Living Drama Theater is now into it's second production ever, and this was my first visit to the space - and what a space! The program proudly references the stage as the only Broadway-sized theater in Lake County, and that's certainly believable; the seating is more than generous and stage area goes forever. The theater owners have outlined great plans for the future for the building, and if complete the site would be one of the premier locations in Lake County for theater and events.
The production of The Outsiders was a rare show for me. I'm outside the age range mentioned in the pre-show as the age range for whom the book version of 'The Outsiders' was required reading; I've also never seen the stage or movie productions. But that's not why it was rare.
'The Outsiders" (for anyone else who is unaware) is the story of conflict between two 'gangs' - the Greasers (the poorer kids in the area) and the Socs (pronounced So-ches, short for Socials or Socialites, the town rich kids), seen through the eyes of a Greaser named Pony Boy. There's a Romeo and Juliet-like thread woven here, with smaller stories carefully outlined for several characters, in general well-scripted and with depth. It tells a story of modern day tribalism that (unfortunately) still needs to be told, most likely again and again. But that's not why it's rare.
The cast, individually and as a group, appeared to understand the context, grabbed it with both hands, and for better or worse ran with it. Pony Boy (Austen Stanley) is portrayed with depth and feeling - mostly awkward, sometimes earnest, and always having a sensation that he's looking on the horizon while his friends and family can only see the length of their arms. Pony Boy's older brothers Dary (Joshua Jefferys) and Soda Pop (Adam Riggs) watch over and watch out for Pony Boy like macho Mother Hens - the family is believable if not quite as detailed a performance as Stanley's. The rest of the gang members - Dallas (Mario Guitierrez), Johnny Cake (Rhyse Silvestro) and Two-Bit (Tom Goldstein) - all have interesting character arcs and are well-played. This is Goldstein's second production, and he appears a natural; Gutierrez manages to be annoying, trashy and loyal to his gang to a fault. Silvestro has an impressive resume, and steals the show with his performance of Johnny Cake - he is absolutely perfect in the role, his tone, mannerisms and delivery pitch-perfect. Silvestro's Johnny is the lynch pin for the story, more so than the lead oddly enough. Rhyse Silvestro's performance as Johnny is one of the best I've seen this season, anywhere.
The female lead Abbigail Wade as Cherry - a Soc who just wants everyone to get along. Her character needs to be sympathetic yet strong, and Wade accomplishes this while being a stiff and uncomfortable with the Greasers. It's a fine line walked well. Her apparent BFF is Kenyatta Edwards as Maria, another Soc. I have no idea of the script says 'Maria punctuates each sentence with a squeak' - if so, well done; if not, it was a great choice that solidifies her character into reality - people have these quirks - and it made Maria relatable. It was extremely cute, honestly, and the chuckles in the theater after each as the show progressed reinforced that I wasn't the only one thinking that!
Still - this wasn't why the show was rare.
Technically, it was spot-on. You didn't notice the tech: it was there, it was used, and the story moved on. Lately that would be a award-winning performance for a tech crew! The only complaint I have is the cast/crew whoever on the left side need greater awareness of how much noise they make behind the scenes - not talking, just walking and moving things in the wings. Still, that's not rare either.
The show had flaws, have no doubt - given the age of the characters, pimples would probably be the appropriate metaphor: Some lines were flat, some scenes uncomfortable when they shouldn't be, the stage almost too large to be elegantly at times, stage-fighting isn't part of anyone's resume and it showed, the direction of the characters sometimes a bit muddled.
But the show was rare for me because these pimples did not matter. Sometimes the flaws help define a character, and provide a resonance with the audience. By the end of the evening, the show WORKED, and worked well.
I've said for quite awhile that I look to theater and movies to escape, to be entertained, and to get beyond myself for a little while. I've always associated that with humor and comedy. Tonight I left the theater a little sad but definitely provided a window on a world different than my own, and better for the experience.
Go see this show. LDT, keep up the great work - the theater you're building isn't just physical.
Grade: A - parts of the show not friendly to 11 and under; teens encouraged to attend.