THEATER PEOPLE love to do plays about theater people. And why not? Who better to completely skewer, lampoon, and reveal the loveliness of you and yours than you and yours?
Most of us just confine it to family dinners. But since the theater creates its own family, this conceit often works very well. And in Sonoma County Repertory Theatre’s crisp production of Moss Hart’s Light up the Sky, it works very well indeed.
Directed at a fast clip by Bill Kincaid, Sky takes us through the opening night disaster of the first effort of new playwright Peter Sloan (Argo Thompson). Seen only through the wall eyes of a suite in Boston’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, Sloan sits in hope and agony before and after “magic time,” those golden hours when a play receives its debut. Also in residence are leading lady Irene Livingston (Danielle Cain) and her mother, Stella (Peggy Van Patten), as well as the show’s tearful director, Carleton Fitzgerald (Darrell Martin), big-money producers Sidney and Frances Black (Gene Markoff and Guenevere Wolfe), and Owen Turner (Tim Hayes), a seasoned playwright who’s been through this hell a time or two before.
Irene is all soprano flutter, full of tremolo and heart-clutching as she woos her living-room audience. Cross her, however, and this little butterfly quickly sheds her luminous wings, becoming more closely akin to the term used by professional dog trainers to address a female of the species. Stella ain’t got no wings to shed, a sensible, gutsy woman who prides herself on giving bellboys jokes in lieu of tips. Leave ’em laughing, and they don’t realize that they never got paid. Her ongoing game of gin with Frances keeps both of them occupied while Frances’ husband, Sidney, brings the room up and down with praise and damnation. Tim Hayes’ Owen Turner stands bemusedly aside, playing the role that the effete and weary George Sanders occupied in so many films.
Set in the rolled-chignon era of the ’40s, Sky is a handsome and well-acted pleasure. With little exception, the cast is natural and at ease in their roles, having great fun drawing out the drawing room. This is a playwright’s play, written by Hart as a partial chronicle of his early years guided by George S. Kaufman, and it’s an uneasy irony that two local playwrights, Darrell Martin and Eugene Markoff, who appear in this production are the least comfortable of the actors onstage.
Martin was tight in his skin on opening night, playing his sensitive weeping director without enough relief for the equally steely inner blades to show, and while Markoff’s given dialogue is thick and poetic, he rushed it like memorized lines and gulped down the jokes.
But the performances of Wolfe, Van Patten, and Cain should more than make up for these early-on problems.
This troika of power and pin curls swished around in their marvelous bathrobes and dresses (the costumes, designed by Cain, are some of the most sumptuous I’ve seen locally) and catted at each other with smarts and impeccable timing. Each of them has moments–when Van Patten is reacting to an unintentionally hilarious story, when Cain is imploring her soft husband for a baby as a remedy to the damned failed play, and when Wolfe is placating her “Daddy”–that are absolutely indelible.
Light up the Sky plays Thursdays-Saturdays, through June 15 at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances May 19 at 2 p.m., and May 26 and June 2 and 9 at 7 p.m. 415 Humboldt St., Santa Rosa. $12. 544-SCRT.
From the May 16-22, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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