Friday, December 06, 2013
I not only did the interview, but stood in as an extra on Public Square with fake snow being sprayed because the real stuff didn’t fall in the two weeks of filming in this area, was a grouchy man on the porch of a house on Cleveland Street (really West 11th) a couple of addresses down from what is now known as “The Christmas House,” and took Peter (Ralphie), his mother and Scott Schwartz (Flick) on a tour of Cleveland because the producers of the film hadn’t made any arrangements for anything for the kids to do between shooting their scenes.
The front porch scene was left on the cutting room floor, and after a dozen viewings I still can’t find myself in the crowd scenes, but the memories remain and the interview was aired.
Like so many other Clevelanders, I consider A CHRISTMAS STORY to be “our” film. In reality, most of it was shot in Canada, the city in which it is set is in Indiana, and the house and backyard which have been created into a shrine, was only used for a couple of outside shots. But, who cares. The weakly reviewed film has become a movie classic and when friends come in from out of town, they ask to see where Ralph almost shot out his eye, and where his friend’s tongue got stuck to the pole.
Who am I to break the illusion? It’s part of Cleveland lore, like the mayor who set his hair on the fire, the river that went up in flames, and the horrors of being a local sports fan.
Unless you don’t have a television which displays the movie version over and over this time of year, you know the tale of A CHRISTMAS STORY.
A newly envisioned stage version of A CHRISTMAS STORY is now at Cleveland Play House’s Allen theatre. A new cast, set, and director are on display.
Based on the short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes of author, story teller and radio personality, Jean Sheperd, the movie, play and musical are based on his book IN GOD WE TRUST, ALL OTHERS PAY CASH, along with some ideas from WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES.
Narrated by “grown up” Ralph, we revel in the story of nine-year-old Ralphie, who dreams of getting a “Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.” It’s in the era before television, computer games, smart phones, ipods and ipads, which might be a culture shock to the children who attend.
Ralphie sets out to convince the world that the bb gun is the perfect gift. But, along the way he runs into opposition from his parents, his teacher and even good ‘ol Santa Claus. We meet little brother, Randy, who oinks like a piggy when he eats, the school bully, Scott Farkas, The Old Man, a pack of wild dogs who hound poor old dad, clinkers in the furnace, and new-old cars that don’t start. We are exposed to the “triple-dog dare!,” learn why Ralphie should “drink his Ovaltine,” why he loathes lifeboy soap, and what happens when he realizes the consequences of, “Only I didn’t say ‘Fudge.’ I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the F-dash-dash-dash word!”
It’s a cute story filled with childhood nostalgia for those of the “mature” generation, and a chance to experience the “olden days” by the younguns.
CPH’s production, under the direction of John McCluggage, doesn’t quite have the charm and dynamics of past stagings. It’s just “too Hallmark bland,” lacking the needed texturing and farcical overtones. The Old Man isn’t as angst filled. Scut Farkas isn’t as fearsome as could be. Even Schwartz getting his tongue caught on the metal pole isn’t drama-filled. Randy’s wails that he has to go “wee-wee” aren’t pathetically funny.
Everything is okay, but the missing edge that makes the whole thing farcically funny isn’t there. Overplay, rather than underplay is needed to make the production zing along on its merry way.
Especially disappointing is the Higbee’s Santaland set. With all the attention being given to the flexibility of the Allen’s new stage, the cheaply assembled igloo, without the visible long slide and Higbee holiday trees and decorations, just doesn’t cut it. A bucket of coal to scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan. He seemed so obsessed with playing with his revolving stage, that he forgot the needed visual wonderment of the pivotal Santa scene.
The cast is pleasant. Jeff Talbott is spot on as Ralph, showing the right levels of enthusiasm and nostalgic recreating. Matthew Taylor is cute as Ralph, Carisa Tanner is adorable as “love struck” Esther Jane, Cameron Danielle Nelson is a proper know-it-all as Helen, Cole Emerine is the strongest of the boys as the much maligned Flick, and Maggie Lacey does a good imitation of a bland Donna Reid as Mother.
Michael Hentzman is acceptable as The Old Man but needed to overplay rather than underplay the role in order to get the farcical responses. Laura Perrotta is fine as Miss Shields, but could have used a little more school-marmish dynamics. Cute Lee Greene needs to project more as Schwartz as most of his lines were left at the edge of the stage.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: A CHRISTMAS STORY holds a special place in the hearts of many Clevelanders. The present staging, under the direction of John McCluggage, while engaging, misses out on some of the farcical and endearing dynamics needed to make this a totally wonderful holiday present. It’s not bad, just not everything that it could be or has been.
A CHRISTMAS STORY runs through December 22, 2013 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Monday, December 02, 2013
CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE
216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com
Jan 10-Feb 2—Allen Theatre
Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story YENTL THE YESHIVA BOY it is a tale of a young woman who defies convention and the laws of her people to fulfill her dream.
February 14 - March 9--Allen Theatre
BREATH AND IMAGINATION
Based on the life of African-American tenor, Roland Hayes, this musical tale of faith, hope, and family traces a remarkable journey from rural Georgia to Carnegie Hall and Buckingham Palace.
March 21 - April 13--Allen Theatre
A follow-up to RAISIN IN THE SUN, this feisty and funny play asks, “Neighborhoods change, but do people?”
April 25 - May 18--Second Stage, Thrust Configuration
Based on a true story, the play takes us into the personal and national debate about science vs. belief and whether our DNA is our destiny.
May 30 - June 22--Allen Theatre
MAURICE HINES IS TAPPIN' THRU LIFE
Tap dance legend Maurice Hines stars in this celebration of his life as the premiere tap dancer of his era.
216-932-3396 or dobama.org
Jan 24 – Feb 23
A modern day WAITING FOR GODOT, this award winning play is a compassionate meditation on art, friendship, loss, and a generation of young Americans trying to find their place in the world.
March 7 - April 6
MADE IN AMERICA
Esther, a savvy sales rep, and Barry, a buyer for a manufacturing company, finally meet to “seal the deal” after months of negotiating over the phone. They begin a cat and mouse game that falls into dangerous territory.
April 25 – May 25
Traveling great distances and spanning many years in the lives of its nine characters, KIN is a love story between Anna, an Ivy League poetry scholar, and Sean, an Irish personal trainer – an unlikely but somehow perfect match.
216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.
Jan 7-12—Palace Theatre
The “All That Jazz” award winning Kander and Ebb musical about the Prohibition age, with such songs as “Me and My Baby,” “Mr. Cellophane,” and “Razzle Dazzle.”
Jan 14-Feb 2—Hanna Theatre
MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL
A musical parody, with tunes from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s of four women at a lingerie sale with nothing in common but a black lace bra, memory loss, and host flashes.
Jan 17-Feb 1—Second Stage Theatre
LAST CALL CLEVELAND
The sketch comedy troupe with a terrible name brings their unique mix of live and taped sketches, songs and audience interaction back to Playhouse Square.
Jan 24-25—The Palace
ROCK OF AGES
A five-time Tony winning feel good story which features 28 classic rock tunes in a show about dreaming big, playing loud and partying on!
Feb 4-16—The Palace Theatre
PORGY AND BESS
This re-envisioned Broadway production of the Gershwins' classic operetta includes such legendary songs as "Summertime,: "It Ain't Necessarily So," and "I Got Plenty of Nothing," played by a 23-piece orchestra.
March 4-16-- Palace Theatre
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Retelling the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the coat of many colors, this magical musical is full of unforgettable songs including “Those Canaan Days,” “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door.”
March 5-15—The Helen Theatre
TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD
Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program’s production of G.B. Shaw’s tale of a rich young woman who catches a pair of burglars in her bedroom and takes them on a course of self-discovery.
March 14-15—Ohio Theatre
CS LEWIS’s THE GREAT DIVORCE
A dantesque celestial journey from hell to Paradise is filled with funny characters and wit and wisdom.
NOT BY BREAD ALONE—Ohio Theatre
Direct from Israel, eleven deaf-blind actors take the audience on a magical tour of the districts of the inner world, the world of darkness, silence and bread.
March 27-28—The Palace Theatre
TYLER PERRY’S HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A WOMAN SCORNED
Tyler Perry’s newest play centers on his belief that, “You can’t score a woman and think you’ve achieved accomplishment.”
April 1-13--Palace Theatre
Tells the inspiring and unforgettable story of Alex Owens, a Pittsburgh steel mill welder by day and bar dancer by night with dreams of one day becoming a professional performer.
