Widely Staged Shows, Playwrights Presented Here

By Larry Laneer
November 15, 2019

Who says we’re behind the times?  Not true!  At least, not completely true theatrically speaking.

American Theatre magazine has released its top ten list of most-produced plays and playwrights in the 2019-2020 season (which are really 14 shows because of ties). (Theatre season runs the same as the academic year, fall to spring with an additional summer session.) The magazine is the organ of the Theatre Communications Group, an organization of professional, non-profit theater companies in this country. The list is not comprehensive; it includes productions by TCG members only. And they don’t count Shakespeare and productions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

According to the magazine, A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens, based on the book by Mark Haddon, will be the two most-produced plays in the 2019-2020 season with 12 productions each. A TCG member, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre staged a brief run of Curious Incident in April and is presenting A Doll’s House, Part 2 at CitySpace now. Next on the list of most-produced plays is Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan (10 productions), which Oklahoma City Rep opened with this season. Also on the list are the musical Bright Star by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell (9 productions), presented earlier this year by Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, and The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe (8 productions), done this year by both Oklahoma City University’s School of Theatre and OU’s Helmerich School of Drama.

The magazine also identified the top twenty most-produced playwrights (which are really 22 because of ties). Lauren Gunderson leads the list with 33 productions. Oklahoma Shakespeare staged her The Book of Will in August. Lucas Hnath, author of A Doll’s House, Part 2, will be the third most-produced playwright, tied with Tennessee Williams at 17 productions each. (By the way, Hnath’s last name rhymes with wraith; the H is silent; the N is sounded.) The OCU School of Theatre will present Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl (10 productions) in early 2020. Simon Stephens (13 productions), Duncan Macmillan (11 productions), and Steve Martin (9 productions) also made the top twenty. So did Neil Simon, who died in 2018 (13 productions). Twelve of the most-produced playwrights are women; 10 are men.

Shows don’t necessarily get on this list because they’re always great works of art. Sometimes they just gain popularity or are relatively easy or inexpensive to stage, needing one actor, one costume, and one set, for example. But it’s good to know our theater companies are presenting works that are prominent in the current conversation.

 

Review: The SpongeBob Musical

Daria Pilar Redus, Lorenzo Pugliese, and Beau Bradshaw in The SpongeBob Musical  Photo by Jeremy Daniel

By Larry Laneer
November 13, 2019

When you create a musical based on a television cartoon, you can’t expect to come up with much more than a cartoon musical. That’s what you have in The SpongeBob Musical, now playing at the Thelma Gaylord. Presented by OKC Broadway, this is the touring version of the Broadway production that ran in 2017-2018 to some acclaim.

The show’s protagonist, SpongeBob SquarePants, is a, well, sponge who lives in Bikini Bottom at the bottom of the ocean. By “sponge,” I mean “a porous rubber or cellulose product used similarly to a sponge,” that is, “an elastic porous mass of interlacing horny fibers that forms the internal skeleton of various marine animals (phylum Porifera) and is able when wetted to absorb water.” SpongeBob is not a sponge in the sense of “one who habitually depends on others for maintenance or for support.” Just to clarify.

Kyle Jarrow wrote the book, and original songs are by a Grammy award show worth of musicians, including among others Sara Bareilles, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! at the Disco, They Might Be Giants, and The Flaming Lips. The Flaming Lips! Their appealing anthem “Tomorrow Is” closes the first act. The composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) has wrangled the pop/rock songs into a cohesive score, keeping the show from sounding too composed by committee.

The literary level of this musical rates about the same as a middling television cartoon with anodyne sentiments, corny dialog, and sight gags worthy of the Road Runner. Once the story settles in, a natural disaster threatens Bikini Bottom. SpongeBob leads the effort to save the town while dealing with a local villain.

The same creative team who did the Broadway production created this version. Directed by Tina Landau with choreography by Christopher Gattelli, the show goes full blast visually, dramatically, and musically. David Zinn’s scenic and costume designs run just about the gamut of the color spectrum with everything turned up to full brightness. The costumes are regular clothes for human-like characters such as SpongeBob but run more cartoonish for the “vast array of undersea creatures” played by the supporting cast.

