The Column Online



By Ken Davenport

Rover Dramawerks

Director: Polly Harrison
Stage Manager Cecily Warford
Scenic Designer Kasey Bush
Costume Designer Nathan Scott
Sound Designer Derek Berhens
Lighting Designer Kenneth Hall
Properties Designer Kristin M. Burgess
Light ad Sound Board Elena Martin
Program Carol M. Rice
Box Office Kim Wickware


Blake Williams Drake St. Pierre
Michael Jay Barrett Phillips
Louis Fensterspock Nathan Thomas
Nick Fender Santosh Vijayakumar
Whitley Whitiker Courtney Beyer
Kerrie Kowalski Emory Lambert
Melissa Ann “Missy” Martin Lizzie Combs
Inga Swanson Rachel Carothers
Dickie Harrington Isaiah McDaniels
Mr Richard “Dick” Snelgrove Selmore Haines, III
Mrs. Patty Lascalzo Soozy R. Martin
Heather (#1) Wellington Alyssa Lawhon
Heather (#2) Wynters Jessi Williams
Joshua “Beef” Beefarowski Nicholas Williams
Joan J. Hughes Sara Jones

Reviewed Performance: 7/27/2018

Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

A cast of talented actors—Yes! Energetic performances—definitely! Enjoyed by the audience? Seemed to be. So why did I find this review difficult to write? Well, let’s start with the concept of interactive theatre, which is the genre in which THE AWESOME 80s PROM belongs.

Interactive theatre begins with the concept of obliterating the Fourth Wall of traditional theatre, which keeps the audience physically and verbally separated from the actors and the stage. In the former, audience members may respond both verbally and physically to the action on the stage, and that action may spill out over into the audience. The concept of Actor/Stage and Audience/Watchers becomes blurred. Audience members may be invited to come onto the stage and speak, dance, handle props, and the actors may go into the theater and engage audience members there. Improvisation, obviously, becomes a large part of interactive theatre. And successful improvisation requires actors to think on their feet—and think in the character they have established. It also depends on some large extent to a receptive audience. The meaning of “theatre” in its original sense (the word traces to Greek meaning “viewing”) is subjugated to participation, to some extent or another. All of the above is a part of The Awesome 80s Prom.

As the title suggests, the play recreates the 1989 Senior Prom at Wanaget High School—mascot: what else, The Beavers. Audience members are greeted as they arrive by the school drama teacher, Mrs. Patty Lascalzo, who welcomed each of us to “our Prom.” Punch and cookies were offered from the refreshment table. Upstage center was a small stage decorated with silver streamers and a colorful “Welcome” banner. Characters from the show arrived and milled about onstage, greeting each other. One young man worked a Rubics cube, a couple had a fight and broke up, another young man ran in and threw up in a garbage can. You get the idea . The play’s plot revolves around choosing a Prom King and Queen and at the end, the audience has the opportunity to vote and make that choice.

The actors in the Rover Production seemed quite comfortable in this milieu. They moved about both onstage and in the audience during the show. They were effective in engaging audience members to perform needed “roles” onstage. The audience responded warmly, I believe to these interactions, even though it was not a full house. There was a lot of energy in the performances but more caricatures than characters. I observed audience members who were reluctant to actively participate demonstrate their enjoyment as the show went on.

The director moved her actors around the stage with meaning and without crowding. Also into the audience at appropriate times, though I can’t know exactly what was proscribed by the script, what was at the director’s behest and what was the result of improvisation by the actors themselves. The stage and the theatre at large were definitely used effectively. My hat is off to Ms. Harrison for taking on this challenge.

Drake St Pierre as “Blake” captured much of the picture of the suave, self-assured jock/ladies man, adding, I’m sure bits of his own to the character, such as it was. Barrettt Phillips was the stock straight guy/class president and Lizzie Combs nicely portrayed the popular “good girl” with more than I think the script could provide her to go on. Nicholas Williams deserves special acknowledgement for his double role, that of the football jock and wingman to Blake, Joshua, and his later appearance as an 80s “Surprise Guest.” Both characters were so different as to defy the audience recognition that they were one and the same actor.

Courtney Beyer as the head cheerleader and Blake’s off and on girlfriend was pretty and bitchy and her sidekick cheer squad was on target when they joined her to lead all us Beavers in the cheers. And if anyone thought the cheers were a little too sexually explicit, then all I can say is those folks haven’t been to a high school pep rally lately. The cast was rounded out with other stock characters: the principal who doesn’t want anyone to have any fun, the “bad boy” who did little but flip us all off but somehow was nominated for Homecoming King, the gay young man who is cruelly put down by Little Miss Perfect, and the Swedish exchange student who wandered about smiling and speaking no English most of the evening, though her real talent did eventually come out!

The music was perfect, some of my favorite 80s songs and artists. Costumes and hair missed the mark however. It seemed a conglomeration of various periods and styles and I saw none of the trademark 80s “Big Hair.” Except for the beard, the Nerd, Louis Fensterspock, did look a bit like Mork in MORK AND MINDY! I didn’t understand why the dress wasn’t typical 80s prom wear. My son went to the 1989 Senior Prom at his high school and his pictures look nothing like what was onstage in this production. Lighting would have been fine except in the big number performed by Mr. Williams, he was only partially lit for much of the time and we missed some great moves when that occurred.

In short, I saw a lot of very talented actors in this production, I’m quite certain. However, they were very shortchanged by the material they were given. This is not a criticism of interactive theatre, but a criticism of what I consider a sophomoric, banal plot and script. Jokes, if they can be called that are nothing more than cheap shots and don’t produce any real guffaws from the audience. I found many of the situations embarrassing for the actors and the audience. I won’t dwell here but just so wish I could have seen this cast is something truly challenging and funny. I am confident they could easily have pulled it off with polish.

This kind of interactive show is faintly reminiscent of the original Commedia dell’arte, an early form of professional theatre that originated in Itay and was popular over Europe through the 16th to 18th centuries. Characters were stock, much as in the Awesome 80s Prom. And there was sexual content back then as well. So what’s my beef? It is that Mr. Davenport went for the lowest joke, the most gratuitous “laughs” and in the end it just wasn’t that funny. Today’s audiences are smart and will laugh with gusto as what is truly funny. Wasn’t your fault, actors, the fault, I’m afraid in this production lies with what passes for a playwright.

Rover Dramawerks
221 West Parker Rd. Suite 580
Plano, TX 75023
Running through August 11, 2018
Thursday August 2nd and August 9th at 8:00 p.m.
Friday August 3rd and 10th at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday August 4th and 11th at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Thursday and Matinee tickets are $18
Friday and Saturday night tickets are $24

For Tickets and information call: 972-849-0358