If you have ever toyed with the idea of attending live theater in Spokane, this is the month to do it.
No, this isn’t Help a Needy Actor Month or Support Your Local Theater Month. It is, quite simply, a month when Spokane’s two top theaters are featuring exceptionally fine and accessible plays.
In my nine years as a theater critic in Spokane, I have never experienced such a satisfying weekend of theater as I did last weekend. Two brilliant plays both opened on the same day, “All in the Timing” at the Spokane Civic Theatre’s Studio Theatre and “The Woman in Black” at the Interplayers Ensemble.
Maybe there have been individual plays as good as or better than these, but never have two plays of such quality opened at the same time. Both will continue through March 28, so, come to think of it, March just might turn into Support Your Local Theater Month.
“Accessible,” translated from theater critic’s jargon, means: You don’t have to be a theater freak to enjoy them.
One, “The Woman in Black,” is a classic ghost story, and the other, “All in the Timing,” is a collection of six short comedy pieces in the tradition of Monty Python or “Saturday Night Live.”
Except that “All in the Timing” is funnier than 95 percent of the sketches on “SNL.” Playwright David Ives has a Pythonesque knack for coming up with a good visual sight gag (for instance, Leon Trotsky with an ice axe half-buried in his skull). But then he also knows how to build the scene into something even funnier. And not just funnier, but more intelligent and thought-provoking, too. That Trotsky scene, for instance, turns into what a New York Times reviewer called “a touching meditation on infinity and mortality.”
Yikes. Please don’t let that kind of high-blown talk scare you off. Ives himself - a nondescript, middle-aged American guy in a sweater - hates it when people get too intellectual about his plays. He told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that he can’t stand for people to get the idea that his plays are “Wittgenstein or Sartre.” He prefers to think of them as Ernie Kovacs.
“I go to the theater to cry or laugh a lot, and if I don’t get that, I’ve wasted my money,” he said.
“All in the Timing” is also a perfect play for people who suffer from one of the side-effects of living in the ‘90s: Short-attention span syndrome. The six mini-plays in this show are all between 10 and 20 minutes long. Ives said he likes scenes that “make their point and stop.”
Also, he said, out of six plays “you’re bound to find one or two entertaining.” As for me, I found all six so entertaining that my face hurt from laughing.
“The Woman in Black” makes a few more demands on its audiences, but all it really asks is this: Do you like a good ghost story?
This is an Edwardian-style ghost story, complete with a gloomy mansion, eerie mists over the marshes and some terrifying blackouts.
It also requires that the audience use its imagination. The mansion and the marshes are never actually seen. Instead, this production uses compelling sound effects and other theatrical devices to convince us that we truly are in this forbidding mansion, spending the most terrifying night of our lives.
This production does exactly what the great radio dramas of yesteryear used to do: It creates a world inside our heads, a world more vivid and more scary than any mere visual world.
And on top of this, live theater has an immediacy and intimacy unmatched by movies and TV. Several friends have actually asked me: Live theater? How can that be scary?
Well, few things are scarier than a completely darkened theater. And in live theater, a ghost can not only materialize suddenly, but the ghost can materialize right next to you.
I can speak for no one else, but I was an adrenaline-depleted mess at the end of this play.
As if these two plays aren’t enough, there is also an entertaining version of Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid” ending its run this weekend on the Spokane Civic Theatre’s Main Stage. This isn’t quite up to the caliber of these other two productions, but it’s an enjoyable way to experience one of the giants of world theater.
So, maybe its time you took the plunge into live theater. There’s never anything good on TV in March anyway - it’s a non-sweeps month.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo