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SHOW FOLK: Ushers as Characters in “Through the Yellow Hour”

November 1st, 2012 Comments off

Matt Leonard & Olivia Simas ushering "Through the Yellow Hour". Photo by Tom Mizer.

A crowded staircase leads to a dark hallway. Graffiti mars the walls. A sickly plastic film lines entrances as if sealing in some contagion. And a tall, expressionless man wearing a hazmat suit approaches, telling you to join the line and prepare to be stamped.

Is this some kind of nightmare (or a return to 1980’s NYC clubbing)? No, it’s just the usher welcoming you to Rattlestick Theater’s production of Through the Yellow Hour, a post-apocalyptic Off-Broadway thriller by Adam Rapp, currently extended through November 10.

As my neck was stamped and my boundaries unsettled, I started to wonder about these ushers and their non-traditional duties — invading patrons’ personal space and setting up the world of the play with a gleeful intensity. The theater was counting on them to do a lot more than hand out playbills; in fact, they were the first act of the play.

On a recent sunny afternoon with not an invading biological weapon in sight, I met two people who’ve ushered at The Yellow Hour — Mat Leonard, a handsome and thoughtful young actor currently appearing in The Austerity of Hope at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, and Olivia Simas, an energetic and articulate local high school student with a passion for theater — and we chatted about unflattering gear, Big Brother and some very testy audience members.

How did you first get involved in doing this very unusual job?

Mat:  I’d seen The Hallway Trilogy at Rattlestick and I’d sort of had been checking up on them while I was on tour last year. My friend Allison who lives in the city was ushering and said, “So there’s another play by Adam Rapp opening and you wouldn’t shut up about Nursing [one of the parts of the trilogy]. Would you be interested in ushering?” She sent me the link and I signed up. And all of sudden you show up and they’re like, “You want to put on this costume?”

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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Enemy of the People” & “Through the Yellow Hour”

October 3rd, 2012 Comments off

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. This month, we have two shows that comment on current political realities from opposite ends of the time/space continuum…

Kathleen McNenny, Richard Thomas & Boyd Gaines in "An Enemy of the People". Photo by Joan Marcus.

AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE

A new adaptation of the Ibsen classic steps up onto the Broadway soapbox when the political turns very personal for a small town doctor who reveals that his community’s livelihood is derived from polluted water.

“…high-intensity, high-volume production… Looking beyond the sometimes creaking dramaturgy, it is startling to discover how current the play’s ideas can feel.” New York Times

“…this trimmed-down adaptation moves just as fast, thanks to a new, punchy translation by the British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz.” New York Post

“Purists may flinch at Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s bare-bones adaptation… But when Boyd Gaines and Richard Thomas square off for the Cain-and-Abel power play between brothers, we could be on the hustings.” Variety

“…Henrik Ibsen’s spitting-mad screed against political hypocrisy among polite small-towners, tackles more hot-button election-year issues than an average hour of MSNBC.” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents: This is not your grandfather’s Ibsen. The original five act play has been distilled down to a very brisk production involving two acts/two hours. With this serious trim, you gain a headlong momentum; you lose, perhaps, a depth of motivation for the characters. As the man of principle suddenly under siege, a very entertaining Boyd Gaines makes bold acting choices, at first frisky and then ferocious, to match the careening adaptation. See this solid (if not definitive) revival for his performance, the enjoyable character actors giving brush stroke performances around him and, particularly, for the shockingly prescient dialogue about the “tyranny of the majority”. You will leave the theater talking…and checking your voter registration card.

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