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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 2.24.11

 

A Cure for the Blues

The Drowsy Chaperone
eases modern angst with •20s glamour

By Anna Grace

Before the lights come up, The Man in the Chair prays: "Oh, dear God, please let it be a good show. And let it be short”

Trevor Eichorn Clefts, Kathy Browman and Cameron Walker in The Drowsy Chaperone

I know exactly how he feels.

The Drowsy Chaperone, while short and good, is so much more. With a Tony award under each arm (best show and best book), its an imaginative combination of rousing fun and serious introspection about the role of musical theater in our lives.

The play is set in the unremarkable apartment of The Man in the Chair. He has the blues, a "non-specific sadness” that he attempts to cure by playing the two-album set of a favored musical from the 1920s. Through his imagination and narration the full musical appears before our eyes, with glittering costumes and dazzling song and dance numbers.

The mans thoroughly modern angst plays out amidst a backdrop of full-on 1920s glamour. He gnaws over relationships between the actors and the social implications of the music. Audience members are completely entertained, while at the same time contemplating the very human need to be swept away by theater.

Gaylord Walker, an actor often seen standing just to the left and slightly behind any given lead character, finally shines center stage as The Man in the Chair. His realistic, whole-hearted performance carries the show.

Sophie Mitchell is spellbinding as the glamorous Janet Van De Graff, and Trevor Eichhorn is delightful as her besotted millionaire "monkey” (Robert Martin).

I was pleased to witness the return to the ACE stage of veteran actor Bill Furtick. His multi-year hiatus hasnt dampened his on-stage appeal one bit, and he added a dose of understated attitude as Underling.

There were so many characters, plots and sub-plots that at times some actors seem to be grasping a little too hard for audience attention. While the characters should be larger than life, so much is happening that any extra-textual mugging or gags get lost in the confusion. One sharp reprimand about directing focus would do a lot towards tightening up this production.

Ultimately, what makes The Drowsy Chaperone so wonderful is how completely imagined it is. The songs mock those of the Jazz Age just enough to be funny while almost real, such as the expectant bridegroom dancing in an attempt to make his "cold feet” hot. The premise of a guy playing a record in his apartment allows for some wonderful humor ã "a little something to help you escape from the dreary horrors of the real world.” At the same time, it makes allowances for the intelligence and sophistication of a modern audience.

The Drowsy Chaperone runs at Actors Cabaret February 18-March 26; info and tickets at www.actorscabaret.org or 683-4368.