Theater Red goes Italian with sexy “nine”

Guido (Timothy J. Barnes) has a hard time juggling all the women in his life including, from left, Lina (Carrie Gray), Stephanie (Marcee Doherty-Else), Carla (Samantha Sostarich), Our Lady of the Spa (Hannah Esch), Guido’s Mother (Laura McDonald) and Luisa (Rae Elizabeth Pare) in a scene from Theater Red’s “Nine.”

Guido (Timothy J. Barnes) has a hard time juggling all the women in his life including, from left, Lina (Carrie Gray), Stephanie (Marcee Doherty-Else), Carla (Samantha Sostarich), Our Lady of the Spa (Hannah Esch), Guido’s Mother (Laura McDonald) and Luisa (Rae Elizabeth Pare) in a scene from Theater Red’s “Nine.”

 
 

By Catherine Jozwik

Published Jan. 26, 2019

Taking a page from Italian film director Federico Fellini’s 1963 film 8 1/2 The Sunset Playhouse’s production Nine, directed by Eric Welch, features a cast of mostly women, superb acting, singing and dancing, bawdy comedy and black humor, and even a bit of pathos.

Guido Constantini (played seamlessly by Timothy J. Barnes, (The Addams Family, Fantastics) is a self-involved middle-aged film director and philanderer who just can’t seem to please the many women in his life—and deliver a palatable script to his French producer, the haughty, temperamental Liliane Le Fleur (SaraLynn Evenson, Zombies from the Beyond, Into the Woods). Since Guido’s last three films have been flops, the director has a lot at stake.

Guido decides to take a vacation at a well-known spa, managed by Our Lady of the Spa (Hannah Esch, of Heathers: The Musical and Doc Danger Squad who demonstrated notable vocal chops in this production) but, to his dismay, discovers that he can’t leave work, and personal problems, behind.

The director’s resilient and tough, yet supportive, wife Luisa (a wonderful performance by Rae Elizabeth Pare, Bonny Anne Bonny; Don’t Do the Crime) recognizes his genius, but has had it with his wandering eye and intense work and erratic sleep schedules. His lover, the sexy Carla (seductively played by Samantha Sostarich of Hairspray and Boeing Boeing who even employed a bit of burlesque dancing in the production), is pressuring him to divorce his wife so he can be with her.

Meanwhile, Liliane is demanding Guido’s polished film script yesterday, which the director hasn’t even begun to write yet. On top of that, the director must deal with negative reviews from film critics, including the producer’s snarky assistant Stephanie (the versatile Marcee Doherty-Elst, actor and Theater Red associate, who also plays prostitute Sarraghina), and intrusive journalist Lina (Carrie Gray) probing into his personal life.

Luisa (Rae Elizabeth Pare) and her husband Guido (Timothy J. Barnes) are at odds in a scene from Theater Red’s “Nine.”

Luisa (Rae Elizabeth Pare) and her husband Guido (Timothy J. Barnes) are at odds in a scene from Theater Red’s “Nine.”

Also, his muse and paramour Claudia (based on actress Claudia Cardinale, played by Kara Ernst-Schalk) is sick and tired of being cast as the Ideal Woman in every one of his films. It seems as though the vivacious Mama Maddalena (Jennifer A. Larsen, Mary Poppins, The Wayward Women) is the only fan the director has left.

For guidance, Guido turns to the ghost (or angel) of his mother (Laura McDonald, who combines the perfect blend of sympathy with doses of reality), but by now, it’s too late for redemption.

The play’s ending is somewhat unclear, and could be interpreted as a tragedy, representative of the fickleness of the film industry. Once seen as brilliant, Guido’s movies have become almost farcical.

In the “Grand Canal” scene, Guido (Timothy J. Barnes) plays Casanova surrounded by adoring women (from left, Hannah Esch, Jennifer Larsen, Carrie Gray and Laura McDonald.

In the “Grand Canal” scene, Guido (Timothy J. Barnes) plays Casanova surrounded by adoring women (from left, Hannah Esch, Jennifer Larsen, Carrie Gray and Laura McDonald.

To the credit of music director Lydia Eiche, assistant director Chris Wszalek, and choreographer Ashley Patin, Nine showcases nearly 20 song-and-dance piano numbers, some Vaudeville-esque and catchy, some poignant, among them “Not Since Chaplin,” “The Germans at the Spa,” “Only with You,” and “A Call from the Vatican.” A particular crowd please was “Folie Bergeres,” which features a fast-talking Stephanie (Doherty-Else) and a fun bit with Liliane (SaraLynn Evenson) engaging the audience.

Costumes by Briana Rose Lipor struck the perfect balance of glamour and sensuality. Most female cast members wore 1960s-style black dresses; one wore a black pantsuit, another, a belted trench coat. Guido wore a black suit and black shirt.

Eschewing complicated sets, scenery designer Andrea Klohn displayed screen-printed silk panels of the cast members on top of the stage, giving each a larger-than-life presence (perhaps to depict the power these nine women had over Guido) and rich red drapes for a backdrop. Ross Zentner’s lighting provided a pleasing contrast between subtle and dramatic.

If You Go

Who: Theater Red

What: Nine

When: 7:30 Saturday, Jan. 26; 2 p.m. Jan. 27

Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove

Tickets/Info: 262-782-4430; www.sunsetplayhouse.com