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June 2, 2005
Behind the Stage Door

It's not what life does to you;
it's what you do with life


IF YOU ONLY READ THE PRESS RELEASES, the two currently running plays locally would seem rather alike -- but they're not. One sparkles with lessons about life, love and the meaning of humanity, while the other bogs down in endless dialogue, tired characterizations and old jokes.

Those familiar with commedia will particularly enjoy Dancers at the North Coast Repertory Theatre; it's loaded with comedy and holds a mirror up to each of us regardless of age.

[couple smiling]Another brilliant set design by Daniel Lawrence and a series of deft characterizations by Theresa Ireland (Nurse Montcrief), Josh Kelly (Kevin) and Nathan Pierce (Orderly) bring to life the day-to-day grind of life in a nursing home. Kevin waits to find out about his mother and meets Julia (Lynne Wells, at left in photo). Julia is a woman of artistic temperament who explores Kevin's relationship with a difficult mother and her own sense of loneliness and loss during and after a time when the young man is told his mother "didn't make it."

A few days later Kevin comes back to see Julia and meets her cantankerous roommate Jack. Bob Wells' portrayal of a man 20 years his senior is so real you can feel the creaking of his bones and the tension in his tendons as he jealously watches the younger man intrude on what had been his tidy life and daily routine of little spoilings at the gently comedic hand of Nurse Sutton (Wanda Stapp). [Bob Wells at right in photo]

After Sutton is replaced by the authoritarian Nurse Raymond (Becca Ramsey), Jack attempts to regain control by playing a trick that backfires when Kevin arrives unexpectedly and takes the brunt of the prank. To say anything other than that you might die laughing at Jack, or crying at what you learn about yourself during Julia and Kevin's scenes, would spoil a theatrical delight.

Director Carol Escobar deserves much credit, not only for the scripted performances but also for thousands of little details, including a wonderful "intermission act" where the workers in the hospital set the stage for the remainder of the play. Beth Lanzi's costuming and Dan Mullins' light design and set construction complete the effect.

Dancers continues until June 18 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, June 12, at North Coat Repertory Theater, 300 Fifth St., Eureka. For reservations, group rates or more information call 442-NCRT or visit


Meanwhile the Ferndale Repertory Theatre stages The Sunshine Boys, a classic play by Neil Simon that has been made into a movie and remade for television. In the Rep's production, Bob Clark busily plays Willie Clark, one member of a vaudeville team that performed for 43 years before breaking up quietly one night after a performance. Clark blames his career failure and concurrent poverty on his partner, Al Lewis (J.R. Patterson) who decided to retire after decades of success on the road, even though it's obvious to all that it's Willie's fears and hatreds that probably drove his partner to leave.

Only Willie's nephew, Ben Silverman (Dmitry Tokarsky), can stand the old codger, who argues and bickers even when he's getting his own way. I found both the character and the portrayal annoying. Willie's endless ranting about other people's personal habits and his curmudgeonly self-imposed isolation wore off somewhere around the end of Scene One and even the entry of several more actors -- including the usually incredible character actor J.R. Patterson as Al Lewis and newcomers Vicki Charleton, Diane Woodford and Lori Maciel in supporting roles -- couldn't bring the performance to life.

Director Renee Grinnell's vision also wasn't helped by slow and mindless set changing and the incessant noise from the light booth on preview night. The Rep has a wonderful tradition of introducing young people to theater; what's needed now is an attempt by those same young people to work at a professional level as set by costumer Vicki Charlton and the rest of the show's designers and technicians: Diane Woodford, Bruce Keller and Jessie Talbert.

It's possible that audience response from opening weekend, along with some tightening, may make this a piece that fans of Bob Clark or vaudeville-style humor may enjoy.

Shows continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until Friday, June 17. There will be one Saturday matinee June 18 at 2 p.m. The Rep is located at 447 Main Street in Ferndale, for tickets or more information, call 786-5483 or visit



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