Jan. 27 2016 11:03 AM

MSU’s ‘And Away We Go’ comic romp with substance

Yes, MSU Department of Theatre’s latest production, Terrance McNally’s “And Away We Go,” is one of those cornucopia collage plays — a mélange, a mixture of bits and scraps, fragments and scenes from a long history of theater. It’s the kind of play loved mostly by theater insiders and drama students. But this one actually has both humor and heart.

Six or seven distinct eras of theater are represented in this sagacious send-up, beginning with early Dionysian mask theater and time traveling through the Old Globe theater in 1608, the Royal Theatre of Versailles in 1789, Moscow Art Theatre in 1896 and the Florida’s Coconut Grove Playhouse in the 1950s. All the while, hyper-dramatic exuberance on stage is interspersed with breakaway commentary and behind-the-scenes opinionating from the actors. Costumes are exotic and exquisite and come complete with period characterizations, accents and flourishes. A wall of props forms a complex backdrop for the action.

Sound like a whole lot of fun? You betcha! The six-member ensemble of student actors — Derek Bry, Greg Hunter, Lee Cleaveland, Karen Vance, Madelayne Shammas and Anna Birmingham — is ready for primetime. The actors boisterously romp their way through this adventure with the skill of seasoned professionals. They vamp, and they posture. They ham it up with breathtaking speed and robust dramatic articulation. This is melodrama at its finest.

But wait. All this shtick comes with an added dose of insight and understanding. For those who have practiced the craft of acting, this is life. Over a lifetime, an actor gets to play many parts. She walks in the moccasins of many characters. He transcends ordinary, everyday life, pretending to be many different people. An actor gets to transform herself/himself, if only for a moment.

Audience members who are live theater junkies get this. When McNally presents a death scene between two lovers near the end of the play, one feels the love that the partners have — not only for each other, but also for the experience, the joy of acting. The short and intimate scene between Hunter and Cleaveland, the two holding each other and saying a final goodbye, brings it all home.

“And Away We Go”

MSU Department of Theatre 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27 and Thursday, Jan 28; 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30; 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. $15/$13 seniors and faculty/$10 MSU students Studio 60 Theatre, MSU Auditorium 542 Auditorium Road, East Lansing (517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com