Actors Theatre stages a stylish finale
By Daedalus Howell
CHANGE IS GOOD, but The Quick Change Room is better. Actors Theatre's season finale (penned by Nagel Jackson and directed by Joe Winkler) doesn't shortchange with this rambunctious and touching portrait of a Russian theater company in the wake of perestroika.
Set in the quick-change room (the diminutive chamber where players undergo elaborate costume changes in seconds) backstage at the Kuzlov Theater in St. Petersburg, the play finds young ingenue Nina (Laura Odeh), the daughter of Marya, the wardrobe mistress (a wonderfully kvetching Laurie Whiteside), freshly cast as the youngest sister in a revival of Chekhov's The Three Sisters. An aging Ludmilla Nevchenka (Sheri Lee Miller) attempts to thwart Nina's rising star, however, after she is accidentally sent onstage with her bloomers bared by Nina's mother.
Meanwhile, Boris (a note-perfect Kevin Lingener), the box office manager and a burgeoning capitalist, butts heads with the company's director and resident aesthete, Sergey Sergeyevich Tarpin (Lyle E. Fisher), over the theater's repertoire. The result is a slapdash musical spinoff-ovich of Chekhov's masterpiece, less one sibling, dubbed "Oh, My Sister"--Jackson's stinging indictment of the crass commercialism that infects art when greed replaces inspiration.
Out of Actors Theatre's seven-play season,The Quick Change Room is the third play the company has produced that is concerned with theater itself (Moon over Buffalo and Private Eyes played earlier this year). And why not? Provocative and hilarious, AT's The Quick Change Room is hot in three ways: the production is full-throttle fun, the partially clad actors are sexy (many tantalizing moments occur in the quick-change room as the players' onstage costume changes reveal bustiers and other assorted lingerie), and, unfortunately, the theater space itself is stifling because of the late-spring swelter.
Miller plays her matronly grand dame, Ludmilla, with great comic gusto in what is regrettably her farewell performance on local stages (she has heeded the call of other interests and will surely be missed by audiences and thespians alike).
Odeh is stellar as her Nina makes the telltale transformation from plucky, starstruck ingenue to ambitious (read: conniving and mercenary) coquette and is easily Actors Theatre's finest discovery this season.
Sasha, a young electrician disgruntled over the seeming chaos perestroika has wrought on financially strapped Russia, is wonderfully played by Matt Proschold, whose understated style makes for great comic contrast amid the frequent onstage blowouts.
Fisher's Sergey Sergeyevich is a convincing depiction of a man whose artistry is being bulldozed by commercialism and the ambition of others--namely, his persnickety assistant Timofey, played by a scene-stealing Jason Breaw.
Tim Earles delivers a droll performance as company everyman Nikolai, an actor with a penchant for donning the wrong hat before hastily making his entrances. Anna, another Kuzlov comic (Beverly Bartels), takes an eloquent turn as she is forced to choose between selling out to commercial lunacy or being out of a gig. Likewise, Joan Feliciano's excellently played assistant dresser, Lena, illustrates the hardships of post-Communist Russia during a poignant scene in which she discovers her daughter makes the rent by making it with tourists.
The Quick Change Room is a fine study of art's perversion into insipid entertainment disguised as financial survival. At one point Ludmilla waxes philosophic about the company's changing artistic climate with "We used to do it for life; now we do it for a living."
Thankfully, the players at Actors Theatre still do it just for life.
The Quick Change Room plays Thursdays-Saturdays through June 24 at 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. Actors Theatre is located at the Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. $10-$15. 523-4185.
From the May 25-31, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.