THEATER REVIEW: ŌKongÕ offers gigantic laughs
From left, Larry Coen and Steve Gagliastro star in ŅKongÕs Night OutÓ through June 3. (SCOTT CLYVE photo)
By IRIS FANGER For The Patriot Ledger
IÕm delighted to report that playwright Jack NearyÕs new comedy, ŌŌKongÕs Night Out,ÕÕ which opened this past week at the Lyric, delivers no redeeming features of a message or morality, other than an eveningÕs worth of laughs - and surely, thatÕs all to the good.
Based on a certain film about an overgrown primate with a yen for blondes, the Lowell-based Neary invents a back story to explain this landmark in the history of American culture. The Lyric has mounted a world premiere production of the play, which was developed partially in a new program at the theater called Growing Voices, dedicated to supporting the work of local playwrights.
ŌŌKongÕs Night Out,ÕÕ the first product of the endeavor, hits one out of the park for the home team.
Under the astute direction of Spiro Veloudos, who has never seen a door on stage that couldnÕt be slammed or a joke that shouldnÕt be spoken faster than jet-plane speed, this screwball farce starts at the top when Myron Siegel, Broadway producer, enters, and pushes the actors up the walls of the set even higher.
However, any such action by the accomplished group of clowns in the cast assembled by Veloudos might be considered a criminal violation of the principles of architectural design, given Robert M. RussoÕs elegant setting of an art deco hotel room with the skyline of New York visible above the French doors to the balcony. Gail Astrid BuckleyÕs period gowns should make every woman wish for a return to 1930s fashion.
Neary has mixed the genre of screwball farce with the tradition of backstage drama to give us a plot line, if it could be called that, about two dueling producers who are opening new shows on the same night.
SiegelÕs premiere is a musical called ŌŌFoxy Felicia,ÕÕ but much of his audience has canceled its tickets to attend his rivalÕs mystery presentation. Hints about a large monkey are floated and when a blabbing blonde in a Jean Harlow wig and costume shows up in SiegelÕs hotel room, he determines to steal the rumored creature and add him/it to his chorus line.
On SiegelÕs team are his potty-mouthed mother, Sally; the hoodlum, Little Willie, SiegelÕs accomplice, who comes equipped with a pair of brass knuckles; and SiegelÕs niece, Daisy, a rube just off the bus from Buffalo in search of a career on stage.
Sally, who does not answer to the name Grandma when Daisy embraces her, has sunk her life savings in ŌŌFelicia.ÕÕ If it flops, she goes back to nights on her feet as the hatcheck girl at the Plaza Hotel.
ThereÕs also SiegelÕs two-timing wife, Bertille, affectionately nick-named ŌŌTushieÕÕ by her lover, and a mysterious letter that Daisy carries to her uncle - wink, wink - which provides the setup for the ending. And thatÕs just Act I.
Neary is well-served by this fearless cohort of actors, led by the hysterical but resourceful Larry Coen as Siegel, the Carol Burnett look-and-act-alike Lordan Napoli as Daisy, and Rachel Harker, strutting her smarts as a comedian in the role of the inconstant wife. Ellen Colton, a veteran of more than 1,200 performances in ŌŌShear Madness,ÕÕ plays Sally.
The play falters a bit in Act II, even with the kick of Kong on the horizon.
However, there are so many loose ribbons to be knotted, itÕs hard to imagine how this catÕs cradle of confusion might have been solved and wild horses will not drag from me details of the gimmick dreamed up by Veloudos and Russo to bring in the talked-about star. The Lyric ends one of its finest seasons on record with another succulent theatrical treat, all the more satisfying because itÕs home-grown. DonÕt miss this one.
KONGÕS NIGHT OUT At the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Boston. Through June 3. Wed., Thurs. 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; $20-$45; 617-585-5678, lyricstage.com.
Copyright 2006 The Patriot Ledger Transmitted Saturday, May 13, 2006
High time on 'Kong's Night Out'
BOSTON -- Monkey business rules in Kong's Night Out, a rowdy new farce from Lowell's own Jack Neary, which premiered at Lyric Stage Company on Wednesday.
The monkey, of course, is monster primate King Kong. The hairy beast has gone ape for blonde bombshell Ann Darrow, slipped out of his chains and stormed Manhattan. If you think this clever play sounds vaguely like the classic 1930s flick King Kong, you're right.
Neary's taken that premise and given it a back story, inventively imagining what might have happened in the suite at that hotel, on which the furiously fuming Kong descends as he pursues Ann.
