Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Ghost of David Belasco—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego


Spirit Willing…Flesh Weak

    This world premiere comedy farce is directed by Stephanie Mulligan and written by C. S. Whitcomb.  It is playing through February12th at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (free parking lot in the rear).  For more information on the show and Covid policies, go to their website www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

    Ghosts are nothing to be trifled with, for the simple reason, they like to trifle with us!  Plenty of comedies in this ilk have graced the stages before, such as Coward’s witty, Blithe Spirit (which Lakewood did a few weeks ago) or the delightful new CBS series, Ghosts.

    Of course, they all have an agenda and a reason to haunt whoever or wherever they choose.  A great resource for local hauntings in this area is Pat Jollata, who has written a number of books on the subject.  And there is even the legend that the ghost of Charles Laughton has been seen gracing the stage of the Oregon Shakespearean Festival.  He was in negotiations to play King Lear there until his untimely death, so maybe he is just fulfilling that contract in the netherworld…who’s to say…?!

    The plot of this play involves at least three layers, including the relationships between the actors onstage themselves; the characters they play; and the spirit world of the ghosts of theatre folk.  The play, “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” and the movie, “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm,” come to mind, in which characters not yet fully conceived, are seeking a life of their own.  The author of this play, Whitcomb, must be intensely familiar with that dilemma, as she has scores of successful plays and screenplays and awards for her writing under her belt.

    It begins with a play within a play, with the beginnings of a séance with the medium, Madam Blutovsky (Margo Schembre) attempting to raise the spirit of the great theatre Impresario, David Belasco (Todd Hermanson).  In attendance are the well-to-do, Gussie ((Lisa Knox), her lovely niece, Abagail (Kelsey Glasser) and her unimpressed friend, Jerome (Tom Walton).

    But things start off wrong right from the beginning, as thunder and lightning strike the building and one of the characters disappears; the ghost of Steven’s (Jerome) father (Mark Schwahn) does appear to him; and the theatre’s doors are fused shut, forcing the audience (us) unable to leave the building,  so the ever-faithful, stage manage, Reggie (Lucy Paschall) must passify the audience, contact the authorities (Matthew Sunderland & Melissa Standley) and mollify the cast—whew!

    During this course of events, the true nature of the actors come out; the ghosts make their feelings known; and the audience is educated most fully into the inside world of theatre (ghost lights, etc.), creating characters (the actor’s nightmare), possibly the meaning of love, and even a marvelous exchange of character transference (Madam/Gussie).  The description has to be sketchy because there is so much going on and so little I can reveal without giving away some of the plot.

    This play erupts chocked full of lore about the theatrical process and the author certainly knows her stuff (as I can attest, having been in theatre as a director, actor, producer, and writer myself for over 50 years).  But it is so full of the myth and lore of theatre that it maybe should have condensed the story down to fewer observations and streamlined the story more, in order to make it more digestible to the average theatre-goer.

    The actors are wonderful in their complex roles, especially Knox, Schembre and Paschall.  And Mulligan is herself a veteran of the stage and handles this complicated play very well.  I do recommend this play for the knowledge it will give you about theatre.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.