February 27, 2009
‘No Way’ you should miss this
by Greg Boyle
I have to admit that I’ve been unaware and lax, because until last Thursday, I had never attended a performance by the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre (MET). Four seasons on, this gypsy company of professional actors is in the third location of their very short history.
MET’s current residence is a non-descript former storefront at 3614 Main, which you might easily pass by without noticing. However, it is a prime location because it is in a stretch of Main Street that, in the course of three short blocks, includes the Unicorn, City In Motion Dance Theatre, and the MET. From now on, theatre lovers should be on the lookout for it. Their current production, No Way to Treat a Lady is so good, so funny, so satisfying in every theatrical way, that I’ve been calling up friends to tell them about it.
The musical is based on a William Goldman novel, which was made into an unsuccessful movie in 1968 starring Rod Steiger and George Segal. Douglas Cohen wrote the musical adaptation in 1987, and he corrected all the criticism the film originally received.
Cohen wrote every word, lyric and note of music, just like Meredith Willson did with The Music Man. The coherence that arises from that single pen doing all the writing makes the play flow with near-perfect grace. Characters go from speaking to singing seamlessly, and with John Staniunas’s direction, every thought and motivation reveal themselves clearly in front of our eyes.
The music itself is occasionally catchy, with a couple of the melodies, “I Need a Life” and “So Far, So Good” standing out. Hum-ability isn’t important though, because it is the humor of the lyrics that makes you want to listen every minute for fear you’ll miss something. There are show biz jokes, Jewish jokes, New York jokes, death jokes and every other kind of joke along the way. You have to pay attention to people’s names, the restaurants they eat at, and watch for references to movies. It adds to the fun.
The plot involves the pursuit of a serial killer by a mama’s boy detective named Moe. Michael Dragen gives the cop a lovable loser quality, but somehow you believe he might evolve into a Columbo one day. On the case, Moe bumps into the shiksa of his dreams, a drop-dead gorgeous, wealthy, uptown socialite. Sarah, played by Lauren Braton, sweetly and sadly explains her unlikely attraction to the little nebbish in “One of the Beautiful People.” Braton’s powerful presence and steamy intimacy create a fully believable romance in this unlikely scenario.
The killer, Kit, is played with increasingly comic psychosis by Jon Daugharthy. By the end of the second act, Norman Bates has nothing on Kit. In addition to a fine singing voice (a quality shared by the entire cast), Daugharthy displays a terrific variety of dialects, all pitch perfect.
Jeanne Averill might be said to comprise the rest of the cast. She plays multiple characters, including the mothers of both Moe and Kit, and imbues every one of them with distinct physical and vocal qualities. Her smothering Jewish mother is as fully on target as is her portrayal of the aloof acting diva.
The show is crammed with delightful, funny, touching, manic, silly sequences, but one deserves special mention. The scene where Sarah meets Moe’s mother Flora for the first time is absolutely unexpected and priceless. The song “So Much in Common” makes you worry that poor Moe might be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
The set is a cramped affair designed by Bob Paisley that reinforces the reality of New York City, the population gets by with a lot less space than we’re used to here in the Midwest. The penthouse apartment of the villain is all the way into the rafters of the building, and Kit has to duck his head to move around in it. Outstanding theatre under those circumstances is even more exciting than when the company has a huge budget. It reminds us that showbiz is all about performance, not location.
The audience though, is comfortable. They are treated to padded church pew seating. And it seems that a lot of people heard about the MET before I did. There was a good crowd on a very cold Thursday night.
Hurry to see No Way to Treat a Lady. It is ending this weekend, March 1. Call the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre box office 816-536-9464 or go to www.metkc.org.
Greg Boyle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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