Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“At This Evening’s Performance” premiers at North Coast Rep.

“At This Evening’s Performance” is making its North Coast Repertory Theatre’s debut, directed by the experienced and well -respected Andrew Barnicle.  It’s playing through Aug. 6th.

Would that Barnicle had a better piece given him than this almost funny play that isn’t sure of what it wants to be. And would that we could figure out just what he wanted the play to do under the circumstances. Credit to the seasoned cast that goes out of its collective way to bring home the goods even though it would take more than that to save this play.

Richard Baird and Bruce Turk
It looks like a farce, sounds like a political satire (“We know all about the illegal emigrations. The intellectuals, the scientists, the Jews…sneaking out to tell lies …”) and has some (very little) comic relief that comes at the very end, but trying define it would take more time than necessary. 

Nagle’s 1983 play takes place backstage in a playhouse in rural Dunsk (recently annexed to socialist Strevia). Between acts we met up with a motley set of Bohemian actors performing old and second- rate melodrama’s that must be spoken in verse, because modern drama has been banned by the incoming regime. 

Typically in farce doors slam, walls separating the men’s dressing room from the gal’s are as thin as tissue paper allowing for ears against the walls to overhear what’s going on over there. In most farce there are at least four or five doors. Here two? (Marty Burnett designs one of his split screen dressing rooms perfectly)

 Usually a frenzy of back and forth comings and goings becomes dizzying almost slapstick. Not so much here, but an added layer of foreign intrigue is thrown in just for the you know what giggles.

Hysteria sets in when it is discovered that someone in the company is a spy. A particular line in the third act of ‘at this evenings performance’ will trigger a killing from someone in the audience to someone on stage to get rid of that someone some think is sending out covert messages, somehow. You figure that one out.

Here are some of the facts that we do know: The older actor and head of the company Gunther (Bruce Turk) is having a tryst with the younger ingénue Saskia (Sierra Jolene) while the younger male lead, Piers (Paul Turbiak) is shtupping Gunther’s prima donna wife Hippolyta (a fine over the top Katie MacNichol). Unbeknownst their elders, the two young ones are making their own future wedding plans.

The last and seasoned character actor in the troupe is Oskar (Kyle Colerider-Krugh). He’s not so much a person of interest until a revealing last scene confession. In between, his prosthetic ears and chin get lost as does most of that bit of nonsense, sooner rather than later.
L. to R. Bruce Turk, Richard Baird, Katie MacNichol, Sierra Jolene, Kyle Cotrider-Krugh and Paul Turbiak
Richard Baird is the all dressed in black menacing looking Valdez. He is a holdover from the former government. He plays the dumb and heavy-handed stage manager. (Forgive me, my stage manager friends). Baird enters as an angry- mad, no- nothing stagehand bent on causing confusion and exits, well… no spoilers here.

His over the top intimidating looks and actions get a rise out the audience. Even showing us his all too knowing scowls, he’s the so funny, funny foil. “I’m not a detective. I’m a member of the Popularity Force”, he growls. “We’re the ones who march in the parades swinging clubs.”

Turk, another experienced gem, finds himself in a not so wonderful play either on stage or off. Chemistry with other cast members (His real life wife is MacNichol) is vaguely seen and no dots are connected.

Gunther is somewhat of an egomaniac. He exhibits ‘the play must go on mentality’ throughout this over indulged playacting. He’s willing to risk everyone’s life, even his own to keep the company afloat.

As the company head he works overtime to keep his group working and employed in perilous times, much to the chagrin of the others especially when his troupe is offered a chance to be the sole performers in The Esterschnazy Palace (‘an appalling example of aristocratic decadence…’) There are two catches: All the plays have to be penned by the Minister of Culture himself, and they have to stay in this godforsaken socialist state s long as they agree to work for the state.    
Katie MacNichol, Bruce Turk and John Nutten
What would a potential spy/backstage intrigue/ play within a play/ farce about a dictator state be without mention of the Manager of Culture?

John Nutten plays Pankoff, the Manager of Culture (“Who knows what’s true these days?”) similar to the crowd we see on TV these days. It’s all said with a smug smile that one would like to well, erase if one could.

He is the perfect foil for this kind of dictator management role dressed in a tuxedo, flaming red sash across his body and with cape lined in the same blood red. Medals line his jacket with one that honors him for being a ‘Creative Genius’. Finish him off with gloves and top hat. Credit Elisa Benzoni for the costumes.
L. to R. Katie MacNichol, Sierra Jolene, Paul Turbiak, Bruce Turk and Kyle Coterider-Krugh
Most of the fun comes in the last act when the whole company now knows ‘there is a spy among us’. Before that certain cast member, all of who are now on stage for the play within the play’s finale says that certain line, they all line themselves up hiding behind moveable props to dodge that fateful bullet…with the exception of one who is indisposed. That one scene tickled my funny bone. 
Bruce Turk, Sierra Jolene, (front) Katie MacNichol and Paul Turbiak hiding behind the palm tree.
Unfortunately for those of us in our seats, our reality isn’t playing out on some playwright’s yellow pad. We’re living the nightmare in real time.

‘Summer time and the livin’ is easy’ …but not for all. Summer, winter, fall or spring living in a dictatorship where one never sees the sun or is always under suspicion, or heads a third rate acting company in the face of it all, should get out of Dodge immediately, or maybe put this play in mothballs for a rainy day.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 6th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858.481.1055
Production Type: Farce
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Ste. D Solana Beach, CA 92075
Ticket Prices: Start at $46.00 (Sr., student, military discounts available)
Web: northcoastrep.org

Photo: Aaron Rumley


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