“The Movie House,” an original collection of skits and burlesque written and directed by Lorie Obradovich, revisits the 1930s, when picture shows were a refuge not only from the heat or cold but also from loneliness and worry.
Obradovich, who directed a similar evening of burlesque and skits called “Velvet” in 2006, shaped her own similar mix of entertainment for this production.
The result also is a mix.
The skits, mostly broad and comedic in the style of vaudeville, drew more titters than loud belly laughs at Friday's performance in the former Bancroft Street Market. The burlesque bits were mildly racy. An actress appears topless briefly in one scene.
A rectangular raised performance platform stands amid a large, open space. A wall of curtains flanks the back on both sides. The canvas backdrop is an attractive, stylized painting of an old movie house facade — with a marquee and sidewalk placards — in black, white and gray. Visual artist Bob Donlan painted it in quick, broad strokes, matching the performance.
Behind the audience, Donlan's large portraits of the eight cast members, also in black, white and gray, hang individually from the ceiling, forming a sort of open back wall. They make a striking display to study before the show or at intermission. Costumes by Obradovich, Karen Cordes and Mary Redelfs also are attractive.
Obradovich chose music for the seven short skits, drafting cast member Jonathan Wilhoft to write original tunes to her lyrics for five of them. Local musicians taped accompaniment for those numbers, while vintage period music plays for other stories.
The piece is framed by a cautious middle-age lady (Therese Rennels) and a warm, kind gentleman (Jamie Lewis), strangers who happen to sit next to each other in the movie house audience and strike up a flirtation.
Jerry Evert and Wilhoft, as ushers, open the show with an overture — really a vaudeville duet about the old movie palaces.
Simple skits follow. God (Wilhoft) cautions scantily clad Adam and Eve (Evert, Laci Neal). Then a serpent (Anna Rebecca Kunkel, a standout) and Lucifer (Matt Kelehan) tempt them.
A Keystone Kops skit finds a newspaper reporter (Andy Niess) fleeing from inept police (Wilhoft, Wes Clowers) and mobsters (Kelehan).
“The Sultan,” a takeoff on “Rocky & Bullwinkle” Russian spy characters, finds Noris (Niess) and Batasha (Kunkel) scheming to rob a sultan (Wilhoft) who's uninterested in her belly-dancing charms. She instead falls for his manservant (Evert), leaving Noris brokenhearted.
And so on. In a final scene, Rennels and Lewis (the audience members) connect, only to find themselves suddenly a part of the movie in front of them, a la Woody Allen's “Purple Rose of Cairo.”
Technical issues distracted. Masking curtains often remained partly open after furniture moved on and off, allowing prolonged glimpses backstage. Scene changes were slow, awkward and noisy. At times, the audience was unsure when to applaud or when a skit ended.
The overall result, a combination of light humor, broad acting and scantily clad characters here and there, is a slightly racy slice of nostalgia.
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