Wednesday, March 6, 2013

2013 a “Suite” Year for BCT

 Deborah Leinen as diva Athena Sinclair in BCT's Suite Surrender

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
2013 looks like the year that Beaverton Civic Theatre really puts itself on the map. In January, we thoroughly enjoyed Director Doreen Lundberg’s remarkable 60-minute cutting of The Miracle Worker, which was entered in Oregon’s American Association of Community Theatre Festival. On February 2nd, in competition, this cutting garnered awards for directing, lighting design, and fight choreography, as well as the state-wide Best Actress Award for Hayley Rousselle’s portrayal of Helen Keller. Later this month Beaverton takes the show on the road as they advance to the regional competition in Richland, Washington.

 This heady success is followed by Suite Surrender, the first show of BCT’s fifth season. Friday night’s opening performance brought truly a full house – what a pleasure to be asked to move over a few seats to make room for the last arrivals! The next two hours flew by; perhaps the strongest cast we’ve seen on BCT’s stage kept the audience in stitches with playwright Michael McKeever’s hilarious WWII era comedy of errors.  In a nutshell, two aging actresses, bitter rivals, are accidentally placed in the same suite at a luxury hotel. Two befuddled bellhops, two secretaries, and one hotel manager are pushed to the brink by the challenge of keeping the divas apart. Slamming doors, a flying dog (stuffed, of course), a frequently concussed gossip columnist, star-crossed lovers, disappearing roses, and a fair amount of gin help to propel the story to its surprising conclusion.
Tony Smith as Otis and Aaron Morrow as Bernard S. Dunlap
 Aaron Morrow anchors the cast as hotel manager Bernard S. Dunlap. More than any other cast member, he bears the burden of somehow preventing the disaster looming on the horizon should the two actresses cross paths. As the show progresses, he moves from officious confidence to sweat-soaked anxiety with a deft comic sensibility. Both BCT veterans, bellhops Otis (Tony Smith) and Francis (Scott Kelly), give the best performances we have seen them deliver on local stages. Smith’s doddering, confused persona and distinctive phrasing create a uniquely appealing character. Kelly gives us a worldly and sardonic ingenue with a real flair for physical comedy. The hotel owner’s wife, Mrs. Osgood (Mary Weigel), is a star-struck social climber whose loud, shrill and pretentious delivery highlights her total lack of social grace. Her gauche behavior is more than matched by Jessica Reed as reporter Dora del Rio, who recognizes no boundaries and pays with numerous contusions.

Matthew Sunderland as Mr. Pippet
 The actresses’ two beleaguered personal secretaries carry a fair share of Suite Surrender’s comic load. Amanda Clark (as Murphy Stevens) utilizes her marvelously mobile face (those eyes!) to shift from panic and angst to love-struck ardor. Her counterpart Matthew Sunderland (Mr. Pippet), seemingly genderless and acutely aware of the extent to which he is underappreciated, is funny throughout but nowhere more than in the scene with Kelly and the red roses (go see the show for this, the biggest laugh of the evening).

Donna Haub as Claudia McFadden
Finally, the divas – two fine actresses, playing actresses acting. Deborah Leinen’s Athena Sinclair is a demanding cougar whose aversion to white roses is matched only by her affinity for self portraits and young men. Leinen’s broad delivery effectively captures the comic potential of the role. It is only the strength of the rest of the cast that prevents us from saying that Donna Haub (as Claudia McFadden) steals the show. She is dry, subtle, and acerbic – her timing is wonderful, and she is able with the lift of an eyebrow to create her wry, yet mysteriously likeable, character.

Director Kraig Williams shows a good eye for casting and character development, and he manages to walk the fine line between comedy and slapstick. He will be filling in as Mr. Pippet for the second week of the run, and we are tempted to see the show again just to find out how he will interpret the role. Production designer Marion Kessler and her crew of able assistants have created a beautiful set that accommodates a lot of action in the very limited space available.

Suite Surrender is on stage through Saturday, March 16th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.

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