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Light Up the Sky

Also see Sharon's review of You, Nero

Light up the Sky
Laura Flanagan, Amanda Weier, Colin Campbell and Benjamin Burdick
Don't leave after the first act of Light Up the Sky. Really. Open Fist Theatre Company's production of Moss Hart's 1946 farce about a new play's out-of-town tryout gets good, even great, in the brisk second and third acts. You just have to overcome a misfiring opening act.

Much of the cast is solidly, even spectacularly, good. Leading the pack is Benjamin Burdick as the show's producer. He's a bit like Nathan Lane on speed—loud, demanding and generally on the verge of apoplexy as a matter of course. And while the others may have their careers on the line, he's got a big pile of money at risk here, and there's no doubt that, to him, that makes his opinion more important than anyone else's. Andrea Syglowski also impresses as his wife. She's not ashamed of her unrefined roots and manner of speech; she's proud of who she is and where she's gotten—and she's a whirlwind of energy whenever she's in the room. Also spiffy is Barbara Schofield, as the leading actress's no-nonsense mother. She calls 'em like she sees 'em, enjoys the company of the producer's wife, and has been around theatre long enough to be a player herself. Together, these three carry most of the comedy in the show, and their appearances in the first act create its few bright spots.

Laura Flanagan is just as good, but somewhat more subtly so, as the play's leading lady. Flanagan doesn't confine herself to merely playing a diva; she also shows the actress as a woman of vulnerability. Dominic Spillane puts in a believable performance as the young playwright who has invested his soul in the play and genuinely wants it to succeed for personal reasons.

And then there are three characters—a more jaded writer (played by Kevin McCorkle), the actress's autobiography ghost-writer (Amanda Weier) and the actress's husband (Richard Michael Knolla), all of whom are quiet and (relatively) sane. Bjørn Johnson's direction is quite remarkable here, as these characters are not only quiet, but carry a little zone of calmness around them. One almost thinks that if the producer steps a bit too close to one of them, he'll actually deflate. The choice to play all three roles straight works, but one wonders if there might not be a bit more humor in this farce if there were fewer voices of reason in the room.

Light Up the Sky gets off to a shaky start, though, due to the character of the director, where some unfortunate choices have been made. The director is obviously a bit of a drama queen; his favorite line (to which he returns repeatedly) is "I could cry." But actor Colin Campbell overplays the prissy, overdramatic stereotype to the point where it ceases to be funny. The audience should roar every time the director returns to his catch-phrase; instead, it comes off as an annoying affectation. And since the director appears early in the play, he sets the tone for it, and it takes some time for the piece to get on track.

Even with this misfire, there is a lot to like in this production. You can't fault Moss Hart's script—which is intelligent while being hilarious. And when his dialogue flirts with saying something very important—about people, relationships, and art—Johnson gamely takes his cast there, resulting in some touching moments. This production has a lot going for it and, with a few tweaks, could become something special.

Light Up the Sky runs at the Open Fist Theatre through March 7, 2009. For tickets and information, see www.openfist.org.

Open Fist Theatre Company presents Light Up the Sky by Moss Hart. Directed by Bjørn Johnson; Produced by Caitlin R. Campbell. OFTC Artistic Director Martha Demson. Stage Manager Renée Peffer; Assistant Stage Manager Jerrika Hinton; Scenic Design Victoria Profitt; Costume Design A. Jeffrey Schoenberg; Lighting Design Ellen Monocroussos; Sound Design Peter Carlstedt; Props David Castellani; Production Manager Teresa Willis; Production Manager Shawn McAulay; Light Board Op Becca Cousineau; Graphic Design Maia Madison & Dustin Clendenin; Marketing Heidi Johnson/Hijinx Marketing; Publicity David Elzer/DEMAND PR.

Cast:
Miss Lowell - Amanda Weier
Carleton Fitzgerald - Colin Campbell
Frances Black - Andrea Syglowski
Owen turner - Kevin McCorkle
Stella Livingston - Barbara Schofield
Peter Sloan - Dominic Spillane
Sidney Black - Benjamin Burdick
Sven - Andrew Ortiz
Irene Livingston - Laura Flanagan
Tyler Rayburn - Richard Michael Knolla
Shriner - Andrew Ortiz
William H. Gallegher - Phillip William Brock
A Plain-Clothes Man - Andrew Ortiz
The voice of Orson - Jason Paige


Photo: Maia Rosenfeld


- Sharon Perlmutter






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