Antagonism, It's a Wonderful Life and The Judy Garland Christmas Special

A roundup of stage reviews.

Antagonism

Theater Company at Odd Duck Studio, 1214 10th Ave., 800-838-3006, www.brown papertickets.com, www.greentheatre.org. $6–$10. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. Ends Dec. 23.

"Antagonism" is the apt title of Eclectic Theater Company's double bill of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter and writer/actor Beau Prichard's timely debut one-act, Interrogation. Each play features the same two actors, Luke S. Walker and Prichard himself; they deftly tackle two very different roles, with different accents to boot. In Pinter's 1957 absurdist drama about blindly following orders—however anonymous, irrational, or brutal they may be—two men tensely wait for their next shady assignment in their shared basement flat in industrial Birmingham, England. They are thrown for a bit of a loop when a different kind of order suddenly appears in the room's dumb-waiter hatch. A dark farce ensues. Walker infuses his hapless Gus with an everyman frumpiness and necessary empathy; Prichard's more ruthless and bossy Ben is less nuanced, with a touch of hysteria in his pronouncements. The low-budget set in this scrappy 48-seat black-box theater suits Pinter's low-budget scenario and protagonists. The pacing could be stepped up a bit, but overall, it was not a bad opening night. Both actors manage working-class British banter well, which becomes especially apparent when they switch to American in their reversed roles as manipulative interrogator and defiant prisoner in Prichard's post-9/11 drama, Interrogation.

For his first produced effort, Prichard's got some nice tension and a bit of humor mixed in, but he'd do well to toss out the clichés—canned references to the "Founding Fathers" and to American idealism, straight-from-the-headlines descriptions of torture, horny comments about the prisoner's fiancée, etc. The play could also do with a clearer resolution. I was hoping for a twist and thought it might come at the end with a breakout or physical confrontation involving a pen, but instead, just the actor—not the character—escapes his shackles. SUE PETERS

It's A Wonderful Life

Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., 781-9707, www.taproottheatre.org. $15–$30. Various dates and times. Ends Dec. 30.

Joe Landry's adaptation, billed as a "live radio play" (the setting is a '40s-era Seattle studio, not Bedford Falls), strips the visuals—and most of the magic—from the 1946 Frank Capra classic. Unfortunately, Taproot's well-intentioned production can't redeem such a flawed concept. Most of the film's sparkling dialogue seems to have been "adapted" verbatim, yet almost every scene feels anemic. Picture George and Mary Bailey's wedding night in the ramshackle old house, or Harry Bailey's disastrous fall through the ice—then imagine having to be told what's happening in those scenes by an obtrusive narrator rather than seeing it for yourself. Robbing the story of its visuals also puts undue pressure on the cast; each member must work especially hard to channel the passion and heft of the original performance. Grant Goodeve captures some of Jimmy Stewart's aw-shucks magnetism, and his early speech at the Building and Loan packs some punch, but he's still hemmed in by the concept's limitations. His climactic run through Bedford Falls comes off as silly rather than wonderful, since the movie's backdrop, as much as Stewart, is what made that scene so satisfying. Lisa Peretti seems miscast as Mary; she exudes little of Donna Reed's sweetness and warmth, which makes rooting for the young couple awfully difficult. Carlo Nakar deserves special mention for re- creating the sounds of the film in old-school radio style (and getting more than one laugh in the process), but true fans of Life—and neophytes, too, for that matter—would be much better off just watching it on DVD. NEAL SCHINDLER

The Judy Garland Christmas Special

Open Circle Theater, 429 Boren Ave. N., 382-4250, www.octheater.com. $10. 10 p.m. Fri., Dec. 15–Sat., Dec. 16.

For Judy Garland fans, her short-lived 1963 TV variety series remains a high point in her oeuvre, and among those episodes, her Christmas special with Mel Torme, Jack Jones, and her three kids (for you straight guys, those would be Liza Minnelli and Lorna and Joe Luft) is especially infamous as the Episode That Nearly Didn't Happen. CBS execs were on the brink of canceling it when Garland, unable to rouse herself after an all-night bender, didn't show up for the final dress rehearsal.

Open Circle's production imagines what would have happened if she had. Working from a tape of the campfest that did actually go out live, if not hitchlessly, director Ron Sandahl and his cast have farcically and even surreally extrapolated backward to give us a peek at that ill-fated rehearsal: a Lorna who winces at being dragged onstage, a Liza who can't be dragged off, Liza's flaming "boyfriend," a son so ignored no one thinks to ask why he's been replaced by a stand-in, two bemused special guests, a dryly jaded stage director (heard only over loudspeakers), and a lurching, incoherent, barely mobile Judy. Celebrity verisimilitude is not the point of this exercise in broad and delirious silliness, though as Judy, Andrew Tasakos does get her theatrical arm gestures pretty right, and, singing "Over the Rainbow," even hints at a little of the pain in her voice, if not at her coiled intensity. John McKenna looks nothing at all like Jack Jones, which makes the illusion that he's somehow transplanted Jones' voice into his body all the funnier. Similarly, Josh Hartvingson, playing (thanks to quick-change skills) both daughters alternately, sounds startlingly and hilariously like Liza, combining precisely her brassiness and desperation. The resulting show, endearingly loose and snappily unsentimental, is a big gay Christmas cocktail: slightly curdled eggnog with a double shot of gin and a sequined swizzle stick. GAVIN BORCHERT

 
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