Netflix popularized bingeing on TV series by making it easy to view entire seasons of episodes back to back, for hours at a time—if that’s your thing.
My thing is seeing local live theater—and there is, thankfully, an increasing amount of it in the Hudson Valley. Last weekend, I binged on stage productions, catching four of them four days in a row. I had a blast. Here are my thoughts on three of those shows, commenting less as a critic than as a theater fan who sometimes takes to the stage myself and who handles publicity for various theater groups, including one of those mentioned below.
‘Blithe Spirit,’ Lyndhurst Mansion
The timeless farce by the inimitable writer, actor and bon vivant Noel Coward has one or two ghosts gliding about, wreaking havoc—and lots of silly fun. But there are more than 40 “ghosts” surrounding the stage as well. That’s because the audience is seated along three walls of the stately Grand Picture Gallery of the national historic landmark Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown. Much of the action takes place within this encircled area, placing the audience so intimately close that when an actor is pouring a martini, a spectator sitting there is within arm’s reach of the libations
The setting is perfect for the premise. As research for his next book, novelist Charles Condomine has summoned a medium, Madame Arcati, to conduct a séance in his English country house. But he didn’t count on the Madame reeling in the ghost of his late wife, Elvira, who is having a high time of it, blithely flitting about as she torments Charles’s flustered second wife, Ruth, who can neither see nor hear Elvira, as Charles is able to. That creates funny bits of comic business, when Charles is arguing with Elvira, but Ruth assumes she’s being insulted.
As eccentric and urbane Charles, forced to frantically play referee between his warring wives, Larry Reina reigns supreme in a canny performance brimming with coiled energy and panache. Keeping up with him as haughty and exasperated Ruth is the stately and polished Kelly Kirby. Melinda O’Brien is perfectly ethereal and coquettish as Elvira, floating about the room, above it all in her flowing, full-length chemise.
The principals are strongly supported by Kate Gleeson as exuberant Madame Arcati and by Kurt Lauer and Elizabeth Mialaret as the Condomines’ friends.
Full of delicious bon mots that the actors savor like bonbons—mots—such as “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me”—Noel Coward’s sophisticated satire is handled with flair to spare, a tribute to veteran director Michael Muldoon, who milks the shenanigans to full effect. (For a short video interview with Mr. Muldoon, see facebook.com/BruceTheBlog.)
A co-production of M&M Performing Arts Company and Red Monkey Theater Group, “Blithe Spirit” is playing in repertory with Chekhov’s masterpiece The Seagull on weekends through March 31. Ticket information: MMPACI.com.
An Evening of One Act Plays, Ridgefield Theater Barn
Short plays—typically running no longer than 15-20 minutes—are an increasingly popular format for local stages. Audiences favor them, too. That was evident by the full house and enthusiastic reaction on display when I caught the seven entertaining pieces that form Ridgefield Theater Barn’s An Evening of One Act Plays. (This warm and welcoming venue has comfortable cabaret seating, so feel free to bring along your own eats and drinks.)
Part of the appeal of one-act productions is the variety of subject matter that fills the stage in a rapid-fire, two-hour span.
In this well-paced production, we witness the following: a lonely suburban mom looking for love in the wrong places; a young man stumbling through the confessional as he stumbles through pubescence; a hapless single guy with a lot of questions about love and marriage; a young couple for whom love is poignantly color blind; three sisters in a museum for whom art is much more than paintings on a wall; a second-rate screenwriter concocting a slapdash scheme to land a second-rate actress for his next script, to the chagrin of his wife; middle-age female lovers who have distinctly different and recollections of how they met, which are re-enacted by younger versions of themselves, to hilarious effect.
There’s a lot to take in and enjoy, by turns refreshing, illuminating, diverting, and just plain funny. What distinguishes this particular assemblage of otherwise unrelated playlets is a connective tissue in the form of blackout sketches, collectively titled Miss Match/Mismatch.
They are eight interstitial pieces sandwiched between each of the one-acts, with the same two actors—Emily Volpintesta and Chris Cenatiempo—nimbly portraying a cross-section of Millennial types. It is a smart device, well-conceived and authored by Paulette Layton, that pulls the evening together nicely while providing the equivalent of a fine meal’s intermezzo that serves to cleanse the palate before the next course arrives.
Song segues also are used to good effect during the evening’s quick set changes. It all adds up to a top-notch production that shows off local writing and directing talent, and mixes the seasoned stage presence of veteran actors with the apprenticeship of young actors, who are to be encouraged for their hard work and worthy efforts.
The show runs through March 30. Ticket information: RidgefieldTheaterBarn.org.
‘Oleanna,’ Westchester Collaborative Theater
As I was watching this barn burner of a stage drama, I found myself furiously scribbling in my notepad the choice morsels of dialogue that spring from the fertile and probing mind of Pulitzer-winning playwright David Mamet, best known for his trenchant take-down of hucksterism, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which gave us the immortal line, “Coffee is for closers only.”
In “Oleanna,” Mr. Mamet’s target is not disingenuous salespeople, but rather what he deems an equally offensive stain upon our social order: elitist educators and the system that justifies their abuse of power wielded over students. That’s the fulcrum of his premise. On either end is a college professor up for tenure and a student with low self-esteem who finds the resolve to not only challenge her teacher but to jeapordize his tenure. It is a battle royale that pits power against the highly subjective perception of what words mean. Hanging in the balance are what appear to be the author’s ambivalent musings on the sexual subtext of how we communicate with each other, both verbally and non-verbally.
When the professor drops phrases such as “white man’s burden” and “copulating” into a private meeting with his female student, is that racist or sexist? To her, yes! To him, no! And so it goes, until the explosive climax, when their irreconcilable values devolve into the very human failing of primal flailing.
This intimate, powerful production proves that you don’t need big theaters to house big performances, which is what Duane Rutter and Julia Boyes deliver with impressive intensity and tightly focused theatricality. To not be riveted by their work throughout is to not be awake throughout. The two actors could not be in better hands than those of Robin Anne Joseph, one of the finest theater directors in this region. Her keen insight into human behavior poignantly authenticates any production under her watch.
Produced by GoJo Clan Productions, “Oleanna” plays through March 17 in Ossining. Ticket information: GoJoClanProductions.com