by T.E. Klunzinger
For this reviewer, it was Iron Butt Night at MSU’s free, outdoor Summer Circle Theatre, with three different shows stretching from 6:30 to midnight.
(And a caution – this series has become wildly popular and attracts an audience of several hundred [most with camp chairs], so get there plenty early to secure a decent seat position.)
First up was the original“Comic Timing”by Artistic Director Rob Roznowski, depicting a small family in Lansing dealing with the realities of World War II while the pre-teen Hardy (the frenetic Brandon Drap) just wants to become a professional jokester, to the extent of fantasizing his own radio “Hardy-Har-Har Show.” But he gets a jolt of reality when his father is thought to be in a perilous situation, with the lesson that you must first find yourself to know what’s best.
While Isa Rodriguez and Abigail Byrne are fine as Hardy’s mother and brainy cousin, the true joy of this show comes from watching Marshall Ross and Beth Hendrickson play multiple roles, often one right after another. Kudos to director Kevin Craig for realizing this impressive feat of acting choreography.
The main attraction was Oscar Wilde’s classic social satire“The Importance of Being Earnest”directed by Dan Smith in full Victorian style, with Cameron Chase and Ryan Adolph as Algernon and Jack, who each have invented a fictitious persona used to avoid unpleasant social situations. This gets complicated as they fall in love with, respectively, Cecily (Jacqueline Lee) and Gwendolen (Hendrickson), each of whom is fixated on marrying a man named Ernest.
The classic battle-axe Lady Bracknell is given high attitude by Zaria Aikens, but should really be played by someone much older such as Edith Evans, Judi Dench or, more recently, Geoffrey Rush or Brian Bedford: “Age has its own authority.”
Further joy in the night comes from Ross and Drap as the butlers Lane and Merriman, Darah Donaher as the suspicious Miss Prism and the eminently watchable DJ Shafer as Rev. Chasuble. From this romp, one would never know that the original production was a flop in London and New York which was mostly due to the gay scandal surrounding Wilde. Fortunately, it was almost immediately revived and survives to delight our somewhat-cynical modern audiences.
A good portion of the audience stayed on for“How to Make Friends and Then Kill Them”by Halley Feiffer and directed by Ryan Welsh, helpfully billed as “for adults only.” The title pretty much says it all as we follow the competitive sisters Ada (Rodriguez) and Sam (Hendrickson) plus their whiny friend Dorrie (Byrne) from grade school all the way into the drudgeries of adulthood. The three actors do yeoman work in bringing out the character shadings of their roles over time.
However, the script asks us to care about three people who don’t really deserve our attention. Ada is selfish, self-absorbed and manipulative from the start and becomes a full-blown alcoholic in high school. Sam is an aspiring graphic novelist who is inspired by, and lusts after, the sister she can’t stand, and Dorrie is a total wimp who becomes devoted to someone who doesn’t deserve it. And the dialogue is, well, kind of repetitive and not that interesting, with lots of yelling. The contract with “Earnest” is stark.
The evening’s MVP Award must go to Hendrickson, who features in all of the three shows with a total playing time of four-and-a-half hours. Now graduated, she should do well in Chicago.
ALERTS: “Timing” plays just once more, this evening (Saturday), while “Earnest” can be seen at 8:00 tonight and Sunday at 4:00 p.m. “Friends” will be on at 10:15 tonight and also next Friday and Saturday.