A new theater season is creeping to life — I mean that in the number of openings, not the quality of the productions — with a few shows already open.
I’ve already reviewed four shows at three of the area’s community theaters, all of which served as reminders of what I look for when I go to a play or musical.
I want to believe what I’m watching, to connect with the story in some way through the characters, and through the performances. Even broad comedies should, in general, be based in some kind of reality, even if it’s an over-the-top style.
There are some productions where cast members can sort of succeed even if they’re faking their way through the role. That has been most true this season for the actors in “Grease,” who are only partially believable, but still have enough energy and all those songs and dances to help make it fun. The whole show is kind of superficial to begin with.
That’s not the case with “Steel Magnolias” at the Players Theatre, which is built on the close bonds formed among a group of Southern woman who gather each week in Truvy’s Beauty Spot for hair stylings and gossip.
The six actresses do make you believe they are long-time friends, even if not all of them make you believe they’re really the people they’re playing. Being loud and brassy or quiet and meek may establish character traits, but they don’t necessarily come off as real. That’s the actor’s challenge, to make audiences believe they’re watching real people on the stage, no matter the moment or situations. And those characters need to be real and “in the moment” even if they’re just in the background or reacting to others.
At “Always. . . Patsy Cline,” you’ve got a mix of the two styles we’ve already seen. It’s a flashy bit of fluff, especially where Brittney Klepper is concerned in her role as narrator Louise Seger. She is sharing the story about the night she met her favorite singer, Patsy Cline. Louise is broad and sassy, but Klepper makes her a real person. It’s not just a performance.
Alana Opie has the challenge of making you believe her as Cline, even though she doesn’t sound quite like her. But she creates a satisfying portrait of a pleasant and somewhat shy woman, and captures the essence of Cline’s distinctive singing style to make it believable.
As the season progresses, these are some of the factors I’ll consider as I assess each new production, to see how easily I can get lost in the world of the play.
Jay Handelman is the theater critic for the Herald-Tribune and president of the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to “like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook, Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/jayhandelman.