Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bay Players' Lend Me A Tenor

Light, Easy Comedy North Of The City

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The Whitefish Bay High School Auditorium is big. Really, really big. This is interesting to note as it is the home of venerable local community theatre group The Bay Players. Smaller-budget productions are usually placed on smaller stages, but the Bay Players have been blessed with a really spacious performance space.

On walking into the hall being used as the lobby, The Bay Players’ director Raymond Bradford suggested that I sit in one of many seats that were open relatively close to the stage, but the novelty of sitting at a great distance was a bit too tempting to pass-up. Attending shows in generally smaller spaces on opening night, I tend to be ensconced in rather large crowds. It was refreshing to see a live show and feel the openness of a large auditorium with plenty of empty space. 

The Resilience Of Classic Farce

The final production of the Bay Players’ 60th Anniversary Season, Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor is a great deal of fun. Having seen Soulstice Theatre’s production of the show last April, I can honestly say I wouldn’t mind seeing different productions of the show on an annual basis. The simple comic language of a traditional farce doesn’t have to be staged with any kind of brilliance or any kind of inspired flourish. The rhythm of Ludwig’s comedy is so catchy that any level of talent or experience in the cast can bring it to the stage. Those with less experience can find a way of presenting things that's every bit as entertaining as really experienced stage talent. There’s nothing tricky here—just clean and simple comedy with a clear sense of direction that carries the plot.  And though the cast of the Bay Players may have been more than a bit stiff in places, there were so many irresistibly funny moments that it was really difficult not to enjoy the whole experience.

Comic Stage Furniture

From midway back in the spacious auditorium, it’s all very clear. A solidly-constructed set firmly establishes a hotel suite somewhere in the Midwest somewhere in the  1930’s. there are six doors—every one of which has a really solid, resonant sound when shut. There’s something really satisfying about the sound of a door closing in a classic farce and it’s a real pleasure to hear it fill the space as the rhythm of the show gets going. There may not have been a lot of door slamming here, but the persistant sound of doors being open and shut is one of the less-acknowledged pleasures of a classic farce. And though Lend Me A Tenor is hardly a bedroom farce, the one other inanimate stage element with substnatial personality here has to be the bed. It's small and springy--almost seems to have been fashioned entirely for the purpose of comedy. It may not have gotten a credt in the program, but one pictures the bed studying comedy alongside other bits of furniture--couches and recliners and such that will all go on to perform in stage comedies all over the country.  

Applause Upon Entrance

The dynamic of the audience at a show like this is really interesting. As individual actors made their appearances onstage, there was applause. This isn’t a really solid convention of local theatre. People don’t often get applause for merely walking onstage in a standard  theatrical show. There’s a good reason for this . . . it disrupts the flow of the action of the play and can obstruct the reality of what’s playing out onstage. Here it was really refreshing, though. It leant the show a kind of casual atmosphere that enhanced the fun of the show.

The story begins to setlle-in around the comic elements. Bob Fuchs plays legendary Tenor Tito Morelli who is being featured in a performance of Othello in a small city in Ohio in 1934. He’s having some marital difficulty, which inevitably lands him in a chemically-induced slumber that would make it very difficult for him to perform. Desperate and desperately in need of keeping ticket revenue from the performance, the show’s producers enlist the aid of Max--a minor assistant who dreams of opera stardom.  Shaun Navis is exceedingly likeable as a somewhat awkward guy who is thrust into the spotlight to impersonate Tito in the full costume as Othello.  It’s a fun show and Raymond Bradford has done a really good job of maintaining just the right pace for the comedy. Even the last-minute replacement of an actress in the cast, which could’ve derailed any production, was handled smoothly enough that it hardly seemed apparent.


The Bay Players’
production of Lend Me A Tenor runs through April 17th at the Whitefish Bay High School Auditorium.

(An added bonus of attending the show was the opportunity to breeze through voluminous scrapbooks from the Bay Players’ past 60 years. It was really interesting looking through newspaper clippings of theatre reviews from nearly half a century ago. My wife is convinced that my reviews should run with a mid-century line drawing of my head complete with pipe (looking vaguely like J.R. Bob Dobbs, I would imagine) under some kind of antiquated column title like “Our Man On The Aisle.”)  

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