LIGHT UP THE SKYby Moss Hart
Mesquite Community Theatre
Directed by Jeremy William Osborne
Set Designer – Jeremy William Osborne
Lighting Designer – Cooper Mitchell
Sound Designer – David Johnston
Costume Designer – Samantha Grace
Props Designer – Karen Carboni
Stage Manager – Sareek Hosein
Andrea Himmelsehr – Miss Lowell
Stephen Bouldin – Carleton Fitzgerald
Lesa Dietz – Frances Black
Kevin Paris – Owen Turner
Sue Goodner – Stella Livingston
Robert Long – Peter Sloan
Jerome Stein – Sidney Black
Steven House – Sven
Stacie Cleland – Irene Livingston
Steven House – Tyler Rayburn
Gregg Dietz – A Shriner
Monte Monkress – William H. Gallegher
Monte Monkress – A Plain-Clothes Man
Reviewed Performance: 2/15/2015
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The reconfigurable black box theatre that MCT performs in is part of the beautiful Mesquite Arts Center, which also houses a symphony hall. Original artwork and sculptures always line the hallways, and there’s even an outdoor courtyard in the middle of the building. It’s truly a lovely space that should get more attention.
In addition to my love of the Mesquite Arts Center, the play, Light Up the Sky, has long been a favorite of mine. Since opening on Broadway in 1948, directed by its author, Moss Hart, it has often made the rounds of professional and community theatres, although it’s a deceptively difficult play to pull off well.
The plot involves a new play that is about to open out of town in Boston. Before it opens, everyone involved believes it’s a beautiful play – the best they’ve ever been a part of. Then the curtain goes up, it’s not well received by the audience, and well, let’s just say theatre people aren’t always nice to each other when things don’t go well.
One of the difficulties of producing Light Up the Sky is that it’s a period piece, taking place in the 1940s. Secondly, it takes place in a luxurious suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston, so a certain amount of period finery is expected. The set for MCT’s production was a mix of things that worked and things that didn’t. Most of the furniture worked well. However, the very walls were confusing to me, as the flats used were much taller than the actual set walls. They stopped two or three feet short and were then painted black along the top so as to “hide” the extra. In actuality, the extra height would have given the room quite a bit more glamour. A platform was well utilized at the back of the stage, making for some nice levels, but the echo of noisy footsteps often drowned out dialogue.
Of note were the excellent costumes designed by Samantha Grace. Gorgeous suits, dresses, and jewelry for the ladies, tuxes and topcoats for the men. This is a great period for costume and Ms. Grace handled it beautifully. Lesa Dietz, as the nouveau riche Frances Black, was costumed particularly well (her evening gown and jewelry were to die for), and the Shriner hats were given more detail than I’ve ever seen in a production of Light Up the Sky.
Cooper Mitchell’s lighting design was also well done, despite the technical difficulties that plagued the first act (it was probably Freddy, the theatre ghost who takes up residence in the black box). Fortunately, the tech crew was able to fix the issues and the remaining two acts ran smoothly.
On a property note, the bright red phone with black curly cord was simply not period. Its look was very distracting and didn’t fit with the expected finery of the room. I was also dismayed to see that it didn’t have a cord to the wall or floor when picked up and carried across the room. Throughout the play, several cast members also had trouble hanging up the receiver properly.
The play opens with the character of Miss Lowell, played by Andrea Himmelsehr, attempting to work on Irene Livingston’s autobiography. As the actress’ ghost writer, Ms. Himmelsehr did an excellent job and I wish we had seen much more of her. She didn’t have a lot of lines, but her facial expressions left little imagination as to what the character was feeling, yet without stealing focus.
Kevin Paris also stood out as the jaded playwright Owen Turner, giving him just the right amount of smug sarcasm mixed with charm, although the choice of a southern accent for the character was puzzling. He gave Owen an old-world omniscience that is often missing from this role, simply from his body language and the warm way he spoke to the characters he cared about.
Sue Goodner is always a delight onstage, and her portrayal of the acerbic Stella Livingston did not disappoint. She was charming when necessary, yet knew how to stick a knife in someone verbally, and that dichotomy isn’t easy on stage. Her scene describing her brief stint as a cleaning woman was priceless.
Perhaps the most layered performance was that of Jerome Stein’s Sidney Black. I’ve seen Mr. Stein in a number of shows and this was the best performance I’ve seen him give, with just the right amount of humor and pathos. He rolled his eyes appropriately at Black’s wife’s extravagant purchases, and his characterization was nicely done.
As Broadway star Irene Livingston, Stacie Cleland gave the most uneven performance of the show. Miscast physically, her voice was too high, shrill and often breathy. She spoke too rapidly, so it was often difficult to understand her. She frequently upstaged herself, causing several stage pictures to look uneven. Ms. Cleland gave her character a selfish petulance throughout the show, making her one-note performance even more distracting at the end when the character should be portrayed more sympathetically.
Overall, Director Jeremy William Osborne did a fine job with the look of his cast, and the rest of them performed their roles adequately, despite the fact that others also tended to speed through their lines or say them too quietly, losing much of the script’s humor. Don’t get me wrong - I still laughed a lot. I just wish some of the jokes had been better heard.
As previously said, Light Up the Sky is a long-time favorite of mine, and while some of the production elements and acting choices weren’t as polished as they could be, I still enjoyed my afternoon at the theatre.
Mesquite Community Theatre
1527 N. Galloway Ave.
Mesquite, TX 75149
Runs through February 28th
Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm
There’s an dditional performance on Thursday, February 26th at 8:00 pm
Tickets are $15.00, $12.00 for students, seniors over 55 and S.T.A.G.E. members (with ID card), and $8.00 for children up to age 6. Regular admission is $12.00 for Thursday and Sunday performances.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.mesquitecommunitytheatre.com
or call the box office at 972-216-8126.