Sunday, October 11, 2009

Play: What's Opera Doc?

Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig, Directed by Lee Paasch, Valley Community Players, Carco Theatre, through 18 October.

I'll be honest. I went this performance because it has cost our gaming group its paladin, and cost our paladin his beard. I'll explain this later, but first let's talk about the play.

Lend Me A Tenor is a behind-the-scenes comedy set in Cleveland of the 1930s. The local opera group is celebrating its ten year anniversary by bringing in a great Italian opera singer, Tito Merelli (Peter Herpst). Tito accidentally overdoses on sleeping pills and is thought dead. The opera's General Manager, Saunders (Jon Loina) and his hapless, nervous, weak-kneed assistant Max (James Wyatt) hatch a plan - Max will impersonate Tito for the performance. But Tito is not really dead, and soon there are two Titos dressed up as Othello (in blackface - deal with it, it's an opera thing) running around. Plus all the women, including Max's girlfriend Maggie (Wendy Enden) want to sleep with the famous tenor.

James Wyatt (who is Max) is part of our Thursday night dungeon group, and is our group's paladin, tank, and general meat shield. So we have been suffering the past few weeks as my warlord, usually a supportive class, has been taking most of the damage while he's been preparing for the role. Furthermore, James is normally bearded, and shed his face fuzz so that he can add a beard to imitate Tito over the course of the play.

Because, you know, a beard and blackface will convince people who know you that you're someone else. It is that sort of sitcom reasoning that pervades the plot, a tenuously-moored edifice constructed by Ken Ludwig (who also wrote the Three Musketeers adaptation at the Rep last year) which threatens to crumble if you think about it too much. So don't think about it too much.

And there is much to distract you from deeper thoughts. The stereotypes are broad and humor effective, though the first act is used pretty much to get things up to speed for a second act filled with mistaken assumptions, double entendres and slamming doors. And James has a marvelous singing voice (who knew?) and his duet with Herpst's Tito is the highpoint of the first act.

The production does have the errors wont to plague small community operations - Peter Herpst and James are hardly doubles, the latter having six inches of height on the former. And when you do a door-slamming force, you really need the doors to stay shut once slammed.

But really, the disappointment is not on the stage, but in the audience. We attended a Friday night performance at the well-appointed and comfortable Carco Theater, and to say the house was light was to be kind. I mean we're in Renton - what else is going on that would compete? Yes, this is a "eat-your-vegetables" rant about the importance of local theater. Community theatre is not the REP, but is a homebuilt, local, volunteer operation that delivers laughs, songs, and entertainment. You really should check it out. Even if your paladin isn't playing the lead.

More later,