No matter how professionally it’s produced, Thornton Wilder’s classic, OUR TOWN, typically evokes the feeling that one has just visited the high school auditorium. For better or worse, The Roundabout Theatre’s production of 110 IN THE SHADE at Studio 54 is a similar experience as it asks us to visit a moment of innocence in which story telling is laid bare.
As audiences who have seen the movie version, THE RAINMAKER that starred Katherine Hepburn already know, 110 IN THE SHADE is just such a tale whose master story teller is a dreamer and a fraud named Starbuck.
But that comes later. This production begins with Santo Loquasto’s comically luminous Moon. Larger than life, it is also larger than the stage. When it recedes into the background, a bevy of actors carrying set pieces scurry in. Again, the stage seems way too small and the acting way too big.
That’s until Lizzie returns home. In this role, Audra McDonald is actually homely: tongue-tied, self-conscious and as costumed by Santo Loquasto, she’s just too buttoned-up. It’s enough to make any woman hurt and angry, a feeling which Ms. McDonald brings to every mellifluous note.
But it does take shaking up a few trees to get her to climb down. That Starbuck does. A man who claims he can bring rain to the town’s shriveling cows and crops, proves still waters run deep. In that sense, the musical serves as kind of a creation myth that’s as old as the theater itself. But as directed by Lonny Price, one senses the presence of the comedic gesture tossed in the face of a creaky old-fashioned musical. Only Ms. McDonald can make such awkward pronouncements as “My dreams are very plain, but nonetheless they’re very real” seem poignant and truthful.
She’s matched at moments by Bobby Steggert who brings surprising comic turns to his role as Lizzie’s younger brother. Steve Kazee as Starbuck and Christopher Innvar as the Sheriff, on the other hand, are fairly predictable romantic leads.
Still, Audra McDonald’s inner transformation looms larger than the Moon, bringing us the show’s miraculous finale. Where there’s a creation myth, after all, there must be a fertility goddess and in this case it’s the much disguised Lizzie. Yes there are miracles, this musical tells us, but not the ones we expect.
By Isa Goldberg
A Roundabout Theatre Company Production
at Studio 54,
254 West 54th Street (Between Broadway & 8th Ave.)
Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300
April 13 – July 29, 2007 Tuesday – Saturday Evenings at 8pm Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday Matinees at 2pm
Special Sunday Eve performance April 15, 2007 at 7:30pm
No performance Sunday, April 22, 2007
No performances Wednesday, May 2, 2007
No performance Thursday, May 3, 2007
No matinee performance Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Special 7pm curtains June 19, 2007 through June 29, 2007
Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minuteswith one 15 minute intermission.