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Prince William Little Theatre Red Scare on Sunset

By • Jun 12th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Red Scare on Sunset by Charles Busch
Prince William Little Theatre
Hylton Performing Arts Center-Merchant Hall, Manassas, VA
Through June 17th
2:25 with intermission
$15/$12 Senior, student, miltary
Reviewed June 9th, 2012

Red Scare on Sunset is set in Hollywood in the early 1950s. Film star Mary Dale discovers that communists really are hiding everywhere. And she has discovered their dastardly plot: to overthrow the Hollywood film system.

Prince William Little Theatre’s Red Scare on Sunset featured a great design premise: keep the audience and actors off-kilter. This was accomplished through Jarret Baker’s set (the playing space was a huge diamond-shaped, raked stage painted with non-parallel straight black lines, with the quadrilaterals created by the intersections of lines painted in blue, yellow or pink, and the set pieces were all painted to match the floor colors and also were not ever squared off.), Leslie Anne Ross’ costumes (gorgeous, mostly shades of gray, but a few had splashes of color; the Drama/Comedy duo’s zentai costumes were a bit distracting and oddly out-of-place) and Jarret Baker’s light design (film noir style for the most part). The actor (Holly Martin Czuchna) sitting at the point of the diamond set with her back to the audience transcribing the show also contributed to the “what’s going on” flavor of Red Scare on Sunset.

Ian Wade was perfect as Frank Taggart, Mary’s husband. Taggart wasn’t too bright, was easily manipulated, and Wade made Taggart’s adventures seem to make sense. Mary-Anne Sullivan as the innocent and determined Mary Dale (a part scripted to be played by a man) was compelling, you really wanted for everything to turn out well for her in the end. You could argue if it did or not. Annie Ermlick was wonderful as the honorable Marta Towers, with a great monologue near the end of the show. Ellen Young as radio star Pat Pilford was successful playing both the strong harpy demanding changes to her radio program, and as the victim of the blackmail plot over her youthful indiscretions.

Despite a few really funny lines in the script (“I support the First Amendment by endorsing censorship!” and the movie director helping Mary Dale find her character of Lady Godiva by “exposing herself.”) the script was a bit too confusing to make for a coherent play. It was difficult to identify with any of the characters, although Andrew Buning’s portrayal of the charming cosmetologist-turned-houseboy was the most sympathetic. Maybe director Leslie Anne Ross was too successful at keeping the audience off-balance? The “serious” aspects of the plot turned into camp, but not always successfully. It seemed that several opportunities for humor were missed, either by the actor not understanding the reference, or Ross choosing to gloss over those moments to keep the show’s pace moving along.

PWLT’s Red Scare on Sunset was an enigma: a great design concept and competent actors merged with a confusing plot didn’t quite equal a completely enjoyable show.

Director’s Notes

By Leslie Anne Ross

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Wonderland is an apt description for the world of PWLT’s production Red Scare on Sunset. If you asked the cast the Director’s concept, they would probably say I referred to this production as “all caddy wompus” and although “caddy wompus” is currently not a word in the dictionary, it means “chaotic or crazy” like the floor of the Senate. Or better yet, like a funhouse. This production seeks to distort conventional perceptions and startle with unpredictable production elements from the slant of the pink stage, to the cartoon furniture, to the suspenseful music and film noir lighting. By design, the pieces of this puzzle don’t fit together, rather they have great contrasts and polarized extremes juxtaposed against one another thereby making the lines between them even sharper.

Red Scare on Sunset was written in 1991 by Charles Busch who was fascinated by the Hollywood blacklist period in the 1950s. He set out to create a play based on those red-baiting propaganda films from the 40s and 50s like “Red Menace,” “I Married a Communist,” and “My Son John.” Mr. Busch believed “extremism of both the Right and the Left deserves to be satirized.”

