THE PLAY’S THE THING IN BLAME IT ON BECKETT
The Oxford Dictionary defines a dramaturge as “a literary editor on the staff of a theatre who liaises with authors and edits texts”; it is the trials and tribulations of a dramaturge that takes center stage in John Morogiello’s Blame it on Beckett, the second production in The Colony Theatre’s “Season of Premiers.”
Set in an unnamed New England not-for-profit regional theater, the plot revolves around Jim Foley (Louis Lotorto), the jaded head of the theater’s literary department. Surrounded by scripts he has little interest in reading, he wiles away the day avoiding phone calls, imbibing adult beverages, popping pills and taking naps. He blames the death of “plot” (courtesy of Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot) for forcing him to endure the deluge of dreck that comes across his desk. He doesn’t have to read the multitudinous submissions to know they’re bad, he just needs to look at their binding.
Enter Heidi Bishop (Blythe Auffarth) the perky fresh-out-of-college theater major to save the day. After cajoling Jim into letting her intern for free during her off hours from her paying gig in the box office, she sets to make all right with the world through her youthful optimism and unflappable drive. Throw in an established playwright, Tina Fike (Peggy Goss), whose plays Jim edits in preparation for a move from regional theater to the Great White Way, and the theater’s manager Mike Braschi (Brian Ibsen), and the stage is set for a backstage backstabbing good time. All is not as it seems and not everyone will reign triumphant.
Morogiello, who wrote the script as a way to vent his anger and frustration over a disappointing theatrical setback of his own, has jam-packed the text with insider references that will keep savvy theatergoers grinning in delight and no doubt feeling superior to be “in on the joke.” However, non-aficionados may feel a bit left out in the cold and miss much of the humor. There is a monologue where Jim describes the process for picking the plays that will be produced during the theater’s season that is particularly funny and insightful. Even though the plot unfolds slowly (Morogiello could have used a dramaturge of his own) there are enough laughs to hold your attention until the act builds to its climatic cliffhanger. The scene changes are marked by hysterical voice-overs that beam out in the dark, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.
And then it’s time for Act II. For some confounding reason Morogiello turns morose with an second act opener that seems to have been imported from a totally different show. Maintaining the comedic tone of Act I would have better suited the scene and made it all the more impactful. Even the blackout voice-over is jettisoned in favor of a dark and gloomy funeral dirge which feels completely out of place. Luckily his lighter touch returns in scene two and carries out the rest of the show.
Under the capable direction of Andrew Barnacle, the quartet of actors turn in very good performances. As Jim, Lotorto successfully conjures up the right mixture of pathos and sympathy to counterbalance his complacency and disinterest. Auffarth transforms Heidi from “Mary Poppins” to “Eve Harrington” with ease and assurance although she hasn’t quite mastered the art of holding for a laugh and quite often talks over the laugh lines. Walking the line between sexy/smarmy and smart/stupid, Ibsen manages to make the character of Mike as likeable as possible. The real standout performance though is given by Peggy Goss as the playwright Tina Fike. She delivers each line with pinpoint precision and unlike Auffarth not only knows how to hold for a laugh she knows how to fill the hold so the mood is never broken. It’s impossible to take your eyes off of her when she’s on stage.
Technical credits are all up to snuff. Stephen Gifford’s solitary set, the literary office, is straightforward and services the story well, as does Paulie Jenkins and Ilya Mindlin’s lighting, Drew Dalzell’s sound design and Kate Bergh’s costumes.
As the character of Jim explains, “People don’t choose to work in the theater. They don’t ponder what profession will result in a lifetime of rejection, no money, and even less recognition or advancement, and then actively pursue it. The choice is made for them. It’s a calling, like being a priest but with a lot more sex.” For a humorous look inside the world of regional theater, Blame it on Beckett delivers the goods; if you are a regular theater patron or stage professional you’ll get the added extra reward of being in on the joke.
for Stage and Cinema’s Off-Broadway Blame it on Beckett review, click here.
photos by Michael Lamont
Blame it on Beckett
The Colony Theatre in Burbank
scheduled to end on September 2, 2012
for tickets, call (818) 558-7000 x 15 or visit http://www.ColonyTheatre.org