Montgomery Playhouse Blame it On BeckettBy Bob Ashby • Jan 15th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Montgomery Playhouse: (Info) (Web)
Gaithersburg Arts Barn, Gaithersburg, MD
Through January 26th
2:00, with intermission
$16/$14 Gaithersburg Residents
Reviewed January 12th, 2013
Blame It on Beckett, by local playwright John Morogiello, is not so much a theater backstage story as a theater front office story, concerning the frustrated and back-stabbing ways of the denizens of the “literary office” of a non-profit professional regional theater company. The “Beckett” of the title is Samuel, of Waiting for Godot fame, who company dramaturg Jim Foley (Nick Sampson) faults for all that has gone wrong with contemporary theater.
Overwhelmed and increasingly despising the quality of the thousands of unsolicited script he receives, Foley doesn’t bother reading them, comes in late, drinks a lot, hangs up on phone calls from playwrights, and loudly rails against the futility of all things theatrical to anyone who will listen. Into his cynical and jaded world drops intern Heidi Bishop (Emily Sucher), newly minted MFA in dramaturgy, full of youthful idealism and righteous certainty, willing and able to stand up to Foley’s bombast. In early scenes, the two engage in witty verbal combat, their timing and chemistry first-rate.
Later on, Bishop’s ambitious agenda becomes sharper, as she cleans up the office, installs organization and discipline, and begins keeping notes on things she would like to change. As ingénues go, Bishop veers into Eve Harrington territory, though inconsistently; her moods and motivations fluctuate. Sucher valiantly follows the twists and turns of her character’s actions and feelings as written by Morogiello, sometimes at the expense of a coherent character arc. Foley is no Margo Channing, it should be said. An emotional wreck from the death of his partner and his professional despair, he is oblivious to gathering storm clouds. Following a professional crash, he begins to recover a sense of who he is, and his final scenes are nicely controlled, a degree of self-possession replacing the character’s out-of-control energy in the first act.
Things become more complicated when theater manager Mike Braschi (Chris Hawkins), in charge of financial matters for the company, and veteran playwright Tina Fike (Linda Hirsch) join the fray. Smooth and smarmy, Braschi never takes his eye off whatever prize he has in mind, whether a trip to New York with a promising new play or a sexual conquest. Having worked his way up in the theatrical rough-and-tumble from humble origins, he has learned how to insert an unexpected knife into someone’s back with a smile. Hawkins gives one of those enjoyable “characters you love to hate” performances, out of the J.R. Ewing playbook.
Equally determined to have her way, with the power and box-office name recognition to get it, Fike is the most dangerous, and perhaps most cynical, of the lot. Fike should command any room she enters, and she should command the stage. Hirsh’s performance is a bit too soft, a bit lacking in magnetism, for someone whose iron determination to succeed is intended to dominate the action, which centers around an argument about including or discarding a monologue from her new play and her decision about who to take to New York with the play. Her attempt to seduce one of the other characters is clumsy. Nonetheless, she is convincing in her most important speech, in which she explains that, for all the nonsense, betrayals, and failures involved, theater is still a calling – like the Catholic Church, she notes, only with much more sex.
The play is very funny, in a bitter sort of way, though the plot ultimately becomes rather convoluted in its attempt to provide a satisfying ending. Theater fans will enjoy the numerous “inside baseball” references to playwrights, shows, and theater politics and economics, tossed about like the woebegone scripts that litter Foley’s office (e.g., “Requiem for a Hairdresser”). Morogiello’s script calls for recorded audio skits to be played during scene changes, such as Beckett pitching a play in an elevator, and these add to the ironic fun of the proceedings.
The set, designed by David Jones and dressed by BJ Angstadt, is a realistic cluttered theater office, with worn desks and chairs, along with file cabinets that rock and rattle on cue. The sound design (Roger Stone), in addition to the between-scene recorded skits and Broadway show music before each act, is long on very frequent, and perfectly timed, phone rings. The costumes (McKenna Kelly) are well suited to the characters: For Foley, disheveled duds that look like they have been slept in and a suit and sneakers combination; for Braschi, natty business attire; for Bishop, several upscale work outfits with designer shoes plus a sexy red dress; and for Fike, an “artistic” look involving a loose-fitting green blouse and roomy pants. All the physical elements of the show looked good.
Ironically, in a show that talks at length about the role and frustrations of dramaturgs, the Montgomery Playhouse production did not use a dramaturg. The reason became clear in post-show Q&A session: the playwright, being local, was able to attend the first read-through and was available to director David Dossey for phone consultations, a luxury enjoyed by few community companies. Nevertheless, I respectfully disagree with Dossey’s comment that a dramaturg is unnecessary for community theater productions. While the function emphasized in this play of combing through thousands of unsolicited scripts does not bedevil community companies, an able dramaturg can research the historical background of a play, performance history, issues to which a play responds, etc. Presenting this information in a well-organized way can be of great benefit to cast members, audiences, and even directors. Recent local community theater productions (e.g., Copenhagen at Rockville Little Theater and Parade at Kensington Arts Theater) have reaped that benefit, and I would argue that more community theater groups should encourage knowledgeable people to play this valuable role.
Photos by David Jones
- Jim Foley: Nick Sampson
- Heidi Bishop: Emily Sucher
- Tina Fike: Linda Hirsch
- Mike Braschi: Chris Hawkins
- Producer: Lisa Spangler
- Director: David Dossey
- Assistant Director: Gillian Shelly
- Stage Manager: Bruce Hirsch
- Costumer: McKenna Kelly
- Set Dresser: BJ Angstadt
- Lighting Design: Steve Deming
- Light Operator: Mark Shullenbarger
- Sound Design: Roger Stone
- Sound Operator: Steve Deming
- Set Designer and Master Carpenter: David Jones
- Stage Crew: Andi Allison
- Production Logo/Poster Design: Jennifer Georgia
- Set Construction: David Jones, Mark Shullenbarger
- Set Painting: David Jones, Mark Shullenbarger, Lisa Spangler
- Load in Crew: Steve Deming, David Dossey, Chris Hawkins, David Jones, Loretto McNally, Hunter Shelly, Newman Smith, Lisa Spangler
Disclaimer: Montgomery Playhouse provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. MP also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10050.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.