The screwball comedy involves Broadway producer Myron Siegel, archrival to Carl Denham (Timothy Smith), the nature photographer who has brought Kong back from the wild. Siegel, wonderfully played by the Larry Coen, is distraught since Denham's mystery show, starring Kong, is outselling Siegel's new venture, Foxy Felicia -- despite the fact that Felicia's cast is stacked with glamour girls.
Plot twists also involve Siegel's sexy wife Bertrille (a sensuous Rachel Harker), an opportunistic actress who's carrying on with Denham; his spunky niece Daisy (talented Lordan Napoli), the "hot dog" hooting wannabe actress from Buffalo; his nagging mother Sally (the wonderful Ellen Colton); his vocabulary-spewing sidekick Little Willie (the comical Steve Gagliastro) and Hungarian investor Sig Higgenbottom (zany MJJ Cashman, another Lowellian).
Neary's script is demanding, with tongue-twister jokes and rigorous repartee. But the cast is up to its demands. Each has perfect comic timing, crucial to carrying off such a farce.
Director Spiro Veloudos, Lyric's producing artistic director, keeps it running smoothly, from each slamming door and pratfall to the running gags, gun-slinging gals and that one climactic moment -- we won't give it away -- when Kong makes a cameo.
Kong is the first effort from the Lyric's new, grant-funded Growing Voices program to "nurture and develop our local playwriting community and to contribute to the body of new American plays and musicals."
The Lyric sets a good example of how new plays should be developed -- over a year or two, in workshops, with a completed script ready for actors and director to dig into before expecting an audience to pay good money to see the results.
Kong is worth the trek into Boston to see what Neary has been up to -- writing funny plays with legs, audience appeal and a future in the regional -- or even off-Broadway -- market.
KongÕs Night Out
by Jennifer Bubriski
EDGE Entertainment Contributor
Wednesday May 10, 2006
Well-done comedies are a rare creature, whether on television, in the movie theater or on stage. Seeing original comedies in a local theater is an even more infrequent pleasure, so the Lyric StageÕs world premiere of KongÕs Night Out is a reason to cheer, even if the production isnÕt flawless and a few of the jokes fall flat. The zippy production provides enough chuckles and outright guffaws to not only warrant your trip to see it, but other groups across the country to license this screwball comedy and perform it.
The play, written by Jack Neary (who previously directed Lend Me a Tenor at the Lyric), is set in the luxurious hotel suite of theatrical producer Myron Siegel (Larry Coen), whoÕs thought-to-be-a-surefire-hit musical Foxy Felicia is opening to a virtually empty house, thanks to a mysterious "attraction" that SiegelÕs lifetime rival and nature-filmmaker Carl Denham (Timothy Smith) is premiering across the street. The attraction is rumored to be big and hairy with a lust for blonde chicks (yes, folks, weÕre talking King Kong himself). With the help of his mother Sally (Ellen Colton), SAT-word-quoting henchman Little Willie (Steve Gagliastro) and even his exuberantly na•ve hick of a niece Daisy (Lordan Napoli), Siegel hatches a plot to kidnap Anne Darrow (Sarah Abrams), the object of the apeÕs affection, in order to save his show.
From the opening lines of a faux Walter Winchell doing a rapid-fire entertainment report to the soaring art deco set (that makes the LyricÕs postage stamp stage actually look spacious), we know weÕre firmly in 1930Õs screwball comedy territory, with all the machine gun line delivery, borderline corny jokes and slamming doors that entails. Some of the jokes are a hit, like the double entendre running joke of the use of the word monkey, as when Denham proudly proclaims, "You want to look at my monkey, youÕll have buy a ticket like everybody else!" Others fall a bit flat, some due to the writing itself (thereÕs an painful jokes about pigeons and statues that even the actors delivering the lines didnÕt seem to think was amusing) and a few due to imperfect timing on the part of the actors.
Acting this type of a play is challenging (and exhausting) and although the actors are up the challenge (most have honed their comedy craft with either Shear Madness or Ryan LandryÕs Gold Dust Orphans), except for some nice bits, they donÕt really get there until the second act, when the madcap ensemble hits a rhythm, Kong starts climbing buildings and people start whipping out machine guns and blonde wigs. So, although there are some sputters during Act One (some due awkward pauses where the actors are waiting for laughs on jokes that arenÕt funny), the success of Act Two means that with a few more performances under their belt, the cast should be able to cruise through both acts firing on all cylinders.
