“Opening Night”, A Real Zinger
At the Theatre with Audrey Linden
Theatre 40’s West Coast premiere of “Opening Night” is a fun and entertaining look into the world of theatre as seen by a couple who don’t inhabit that world juxtaposed against a couple who do. Norm Foster contrasts Ruth and Jack Tisdale, who are new theatre goers with theatrical director, Richard and his lady friend Cilla. The only thing both couples have in common in “Opening Night” is their dysfunctionality. It is a bird’s eye view of these two dysfunctional couples in this farce that provides much of the humor. With Bruce Gray directing a great ensemble cast of eight actors to perfection, he puts the “fun” in dysfunctional, and then some. It is hilarious to watch these characters interact. There was something very Mel Brooksian about playwright Fosters “Opening Night”. I laughed until my sides hurt in this solid character driven comedy.
Jeff G. Rack’s set in the lobby of the Piggery Theatre in Quebec, Canada creates a typical small theatre with black and grey walls, a purple sofa, bar stools and a concession area. He transformed this set into the interior of the theatre as walls were moved together. Magically, we saw the transformation to the farm set with a painted backdrop, and audience seats to the right and left sides. As the Theatre 40 audience, we became part of the interior theatre scene. Bill Froggatt’s sound effects and Mel Zimmerman’s lighting helped create the reality.
While much of Norm Foster’s humor is character driven, he has some sharp one liners with sexual innuendos which added to the fun. He has been called the Canadian Neil Simon. The play centers around Ruth Tisdale, superbly acted by Gail Johnston, and her husband, Jack who are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. John Combs’ Jack Tisdale is a well-meaning oafish character. Ruth was given the theatre tickets after no one else in the Mayor’s office wanted them. She thinks “theatre is noble”. The only play she has seen was “Hamlet”. Johnson’s Ruth is reminiscent of an older Judy Holiday . She infused her character with a naive innocence that was delightful. While Jack would rather be home, or anywhere else watching the World Series, he reluctantly went along to please Ruth. He has seen no plays and “would like to have kept that record intact.” Neophyte theatre goer” does not cover it. Jack has no idea of a theatre patron’s proper decorum. He is caught in the audience with a transistor radio as he attempts to keep track of the game.
As Act one opens, we meet “actor” Michael Craig who is a “has been” in the theatre world but is a success as “Handy Randy” in the commercial world. Richard Hoyt Miller shades Craig with the right amount of braggadocio and paranoia. He is forever auditioning. He meets the Tisdales, and is outed as a commercial actor by Jack.
Director, Richard Hyde-Finch, is devilishly played by Martin Thompson, and his forever lady friend, Cilla Fraser, an upper class snob, who financially supports Richard’s theatrical ventures is chillingly cold. Richard notes, “Anyone can direct a good play, but a horrible one?” Cilla wants commitment, marriage, and to have Richard’s baby. Needless to say, the theatre is Richard’s baby, and he clearly is not ready to be anyone’s father. He is committed to her…..wealth. Miranda Waldon’s Cilla is an upper class snob, whose biological clock is ticking. Her Cilla grounds the other characters. Jack remarks, “She looks like someone smacked he In the puss with a mackerel.”
Michael Craig begs for an audition for Richard’s next play, “The Tempest.” He just happens to have stellar reviews folded in his wallet. I loved Richard’s answer, “You are on the short list.” “We went another direction.” How many times have we actors heard that when we didn’t book the job? We have the “wanna be” in usher, Tom Delany, who auditions during intermission in the VIP lounge. This is so Hollywood ! I loved every minute of this farcical comedy.
Ingénue, Libby Husniak, ( Ilona Kulinska), the farmer’s daughter gets cold feet. She got the part in “Whisper in the Wind” because she is Richard’s “friend” with or without benefits. Richard cast her for two reasons. As Libby flaunts her ample cleavage, Richard tells her to get them into her costume. Such double entendres are the stuff of this comedy. Clayton Fry plays papa to Libby and with a British accent! David Hunt Stafford’s Clayton was hysterically funny as he blundered along. As Jack crunched on chips and listened to his transistor radio during the play, director Richard has a conniption and is ready to kill the actors on stage, and lummox Jack in the audience.
This sets the stage for Act 2 with more sexual innuendos, conflicts between the couples, all of which unfolds in the disastrous play about farm life, “Whisper on the Wind”. “The show must go one.” Or must it? Will Richard survive a horrendous opening night? Will Cilla convince him to commit or leave him? Will Ruth and Jack survive another 25 years after “Opening Night”? You have to see “Opening Night” at Theatre 40 to find out. It is a hoot and a half with broad comedy peppered with one liners. They are not the freshest one liners but they work. As Clayton tries to pick up Ruth, he asks, “Do you have an escort?” “No, I drive a Toyota”.
“Opening Night” runs until June 16th at Theatre 40’s Reuben Cordova Theatre, on the Beverly High campus, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, 90212. There is ample free parking in the structure. For tickets and show times, call 310-364-0535.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,”etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills, Community Services. To register for her clsses, call 310-285-6850 M-F 9amto 3:30 pm. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. The next classes mid June. For more information, contact Audrey at firstname.lastname@example.org Summer classes are 4 weeks.