Review: "The Addams Family" at the Plaza Theatre Company
Plaza Theatre Company continues to produce shows during the Halloween season that have a playful sense of the macabre and absurd. In 2014, during the Halloween season, Plaza performed LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, which received a COLUMN Award nomination for Best Musical last season. For the 2015 Halloween season, Plaza chose to share the musical comedy THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Those that remember the original comic strip, the television series, or the more recent feature films based on the same characters as well as those that appreciate a sense of the absurd, irony and humorous macabre will enjoy this family friendly show.
Every year, around Halloween, it has become increasingly common to see films and shows that focus on slash and slice and rely heavily on an abundance of blood, guts and gore, improper use of a chainsaw, axe, viral strain and long pointed metal fingernails. Unlike the slash and slice films and shows that are especially common around Halloween, The production of Addams Family uses satire and the macabre to bring humor to expected social expectations.
Charles Addams, created the fictional Addams Family, as an unrelated group of 150 single panel cartoons that made their debut in 1938 in the magazine, The New Yorker. The core of the Addams family has traditionally included Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandma, Wednesday, Pugsley Cousin It and Thing. The Addams Family was created to be a satirical inversion of what was perceived to be the ideal American family. They are an eccentric American family that delight in the macabre and are unaware, or simply do not care, that other people find them bizarre or occasionally frightening
Although most of the humor comes from the fact that the family shares odd interests such as collecting torture devices, practice sword play throughout the house, detests bright colors, enjoys flowers without the actual flower petals, and wanting to go on the romantic vacation of a lifetime through the sewers of Paris, the family is not typically evil. Instead, they are close family that rely on the Addams Family values for keeping them together. Morticia is an exemplary mother. She and Gomez remain passionate toward each other. By merely speaking a few words of French, any French words will do, Morticia can provoke Gomez into kissing her arms. Both parents are supportive towards each other and their children. The family is friendly, hospitable and charitable to visitors, despite the visitor’s horror of the Addams lifestyle.
The Addams Family television series ran from September 1964-April 1966 and starred John Astin as Gomez, Carolyn Jones as Morticia, Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester, Ted Cassidy as Lurch. Lisa Loring as Wednesday, Ken Weatherwax as Pugsley, Blossom Rock as Grandma, Felix Silla as Cousin It, and Ted Cassidy’s hand as Thing.
Subsequently, the Addams Family characters and story lines were included in episodes of SCOOBY DOO, the animated television series and more recent feature films such as The Addams Family (1991) that starred Angelica Houston as Morticia, Raul Julia as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester, Christina Ricci as Wednesday, Jimmy Workman as Pugsley, Judith Martin as Grandma, Carel Struycken as Lurch, John Franklin as Cousin It, and Chrisopher Hart’s hand as Thing.
This was followed by The Addams Family Values in 1993 and starred most of the same actors as the 1991 film, with the following changes; Joan Cusack played the Black Widow, Carol Kane as Grandma, and included cameo roles by David Hype Pierce, Peter Graves and Nathan Lane, who went on to play Gomez in the stage version of The Addams Family musical,.
Plaza Theatre Company performs plays in the round. Which means the performance takes place in front of an audience that literally surrounds the actors on stage. This necessitates creative use of space and action for moveable set pieces, props, cast members and dancers. Using a limited space for a large production can be a challenge. However, the production staff at Plaza Theatre, has a history of using this space to maximum benefit to bring to make each production feel intimate. Despite a few instances when during a dance number including all of the ancestors, Gomez (Aaron Lett) had to momentarily hesitate as he navigated between dancers to traverse to the other side of the stage as well as a scene that took place in the dark, when Gomez (Lett) and Mal (Jay Lewis) almost ended up in the lap of an audience member, the space is well used for maximum enjoyment.
During the preshow, songs with a Halloween theme are played while the audience is seated. They chose a wide range of Halloween related songs from the 1950’s to current material for use in the pre-show music. Throughout the performance, the musical score is well performed by the cast and works well with the choreography of Tabitha Barrus. She uses the entire performing space for well-designed and executed dance numbers by all of the actors throughout the production. Including the many dance numbers that the ancestors perform throughout the show. In one scene Morticia (Caitlan Leblo) dances a subdued version of the Tango with Gomez (Lett). During the dance, Morticia and Gomez use the entire stage space moving between the ancestors also dancing on stage during the scene.
