Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

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The Tavern

Went to see Foothill College's production of George M. Cohan's The Tavern, mostly because I knew about half the cast. Also, I had never been in the brand new Lohman Theater, which is an easy walk up from the parking lot (unlike the Smithwick, which requires rock climbing equipment to climb up to and rappelling gear to return from).

I'll talk about the folks I know first, and work my way down from there. Doug Brees makes a superb Governor, and his usual clean-shaven face was bearded and mutton-chopped to beat the band. Daina de Torok made the perfect governor's wife. Ian Teter and Mark Merman were both woefully under-utilized as the deputies, but did what needed to be done. Jennifer Vaillancourt, whom I really only know as the young daughter of a stage manager with whom I worked several times, is all grown up now, and held her own as the hired woman in the tavern who is in love with one of the sons of the master of the house.

On to the rest of the cast. Emily Ota is excellent as Violet, who has been done wrong, apparently by the governor's daughter's fiancé. The fiancé is very ably played by Jason Dean and the daughter, played by Jaime Tuttle,  is a great fit for her part.  Also outstanding are the coachman and his terminally cute wife, performed by Michael Weiland and Monica Ho. And the frenetic younger son Willum (Warren Wernick) engages in a lot of amazing physical humor.  There are a few more cast members, but let's just say they were acceptable.

A bit about the play's history before I continue. It really should have been called The Inn. It is set in the Old West, where taverns did not usually have a tiny bar, a large common room and a dozen rooms upstairs. The work was rewritten by George M. Cohan as a vehicle for himself. He produced and starred in the original in 1930. It only lasted 32 performances on Broadway. Looking at IMBD.com, this show followed the very successful Cohan piece Gambling which ran 152 performances, and everyone in The Tavern came from that much larger cast. The next show was Cohan's The Song and Dance Man, carrying over about half the previous cast plus another half of new members, which closed after 16 nights. And that was it for Cohan in the Fulton Theater. Cohan played the part called The Vagabond, a mysterious character who refuses to identify himself.

The Vagabond in the current production is played by Dashiell Hillman, and it is a huge part with at least half the lines in the show and an enormous amount of blocking. Hillman did not miss a line. This alone gets my applause, but that's where it ends. Cohan's character is meant to be charming to a fault, Hillman comes across as annoying and smarmy. Cohan was of course famous for his extraordinary dancing skills, and fine singing voice. Hillman's attempts at the scripted jigs and outbursts of tap dancing were performed with all three left feet. The script has him sing an insane snippet of the same song about a dozen times during the show, and there is none of Cohan's lilting tones in Hillman's efforts. The audience is suppose to fall in love with this guy, but there is just no way.

Some more of the bad:  90% of the show is shouting. Mostly shouting over way too loud wind and thunder sound effects. The thunder was way overdone. Between the sound effects and the shouting, this was the highest decibel level of any non-musical I have ever been to. There was a running gag with the wind making it a three-man job to close the front door, and it worked the first half dozen times, but it got old. Lighting was simpler than it needed to be - it's traditional for the scenes which take place in the middle of the night to be lit less than the daytime scenes, even when there is a hellish storm going on for the whole show. No attempt was made to make the fireplace look like there was a fire in it, despite it being fed, stoked and used as the center of several scenes.

Some more of the good: Costumes were period, and looked great. The set is beautiful, and a solidly built two stories. Set decoration is understated but fits what might be seen at an inn of the period.

The Tavern runs through June 5, and tickets can be bought online and are "print at home". Parking is $2 and can be paid on site with coins, bills and credit cards. Don't buy them online, the "convenience" fee is almost as much as the permit. 
Tags: review, theater

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