The show counters its dramatic inanity with visual spectacle and performances that are so over-the-top, they’re kind of sweet. Lorenzo Pugliese gives a winning performance in the title role. You can’t help but like SpongeBob and pull for him. As Squidward Q. Tentacles (remember, we’re dealing with cartoon characters here), Cody Cooley just about steals the show. His four-legged tap dance in the second act is the show’s highlight. Beau Bradshaw does a fine job as Patrick Star, a loveable oaf of an undersea slacker. Daria Pilar Redus plays Sandy Cheeks, who is a squirrel. By “squirrel,” I mean “any of various arboreal rodents of the genus Sciurus and related genera, usu. with gray or reddish-brown fur and a long, flexible, bushy tail.” If the show explained why a squirrel lives at the bottom of the ocean in Bikini Bottom, it went right by me unnoticed. The busy supporting cast gives strong performances.

Before the show, I saw more booster seats and people sized to need them than you see at most musicals. Maybe they got a lot out of this one. If you’re a fan of cartoon musicals, SpongeBob may be the show for you.

The SpongeBob Musical by Kyle Jarrow (book) and various artists (music/lyrics)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, through November 17
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.
405-594-8300

Review: A Doll’s House, Part 2

Stacey Logan (l) and Pam Dougherty in A Doll’s House, Part 2   Photo by Wendy Mutz Photography

By Larry Laneer
November 11, 2019

When accomplished actors perform a well-written script, theatergoers wonder why all theater can’t be so engaging. This may be your reaction to Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath, now at CitySpace. Well, theater isn’t as easy to do as this production makes it look.

Hnath has written the 2017 A Doll’s House, Part 2 as a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House, an important work in theater history. It’s still studied in drama schools today. At the end of the Ibsen, Nora Helmer leaves her husband, Torvald, famously slamming the door on her way out. Part 2 takes place 15 years later, when Nora returns home for the first time.

Scholars and theatergoers have been wondering since 1879 about what happened to Nora after she left Torvald. Ibsen never said. How did she make her way in the world? Did she have to become a prostitute to make a living? Or die of consumption? Hnath gives his take on the question (from seeds planted by Ibsen). I won’t reveal it here, except to say Nora has developed some radical ideas, which have put her in a difficult situation.

You don’t have to know the Ibsen to get a lot out this play. But if do know it, you will understand why the characters say some of the things they do. Hnath provides all the background you need for Part 2.

Directed with a light but sure hand by Ruth Charnay, the Oklahoma City Rep (they don’t want to be called “City Rep” anymore; fine) production brings together all theatrical elements into a satisfying whole. Hnath has written intelligent dialog, which is more 21st-century than 19th. This well-done production seems to want to be a comedy, but it’s more quick-witted than funny.

This production displays some of the most admirable acting we’ve seen in a while. The commanding Stacey Logan carries the show as Nora. She’s onstage for the play’s entire 90 minutes without intermission. Logan is an Oklahoma City Rep regular, and here the company has cast her in a role that fits like a kid glove. Nora is a strong character, and Logan shows every bit of that strength.

But the acting doesn’t drop off after Logan. Pam Dougherty (she played Violet Weston in Oklahoma City Rep’s August: Osage County in 2010) keeps step with Logan as Anne Marie, the Helmers’ maid (all characters in this play come from the Ibsen). Irascible, conniving, and practical, Dougherty’s Anne Marie is a pleasure to watch. As Torvald, Steve Emerson gives a fine performance. His Torvald finally gets to tell off Nora after she walked out on him. Avery Carlson plays the couple’s daughter, Emmy, who would have been a toddler when Nora left. Carlson’s Emmy shows she has inherited her mother’s spunk, although not in a way sympathetic to Nora.

Ben Hall’s set design is a study in elegant simplicity. In consists of a three-dimensional back wall in what looks like some pleasing shade of light yellow highlighted with white wainscoting and molding. A handsome door with rounded corners opens from the middle of the wall, and the stage is dark wood. Four chairs and a side table look completely appropriate for the parlor of a successful Norwegian bank manager such as Torvald.

The understated, authentic period costumes by Lloyd Cracknell and Jeremy Bernardoni look sharp on the actors. Theatergoers appreciate such attention to detail at the close range of CitySpace. It’s like you’re right there in the Helmer household with the characters.

A Dolls’ House, Part 2 is by no means a great work of drama. It has intelligent dialog, however, and tells a story with a strong point of view. In fact, if Ibsen had written a sequel to A Doll’s House, it might have been very much like Hnath’s Part 2.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre
7:30 p.m. Fridays, 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. Sundays, through November 24
CitySpace, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.
405-594-8300