Costume Design by Tina Barrus who has an armful of COLUMN Awards for her work, is once again a major highlight of the production. The attention to detail for the costuming is apparent throughout the show. Morticia wears a form fitting, but not too sexy, floor length black dress that hugs her ankles, covers her feet and extends on to the floor giving the impression of tentacles. Gomez is wearing the expected pin stripe, tailored double breasted suit that allows movement to dance with Morticia, as well as practice fencing in a scene with Lurch. Wednesday is also appropriately wearing the basic black dress with white trim, reminiscent of the costume worn by Wednesday in the earlier Addams Family films. An exception to the black and white worn by Wednesday, are the few scenes in which she is wearing yellow that matches the yellow also worn in the same scene by Alice (Susan Metzger). Pugsley wears short pants and a shirt with red and white horizontal lines, Grandma wears a costume that is shades of grey and is designed to appear as if it is made of rags. Grandma’s unkempt grey hair work well with the costume design. Lurch wears a basic black suit, white shirt and tie. In order to give Lurch (Josh Leblo) the physical height that is expected of the character of Lurch, he wears black platform shoes. Mal Benieke (Lewis) wears a suit and tie that reminds me of the style of suits that I have seen businessmen wear in the Midwest region. The ancestors are in various historically period styles that range from cave man to a contemporary nurse and jilted lover in her bridal gown. With the exception of the caveman, the costumes for the ancestors are in the same off white shades that matches the make-up worn by the actors. G. Aaron Siler as Uncle Fester’s costume is a floor length, grey jacket that looks contemporary and antique at the same time. His costume also includes the light bulbs that light up when Fester places one end in his mouth.
In the past few years I have seen several productions of The Addams Family musical around the area. Rarely, have I seen in previous productions such attention to detail in the costume design as I observed in the outstanding work by Ms. Barrus in Plaza’s production.
During the pre-show and opening scene, four headstones are set around the stage to represent a graveyard. In one corner is what appears to be a large iron gate that leads to the family crypt, from which the ancestors enter early in the show and ultimately are allowed to return. This space is also used in the second act to move on and off stage a large four poster bed that also includes an oversize spider, on which Alice (Metzger) and Mal (Lewis) use when discussing the consequences of the game during the dinner in the first act. That space is also used as an entrance and exit by Grandma when she pulls her wagon of potions onstage for a scene with Pugsley. In another corner, the entrance and exit area is covered by a wall to wall and ceiling floor length red drape with gold fringe and tassels. Without spoiling a scene, the drapery and tassels are effectively used in a few scenes as sight gags.
The actors that make up the characters of the ancestors range in age from early teens to their mid-twenties. With the exception of the cave man ancestor, none of the male ancestors had facial hair or wrinkles. This gives almost all of the ancestors the appearance of eternal youth. The actors playing the ancestors moved well with the often complicated dance patterns created by Choreographer Tabitha Barrus. During the performance, the ancestors assist uncle Fester and help with staging elements in the park scene in which Lucas (played in the performance reviewed by Shreve) and Wednesday are making up from a disagreement and enter into a contest to determine which one is crazier than the other.
Grandma, played by Keli Price, is fun to watch when she is on stage. Even when she has no lines in a scene, she is consistently the cantankerous old lady in all characteristics. Price, steps around the stage as would someone in advanced years, holds and contorts her hands as if arthritis is a major health issue. She brings out a crackling sound in her voice that gives the impression that she really is a spry 104 year old eccentric woman that enjoys her potions and hitting on 90 year old men as in the dinner scene. When she takes command of a scene, she dances sings and quips about hitting on young 90 year old men.