May 6-18--State Theatre
The story of how four blue-collar kids became THE FOUR SEASONS, one of the greatest successes in pop music history.
216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
Feb 7-March 9
CARRIE, THE MUSICAL—Main Stage
(In collaboration with the BW Musical Theatre Program)
A gripping tale of Carrie, the product of an overprotective mother, who is a misfit at school. She discovers she has a special power and, if pushed too far, she is willing to use it!
March 21-May 4
‘NIGHT MOTHER—Studio Theatre
Marsha Norman’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize play will star Dorothy Silver and Laura Perotta. It explores the last hours of the life a woman who has decided that life isn’t worth living.
May 30-June 29
A biting comedy in which four aspiring novelists sign up for a writing class that results in their fighting over their writing, their relations and their futures.
330-374-7568 or go to www.actorssummit.org
Jan 16-Feb 2
Biology, ethics, women’s equality, anti-Semitism…all play a role in this true story about Rosalind Franklin who may have missed receiving the Nobel Prize because her standards were too high.
Feb 20-March 9
William Inge’s tale about a group of travelers who seek shelter in a diner in the middle of a snow storm.
March 27-April 13
HANDLE WITH CARE
A new comedy about a young woman from Israel, who, while desperately trying to find her grandmother, finds love.
May 1-May 25
RING OF FIRE
Johnny Cash’s life story, his songs, and struggles are played out with “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” and, of course, “Man in Black.”
CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org
January 9 - January 25
A one-person staging of the personal story of noted Cleveland actor, journalist, and theater critic Christine Howey (formerly Dick Howey).
January 30 - February 15
AIR WAVES (Part Three of the Elements Cycle)
Explores the powerful effect humanity has had, and can have, on the very air we breathe.
March 6 - March 22
TITUS: A GRAND AND GORY ROCK MUSICAL
Shakespeare rolls over in his grave as his bloodiest, most horrifying script gets a total makeover as a rock musical.
March 27 - March 29
A workshop/reading that envisions Shakespeare's witches before they encountered "The Scottish King."
April 10 - April 26
A KILLING GAME
A staging by Dog & Pony DC, a quickly rising ensemble company from Washington DC, known for their quirky and wild productions that involve everyone in the fun.
April 17 - May 3
THE DROWNING GIRLS
Alice, Bessie and Margaret surface from the still waters of their bathtubs to deliver their post-mortem testimony and tell how they were wooed, wed, insured, and murdered.
May 2 - May 3
DECONSTRUCTING KURT WEILL: THE AMERICAN SONGS
When Kurt Weill fled Nazi Germany and settled in New York City in the early 1930s, his American musicals proved nearly as provocative, tackling the most serious of social and political issues. (Co-produced with The Musical Theatre Project)
May 15 - May 31
THIS IS NOT THE PLAY
Imagines a black playwright trying to write a play about white people. The problem is that the characters seem to have minds of their own.
May 15 - May 31
LEFT IN INK
A devised documentary performance about people who have memorial tattoos for suicide victims.
May 22 - June 7
Tells stories of heritage, sisterhood and overcoming adversity by combining traditional and original songs with spoken-word poetry and movement to remind of those who came before and the power of possibilities for the future.
216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com
January 31st - February 23rd
KNOCK ME A KISS
A fictional account inspired by the actual events surrounding the 1928 marriage of W.E.B. Du Bois’s daughter Yolande to one of Harlem’s great poets, Countee Cullen.
April 18th-May 11th
BEYOND THE HORIZON
This winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama explores what happens when two men love the same woman and the compromises each will make to have her.
GREAT LAKES THEATRE
http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Feb 21-March 16—Hanna Theatre
When a Broadway playwright struggles to overcome a dry spell that’s resulted in a string of flops his fortunes turn when one of his students shares a brilliant new script. He conceives of a trap to snare the script and take credit for its creation.
April 4-19—Hanna Theatre
AS YOU LIKE IT
Shakespeare’s romantic comedy in which a clandestine, gender-bending courtship results in changing unexpected lovers in this timeless and transcendent romantic comedy.
www.nonetoofragile.com or 330-671-4563
Delves into the combative nature of seduction between strangers, age and the lies people tell themselves and others.
IN A FOREST DARK AND DEEP
Neil LaBute unflinchingly explores the dark territory beyond "the lies you tell yourself to get by."
May/ June, 2014
Plunges the audience into a deceptively simple situation -- a parent teacher conference. However, this encounter is anything but simple.
www.karamuhouse.org or 216-795-7077
Jan 31-Feb 23
CEREMONIES IN DARK OLD MEN
Lonnie Elder’s poignant story of a family in 1950s Harlem.
March 14-Apirl 6
THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY
A serious-minded comedy about wrestling, geopolitics and raisin bread.
May 23-June 15
THE COLOR PURPLE
A revival of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel and 1985 film, is an inspiring family saga of a woman who, through love, finds the strength to triumph over adversity.
440-941-0458 or www.blankcanvastheatre.com
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Much like the other plays in his Family Trilogy series, which is actually a collection of five plays (BURIED CHILD, CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS, TRUE WEST, A LIE OF THE MIND, and FOOL FOR LOVE) Shepard creates an allegory for his own loss and love, complete with a manic depiction of ill-fated passion.
His characters often reflect his family and personal life. He started to work on a ranch as a teenager to support his mother and brother when his father lost their farm. The father Shepard described as “a drinking man dedicated to being an alcoholic.” His dysfunctional relationship with his father is often front-and-center in his writing.
In FOOL FOR LOVE, which takes place in a run-down motel in the Mojave Desert, May is hiding out. She has fled from Eddie, her childhood friend, old flame and half-brother. Theirs is a love-hate relationship in which they are bound to each other out of desperation. (May knowingly shouts at Eddie, “you are like a disease to me.”) May left their trailer home and proportes that she wants to start a new life, A life without Eddie. But, they simply cannot break their destructive cycle. As they conflict, their father watches over them, commenting on the actions, challenging the stories told and their interpretations.
As is true in most Shepard plays, the characters, rather than the plot, is of greatest importance. There are no issues that will be resolved, no happily ever after solution. In fact, as the play ends, Martin, May’s new “guy” watches out the window as Eddie’s truck and horse trailer go up in flames and May flees, but there is no clarity as to where or from what?
Watching a Shepard play is an experience in emotional tumult where identity is vague, truth and lies blur, and the characters pasts haunt their present. Memories are altered to suite the needs of the dreamer telling the tale and are often idealized.
FOOL FOR LOVE had its off-Broadway premiere in 1983 and moved to a Broadway theatre later that year with a cast of Ed Harris and Kathy Baker. A 1985 film version starred Shepard himself with Kim Basinger.
Shepard is extremely prolific. He won the Pulitzer Prize for BURIED CHILD, an Academy Award for Best Supporting actor in THE RIGHT STUFF, a Tony Award in Playwrighting for BURIED CHILD, and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in DASH AND LILLY.
The fifty-five minute con-con production, under the direction of Amy Bistok Bunce, creates a surface level glance at Shepard’s world. Shepard has said of his characters, and this is true in FOOL FOR LOVE, that he doesn’t expect an audience to identify with his characters. These are not real people, they are unidentifiable fragments of Shepard’s life and imagination.
Rachel Lee Kolis is believable as the almost psychotic May, who finds herself unable to come to terms with reality and move to save herself from a life of chaotic frustration.
Clint Elston stays close to the surface as Eddie, never totally encompassing the nuances of the character.
Robert Hawkes rocks away on his chair, drinking booze, on a platform overlooking the action, and comments with ease on the machinations of May, Eddie and his own life.
Stuart Hoffman well develops Martin, May’s possible suitor, as an innocent-simple who gets overwhelmed by stepping into a situation beyond his understanding.
Capsule Judgement: Sam Shepard is noted for taking audiences on illusionary trips. FOOL FOR LOVE is yet another example of con-con asking the audience ”to extend the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space and performances that challenge the conventional notions of what theatre is.” It’s a production steeped in Shepard writing Shepard, which is missing some of his intended nuance.
FOOL FOR LOVE runs through December 21 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Like a flower crying for the dew
That was my heart serenading you
My prelude to a kiss”
These are the lyrics which Duke Ellington wrote as the first stanza to his 1938 torch song, “Prelude to a Kiss.” It is this song which supposedly inspired Craig Lucas to write and title his romantic comedy of the same name.
Lucas’s 1988 script, which has been critically dubbed, “a whimsically inept piece of high kitsch—a TWILIGHT ZONE for yuppie soft-heads” and was credited as being “packed with cheap sentiment and puerile romanticism,” also was dubbed, “a charming sentimental fable about the importance of loving the essence of a human being, not the package it happens to come in.” Yes, that’s the kind of script and production which will probably engender a variety of reactions to viewers of the present staging at Ensemble Theatre.
PRELUDE TO A KISS basically tells the story of a pessimistic, liberal, free-spirited young lady who earns her living as a bartender, who meets a conservative manager of a Chicago scientific publishing house. They quickly fall in love, get married, kiss to affirm their wedding bows, and are confronted by a series of bizarre events after an old man kisses the new bride.
While on their honeymoon, husband, Peter, begins to feel that new wife, Rita, is not the same person that he married. As the tale unfolds, the author leads the audience down a supernatural path that includes the Old Man and Kelly having switched personas. In other words, Rita is now inside the Old Man’s body, and he in hers.
The assumption was made at the time the play was first presented that there was more to the story than Lucas examining whether the strength of commitment to each other can survive drastic changes to a person.
To understand this premise, it must be realized that when Lucas wrote the play, the AIDS epidemic was in full rage with no definitive knowledge of its cause or how it was being passed on.
To some, the act of love/sex, including maybe even kissing, was changing people. The young were becoming old before the eyes of the onlookers. Would these physical changes make for bonding changes? As one critic stated, “So while it ends as fairy tales tend to, PRELUDE TO A KISS is steeped in the ache of loss and sorrowful awareness that life’s joys can be as fleeting as its grief are unavoidable.”
In light of present day circumstances, the play is most likely to be regarded as an examination of the limits of love and the meaning of obligation to one another.
The play starred Alec Baldwin and Mary-Louise Parker in its well-received off-Broadway staging and Timothy Hutton and Parker in its 440-performance Broadway run. It was nominated for a best play Tony Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. A generally negatively reviewed movie version starred Baldwin and Meg Ryan.
The Ensemble production, under the direction of Martin Friedman, is a rather neutral experience. The play hasn’t worn well over time. With the AIDS issue generally under control, the writer’s underlying message is no longer relevant. The concept of a kiss causing a cosmic bodily exchange is hard, even in this era of vampire, werewolf and supernatural movies and television shows, for realists to accept.
Nothing is wrong with the production, but nothing is really compelling. There is a leisurely pace, the acting is acceptable, the musical interludes pleasant, the projections place the settings, move the storyline along.
Aaron Elersich gives a nice interpretation to Peter. Cute Kelly Strand, though perfectly acceptable, could have been more quirky and dynamic as Rita. There was little performance evidence of her change from youthful malcontent to dying old man.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ensemble Theatre’s PRELUDE TO A KISS is one of those plays and productions, that while a perfectly acceptable evening of theatre, quickly fades from memory.
PRELUDE TO A KISS runs Thursdays through Sundays through December 15, 2012, at Ensemble Theatre, housed in Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights. For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org
To see the views of other Cleveland area theatre reviewers go to: clevelandtheaterreviews.com
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Many of today’s Broadway musicals have large casts, grand sets, impressive engineered graphics, and big orchestras in the theatre’s pits which play lush music. ONCE is not such a work. It is a tender little musical love story, which basically takes place in a Dublin pub.
The minimalistic set is transformed into various places by adding a few tables and chairs and some strategic lighting. Though the songs are often dynamic, there is no rock and roll, no hip hop, and no show stoppers.
The cast members are proficient triple threat performers who act, sing, dance and play the musical instruments which make up the orchestra. They play such tunes as the depressing “Love,” the pretty and plaintive “Falling Slowly,” the beautiful “Gold,” and the dance-inducing “North Strand.” There’s nothing that will make the hit parade of great songs. It’s emotional Irish “woe-is-me” music.
ONCE is the story of an Irish musician (Guy) and a Czech immigrant (Girl) who become emotionally linked. As the musical starts, Guy, a thirty-something busker, is singing a ballad of unrequited love. He is in despair over the loss of the-love-of-his-life who left him and went to America. Girl is watching, listening, and approaches him. Posing personal questions, she finds out that he is giving up music because singing songs of unrequited love is just too difficult. Seem like an extreme reaction? Not if you remember that the Irish are noted for their extreme emotions, the acting out of their angst, and the expression of those feelings in songs, poetry and staged drama.
Of course, the two develop an emotional relationship, but are confronted with the barrier that Girl is married to a man who has left her and their daughter, but may return. Over the period of one week, the duo, with the help of various friends, create a CD of raw, emotional, music. A vacuum cleaner, a piano, a recording studio, hope, laughter and Irish anguish and frustration all play into the tale. The expected happy ending may or may not take place, depending on how you interpret the touching final scene.
ONCE is based on John Carney’s 2006 film of the same name. The book was written by Enda Walsh, and many of the film’s songs, which were written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, have been retained.
The musical premiered on Broadway in 2012 and received eleven Tony nominations. It won eight, including being named Best Musical. It is now on stage in London and continues its Broadway run.
Having seen the Broadway production, while watching the local showing, it became obvious that the intimacy of the musical is the bane of the touring production on the Palace stage. The conversations are quiet, the relationships intimate, much of the music quietly heartfelt. This worked in the Broadway theatre in which small comedies and dramas are usually staged, but in the Palace, which is almost three times the size of the Big Apple’s facility, both in stage and auditorium size, the intimacy disappeared. At the Ohio or Hanna the show might have worked well, but the revenues so necessary to support touring productions would not have been as great, so big had to be used.
As is, between the Irish and Czech accents, and the quiet interactions, much of the dialogue is lost. The sound designer and technicians had the difficult job of keeping the miked speaking voices soft enough for the intimacy, but loud enough to be heard. Unfortunately, they were often unsuccessful. Many of the comments at intermission centered on audience members complaining that they were not able to hear or understand the dialogue.
Both Dani de Waal (Girl) and Stuart Ward (Guy) have excellent singing voices, and well interpret both their roles and the lyrics. Unfortunately, there is seemingly an emotional disconnect between them. Whether this is the vast stage and the separation from the audience, or a lack of real chemistry, it gets in the way of the necessary believability.
Strong performances are put in by Donna Garner as Baruska, Evan Harrington as Billy, Benjamin Magnuson as the Bank Manager, and Alex Nee as Andrej.
The entire cast impressed with their musical performances.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The touring production of ONCE is well staged, has strong musical appeal, but fails to grab and hold as it should. It is an intimate musical which loses much of its charm due to the vast Palace stage and auditorium size. Here’s a case of the right show in the wrong setting.
Tickets for ONCE , which runs through November 24, 2013 at the Palace Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to www.playhousesquare.org.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Broadway’s BIG FISH, a tale of a fantasy life, to close in late December
What do you do when your life doesn’t live up to your dreams? If you are Walter Mitty or Hans Christian Anderson or Edward Bloom, you invent a fantasy life. Mitty, of film fame, was a daydreamer who escaped his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of heroism, romance and action. Anderson imagined fairy tales with lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity. Edward Bloom, the main character in BIG FISH, the John August (book) and Andrew Lippa (music and lyrics) musical, spins a series of stories which may or may not be true.
Bloom, a traveling salesman, tells what may be tall tales for the amusement of his wife, son and friends. All is well until his pragmatic son, Will, about to have a child of his own, challenges whether the stories are true. His quest for reality forces him to look beyond the words and into what really did happen and determine whether his father is fact or fiction.
Questions abound. How much of Bloom’s tales are real? How much are fantasy? Was he a high school football star? Did he actually have an encounter with a witch? Were the tales he told of confronting a giant true? Did he travel with a circus? Why was his name on a deed for a house purchased by his high school sweetheart? Did he actually hatch a plan to save a town that was about to be submerged?
Based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel and Tim Burton’s 2003 film, Broadway’s BIG FISH is filled with special effects, creative imagery, and delights in some ways and stumbles in others.
Susan Stroman’s direction is basically on target, but a bigger than life show needs much more flights of the imagination in actions and character creation. Performers often seemed held back, too reserved. BIG FISH is a fantasy. To create that fantasy requires more pizzazz, more than just nice.
Norbert Leon Butz gives what will probably be a Tony nomination performance, but there were times when he was just too controlled. His ability to spin a vivid tale was hampered, to a degree, by his reserved nature.
Ciara Renée, as the witch, displayed a fine singing voice, but was too restrained in her character development. Having seen Renée, a recent graduate of Cleveland, Ohio’s Baldwin Wallace University’s top ranked Musical Theatre program, in numerous roles, I know she can control a stage. That quality was somewhat missing here.
Zachary Unger as Young Will, Krystal Joy Brown as Josephine, Edward’s wife, and Bobby Steggert as Will Bloom were excellent in the more realistic roles.
The musical score carries the story along, but fails to have a show stopper song which allows the audience to leave humming its sounds long after the final curtain closes. As with the rest of the show, the music was nice, not filled with the wonder of make-believe.
Following the trend of recent Broadway shows much of the setting and illusions are electronic projections. Fields and fields of daffodils, a forest, a town and much of what is seen are Benjamin Pearcy’s creative illusionary designs.
The producers of BIG FISH have recently announced that the show will be closing on December 29, 2013. It will have played 34 previews and 98 performances by the time it drops its final curtain. There is still time to see it at the Neil Simon Theatre.
Capsule judgement: BIG FISH is a pleasant show, which gets a pleasant production. As a fantasy it needed more dynamics, more creativity in music as well as staging. As is, it makes for a nice diversion from real life, but could have been so much more.
The play within a play centers on Thomas Novachek, a newbie playwright and director, who has adapted Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 book into a script and his attempts to cast the role of Vanda. His tryouts have been a disaster as one overacting or clueless woman after another has wasted his time. As he is packing to leave the door opens and in bursts a blonde fireball named Vanda Jordan. Yes, Vanda. (Hmm, first coincidence.)
She is harried, disheveled and carries a large cotton bag. She begs to let her read for the role. She lets loose a tirade of swear words, seems to take over the tryouts and he falls victim to her machinations. (Second coincidence.)
She proposes to read Dunayev [Vanda] to his Severin von Kushemski. As soon as she starts, she transforms into the story’s Vanda, complete with perfect accent. As the reading continues, she displays uncany understanding of the author’s intent as well as facts about his personal and love life that astound him. (Third coincidence.) And, from her bag produces costume after costume that perfectly fit the script’s needs. (Fourth coincidence.)
She states, “basically it’s S&M porn.” He responds, “VENUS IN FURS is a serious novel. It’s a great love story.” How has she developed such a complete understanding of a script she was just given to read? (Fifth coincidence.)
Eventually, the actress establishes total dominance over the writer, teasing, seducing, having him grovel at her feet, change her shoes, and even allowing her to tie him to a pole. He becomes her play toy. Seduction takes places without a kiss. Without bodies even touching.
Ives has a great touch with extended comedy and he knows how to pull out all the sexual stops, short of acting them out. Though, after a while, the game playing becomes a bit overdone, the audience seemed spellbound.
Questions abound. Since Vanda, in the play within the play, is often compared to Venus, and Thomas’s personal life seems to follow some of the play’s plot, is the evasive Vanda really Venus come to life? How does Vanda know so much about Thomas and his fiancée? Is the gamesmanship real or is meant to be a parallel to the original Sacher-Masoch story? What are Ives’ real thoughts of male-female domination?
VENUS IN FUR opened off-Broadway in 2011, moved to Broadway in 2012 and received two Tony Award nominations. Nina Arianda won the best actress award that year for her performance as Vanda.
Roman Polanski made a French film version of the play in late 2012.
CPH’s production, under the focused eye of new Artistic Director Laura Kepley, grabs and holds the audience’s attention. Staging the script in a runway theatre design, with the audience on both sides of the stage, aids in creating the intimacy needed for this type of production. Kepley wisely made sure the actors continued to move positions to insure their lines were heard on both sides of the stage, and opened the actors up so that their facial expressions could be seen.
Her approach worked well as evidenced by the lack of coughing and wiggling, and the rapt attention interspersed with laughter, and a few sighs which could have been fantasy lust.
The lighting and special rain effects aided in creating reality, a much needed component.
Vanessa Wasche is delightfully sultry as the evasive Vanda. She has a wonderful touch with comedy, uses her facial and physical beauty to create a seductive and wise character. It is obvious that she had little trouble convincing the real director to cast her in the role. (BTW….be sure to read Kepley’s “Art of the Audition” in the program to gain an understanding of the casting process.)
Handsome Michael Brusasco makes Thomas Novachek his. He doesn’t portray the role, he becomes Novachek. He completely succeeds as the seducer and the seduced. A young woman was overheard saying to her acquaintance as they exited the theatre, “that guy should be playing Christian in the movie version of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.”
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: VENUS IN FUR is good kinky fun. It will send many home to a night of fantasy. Be aware, that if you are the kind of theatre-goer who likes clear endings to your plays that wrap up the action and makes the author’s meaning clear, you’ll probably be frustrate with VENUS IN FUR.
VENUS IN FUR, which is being performed in the Second Stage in the Allen Theatre complex, has been extended due to strong ticket sales beyond the original November 24th announced closing date. For tickets and information call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Have you every wondered if the second time you see a production of a Broadway show it can live up to the first viewing? Or, whether, after a show runs for a while, does it get stale, loses its spontaneity?
Having seen NEWSIES just before it officially opened, I followed the “rules of the critic”…never review a show in previews. So I was curious if, when I saw it for the second time, it would be as dynamic, emotionally charged and high flying as the first seeing.
The answer is a resounding “YES!”
NEWSIES is the Disney produced musical that was inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in which a group of ragtag ruffian youth, who were the breadwinners for their impoverished immigrant families, stood up to the powerful Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the owners of New York’s major newspapers.
Much like the musical URINETOWN, NEWSIES is a tale of the struggle against corporate greed. URINETOWN took on the control of water, while NEWSIES illuminates the tale of publishing tycoons who try to raise the price of the papers bought by the boys and sold for meager profits in order to increase the tycoons’ larders at the expense of child labor and greediness. Though the musical embellishes the facts of the real strike, it makes for a first-rate good show, which gives good guys to root for and highlights how the upright can triumph over the gluttonous.
NEWSIES opened on Broadway as a limited engagement offering on March 29, 2012. Because of strong critical accolades, and a cult group of followers of the 1992 screen version, a movie which ironically garnered negative reviews, it is now in an open-ended run.
The show has catchy, toe-tapping music by Alan Menken, which lends itself to dynamic choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Jack Feldman’s lyrics and Harvey Fierstein’s book give director Jeff Calhoun a chance to do much creative staging and play for both laughs and pathos.
In the mold of the traditional musical, the songs are melodic, the two-act format ends with the first act leaving the audience with a cliff hanger regarding whether good guy Jack or the bad guy tycoons will prevail, and offers a satisfying ending.
The score includes ballads, marches, and toe tapping/tap dancing inducing sounds. “Santa Fe” is a song of longing, the show-stopping “Seize the Day” is a choreographic explosion of determination, “The Bottom Line” illustrates greed and corruption, “Brooklyn’s Here” shows the power of solidarity of purpose and how enemies can form a bond when it comes to forging change,” and “Something to Believe In” is an illustration of love and inspiration. It’s almost impossible to leave the theatre without one of those songs repeating itself in your mind.
Corey Cott lacks some of the dynamism of Jeremy Jordan who was the original Jack Kelly. Jordan left the cast to become a character in the television series, SMASH. Cott, however, is believable as Jack, the leader of the Newsies, the tough guy with a tender underbelly. He has a strong singing voice and is a skilled dancer.
Beautiful Kara Lindsay charms as Jacks’ love interest and defiant daughter of Joseph Pulitzer. Cott and Richardson’s rendition of “Something to Believe In” is one of the show’s highlights.
John Dossett was so convincing as the nasty Pulitzer, much in the tradition of reactions to the bad buys in a melodrama, he earned him a chorus of “boos” in the curtain call.
Andy Richardson tugs at the heartstrings as Crutchie, the crippled orphan. Young Joshua Colley charmed as Les, a youngster forced to work with Davey, his older brother, the brains behind the Newsies, when their father loses his job. The kid knows how to steal a show. Ben Fankhauser develops a believable Davey.
The highlight of the production, however, is the choreography. Flips, somersaults, line dancing, tapping, contemporary moves, balletic perfection explode on the stage, resulting in prolonged cheers, applause and demands for reprisals. Wow! This is Broadway dance at its very best. What’s even more impressive, these guys can sing effectively as well as dance.
If some of the dancers look familiar, any viewer of television’s SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE will hone in on familiar faces.
Ken Travis’s set design and Sven Ortel’s projections helped create the right moods, as did Jeff Croiter’s lighting.
Capsule judgement: NEWSIES THE MUSICAL is Broadway at its best. A story based on a real tale of good versus evil, a love connection of opposites attracting, a multi-textured melodic score, and dynamic choreography, add up to a wonderful evening of theatre! To date, unfortunately, no plans have been announced for a touring show, so it’s see it on Broadway, or probably not at all. Hopefully the powers that be will change their minds and realize that this is a show that would sell on the road!
NEWSIES THE MUSICAL is in production at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 W 41st St, New York, NY.
The Tow is an 112-seat proscenium space, which is home to LCT3, Lincoln Center’s initiative to produce the work of new artists and engage new audiences. LCT3 tickets are priced at $20.
The intimate space works well for small shows. The seating is comfortable but doesn’t completely take sight lines into consideration. Seats at the ends of the first several rows in the straight line configuration face the proscenium walls rather than being angled toward the stage, thus making for problematic viewing.
The play is receiving its initial staging as part of LCT3. This is author JC Lee’s first New York production. Lee is also the writer of LOOKING, a new HBO series.
LUCE probes such issues as the meaning of truth, whether blind love can be destructive, the roles of both negative and positive prejudices on insights, and if early life experiences can set someone on a life’s path which later nurturing cannot overcome.
The date is today in an American suburb. We are introduced to Harriet, a teacher of cultural studies at an affluent charter school, Amy and Peter, parents of Luce, a high school athlete and honor student who was adopted at a young age from an African nation in the midst of civil war, and Stephanie, an Asian teenager.
Harriet has given her students an assignment to think “out of the box” about a historical figure. Luce writes about a European 1970’s terrorist in vivid detail. Without his knowledge Harriet, who has become suspicious that Luce may be harboring terrorist thoughts, inspects his locker and finds three large firecrackers. Theses are devices capable of large destruction. She shares her findings with Amy and gives her the essay and the explosives. Amy does not confront Luce, but puts the items in a place where she used to hide the boy’s Christmas presents.
As the story develops, the liberal parents find themselves questioning Luce’s honesty and Harriet’s intentions. Amy confronts the shy Stephanie, who supposedly has been harassed because of her heritage and finds out additional secrets that Luce has never shared.
Finally, after not wanting to accuse Luce of transgressions, his parents confront him with their observations. He has seemingly logical explanations for each incident. All seems under control until Luce is chosen to give a speech about the effect of culture on individuals and presents a treatise that opens new issues.
A cliff hanging conclusion in which an explosion at the school and the disappearance of the essay and firecrackers, leads to an unsettling ending.
Some may be upset that Lee does not tie up the play with a clear “he did it or didn’t do it” ending. As is, we are left with doubts and much fuel for long discussion after the curtain falls.
Okieriete Onaodowan is convincing as Luce. His easy demeanor, likeability and realistic character development aid in confusing the audience as to whether he has been so damaged by his youthful past that he is a devil in honor student/star football player guise or is a victim of circumstances.
Marin Hinkle presents an Amy who, true to her loving liberal nature, wants to trust her son, no matter the consequences. Her powerful final scene, of a mother now filled with doubt, is extremely effective.
Neal Huff develops Peter into a man who, though liberal in his views, is a realist. Is his son a terrorist or not? Huff convincingly sways in the wind, never breaking, but bending under the pressure of evidence and reality.
Sharon Washington gives a defensive bend to Harriet that makes one wonder whether she is Luce’s friend or foe. It is that edge which helps bring doubts into the minds of the audience.
Olivia Oguma easily takes on the role of the texting, afraid, Stephanie.
Capsule judgement: JC Lee’s LUCE is a thought provoking script which gets a nicely textured performance under the direction of May Adrales as part of the LCT3 program at Lincoln Center. It is a show which should get lots of productions on college and small theatre professional stages. Lincoln Center is to be commended for developing a space and providing the funding for the development and staging of new works.
Performance: Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street, Lincoln Center, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com, lct3.org. Through Nov. 17. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Delightful, well-staged, cast-right FIRST DATE on Broadway
How do singles meet, find that perfect “forever,” or at least, their “right” now? In this age of electronics, Craigslist, J-date, and E-Harmony, dot com offer a wide avenue to traverse.
Of course, who can tell if any of the on-line information is accurate? As “The One,” the opening song in FIRST DATE, Broadway’s small cast musical explains, weight, age and about anything else listed could be one big lie!
The safest of the bunch is personal contact. The duo gets to see and exchange information. Hanging around popular bars, joining single’s groups or trolling the health food sections of super markets are also options. And then, there is the blind date.
In FIRST DATE the audience is allowed to eavesdrop on the meeting of Aaron and Casey, New Yorkers of very different temperaments and life styles, who have been set up by his friend and her sister. Why the matchmakers ever thought that this duo were candidates to be the one for each other is a mystery. But, without the mismatching, there would be no plot!
FIRST DATE, with book by Broadway newcomer Austin Winsbend and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, also Big Apple newbies, is a delightful old-fashioned musical with a modern twist. It harks back to the days of SHE LOVES ME and PROMISES, PROMISES, musicals with obvious story lines of love and misunderstanding and hummable scores, sprinkled with witty lines, solvable conflicts, and feel-good endings.
Tall, dark, whippet thin, handsome Zachary Levi is character-perfect as Aaron. Aaron, the geeky, awkward, self-doubting, jilted at the altar guy, blind date virgin, who has been reluctantly dragged, with uncertainty and trepidation, into this fixed-up meeting.
Levi, who is making his Broadway debut, is best known as the computer nerd lead character in the television show CHUCK. In the musical he adds the dimension of displaying a fine singing voice, which he uses well to create meaningful musical thoughts. His “In Love With You,” is hilarious, while “The Things I Never Said,” a song version of a letter left to him by his mother shortly before her death, is heart wrenching.
The duet, “First Impressions,” which Levi sings with Krysta Rodriguez, Casey, his blind date, creates the perfect exposition for understanding these seemingly disparate people.
Rodriguez, noted for her portrayal of Ana Vargas in the Broadway-themed television show, SMASH, and Broadway performances in THE ADDAMS FAMILY, IN THE HEIGHTS and SPRING AWAKENINGS, shines as Casey, an in-your face, street wise, oft-hurt young lady. Commenting on everything from his clothing to his career and manners, Casey seems to insure that this date is going no-where. Some of her badass veneer cracks when she sings “Safer.”
Their differences are highlighted in the very funny, “The Girl for You,” a reaction of Casey revealing she’s a “shiksa,” a non-Jewish woman, who is not for a nice Jewish boy like Aaron. Sara Chase regales as the guilt inducing Grandma Ida.
The rest of the score also helps clarify the duos personas. Included are such plot pushers as, “The Awkward Pause,” “That’s Why You Love Me,” and “The Check.”
Is there hope? This is a musical comedy, so, of course, the moon glows brightly as the duo seems to resolve many of their differences and go happily into this good night.
The rest of the cast, who appear in multi-roles are spot on, as is the creative direction of Broadway newcomer, Bill Berry. In lesser hands the light script might have become soppy, but Berry has done an excellent job of keeping things on course, cueing the laughs, and making sure that the characterizations are consistent.
Kristoffer Cusik is fey-fun as the flamboyant Reggie, whose assignment is to call Casey so she can exit from the blind date. His “Bailout Song”—all three versions of it---delight.
Blake Hammer adds humor as the waiter/impresario of the restaurant in which the blind date takes place. His “I’d Order Love,” is fun.
Bryce Ryness and Kate Loprest are excellent in multi-roles.
Capsule judgement: FIRST DATE is charming and fun. The audience leaves happy and humming the music, having had a good time. Both Zachery Levi and Krysta Rodriguez are delightful and the supporting cast is excellent.
The producers of FIRST DATE have announced that the Broadway show will close after the January 5 performance. It will have played 34 previews and 174 regular performances at The Longacre Theatre. Too bad, I really liked it!
Monday, November 04, 2013
Erin Courtney, the author of BLACK CAT LOST, Theatre Ninjas most recent offering, fits perfectly into the mold of Ninja’s targeted scripts/devised theatre. The play, which centers on the impermanence of life and the pain of loss, uses esoteric language and Zen poetry, to examine conflicting memories of events jointly experienced, and the viewing of death and the unseen.
Using the controversial concepts of Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross’s stages of grief and dying: denial (often accompanied by isolation), anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, the multi-scene play accentuates the idea of seeing each event twice. First it is experienced, and then it is relived as a memory. The questions arise, “Are our memories accurate?” “Can any two people have the same memory experience?” “Can individuals experience and then move on?” These issues can become intense as people attempt to re-experience someone who has died.
Though somewhat obtuse, the script does invoke thoughts of an individual’s own mortality and how we remember those who have passed through our lives and are no longer with us.
Director Jeremy Paul uses his actors and the intimate Waterloo Arts space well.
Ray Caspio, Lauren Joy Fraley, and Sarah Moore are all convincing in their portrayals.
BLACK CAT LOST is preceded by the REFRAIN, a short devised presentation conceived and directed by Paul, which features Tania Benites, Caspio and Moore. The piece was first performed as part of AT-TEN-TION SPAN 2012, Cleveland Public Theatre’s , 10-minute play series. It is described by its conceiver as, “a highly rhythmical sequence of movement and voices — a pseudo opening band” for Black Cat Lost.”
It is composed as a non-linear connected series of lines, with no clear story. It is performed by Benites, Caspio and Sarah Moore.
The final segment of the evening was TANGLE, TANGLE, a developing concept play performed by its writer Caspio, with accompaniment by composer Sean Ellis. It is billed as “a queer performance of songs and stories, a microcosm challenging hate.” The segment presented, much in the vein of, ‘I Am What I Am,” from the musical LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, examines masculinity and femininity. It includes concepts explained by American Psychologist Sandra Bem in her Gender Schema Theory.
Capsule judgement: THE BLACK CAT LOST, THE REFRAIN and TANGLE, TANGLE, are the type of theatrical experiences that the cult followers of Theater Ninjas’ expect. It is an evening of offerings that are probably too abstract for the traditional theater-goer, but will be of interest to the philosophical and contemporary thinker.
BLACK CAT LOST will be staged at Summit Artspace in Akron on November 7th, 8th and 9th. For information go to http://theaterninjas.com
The Dramatists Guild Fund is the public charity arm of The Dramatists Guild of America. Its mission is to aid and nurture writers for the theater, to fund non-profit theatres producing contemporary American plays and to heighten awareness, appreciation and support of theatre across America.
Ms. Green, a graduate of Beachwood High School, noted for her contributions to such organizations as Kent State University, where she built the Roe Green Center, sponsors a visiting director’s series, and serves on the Porthouse Theatre Board. She serves as a member of the Board of the Cleveland Play House and is the honorary producer of the Fusion Fest. She was the recipient of the 2009 Ohio Arts Council’s Governor’s Arts Patron Award.
Monday, October 28, 2013
The story centers on John, ironically the only person in the script who actually has a name, though he is also the only person who does not have the ability to identify who he is. John is in a long term relationship with M, but seemingly doesn’t know why. He meets W, a divorced woman who is willing to accept his bisexuality. This creates a love triangle, with John as the fulcrum, which has to be dealt with. But John is paralyzed by indecision, and becomes a self-volunteered pawn in a battle for his affections. His conflict is not over whether he is gay, straight or bisexual, but who of, “Who am I?” Interestingly, we don’t know enough about John’s background to understand why he becomes frozen when self-responsibility and decisions have to be made.
As the characters are revealed, the title of the play becomes clear. M, John’s arrogant stock broker partner, controls the roost, his expensive condo. He regulates all within that territory, including John. M incites reactions in John by belittling his handsome boy toy and playing on John’s lack of ability to make decisions that would change the status quo. Everything is tilted in M’s direction, including their love making. Controlled, that is until W enters their lives.
Bartlett sets up the play as a battle. Corey Atkins, the play’s director, takes that lead and places the action in a theatre-in-the-square, with the audience on all four sides, much as in a boxing match. The characters each sit at a corner of the stage, like fighters about to enter the ring. Both M and W often circle John and each other, sparring for an attack position, hoping for a knockout.
Atkins’ direction is meticulous. He understands the script as well as how to bring out its concepts and undercurrents. Each character is clearly etched, the play is well paced, and pauses are wisely used to highlight the action and inaction. He creates scenes where nude observation and even copulation take place while the participants are fully dressed and don’t even touch each other.
Handsome Andrew Gombas is both physically and emotionally perfect as John. At one point in the action, W asks John what is his best feature. He answers, “my eyes.” Yes, Gombas’s eyes are amazing. When he is unable to make a decision, he is like a deer caught in the headlights. His huge eyes become blank, unmoving. He stands frozen, unblinking. He becomes completely mesmerized. His mouth freezes in a straight line, unable to open and speak. His anguish becomes the audience’s anguish. When he does speak, there is strain and anguish in his voice. This is a very impressive performance.
The dark haired, sensual Drew Kopas, as John’s lover, M, gives a textured performance. Slightly effeminate in his actions, his underlying attack dog emotional swings, of strong negative devices to control John, balanced by his desperate desire to hold on to the boy for whatever reason—pride, needing someone to control, love--are fascinating to observe.
Lara Knox, as W, is appealing and creates a woman who is compassionate, yet, one can only wonder what motivates her to want a man unable to make a decision or a commitment. Is she, in fact a female cock?
Bob Keefe creates in F, John’s liberal and affirming father, a man who has M’s best interests at heart, but may, as W points out, have an ulterior motive in wanting John around.
Their clothing is ingeniously integrated into each character’s persona. The whippet thin M wears high fashion skin tight shirt and jeans, creating not only the picture of a well-dressed gay man, but one who desires to create the perfect image that is reflected in his condo and his beautiful boyfriend. John’s clothing, on the other hand, is bland, slightly oversized, creating an illusion of someone who desires to draw no attention to himself or his body, who wants to be swallowed up.
W’s sensual red dress, accenting her physical endowments, parallel’s M’s wardrobe in an attempt to create a character of sensuality. F’s tweedy appearance enhances his liberal professorial persona.
Though vivid language is used throughout the show, it is so integrated and necessary for the development of Bartlett’s themes, it becomes “words that create meaning,” and nothing more.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: COCK, Mike Bartlett’s compelling script, under the meticulous and creative direction of Corey Atkins, and some of the very best acting seen on a local stage, is an absolutely must see production. It’s an A+ experience.
COCK runs through November 23 at Dobama Theatre. Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
The CWRU/CPH program has produced the likes of Rich Sommer (MFA ’04) who was in last year’s Broadway production of HARVEY and is a co-star on TV’s MAD MEN. Another grad is 2012 Tony nominee, Elizabeth Davis (MFA ’06), for her starring role in the musical ONCE.
TWELFTH NIGHT, otherwise known as WHAT YOU WILL, is a comedy with farcical overtones that was originally developed to celebrate the Christmas season, though it contains no holiday references. The play, which was written in about 1601, uses devices such as musical interludes and farcical disorder, as well as traditional text to accomplish Shakespeare’s purpose.
It is one of the Bard’s three “mature comedies.” The others are MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and AS YOU LIKE IT. It contains traditional elements of Elizabethan romantic comedy including mistaken identity, separated twins, gender-crossing disguises, and obstacles that must be overcome in order to discover “true” love. It goes beyond the norm by adding references to insanity as well as the madness of love.
The plot centers on Viola, a wealthy young lady who is shipwrecked, disguises herself as a boy to gain employment, and gets in the service of Orsino, a bachelor Duke of Illyria. Orsino is in love with Olivia, a wealthy countess who is in self-imposed long-term mourning due to the death of her brother. Unbeknownst to Viola, her twin brother, Sebastian, who was also on the ship, has been saved and is in Illyria. Olivia falls in love with Viola, thinking she is a male. Viola falls in love with Orsino. A court jester, Olivia’s drunken uncle and his henchmen, a pompous rich gentleman who courts Olivia, and an assortment of other locals, add to the merriment and the march toward a happy ending.
This is Shakespearean merriment at its best. Well, that’s the intent, but, unfortunately, under the direction of Guy Stroman, all does not necessarily go well.
The director has cut some of the play’s initial dialogue and actions, making the initial entrance of Viola and her actions, unclear. Anyone not already familiar with the story might well be confused as to what is going on.
Stroman has also changed the setting from Illyria, on the Dalmatian coast in Europe, to the Mississippi Delta area of America’s Deep South. As he explains, “My desire [was] to make the work accessible, passionate, truly funny, and well, human.” He continues, “The setting needed to be near water because of the shipwreck that separates twins Sebastian and Viola.” He further states, “I felt that Shakespeare’s words would work great with the sound of the Delta blues.”
There is nothing wrong with changing the setting if there is a clear purpose, but that change requires some obligations. The deep south of the US has a distinctive vocal sound…accenting of words, use of a drawl, and language variations that are unique to the area. Stroman made the setting changes that obligate him, as the director, to insure the performers and technical designers understood and bought into the concept. He also needed to guide them to develop the concept. It is here that Stroman seems to have stumbled.
