Most of us remember our days in summer-stuck far too vividly. Or maybe there’s a certain playhouse that garnered a little too much of our time and attention. “Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van”, written by Mary Lynn Dobson, explores the nitty-gritty of the politics of theatre-making with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and clear soft spot for all things stage-related. This wonderful crew of ragtag company regulars takes us through a season at the Neighborhood Actors Summerfun Repertory Theatre, regaling us with the backstage goings on of such classics as “Hello Dolly!” “Oklahoma!” and “The Glass Menagerie.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Maybe some misplaced props and backstage gossip will ensue, but that’s to be expected. What else could go wrong? Director Mike Donahue and the cast of LTA’s “Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van” shows us what a three ring circus theatre can be; how to work with what you have; and why, ultimately, putting on a show is one of the most rewarding undertakings one can pursue.
LTA always comes through with solid casting and this show was no exception.…just the right touch of sentimental blended with the feeling that you’ve truly found your people.
Because the entire play takes place in Summerfun’s parking lot (masquerading as a backstage area) we never see the playhouse’s sets. Due to the hectic nature of the company’s productions, we can assume that they are not the most synergistic. The set, designed by Charles Dragonette and Jenya Holbert, proves to be just the opposite. The duo has created visual magic in the form of a beautifully accessorized trailer inhabited by Vondo (Paul Donahoe), the ancient hippie/techie. Dragonette and Holbert have achieved the highly coveted “lived-in” effect and it truly feels as though Vondo and his fellow techie, Jeannie (Teresa Preston), have been there forever. There are just enough labeled cardboard boxes containing various accoutrements to be believable without going over the top, and the sets team should be congratulated on their superb eye for detail. The marquee was a lovely touch, framing the action nicely and reminding the audience of where we are in the theatrical timeline. When each production comes to a close and a new show opens, the marquee changes with a delightful trickle-down effect, aided in part by exasperated wall-pounding from long-suffering producer, Jeff (Kirk Lambert), and director/actor, Mike (John Paul Odle).
LTA always comes through with solid casting and this show was no exception. The cast was nicely balanced, with each character getting their moment in the sun. Some stand out moments were a hefty monologue from Donahoe as Vondo, wherein he explains his decision to give up drugs, and Eleanore Tapscott’s monologue as the always-poised Harriet. Donahoe and Tapscott had difficult tasks here. Donahoe essentially had to pour out Vondo’s entire life story for the benefit of his fellow company members, cementing exposition without slowing the plot. Tapscott had a similar undertaking. Both actors can certainly pull off these types of speeches, but the flow of the dialogue was hampered by the staging. If all the actors are sitting during long monologues like this, it kills the energy and the actors have very little to work with.
Another particularly strong performance came in the form of the delightfully strange Daniel (Joe Neff). Daniel is an up-and-coming go getter who is initially convinced that each show needs some form of dancing, preferably a kick line. When this idea is shot down, he decides that he wants to create a musical about mimes. How could this possibly work, you may ask? Mike (John Paul Odle) poses that same question to Daniel as Neff showcases some of the most perfectly timed physical comedy around. Props to director Donahue, Neff, Odle, and Chuck O’Toole for some excellent mime consultation. Neff’s used-car-inflatable physicality and Odle’s ever rising blood pressure this scene a top-notch lesson on how to marry slapstick with very clear motivation. “Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van” goes over like a home cooked meal after a long day at work. It’s just the right touch of sentimental blended with the feeling that you’ve truly found your people. Theatre for theatre-makers always hits just right, and if you want to see Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” transition perfectly from stage to house music, go see LTA’s newest production.
Running Time: Two hours minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
“Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van” runs through September 30, 2023 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and more information, call the box office at (703)-683-5778 or go online.