Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
October 28, 2011
Smother-mothers are back! Two ferocious theater icons are wielding the force of their personalities to push their children to the brink – and beyond. Both roles require powerhouse performances – and two mega-talented local actors deliver.
Plucky, offbeat ion theatre is presenting the first musical in the six years of its impressive existence. A risky undertaking in a 49-seat theater. But choosing “Gypsy” is really gutsy.
It’s a huge, splashy show, and one piano doesn’t quite do justice to the spectacular score – with its unforgettable music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Accompanist Wendy Thompson does an excellent job, but we find ourselves craving more.
We couldn’t ask for more from the beleaguered daughters of the monstrous stage-mother. Mama Rose. High schooler Helena Marie Woods is hilariously perky as June and Katie Whalley makes a wonderful transformation from homely also-ran to knockout stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Andy Collins does a solid, credible job as Herbie , Rose’s sweet but weak paramour.
But it’s mostly Rose’s show – and Linda Libby plays her with all the requisite passion and fire, though she seems to be straining vocally at times. Where she and co-directors Claudio Raygoza and Kim Strassburger go astray is in the climactic number, “Rose’s Turn,” a breakdown song of failure and frustration. Libby seems to emerge oddly triumphant, which undercuts the show’s dénouement. Overall, this is a valiant first musical effort, from a company that specializes in dark, quirky dramas.
Now, Cygnet Theatre has staged many a compelling drama in its nine productive years . Tennessee Williams’ masterwork, “The Glass Menagerie,” is a fine fit. It’s an autobiographical memory play narrated by Tom, a poet forced to work in a shoe warehouse to support his desperate mother and socially and physically disabled sister.
Sparks fly in the heartbreaking meeting between painfully introverted Laura and the Gentleman Caller, Jim. Amanda Sitton and Brian Mackey make the scene crackle.
But again, the centerpiece is the mother, a faded Southern belle who relentlessly bears down on her children. Acclaimed local actor Rosina Reynolds doesn’t play Amanda as a harridan. She gives a beautiful, nuanced performance as a despairing woman whose parental love is misguided and unrealistic, but genuine.
Two elements in the production weaken the outcome: the peculiar lighting effect on the portrait of the father who abandoned the family, and having Tom spend almost all his stage-time at his typewriter, even when he’s supposed to be in a scene. He may be a writer, but he never seems like a poet or a dreamer. Francis Gercke’s halting, herky-jerky reading of lines – as if he’s just composing and testing them out, undermines the glorious musicality of Williams’ words.
So, two wonderful performances, two flawed productions, two near-flawless plays . Great American classics are always worthy of your attention.
“The Glass Menagerie” runs through November 13 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
“Gypsy” continues through November 27 at ion theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest.
©2011 PAT LAUNER