Last week, two very entertaining regional performances opened, both with a charismatic and unusual central character who bends almost everyone to his will.
In Auburn’s The Rev, Frank Abagnale, the legendary con man, tells his own fantasy story in Catch Me If You Can. The 2009 musical (libretto by Terrence McNally, music by Mark Shaiman, score by Shaiman and Scott Wittman) is based on the 2002 film (directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio), itself based on Abagnale’s co-written and highly exaggerated 1980 Autobiography year, which, in turn, was based on … a lot of posturing, fiction and magical reflections.
Frank imagines himself as a 15-year-old teenager, distraught by his parents’ divorce, nonchalantly following his father’s advice to get everything you can before the world takes it from you. Leaving his home in the Bronx, he poses as an airline pilot, a professor, a pediatrician, and others, gleefully writing bad checks along the way (for $2.5 million, the real Abagnale later stated, as inaccurate as anything else). , What did he say) .
This is the 60s, when we were perhaps more gullible. Frank charms everyone by returning their surprise at his position despite looking so young (“Yes, I understand that.”) Frank’s escapades are funny, but the chase action is dramatic: FBI veteran Carl Hanratty is chasing Frank. stubbornly, finally surprised, to discover that his prey was “just a baby!”
What is outstanding about this production is everything – the acting, singing, dancing, staging, scenery, lighting, costumes. This production, directed by Brett Smoke, is worthy of Broadway, and its quality will definitely cause excitement before the next performance of the Reverend “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.
As Frank, Ian Ward is charming, a Tom Cruise-like blond with an irresistible smile, boyish and disarming. He owns the part at every moment, sings great and is so gracious and polite that you forget he’s cheating. His obsessive tracker, Hanratty, is superbly shaped by Mike Masters. And Timothy Worman as Frank Sr., the failed father, spoils beautifully before our eyes. French mother Sandy Baynum is self-absorbed and finally less powerful than the men in young Frank’s life.
The musical’s beautiful ensemble dazzles us with ’60s-inspired moves (choreography by Richard J. Hinds) and truly delightful period costumes (by Tiffany Howard). But it’s Adam Koch’s sets, wildly lit by José Santiago, that are stunning – almost a character in and of itself. Thin metal pillars at odd angles mark a space filled with moving screens in colorful shapes, a stained-glass chapel of mid-century American culture. And no small feat: every word and song is crisp thanks to Kevin Hurd’s sound design complementing Brian Simmett’s musical direction.
Catch Me If You Can is such great entertainment that you won’t even notice that you’re not enjoying the antics of a resourceful child (maybe Frank was a teenage hacker today?), but watching a TV-made version of a convicted felon. Americans are strange: we are rich in crime stories, but we hate being the victim of a crime; we are fascinated by scammers, but we hate to be deceived. And we prefer the digestible lie to the brutal reality: Abagnale himself, now 74, embittered his father in the first place; served prison terms in the United States, France and Sweden; molested women under the guise of medical examinations; stole from ordinary people, not from corporations; lied about everything, including working with the FBI; and now allegedly earns a living as a “document security consultant”.
So is this a story about a liar or a great storyteller? And what version of reality do we demand? The devastating social cost of our pursuit of tasty fiction is an issue currently explored in Minutes by Tracey Letts at New York’s Studio 54. (Look.)
A more sophisticated approach to reality—through a different kind of fantasy—is offered in Hurricane Diane, an intimate comedy with a message currently playing at Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre. The 2017 entry is written by Madeleine George, a 1996 Cornell alumnus whose play Watson’s (The Curious Case of the Intellect) was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. This show, which closes the 30th season of “Kitchen”, is the first staged here by Artistic Director-Producer Rebecca Bradshaw.
Premise: Hoping to restore the classic golden age, Dionysus arrives in the guise of a lesbian gardener to hire four women from suburban New Jersey as his maenads. Will they be able to resist the call to surrender to unleashed Nature, stop the doomsday climate clock and embrace the spirit of permaculture, thus possibly saving the planet?
This god of wine (actually a demigod, we are reminded) is seeking a comeback and believes it will take at least four women to ignite an ecstatic frenzy and attract more followers. If you notice that Bacchus, aka Dionysus, aka Diana, is played by an attractive androgynous woman, you’re right. Jackie Rivera’s divinity is, pardon the pun, a force of nature – dominating the stage with godlike confidence, electric sexuality and boundless energy. Irresistible for the ladies of the Red Coast, and for the public.
All the action takes place in a spacious, if suitably sterile, suburban kitchen that opens through French doors onto a much-discussed backyard landscape (set by Izmir Iqbal, a bit fussyly lit by M.E. Berry). Envisioning the thornbush, an untamed, wholly natural area, Dionysus extols the virtues of native species such as papaya and milk vetch, forbidding, in one remarkably comical scene, the very use of the phrase “curb attraction.”
Beth (Lindsey Brill), disoriented and alone after being abandoned by her husband, it’s no wonder she’s the first to fall in love with Dionysus’ earthly spells. Pam (Melissa Miller), a chatty Italian-American who wears sexy animal prints (Chelsea Curl costumes), aggressively agrees. The most comical pas de deux is with Renée (Cynthia Henderson), a savvy shelter magazine editor, who welcomes the new ecovision, clearly thrilled by the memories of her own lesbian past.
Diane’s first target proves to be the most resilient to change: Carol (Erika Steinhagen) clings to her orderly corner of reality, her dead-end retreat, planet be damned. “What I want is what we I want it, she insists. But with their cozy bay town close to Sandy Hook, storms are inevitable.
With the exception of two overly long speeches, George’s script is skillful, with down to earth banter in an absurdist context. All the actors do justice by bringing out the comedy admirably in every moment. (This playfulness echoes the Schitt’s Creek game.) It’s not clear if the play produces any climate change, but at least you won’t be looking at your backyard the same way anymore.
• Catch Me If You Can, book by Terrence McNally, music by Mark Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Directed by Brett Smoke. At The Rev (Carousel Theatre), Emerson Park, Auburn. Mon-Sat until 28 June. Tickets at https://therevtheatre.com/tickets/ticketing-options/ or (315) 255-1785.
• Hurricane Diana by Madeleine George, directed by Rebecca Bradshaw. At the Kitchen Theatre, 417 W. State/MLK, Jr. St., Ithaca. Until June 26th. Tickets at https://www.kitchentheatre.org/buy-tickets or call (607) 272-0570.