Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Trouble" Truly Bubbles at Longview's New Stageworks Northwest Theatre

I love melodramas! I don't know why because they are [GASP!] soooo silly. Campy. That's the word. But, they are just too much fun. And that goes for the Stageworks Northwest production of "Trouble Bubbles at the Hot Springs."

It takes a bunch of uninhibited people with a whole lot of talent to pull one off, otherwise you end up with a very flat, dull and formulaic play. The scripts don't tend to be that good really and they are usually rather oh so predictable and this selection is no exception. It's full of cliches and cheap shots. But that's okay.

Because, on the other hand, there is a lot of what I expected and a bit of what I didn't. For one, this melodrama is a musical and the songs are quite good. But what truly makes this production are the performances (but I'll get to that in a moment).

Chase Smell as Prof. Mack (foreground) with Jamie Baker (left) as Celia Fate and
Adam Pithan (right) as Barnaby Wilde in "Trouble Bubbles..." Photo by Paul Segren
"Trouble Bubbles," part three of a trilogy of melodramas (don't worry, it stands on its own), written by Gary McCarver is, indeed, predictable. The beautiful heroine is about to lose the deed. The money-grubbing villain (in cape, top hat and mustache) is behind the property's demise. There is the dashing, heroic love interest. The not so trusty sidekick... Blah, blah, blah.

But every melodrama has its twist. And in this case, there are a couple supplied by the "bookend characters." You'll wonder about their appearance at the beginning of the play and wonder about mid second act why you haven't seen them or why they've had so little to do with what's going on and then...BAM...right at the end it all comes together and, of course, turns out happily ever after. That's all I can say without giving too much away.

"That's So Sad..."

It was opening night of the first performance at Stageworks Northwest's (formally known as Longview Stageworks) new home. They're doing an "Under Construction" series at the old Longview movie house as they convert it into their playhouse. The lobby areas are still quite nice, but the theater space still needs some renovation. I see three big needs:

  1. An elevated stage; the raked seating helps some with sight lines--except when actors are seated in chairs at floor level down front.
  2. Backstage space; the actors had to enter their dressing area from the theater's balcony through the seating area.
  3. Improve the acoustics; the acoustical problem hampered hearing at several points in the show--especially with some light-spoken actors. (Also, the players do need to learn to wait on the laughs, boos, applause, etc. before continuing so lines aren't lost in the reflections.)

But these are minor problems that I'm sure with time (and money) will be fixed.

Upon entering I saw another potential problem that didn't prove to be one at all. The stage was to be lit by a mere eight PAR cans and two Fresnels, but it worked. This was partially due to the directors acute blocking and the actor's keen awareness of face placement so that co-players wouldn't be shadowed. They amazed me at what could be done with so little.

"Applause! Hooray!!!"


The cast on the set of "Trouble Bubbles at the Hot Springs." Photo by Paul Segren

The set and set dressing consisted of an eclectic hodgepodge of mismatched pieces and was definitely put together on a budget, but it was serviceable. The costumes by Lynn Jansen, on the other hand, were very nicely done.  The running crew performed without a hitch. So much for the technical. 

What really made this show were the performances. As stated earlier, it takes some real chutzpah to go all out and do melodrama right. Most of the performers had it and those who didn't quite have it did well enough. The shows players were:

  • Tom Burckhardt as Warren Peace (the sheriff)
  • Mike McElliott as Dustin Debree (the mysterious stranger)
  • Adam Burckhardt as Dennis Debree (can't give it away)
  • Victoria Wells as Gloria Debree (can't give it away)
  • Adam Pithan as Barnaby Wilde (the hotel clerk)
  • Linda Keller as Bea Wilde (the nagging wife)
  • Cody Swires as Avery Braveman (the hero)
  • Jamie Baker as Celia Fate (the spiritualist)
  • Amberly Orr as Jenna Rossity (the heroine)
  • Janeene Niemi as Carmen Geditt (the starlet)
  • Chase Smell as Prof. Thaddeas Snaveley Mack (the villain)
  • Carlie Arlidge as Dee Zaster (the sidekick gunslinger)
  • Dennis Yalch as Dan Druff (the sound effects guy)
  • Ashley Stevens as Paige Turner (the title girl)
  • Wyatt Hazel as Barry Sweet (the adoring fan)
  • Teresa Jansen as Trudy Lite (the pianist)

Standout performances were given by Tom Burckhardt (the sheriff), Niemi (the starlet), Smell (the villain) and Arlidge (the sidekick). Stevens was the perfectly bored cue card presenter and Orr (the heroine) could not have been better in her role.

Amberly Orr as Jenna Rossity
Orr gave a stunningly perfect performance in every way; her facial expressions, her gestures, her singing, her acting--everything was the best I've seen in non-professional theater. In fact, it was as good or better than any actress I've ever seen anywhere. She should be working professionally, say for Disney.

"Boo!!! Hiss!!!"

Smell played well with the audience who peppered him constantly with popcorn. I don't know how he could do it with a straight face--especially on opening night. It was like he had planned reactions to what he couldn't have known in advance. Love his eyebrows!

Stylistically the handsome Swires (the hero) was really good, but his baritone voice and rapid line delivery hampered my ability to hear him clearly in the space. He often ran his words together, I'm sorry to report. All I can say is: slow down and enunciate, young man.

Baker (the spiritualist), I felt, could have channeled something more mysterious or wacky (someone like Christopher Lloyd would have been just right). Hazel (the adoring fan), too, needed a little more oomph (something like Don Knotts). Keller, unseen off stage, delivered her lines wonderfully.

Everyone sang well, though Smell mostly "talked through" his number. In this regard, the charming Adam Burckhardt, the delightful Niemi and magnificent Orr were excellent!

"Shameless Plug"

Jamie Hegstad directed marvelously. What she did with the asides was fun and funny. You need to see this performance for many a good laugh. This is just too much fun to miss.

The melodrama runs now through July 21 at Longview's new Stageworks Northwest Theatre, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.  Stageworks Northwest Theatre is located at 1433 Commerce Ave., Longview, Wash. All tickets are $10 and available here.

WARNING: Several streets are blocked off this month on Friday and Saturday evenings for a live arts event. Plan for time to park and walk a couple blocks.

And remember: There is no such thing as too strong a coffee, only weak people.

By Gregory E. Zschomler
Photos by Paul Segren
More to come in a slide show later this week, so be sure to check back.

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