In what is truly an ensemble show, Coen as Siegel is a fine anchor, although he looks a bit old to have Colton (a scream when sheÕs confronted with having to seduce a fat, balding financial backer with a bad wig) for a mother. Coen knows how to deliver this type of dialogue; he just needs to feel as comfortable with all of his lines as he does in his perfect scenes with Christopher Loftus as the delightfully dimwitted fiancˇ to Ann Darrow or Smith as Denham. With fewer lines or stage time than the other actorÕs, Smith nearly steals the show as you wish his perfectly preening Denham could be strutting through every scene, spitting out threats and love lines (oh, yes, heÕs having an affair with SiegelÕs wife) with the same Humphrey-Bogart-as-played-by-Steve-Martin delivery. GagliastroÕs Willie also nails the style of the show, again, particularly when in scenes with Loftus or Napoli.
Although NapoliÕs Daisy threatened in her first scene to be, well, too dorky to be funny, this characterÕs relentlessly all-American-girl gung ho "LetÕs put on a show and catch us a big ole ape!" attitude somehow utterly sucked me in. Although Napoli walks right up to the overacting lines and starts to teeter over it, her delivery ultimately worked for me, as she mixed a down to earth practicality with utter cluelessness. When she recaps the plan for capturing Kong, itÕs a scream.
KongÕs Night Out is a show that delivers a lot of laughs already and shows terrific promise. Do the cast, playwright and the Lyric a favor - go and see the show and laugh when moved to do so. The cast will perfect their timing, Neary will learn how to trim out the parts that donÕt work and the Lyric will garner much-deserved attention (and revenue) for producing this new work, Oh, and youÕll get a great ab workout from laughing.
Runs at the Lyric Stage through June 3, go to www.lyricstage.com
Kong's Night Out in World Premiere at Lyric Stage Company
KongÕs Night Out
Written by Jack Neary
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Scenic Design, Robert M. Russo
Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley
Lighting Design, Scott Clyve
Action and Fight Choreography, Clifford M. Allen
Larry Coen as Myron Siegel, Ellen Colton as Sally Charmaine, Lordan Napoli as Daisy, Steve Gagliastro as Little Willie, Rachel Harker as Bertrille Siegel, M.J.J. Cashman as Sig Higginbottom, Sarah Abrams as Ann Darrow, Timothy Smith as Carl Denham, Christopher Loftus as Jack Driscoll
Performances thru June 3 at the Lyric Stage Company Box office 617-585-5678 www.lyricstage.com
WebsterÕs defines farce as "an exaggerated comedy based on broadly humorous situations; an absurd or ridiculous action," but I could add a third definition: a spanking new play by Jack Neary. The world premiere of KongÕs Night Out at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston has all of the requisite door slamming, pie-in-the-face, double-crossing, and physical comedy we expect, as well as world-class performances and direction. Along with its technical attributes, it is the total package.
Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, who also directed this play, has chosen to conclude the LyricÕs stellar season with the first offering from the new Growing Voices program. Its mission is to develop and produce new plays by Boston playwrights and is spearheaded by Producing Associate Rebecca Low. Neary approached Veloudos with the idea for Kong while directing Lend Me a Tenor at the Lyric in May, 2002. Assisted by Low, they have worked together on the script for the past year and a half to bring the play to the stage.
The stage itself is a key component as both the scenic design of Robert M. Russo and the costume design of Gail Astrid Buckley evoke the feeling of the 1930Õs in all of its Art Deco splendor (the story is set in a midtown Manhattan hotel suite in October, 1933). The New York City skyline rises in silhouette above a wall centered by double glass doors leading to a balcony, flanked by four deco-style doors to interior (unseen) rooms. Upstage is a bar with two stylish stools and a wine-hued velvet loveseat, while a half-moon black lacquer desk draws our attention downstage. The old-fashioned dial telephone on the desk is a much-used prop.
The story begins as impresario Myron Siegel is about to open his new Broadway show Foxy Felicia, but he learns that his patrons are returning their tickets in droves in order to attend the attraction being offered by his archenemy Carl Denham. The rivalry between the two showmen can be traced back to the time when SiegelÕs mother rejected the affections of DenhamÕs father. He was a famous producer and unaccustomed to rejection, especially by a fan dancer such as Sally Charmaine, but her heart belonged to MyronÕs father. This set off a chain of events of revenge and the younger Denham carried on the fight, sabotaging every show that Myron mounted.
MyronÕs challenge is to find out the nature of DenhamÕs "attraction" so that he may get the upper hand in the sabotage game. He employs his henchman Little Willie; his niece Daisy who is visiting from Buffalo in the hope of getting into show business; his mother, and his not-so-trustworthy wife to get the skinny on DenhamÕs surprise. They learn that it is a monkey and plot to steal it to put it in SiegelÕs show, but the plans get bigger and more out of control in direct proportion to the ever increasing size of the simian. Bertrille is fooling around with Denham and gets caught by Daisy. Denham spews a lot of tough guy lines and says things like, "You want to look at my monkey, you buy a ticket like everybody else." He talks in cliches, but he pulls it off because it seems right for the character and the era.
