January 29, 2008

Going up? This ‘Elevator’ is heading that way

(Directed by Lucas W. Adams, Rand Harmon, Julia Leist, Corey Macon Long and Randy E. Pease. A Specific Gravity production. Continues through Feb. 17. Call 384-2743 or visit www.specificgravityensemble.com.) Conceptually speaking, Specific Gravity Ensemble’s “Elevator Plays 2” very well could be the most innovative production Louisville will see this year. On that note, this is an event that shouldn’t be missed. Yet what works in theory sometimes encounters problems when it’s put into practice, and the company experiences its share of roadblocks. Specific Gravity distinguishes itself as a company that performs in “found spaces,” meaning it makes its home in varied and unusual locations, as opposed to a traditional stage setting. Ideally, this adventuresome approach turns an audience’s perception of what theater is on its head as it challenges the artists to continually adapt to foreign atmospheres, thus keeping them on their toes, literally and figuratively.  “Elevator Plays 2” takes place in just that — elevators in the Starks Building. The three-act program is made up of 24 very short plays, which take place as you ride up and down in one of four cars. The mechanics of such an operation must be exhausting, but the cast appears absolutely unruffled throughout. The instructions, both printed in the playbill and verbally explained, seem a little baffling, but it’s easy in the execution. Ensemble members do a terrific job conducting traffic in and out of the elevators. The best plays are those tailored to the very precise environment the company has chosen. In “The Balloon Lady” by Scott Tobin, by far one of the most clever, a deliveryman unknowingly bears a lethal bouquet. Not only does it suit the space only and exactly, it tells a story, replete with a surprise ending, in under a minute and a half.  “Top 5” by Stefan Gearhart, “The Incredible Middle-Aged Man” by Corey Macon Long, and “Goodnight, Louisville!” by Steve Moulds are others that playfully toy with the environmental element successfully. After all, that’s what the company purports its goal to be. Less the fault of the actors than the directors are the issues of jarring vocal levels and overacting. This is an occasion for performers to exhibit extremely nuanced work. The audience is, by default, watching close-ups. In such a delicate atmosphere, raising one’s voice even slightly can be just as, if not more, effective as outright screaming. Again, part of being a company that customizes itself to spaces is learning to mold every aspect of the theatrical experience to that particular site. Still, Specific Gravity Ensemble is one of the more creative companies in the city, and when trailblazing, there are bound to be a few rocky patches along the way. Take a risk with them, and go along for the ride. —Rebecca Haithcoat‘La Cage Aux Folles’ soars at JCC(Directed by John R. Leffert. A CenterStage production at the Jewish Community Center. Continues through Feb. 10. Call 459-0660.)CenterStage’s current show of plumage and tinsel is a spirited production of “La Cage Aux Folles” featuring the indestructible songs of Jerry Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. “When they passed out talent,” Carol Channing says of Herman, “Jerry stood in line twice.”Based on the 1983 Broadway hit, which some believe to be the last great musical from the truly last great season of Broadway shows, this flock of Louisville performers do well in presenting a pivotal play of profound social and political importance. The show’s sublime nature is vested in the rare strength of being simple without being cliché. It’s an optimistic play with a call for tolerance and dignity.The opening number “We Are What We Are” had a strange and wonderful Fellini-esque quality where we encounter an atypical chorus line singing an anthemic tune with an exhibition of why these particular birds of a feather need to flock together. Set in a Saint Tropez drag nightclub run by George (Andy Epstein), the star of the show is ZaZa, played by George’s domestic partner Albin. Eddie D. Lewis plays Albin, and it’s difficult to tell weather he is appearing in this role or disappearing into a character that he seems destined to portray. Louisville is lucky to have this plucky performer. His masculinity lesson is hysterical and shouldn’t be missed.George and Albin’s 20 years of domestic tranquility is crushed when their son Jean-Michel, fathered during a one-night fling, decides to marry the daughter of a bigoted politician. The levels of generosity and humanity at work in a show like this are perhaps more relevant in America now than ever.Act I takes a bit to coalesce, but by time our glittery chorus line does their can-can, the audience and cast are both transported from our benign bleacher-filled gym to the French Riviera. In Act II, we meet the dazzling Jacqueline (Carol Dines). With minor kinks throughout, by the show’s end the supporting cast transforms from an awkward bird into a charming white swan. —Joey Yates