The cast varied greatly in their “southern sounds,” from much to none. Of course Sebastian and Viola are not of the area, so their pronunciations needed to be parallel, not like those who are residents of the newly created “South” Illyria. While Olivia’s suitor, Malvolio, did the old South proud, Olivia spoke like a Midwesterner. Sir Toby Belch twanged away, while Orsino drawled not. Feste, the fool, sang and played the music of the Delta with verve and authenticity, but many in the cast didn’t follow suit. After a while the southern setting’s vocal requirements became a detriment. This was definitely not the actors’ fault, but the lack of consistent directorial decisions.
The black box performance space was set up as a very elongated thrust stage, with the audience seated on three sides. It is often difficult for some in the audience to clearly hear lines in thrust staging due to the actors having their backs or profiles to some part of the audience at all times. To alleviate the problem requires having the actors constantly change positions so they face the various sides of the audience on a rotating basis. But the director did little to adjust to the thrust and added to the problems by having actors often speak directly to the back wall, making it difficult for all the audience to hear the lines and see their facial expressions.
The set design, which included constant moving of settings on and off the stage slowed down the action. This script needs fast pacing, especially during the farcical segments. The play does not need realistic settings. A chair or a bench would have sufficed, rather than having constant interruptions as stair units, semi-walls and porches were brought on and off the stage. Scenic Designer Tiffany Scribner’s back wall, consisting of Southern greenery interspersed with photo frames, and windows which are cleverly used for farcical interludes, works well.
Some of the performances were outstanding. Stephen Michael Spencer has been excellent in all of his CWRU/CPH outings. His guitar playing, singing of meanings rather than just words, his comic timing, facial dexterity and consistency of character development, was impressive in his creation of Feste, the jester/fool.
In spite of her lack of a southern accent, Christa Meyer developed a clear character as Olivia. This is another of the company who has consistently been excellent in her performances.
Therese Anderberg was charming as Viola, though she could have “butched-up” her Cesario, to create a more realistic “boy” image.
Bernard Bygott has a nice touch with farce. He is at his best when he is playing the exaggerated joker or drunk. His Sir Toby Belch was the performance’s comic highlight. TJ Ganley was excellent as the foppish Malvolio, nicely balancing affectation with comic style.
Sarah Kinsey did a nice turn as Maria, the mischievous maid, but why was she also cast in the role of Antonio, a male, with an obvious fake beard, is a mystery. The role is not one of false identity.
Maureen Patterson’s lighting design works well, especially in creating the storm at the start of the play.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: The Case Western Reserve/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program’s class of 2014 has some excellent actors who should do well in their professional pursuits. Their production of TWELFTH NIGHT has some performance highlights, but the students appear to have been done a disservice by what could be declared a misdirected version of TWELFTH NIGHT. Maybe they can use the experience to learn the necessity of consistency of intent and directing execution.
TWELFTH NIGHT runs through October 26, 2013 at the Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre (The Helen) on the lower level of CPH’s Allen Theatre. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
I know it’s just before Halloween, but things are getting excessively morbid and bizarre.
Cary Bytof and Christopher Minori’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL! is a parody of the cult classic horror film, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
As director Patrick Ciamacco explains, ”In the musical, Eddy Gee has been tormenting the residents of Plainfield, Texas since he was a child. After killing his mother, Eddy snaps and goes on a rampage, but things get problematic when he falls in love with one of his intended victims. Over-the-top humor, absurd but authentic characters, and catchy tunes lead us through the lives of the four main characters as they trip over each other toward an unexpected and shocking ending.”
Just the titles of the songs reveal the depths of creative depravity that takes place on stage. Songs such as, “Your Son is Very Strange,” “Steven the Pantywaist Runt,” “Let’s Hear You Scream,” “Easy to Be Cruel,” and “Cold Cuts.”
A reading of the authors’ bios explains their weird sense of life, its lessons, and why they are the perfect duo to have written this bizarre script. Bytof explains, “Born a pauper in Appleton, Wisconsin, to an upper middle-class family, I moved to Florida and embarked on a long, painful journey of beatings and humiliation at the hands of my schoolmates, as well as the little girl down the block.” Minori states, “I have displayed many different talents, including being an unemployed actor, unsuccessful director, frustrated writer, and scantily clad carwash employee (on weekends).”
To truly appreciate Blank Canvas’s production, an understanding of director Patrick Ciamacco is helpful. Ciamacco founded Blank Canvas on the back of his limited credit card, a small gaggle of volunteers, in a setting that is almost impossible to find, and where a previous theatre had failed. Due to his creativity and acting skills, the theatre has gained positive reviews, awards, a cadre of followers, and is actually thriving.
As for this show, the cast is generally good, the singing is adequate, the band plays so loudly that it is often difficult to hear the words, the actors are wearing mikes but sometimes can’t be understood. Most importantly, the production is a hoot.
Perren Hedderson (Eddy), has a big voice, which, after he kills his mother is used to sing the very funny, “Lullaby to Momma.” Kate Leigh Michalski (Eddy’s equally blood thirsty girl friend, Lucretia) wails “Paradise Lost” when she realizes Eddy has fallen in love/lust with the innocent air-headed Kristy. Eric Thomas Fancher often sings on key as the nerdy Eddy, who has a crush on Kristy and follows her to Plainfield, with shocking results. He does a nice version of the pretty, “Lullaby to Kristy.” Leslie Andrews makes for one swinging nun and rattles the rafters in “The Gospel According to Steven.”
The audience was laughing throughout, even those who were soaked with the fake blood. BTW…yes, the first two rows, stage center and right, are marked off as the blood spatter zones, but, even in the third row, the female theatre reviewer sitting next to me had a red streaked face by intermission and her husband’s tan pants had red polka-dots. But, getting spattered is part of the fun. Ask the couple who came in just as the lights were going up for the first act, sat in the front row, and were startled when they got hit by a blood bath a few seconds later. They were totally soaked by intermission and laughed all the way to the bathroom to clean up.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL is a fun evening of theatre, as long as you have a sense of humor, aren’t uptight and appreciate absurdity. Others better stay away! Me, I kept asking myself, “Why am I laughing hysterically at all this gore?” The answer? The whole thing was just so bizarre and the epitome of well done farce!
There will be a special midnight show on October 26 and a Halloween show on October 31.
Blank Canvas’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL! runs though November 2, 2013 in its west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland. Get directions to the theatre on the website. (My GPS was of little help). Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space. It’s an adventurous battle. For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvastheatre.com
Monday, October 14, 2013
Set in 1952, in the church of a prison where the jailed Simon Doucet has requested his boyhood friend, Jean Bilodeau, who is now a Bishop, come to hear his confession. In reality, what Bilodeau is to participate in, is a re-enactment of an event that took place on an Autumn evening in 1912, when Bilodeau caused the death of Count Vallier De Tilly, Simon’s male lover.
In acting out the happenings, Simon is hoping that Bilodeau will confess his role in Vallier’s demise, which resulted in Simon’s wrongful imprisonment.
The play within the play, and the play, itself, comes to a climax which, as in most melodramas, allows for the “bad guy” to come to some level of awareness and repent.
The play, typical of much gay theater, tells a morally simplistic story in overwrought terms. Simon and Vallier, as the gay young lovers, are meant to be interesting, because they are going against the grain of socially acceptable manners of the day, not because they are fascinating people. The many town folk are stereotypically homophobic, causing the plot to evolve. There is no surprise ending as the outcome is obvious from the start. It includes the almost obligatory full frontal male nude scene.
The format of the play forces men to take the parts of the women, as the only actors available are the prison inmates, and younger actors to portray the roles of Simon, Bilodeau and Vallier, as youth.
Con-con’s production, under the direction of Tyson Douglas Rand, is true to the intent of the script. Rand keeps the cast under control, making sure the males who play females aren’t overly flamboyant in their approaches, and makes the characters as rational as the script allows.
Both Bobby Coyne (young Simon) and Jack Matuszewski (young Vallier) create appealing characters. They have a nice sensual connection.
Clyde Simon controls the tendency to be overwrought and affected as psychotic Countess de Tilly and creates a sympathetic character. Though he has a tendency to be overly effeminate, Eric Sever develops the younger Bilodeau into a despicable jealous and revengeful teenager. The rest of the cast is effective.
Capsule Judgement: LILIES is the type of script that should appeal to con-cons niche audience. The production works well in the small intimate theatre and is nicely directed by Tyson Douglas Rand.
LILIES runs through November 2 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Answers range from Beethoven’s need for money, that he perceived that the waltz piece was musically greater than it was credited with being, that he wanted to out-do Bach, who wrote The Goldberg Variations which numbered 30, or, that as his hearing moved toward deafness he wanted to create a piece that would be forever remembered.
ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a progressive degenerative illness that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and eventually leads to whole body paralysis. It is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, named after the great New York Yankee who brought world attention to the illness when he retired from baseball after contracting the sickness.
What do Beethoven and ALS have in common? They are joint topics of Moisés Kaufman’s poignant 33 VARIATIONS, now on stage at Beck Center for the Arts.
The script examines the creative process, the differences between obsessive and non-focused minds, how illness affects people, what the differences are between friendship and love, how the past and present can overlap, the meaning of genius, and how making variations in either music or life can bring about awakenings.
The story examines how Beethoven, in his later life, created a major musical masterpiece, and the journey of Katherine Brandt, a musicologist, as she attempts to discover why Beethoven was so possessed with writing The Diabelli Variations.
We simultaneously view Beethoven losing his hearing, losing his rationality, and Brandt’s desire to complete her work before ALS freezes her body and eventually kills her.
Using a creative format, Kaufman creates parallel and overlapping universes. We are in Vienna, Austria, in 1819 and again in 1823, and simultaneously in New York and Germany in the present. Beethoven is stressfully creating music, Brandt is researching and writing what will be her last position paper, using information from Bonn’s Library, which is the major depository of Beethoven’s papers, letters, diaries and manuscripts.
Beethoven struggles to write and cope with his problems, Brandt struggles to not only find an answer to why Beethoven undertook to write the 33 variations, but to work out problems with her daughter and face inevitable death. In an emotionally charged final scene, we learn whether Brandt was successful in solving the Beethoven riddle.
The play opened in New York in 2009 with Jane Fonda portraying Katherine, in her first Broadway appearance in forty-six years. Both the play and Fonda received Tony nominations.
The Beck production, under the focused direction of Sarah May, is creatively staged. Seeing several different places at once allows for the hundred year time variance, and creates an intriguing effect.
The acting is universally strong. Each performer creates a clearly identifiable person. Dana Hart rants and rages as Beethoven. He crawls under the piano, ear against a leg of the instrument, so that his body can vibrate to the feel of the piano, because his deafness disallows for his hearing the music he has fashioned. He clearly creates irrationality as he castigates Anton, his ever vigilant assistant, while being dependent on the man.
Maryann Nagel withers before our eyes as her ALS attacks Katherine’s body. She puts down Clara, her daughter, for not being focused, but suffers because of her obsessive nature. Her fight for completion of her goal of determining Beethoven’s motives is clearly etched.
Debbie Keppler’s Clara is a nicely developed character, as is Matt O’Shea’s Mike, Katherine’s nurse and Clara’s socially awkward boyfriend. Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger, the curator of the Beethoven memorabilia collection, who, at the start reluctantly helps Katherine, is clearly created by Mary Alice Beck. Both Brian Pedaci (Anton Disabelli) and Trey Gilpin (Anton Schindler) nicely portray their characters.
Pianist Stuart Raleigh interprets and performs the selected variations with strong musical ability.
Trad Burns simple set, which is nicely fleshed out by Ian Hinz’s scene setting projections, works well. Angelina Herin’s costumes clearly delineate each character’s era.
As my pianist and composer grandson, Alex, one of the kid reviewers who often accompany me a play in order to give a different generational view of the offering, commented, “The play held my attention, while teaching me new insights into Beethoven, and how variations can not only be a part of music, but also make for alterations in life.” He praised Raleigh for not only playing well, but for being able to sustain the quality while performing such a long and fragmented composition.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: 33 VARIATIONS is an intriguing theatrical experience. The well written script is effectively interpreted by director Sarah May and well performed by an excellent cast. You don’t have to know anything about music, Beethoven, or the research process to enjoy the multi-messaged work. You should leave with a new appreciation of the musical process, gain an understanding of ALC, and be aware of the fragility of life’s journey.
33VARIATIONS is scheduled to run through NOVEMBER 17 at Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
Friday, October 11, 2013
RICHARD III is a historical play by William Shakespeare. It was believed to be one of the Bard’s early works, supposedly written while he was in his 20s.
The tragedy is part of his First Folio of plays, all of which are based loosely on history, but not necessarily factual. Due to its length, only exceeded by Hamlet, it is rarely performed in its entirety. The Great Lakes production has wisely been pared down to about two-and-a half-hours.
The play centers around Richard, a victim of scoliosis and other bodily deformities, including a large facial skin blotch, who is an embittered, power hungry tyrant, with seemingly little or no conscious.
The play is set in the time following the War of Roses, a long civil war in which the York’s gained the throne of England. There has been a period of peace under King Edward IV. Richard resents Edward’s popularity and power and will do anything to ascend to the throne, including killing anyone who directly or indirectly gets in his way.
The opening scene finds Richard relating to the audience the pattern of accession to the throne. He explains, in what has become one of Shakespeare’s most quoted speeches, “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York; and all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried . . ..” By the conclusion of this monologue the audience recognizes Richard’s envy, and the deception and political manipulation his path will take.
Before Richard gains the throne, he murders or has had killed, his older brother, the husband of the woman he wants to marry, King Edward, his two nephews, and the list goes on and on.
Eventually, his bad deeds catch up with him. And, in the end, as he pleads for, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” he, as do most classic tragic characters, seems to recognize his evil ways and that he must pay for his sins.
All is not blood and guts. The Bard inserts, as he does in many of his tragedies, some comic material. It’s not the glee displayed in his comedies or farces, but it does counteract some of the angst.
Shakespeare flows philosophical as he uses the central theme of fate, especially as it relates to the tension between free will and fatalism. And, since the Bard wrote for the groundlings who stood around the thrust stage in London’s Globe Theatre, he has Richard speak directly to them [in Great Lakes’ case, the audience], making us co-conspirators in his plotting.
One of the central themes of Richard III is the idea of fate, especially as it is seen through the tension between free will and fatalism as revealed by Richard's actions and speeches.
The Great Lakes production, under the direction of Joseph Hanreddy, is a compact, quickly moving, audience grabbing staging. The actors use traditional Shakespearean dialogue, but break the rhythm pattern by speaking meanings rather than rhyme, thus making the oft-difficult for Americans to understand dialogue, clear.
The horror of all the deaths is tempered by placing most of them off stage and using a clever pouring of blood from the upper balcony into a container below, and changing the stage lighting to red hue, to highlight the murders.
Richard is effectively portrayed as deranged, projecting erratic emotional highs and lows, rather than making him into a complete lunatic. This adds reality to the play and the man.
Modern touches such as the use of cell phones, texting, and a mix of eras in the costumes may upset Shakespeare purists, but will definitely appeal to the many students who will attending the productions.
The major flaw is a directing problem that causes difficulty for the patrons sitting to the right and left of the thrust stage. I was sitting in the first row, two seats from the proscenium wall, and most of the first act I was viewing the actors’ backsides and not hearing lines as the projection was to stage center. After I moved to the center for the second act, I heard the dialogue and could watch the faces of the actors. Moral? Directing a play in a thrust theatre requires certain adjustments in blocking.
The huge cast is universally strong. Lynn Robert Berg made a superb Richard III. His mood swings were realistic and he was totally convincing. He was so convincing as the “carnal cur” that when he came out for his curtain call on opening night, many in the audience booed the “villain.”
Laura Welsh Berg, in spite of wearing an outlandish dress that resembled something plucked from a bad rack of prom frocks, was compelling as Lady Anne, the widow of Edward (son of King Henry VI). Also giving strong performances were Darren Matthias as King Edward IV, Lenne Snively as the Duchess of York, Laurie Birmingham as Queen Margaret, and David Anthony Smith as Duke of Buckingham.
Chris Richards and Eric Damon Smith, as the murderers, and Alex Syick as Henry, were also excellent.
Linda Buchanan’s steel and glass dual level set worked well. Michael Chybowski’s lighting design highlighted the ever changes moods. Martha Hally’s costume designs didn’t work as well. Mixing contemporary and traditional was not the problem, it was the quality of the craftsmanship of the clothing and some distracting style choices.
Capsule judgement: RICHARD is a finely crafted production and is a perfect compliment to SWEENEY TODD as the partners of the “ maniacs gone wrong” duet that comprises Great Lakes Theatre’s fall 2013-2014 season. Go see both!
RICHARD III runs through November , 2013. For tickets: 216-664-6064 or www.greatlakestheater.org