I Love Lucy
by Anthony Chase
As a child, I was not allowed to watch I Love Lucy.
My mother deemed it crass and simple-minded, lacking the playful invention of the Marx Brothers, or the wit and humanity of, say, Make Room for Daddy. Moreover, she did not consider the raucous and manipulative antics of Lucy Ricardo to be an appropriate model for my two sisters, for whom she had higher aspirations.
I will concede that this was a minority opinion in the American consciousness. For the record, I was also forbidden to watch Lassie (“morose”), the Three Stooges (“There is nothing funny about people hitting each other”), or Let’s Make a Deal (“All those greedy people making fools of themselves over a two-door refrigerator!”)
I knew Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball as a divorced bandleader and movie star.
It is an odd experience, then, for me to see I Love Lucy Live On Stage, now up at 710 Main Street. In this show a talented cast of 16 recreates the filming of two Lucy episodes, complete with period commercials, the obligatory contest, and comic interactions between the studio host and audience.
In the years since my childhood I have seen these two episodes. As I watched I Love Lucy® Live On Stage, I was certainly aware of the blissful wave of nostalgia that permeated the entire audience as they saw Lucy and Ethel connive to get Ricky to perform at a benefit.
Undoubtedly, if 710 Main were still Studio Arena Theatre, I would be outraged to see this silly diversion on that stage—as appalled as I was to see Sheer Madness there. Instead, I thought it was endearing to see a large crowd of people filling the seats of one of the city’s most beloved theaters for an evening of mindless merriment.
I kept reminding myself, “Don’t expect irony. Don’t expect insight. Don’t expect analysis of any kind.” This is the frame of mind in which to enjoy I Love Lucy® Live On Stage.
This show follows the same pattern as evenings featuring scripts from The Brady Bunch and Facts of Life that have been performed, exactly as written, at fringe theaters across the country. Time (and the occasional use of drag) tends to lend irony to the proceedings. That is not the goal here.
We can imagine something more ambitious. There would be ample opportunity to explore the relationship of an iconic entertainment duo as they alternate between their sit-com and off-camera personalities.
Desi Arnaz was crossover Latin star and a pioneer of television—he invented the three-camera technique as a way to shorten production time. Lucille Ball was a genius of physical comedy and a driven competitor in the business. Indeed, in this show, we are visiting with two highly driven people who encouraged the public to believe that their on-camera relationship was identical to their offstage lives—even going so far as to have Lucy Ricardo and Lucille Ball Arnaz give birth simultaneously—on television and in real life.
All was not as it appeared; the relationship famously ended in acrimonious divorce.
Expect no hint of this sort of complexity in I Love Lucy® Live On Stage.
The good news is that the performers are wonderfully talented and charismatic. Sirena Irwin and Bill Mendieta, who have played the roles across the country, channel Lucy and Ricky with energy and skill. Irwin is a gifted comic and Mendieta bears an uncanny resemblance to Desi Arnaz. Kevin Remington and Joanna Daniels are similarly appealing as Fred and Ethel. Each episode leads up to a vaudeville type performance; these are actually quite marvelous.
Chances are you know from the title whether or not this show is for you. Don’t alter those expectations and you might just have a terrifically good time.
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