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Inside dramaturge

Blame it on Beckett takes a peek inside small regional theater

John Lyons Beck as Mike Braschi, Rick Pearlstein as Jim Foley, Bonnie Vandver as Tina Fike, and Jessica Weaver as Heidi Bishop. Photo credit: Austin Lang

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Blame it on Beckett is an intelligently written comedy-drama by John Morogiello and directed for Olympia Little Theatre by Kendra Malm. High on irony and insider-theater references, the humor is esoteric and the drama realistic.

Jim Foley (played by Rick Pearlstein in the biggest and best performance I've seen him in yet) is a dramaturge at a small regional theater that has a reputation for finding great new plays that make it theater heaven; i.e., New York City. The playwright responsible for most of their biggest successes is Tina Fike (Bonnie Vandver).

Jim is a bitter cynic who thinks the only playwrights worth their salt are George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare. He blames Samuel Beckett for the downfall of modern theater and is disdainful of the countless would-be playwrights who send scripts his way. He is high-strung, drinks coffee and whiskey almost nonstop, pops prescription pills like candy, and constantly tries to light cigarettes in defiance of the smoking ban in his office. He also refuses to answer phone calls from as many people as possible, especially his boss, Mike Braschi (John Lyons Beck), the theater's business manager.

Into Foley's fiefdom walks wide-eyed and idealistic Heidi Bishop (Jessica Weaver), a recently graduated dramaturgy graduate who works in the box office. She idolizes Tina and wants to learn from Jim. She talks Mike into "hiring" her as an unpaid intern. The dramatic arc set up by this clash of characters is obvious, but the ways in which it plays out makes for smart and snappy theater.

The humor is not so much roll-on-the-floor humor (this is not a farce) as it is thoughtful humor that audience members will take home and think about and tell their friends about - the gift that keeps on giving. The more you know about theater, the more you'll like it. There is also a lot of adult language that may be offensive to some audience members, and there are more subtle jokes that not everyone will get, as for example the scatological twist characters give to the mispronounced word dramaturge.

Weaver and Beck are both relative newcomers to the Olympia theater scene. This was my first time to see Weaver on stage, and I've seen Beck only once before, in a small role in Theater Artists Olympia's Improbable Peck of Plays. They are both outstanding. They each seem so comfortable in their roles that it is absolutely believable that they are the characters they play.

Pearlstein masters a whole repertoire of tics and quirks and emotional changes, and makes them all seem a natural part of Jim's personality.

Vandver was ill the night I saw Blame it on Beckett and her part was played on-book by the director, Malm, who did a good job of filling in. Based on previous performances I have seen by Vandver, I have no doubt she will be great when she returns.

Blame it on Beckett, Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through April 17, Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, tickets $11-$15, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360.786.9484, http://olympialittletheater.org

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