A battle of wits ensues as Siegel shamelessly kidnaps Ann Darrow (the beauty that attracted the beast), manipulates her fiancˇ Jack Driscoll, and dissembles in the presence of his major backer Sig Higginbottom at every turn. Meanwhile, Denham and Bertrille are trying to hide important information from Myron in order to dupe him and protect their own interests. As in any good farce, it is sometimes a little hard to follow who is coming and who is going in and out of which doors and why, but it makes the ride fast, furious, and fun.
All of the players exhibit marvelous comic timing and, although the play was still in previews when I saw it, everything was seamless. Act Two opens with a raucous fight among Daisy, Sally, Bertrille, and Little Willie that is choreographed beautifully by Clifford M. Allen. The creative team has been making changes right up until curtain, but this group of actors has responded like the professionals they are. According to Neary, their involvement in the process has been great.
The playwright considers KongÕs Night Out to be an homage to the 1933 film and he has tried to be faithful to the original story. He wanted to know what might have happened in the hotel room next to the room where Fay Wray gets taken away by the ape. He chose the vehicle of a screwball comedy, typical of the 1930Õs, to play with that idea. The madcap antics and frenzied activity keep the audience atwitter, but the writing could be tightened up to reduce the groan factor, especially with much of the dialogue between Little Willie and just about any of the other characters. Steve Gagliastro offers a believable portrayal of a "dese, dems, and dose" kinda guy who is trying to become erudite by using big words, but the henchman is mostly one-dimensional.
Lordan NapoliÕs Daisy drew my attention every time she came onstage. She was fresh-faced, lively, and even a little over the top, but that meshed well with the fast pace of the farce. Rachel Harker does a nice turn as the narcissistic femme fatale and Sarah Abrams does more than might be expected of her as the Beauty of Beauty and the Beast. My biggest rave goes to Ellen Colton who seemed to channel a younger Thelma Ritter in her role as Sally Charmaine. Her body language (a slouch with attitude), wry face, and sardonic tone combined to create a striking resemblance to the second banana of many old black and whites. (Sorry, I couldnÕt help myself!)
The strong cast and design team are the highlights of this production. The script problems notwithstanding, with its Growing Voices program the Lyric Stage Company has taken one small step for BostonÕs playwriting community and a giant leap for American theatre.
ItÕs Kong-sized fun and hilarity in the Lyric Stage CompanyÕs latest and last production of the season, KongÕs Night Out. Written by Jack Neary and directed by the Lyric Stage Producing Artistic Director, Spiro Veloudos, the play is receiving its world premiere here in Boston. Inspired by the 1933 film, King Kong, Neary came to Veloudos in 2002 with the idea of setting a story in a hotel room adjacent to the room where Kong grabs blond bombshell Ann Darrow on his way to their fateful date on the Empire State Building. Veloudos loved the script, which he calls Ņa combination of screwball comedy and parody,Ó and the Lyric Stage was happy to present it.
The nine-member cast of local, extremely talented actors has the one and only Larry Coen at its center. We know Coen best through his work with Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans. In Kong, he is infectious as Myron Siegel, a down on his luck Broadway producer with a family history of being overshadowed by his nemesis, Carl Denham. Carl, played by the incredibly handsome Timothy Smith, and Myron are classic characters, and Coen and Smith make good stage company, playing off each otherÕs ability to hold an audience as the center while not overshadowing the rest of the cast at the same time.
Not that the others need any help on stage. Ellen Colton, as MyronÕs mother Sally, is a natural, Christopher Loftus, as the dashing Jack Driscoll, literally is Jack, and a huge applause goes to Lordan Napoli as Daisy. NapoliÕs comic timing is perfect, complete with laughable expressions and a quick wit. Rachel Harker, M.J.J. Cashman, and Sarah Abrams round out the cast, each just as important to the story as the big man. Oh, you didnÕt know? Kong himself makes an appearance, in a scene that will make you wish the night would never end.
Lyric StageÕs KongÕs Night Out is currently up at 140 Clarendon St. (the YMCA building, the corner of Stuart and Clarendon), Boston. Tickets $20-$45. Curtain Wed. and Thurs. at 7:30 p.m., Fri. at 8 p.m., Sat. at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sun. at 3 p.m. Special matinee. Wed. May 31 at 2 p.m. Meet the playwright Neary after the May 18 performance, and the entire cast Ņtalk-backÓ after the May 21 performance.
