Things I've never seen in a Light Opera Oklahoma production until now: phallic symbols, partial nudity, dope-smoking hippies, copious ass wiggling and references to Harry Nilsson.
The company took a number of risks -- not all are listed above -- with its modernized version of Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, set in 1967, the summer of love, against a backdrop of colorful fabric-and-wire flowers.
LOOK adapted Gilbert and Sullivan's original 1881 production to turn Reginald Bunthorne, the "fleshly" poet originally intended to satire Oscar Wilde, into Reggie (Ron Loyd), who "audits most of his classes," according to the program's notes.
Reggie (who, in this production, closely resembles Austin Powers) is an aesthetic poet basking in the adulation of the female students, a throng of hippie chicks, at the Elysian Fields School of Music.
Reggie, seemingly impervious to their affection, actually craves it -- though he isn't the cultural attaché he appears to be.
Still, he cannot return the ladies' affection, for he is in love with the town's milkmaid (or, for our purposes, an agricultural student majoring in dairy production), the frolicking, naïve Patience (Jenna Tamisiea Harris).
She, however, is baffled at the thought of love, claiming never to have loved anyone -- except a little boy when she was four.
Meanwhile, the Dragoons, a rugby team comprised of ROTC guys (their entrances onstage can always be described as "barreling"), both mourn and resent the loss of their fiancées -- the hippie chicks -- to Reggie. It appears as though they might have won their women back, when Archibald "Archie" Grosvenor (Erick Castille), a "hunky badass" dressed in leather pants and a fringe vest, with a guitar slung across his chest, enters the scene.
He's back at school after a multi-year hiatus, and the women immediately swoon for him. Archie, also a poet, but the more laid-back type, has been stricken with a horrible curse -- every woman who lays eyes on him immediately falls in love.
But Archie, like Reggie, does not return the ladies' affection for he, like Reggie, is in love with Patience, who just happened to be his playmate during youth.
Patience, who still loves Archie, very nearly concedes to marriage, but she determines love must be selfless, something of a sacrifice, and for her to love Archie would be selfish.
So, instead, she decides to marry Reggie, attempting to keep her affection for Archie in check.
Reggie and Archie come up with a plan to rid Archie of his unwanted attention -- he will cast off aestheticism and be a plain boy. Meanwhile, Reggie will adopt an Archie-like persona, causing the women to abandon their affair with Archie and return to Reggie.
Their scheme doesn't work out quite as they expected it would, but still everyone ends up happy and on a peace bus headed for Woodstock (though they are, apparently, still in England, where Gilbert and Sullivan intended them).
The cast's leads are quite fantastic, Loyd providing much of the comic relief through his character's sheer sense of being. He easily evokes laughter from the audience, and his booming voice never falters.
Harris, too, is easily likeable and commands the stage with her song. Castille, accurately described in the program, really is a hunky badass, and fun to watch.
All of the characters verge on caricature and, in that, they succeeded in accomplishing Gilbert and Sullivan's original intent: to mock the aesthetic movement, arguably very much alive today.
Where the production faltered, in my opinion, was in its refusal to update the language of the libretto to reflect the set and costume modernization.
Director Eric Gibson, in a article in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Intermission magazine, notes the language is largely unchanged from the original, which should please Gilbert and Sullivan "aficionados" but doesn't do much for me.
To me, modernizing the set and costumes but not the language or context (of the book; I can understand the difficulty in amending the songs) was strange and slightly perplexing.
While a modern interpretation does make the show more relevant to today's audiences, changing the text and context would have made it that much more significant.
Still, I applaud LOOK for the risks it took with this show and stand by statements I've made about the company in the past: Because of the high caliber of talent the company recruits for its performances, it's hard not to enjoy what you see onstage.
Patience continues June 18-19, 26 and July 2 in the John H. Williams Theatre of the Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St. For show times, tickets and other information, go to www.tulsapac.com.
In addition, LOOK's The Boy Friend plays June 20, 27 and 29-30 in the PAC's Charles E. Norman Theatre, and Kiss Me, Kate runs June 23-27 and July 1 and 3 in the Williams.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Celebrity Attractions' The Wizard of Oz continues this weekend, June 17 at 1:30pm and 3pm, June 18 at 8pm, June 19 at 2pm and 8pm and June 20 at 2pm and 7pm, in the PAC's Chapman Music Hall.
The touring production, which ends its run this month, expands on the 1939 MGM film to offer additional insight into the show's characters as they journey to the Land of Oz in search of a heart, a brain, some courage and a home.
The show stars Cassie Okenka as Dorothy, Jesse Coleman as the Lion, Peter Gosik as the Tinman and Adam Jepsen as the Scarecrow. Tickets start at $20 and are available at the PAC's website.
The Female Form
Also at the PAC this weekend -- June 18-19 at 7pm in the Norman -- is Michael Wright's Terra Incognita: Monologues and Songs about Women.
The sow explores "dating, mating, relating, creating, debating, waiting, berating (and) exasperating" and features an all-female cast whose members share their lives, tears and laughter with the audience.
Tickets to the show are $15 and available at the PAC's website.
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