Theater people seem to get extra pleasure out of poking fun at one of their own.
Such is the case in Consider The Following’s latest production, Light Up The Sky, a fast-moving backstage spoof wherein a troupe of planet-size egos threaten to destroy a play that’s about to open in Boston.
While the recent film Waiting for Guffman was a clever slap at small-town theater, this ensemble comedy by American dramatist Moss Hart (1904-1961) takes its inspiration from Broadway, where the ill-fated production is bound. Hart directed the Pulitzer Prize-winning You Can’t Take It With You, plus The Man Who Came to Dinner and My Fair Lady; collaborated on musicals with Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and others; and wrote many plays between 1941 and 1952, including Winged Victory, Christopher Blake, Light Up The Sky and The Climate of Eden.
“Light Up The Sky was one of Moss Hart’s last plays, and he probably wrote it about many of the people he had met and worked with during his career,” speculated Jack Lowell at a recent rehearsal (Lowell plays the juicy part of director Carlton Fitzgerald).
Carlton is full of himself, seductively smarmy and constantly crying. “I’m sorry you couldn’t attend the dress rehearsal,” he tells a young writer, Miss Lowell (Sarah Yarian). “I didn’t think I was allowed to attend,” she replies. “Yes, I’m sorry,” he says, more proud than apologetic about one of his pre-opening-night rituals — the closed dress rehearsal. He later confides: “I cried when I saw it, cried when I directed it. I had to move to the back of the theater so they wouldn’t hear me sobbing.”
Irene Livingston (Shea Davies) is the show’s prima-donna star, calling everyone “Dahhhling” and emerging from her pre-curtain massage to beckon visiting playwright Owen Turner (Sheldon Lawrence) with: “I deserve a kiss, Owen. I’ve been saying such wonderful things about you in my book.” She announces that, during her massage, she fell asleep and dreamt that she stole every line in the first act.
Irene’s mother, Stella (Norma Holt-Rugile), is dubious about the play from the start, constantly amusing herself with wisecracks: “Nothing could hurt this play,” she announces at one point. “Just the curtain going up is enough.” And after listening to the director’s platitudes, she tells the show’s playwright, Peter Sloan (Kieron Mann): “I’ve never heard such wonderful things about a play. It seems a pity to open it.”
Carlton, Irene and Sidney Black are the most haughty, jealous and backstabbing of the bunch. Sidney is the play’s benefactor, having plunked down 300 grand to produce the show, guaranteeing himself a stage part — and a major case of buyer’s remorse. “This play is going to stick a Roman candle in the tired face of show business,” he announces early on. Played robustly by actor David Berkey, Sidney acknowledges that he is slow to learn his lines, but when he does finally master them, “that eagle not only screams, it flies back to the mint with a double rupture.”
After an opening-night crowd of Shriners gives the play a less-than-warm reception, Sidney’s caustic wife, Frances (Sally Watts), trumpets that one audience member described the play as “either an allegory or the biggest joke ever played on the city of Boston.” Stella predicts that her daughter is off working on a good case of laryngitis, and when Irene enters the room coughing, her husband, Tyler (Adam Coulter),counsels, “Careful, Irene, you’ll lose your voice.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do, you imbecile,” she impales:. “I’m married to Mortimer Snerd. Pneumonia, that’s what I want, the peace and quiet of an oxygen tent.”
Without completely giving away the ending, I will say that not even an inspirational speech from a veteran playwright can dissuade the distraught Peter Sloan from heading for the airport and the first plane out of town, while Stella and Frances play gin and get a big kick out of the sinking ship.