chuckled politely at first, the night I was there, then were silent. An awkward, embarrassed, disappointed silence that was sort of the hallmark of the evening.
I would like to, and did, applaud Kevin Dougherty and Shayne Kohout for rising above the material and really coming off smelling like roses. You know how it can rain and rain and rain, til you think your soul is dying, but then the clouds part and a beautiful beam of sunshine comes down and BAM! the world is alive again and the birds sing? Hyperbolically, that's what it was like whenever one of them carried a scene.
I also applaud Mr. Egizio for his enthusiasm and talent, for the work he's done at DSDP, generally raising the quality and diversity of their offerings and creating a good energy there. This one was a miss, I thought. Obviously, at least one person disagrees with me. An Artistic Director on a tight budget has to choose from a limited stable of directors to helm his shows. Likewise, a director can only cast a show from the pool of actors that audition, or who happen to be married to her. It's a tricky business, but when all the stars align, and the elements work together, it's a wonderful thing to behold. I wish better things ahead for all the artists involved, and for another sick old man for Mr. Albom to visit on Tuesdays, to keep his mind off further playwriting attempts. Then, the winner will be...us. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
And now for something completely different…|
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 ||
I really like it when theatres occasionally take a risk and do something different; when they offer something fresh, challenging or provocative. It is really exciting when they take a chance to produce a script that their audience might not otherwise get a chance to see. Such is the case with Stage Door’s current regional premier production of Mitch Albom’s “And the Winner is”. It is totally unlike Stage Door’s regular fare, nor is it what you’d expect from the writer of “Tuesdays With Morrie” (about the only thing it has in common with “Morrie” is Albom’s tendency toward moralistic clichés and his preoccupation with death).|
The story basically concerns the afterlife regrets and redemption of a stereotypical Hollywood movie star. His career was based more on his looks than his talent. As he began to realize he was passing his prime, he wondered if he was ever any good. To find out, he got a part in an “art” movie (read low budget) where he got to “act” thanks to the physical deformities and death scene of his character in the movie. When the movie is released, it flops, but his performance gets nominated for an Oscar! Now he’ll find out if he was ever any good by winning the Oscar!
Wait for it…
I said wait for it….
He dies the night before the Academy Awards!
So he has died without ever knowing if he was ever any good!
(in tribute to Alanis Morrisette)
If only there was some way he could find out whether he won or not…
And the rest, my friends, is what they call show business!
While this production is well directed, entertaining and well played by an excellent cast of talented actors, the script seems to be somewhat of a handicap at times. The biggest problem (in my opinion) is that the script feels more like a screenplay than a stage play. Its concepts and conventions do not lend themselves very well to a physical staging of the story. One scene “dissolves” into another. Not an easy thing to do on stage. It is also clichéd in its characters and trite in its conflicts and ultimate resolution (but that could just be my opinion). While there are indeed several truly funny moments and lines, a good deal of the humor feels like it should be read, rather than performed. But, all in all, it is an interesting premise with some inventively unique comedic potential. Well worth taking a shot at.
My first thought when I saw that Gabriel Dean was playing the lead character of Tyler Johnes (pronounced “Jones” - the “H” is silent - see what I mean about “reading funny” vs. “performing funny”) was that he was the very lucky beneficiary of an act of theatrical nepotism (his wife Jessie Dean is the director). Boy was I wrong! He very quickly proved he was correctly cast after just a few minutes on stage. He demonstrated good comedic timing and didn’t resort to “anything for a laugh” tricks for his characterization of the stereotypically self interested Hollywood movie star. It was a well balanced and entertaining portrayal. My only complaint: he is way too young and wholesome looking to be believed as a “past his prime” Hollywood stud muffin who just died of a heart attack thanks to a crappy lifestyle. It doesn’t really matter though because he made me a believer with his performance.
