987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
One of the most frustrating parts of my job is watching a top notch cast, backed by a polished trio of musicians, performing on an inventive set – and the material doesn’t come near their skills.
The NCRT production boasts Ron Choularton and Annie Hinton, award-winning actors; Jacquelyn Ritz (recently of Intrepid Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream); Tatiana Mac and Robert Yacko (fairly new faces with bring-‘em-back voices). And the foppish Lord is played by Randall Dodge. He’s excelled in at least five shows already and has turned 2013 into a Victory Tour through San Diego Theater.
They perform, as best they can, which is quite good, in a dud.
Librettist Ben Tarver based his story on a work by British playwright Ashley Dukes (1924). In the 1810s, a foppish Lord’s horses go lame. He and his servant find themselves “tethered” at a roadside inn, called “Man With a Load of Mischief.” It’s off the beaten track. The ex-mistress of the Prince and her servant also arrive. Complications ensue. The schemes of the night, most of which happen off-stage (we hear the scheming but don’t see them carried out), give way to daylight’s scrutiny. True love blooms.
The major problem with the musical, well one of them, is Tarver’s book. It doesn’t even begin for at least 50 minutes. There’s no conflict and no action, even very little movement (the most active, and affecting sequence is done in silence, as the six-person cast sets a table). The scenes are long and predictable. Dukes peppered his script with talk of the French Revolution and masters and servants. Tarver downplays the politics.
Near the first act curtain, a scheme arrives, but until then each character has acted pretty much in isolation.
Act two kicks up things a bit. Everything works out, but at no point there’s even a suggestion that virtue might go unrewarded. Dukes wrote an imitation of a comedy of manners. Tarver’s book is an imitation of an imitation, lacking the craft – albeit loose - of the original.
John Clifton’s music aspires to be a light, fanciful operetta - a la Mozart. Though some of the songs suggest that style, most are mediocre. And for odd reasons are about what’s already happened, the way things were, in effect lulling the action. So the music, like the book, is an imitation.
Even the talents of director Rik Simas can’t pick up Tarver’s leaden pace or enliven its endless exposition.
It’s equally frustrating to see quality technical work devoted to the enterprise. Renetta Lloyd’s costumes – degrees of browns and beiges, high collars for the men, low necklines for the women – nicely catch the period. As does Marty Burnett’s ingenious set: deep brown wooden furniture, myriad props (by Angelica Ynfante), and imitation Tudor, timber-frame and plaster walls that, when spun, create a different room.
Matthew Novotny’s lighting unifies the design and creates cameo-like frames for the singers (as when Hinton and Choularton sing “Any Other Way,” and Mac sings the enchanting “Little Rag Doll”).
Everyone involved in this project merits more challenging work – soon!