|By UTE VON DER HEYDEN|
Admirable intentions lead to sadly awkward results in a slow-moving comedy
The Lansing Civic Players have a lot riding on “Checking Out,” a world premiere comedy written by local playwright Sarah Hauck and directed by Miranda Hartmann.
For one thing, it’s their first show in the Curry Street Theatre, LCP’s new home at 6025 Curry Lane in Lansing. Second, it’s the show that might have turned around their slipping reputation after a series of flops and cancellations and restored the confidence of long-time theatergoers who want to see this 83-year-old grande dame of Lansing community theater make a comeback.
Unfortunately, “Checking Out,” a play about a closeted gay man who finds the courage to be his true self, isn’t it.
The main problem is a script that comes off as thin and weirdly out of date, with dialogue that’s tedious and preachy instead of witty and smart as one might expect from the colorful array of characters that’s introduced. This is surprising because what does come through well is the play’s intended story line of everyone deserving love and Hauck’s obvious understanding and acceptance of gay life.
The production itself does nothing to rescue the script. This is director Hartmann’s first time directing for LCP (and perhaps in community theater) and the All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre veteran may have been out of her element. There is no clear concept for the play that carried though to each aspect of the production: With a couple of exceptions, the actors flounder, the blocking is either non-existent or ineffective (actors sometimes literally sit or stand in a row reciting their lines), the pacing is maddeningly slow (the first act alone during the opening weekend ran one hour and 20 minutes) and the whole production had an out-of-control feeling.
In the program’s Director’s Note, Hartmann says of her 12-person cast that they “have worked very hard despite a sparse rehearsal schedule and have created relationships with each other, both on and off stage, that have become the heart of this show.“
Both that hard work and the warm relationships were apparent, but they were overwhelmed by the cast being either totally new to community theater or inexperienced.
Opening night had its own particular problems. Some of the cast members didn’t yet have their lines down, actors seemed to trip over each other on stage, although not always on purpose, props fell off the wall, lights went on and off mysteriously — that might have been due to a power problem — and the concession stand that is inside the theater space tried to open while the production was still underway. (That last part was actually cute and funny.)
If you’re curious about LCP’s new space: The company has obviously done its best to make over the old Miller Road Community Center. It’s functional and welcoming with tiered seating for about 65.
Lansing Civic Players
Through March 25
Curry Street Theatre
6025 Curry Lane,
8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
$10 Thursdays ($8 students and seniors); $14 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays;
$12 seniors and students