Pugsley Addams, played by Henry Cawood, is the younger brother of Wednesday. Theirs is a relationship in which the younger sibling relishes being tortured by his older sister. Cawood plays this role with such enthusiasm that sometimes the character of Pugsley comes across as honest and endearing in an Addams sort of way. Such as the scene when he is stealing a potion from Grandma and the final scene when Gomez is telling Pugsley how proud he is of him. Though, there are also times when the character’s action comes across as forced, which loses the humor and sincerity. Such as an early scene when Wednesday has Pugsley on a rack and causing Pugsley to stretch out, seemingly in pain, when she pulls a lever. In that scene, Cawood anticipates each pull of the lever and overreacts out of synch with the timing of the apparatus. During the dinner scene, Pugsley sneaks away from the table in order to do a prank. During this scene he over-acts in a way that detracts from the full comedy of the scene.
Lurch played by Josh Leblo, has moments when his interpretation of Lurch works very well and at times is too stoic. When he, is on stage as Lurch, he walks in the Lurch manner that is slow and very methodically deliberate. The character of Lurch is stereotypically accepted as a character that is slightly above a zombie. Through most of the production, Mr. Leblo has a facial expression that is void of any emotion or movement, often at the expense of the full effect of the humor in a situation. Such as when he ushers the Beineke’s into the Addams home. In the scene he interacts with the Beinekes without the non-verbal communication that would normally be shown through the eyes, tilt of the head, or any non-verbal action that would convey even ironic communication. His most successful scenes are when he, as Lurch, is slowly and methodically clearing the stage during intermission. The audience applauded and cheered as this scene during intermission was taking place.
Wednesday Addams is portrayed by Meredith Stowe, she is the eldest child of Gomez and Morticia. Stowe plays Wednesday as a young lady that is conflicted with the desire to continue to fit in with her family and her own Family’s peculiar values and the desire to live a life with her new love who is a normal boy. Stowe handles well, the intricacies of playing a character in her late teens to early 20’s that is trying to fit in two different worlds. During a scene in which Wednesday is pressuring her father to do something for her, in this case it is keeping a secret from her mother, she uses the line that every daughter has used to a parent, “if you love me you will…” said with a pouty look that only a daughter can use so effectively. Stowe embodies the daughter so well, that an adult couple seated in front of me, were audibly commenting on the bad behavior shown by Wednesday. Stowe is a joy to watch as Wednesday as a real girl in real conflicting situations. The audience can clearly see the emotions at play in Stowe’s genuine facial gestures and body language.
Mal Beineke, played by Jay Lewis, who is Lucas’s father. Lewis, shows believable emotion and actions as the father and husband that, over time has spent less time with his wife and son and instead focused so much more with his job. During a scene in the second act, in which Alice and Mal are discussing the revelations that happened during dinner, Lewis seems very real as Mal when he is confused as Alice tells him how their relationship has changed over time because he has not been involved with his own family.
Susan Metzger portrays Alice Beineke (Mal’s wife and Lucas’s mother). Metzger is a hoot to observe. Metzger, embraces the emotionally conflicted personality of Alice, a wife, and mother that is always trying to play peacemaker, trying not to make waves and internalizes conflict and then externalizes the anxiety through rhyming. In each scene, she consistently shows, through facial expressions, tone and physicality, the emotion and conflict that the character is feeling at that moment. Such, as when arriving at the Addams home, seeing Wednesday wearing the color yellow, she comes to Wednesday’s defense when it is realized that they are both wearing yellow. Demonstrating that she is good with physical comedy as well as with the comedic timing of the lines she delivers, Metzger is a comedic riot during the dinner scene where she literally climbs on the table and performs.
The role of Lucas Beineke is double cast. Brandon Shreve played the role of Lucas for the performance reviewed. Physically, Shreve is smaller than Wednesday, which adds to the physical humor of the show. Shreve plays Lucas as a less forceful character that allows Wednesday to take the lead in most of their interactions. During a scene in which Lucas tries to connect with Pugsley by using contemporary slang and attempts a high five, Shreve believably comes across as awkward, geeky and sincere. Later in the show, Shreve becomes much more energized and alive in the scene with Wednesday in the park as they compete with each other to see which one is crazier than the other.
