Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ladyhouse: Final Production for Andak?

Ladyhouse Blues

Parking is a slight challenge for the NewPlace Theater on Peach Grove in NoHo. The adventure is worth the effort.  One arrives and is greeted by a familiar looking gentleman, Dakin Matthews, late of the recent film, LINCOLN and hundreds of other roles on stage and screen over the past many years.   He is the producer of Ladyhouse Blues, the sound technician, the box officer/concessionaire and I imagine he was the guy who tended the unisex bathroom earlier in the day.  He serves small dishes of ‘goldfish.’  It’s just charming.

The tiny 35 seat theatre space is a jewel box. The audience enters to encounter John Iacovelli’s exquisitely executed early 20th century kitchen that will serve as the setting for the Madden sisters, the Madden Women, really, who all share the home.

Bud, son of Mother Liz’s (Excellent Kitty Swink) brood, is away serving in the Navy as WWI winds down. Eylie (bouncy Tro Shaw) unfettered and filled with ideas beyond her sixteen years flits about the kitchen as sister Helen (appropriately tired Liza de Weerd), ill with what may be TB, labors at peeling potatoes for the family dinner. Helen’s illness has driven her back home because there is fear of her young son being exposed to her illness. 

There is an immediate connection with the story and the characters that playwright Kevin O’Morrison created based on his early life in St. Louis. Written in the 1950s, we are transported back to 1919 Missouri in the days before everyone had electricity; when the times were slipping from the grasp of elders to the generation that would produce Flappers and bathtub gin.

We meet Dot (Annie Matthews), pregnant with a baby.  She met her upscale husband at the White House (she won a trip there for selling War Bonds) and as a New York model, her goal is to better herself with education and rise above her earthy Ozark roots. 

It’s the Ozarks that we hear Liz lapse into as she rails against the rise of modernity.  Firmly bound in her evangelical beliefs (and from sometimes a full bodice corset!), the Bible is quoted and her prejudice against them foreigners rears its head from time to time.  Family rebel and union organizer, Terry (Kaylee Bouwens, full of energy and hope) is a waitress and a member of what her mother calls a Bolshevik cause.  She and Eylie are the youngest of the brood and pay their own way.  This is a family of feminists in spite of Liz’s attempts to keep them out of harm’s way and in the tradition of the times which may be the equivalent of barefoot and pregnant.

Director Anne McNaughton’s hand is firm, giving each character time for revelation.  It’s a tight show and the talents of these strong actors shine.  There are moments of levity, but O’Morrison is showing us how strong women survive in a time when there were not many men to help with the families they had started.  It is gritty and rings true.  Resident Costume Designer Dean Cameron has found flour sacks and the equivalent for spot on shifts and accessories.  Tech shines.

For aficionados of fine theatre and for those who appreciate well-tuned acting, this is a show to be appreciated. Mr. Matthews has dedicated his energies to bringing quality to the stage and this project deserves an audience.  

Dakin Matthews has announced that LADYHOUSE BLUES may be the final production for the Andak Stage Company.   Though the curtain is only hovering at this point, if you have not seen a show at this venue, it will be worth the effort to head to the NewPlace to enjoy this production.

Opened February 16, 2013
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Saturday and Sunday afternoons  at  2pm through March 24, 2013.
NewPlace Studio Theatre
10950 Peach Grove St.
For reservations: Ovationtix (866) 811-4111 or
Tickets $25,
Discounted $20 tickets for industry professionals, seniors, and students. 
Group discounts (10 or more) available by calling  (818-506-8462).

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