Uneven but endearing, a Kaufman & Hart comedy closes a chapter for Strawdog.
For the final show in Strawdog Theatre Company’s longtime Lakeview space (the company moves into the Factory Theater’s new Howard Street venue for next season, with an eye toward securing its own home nearby for 2017–18), Damon Kiely stages this wacky showbiz comedy by Kaufman & Hart (You Can’t Take It With You). The 1930 play sends up the then-new Hollywood trend of talking pictures and the studios’ rocky transitions; in the play, a struggling vaudeville trio (Mike Dailey as the dreamer and schemer, Kat McDonnell as his pragmatic partner and Scott Danielson as the well-meaning ignoramus) heads West intending to cash in by posing as vocal experts, ready to teach silent-film squawkboxes how to speak in soothing tones.
Kiely’s production seems to aim for a sweet spot between Marx Brothers delirium and Howard Hawks’s clipped pacing, but it often comes across more manic than controlled. There are delightful exceptions: The repeated pairing of Strawdog ensemble members Michaela Petro and Anderson Lawfer in cameo duets threatens to turn the whole endeavor into The Petro-Lawfer Comedy Hour. And McDonnell’s put-upon, no-nonsense May perfectly captures the spirit of classic Hawks heroines in the style of Hepburn or Russell.
Kiely’s choice to cover scene transitions with cast members performing period-style arrangements of modern pop confections like “Party in the USA” and “Uptown Funk,” while entertaining, never quite reveals its true purpose—until, perhaps, the final number. For audiences who’ve followed this scrappy and winsome company up that steep flight of stairs for any length of time, the curtain-call rendition of “Wrecking Ball” might be as cathartic as it is for the cast.
Strawdog Theatre Company. By George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Directed by Damon Kiely. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs; two intermissions.