REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
Those who are experienced in theater know that a show’s success varies based on a number of factors, including the quality of the product, good casting, effective production values, and proper execution. But one thing that producers cannot control is the audience. Sometimes one day’s production can be just as good as the next, but a lackluster audience can mean the difference between a hit and flop. This was the case with the Sunday matinee audience that saw The Addams Family at the Ojai Art Center yesterday. The script was the same that has brought down houses elsewhere in Ventura County (most notably, the acclaimed recent production at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center). But for a variety of reasons, the Ojai production on Sunday was met with a resounding thud by its unresponsive audience. When this happens, performers get distracted and lose concentration after proven laugh lines fall flat, and eventually timing suffers and things only get worse. An effective show is dependent upon a mutually beneficial relationship between a cast and its audience. Both have to do their jobs to make it work, and if one doesn’t, the other won’t either.
One of the causes, which cannot be helped at some theaters, is the use of pre-recorded tracks, which are supplied by the publisher when a live orchestra is not feasible. At the Ojai Art Center, there is no space on the stage or the floor to include live musicians, so tracks have become an unfortunate necessity. But pre-recorded music is intransigent and rigid and forces a feeling of artificiality. No actor prefers it to live music. Tracks do not wait for a lethargic audience to catch on to a gag, and they often misfire altogether. In addition, track malfunction is a nightmare-waiting-to-happen for actors, and such an unfortunate happenstance occurred in the middle of Sunday’s performance when Michael McCarthy, who had been doing an admirable job as Uncle Fester in the show, began singing the most emotionally moving song of the show, the exquisite “The Moon and Me,” only to discover he was singing it a cappella. The computer playing back the music tracks had crashed, and McCarthy had to proceed with the song while the sound operators waited for the computer to boot up again. When it finally caught up, McCarthy reacted like a true professional, staying in character, finding his place, and resuming the song with the tracks.
This is only one of a series of unfortunate circumstances that made Ojai’s production of The Addams Family somewhat less than satisfying. A lot of the problems had to do with aspects that plague many community theater productions: a lack of money, insufficient resources, and a small pool of actors to choose from, which often results in inadequate casting.
Despite all these things, Ojai managed to pull together an effective, although not totally satisfying performance on Sunday afternoon. It is fortunate that director Gai Jones had Shayne Bourbon playing Gomez Addams. Bourbon certainly looks the part: suave and elegant with a Ricardo Montalban-styled voice and accent that is perfect for the Spanish-flavored Gomez’s character. Tracey Williams-Sutton can always be counted on to deliver a professional performance, and despite not being a perfect fit for Morticia, she is a pro and performed well in her scenes with Bourbon.
Of the rest of the Addams clan, the most effective was seventh grader Sophie Massey as Pugsley, Gomez and Morticia’s self-absorbed, pudgy, torture-obsessed son. Massey was terrific and actually brought the somnambulant audience briefly to life with her sympathetic solo on “What If.” Massey’s reactions to being stretched on a rack by Pugsley’s sister Wednesday (Hayley Silvers) were precious as were her scenes with Grandma (Mary Ellen Gridley) and at the dinner table during the “Full Disclosure” number. Silvers did a good job in her vocal solos, especially “Pulled,” and performed well with Steven Silvers, who portrayed her mousy boyfriend Lucas.
Brittany Danyel and Ezra Eels, two Ojai mainstays who often perform opposite each other, were cast as uptight parents Alice and Mal Beineke. Danyel, a versatile performer, was great in Alice’s mind-altering scene where she is mistakenly given one of Grandma’s personality-enhancing potions and ends up sprawled across the Addams banquet table. But Eels’ scene-stealing talents are mostly wasted in the part of Mal, at least until the final scenes, when he is finally able to unleash his inner anarchy (we missed him performing his obligatory one-handed cartwheel, an Eels tradition).
Nelson Fox did a good job as Lurch, looking like an old Detroit Tigers relief pitcher named Don Mossi (dedicated baseball fans need no further explanation to describe how Fox was made up in the part – suffice it to say, Mossi could stop flowers from growing just by looking at them).
The costumes were generally excellent, thanks to the ingenuity of Carmen and Tiffany Smith, who outfitted the Addams Ancestors in garish white, including face makeup, and created individual personas for each one. The prop pieces were effective, especially Gomez’s “instruments of persuasion” (props were supplied by Kara and McKenna Lakes). Beverley Sharpe designed the excellent choreography.
All in all, Ojai’s Addams Family production was more unfortunate than ineffective – with a more enthusiastic audience, live music, and a few nips and tucks in the casting, this could have been much better. But that’s community theater, folks. You give only what you can get.
For those interested in comparing and contrasting, two more productions of The Addams Family are forthcoming: one at Calabasas High School (beginning April 12) and another at the High Street Arts Center in Moorpark (beginning June 3). It will be interesting to see how these productions fare.
The Addams Family plays through April 3 at the Ojai Art Center Theater. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.