The first person he meets in the afterlife is an old Irish bartender named Seamus. Seamus is similar to “Mr. Jordan” from “Heaven Can Wait” in that he is an employee of God and serves as Tyler’s guide, father figure and moralist. As played by Kevin Dougherty, his Irish accent may have wandered a bit, but his heart was always front and center. Dougherty does an impressive job of keeping the focus on the kindness and sincerity that radiates from Seamus and less on the opportunity for cheap Irish laughs. His good natured confusion with modern idioms, devices and people’s names demonstrated Dougherty’s belief in the goodness of his character.
Luis Hernandez was a force of nature with his performance as Tyler’s agent Teddy LaPetite:“ A Giant in the Business” (reads funny! – plays funny?). Teddy follows Tyler into the afterlife to negotiate and hustle for any advantage he can get for himself and his client. The gloriously bad French accent Hernandez used made him hard to understand sometimes, but the comedic effect was hilarious. It is a wonder there was any scenery left after this talented actor chewed on it for two hours!
Alexandros Salazar plays Kyle Morgan, Tyler’s rival and partner in talentless fame. His characterizations and looks brought to mind Keanu Reeves. Whether that was a conscious choice, or a happy accident, all I can say is: it played really well! Kyle takes himself and his career very seriously, no matter how ludicrous it may actually be. Salazar’s character was totally believable and a joy to watch.
And now on to the chicks…
What would Hollywood be without a bimbo? Boring that’s what! Erin Greenway plays Serenity, Tyler’s “stripper name” girlfriend, fashion accessory, and number one groupie. She makes one of the greatest stage entrances EVER! That entrance is just the beginning of a long series of comedy gold that issues forth from Greenway’s performance throughout the show. She giggles, jiggles, wiggles and wriggles on her belly like a snake! Greenway’s talent lies in her ability to make the character someone you laugh with, not at. And when she reveals that Serenity ain’t as dumb as she seems, Greenway makes the transition with perfect timing and delivery. A real treat!
Last, but not least, Shayne Kohout has the thankless job of playing the only non-comedic character in this comedy. She is Tyler’s soon-to-be-ex wife, Sheri. She is there to show us that Tyler was once a nice guy and that she loves him, but she just can’t live with him anymore. Shayne does a beautiful job of showing tenderness and affection for the early Tyler, and showing disappointment in what he has become without being “bitchy”. A classy actor delivering a tasteful performance!
Director Jessie Dean had a very hard task on her hands with this show and she did a lot of things right. A good, well balanced cast helped make the most of many scenes. I do have some issues with the use of space, but that can be argued either way. Some scenes were staged in a fairly static and claustrophobic manner, while others seemed to use more space than was necessary. It is a very different kind of script, and given the challenges the storyline presented, she did an admirable job of bringing the story to the stage without making any glaring compromises. That is to be commended and applauded!
As anyone who has read any of my past “reviews” of Stage Door productions knows, I think Chuck Welcome is a God and one of the absolute best set designers in Atlanta. One of the big treats when seeing a show at Stage Door is seeing his wonderfully creative sets. His sense of color, form and function are exceptional. But, like the show, this set is something completely different from him. While I understand the needs driving the choices made, I can’t help but wish there could have been a more artistically and visually creative solution. But I did like the undefinable species of plant!
Stage Door has benefitted greatly from the inventory of lighting tricks and devices made available thanks to the auspices of lighting designer John David Williams (aka – J.D). Among other lighting treats, he pulls out the stops with two sweeping follow spots and strobe lights simulating paparazzi flashbulbs for the scenes relating to the Oscars. J.D. always provides a real eye popping visual treat with his lighting designs! And this show is no exception!
There is only one thing I can say about the costuming for this production: Chippen-Cops! (Oh yeah, Seamus’ outfit for the Oscars was truly magnificent!) Kudos to Jim Alford for some inspired garb!
In closing, let me say that Stage Door gives it’s audiences consistently excellent performances and productions that exhibit creativity and style. They’ve been really good at making good scripts into great shows, and weak scripts into successful productions. As for “And the Winner Is”, they’ve done it again.
And there’s nothing completely different about that!
Go see it and let me know what you think!
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by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics)