Sorry, 'Lucy,' I Don't Love You Anymore

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BOSTON — How things change in a lifetime.

Used to be that folks would go to the Colonial Theatre to see provocative fare like Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” partly to get away from insipid lowest-common-denominator comedy on television. But between now and Dec. 22 if they go to the Colonial Theatre what they’ll get is insipid lowest-common-denominator comedy — at a time when there is more provocative fare on television than ever.

Adding to the irony is that “ ‘I Love Lucy’ Live on Stage” is a salute to the so-called golden days of television, reminding us that TV shows in the ‘50s weren’t all that golden and that imitation is the sincerest form of stupidity. This ‘Lucy’ got some ‘splainin’ to do. Like, what’s the point?

“Lucy,” staged and directed by Rick Sparks, is the comedic equivalent of a jukebox musical. It doesn’t seek to put the fascinating Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in context; in fact their names don’t even come up during the 100-minute intermission less event as they're only referred to as the Ricardos. The show reconstructs a taping of two unmemorable episodes of “I Love Lucy” — “The Benefit” and “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined” — complete with a grinning, chuckling host who also introduces other fare like performances of live commercials such as “See the USA in your Chevrolet” by Dinah Beach. (The original was sung by Dinah Shore. Oh, those cards.)

The commercials are the best part of the show, with their ode-to-innocence singing and dancing, but even there the stagecraft isn’t anything special. The stagecraft of the two episodes, though, isn’t anything, period.

in "I Love Lucy' Live on Stage." (Jeremy Daniel)
in "I Love Lucy' Live on Stage." (Jeremy Daniel)

Now, even with Desi Arnaz’s pioneering efforts of shooting the series on film in front of a live audience, the average show is not that interesting to look at, even with the great cinematographer Karl Freund behind the camera. Still, there was a certain energy to “I Love Lucy” and the cast were all first-rate performers.

That the producers take two average episodes — rather than Lucy behind the assembly line of chocolates, for example — speaks to the no-risk tack of the show. The actors are merely asked to recreate a time when men were henpecked, women were dimwits, and anyone with an accent was an object of ridicule.

Behind all that, though, Ball and Arnaz were on to a different story, mainly of women eager to join the workforce and not be relegated to the sidelines. I’m not saying that the stage version should tell a more PC story, just that there are any number of stories surrounding “I Love Lucy” that would give the stage version added context and humor.

The show asks almost as little of the actors as it does of the audience. Sirena Irwin, Bill Mendieta and Kevin Remington do satisfactory imitations of Lucy, Ricky and Fred — and if you have to ask who they are, this definitely isn’t the show for you. Irwin should make Lucy less dimly wide-eyed and frozen-smiled, but you have to get your chuckles where you can, I guess. Carolynne Warren filled in for Joanna Daniels as Ethel on opening night and doesn’t have Vivian Vance’s delightful eccentriticities down.

The acting’s the least of the show’s problems. “ ‘I Love Lucy’ Live on Stage” is content to play to the rubes – some of whom on opening night thought that it was OK to gape into their LED screens. Then again, on this occasion, it was hard to blame them.

This program aired on December 6, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Ed Siegel Twitter Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.