Tuesday, June 06, 2023
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at CVLT is amateur theatre at its funny best
In 1923 there was THE TORCHBEARERS. In 1982 the stage was filled with hysterical disasters during NOISES OFF. Now there is THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, the zany Laurence Olivier Award winner.
All three farces are plays about plays in which everything that could go wrong on stage does, and then some!
Even before the performance officially starts, the audience quickly knows that things are not theater-normal.
Members of the cast wander the stage, working on the set, and ask the audience to help them find a lost dog that is needed for the show, but has escaped from backstage. A “member of the audience” is dragged up on stage to help mend a broken mantelpiece while techies try and repair pieces of shoddy scenery with masking tape. Yes, this looks like a disaster in the making.
The “director” of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, tells us about the group. He explains their financial problems and their productions of such economic-restricted stagings as JAMES AND THE PEACH (without the peach) and CATS (yes, without a cat).
No wonder with their financial problems the set for THE MURDER AT HAVERSHAM MANOR, which we are about to see, looks like it is about to fall down. (Woops, plot revelation alert!)
In the process of the production, doors jam, windows fall out, set pieces fall off, a platform collapses in a series of slow drops with members of the cast perched on it. Chaos reigns.
There are line flubs, late entrances, cast members are knocked out by doors which are opened at the wrong time, misplaced props, missed cues, line repetitions, wrong liquids drunk, mispronunciations, cast substitutions mid-play, physical violence between actors and the eventual collapse of the entire set.
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG opened on Broadway in April, 2017, following a long London run. The play then moved off-Broadway in February of 2019 and is still running.
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is farce at its highest level. Shtick, prat-falls, fisticuffs, double-takes, thrown glass vases, and a swordfight complete with swords that break, are all included.
Director Michael J. Rogan must have had a blast directing this and didn’t have to be concerned that he was directing an amateur cast. It is a perfect show for amateur theatres, as really good acting would run the whole premise.
Oh, and then there is the dog. Well, much as the rabbit in HARVEY, an imaginary dog who plays a vital role in the plot. (Come on now, could I make this up?)
The cast, Julian Kruyne (Trevor), Christopher Bizub (Chris), Brandon Paul Ferris (Jonathan), Greg A. Smith (Robert), Kevin Derrick (Dennis), Laura Telepak (Sandra), Miron Gusso (Max) and Bekah Neubecker (Annie) form into a unit that plays off each other to create a symphony of hysteria.
Kudos to the backstage crew, who actually make the whole thing work: Victor Bernardo, David Bruney, Kaitlyn Hope Poschner, Sarah Dellinger and John Telepak.
Tom West not only designed a set that works perfectly, but must be a mechanical genius to have devised all the set disasters.
Steven J. Madden choreographed some terrific stunts.
Capsule Judgment: Like any farce, the quality of the ridiculousness is only as effective as the cast and director. In the case of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, all of the needed elements are present and laughter reigns. Go! Laugh! Forget the angst of the world. HAMLET this ain’t!
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG runs through June 18, 2023 at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, followed by KINKY BOOTS from July 21-August 12, 2023.
For tickets call 440-247-8955.
Monday, June 05, 2023
Superlative script, expert directing and compelling acting make for spellbinding Beck production
DOUBT: A PARABLE, which is now on stage at Beck Center for the Arts, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. It ran for 525 performances in its Broadway run. It was adapted into a much-heralded feature film.
The plot centers on the conflict between Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the head nun and principal of St. Nicholas School and Father Brendan Flynn.
She is a rigid, former married women, who has a strong sense of duty, formed by her very conservative principles, who seemingly glories because she terrifies both her students and faculty.
He is articulate, personable, popular with the students as he is liberal and reaches out and befriends them.
The script, to some degree, is based on Shanley’s experiences as an Irish-American whose family lived in the Bronx district of New York City.
In his program bio for the Broadway production of DOUBT, the author, who was a NYU honors graduate, mentions that he was "thrown out of St. Helena's kindergarten, banned from St. Anthony's hot lunch program and expelled from Cardinal Spellman High School.” He also indicates that he was heavily influenced by one of his first teachers, Sister Margaret McEntee, on whom he based the character of Sister James.
The play is set in a fictional church school, in the Bronx, during the fall of 1964.
It opens with a sermon by Father Flynn, addressing the importance of uncertainty. He states, "Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty." Thus, he sets up not only the title of the play, but the major concept of the plot.
Sister Aloysius, insists upon constant vigilance. During a meeting with a young nun, Sister James, Aloysius reveals a deep mistrust toward her students, her fellow teachers, and society in general.
Naïve and impressionable, James is upset by Aloysius’s severe manner and harsh criticism and seems to question the negative evaluations that the older nun has given her over her joy of teaching, the love of her students, and creative educational methods.
Aloysius and Father Flynn are put into direct conflict when she learns that the priest had a one-to-one befriending meeting with Donald Muller, St. Nicholas’s only African-American student.
Mysterious circumstances lead her to believe that sexual misconduct occurred.
In a private meeting, purportedly regarding the up-coming Christmas pageant Aloysius, in the presence of James, openly confronts Flynn with her suspicions. Flynn leaves the meeting quickly indicating that he has been ambushed!
