Thursday, July 18, 2013

Light Up the Sky, Oberlin Summer Theatre

It is delicious when a play immerses you in a small corner of an little-known world, and that is exactly where Moss Hart’s Light Up the Sky places you, in this outstanding production at the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival.

This collection of cool and clever performances is a theatrical version of a frosty vodka and tonic—plenty tart with just enough sweetness to make a summer day glow.

It’s all an inside story about a play that is having its pre-Broadway tryout in Boston, and the ego-driven maniacs who are involved in the process. Even though some of the jokes in this 1948  play are dated, there’s enough comical venom and backstabbing to keep the laughter rolling.

New playwright Peter Sloan (an earnest Aaron Profumo) is cowed by all the activity surrounding the out-of-town opening of his play. But no such problems affect the others, who are neck-deep in theater stereotypes.

The star of the play-within-a-play is Irene Livingston, and Christa Hinckley gives her a mercurial diva-turn that is a pure delight. She bumps heads with her mother, the razor-tongued Stella Livingston played with a permanent lip-curl by Karen Nelson-Moser.

But the two funniest portrayals are tuened in by Matthew Wright as the hyper-emotional director Carleton Gitzgerald (“I could just cry!” is his running joke/catch phrase. And Marc Moritz is as amusing as he’s ever been as the hard-ass producer Sidney Black.

They are all thrown into a tizzy when Black’s young wife Frances and Stella return from the performance, depressed beyond belief. The show is a bomb and, worse than that, it was referred to as an “allegory” by a nearby audience member—thus establishing another running joke that never really gets old.

Played on a sumptuous looking set designed by director Paul Moser, the long show (almost three hours with two intermissions) seems to fly by.

Indeed, the only wrinkles are an unfocused performance by Tip Scarry as Tyler Rayburn, Irene’s husband, and a parrot that talks from the opposite side of the stage from its cage (a ventriloquist parrot!).

Even the happy ending doesn’t cloy too much, thanks to a wide-eyed appearance of Dave Cotton as the mid-west rube and potential investor William Gallagher.

This is free theater of the highest order (although reservations are still recommended). And this show is running in rep with The Diary of Anne Frank and Twelfth Night. So, start the car and point it towards Oberlin.

Light Up the Sky
Through August 3 at the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival, Hall Auditorium, 67 North Main, Oberlin, 440-775-8169.

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