Army theater launches
season with pair of treats
By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin
THE opera season is starting early with Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" at Army Community Theatre. The Christmas opera is ACT's big show, while "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" offers a different view of the holidays. Neither of these ambitious productions is a total artistic success, but both are interesting alternatives to conventional community-theater fare.
"Ballyhoo" is well worth a Sunday afternoon. And anyone looking to introduce kids to opera will find "Amahl" a fine place to start.
The prequel to the familiar tale of the three kings who searched for the baby Jesus focuses on the plight of a boy and his poor, widowed mother (Mary Chesnut). Amahl (Sean Yamura) can walk only with the aid of a crutch. He is also a prevaricator of presidential magnitude. When he tells his mother that three kings are standing outside the door, she's sure he's lying.
The kings are Balthazar (Haigh Roop), Kaspar (Kalani Brady) and Melchior (Dennis Ihara).
"Amahl and the Night Visitors": 7:30 p.m., tomorrow, Saturday and Dec. 2 and 4, at Richardson Theatre. Tickets: $12-$15; children $6-$8. Call 438-4480.
"The Last Night of Ballyhoo": 2 p.m Sunday and Dec. 5 at Richardson Theatre. Tickets: $6. Call 438-4480.
Amahl and his mother are so poor that becoming beggars would improve their prospects. When Amahl's mother is caught stealing some of the kings' treasures, Melchior tells her she may keep the gold because the child they seek has no need of earthly treasure. Amahl impulsively offers his most precious possession in case that child, too, is crippled, and discovers to his amazement that he can now walk without it.
Chesnut anchors the show with her acting as well as her vocal skills. She reveals Amahl's mother as a decent woman pushed over the edge by poverty and circumstances. Chesnut sings with authority and clarity throughout.
Brady is another strong performer in a good role. He is an instant hit as the slightly deaf, slightly childish Kaspar.
The problem is the sound system. The rest of the cast is less successful in being heard over the orchestra. For Yamura in particular, it is all too often a case of being seen rather than heard.
Alfred Uhry's social comedy "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" is the latest in ACT's readers theater series. Uhry's characters are members of Atlanta's Jewish social elite who are preparing for the holidays and the world premiere of "Gone with the Wind," while World War II sputters along after Hitler's victory in Poland. The script smoothly blends comedy, drama and social commentary.
Director Vanita Rae Smith is staging it with a cast of four playing seven characters; Richard Pellett (Adolf Levy) also does the narration. The casting is problematic in one respect, but overall the ACT production is great fun.
It is first and foremost a triumph for Shari Lynn, who displays her range and versatility by clearly defining the distinct voices and personalities of ditsy twentysomething Lala Levy and Lala's outspoken middle-aged mother, Boo. There are times when Lala and Boo talk to each other, but Lynn's characterizations are always clear.
Dion Donahue's interpretation of Joe Farkas sounds more like Charles Bronson than a native "noo yawka" but provides a stark contrast to his comic take on rich Peachy Weil. As with Lynn, there's never a question which of the men Donahue is playing, even when they're talking to each other.
Local theater veteran Jo Pruden, however, creates the fortysomething Reba Levy with no problem, but is such a distinctive presence that college student Sunny Levy never fully emerges from the shadows. Reba quickly becomes distinct from Pruden. Sunny does not -- and should.
"Ballyhoo" is fascinating and well worth seeing, even so.
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