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Wednesday, March 19,2014

Curatain Call

by Mary Cusack and Paul Wozniak
Hurtling toward Ruin

LCC drama brings to life the final days of Dylan Thomas

By Mary Cusack

Rage is all the rage in Lansing Community College’s production of “Dylan,” a play about the end days of angry, alcoholic poet Dylan Thomas. After more than two intense hours of fury, booze and self-pitying introspection, audiences may go exhausted into that good night.

The play takes place in the early 1950s during the last few years of Thomas’ life, focusing in particular on two of his tours of the United States. The story dissects the psyche of the tortured poet, and how his selfprofessed lack of maturity contributed to the dysfunction of his marriage.

The role of Thomas is challenging. Not only does the lead need to maintain a thick Welsh accent, he also must embrace the physicality of the role, which includes committing domestic assault and sexual misconduct, and frequently and suddenly crumpling into a drunken heap. Joseph Mull took on the role with gusto, and achieves all of those objectives nicely.

As Caitlin, Thomas’ sometimes better half, Kelley McNabb matches Mull’s brogue, intensity and desperation. McNabb nails the complexity of a woman who loves deeply, but also deeply resents the life and identity that she gave up to tend to their children and his career.

The play is a fascinating and seemingly evenhanded account of those final days, but the script bogs down in excessive exposition and redundancy. The cycle of boozing, bedding and bemoaning could be tightened to reinforce the breakneck speed at which Thomas is hurtling toward ruin.

The pace is also broken by excessive set changes. While the props are minimal, the cast resets the stage between almost every scene. Director John Lennox could have taken advantage of the full black box stage and created some permanent, generic areas to serve as the play’s many locales to help maintain a crisp pace.

The highlight of the production values come courtesy of costume designer Kate Hudson Koskinen. The sumptuous party dresses and lavish suits set the perfect tone of ‘50s academic elitism.

“Dylan” is a haunting look at the destructive power of vice on love and creative potential. Whether Thomas was a lost little boy drowning his insecurities in whiskey, or just a narcissistic jerk wrapped in the cloak of a misunderstood poet, one thing is certain: The world became a less interesting place when he died on Nov. 9, 1953.

“Dylan”

Lansing Community College Performing Arts 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday, March 21-22 $10/$5 students, seniors, LCC staff & alumni LCC Black Box Theatre, Room 168, Gannon Building 411 N. Grand Ave., Lansing (517) 483-1488, lcc.edu/ showinfo

Without a Clouseau

Farce channels the pratfalls of Sellers’ ‘Pink Panther’ persona

By Paul Wozniak

On its surface, Riverwalk Theatre’s production of “A Shot in the Dark” appears like a surefire hit. The comical murder mystery was adapted into the 1964 “Pink Panther” sequel of the same name, starring Peter Sellers as the hilariously incompetent and unintelligible Inspector Clouseau. (Harry Kurnitz’ English translation of the original play, “L’Idiote,” by Marcel Achard, was the source material for that script.) Why do we mention the movie? The show’s star, Evan Michael Pinsonnault, works tirelessly to recreate Sellers’ outrageous French accent and his paranoid karate chops. But artistic liberties with the script and uneven performances result in an inconsistent imitation.

The play serves as a satire on the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful. Set in Paris in the early ‘60s, “A Shot in the Dark” follows Magistrate Paul Sevigne (Pinsonnault) through the interrogation of the prime suspect in murder case: Josefa (Chanae Houska), a wealthy banker’s chamber maid is accused of shooting her lover, the estate’s chauffeur. Pinsonnault incorporates Sellers’ trademark physicality and phrases into the Sevigne character through extensive improvisation. It’s a risky gamble that the entire production relies upon.

But by emulating the film instead of creating original performances, director Dan Pappas and his cast trap themselves in a box of comparison. Sellers’ pratfalls were surprising and spontaneous on screen; on stage, they feel obvious and telegraphed. Chairs, pool cue racks, telephones with lengthy cables — as soon as they appear, audiences can be assured there will soon be in for a trip … or fall.

Constantly setting up sight gags also means the production drains the script of any relevance. The witty dialogue is filled with naughty one-liners and double entendres. Characters reveal overlapping affairs and hint at the sordid details through innuendo, but the frequency of Pinsonnault’s slapstick hijinks draws focus away from the story.

Pinsonnault’s stage dominance might matter more if the rest of the cast offered more in the way of their performances, which overall they do not. Exceptions include the reliable Steve Ledyard as Sevigne’s clerk Morestan who takes overly descriptive notes, Rebecca Lauren Mueller as Sevigne’s wife Antoinette and Rachel Mender as the melodramatic Madame Beaurevers.

At times, the play feels like Pappas asked his cast perform a carbon copy of the film on stage. The inclusion of Henry Mancini’s music and a take on the cartoon opening credits from the films are certainly welcome homages. But the attempt to remake rather than reference the “Pink Panther” films ultimately falls far short of its intentions.

“A Shot in the Dark”

Riverwalk Theatre 7 p.m. Thursday, March 20; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, March. 21-22; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 23 $10 Thursday/ $14 Friday- Sunday/ students, seniors and military $2 discount 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700, riverwalktheatre.com


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