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February 17, 2017 Comments Off on Reviews: The Great Depression Is BAAAAAACK At Taproot and Schmee Views: 1254 *Seattle Theaterland, Arts & Entertainment, Reviews, Stage

Reviews: The Great Depression Is BAAAAAACK At Taproot and Schmee

Bill Johns, Eric Hampton, Nikki Visel, Christopher Morson and Melanie Hampton in Room Service at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Bill Johns, Eric Hampton, Nikki Visel, Christopher Morson and Melanie Hampton in Room Service at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Review: Room Service by John Murray and Allen Boretz. Produced by Taproot Theatre Company. Directed by Karen Lund. Scenic & Sound Design by Mark Lund. Costume Design by Nanette Acosta. Lighting Design by Amanda Sweger.  With Erwin Galán, Bill Johns, Mike Spee, Daniel Stoltenberg, Eric Hampton, Melanie Hampton, Christopher Morson, Laura Lee Caudill, Kim Morris and Nikki Visel. Now through March 11, 2017 at Taproot.

Two local theater companies venture back to the 1930s for theatrical inspiration. One largely succeeds while the other…not so much.

Our semi-success is over at Taproot in north Seattle.  The family friendly theater company is presenting the original play version of a property made famous as a Marx Brothers’ movie. It’s John Murray and Allen Boretz’s ROOM SERVICE, a wacky slamming doors farce set in a New York City hotel circa 1937 and concerning a down at his heels theatrical producer trying desperately to produce his first hit play while avoiding being evicted from his hotel where he and his company have racked up a huge bill they cannot pay. The cast includes the conniving producer; his archly sarcastic (and probably gay) director; the anxious hick playwright eager to make it in the Big City; an oafish assistant/gofer; a helpful girlfriend (actually two helpful but under utilized girlfriends) and their chief adversary, Wagner, the new hotel manager.

Room Service is full of gags, mistaken identities, disguises, cons, funny accents, and considerable amounts of physical comedy. It’s still pretty “funny” but in a light weight 1930s kind of way. If you’re expecting this to be as brilliant as a Noël Coward play or one of Kaufman & Hart’s classic works from the same era,  you’ll be disappointed; I mean, look at it this way…what other “John Murray & Allen Boretz” plays have you heard of?

Still, it’s mildly enjoyable albeit not much like the far better known Marx Brothers’ film…far less anarchy and mayhem. And, when this production does amuse, it’s largely due to the actors and some smart bits of business concocted by director Karen Lund. One of the best decisions was to “gender switch” some of the characters; the original play really only had the two rather bland girlfriends who don’t have much to do. Taproot wisely decided to turn the chief antagonist, Wagner the officious new hotel manager, into Miss Wagner and gave the role to the very  funny local actress Nikki Visel to play. She’s quite good playing all the various depths of the character from blustering belligerence to sniveling insincerity. There are also fine performances from Erwin Galán as the conniving producer, Dan Stoltenberg as the arch director, Christopher Morson as the eager naive playwright and Eric Hampton as the oafish assistant. And, Bill Johns gets to play 4 different characters and does all of them with great wit.

It’s a handsome show with strong design work from Mark Lund (Scenic and Sound), Amanda Sweger (Lights) and Nanette Acosta’s lovely costumes. The design elements are thoughtful and attractive with a fine eye for period appropriate detail. All in all, Room Service is a smartly amusing light entertainment from a long gone era. If you’re feeling nostalgic for “The Good Ole Days” or just enjoy material from that time, then it’s a fine choice.

If none of those things apply to you, it’s probably not your cup of tea.

Sarah Karnes and Eric Smiley in Theater Schmeater’s production of “My Man Godfrey.” Photo: Dave Hastings

Sarah Karnes and Eric Smiley in Theater Schmeater’s production of “My Man Godfrey.” Photo: Dave Hastings

Review: My Man Godfrey. Adapted by Erik Hatch from the film screenplay by Morrie Ryskind and the novel, 1101 Park Avenue by Erik Hatch. Produced by Theater Schmeater. Directed and Scenic Design by Doug Staley. Costume Design by Julia Evanovich. Property Design by Jodi Sauerbier. Light Design by Shannon Miller. Sound Design by Arian Smit. With Eric Smiley, Madeline Nutting, Chad Oswald, Sarah Karnes, Terrence Boyd, Teri Lazzara, Lantz Wagner, Alysha Curry, Mark Waldstein, Geb Brown, Mike Gilson, Danny Herter, Stephanie Neuerburg, Sara Schweid. Now through February 18, 2017 at Theater Schmeater.

As for the other nostalgic play in town, it’s frankly not anyone’s cup of tea…in my opinion. For reasons unknown, the funky fringe theater company Theater Schmeater has decided to put on the stage version of a classic (and divine) 1930s screwball film comedy, MY MAN GODFREY….despite the fact it doesn’t really have the ideal physical space, equipment, budget or staff to produce a work that features multiple locations, a rich Upper East Side Art Deco milieu and a huge cast that needs appropriately rich looking costumes and lots of them.

I’m a fan of the Schmee…when they stick to things they do well. Contemporary edgy works and crazy original pieces are their strong suit. Terse and modern and slightly strange is what they do best, frankly. “Godfrey” isn’t terse or modern and while it is a tad strange but it’s screwball strange which is a different form all together. And, to make matters worse, “Godfrey” was a great film based on a short novel; it was never really a stage production and film to stage translations are difficult to pull off. Film can easily cut from one locale to another and that’s far more difficult to do on a tiny stage with a huge cast and no budget to quickly and effectively establish new locations.

To be honest, everything about this production is just awkward. The design, acting and direction just don’t work. It’s nice to see a couple talented Seattle actors do something different (Teri Lazzara as the daffy mom; Alysha Curry’s sly maid) but they can’t carry the whole show.

I’m not going to spend much time on dwelling on this. I think it’s a good reminder that small theaters have to very carefully consider their resources and abilities before committing to a project. If you can’t afford to stage a show that’s in an expensive/difficult time to create with a need for many lavish costumes and scenic pieces AND requires specific kinds of actors to adequately produce, then…

DON’T. DO. THAT. PLAY.

That said, if you’re a community theater in the sticks/burbs…go ahead. Do want you want and have fun.

If you’re playing in the Big Leagues, then you kinda/sorta have to up your game.

And, stick to what you do best: terse, modern, strange.

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