By STEPHANIE OTTEY
Too often, theaters underestimate the importance of the audience in the success of a show. Directors focus on set design, lighting, costumes, casting and sometimes even sound design but don’t always take into consideration that an unenthusiastic audience can squash the pride of all that hard work with one half-hearted clap. At the same time, an energetic crowd can boost the energy of the actors, dramatically changing the success of a show.
If ever there was proof of such an effect, it is found in “Game Show”, an audience-participation-required comedy, which Salem Community Theater is currently staging.
“Game Show,” written by Jeffrey Finn and Bob Walton, is almost exactly that. The theater audience acts as the studio audience, a character in the plot by its own right, and holds much power over the night in doing so.
A request is made for volunteers to be contestants on “Game Show.” A total of nine willing attendees are required to fill all of the spots, and with an inhibited crowd, this can cause some major tension. Saturday night’s performance had enough volunteers, but not after some careful pleading from cast members. More resistance from the crowd would have caused some uncomfortable moments and could have really killed the pace of the show, but more enthusiasm would have made the game side more exciting.
As it was, the crowd seemed weary of the “embarrass your friends and yourself” gimmick, but that’s the risk a theater runs in choosing to stage this type of show.
Now, not everything is completely out of a director’s control here, and Ralph Lumley and Karen E. Hauck-Losito effectively maintain the things that can be tamed.
For one, Lumley designs a set that is colorful and effective, perfectly transforming the Salem theater into an old TV studio complete with working cameras and live monitors. This is a highlight of the production.
The two also host a cast of performers who can improvise. Though a minor plot weaves its way through the “commercial breaks,” every actor is required to improvise to a degree.
Dave Bedell takes on much of this burden as game-show host Troy Richards, and thankfully so. Bedell masters his task of corralling nervous contestants while staying in character and cracking a few jokes. He carries the show, making it hard to imagine anyone filling the role as well as he.
His supporting cast is made up of SCT regulars and a few newcomers who add some twists and turns.
The backstage story that stops “Game Show” from being a literal title is nothing unique, and the house lights stay on while scenes play out, making it difficult for viewers to relax and take a voyeuristic role.
But if you’re looking for a night of wholesome fun with a few prizes thrown in — instead of a night of escape through theater — check out “Game Show.”
Remaining performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 330-332-9688. The theater is at 490 E. State St., Salem.