110 In The Shade
No matter how professionally it’s produced, Thornton Wilder’s
classic, OUR TOWN, typically evokes the feeling that one has just visited the
high school auditorium. For better or worse, The Roundabout Theatre’s
production of 110 IN THE SHADE at Studio 54 is a similar experience as it asks
us to visit a moment of innocence in which story telling is laid bare.
As audiences who have seen the movie version, THE RAINMAKER that starred Katherine
Hepburn already know, 110 IN THE SHADE is just such a tale whose master story
teller is a dreamer and a fraud named Starbuck.
But that comes later. This production begins with Santo Loquasto’s comically
luminous Moon. Larger than life, it is also larger than the stage. When it
recedes into the background, a bevy of actors carrying set pieces scurry in.
Again, the stage seems way too small and the acting way too big.
That’s until Lizzie returns home. In this role, Audra McDonald is actually
homely: tongue-tied, self-conscious and as costumed by Santo Loquasto, she’s
just too buttoned-up. It’s enough to make any woman hurt and angry, a
feeling which Ms. McDonald brings to every mellifluous note.
But it does take shaking up a few trees to get her to climb down. That Starbuck
does. A man who claims he can bring rain to the town’s shriveling cows
and crops, proves still waters run deep. In that sense, the musical serves
as kind of a creation myth that’s as old as the theater itself. But as
directed by Lonny Price, one senses the presence of the comedic gesture tossed
in the face of a creaky old-fashioned musical. Only Ms. McDonald can make such
awkward pronouncements as “My dreams are very plain, but nonetheless
they’re very real” seem poignant and truthful.
She’s matched at moments by Bobby Steggert who brings surprising comic
turns to his role as Lizzie’s younger brother. Steve Kazee as Starbuck
and Christopher Innvar as the Sheriff, on the other hand, are fairly predictable
Still, Audra McDonald’s inner transformation looms larger than the Moon,
bringing us the show’s miraculous finale. Where there’s a creation
myth, after all, there must be a fertility goddess and in this case it’s
the much disguised Lizzie. Yes there are miracles, this musical tells us, but
not the ones we expect.
Thats This Week on Broadway. Im Isa Goldberg.