Monday, August 25, 2008
"South Pacific" in the Northwest
"bum-bum-bum-bum, BLOODY MARY is the, (uh!) girl I love! Bum-bum-bum-bum, BLOODY MARY is the (uh!) girl I love!...bum-bum-bum-bum, BLOODY MARY is the (uh!) girl I love, now ain't that too damn bad?"
Awk, I can't get the song out of my head! ("I'm gonna wash that song right outta my head!") Yesterday we had a most wonderful and remarkable time at Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater, out among the firs alongside the rushing Snoqualmie River about 45 minutes from Seattle, watching a superb and challenged performance of Rogers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific."
The challenge for the actors came from two sources. And affected us, in the audience, too. First off, the outdoor theater is nestled deep in a forest (thus the name) with the wooden bench seats layered upward on a steep incline from the stage below. The day had begun nicely, with sunshine, but quickly digressed into clouds and then rain. As we drove through the enormous evergreens out to the remote property for the 3 pm show, the drops increased, pausing a bit as we made our way down switchback paths to the theater. We were offered pads for the soggy benches, and found center seats in the second row, with a perfect view of the double-decker set. Just before the performance, the front row filled with about a dozen feeble nursing-home residents, escorted by two young supervisors.
The performances were top-rate, leaving my husband to muse afterward that it's a pity such talent can't lead to well-deserved national recognition or even a full-time career. Jenny McMurry playing Ensign Nellie Forbush, had a rich, beautiful voice and couldn't have performed her role better. Of course, throughout the play, flashes of the classic 1958 Oscar-winning film with Mitzi Gaynor kept coming to mind. But in the woods, Paul Linnes' Emile de Becque was as romantic as Rosano Brazzi, with his deeply resonant "One Enchanted Evening....You will meet a straaaanger!" The first act was a delight, with a salty Bloody Mary played admirably by thirty-year theater veteran BJ Stokey, and an enthusiastic and entertaining Luther Bills given delightful life by Chris Maxfield. I had to resist singing along with the happily familiar lyrics.
But just before the scene on Bali Ha'i, the sky opened up and the rain got more serious. As the actors pranced just a few feet away, some oldsters in the row in front of us felt the drops pelting their heads. One old lady, front and center, started repeating loudly, "I don't want to be here!" "I'm getting wet!" "I don't want to BE here!" Though doddering, she attempted to rise, and the group's attendant tried to quiet and re-place her. She would not be silenced: "I DON'T want to BEEEE here!" "I don't see why I have to BE here!" An old gentleman to her left, also quite damp, tried to get up; the aides shushed the lady and led the man back into his seat. As the rest of the audience opened and huddled under umbrellas held close so as not to block others, the front-row grandma got more belligerent, out-voicing the actors, "I don't want to BEEE here!" She turned around, looking plaintively to my husband as if he could release her, as the actors kept singing. Finally, the assistant escorted the hunched woman off, walking her on the wood-chip stage just inches from the struggling-to-carry-on thespians. It was a relief that this drama no longer interrupted the musical, but about five minutes later, she and the caretaker returned, again haltingly crossing the stage, with umbrellas (one for the drenched old man). But even under cover, the center-stage grandma resumed her pining-cat refrain: "I don't want to BE HERE!"
Imagine trying to concentrate on delivering a heartfelt love song with a whiny woman loudly demanding to leave...in your face! But the cast was professional and in the best "show must go on" tradition completely ignored her, singing passionately as raindrops bounced off umbrellas, and their soaked costumes drooped. By the final scene, where the children Ngana and Jerome were to sit on Emile's balcony setee, everything was so water-logged the kids grimaced as the wetness penetrated their fannies.
Despite it all, the climactic moment where Emile returns to discover Nellie with his children awaiting him, was as touching as any on dry land with seasoned actors. And at the end of the bows, with an audience juggling umbrellas to applaud and shout "Bravo!" and "Brava!" the cast applauded those hearty Northwest souls still there to appreciate their work and celebrate the noble effort of the theater in the forest.