Flynn's next sermon is on the evils of gossip.
Sister Aloysius meets with Donald's mother, Mrs. Muller.
Much to the Sister’s frustration, Mrs. Muller says she supports her son's relationship with Flynn. Before departing, she hints that Donald may be “that way" which may cause her husband to be beating him.
Conflicts between Flynn and Aloysius continue. After a lie, inuendoes and accusations are exchanged, the play comes to a startling conclusion, leaving the audience with its own doubts.
Director Don Carrier, the play’s director states, “I saw the original production of DOUBT: A PARABLE a number of years ago and was taken by its ambivalence, suspense and element of mystery. The central question about truth and certainty is something we all experience. I hope our audience will experience that doubt as the play unfolds. Where does truth live?"
The Beck production is spell-binding. The focused direction, quality of the acting and the technical aspects are all superb!
Derdriu Ring, one of our area’s finest actresses, is perfection. The multi-Cleveland Critics Circle and Broadwayworld award winner, doesn’t act Sister Aloysius, she is the sister! Bravo!
Christopher Bohan, another Cleveland Critics and Broadwayworld award recipient, is compelling as Father Flynn. Another Bravo!
Gabriella O’Fallon perfectly underplays the roll of Sister James. The character’s doubts are created as reality. The actress’s creation of the role is real! Still another Bravo!
Tamara French, making her Cleveland debut on the Beck Center Stage, clearly shows, as her bio indicates, what “true grit and love means,” in her short, but fulcrum role as Mrs. Muller, a mother who will do anything to defend her son. And, still another Bravo!
Jill Davis’s set, aided by Adam Ditzel’s lighting, moves the scenes along smoothly and develops all the right moods. Angie Hayes’s sound design carries us perfectly from religious feelings to being out-of-doors. Wow!
Capsule judgment: What a joy to attend a theatrical production which is based on a well-selected, thought-provoking script, that gets the highest quality of directing, acting and technical aspects. There is no doubt that this is one of the best local theatrical experiences of this or any season! Bravo!!!
DOUBT: A PARABLE which runs in the Studio Theatre through June 25, 2003 at Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood. For tickets call 216-521-2540 or go to beckcenter.org
Up next at Beck: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND (July 7-August 6).
WALKING TO BUCHENWALD gets better production than script deserves at Con-Con
Monday, May 29, 2023
THE LIGHT @ ENSEMBLE
Ensemble’s Cleveland premiere of THE LIGHT is theater at its finest!
(American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
Loy A. Webb’s THE LIGHT, which is now having its Cleveland area premiere at Ensemble Theater, introduces Rashad, a firefighter, and Genesis, a charter school principal, on what should be one of the happiest days of their lives.
Unfortunately, their joy quickly unravels when ground-shifting accusations from the past resurface asking, “Can their relationship survive the growing divide between them over who – and what – to believe?
THE LIGHT is a reckoning that unfolds in real time and peels away the layers of truth, doubt, pain. It implores, “is love enough?”
The play begins with a much-anticipated marriage proposal. But after an enthusiastic “Yes! Yes! reply to the proposal,” it swerves into darker terrain. It recalls a moment when a woman said, “no” and it wasn’t heard, or was ignored.
Language is important. This play is a rom-com, a drama, as well as a tragedy. Do we have a word for that? Do we want one?
This is a tear-struck thesis play, proposing that, as Genesis says, “black women are at the bottom of virtually everything in society,” their labor undervalued, their hurt unrecognized. They deserve to be heard and seen and believed, not because they are someone’s wife or mother or daughter, but because they are human beings.”
The play is focused and creatively directed by Jeannine Gaskin, with intimacy direction by Julia Fisher. The runway set, with the audience on each side of the stage, was attractively designed by Ian Hinz, who also did the light design. (Sidenote: holding the final light cue for a brief few more seconds would have added to the suspenseful ending.)
The two-person cast is superb. Both Nicole Sumlin (Genesis) and Ananias J Dixon (Rashad) give flawless, emotionally vulnerable performances. Neither acts their characters, they live their personas. Tempers are held in check and then explode. Tears are held back and then flow. Each is stoic and then totally vulnerable. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Every once in a while a theater-goer is blessed with an emotional and logical experience that lives for a long time in their being. Such is THE LIGHT, Loy A. Webb’s searing must-see play that is having its Cleveland area premiere at Ensemble Theater.
THE LIGHT runs through June 11, 2023 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the main academic building’s Performing Arts Center, at Notre Dame College. There is free parking in the easily accessed lot at 4545 College Road (off Green Road), South Euclid.
For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go to www.ensembletheatrecle.org
Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Superlative touring DEAR EVAN HANSEN is an absolutely must see!
In the near recent-present, ushered in by “RENT” shows like “COME FROM AWAY,” “THE COLOR PURPLE” and “SPRING AWAKENING” have brought the genre to a new probing of sociological and psychological issues including schizophrenia, incest, rape, homosexuality and social responsibility, thus ushering in the format of the “musical drama.” These scripts center on dramatic storytelling and less glitz, spectacle and contrived story lines. They often contain some humor, but the emphasis is on realism and societal investigation.