Uncle Fester, played by G. Aaron Siler, is the very eccentric brother to Gomez. Siler portrays the role brilliantly. Directing a show while also performing in the show is challenging and not often successful. Siler does both well. He clearly has delicious fun as Uncle Fester. In each scene that he is on stage, the audience sees the facial twitches and shrugs, such as seen in the opening number. In this production, Siler becomes is the Uncle Fester that has been enjoyed by audiences since the early 1960’s. Siler embodies Fester with a childish joy that is contagious. It is also delightful fun to see Siler place a light bulb in his mouth and it lights up…just as it did on the original stage version, television shows and feature films.
Caitlan Leblo is the elegant Morticia Addams. Morticia is the strong willed matriarch of the Addams Family. The character, played notably in the TV and film versions by Carolyn Jones and Angelica Houston, respectively, is stern with her children, oozes sensuality with Gomez and the primary influencer of all decisions that involve her family. One of the strongest characteristics from Ms. Leblos’s performance is her ability to deliver lines, scolding, praises and almost every conversation with an almost completely stoic appearance. I said almost, because the stoic appearance was usually followed by a slight raise of an eyebrow, or tilt of the head, or a unique tone in her voice. Caitlan Leblo is fantastic as Morticia. In fact, she portrays the character so much better than most that I have seen over the past few years. She does an excellent job with the physicality of Morticia, whether walking, crossing her arms in the way that Morticia always did and has the stoic sometime unexpressive look that Morticia in the films usually had. Though, lacking is the slight twitch of the eyebrow, tilt of the head or body posture that emphasizes the irony of a situation.
In the role originated by Nathan Lane in the Broadway version is J. Aaron Lett . This is the first production in which I have seen Mr. Lett and I hope it is not the last. Gomez, the patriarch of the Addams family is a difficult role to not only play but to play it well. The Addams lineage and heritage comes from Spain. Traditionally, the role of Gomez is played with a Spanish accent. A challenge is keeping the accent consistent. Lett succeeds in this challenge. This talented actor successfully portrays Gomez and completely understands the comedic timing, delivery the role demands. Lett is very energetic and is able to understand as he applies the dry humor, allowing the comedy to be funny and not try to force it to become over the top. Lett demonstrates a clear understanding of the role and character of Gomez consistently throughout the show. Beginning with the opening song, Lett takes charge of the show with his boundless energy and connection with other characters on stage. During scenes, alternately with Wednesday and Morticia, in which Wednesday wants her father to keep a secret and Morticia demands that no secrets be kept, through, his line delivery, and physicality, such as allowing the frustration of the situation to be visible through his face and physicality, Lett is consistently brilliant.
I grew up watching the television series in the early 1960’s as well as the animated series and later the feature films. Over the years watching the shows on television, film and on stage, I have a developed a sense of how to expect the characters to act and display the characteristics that have made the Addams Family the loveable, creepy, spooky, and kooky family that many have grown up with. I have seen the characters played by talented and professional actors as well as students in high school. Each actor over the years has given their unique flavor and style to the characters being played. Sometimes, the interpretation works so well that I felt like a little kid again watching the television series after school. Or, as an adult, giggling and guffawing at the wit and delivery of the actors in the feature films.
Sometimes the interpretation of the character by the actor does not have the maximum desired impact. With a few exceptions, the actors in this production consistently presented characters that resonate with the audience. If you, like me, grew up experiencing the Addams Family from the 1960;s to the present, you will get many of the references to the lines, situations, and the tongue-in-cheek humor. You will appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the characters and nod your head in appreciation to the wit and humor. If you were not fortunate to have had the Addams Family as a part of your life experience before now, you will still enjoy the show for the jovial wit, well timed delivery of lines, droll sense of humor, or like the elderly couple sitting in front of me, have comments when one spouse does or says something that will invariably land the person committing the error in hot water that even an Addams would not enjoy.
They're creepy and they're kooky, Mysterious and spooky, They're all together ooky, The Addams Family.
Their house is a museum When people come to see 'em They really are a scream (pronounced Scree um) The Addams Family.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Plaza Theatre Company, 111 South Main Street, Cleburne, Texas, 76033
Runs October 9th through November 17th, 2015
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 pm and Saturday matinee at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $15.00 Adult, $14.00 Senior and $13.00 Children. For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.plazatheatre.com or call the box office at 817817-202-0600.