Historical context is great but here it only partial helps understand what this production seeks to express. Red Scare on Sunset is set in 1951 during the post-war era (immediately after World War II). That time in history was defined by a strange mixture of international cooperation to rebuild Europe and Japan juxtaposed against the hostilities between western democracies (led by the United States) and the Soviet Union. Yeah, yeah. This conflict, known as the Cold War, focused on espionage and proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union and was the expression of underlying ideological differences between the two post-World War II powers. Blah, blah, blah. According to Wikipedia, the term “Red Scare” actually denotes two distinct periods of strong Anti-Communism in the United States. The First Red Scare, from 1919 to 1921, was based on a worker (socialist) revolution and political radicalism. The Second Red Scare, from 1947 to 1957, focused on national and foreign communists influencing society and infiltrating the federal government. Okay, okay, we get it.

Step right up folks and peak inside to the greatest farce on earth. We’ve got capitalism and communism, Hollywood producers and New York playwrights, suspense and intrigue, blackmail and murder, McCarthyism and zany musical comedy numbers. We’ve got a strident conservative, a meek adulterer, a love triangle, numerous verdant communists, several glamorous movie stars, a couple mimes and a hair dresser.

When I was selected to direct PWLT’s production of Red Scare on Sunset, I was terrified, overwhelmed, and tickled PINK. Along the path to opening night, the vision changed, grew, shrank, and jelled into the show we present to you. The cast and production team, more commonly known as the Dream Team, are some of the finest actors and designers working in community theatre in the Washington, DC area. I am as humbled today as I was at the inspired production meetings and the raucous rehearsals.

The talent, professionalism, creativity and artistry of this wonderful company made working on Red Scare on Sunset a hysterical, laugh-a-minute joy and one of the most fulfilling artistic periods of my life. I am merely the conductor, while these amazing artists make the music. And oh, how sweet it is.

Cast

  • Ralph Barnes: Katherine Bisulca
  • Jerry Simmons: Josh Bartosch
  • Pat Pilford: Ellen Young
  • Drama/Comedy: Kirsten Burt
  • Comedy/Drama: Chaz D. Pando
  • Frank Taggart: Ian Wade
  • Mary Dale: Mary-Anne Sullivan
  • Malcolm: Andrew Buning
  • Marta Towers: Annie Ermlick
  • Sales Girl: Katherine Bisulca
  • Mitchell Drake: Gary F. Parsons
  • Bertram Barker: Ken Clayton
  • R.G. Benson: Katherine Bisulca
  • Lady Prudwen: Annie Ermlick
  • Arnolph: Gary F. Parsons
  • Baldric: Ken Clayton
  • Leofric: Ian Wade
  • Thomas: Andrew Buning
  • Granny Lou: Holly Martin Czuchna
  • Yetta Felson: Holly Martin Czuchna

The Production Team

  • Producer: Chaz D. Pando
  • Director: Leslie Anne Ross
  • Dance Choreographer: Chaz D. Pando
  • Stage Manager: Katherine Blondin
  • Running Crew: Sallie Willows, Samantha Reau
  • Stage Combat choreographer: Kevin Robertson
  • Scenic Designer: Jarret Baker
  • Set Construction: Jarret Baker, Jim Newman, Gyde Lund, Chaz D. Pando
  • Set Painting: Jarret Baker, Bob Baker
  • Properties Designer: Sarah Barlow
  • Lighting Designer: Jarret Baker
  • Sound Designer: Lynn Lacey
  • Composer: Bruce Farquharson
  • Costume Designer: Leslie Anne Ross
  • Costume Mistress: Susy Moorstein
  • Seamstress: Grace R. Byers
  • Make-up Designer: Sheila Hyman
  • Graphic Designer: Rodrigo Pool
  • Program Designer: Chaz D. Pando
  • Photographers: Leland Shook, Cana Wade
  • PWLT Board Liaison: Scott Olson

Disclaimer: Prince William Little Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. PWLT also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio.net web site, which did not influence this review. And the reviewer was approached by the director to be a part of the show’s creative team.

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has performed in local productions, but prefers to be behind the scenes. Mike earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Online News Association.

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