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Solid to the Core



While Le Petit cast anchor this season with a screwball maritime excursion to the 1930s via Cole Porter's Anything Goes, Rivertown Rep is choo-chooing overland to Dead Rock, Ark., in a time period that might be called by that gallant euphemism for aging ingenues: "30ish."

Crazy for You, the 1992 Tony-winning brainchild of contemporary playwright Ken Ludwig, is a very loose adaptation of the Gershwin brothers' 1930 hit Girl Crazy. Ludwig also wrote Lend Me a Tenor, a memorable romp last year at Rivertown. And once again, Kenner is doing Ludwig proud. In fact, Alton Geno's production (he directed, co-choreographed, and does a comic turn) is the kind of show that makes one rummage around the office looking for that dusty, neglected, old satchel of superlatives.

There's no better place to begin than Gary Rucker, who claimed afterward, when I sought him out to congratulate him, that he had worked hard on the show. You could have fooled me. He made it all look so easy. Rucker has given us any number of inspired performances over the years -- and always displayed an uncanny, understated grace, particularly in the almost lost art of physical comedy. But as Bobby Child, the rich-boy banker who wants to be a dancer, he truly comes of age. Rucker sings in 10 of the 21 song numbers, dances up a storm and, what's still more difficult, dances in the halcyon peril of moonbeams.

Usually, I must confess, when the break comes in the love duet and the leading man takes his paramour in his arms to trip the light fantastic, I live in an agony of fear. Oh, the relief when the last chord sounds. He made it! Thank God. Not here. The performance is solid to the core.

Rucker's able and winsome opponent in the eternal battle of the sexes is Kelly Hirling Fouchi (who also co-choreographed the show). Fouchi gives us a farmer's daughter who would turn the head of any traveling salesman. She's pure country without corn and a charmer with such immortal tunes as "Embraceable You," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "I Got Rhythm" -- this last being one of a handful of inventive extravaganzas that really kick up the dust and get you swaying in your seat thanks to a topnotch supporting ensemble.

A hilarious set piece in the second act matches Greg Di Leo as producer Bela Zangler and Rucker as Bobby Child disguised as Bela Zangler. In an extended mime that gets funnier the longer it lasts, these two (who suffered a similar confusion of identity in Lend Me a Tenor) become locked in a surreal mirroring of each other's actions.

Among other standouts are Angie Joachim, Linda Hubschen, Lorin Moore and Claire Conti. Lance Spellerberg designed the attractive set that smoothly transformed between myriad locations. Trish McLain provided the sparkling duds, while Flo Presti gets the kudos for musical direction.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the theatrical spectrum in every way, is the grotesque and troubling miniature, Zoo Story by Edward Albee, at the True Brew.

This was Albee's first play, produced in Germany in 1959 and in America one year later. It has that "early play by a new and possibly important playwright" aura that seems to emanate most particularly from the voice of the script. Early Pinter, Shepard and even Tennessee Williams have this quality; it is the original and authentic tone that grabs one, more than the actual drama.

The play is small. Two men, a park bench, an hour of their life after they meet. And one of the men hardly speaks at all. But the formless anguish of urban alienation issues through this interrupted monologue like steam from a subway grate.

Bryan Spitzfaden is Jerry, the voluble, literate, unbalanced bohemian who lives in a laughably small room in a dismal boarding house. Adam Haver is Peter, the straight-laced publishing executive, Jerry chooses for his victim, or executioner, or -- and this is the weird part -- both victim and executioner.

When Jerry's desperate attempt to win over his landlady's vicious dog fails, he sets out to construct one last meaningful contact with a living soul: the unwilling conspirator in his suicide.

The trick in the play is to keep the contest between these mismatched adversaries even enough to hold our interest. This requires that Peter, the beleaguered publisher, remain intensely present (without, of course, seeming intense). Conversely, the oblique Jerry must reveal himself, so we comprehend the pain that's driven him to this bitter, desperate and somewhat sadistic embrace of a harmless stranger. Under Sarah Clifford's direction, Spitzfaden and Haver succeed admirably, grounding this grim, and not entirely plausible, fable in a truthful give and take.

Gary Rucker and Kelly Hirling Fouchi provide an embraceable duet in Rivertown Rep's mounting of Crazy for You.
  • Gary Rucker and Kelly Hirling Fouchi provide an embraceable duet in Rivertown Rep's mounting of Crazy for You.

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