Scheduling creates conflict for area theatergoers

Too Much of a Good Thing?


Can there ever be too much of a good thing? If it’s community theater in the Youngstown area, the answer just might be a qualified “yes.”

Last Friday and Saturday nights, I attended opening-weekend performances at the Youngstown Playhouse and Oakland Center for the Arts (“Inherit the Wind” and “Dinner With Friends,” respectively), and both venues were half-full at best.

A few miles away, “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” was in the middle of its three-weekend run at the Victorian Players. Factor in new works by Trumbull New Theater and Salem Community Theater, and you’re talking about not only an increasingly stretched and pulled talent pool, but a shrinking audience base to draw from. After all, there’s only a finite number of entertainment dollars to be spent in today’s tough economic climate.

Are all of these shows worth your time and money? Of the three plays I reviewed for The Vindicator this month (“Inherit,” “Dinner” and “Sherlock”), every one of them deserves to be seen, albeit for different reasons.

Even if you’ve never read any of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels or short stories, the Vic’s robustly entertaining production of “The Final Adventure” could turn you into a Baker Street Irregular. Truth be told, the nattily attired 19th-century sleuth (dig that smokin’ deerstalker hat!) never truly went out of style.

Audiences looking for more topical fare should definitely consider the Youngstown Playhouse’s “Inherit the Wind.” When you consider that nearly half of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates publicly renounced Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, this hardy perennial about the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial seems more eerily relevant than ever.

A painting of the proverbial Three Wise Monkeys (“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”), which provides the backdrop for the set, adds a deliciously ironic fillip to the proceedings. It’s an ingenious touch in a show that could have used a tad more inspiration to help bring it fully alive. Yet, buoyed by the usual first-rate Playhouse production values and some impressive performances, especially Joe Scarvell’s irascible, cagey Henry Drummond and Bill Rees’ cynical newspaperman E.K. Hornbeck), Sam Perry’s handsome production is worth seeking out.

And the Oakland Center for the Arts’ superb “Dinner With Friends” proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christopher Fidram (“Rabbit Hole”) is the finest director of contemporary drama on the community- theater scene. Although it’s only March, I doubt whether I’ll see a more brilliantly acted and tautly directed play this calendar year. Fidram’s incomparable quartet of actors (John Cox, Laura J. Phillips, James McClellan and Oakland newbie Cheryl Games) take your breath away with their deeply felt, extraordinarily moving and stunningly visceral performances. McClellan’s searing monologue at the end of Act Two deserves to become the stuff of local legend.

A 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner, “Friends” tells the story of two married couples whose lives are irrevocably shaken when one couple files for divorce. What makes the play so powerful is that it’s not simply about the end of a marriage; it’s also a provocative meditation on the very nature of “friendship.”

All of our area community theaters are working on their 2010-11 schedules. In the spirit of cooperation — and good business sense — it’s my sincerest wish that they take the time to consult with each other about staggering their opening dates to help avoid any future logjams. Unless you’re rolling in dough (and really, who is these days?), not even the most ardent theater fan can hope to see everything they want to see.

Especially when everything you want to see is playing simultaneously.

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