News Column

Oberlin cast displays deft comic touch with comedy about theater

July 25, 2013

YellowBrix

July 25--WHAT -- "Light Up the Sky" WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday, July 31 and 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1 and Saturday, Aug. 3. WHERE: Hall Auditorium, on Ohio 58 at 511. HOW MUCH: Free, but reservations are recommended. Call (440) 775-8169.

OBERLIN -- An Oberlin Summer Theatre Festival cast lights up the stage in a free production of Moss Hart's classic comedy "Light Up the Sky," about the cutthroat world of Broadway circa 1950.

The festival, which offers free, family-friendly productions each summer, is staging a strong production of "Light up the Sky" through Aug. 3.

"Sky's" cast members capture their characters' eccentric, larger than life personalities while convincingly inhabiting their inner life.

Sparks fly from these tempestuous, driven theater folk living during the first half of the 20th century American theater's golden era -- a time before nonprofit regional theater, when dozens of new plays opened on Broadway each season. Producers sought more than anything to make their investors a profit.

With that goal in mind, producers held numerous pre-Broadway try-outs in cities, followed by bootcamp like re-write sessions. They were preparing for the tough New York critics, who could make or break a show with their reviews.

Hart, one of the most popular playwrights of the 30s and 40s, offers an insightful, witty, informative and vivid look into the personalities and their processes to bring shows to Broadway.

Hart deftly displays his familiarity with the process and theater types.

Hart pokes fun at their pretensions; are they truly in it for the artistic merit or just to make a profit with the play (read commodity)?

"You didn't read it, did you?" one of the characters asks of another, referring to a play everyone hopes is on the fast track to Broadway and becoming a profitable commodity.

"Who reads?" the other character answers.

"Cheer up, it's only money" another character says at another point.

Those are fighting words to someone like producer Sydney Black (Mark Moritz, as aggressive as a pitbull, with Al Pacino like intensity, drive and focus).

At one point during "Light up the Sky" when Black believes the play failed in the eyes of an out-of-town audience, he stalks, his body aggressively lurched forward, into his Boston hotel room (the play's setting is lavishly, spaciously and brightly designed by Paul Moser).

As played by Moritz, fancy dark suit and all ( formal, elegant costumes by April Rock) this bully looks, talks and walks like someone out of "The Godfather."

Moritz' Black isn't the only emotional volcano onstage. Christa Hinckley plays the leading lady, Irene Livingston, like an unpredictable brewing storm. You don't know when she'll have a tear-filled melt down, or steam like an out-of-control inferno.

Matthew Wright nails the flamboyance of the play's director, Carleton Fitzgerald, whose favorite line is "I Could Cry!" spoken with a melodramatic flourish.

Actually, each of these characters speak with some type of flourish and that's where a lot of the humor comes in.

But not all the characters are over-the-top. A charming but modest secretary, Miss Lowell (played with an unassuming manner by Jes Bedwinek) provides contrast, as does a veteran playwright, Owen Turner (David Bugher as a compassionate, mentor-type).

Most of these characters are types, with little dimension.

Peter Sloan, the playwright who penned the play within the play, is an exception.

When he enters, he looks like just another wide-eyed, naive idealistic young man. I found similarities between this play and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," -- the 1939 political satire starring James Stewart about a young, idealistic politician who goes to D.C., only to find vultures ready to quash any of his dreams and smirk while saying "Welcome to Washington kid!"

Here, it's "Welcome to Broadway, kid!"

As played by Aaron Profumo, Sloan has these young, idealistic qualities, but he also possesses a surprisingly determined, neversay-die attitude. He may be young and inexperienced, but he believes in his play ( "I felt like I had something to say and I'm not going to let anybody stop me from saying it!", he says with fervor. He's not afraid to match wits with Black, who sees only green.)

There's plenty of insults and attitude leveled at each other as the play within the play goes through its out of town try-outs. But theater lovers will delight in the lighter moments, such as theater superstitions.

"Light up the Sky" is more than just escapist comedy. It's a surprisingly meaty play about doing what you believe in, working with others who don't necessarily mesh with you and the reason people attend the theater..

If the art form is to survive, it's young, eager and determined playwrights such as Sloan -- and young, enthusiastic audience members, who will have to lead the way.

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(c)2013 the Norwalk Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio)

Visit the Norwalk Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) at www.norwalkreflector.com

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