The Column by John Garcia’s review of PlazaCo’s PILLOW TALK

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We at PlazaCo experienced a wonderful opening weekend of PILLOW TALK this last weekend. The show is as fun and delightful as we hoped it would be – and it seems critics agree. Below is the review of the show by Joel Taylor for The Column by John Garcia. Read on for a great review then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com to make your reservations to see PILLOW TALK.

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Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Theater Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

Before the invention and ultimate mass use of cell phones, PDA’s and even pagers, there was the landline, which is, of course, directly connected to a telephone line outlet in the wall. Many still have and use a landline in their homes or offices. During the early use of landlines, the demand for service was growing so quickly that the telephone companies could not keep up with the demand for everyone to have their own connected line. So the party line was created in which two or more parties shared the same line. At times, this led to confusion as to who had priority use of the phone, and what conversations you could have on the phone as the other party could easily listen in. What really helps the plot of the play, Pillow Talk, is the element of the telephone party line.

The stage version of Pillow Talk was adapted from the 1959 screen play by the same name. In 1959, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall starred together in the very successful film version. Initially, Rock Hudson was hesitant to appear in the film because he was primarily a stock leading man and had not previously made a comedy. However, after reading the final script with its clever and witty dialogue, he changed his mind and agreed to do the film. The director of the film, Michael Gordon, advised Hudson to play the role straight, saying, “No matter how absurd the situations may appear to the viewer, to the people involved it’s a matter of life and death. Comedy is no laughing matter.” Being the first time that Day and Hudson worked together, it was quickly apparent that the two had comedy chemistry. When asked why he thought the two made such a good team, Hudson stated that for comedy to work, first of all the two people have to truly like each other. Then the two parties have to have strong personalities, which is very important to comedy, so that there is a sort of tug of war over who is going to put it over on the other, who is going to get the last word, and as a fencing match between two opponents of the opposite sex, who in the end are going to fall into bed together.

In Pillow Talk, Jan Morrow is a successful interior decorator who shares a party line on her home phone with Brad Allen, a songwriter who spends most of his time on the phone, singing to his various girlfriends. This becomes an ongoing annoyance for Jan who needs to use the phone for her interior design business. Soon the two are locked in an escalating feud even though they’ve never actually met each other. Meanwhile, Brad learns that his friend, Jonathan Forbes, wants to date Jan. When Brad finally sees Jan in a nightclub, he is surprised to discover how attractive she is and decides to introduce himself as Rex Stetson from Texas. Eventually, Brad succeeds in making Jan fall in love with him though she doesn’t learn his true identity until much later, thereby adding a new twist to an already funny plot.

The same funny plot and show is being performed by Plaza Theatre Company located in the heart of downtown Cleburne. Most of the shows at the theater are performed in the round and the current production of Pillow Talk is no exception.

Before the lights dim for the start of the show, the audience is treated to songs by Doris Day and other period appropriate romantic songs. In fact, I kept my seat during intermission, just so that I could listen to the music.

Jaceson P. Barrus designed the stage area that is very colorful and effectively used. Prior to the start of the show, a skyline of office buildings is projected on the black walls of the performance space. The stage area is split between the respective apartments of Jan and Brad. Each area is decorated with the look and flair of the personality of the occupants. Jan’s apartment includes a coat rack, desk area, and chairs that are covered with bright colors and polka dots and other patterns that would seem artistic during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Brad’s apartment is dominated by a piano that is frequently used throughout the show. Where Jan’s apartment is obviously more feminine, Brad’s apartment has a much more masculine look. And though they both share the same stage, they are definite spaces. Each entrance and exit area is used for various scenes that include a wall that pivots to transform part of Brad’s apartment into the office of the telephone company.

In another scene, a reproduction of a red telephone booth is moved into the space that had been used as the entrance to Jan’s kitchen. During a few scenes, the furniture is quickly moved from both apartments and is transformed into a nightclub and restaurant. Of course, prominently featured in each apartment is the telephone with its round dial.