Info: 617.585.5678 or lyricstage.com
'Kong' gets an enjoyable but restrained night out
By David Brooks Andrews, Standard-Times correspondent
Lyric Stage Company Rachel Harker and Timothy Smith share a scene in the amusing "KongÕs Night Out."
Just what was going on in the suite next door when Fay Wray was plucked from her hotel room by King Kong?
That question is the clever premise of "Kong's Night Out" by Lowell's prolific playwright, Jack Neary. This screwball comedy is being given an energetic and enjoyable world premiere by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.
The short answer to the question is lots of monkey business. The long answer involves a Broadway producer, Myron Siegel, his entourage Ń including an aspiring actress niece from Buffalo Ń and a longstanding feud with Carl Denham, the nature filmmaker who brought the 40-foot gorilla, Kong, to Broadway.
For the benefit of all who are familiar with the classic film "King Kong," Neary makes his play dovetail with the film's story, but the rest is all his invention, in the manner of 1930s screwball comedies.
There are plenty of jokes in this show, but they tended to elicit knowing smiles rather than spontaneous explosions of laughter at a recent performance.
Myron's niece Daisy constantly refers to her hometown Buffalo as if it's the backwater of all backwaters. "Don't look at me, I'm from Buffalo," she says. At another point she calls the bathroom a privy, explaining that's the Buffalo term. Part of the extended joke is that she's slow to catch on in some ways but in other ways has more common sense than the sophisticated New Yorkers.
Another thread of humor involves Myron's henchman, Little Willie, who's constantly trying to improve his vocabulary by using words that nobody else knows. The jokes tend to add color to the characters more than catch us off guard in a way that would have us rolling in the aisles.
One of the funnier moments occurs when Daisy overhears Myron's actress wife, Bertrille, making a phone call to her lover and referring to herself as Tushie. You can imagine the fun that's had with that name as Daisy, who's never laid eyes on her aunt before, assumes it's her real name. Suddenly we're jolted to greater level of engagement because it feels like the plot is about to become dangerously out of control.
That's exactly what the plays needs more of Ń a sense of recklessness as it careens along the edge of a cliff, rather than being something we admire, as we do, for its very clever construction. To be sure, a farce with this many characters needs to be well constructed, but it's more fun for us if it feels like the characters are in greater control than the playwright is. And if the playwright and cast have a lighter hand with the jokes.
Under director Spiro Veloudos, the actors keep the pace moving at a good clip. One feels a little guilty, as if we owe it to them to help out with more spontaneous belly laughs. Some of the acting is a little over the top at times, but in a farce there's room for broader acting.
Larry Coen as Myron Siegel brings constant energy to the show as he orchestrates much of the action. Ellen Colton as Sally Charmaine, Myron's mother, has a charmingly tough edge and is especially winning as she tries to resist the advances of the overweight Budapest producer Sig Higginbottom (M.J.J. Cashman) with a toupee that looks like a pigeon's nest has fallen on his head.
Steve Gagliastro as Little Willie adds to the feeling that these Broadway producers, who pack heat, are virtually interchangeable with Mafia gangsters.
Lordan Napoli in the role of Daisy has good country brashness, but she's one of the actors who would benefit from pulling back a little on her performance. Rachel Harker brings a lovely sophisticated touch to Bertrille (AKA Tushie) while bouncing between whatever man seems most able to offer her a stage role at any given moment.
Christopher Loftus adds fresh air to the show as Jack Driscoll, the fiancĢ© of King Kong's girl, Ann Darrow, played by Sarah Abrams appropriately as a blond floozy. And Timothy Smith rounds out the cast as Myron's nemesis and Kong's impresario, Carl Denham.
Scenic designer Robert M. Russo outdoes himself in creating a gorgeous 1930s hotel suite with numerous Art Deco touches, ranging from four elegant glass panels to fanned ribs above the doorway through which we see a silhouette of the New York City skyline. He's also created a very convincing and frightening hand of King Kong that swings into the suite.
Gail Astrid Buckley's elegant dresses also capture the period beautifully.
"Kong's Night Out" doesn't provide the roller coaster ride one expects from a screwball comedy, but it's more than clever enough to make for a pleasant night out for audiences.
"Kong's Night Out"
What: A world premiere of a farce by local playwright Jack Neary that takes off on the classic film "King Kong."
Where: Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon St. (Copley Square), Boston.
When: Through June 3.
Tickets: Range from $20 to $45 and can be purchased by calling (617) 585-5678 or going online to www.lyricstage.com. Ask about validated parking.