“The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” by Jim Cartwright at Arts West

Poor Little Voice, her father’s dead and her mother’s a self centered, loud mouthed, sex crazed drunk, someone ideally suited to Rush Limbaugh’s recent description of womanhood. It’s no wonder that Little Voice is withdrawn, timid, and lost in her own world, spending her days listening to the records left by her father and imitating the voices of the female vocalists as she tries to drown out the sounds of her mother’s amorous encounters.

Then one night, mother Mari brings home Ray, a sleazy talent agent. Before she gets him to bed, he overhears Little Voice singing, and determines to make her a star. As you’ve probably guessed, it doesn’t turn out well. But no thanks to Ray, Little Voice does escape this misery at play’s end.

Directed by Christopher Zinovitch, the production captures the lower class seediness of the 1980s in Northern England. Jill Beasley’s set is appropriately scruffy, though on opening night there were some unfortunate malfunctions. Josh Randall’s lighting works well to create some elaborate special effects. Myrna Conn as Little Voice has a lovely voice though the task of impersonating ten singers from Edith Piaf to Julie Andrews is a bit much for an 18 year old.

Peggy Gannon throws body and soul into her role as frenetic mother Mari. She’s about as slutty and manic as any one person can get. Unfortunately, the performance was a bit over-the-top for me. I wished for a little moderation, an occasional respite from her frenzy. Daniel Reaume as Ray makes one’s skin crawl. Smarmy, manipulative, cruel, he’s a man on the make, hungry for his big break. It’s a great performance.

Though not perfect, there’s a lot to like about this production.

Through March 31 at Arts West Playhouse, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle (www.artswest.org or 206 938-0339).

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