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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: ‘Show for Days’ at the Chester Theatre Group

Show for Days PR pics_G2 (1)

The Chester Theatre Group premiered this weekend their first production of their 50th season, a quirky, off-beat backstage play Show for Days, by Douglas Carter Beane. The play has had limited exposure since it premiered two years ago at the Lincoln Center Theatre to mixed reviews. The star was Patti LaPone who won praise for her performance as Irene, the theater’s leader and quintessential drama queen.

showDSC00685One of our favorite community theater actresses , Carla Kendall gives an impressive performance as Irene, the equal of her ‘Master Class’ turn at the Barn Theater several seasons ago. She nicely keeps the level just below ‘over the top.’ It would be easy to blow the roof off of the Black River Playhouse with this showcase part. Irene, is a tough trooper who has mastered all things political…she has no qualms about getting her way, including everything from simple flattery to vicious blackmail. Her mission is to keep the theater company together at all costs even in a dilapidated building marked for demolition. Her principal support comes from her lesbian manager Sid, played by another community theater star, Lauri MacMillan. She is spot-on as the most realistic member of the group. She is a balloon buster of the highest order. Irene, at her nastiest, enjoys reminding Sid that her lover has fled without notice.

The play is semi-autobiographical. Beane was introduced to theater in Reading, Pennsylvania, the setting of the play. It was there that he discovered his sexuality and writing talent ….he’s a Tony playwright winner. Several of his other plays are also about the gay world, I.e., Nance and The Little Dog That Laughed.

showDSC00327The story is told through his eyes. Brian Merrill as Car (photo left)portrays with great sincerity both the adult and schoolboy Beane. He suffers a tragic heartbreak when he is rejected by his first-ever lover and fellow cast member, Damien, played effectively by Will Roper.

The cast has two other talented members, both nicely cast by director Roseann Ruggiero. The first is Jessica Phelan (photo below) as the company’s naïve ingenue Maria. Second is Josh Musgrave who plays a stereotypical black leading man, Clive. Musgrave is clearly a major talent.

showDSC00256A bit of the plot: It starts when a young man (Beane/Car) wanders into a dilapidated community theater in Reading, PA in 1973. The company members welcome him—well, only because they need a set painter that day. The young man then proceeds to soak up all the idealism and the craziness that comes with being part of a struggling theater company with big dreams. His life is changed forever.

Shows for Days is billed as a comedy, but it has its dark dramatic moments. In other words, it is not Neil Simon fluff. We were most impressed with the cast led by Carla Kendall and Lauri MacMillan (photo below). Both ladies, in particular, are theater-in-the round veterans (translation…easily heard). Working in the round, even in a venue as intimate as the Black River Playhouse, can be challenging. Roseann Ruggiero nicely utilized the theater’s limited space maximizing the audiences’ ability to both hear and see.

You have two more weekends to see this backstage circus. Closing is Sunday October 1, 2017. Hats off to ringmaster Ruggiero.ShowsForDays_dsc00260_sm

Also, special note is in order for the creative team: Penny Hoadley producer*; Roseann Ruggiero director; George Seylaz & Richard Vetter stage managers; Steve Catron scenic design; Ellen Fraker-Glasscock lighting design; Richard Vetter & Steve Catron sound design; Barbara Haag, Roseann Ruggiero & Scaramouche costumes; Barbara Henderson & Geraldine Baillod props; Barbara Haag ,Barbara Henderson & Geraldine Baillod dressers.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 16, 2017

The Chester Theatre Group performs in The Black River Playhouse, an intimate, 100-seat theater in the heart of Chester Borough’s historic district. The venue’s in-the-round format ensures that every seat offers an engaging, memorable experience for each audience member. The theater is located on the corner of Grove Street and Maple Avenue. For more information, visit the CTG website at http://www.chestertheatregroup.org.

*Note ala Irene…: Penny Hoadley WAS the CTG’s leader for over three decades. There is absolutely no similarity with her and the Irene character!

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