STAGE REVIEW: ‘Light Up the Sky’

1_T3_LUTS_Top-Bottom_Bob Hess_Jessica Cavanagh_David Coffee_Lydia Mackay_Photo by Stephanie Drenka

Hess, Cavanaugh, Coffee and Mackay play up the comedy in ‘Light Up the Sky’

Post-modernism has made it all but impossible to enjoy certain mid-century comedies anymore. Audiences are savvy now — they carry irony with them like rosaries at a convent. At times, it’s more of an impediment than it should be, as with Light Up the Sky, the Moss Hart-written play now at Theatre 3.

The premise is pure Inside Showbiz: A new play is getting its first out-of-town tryout in Boston and all those who’ve read it agree it’s a work of genius on par with Aristotles Poetics. At least until opening night, when walkouts, titters and the opinions of the producer (David Coffee), star’s mom (Ivy Opdyke) and even a rival playwright (Doug Fowler) proclaim it an allegorical disaster. That’s when the star (Lydia Mackay), producer and director (Bob Hess) start blaming each other, and especially the playwright (Seth Monhollon), for saddling them with a bomb.

The leading roles are as impeccably performed as the script allows. Hess received an ovation for his entrance before delivering a line of dialogue, coming at us with more camp than a Boy Scout Jamboree. Coffee’s blustery slow-burning mogul and Mackay’s cryptic diva banter like The Honeymooners. Opdyke’s droll, drunken sass and Jessica Cavanaugh’s charm add fine support.

But the script is its own distraction. We know too much now about how the business — and art — of the stage really work; musicals like The Producers and Curtains are set in basically the same era, but written with a contemporary eye that let’s you know they’re in on the joke. Not so here, where the very conceit of the plot is hard to swallow. The dialogue is frequently clunky and painfully expositional; Monhollon and Fowler in particular are sentenced to speak Hart’s Big Pronouncements about The Theatuh. That’s a big hurdle to clear, but this cast does its game best.

Theatre 3, 2900 Routh St. Through April 3.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Holidazzle’ comes back for 3rd CD

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Jordan Willis, Bob Hess and Tony Martin, during the recording of Holidazzle II.

We’re getting to expect it every other year, like Congressional elections: In 2009, members of the group DFW Actors Give Back joined together for a charity CD of Christmas music called Holidazzle. In 2011, the were back with Holidazzle II. Well, a glance at the calendar tells you its time for the third disc, called Holidazzle: Encore! Once again, actors, singers and musicians from around the Metroplex are joining forces to donate their time and talent for another collection of carols and hymns. And once again, a children’s charity — this time the Children’s Cancer Fund — will be the recipient of their largesse.

According to Bob Hess, president of DFW Actors Give Back, sales from Holidazzle II led to $15,000 in donations in 2011; they hope to meet or exceed that this time.

No word yet on what songs or performers will be featured, but the talent in North Texas has always turned out for some great numbers.

The CD will be available, as before, in participating theater lobbies during November and December, but also via download.

To learn more, visit DFWActorsGiveBack.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

A-ti-cus! A-ti-cus!

DTC ‘Mockingbird’ scores with acting, Lee’s words, but direction wavers

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TRYING TIMES | Akron Watson, Anastasia Munoz and Bob Hess deliver stellar performances in this ‘Mockingbird.’ (Photo by Karen Almond)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

If you’re like any normal person, you kinda wanna hate Harper Lee. She wrote, with efficient, clear, evocative prose, perhaps the perfect Southern novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1960, and save the occasional letter to the editor, nothing since. More remarkable still, that slender volume’s structure, characters, plot and emotional arcs resonate as vividly today as they ever did. Yes, armed with the ammunition of her words, you’ve got a kill-shot in the making, almost no matter what.

Almost. There’s much to like about Dallas Theater Center’s current production of this stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. (It’s a co-production with Casa Manana; its version closed last month, and while this one has almost the same cast and crew, it’s strikingly different.) Acts 2 is the money, with an unparalleled courtroom scene and a profound coda about the mysterious Boo Radley.

Several of the performances are indelible as well. Anastasia Munoz, as a clucking society lady but mostly as the white girl who accuses a hapless black man of rape, quakes with such nervous ferocity, you fear she’ll shake loose a light fixture. Akron Watson as the victim of her prejudice and James Dybas as her racist father are equally good, and solid work comes from Bob Hess, Denise Lee and Morgan Richards as the precious tomboy Scout. But the production is all but stolen by Aiden Langford as the moppet Dill, a charming kid who could spread diabetes with his sweetness.

That’s the good news. But the director, Wendy Dann, makes puzzling choices and misses many opportunities to give the production more weight. The set, with its multitude of unnecessary layers, is overly complex, and the staging can be confusing. The voice-over narration is abrupt and awkwardly handled, as is Dann’s easy resort to mood lighting and ominous music whenever anyone talks about Boo Radley. (This is theater, not film — don’t resort to melodramatic clichés. I kept expecting Tori Spelling to come out and begin a scene from a Lifetime movie.)

I begrudge no actor the burden of succeeding Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the greatest single dad ever, so it’s fair to cut Jeremy Webb some slack in taking it on. But Webb is at least a decade too young for the part, and makes up for it by slouching and aw-shucksing his shoulders to affect a home-spun likeability. It almost works, but the heavy touch upstages much else.

For devotees of the novel (or the movie), the familiarity of the story is still a delight; for others, this Mockingbird simply doesn’t fly.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas