Star Quality by Noel Coward, Schenectady Civic Playhouse, through Dec. 11
“Just say the lines and don’t trip over the furniture.”
This is one of the Noel Coward epigrams reprinted in the pages of the playbill for Schenectady Civic Players’ production of Star Quality, a work unproduced on stage in the author’s lifetime, but reworked into a taut 85-minute (plus intermission) little evocation of backstage shenanigans involved in putting on a play that’s really a star vehicle.
The actors in this streamlined production (directed by Donald Mealy) don’t trip over the furniture–unless they’re supposed to–and say the lines with the required haughty aplomb. To put it another way, Coward supplies the witty lines, and it’s up to the cast to deliver them in such a way as to extract the laughs from the audience, and in all the right places. Happily, they do.
The characters are a delightful gallery of greasepaint gargoyles: Lorraine, the diva who dissembles and manipulates to get her way (Jean T. Carney, pictured left); Evan, the first time author who isn’t really as dopey as he first seems (Bryan Snow); Ray, the “artsy-craftsy” director who’ll do or say anything to get what he wants (Jason Biszick, pictured right); Gerald and Marion, the costars who must tiptoe around the diva’s antics (Robert L. Hegeman and Pat Hoffman); Tony, the seemingly sympathetic, flamboyant mini-Machiavelli (Mark Stephens); and Nora, the lady’s’ maid who knows all the secrets and gently guides the first-time playwright through the minefield that is The Theatre.
If you have any familiarity with Coward, or any garden-variety backstage comedy (or drama), these are readily recognizable figures. The author wasn’t breaking any new ground here, but sometimes retreading a familiar path can be just as satisfying.
According to the program notes, the original play had a lot more characters and a wide variety of locations; traces of this remain in this version, with references to people we never meet and locals we never visit. It’s a weakness, but not a fatal one. The few changes of scene and setting are accomplished with deft lighting cues and a little furniture rearrangement.
There’s another Coward quote reproduced in the program: “I have always been so fond of drama critics. I think it is so frightfully clever of them to go night after night to the theatre and know so little about it.”
OK, you got me. But I know what works. Star Quality is a comedy, and I’m supposed to laugh at it. I did, all the way through.