Tuesday, July 16, 2019

After 25 Years, HART Can Still Light Up the Sky

Karen Huckfeldt, Tyler Hulegaard, Kira Smolev, Les Ico, Kathleen Silloway

By Tina Arth

Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre is kicking off its 25th season in grand style, reprising the very first show ever produced at HART. Light Up the Sky, written by the aptly named playwright Moss Hart, made its New York debut in 1948. The play never attained the critical acclaim of Hart’s collaborations with George S. Kaufman (in particular, The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can’t Take It with You), but nonetheless it is terribly funny and offers a fascinating perspective on the relationships of playwrights, actors, and producers. Director Mark Putnam, his cast, and production team deliver nicely on the show’s comedic promise, and despite the show’s length (it’s written in three acts) the pacing is snappy enough that the show rarely lags.

The entire story takes place over fewer than 12 hours in actress Irene Livingston’s suite at the Boston Ritz-Carlton Hotel. It’s opening night of a new play by novice playwright Peter Sloan, and both excitement and tension are running high. Irene’s ghostwriter, Miss Lowell, is working on a manuscript but is constantly interrupted by the comings and goings of Irene’s mother, the young playwright, the play’s principal backers, an older playwright, the director, Irene and her husband, and ultimately some very boisterous Shriners. Act I takes us through the pre-show anticipation of a huge hit, as everyone enjoys a celebratory pre-show drink, while Act II shows the principals gradually straggling in after the play, convinced that it was a disaster – the backers are beyond irate, the director is wrapped up in his latest melodramatic hissy-fit, and the discouraged young playwright is headed back to life as a truck-driver. The only truly content person in the room is Irene’s husband, Tyler – unable to stand the tension of opening night, he had gone to see Oklahoma instead. Act III shows the same group several hours later, as the reviews start to come in and attitudes are buffeted by the opinions of the critics.

Les Ico and Kira Smolev (as the show’s backers, Sidney and Frances Black) are consistent comic standouts. Although they are way out of their artistic and intellectual element, their joint $300,000 investment has bought them them a ringside seat at the table. Sidney is a street smart New York hustler whose exceptional luck has earned a bundle, and Frances earned every penny of her half working as a professional figure skater. Smolev’s New York accent and attitude are in perfect harmony – tough, vulgar, and loud but thoroughly charming. Ico is hilarious as he plays the big man among the arty set – he has no idea what the play is about, but thinks that’s OK since he’s told it’s an allegory – and his lightning-fast mood changes are in perfect accord with the script’s twists and turns.

Kathleen Silloway plays Irene’s mother Stella with sardonic flair – wonderfully disaffected and grounded, she isn’t buying any of the hype about her famous daughter, the play, or the director. Her pairing with Frances (over an endless gin game) produces essential elements of the background story without even a hint of overt exposition. Dwayne Thurnau creates a quirky, often befuddled, and thoroughly sympathetic character as Irene’s latest husband Tyler, inexplicably content to be Irene’s doormat. Kudos also to Karen Huckfeldt for her utterly self-obsessed Irene – she exemplifies everything we love to hate about a drama queen. Steve Horton delivers a superb cameo as Shriner William Gallagher, and undoubtedly gets the most laughs/minute of stage time.

David Bliss’ set is a thing of beauty, elegant and detailed enough to create the ambience of the Ritz-Carlton. The elegance is mirrored in the costumes by Kelcey Weaver and Kira Smolev – in particular, the women’s dresses look like authentic period pieces that unmistakably express the spirit of late forties East Coast style. The whole show is clearly a group effort, and director Putnam has done a nice job of assembling and coaching his team to kick off HART’s silver anniversary year.

Light Up the Sky  is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, July 28th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

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