note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi
This One … Joe Lanza
That One … Scott Sweatt
Do go see Joe Lanza and Scott Sweatt, two of Boston’s bright promises, in IN ON IT at the Factory Theatre, courtesy of Whistler in the Dark. The basis of Daniel MacIvor’s play is a fatal highway collision between a terminally ill man whose wife has left him and another man who has just had words with his lover --- Mr. MacIvor turns the tragedy upside down and inside out, setting and resetting scenes and pulling the rugs out from under them right down to the curtain call; thus, what you see could be a playwright and his actor rehearsing a script, or two dead men presenting their cases or two lovers unravelling what went wrong with their relationship. (Your call.) IN AND OUT is also a showcase for the team of Lanza & Sweatt who are a delight, separately or together, up close and personal. My sole exposure to Mr. Sweatt had been at auditions for a 10-minute play-marathon, but I could see he had “it” in terms of stage-presence and personality, and I first encountered Mr. Lanza only last month when he impressed me as the thuggish brother in the Nora’s CARETAKER --- put them together and who cares if IN ON IT is a 75-minute freefall. Mr. Sweatt is the more interchangeable of the two, spinning on numerous dimes, and breathtaking as a senile old man; Mr. Lanza remains an intriguing blend of subtle intelligence and deceptively stolid exterior: when he joins Mr. Sweatt in a life-affirming dance to a Leslie Gore tune, he’s a bull kicking up its heels --- the most joyful moment I’ve seen this season.
On the night I attended, director Meg Taintor greeted the audience and professed her love for IN AND OUT, and she has guided Lanza & Sweatt, well, lovingly --- nowhere is her touch more sensitive than where the two men explore each other to R&B music; even without kissing or nudity, the moment is honest and relaxed and believably sexy. And it’s always good to return to the Factory, that Little Theatre-Space Who Could --- and Does, continuing to adapt its bricks to everyone and everything within it. IN AND OUT opens Whistler’s fifth season; now, will the Messrs. Lanza and Sweatt remain in the Boston area, or shall they soon depart? (Isn't it sad that I always ask that question when it comes to exciting new talent?)
note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi
Charlie Brown … Matthew Finn
Lucy Van Pelt … Rachel Savage
Linus Van Pelt … Ian Flynn
Snoopy … Jason Luciana
Sally Brown … April Pressel
Schroeder … Michael Chateauneuf
Peppermint Patty … Hilary Chadwick
Marcie … Virginia DeMoss
Pig Pen … Christian Hegg
Frieda … Ilana Friedman
Violet … Siobhaun Maus
Shermy … Aaron Moronez
Conductor; Piano … Karin Denison
Violin; Viola … Alistair Leon Kok; Susan Yeh
Bass … Ben Reynolds
Reeds … Jeri Sykes
Percussion … Patrick Litterst
Is it still possible to perform the original off-Broadway version of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN (1967) instead of the 1999 Broadway revival? (The same question could be asked regarding FLOWER DRUM SONG's Before and After.) In adapting Charles Schulz’s beloved comic strip “Peanuts” for the stage, Clark Gesner wisely called the results “a musical entertainment” --- there was no plot, per se, but a two-act flow of punchline-blackouts drawing upon the many thoughts and few actions of Mr. Schulz’s brain-children, saddled with disposable songs, but at least Mr. Gesner kept his “entertainment” small (six characters) and intimate; the 1999 revival doubles the cast, divvies up the interchangeable lines among the secondary characters, and grafts some Big Moments onto the score (post-Sondheim, natch) --- a shameless attempt to turn a Revue into a Musical (may such a fate never happen to THE FANTASTICKS). But YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN’s tone was too pop-art from the beginning when philosophical reflection was always the strip’s core: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has already become an annual TV classic, Hallmark Cards had begun manufacturing “Peanuts” merchandise, complete “Peanuts” anthologies were being published, “The Gospel According to Peanuts” was a bestseller; YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN ran for years, off-Broadway, putting the final seal on Mr. Schulz’s comic strip as Peanuts, Inc. Smaller is better, in this case --- by a hair.
How does one go about casting this show, when the originals have big heads with squat torsos that resemble cash registers in profile? (The off-Broadway production used undersized actors to simulate children and dog.) The Longwood Players’ production offers a Brechtian dozen of all heights, shapes and sizes (Brecht, again!), signposting like crazy, and most of them lumber rather than ZIP!; they are further hindered by the orchestra dominating the right half of the stage. Director/choreographer Kaitlyn Chantry has punched it all up in the familiar Broadway manner --- hard and heartless --- when she might have captured some of the strip’s charm had she worked against the grain for Charlie Brown’s spoken soliloquies (it would also help if Matthew Finn, the relentlessly extroverted hero, could belt, on-key). When she’s not playing Sally as a knock-kneed spaz, April Pressel displays a sweet operetta voice, and Siobhaun Maus' clear bell-tones are wasted as Violet; as Snoopy, Jason Luciana shows promise as a smooth, smooooooooth singer/hoofer.
The Must-See is Rachel Savage as Lucy. Ms. Savage has the correct short, stocky body-type and she has clearly studied “Peanuts” for her facial and body expressions; thus, she is hilariously stylized to the nth degree (and first dimension). Ms. Savage shies away from playing Lucy as an out-and-out child-bitch, yet whenever she hunches her shoulders, draws in her neck, lowers her chin and looks up in comic malevolence, the Schulz fussbudget stands before you (thanks to Ms. Savage, the “Beethoven” number, miraculously untouched for the revival, is the evening’s highlight --- an all-too-early one). On the night I attended, the nearly-full house loved everybody, everything. I loved Lucy.