Friday, September 23, 2016

The eyes have it

BTG opens 88th on the road
by Christopher Key

When you’re 88 years old, you can be excused if you need a bit of work.  The Bellingham Theatre Guild’s building is 114 years old and it’s getting a lot of work.  Does anyone remember how long the BTG has been talking about putting in an elevator?  I recently had the chance to talk to Monta Wagar, who has been around the BTG since God was in short pants, and she guessed at least 40 years.  Well, the dream is finally coming true, but the building is in intensive care and the opening show of the 88th season takes place on the road.

Yes, I know, you want read about the show, but I have to explain why it’s taking place at Whatcom Community College’s Heiner Center instead of the hallowed halls of H Street.  Good Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise, the shiny new elevator and the massive new foundation will be ready for the holiday show.  Meanwhile, WCC was gracious enough to host the opening show and most of the proceeds are going to support the work of the YWCA.  Which brings us to the subject of women, which is what Love, Loss and What I Wore is all about.

Given how elaborate a BTG show usually is, director Les Campbell made a wise choice by presenting this show as an enhanced staged reading.  And the stage at the Heiner Center is perfect for that kind of minimalist approach.  The script, by two of the funniest women who ever lived, Nora and Delia Ephron, also works well in this format.  So you have five women sitting before mikes for most of the show.  But what women they are! 

Photo credit - David Cohn

Deb Currier, Mish Criz, Kari Severns, Cary Thomas and Beth Wallace could do a staged reading of Pilgrim’s Progress and make it both fascinating and funny.  When they take on an Ephron script, they achieve escape velocity.  Not all actors are capable of doing a staged reading.  You have your voice and your face and that’s it.  These actors all have fabulous voices, but I was watching their eyes.  They know how to work it.  Those eyes can be innocent, flirtatious, salacious, mendacious, furious, weeping or laughing.  Or any combination of the above.  But they often speak louder than the words and that’s consummate talent.

I don’t always agree with the play selection committee at the BTG, but they did it right with this one.  A perfect choice to open the season, a perfect choice for a show that is not in the usual place and a perfect showcase for some of Bellingham’s best.  They dish on everything from training bras to tampons.  The women in the audience were howling and the men were laughing nervously.  It’s OK, guys.  This is not a feminist show, it’s a humanist show.  But it will make you squirm on occasion and that’s what good theatre does.

A staged reading does not demand as much technical wizardry as a full production, but WCC’s resident magician, Russ Nelson, deserves a bow for the flawless sound and subtle lighting effects.

Love, Loss and What I Wore plays through October 2 and there are no stairs to climb at Heiner.  See the BTG website for precise dates and time.  While you’re there, you can score tickets or you can call (360) 733-1811.  This show is festival seating and you’d better get after it because opening night was sold out.

Listen to your Mother!

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