KPBS AIRDATE: November 22, 1995
Well, the holiday season is officially upon us. You can tell by the sticky sweetness in the air. Out come the marzipan and the fruitcakes, drizzled with syrup and ribboned with saccharine. That is to say, theater fare for the next month will be nothing more than spun sugar.
Two North County cases in point: “The 1940s Radio Hour” at Moonlight Amphitheatre, and “Inspecting Carol” at North Coast Rep. Both are fun and well done, a treacly diversion from the tart ardors of shopping, family, giftlists and the credit card blues. Both are a kind of play-within-a-play, a backstage glimpse of who’s doing whom when the curtain goes down, or, in the case of “Radio Hour,” when the broadcast goes off the air.
The 1942 Christmas show of the Mutual Manhattan Radio Cavalcade includes the requisite ingenue; sultry siren; black blues-belter; young coltish hoofer; the drunk, over-the-hill crooner, etcetera, etcetera.
As written, by UCSD’s Walton Jones, the interactions among the characters are kinda goofy, but once they start to sing, all is forgiven. Great old familiar songs, and director Ray Limon has goosed up the evening with cute stage business and lively choreography. Most of the vocal arrangements highlight the singers’ talents, but you get the feeling that the full vocal potential of Jeneen Hammond hasn’t been tapped. Her numbers should be black ‘n’ blues show-stoppers. The costumes are cute and the timeframe of the play suits the new venue.
The refurbished 1948 Avo Playhouse is a most attractive winter home for the Moonlight to do smaller musicals and light dramas. The lobby is all deco and pastels; the inside, an old movie theater, has the feel of a high school auditorium, but you can smell the team spirit that went into lovingly restoring the space.
Slightly further south, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, we find “Inspecting Carol,” a farcical comedy about a small midwestern acting company preparing for its umpteenth production of “A Christmas Carol.” During its four day rehearsal period, the lead rewrites the script for political correctness and global awareness, Tiny Tim disappears, and the company learns that, not only is it bankrupt, but its $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts has been withdrawn. Havoc ensues, in predictable and unpredictable ways. This co-mingling of Dickens’ eternally recycled tale of redemption and Gogol’s timeless satire, “The Inspector General,” is ridiculous at times and hilarious at others. Written by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre, it takes some pretty wild potshots at the NEA, which is an odd target for a theater company that’s certainly gotten its share of the goods.
Guest director Patricia Elmore Costa has kept the action frenetic, which makes Walter Murray’s low-key, amusingly befuddled performance stand out all the more. John Guth does another funny turn as a wide-eyed pseudo-innocent, and his Richard III speech is a howl. Since everyone is playing caricatures rather than characters, they all pretty much teeter on the brink most of the time, and frequently go over the top. The first act is wittier, but the physical comedy in the second act, during the harrowing “Christmas Carol” opening night, is literally side-splitting. Funny physical business can be very sweet indeed.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.