A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
Fuzz Roark, the Managing & Artistic Director of Spotlighter’s, offers me a comped coffee (thanks Fuzz), smiles, and says “It’s gonna be a small house, but enjoy the show.” He slaps me with a nametag and says “Join in! You’re now a contestant!” I sport my sharpie-markered label (“Achilles”) and again, I am reminded of all the small theatres in Baltimore that need your support – and also that Spotlighters has been producing in this town forever, so let’s keep that going. Fuzz smiles on even though the audience is sparse on opening weekend. (granted they were competing with that Star-Spangled Spectacular thing). I was there lending my athletic support to Game Show, a collaboratively written play/event by Jeffrey Finn and Bob Walton. Bob also wrote the incidental music and theme song to the show-within-a-show though it was difficult to figure out what he wrote and what director Kristen Cooley added on top of the written tunes as there was a hodgepodge of music that did not seem thematically cohesive.
I pop a squat in the front row in clear view of most of what I can see. There are performers running around bantering with each other, clearing equipment off the stage and prepping. Apparently the whole space at Spotlighter’s is supposed to be the studio, the stage serving as the set for the television program “Game Show”. We are a dual purpose audience, both of the show-within-a-show, and also as participants for the evening’s recording session. Brilliant! Occasionally some awkward improve dynamics unfold between two stagehands during the shuffling of cables; it is obvious some of this pre-show activity is unrehearsed. It feels fresh, but too showy to be believable. We get off to a slow start with an actual unplanned technical glitch in the sound system at top-of-show. The cast improvs their way through it and we restart with flying colors. Game Show has finally begun and so we meet a menagerie of personalities, backstabbers, do-gooders, and do-badders. The show’s Audience Warm-Up Man, Steve Fox (Zach Miller), bursts onto the stage, explains the rules of the trivia game within Game Show and boosts the energy level with some audience participation.
[Side note – Ohh… audience participation, how I loathe thee. You isolate me as an audience member. I did not come to your theatre to become everybody’s entertainment. But in the case of this production, a show where it is a scripted part of the experience, it somehow totally works. This team of players does an exceptional job interacting, encouraging, and getting audience members up into the stage lights to play the trivia game.]
The overly energetic Fox introduces the show’s host, Troy Richards (Jeff Burch), and the (actual) game show is off to a running start into round 1 of trivia questions. Myself, along with 3 other participants, were selected in round 1, and I was eliminated by answering every single question wrong [HAHAHA!-TBO]. I felt like a dumb-ass but had an absolute blast. The dialogue is kitschy, the set is tacky, the music is retro… it’s exactly how this should play out. Working our way into the first “commercial break” we begin to see the real drama unveil. We discover between “on-air” sessions that everybody is sleeping with everybody and jealousy courses through this team of show employees like caffeine in the bloodstream. General Hell comes riding in on his trusty steed and trust me, it’s a riot to watch.
This show is cast quite appropriately. I loved Burch’s Troy Richards, he does an exceptional job thinking on his feet, keeping the improvisational moments in the show flowing, and using poignant comedy sparingly and at the right moments. He is the ringmaster with a voice to match. Next on the docket of exceptional was Elisa Dugan playing the backstabbing trollop of producer Ellen Ryan. Her body language is flawless and she delivers her lines with due confidence. She plots and manipulates so believably that I was terrified to look her in the eye. The two stage hands, Gerry and Joe (TC Caldwell and Joey Krastel, respectively), had an overly awkward dynamic that at times was stretching but worked okay. (Joey, speak up a bit hon, you’re too cute for us not to hear your voice. TC, don’t drown out and upstage Joe so often. We can see that you’re beautiful, don’t throw it in our face.) Miller’s Steve Fox reminded me of Meatloaf in Rocky Horror, except with an over-the-top and slightly annoying New York (or was it Jersey?) accent. The hair was pitch-perfect and the jacket was the punctuation mark. Henry Reisinger, Jr. steps out as Johnny Wilderman, the show’s Production Assistant. Reisinger is a wonderful actor with a touching role. We’re rooting for him to succeed and when we get his closing “send-off” it’s truly amazing and heartwarming. A few additional supporting roles bump on and off the stage; but did not leave an negative impression. OH YEAH – Did I mention there is a HUGE twist that involves Erica Vaugh (Jennifer Skarzinski)? Don’t worry, there’ll be no SPOILERZ here but let’s just say that Skarzinski is one hell of an actress. I look forward to seeing her again! BLAM girl, you had me fooled!
Technically the evening’s production had some loose ends as many a sound cue was out of place and some of the lighting also missed the mark. A bit more technical rehearsal would probably help. Designing the set (Alan Zemla) at Spot’s is difficult, a designer has got so much to contend with in that confined space. Please though, stop with the glossy paint and the bad sponge painted faux finishes. I just can’t anymore.
The Bottom Line: Go to see Game Show. Go for the awesome twist, go to laugh at the silliness, go to win a slinky by answering trivia questions like: “What state is known as the Volunteer State?” (hint: it’s Tennessee). Go to marvel at Jerry Springer meets The Price is Right, with less violence and more glamour. Go to laugh at the tacky music and uproariously raunchy stage humping. Yeah, some of the writing is weak, some of the improv is a little college-awkward. Go. Go anyway. Grab a drink from Fuzz at the bar and smile, and thank him for continuing to produce theatre. I sure had a grand old time and commend the cast for such a well-orchestrated mish-mosh of staged scandal. I may even go again!
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