Get Thee to the Kitchen!
Ithaca has its own little Off Broadway theatre, the intimate space at the Kitchen Theatre. The quality matches anything, anywhere: one certainly imagines they are in the theater district of New York when sitting in the ‘Kitchen.’ The Kitchen is now offering a breath of fresh air for the October “pre-election day” season, bringing back a favorite by playwright and Artistic Director Rachel Lampert with a specific mission: to give us all the break we might need from a contentious election cycle. She was correct in that assumption and I, for one, appreciated this sigh of relief – this blast of humor that had me falling out of my chair laughing.
Many of us can recall the first time we were exposed to Gilbert and Sullivan style theater. For me it was playing Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore with the Harvard Hasty Pudding Players while a young music student in Boston. Once you have sung those tunes they are forever emblazoned in the recesses of your subconscious and can come bounding out at any given G&S five note phrase and haunt for days. (I’m still humming as I write this). Precious Nonsense delivers a thrill and antidote all at once. It is brilliantly crafted to poke fun while paying tribute, mock while glorying both the melodrama style and plot twists, music and operetta dialogue, and lifestyle of the 1930s comedy thespian.
Solidly set in the familiar “play within a play” theme, a thespian family along with an entourage of accompanist, heroine, and stage manager navigate the intricacies of their respective futures, both individually and as a company, complete with cross purposes that sets the stage quite literally for surprises. In this case the company arrives at a venue (a privately owned theater/barn) prepared with their G&S review only to learn that they are expected to produce a full rendition of Pirates of Penzance, which naturally requires more characters and sets up the inevitable making of new stars and performers out of all involved. The plot twists tumble over one another with abandon and delight, leaving never a dull moment. Heroes and heroines trade places and the unexpected will satisfy even the jaded theatergoer. Credit for this is due the playwright who could easily have succumbed to the temptation of dusty script and typical spoof shenanigans. Instead, she lays out a hilarious farce that I did not want to end. Equally impressive is the intricate handling of the body of G&S music, lyrically and musically delivering something new within a very specific tradition. It was much like watching a fresh take on a ballroom dance piece of choreography that maintains the elements that define it while becoming something new and different.
The family connection of the Precious Nonsense team begs attention. Lampert’s sister, Sara Lampert Hoover, returns to direct, after having directed the original 2004 production. The love of working together and artistic respect between the powerhouse Lampert women is evident. And, as usual on the Kitchen stage, the cast is unanimously stellar. It requires almost a triple threat quality of actor to navigate this fast paced humorous dialogue along with a staging of flourishing footwork and constant flow of movement, not to mention some of the most challenging vocal passages in musical theater. Operetta is no joke and while often presented as spoof, it can be vocally as challenging as opera. All of the cast ably pull off the vocals, while heroine actress Jillian Gottlieb delivers the strength of the production with her stunning soprano. Two of the actors are blessed with hilarious roles: Weston Allen Kemp and Patrick Halley, who I especially enjoyed as the ‘stage manager turned actor’ Pete, reminding me of a farcical Captain Hook on steroids as he milked every line and miniature step in high heels. Erik Brooks, Lydia Gaston, Coleman Hemsath, Emily Jackson, and Thomas Conroy as Music Director/Herbie complete a team that cannot disappoint. The remaining creative team of Sarah Frank (Scenic Design), Erik Herskowitz (Lighting Design), Lisa Boquist (Costume Design), Lesley Lisa Greene (Sound Design), Jennifer Schilansky (Production Stage Manager), Brendan Komala (Technical Director), and Evie Hammer-Lester (Assistant Director) coordinate the details that complement the brilliant work of the Lampert sisters.
Precious Nonsense runs through November 6th, with 4pm matinees on Sundays. The theater is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays for the remainder of this run. Speaking of run, please Run, don’t walk to the Kitchen for deliverance from angst before Election Day! To purchase tickets call 607-272-0570 or online at kitchentheatre.org. The Kitchen Theater is located at 417 W. Martin Luther King Jr/State Street Ithaca, NY 14850. www.kitchentheatre.org. 607-272-0403