Charlie Gallant as Peter Sloan, Claire Jullien as Irene Livingston and Thom Marriott as Sidney Black in Light Up the Sky. Photo by David Cooper
Like cotton candy served up at a fair...
Watching Shaw's production of Moss Hart's self-indulgent, solo (no George F. Kaufman), 1948 comedy, Light Up the Sky, is like being force-fed cotton candy, thin spun sugar that contains mostly air, the sort of fancy, vacuous fluff served up at fairs, circuses and carnivals and surely not fit for the Festival Theatre's main stage! Yet, under the direction of Blair Williams (A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur and Peace in Our Time last season), there it was, and as most dentists might predict, it led to discomfort during a painful, protracted first act. The second act was mercifully shorter, but upon leaving, I overheard a patron opine that it (the play) was good - good that is, because it was over.
The action centres on the principals involved in an opening night theatrical production which has trials in Boston, prior, it is hoped, to opening on Broadway. All of the stereotypes are represented in hyperbolic, farcical form - Sidney Black, the ultra-capitalist producer/financier (Thom Marriott), Carleton Fitzgerald, the neurotic, teary-eyed director (Steven Sutcliffe), Irene Livingston, the histrionic leading lady (Claire Jullien), Stella Livingston, the street-wise, wise-cracking mother (Laurie Paton), augmented by her side-kick, gin rummy-playing, nasal-voiced New Yorker friend, Frances Black (Kelli Fox) and Peter Sloan, the naive, novice writer (Charlie Gallant). In contrast, Owen Turner is a calm, accomplished, supportive playwright, a knight in shining armour (tuxedo) played by Graeme Somerville, an obvious depiction of Hart's enormous ego. Fiona Byrne as Miss Lowell, a secretary, is the only other restrained character.
The direction seems to be - ham it up! Which they all do, and they might have been funny in 1948, but some revivals should be allowed to permanently expire. Light Up the Sky is one such animal. Most of us have had it with parental addictions to Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball
and Jack Benny. Trolling for material to acknowledged Shaw's time period is a
difficult process for satisfying contemporary taste, but only a few days earlier, I witnessed a wonderful commissioned product, The Divine on the Royal George stage. It was Shaw in spades and contemporary at the same time, and one of few plays I would recommend.
Mention must be made of Shawn Wright, a breath of fresh air, who is admitted to the hotel room from the raucous, party-like hallway. He plays an awestruck, wealthy Shriner complete with fez cap and he steals the show (easily done) in the scant time allotted.
William Schmuck's sprawling Ritz-Carlton Hotel suite seems ideal for the action, and the projections designed by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson were effective, earning applause from the audience, but the over-use of a large parrot puppet quickly ventured into dumb and dumber territory.
Ironically, Light Up the Sky is a play about a disastrous opening of a new play, yes a fitting "allegory" as everyone likes to say during the play about it, trying to explain its particular effect, but the star-studded Shaw cast is sadly reduced to silly caricatures that limit their scope.