Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wisey best play: Hedda; Louis & Keely

The nominees for best play for 2008 were:

A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
Intiman Theatre. Directed by Sheila Daniels. Bartlett Sher, artistic director.

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, by Jeff Whitty
Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Directed by Bill Rauch. Bill Rauch, artistic director.

Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, by Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder
Matrix Theatre. Directed by Jeremy Aldridge. Originally produced by Sacred Fools Theater Company.

The vote was a tie, and Wiseys go to Further Adventures and Louis & Keely.

Weisenheimer cast his vote for Further Adventures in a very close call over L&K. As I ponder it some months after seeing them, both are still vivid and fresh in my memory. They carry some similar themes, too, about the sacrifices and pitfalls involved in making art and about the difficulty of change. Both also featured marvelous acting performances from top to bottom, but Further Adventures has a slight edge here, with Wisey-winning performances by Robin Goodrin Nordli in the title role and by Anthony Heald and Jonathan Haugen. Further Adventures also rode the might of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in terms of marvelous costuming and a fabulous set. This, to me, gave it a slight edge over Louis & Keely, also a most memorable play.

Props, too, to Streetcar. Blanche and Stella were absolutely marvelous. A stronger Stanley might have pushed this production right up there with the first two.


This is Sweetie, here: This is the second Wisey for Louis & Keely, winners of Best Music. The Weisenheimer reviewed L&K here. I loved Hedda too, and am delighted to see new artistic director Bill Rauch push the envelope a bit in his first season at OSF (OSF's envelope can really use some pushing). And the inside jokes were fun.

But L&K gets my Wisey vote because it is the whole, well-crafted package. It is a beautifully written and stunningly perfomed story of art, the public and private, love, and regret. Credit to Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith for co-authoring and performing as Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

It is so unlikely that I would ever have seen this treasure. First of all, it's a musical. Not usually my favorite thing. Secondly, it played at the tiny Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood. We live in Seattle. But we had the good fortune to be visiting friends with excellent taste (In theater. And friends.) who had seen it once already and took us.

We do like music, of course, and we have often enjoyed theater events which showcase music, but which aren't really plays. This was a play -- a great story, a tragedy (more Shakespearean than Aristotelian), dramatic (in the best sense of the word), where the music happens to be as inseparable to the story as the protagonist. The top-notch musicians were in character -- and they are a smokin-hot band. Broder and Smith have internalized every nuance from every bit of recorded material there is on Louis and Keely, but this is not merely to imitate. They are portraying all-to-human characters in all of their chemistry and conflict. Smith's cool-sultry Keely had me wondering all night what she was going to do next, while Broder's goofy Louis had an intensity and edgy darkness that was a little rattling from my front row seat two feet away.

I depart from the Weisenheimer in being more impressed with the intimacy and vulnerability of the spare and tiny black box theater at the Matrix over the props and costume department of OSF (disclosure: could I have been influenced by having been handed the boutonniere?). In L&K, you will be involved. You will not be able to watch this show without tapping your feet, applauding, laughing, and staring into Louis Prima's eyes. As Broder says, the story is "a lover's triangle where the third party is the audience." That's you at this show.

According to their Web site, "A new engagement of LOUIS & KEELY is coming to Los Angeles later in 2009." Watch the Web site, buy a plane ticket, and go!

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