Sunday, December 07, 2003

Play: Plum Crazy

Over The Moon Written by Steven Dietz, Adapted from P.G. Wodehouse's "The Small Bachelor", Directed by David Ira Goldstein.

Why review a play after its closed? With everything going on, including the Pgh trip, we had to move the tickets to the last possible date for this frothy, frenetic comedy. So why talk about it - its not as if anyone you tell can go out to see it now?

Well, one reason is talk about the nature of the Repetory Ensemble, and the comfort level that it provides for the audience.

First off, let me talk about the play itself - PG ("Plum") Wodehouse, creator of Bertie and Jeeves, is in a class by himself, perfecting the British upper class romp and claiming it as his territory. I've made the comment (and earlier this year saw it repeated on-stage in "Afghanistan/Kabul") that Wodehouse wrote one story, but wrote it 150 times. While pithy, that statement is actually untrue. Instead Wodehouse used the same toolbox, the same repertory company of stock figures, and threw them together repeatedly to produce variations on the theme, the equivalent of literary comfort food. You knew where you stood with Wodehouse, and while he will through bumps and curves, its all as smooth a modern tube-coaster, and just as well-planned.

Right, the play. Wodehouse wrote of lot of his work while in America, which worked out well because it allowed England itself to advance through the 20th Century while he crystalized and preserved its Jazz-age thought-processes in literary amber. "The Small Bachelor", which this play is based upon, is a rarity among his works - a story set in America, and the Wodehousian characters are filtered through an American Lens. The ever-knowledgable Jeeves transforms into pamphlet-writer Hamilton Beamish, while Bertie of the Drones club becomes flustering, flummered George Finch. He's in love with Molly Waddington(who's in love with him), but match is opposed by the formidable Mrs. Waddington (cut from the same heavy cloth as all of Bertie's heavy-jowled terrorizing aunts). Add a cop who wants to be a poet, a former burglar turned valet, a manservant turned gossip columnist, a fortune teller, a pickpocket, and a father of the bride who loves the American West and you have the frothy mix of plan and counterplan and plans gone awry that all work out with everyone on-stage and pleased and resolved at the end of the play. Its light stuff, and it works very, very well.

Part of it is the adaption - Stephen Deitz catches the Wodehousian meter and description, and the characters dodge their way among the heavily verbal artillery. Yet the entire ensemble brings a great deal of physical comedy to the play that is the equal of Wodehouse's language, culminating in a great deal of dashing about and slamming of doors.

And this is where the nature of the Repetory Company truly comes shining through. Almost all of the actors here (the exception being Bob Sorenson, who plays Hamilton Beamish sharply), have been with us before on-stage at the rep, so their performances are leavened and tempered by previous experience. We have seen Jeff Seitzer, Officer Galloway, as Shakespearean fools, and Liz McCarthy, Molly, as the stalking vicitim in "Boy Gets Girl". R. Hamilton Wright was in "Boy Gets Girl" in a serious role, but was also the comic center of "Inspecting Carol". We know these people as actors, and when they look like they're having fun, we're more than willing to go with them. We're in good hands, and that smooths the path for the entire play, relaxing the audience.

How relaxed was the audience? They applauded a set change where an ornate garden wall dropped from the ceiling. The cast would have had the audience eating out of their hands, were there a sudden deficit of plates and saucers.

It was light, it was frothy, it was amusing. It was a perfect holiday play without needing to be about the holidays.(last year they did "Light Up the Sky", and the Rep generally tries to keep the fare lightweight in the holiday period). Kate and I both liked it, but the only sad thing was, given such a farce, that there was very little to talk about afterwards. It was generally devoid of deeper meaning, just a script and a director and a set of very talented individuals who put everything together and delivered the goods.

Good show. More later,

On the Road Again - Pittsburgh Edition

Seattlite complaints about the traffic always amuse me. We supposedly have the worst traffic in the world, though in part this is an idea actively supported by our development community, who believe the answer to this horrible situation is more roads (and with it, more government support).

Yet Seattle hardly holds a candle to Pittsburgh, which has traffic so absolutely rotten that it defies all measure. Imagine, if you will Seattle without the major highways, where all traffic is channeled down residential streets, where driveways and businesses regularly open out directly on major thoroughfares, where major four-lane roads are shrunken to two lanes every Sunday by a battery of churches along the main drive. Where the lights are not just badly timed, but deliberately counter-timed, so when the light turns green in front you, you can see the next light turn yellow (“Mt. Lebanon - we want you to savor every minute you spend here”).

The nearest “real” highway from where my folks live is about seven miles away, reached by an arcane connection of back routes. Out at the light onto Route 19, down to Gilkeson (which becomes Connor across the street from it) winding down Painter’s Run Road (four lanes going to two quickly, then a left, up the hill to Vanadium, wind down the streets, hang a hard left by the abandoned and burned factories, up a hill to a badly (of course)-timed light, hang a hard right, then a hard left again, and then, only then do you reach I-79. That’s the closest thing to a direct route.

Now, everyone knows that route, its everyone’s direct route, so its backed up, from the bottom of one hill to the top of the next. Add to that the driveways, the business exits, the odd and often imaginative parking jobs, and reluctantly admitteding to the advanced age of some of the drivers (some have yet to get a grasp on this new-fangled turn indicator device), and its like living in a driver’s ed film. Within five minutes of getting into town, I was sputtering at bonehead moves and talking back to drivers. Which means I was driving like a Pittsburgher, and the muscle memory was remembering the old driving habits.

Upon my return to Seattle, we had that massive windstorm that knocked out power on the East Hill for 9 hours, resulting in a 45-minute drive from WotC back up through completely snarled traffic. Here it was a cause for patience, and to be honest, most of the drivers did very well. Back in Pittsburgh, this would be called, of course, "The Normal Commute."

More later,