Light Up the Sky, at MPC, May 18, 2013


Light Up script, not the production, still needs work

By Philip Pearce

Way back in 1948, Moss Hart, detached from his longtime writing partner George S. Kaufman, wrote a comedy with serious overtones. At its Boston tryout the play was reckoned to “need work.” Hart beefed up the laughs, toned down the drama and produced what John Chapman described at the time as a “loud and well directed farce” which ran a respectable 216 performances on Broadway. The play, Light Up The Sky, prophetically enough, tells how a company of theatrical eccentrics open a tragi-comedy in Boston, where it is found to have possibilities but will “need work” before hitting Broadway.

After two years spent borrowing production venues, the MPC Theatre Company have chosen Hart’s backstage romp to mark their return to a renovated Morgan Stock Theatre, so the temptation might be to review the refurbished building. My third-row seat was comfortable, the acoustics and lighting were admirable; now let’s talk about the show.

Sixty five years on, Light Up The Sky is still fairly loud and was certainly well directed on Friday night. It‘s the kind of over-the-top offering that quickens the collective pulse of any self-respecting crew of comic actors and Gary Bolen‘s cast rises to the occasion. The characters are broad, they talk loud, emote ludicrously and the audience, by and large, has a good evening.

By and large? Well, the truth is, unless we’re talking Oscar Wilde, farce tends to show its age quicker than any other theatrical genre and this one isn‘t any exception. A considerable measure of the zip and glitter of this show’s original production, for example, depended on lines peppered with names of then-current celebrities, names which the audience was subtly flattered into recognizing. No hope of realizing these days that two of the main characters, Producer Sidney Black and Ice Skater wife Frances, played with a lot of gusto by James Brady and Teresa Del Piero, are based on producer Billy Rose and his synchronized swimming star wife Eleanor Holm. And what do you do with references to people like George Jean Nathan, Olsen and Johnson, or Mortimer Snerd? The MPC program offers a cheat sheet of celebrity identifications, but unless you’re my age, the immediate impact is lost.

Light Up The Sky has some good lines and a First Act curtain which is the comic high point of the show. Trouble is, nothing that funny really happens after that moment, however brisk the acting or fast the action. It becomes clear, when we get around to an ironic third act scene with a stagestruck Shriner, nicely performed by Terry Durney, that the opening night of the tryout has not been the catastrophe the director, cast and producer have assumed. That ought to end things. But we wait around for Chris Deacon’s disillusioned playwright to return (he makes it from the airport to central Boston in about five or six miraculous minutes) then watch him transform from naive idealist to tough-as-nails Broadway wordsmith, but all that just isn’t strong enough material to keep us interested up to the final curtain. I thought they were all great and that Gary Bolen did a fine job of keeping the circus moving. But, the sense of a gradual slowdown in interest level as the evening progressed suggests that the script, not this able production, still needs work. And I’m afraid it’s too late for that.