IF YOU GO
What: Sly con man promises rain and woos a lonely spinster.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. May 5 & 12.
Where: G&L Theatre on the campus of Community School of Naples, 13275 Livingston Road, Naples
Information: 888-966-3352 or theatrezone- florida.com
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
13275 Livingston Road, Naples, FL
Kudos to Mark Danni. He makes it rain for the third time out of four this year, ushering "110 in the Shade" to a successful - if a tad stormy - landing. Daytime stars Jim and Kassie DaPaiva offer sterling chemistry that makes up a multitude of minor sins. Grab tickets before the word gets out.
Based on play "The Rainmaker," the musical sets a romance between spinster Lizzie and huckster Starbuck against the parched fields of a Dust Bowl drought. Forthright and outspoken, Lizzie faces life as a dreaded "Old Maid." Starbuck dares to dream; he dreams too big and lives a lonely life one step ahead of the law.
"Shade" wants audiences to contrast a life of dreams with a life of responsibility - and then choose. Who are you? A dreamer? A doer? A little of both? Who would you chose to spend your life with? Could you live inside fantasies for years on end, with nothing real to hold on to? But would you prefer a cold, gray, dead, sterile life? A dreamer? A doer? Which would you choose?
The show, while decidedly dated in its treatment of women as marriage stock, serves as a strong bookend to TheatreZone's season. If you can ignore the Stone Age social attitudes and some of the eye-rollingly bad dialogue, "Shade" delights. Danni also makes visible progress toward maintaining the consistency - from design to casting to staging - that has so far eluded him.
Stunt casting, one of Danni's favorite tricks, rears its head here in the form of real-life married couple Jim and Kassie DePaiva (Max and Blair from “One Life to Live”). I'm not a fan of the practice, but the ploy works better here than most places Danni tries it.
Neither of the DePaiva bring true vocal power to the role; both voices prove acceptable, but neither really gives the tunes much power or meaning. Still, the couple's tender on-stage chemistry proves able to overcome any faults. Audiences will love Kassie DePaiva's strong-willed take on Lizzie, with flashing eyes, well-placed putdowns and delicate statements about unpleasant truths.
Her saucy attitude puts the character's charms on full display, allowing audiences to identify - and root for - Lizzie. Kassie DePaiva's choices in making Lizzie as independent as the material will allow without harming the overall arc of the show deepen "110 in the Shade" and make her character that much more relatable. Each moment of stage time she shares alone with her husband sparkles with the joy they bring to both their marriage and shared career.
Jim DePaiva brings a rakish charm to Starbuck. Bold, brassy and just the right amount of wistful combine with sudsy good looks and Kathleen Kolacz's Lone Ranger-esque duds in a vision of rugged, Marlboro Man virility. I swear I heard half the audience swooning during his declarations of love to Lizzie. I *know* half of my row had hands to collarbones and were mouthing faintly audible sighs of sheer delight as the couple finally "finally" under the stars.
Daniel Schwab gets better every time he steps onto the TheatreZone stage. He steals this show with a whip-smart performance that tick-tocks between soul-baring insight and bumbling comic relief with exquisite precision. His Jimmy (the "dumb" brother) serves as the heart of the show. Look for wry smiles, expressive eyes and a duet titled "Little Red Hat" sung with a character named Snookie. Yes. Really. You're going to love Schwab and the number.
Al Bundonis succeeds in humanizing stern older brother Noah. Despite the 1930s values, audiences can see that the character does care for Lizzie - even if Noah insists that marriage solves all female problems. Bundonis shares an excellent rapport with on-stage siblings Schwab and Kassie DePaiva. The stubborn but well-meaning Noah discovers a few new truths as well; the actor subtly underplays the scenes to achieve an even greater impact.
Wayne Morton makes for an agreeable enough father figure as HC; I like the gravitas, but wish he had a touch more chemistry with the other principals. Michael Freshko inhabits town sheriff File with an appropriate stiffness while allowing the role's inner passion to shine through. Look for his comic acting in "The Poker Polka."
I wish the quality performances had been backed by an equally strong creative and technical vision.
Danni's staging feels plodding and awkward. So much of the on-stage action feels leaden for the simple reason the actors don't move much. Granted, it is one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, but the show feels a touch lifeless, not merely sun-scorched. If the entire show shifted up one gear, it would be very good. Two gears, we might be talking great.
Two wooden platforms that assemble and re-assemble in a variety of configurations with steps, wooden barrels, even a water pump seem like a good idea. Chris Rich creates a plain wooden facade with a cutout framing the orchestra; the right angles suggest "the right one is out there." I might have gone for a more weathered look on the wood.
The platforms, steps and barrels hint at a clever idea that just never works. The plan adds a number of staging options - and much-needed up-and-down choreography options. Yet, the pieces seem physically imposing on the stage and look visibly heavy to move - more obstacles than easily changeable set pieces.
Worse, neither Danni nor Molnar ever actually used the height in an effective way except for simulating a train station platform in the show's first scene. A bare stage and minimal props would have offered more room, more choreography options (especially for the criminally under-used ensemble) and freed up resources needed elsewhere.
Lighting design, from Anne Carncross, never makes a convincing case for parched, thirsty, baking, waves of heat shimmering off the cracked ground atmosphere of the show. If anything, the stage felt dim. The barest flickers hinted desultorily at emotional shifts; I wish the show could communicate its rich, complicated welter of emotions in a fuller fashion.
Sound design, from Timothy Paul, poses nearly as many problems. Microphones cut in and out, sometimes right in the middle of speeches. Feedback squeals out. Some vocals pin you to the seat back; other scenes feel as if they are spoken in a whisper. The eventual storm - when it does rain - arrives in a satisfying peal of thunder and crash of lightning. Charles Fornara ably conducts the seven-person live orchestra with lively pizzazz.
Another bright spot comes from the show's clothes. Kolacz continues to accomplish magic with mostly off-the-rack fashions. The Western-wear offers a broad, if subdued, streak of color in blues, browns and reds. Look to the ladies of the town for cute dresses and funky hats and shoes. I love the all-black ensemble for Jim DePaiva's mysterious conman, especially when paired with Kassie DePaiva's lily white dress.
It might be hot. Like really hot. A hundred and ten degrees hot. It might be messy. The show definitely has some problems. But somehow, it just all … works. Jim and Kassie DePaiva bring an enviable amount of romantic chemistry to the star-crossed tale of Lizzie and Starbuck. Daniel Schwab offers a name to look out for. Grab the umbrella - I think it's going to rain.
If you want a laugh, look up "throwing shade" at urbandictionary.com. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.