As visually stunning and effective as the set design is, it is matched by the costume design by Tina Barrus. The actors are impeccably adorned in the period sweaters, fedoras, suits and overcoats. The women are wearing colorful business and evening attire that is believable enough to compare with the film of the same name. Or, even the TV show Mad Men that is set in the same time period as this production.

Above the performance space is a large grid holding hundreds of lights. Ok, maybe not hundreds, But it may seem that way. As the entire performance area can be covered by a variety of lighting schemes. The lighting schemes are put to good use during this production as the entire performing area, including entrances, exits and off stage areas are used as performance space. Each are is adequately lit with spot lighting as well as varies shades that are effectively used for the right setting and mood.

The sound was generally not a problem in such an intimate space. Though, it appeared that many of the actors were wearing wireless microphones, they really were not needed. In the one instance were a wireless microphone being used cut out, the actor simply raised their voice until the unit started working again and this did not detract from any of the pacing or timing of the show.

Each of the actors in the production is well cast for their respective roles.

Steven Lindsey, as Pierot is a good compliment to the energetic youthfulness of Jan. His dry wit and almost chameleon way in which Lindsey is able to use different characteristics and demeanors with various characters on stage make this a fun character to watch. With Jan, Pierot is business-minded and almost a fatherly figure. But when customers such as Mrs. Walters show up he becomes the suave and cultured fashion designer with a French accent.

Joan Gracey is delightful as Mrs. Walters, a customer that wants to employ Jan and Mr. Pierot to redecorate her house. Humorously, she seems oblivious to what most people would consider good taste. The audience is first treated to her fashion mistakes when she wants to turn a priceless Chinese urn into a lamp. Gracey brings a consistent frumpiness and a certain style, perhaps best described as anti-style or simply bad taste to create a Mrs. Walters that is enjoyable to watch. Gracey very correctly plays this role “straight” in order to allow the comedy to work.

Michael Hatch often reminds me of Tony Randall with his portrayal of Jonathan. Hatch handles the humor and dialogue well with his interactions with Brad, Jan and Alma. He balances the slight arrogance with a dash of self-deprecation to bring out the humor in the various situations.

Amy Wolf Sorter is a rare treat as Alma, Jan’s nosy housekeeper. Sorter uses the right amount of sarcasm, sympathy and occasional interference to bring humor into each scene in which she participates. From when she nonchalantly informs Jan that she listens in on the telephone extension, then offers her unasked for comments, to her involvement with Brad in a final plot, she understand and expresses the nuances of the humor in each situation.

Both Kristi Mills and David Goza are well cast in the lead roles of Jan and Brad/Rex, respectively. They blend well together and display more and more of the chemistry needed for a successful comedy and the production progressed through the evening.

During the first act, Mills seems overly energetic. This causes some of the early scenes to lack the right amount of comedic timing and tug of war/give and take needed to maximize each comedic situation. During the second act, Mills performance becomes more relaxed and comfortable and is thoroughly enjoyable to watch as she adroitly handles each scene with the conflict needed to create good comedy.

Whereas Mills is sometimes overly energetic, Goza is less than energetic in the first act. This causes an imbalance in the comedy scale. Though, as the show progresses, so does his energy balance and handling of each scene. His transitions from Brad Allen to Rex Stetson are fun to watch and bring laughter from a Texas audience that appreciates what real Texans are like, instead of Texans that are “made in New York City”.

There were some miscues and a few apparent dropped lines that temporarily distracted me from the verbal and physical humor that was taking place on stage. In one instance, when Jonathan is leaving Jan’s apartment, Hatch makes a comment about Rex Stetson, though Jan had not yet disclosed his name. Welcome to live theatre where things happen unexpectedly on stage during productions. Beyond these early in the run bloopers, the show is funny and very well performed by all. Pillow Talk’s actors have various levels of experience and a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Overall, the actors present a well-directed and performed show. Plaza Theatre Company’s production of PILLOW TALK is charmingly cute, making for a good date night.

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