A word of thanks to Eric Stoltz and Frank Wood, life rafts of sanity and aural clarity in the Williamstown Theater Festival’s rackety, mostly miscast and misdirected revival of Moss Hart’s 1948 comedy-farce “Light Up the Sky.” The concept of theater practitioners as emotionally unstable, self-obsessed asses wore out its welcome decades ago; it’s further tainted here by Hart’s sentimentality. As the finale of the WTF’s disappointing 2000 season, “Light Up the Sky” most assuredly doesn’t.
Hart’s comedy, about the trouble-plagued Boston tryout of a theatrical production, itself went through similar travails. During its own Boston tryout, it evolved from a somewhat serious play into a mostly empty-headed farce with a few moments of repose. Today its original, reportedly Shavian version might wear better than its rewrite.
The action takes place in the star’s hotel suite, sumptuously designed by Klara Zieglerova, on opening night of the Colonial Theater tryout of the first play by Peter Sloan (Stoltz), an ex-truck driver who has never been exposed to theater folk before. Although Stoltz looks nothing like Hart’s Sloan, who is described as a longshoreman type, he nevertheless manages to present the tyro playwright as an actual human being. Wood plays an experienced playwright who is a veteran of many a similar opening night, and he, too, projects humanity.
Otherwise, director Christopher Ashley and his cast generally fail to project any reality behind the gushing, hyperbolic nonsense of the other characters. The production’s two most excruciating performances are those of a super-swishy Peter Bartlett as the weepy director and Angelina Phillips, who garbles half her lines, as the dumb-blonde skating star wife of the producer.
The production is further hampered by the utter miscasting of Jessica Hecht, who lacks the requisite star quality of the play’s histrionic female lead. As the producer, Ron Rifkin settles for barking loudly, and in the cliched role of the tough-broad mother of the star, Cynthia Harris’ timing is off.
Costume designer Michael Krass goes for cheap laughs too often, then gives his most attractive opening-night costume to one of the least important characters, the star’s ghost writer (Enid Graham).
In the end, this production only emphasizes the fact that this summer’s WTF has offered nothing in the same class as last year’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “The Price.”