‘Backstage’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 17, 2016

‘Backstage’ is a crazy family comedy by Texas news reporter, Pat Cook. Pat wrote his first play in 1976. Community theatre acting led to him getting bit parts in adverts, supplemented by piano playing in bars and cafés. Pat has now written more than 150 plays.

This production is a community partnership between Laughing Horse Productions Inc. and the Koorliny Arts Centre. The show is in the comfortable, 72-seat, black-box theatre, with cabaret seating, so BYO food but no alcohol.

The 90-minute shows are at 8.00 on Friday and Saturday nights until 23rd July, with a matinée on Saturday at 2,00 pm.

 

The scene is backstage at the Theatre Baroque. The stage has had one third removed, so part of the acting area – the green room – is at the same level as the cabaret seating. The raised stage shows the on-stage area, behind the back wall flats of the play being enacted. The very realistic set, with numerous props, was the work of the whole team. The sound and lighting was professionally operated by the Koorliny staff.

 

       The actors and crew gradually drift onto the stage ready for the final rehearsal of ‘Don Juan in Cleveland’, an absurdist play written by young Jenny (Emmalee Bialas) – or ‘Skippy’ as she is known to the cast. When called by the stage manager, Maxine (Kelly van Geest), the arrogant stage idol of a generation ago, Burton Cavendish, does not appear. The director, Lou (Nicola Chapman), who is being driven mad by the demands of the aging diva, Mercedes (Shelley Whiteaker) sends her young assistant director, Polly (Alexis Mercer) into Cavendish’s dressing room to chase him up.

        Meanwhile, the cast with minor parts, including multi-talented, character actress, Claire (Tracy Bolton) and Roman soldier, Agnes (Jodie Sweetman) are settling down off stage for a game of cards with the costumer, Yolanda (Linda Bickley) – a born card shark. Poverty stricken actor, Efrem Lockhart (Zac Nesbitt) is actually living in the theatre, unknown to the cast or management.

        Minutes before curtain-up, Cavendish is found dead. Whatever happens, the show’s producer, Mr Oberclaw (Michael Forman) must not find out. Cavendish’s understudy is newcomer, Ajax (Sam Barnett) but will he be good enough to fool the audience that he IS Cavendish? Perhaps if lighting tech, Goose (Jaime Bialas) dims the lights the ruse might come off. Then several of Ajax’s worst nightmares happen together – his mother (Rach Hayter, great) arrives followed by Cavendish’s biggest critic, Tyler Barrington (Mishka Miller) and a threatening, heavy built man, Pete (no name credit given – Lawson Sweetman? – but one of the stars of the show) who is a sex magnet for Ginger (Philippa Bialas) yet another starving actress.

        Will the show be a disaster? Will it be cancelled? Their future looks grim.

 

With a cast of 16 and a complex scene set by the playwright, I thought the first few minutes could have been edited and the characters reduced by 3 or 4. However, in the hands of such an experienced director, Adam Salathiel, aided by his assistant director, Cally Zanik, the cast conquered their characterisations perfectly, and ensured the show moved along at a cracking pace.

The director was faced with how to blend of a straight comedy, a drama and a farce? How should he direct the show? Well he achieved the ideal balance between all genres. With the dialogue constantly moving around the stage, from one group of actors to another, it could easily have become bitty, but the cast knew when to keep their chatter almost silent and never missed a cue. The actors playing the stage crew, had just a touch of panic, but played their parts straight; whereas the actors of the ‘cast’ had the right amount of ‘ham’ and ‘temperament’ without becoming caricatures or it turning slapstick. Well done to all.

My wife, who strongly dislikes farces, loved this show. It was very well received by the audience at the curtain call, and there were many comments like ‘great fun’ heard afterwards.

Just a couple of shows left, and with a limited audience of only 71 seats per show, booking is advisable.

On a cold night, good fun in a cosy venue.