June 17, 2008

Theater Review - ‘Some Men’ & Wonky ‘Willy Wonka’

(Pandora Productions presents Terrence McNally’s “Some Men” at the Henry Clay Building through June 29. Directed by J. Daniel Herring. Call 216-5502 or visit www.PandoraProds.org.)

During the New York Public Library’s historic 1994 exhibition “Becoming Visible: The Legacy of Stonewall,” one amazed viewer felt compelled to ask, “How did this get here?” In Pandora’s final production of the season, the idea of gay marriage inspires that very question. Terrence McNally’s “Some Men” charts the same history as that groundbreaking presentation in order to demonstrate how society’s tolerance has, indeed, arrived where it is today. 

McNally’s script seems a direct descendant of that exhibit. He presents loving portraits of gay life in New York City from nearly every decade of the last century. From the promiscuous to the domesticated, every cliché of gay male identity is thoughtfully exhausted within the play’s chronicles. 

The opening scene shows a room of men gathered for a gay wedding. The attendants proceed to tell stories of how gay men have lived, died and endured throughout the 20th century. The actors perform various roles, like Aurion Johnson’s stretch from a Harlem nightclub owner in the early ’30s to a hustler in the late ’60s and finally to a young man involved in a committed gay relationship in 2000. 

Pandora Productions presents Terrence McNally’s “Some Men” at the Henry Clay Building through June 29
Pandora Productions presents Terrence McNally’s “Some Men” at the Henry Clay Building through June 29

Michael Drury, Pandora’s artistic director, changes seamlessly from his own collection of gay men from history’s past and triumphs as the angry drag queen Archie who stumbles into the Stonewall Inn of 1969. This scene belongs to Drury and actor Alden Sowder, who plays Joel, a theater queen and avid Judy Garland fan. Set in a dark and seedy bar, it is a deservedly long scene where, together, the two actors boldly lead the rest of the cast through what would become the epicenter of the gay rights movement. 

Unfortunately, not every actor makes the dramatic transition from character to character, but many have their moments, like David Lee Smith, who depicts the perfect online prowler. He makes a smooth move from playing the Internet sleazebag into the proudest gay dad ever. 

“Some Men” gives a route to gay marriage through an examination of the many facets of the lifestyle — from the closet to the liberation of the civil rights era to the setback of AIDS. Once the map is drawn, it’s easy to see how our older New York couple Scoop and Aaron (played by Drury and Joe Hatfield) would be surprised by how far we’ve come today. For some men, the focus was on being happy in the moment; for others, visibility and equality was a constant battle. Regardless of where one falls on this spectrum, we all helped in getting us here, and McNally’s play serves as a dramatic archive of how that path was trudged. —Joey Yates


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Wonky ‘Willy Wonka’

(Broadway at Iroquois presents Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” at Iroquois Amphitheatre through June 22. Directed by Jim Hesselman. For tickets, call 498-2436 or visit www.musictheatrelouisville.com.)

Photo by Hannah Wemitt: From left to right, Eddie Lewis, Kate Holland, Connor Holloway, Ian Ellis and Kathie Davis star in Broadway at Iroquois’ “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” now running through June 22.
Photo by Hannah Wemitt: From left to right, Eddie Lewis, Kate Holland, Connor Holloway, Ian Ellis and Kathie Davis star in Broadway at Iroquois’ “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” now running through June 22.

Broadway at Iroquois boasts that it’s the first company in this region to obtain the rights to this fairly new musical version of Roald Dahl’s morality play about the misanthropic Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory. Its message is deceptively simple: Don’t be gluttonous, tell the truth, be optimistic, and you’ll go far. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Greedy backstabbing liars make up the bulk of industry captains. Dahl was either planting memes in worker bees’ bonnets to keep them honest, or he was hopelessly deluded.

Just what does Wonka represent? He’s gleeful when disobedient children meet their demise, so he can’t be God. Is he the devil? Probably not, because he’s nice to Charlie Bucket, the naïf whose wretched family can’t even afford a newspaper. 

I was thrilled to see Eddie Lewis and Andy Epstein listed in the program. (They recently co-starred in CentreStage’s “La Cage Aux Folles.”) They don’t disappoint here. Epstein’s “nut” jokes were consistently funny. Brian Bowman is outstanding as Wonka, in his bandleader-style outfit that emphasizes his height. And what a voice! And who can forget the delightfully frightening Oompa-Loompas or the cute squirrels?

Other reviewers have complained about the poor sound quality at Iroquois Amphitheatre, but blamed it on the rain. It wasn’t raining the night I saw the show (Saturday), and it wasn’t even humid. But the sound was terrible. Decibel levels varied widely. When they weren’t completely muddy, actors’ voices were annoyingly shrill and distorted. 

To be fair, both the sound and the show improved dramatically after the sun went down. Nightfall always brings out the magic at Iroquois Amphitheatre. —Sherry Deatrick 


Contact the writers at leo@leoweekly.com