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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Light Up the Sky at The Seattle Repertory Theatre

In the genre of shows about show people, Moss Hart's 1948 comedy Light Up the Sky falls, as written, somewhere below Noises Off and The Royal Family, but has held up better than Hart and George S. Kaufman's far more celebrated (and frequently revived) The Man Who Came to Dinner. Happily, the current Seattle Rep production is such a solid effort, it may well make the script play better than it would in lesser hands.

Director Douglas C. Wager is utterly confident at the helm of this sprightly laugh-fest, which shows us an array of theatre folk on the eve of the opening of a new play in act one. Act two follows them, post-performance, back to their hotel for a session of sniping and name calling. Act three brings about a contrived but amusing reversal of fortunes, and as happily ever after a wrap up as such an acid-dipped valentine to the theatre can manage.

All the action takes place in scenic designer Zack Brown's superbly detailed and amazingly beautiful luxury hotel suite, where Wager sets his band of almost uniformly ideal actors to their task, and they rarely disappoint. Hart wrote about an equal number of flamboyantly caricatured roles and more realistic ones. On the flamboyant side the biggest kudos should go to Patricia Hodges as the vain and egocentric theatrical leading lady Irene Livingston, and Suzy Hunt as her unpretentiously forthright and wise Brooklynese mama Stella. Hodges' not-so-great lady of the theatre is equal parts Tallulah Bankhead and Rosemary Harris with perhaps a dash of Coral Browne (as Vera Charles), blended to hilarious effect. Hunt simply scores a TKO with every laugh line she is handed, as she watches her stage daughter go through her familiar out-of-town opening angst. Cheryl Stern, as the producer's ice-skater wife and co-producer, is nearly the equal of these two ladies, and she and Hunt develop a Lucille Ball/Vivian Vance sort of interplay in their bits together.

On the less broadly drawn side, John Aylward (rarely seen in Seattle since Hollywood grabbed this fine veteran character actor) is a blustery, but never overstated delight as producer Sidney Black, and Hans Alwies rises above the script's limitations in his role as Peter, the earnest, neophyte playwright who nearly abandons his play after his cohorts show their true colors. Dan Kremer is wonderfully at ease and likable in the skin of veteran playwright Owen Turner, who proves to be Peter's greatest ally amidst the chaos, and Debra Pralle does wonders making us care about her underdeveloped character Nan Lowell, the ghost-writer of Irene's tell-all autobiography.

Munson Hicks is only intermittently successful as the whiny and pretentious director Carleton Fitzgerald, and Mark Chamberlin's one-note Jim Backus impression as Irene's non-theatrical Harvard businessman husband grows stale fast. But it is nice to see veteran sitcom actor Richard Sanders pop up as a star-struck Shriner who helps bring about the happy ending.

Jean Pierre Dorleac's period-perfect costumes and Allen Lee Hughes' sublime lighting design contribute to the visual delights of the production. This Light Up the Sky can't conceal its script weaknesses or dated qualities, but it proves a merry enough holiday season excursion and a welcome look at a lesser known work by one of Broadway's legendary names.

Light Up the Sky at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street in Seattle Center, through December 15, 2002. For further information online go to www.seattlerep.org.




- David-Edward Hughes



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