“DEAR EVAN HANSEN,” now on stage at the Connor Palace, has to be ranked, along with “HAMILTON” and “NEXT TO NORMAL” in the top three of musicals of that genre. It shines its spotlight on social anxiety, suicide, family angst, and teenage drug addiction as major plot issues.
The musical is loosely based on an incident that took place during the musical’s composer and lyricist Benj Pasek’s high school days, when a teenager invented an important role for himself, leading to credit that he did not earn and, therefore, did not deserve.
The show’s musical sound is that of pop-contemporary musical theatre, borrowing format elements from modern compositions. It is art songs and narrative storytelling.
This is not the style of Rogers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe, but that of new voices, such writers as Jason Robert Brown (“PARADE” and “LAST FIVE YEARS”), Jonathan Larson (“RENT”), Lin-Manuel Miranda (“IN THE HEIGHTS” and “HAMILTON”), and Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (“NEXT TO NORMAL”). Their music uses pop and rock to tell provocative, boundary-pushing stories.
The story of “DEAR EVAN HANSEN” centers on a teenager with social anxiety. Upon the advice of his therapist, in order to expose himself to the positive parts of life, Evan writes letters to himself detailing what was “good” about each day.
Besides Evan and his mother, Heidi, Jared, Evan’s only “friend,” and their attention-starved school-mate, Alana, the story-circle also includes Connor and Zoe Murphy and their parents, Larry and Cynthia.
Conner is a troubled teenage drug-user, with anger management issues. Zoe is the girl that Evan crushes on from afar. In spite of their wealth, the Murphy family is in major crisis and appears to be falling apart due to parental conflicts and Conner’s drug and conduct issues.
At school, one day, Connor makes fun of Evan’s awkwardness and knocks Evan to the ground. Zoe apologizes for Connor’s actions.
That same day Connor encounters Evan again, and unexpectedly offers to sign the cast on the boy’s broken arm. Connor accidentally finds one of Evan's self-encouragement letters in the computer lab’s printer, reads it, becomes furious at the mention of Zoe, and storms out, taking the letter with him.
Several days later Evan is called to the principal's office and told that Connor has committed suicide. Evan’s letter was found in Connor’s pocket, but it is assumed to be Connor’s suicide note addressed to “his friend Evan,” since it started, “Dear Evan Hansen” and was signed “Me.”
Evan is invited to the Murphy house to explain his supposed friendship with Connor. Though he intends to "nod and confirm" to avoid making things worse, Evan, in a fit of panic, lies, pretending he and Connor had been best friends, emailing each other from a secret account.
Thus, the story spins into a tale of humorous, but mainly angst-laden misinterpretations, a growing closeness of Evan and Zoe, an on-line fund raiser to honor Connor, growing conflict between Evan and his mother, and Evan admitting his lack of friendship with Connor.
The emotional tale ends as Evan admits to finally being at peace with who he is.
“DEAR EVAN HANSEN,” which opened on Broadway in December 2016 to universal rave reviews, was nominated for nine Tony awards, and won six statues, including those for Best Musical and Best Score.
On March 12, 2020, the show suspended production due to the COVID pandemic.
Performances resumed on December 11, 2021. The show closed its Broadway run on September 18, 2022 after 1,678 regular performances. The script will soon be released for local professional and then collegiate and community theatre performances.
Before that happens, and we are inundated with amateur productions of this fine script, the touring company, like the one now in CLE, will finish their professional runs.
The touring production is mesmerizing. The quality of this tour, is everything that the Broadway version was. The technical aspects and the quality of the performances are of the highest level!
From the opening number, “Anybody Have a Map?,” to Connor’s I want/am song, “Waving Through a Window,” to the emotion-draining “Requiem” and finally to the first act ending, the gut-wrenching “You Will Be Found,” which found many in the audience vocally sobbing, the show is an emotional roller-coaster.
The second act, though well done, is somewhat anti-climactic. Part of the issue is that it lacks the humor and drama of the opening stanza. Secondly, the pacing is slower, and finally, though the song “Finale” is affirming, much of the play’s final spoken speech, given by Coleen Sexton, as Evan’s mother, was lost in a low volume mumble.
Tiny, sensitive Anthony Norman, is spell-binding in his development of the socially inept Evan. He visually has the weight of the world on his slender shoulders and pounding in his troubled head. He gives his own spin to the role, totally immersing himself into the psyche of the ego-weak Evan. He didn’t portray Evan, he was Evan! He didn’t just sing songs, he presented meanings to the words of the score. Bravo!
(Side notes: Having seen Tony winner Ben Platt on Broadway as Evan, local audiences can be assured that Norman’s is his near-equal.)
The rest of the cast is equally strong. August Emerson is angst-right as the conflicted, moody Connor.
Pierce Wheeler is delightful as Jared Kleinman, the sex-obsessed, computer nerd, and Evan’s only friend.
Micaela Lamas was properly self-centered as Alana.
As the adults, John Hemphill (Larry), Lili Thomas (Cynthia) and Coleen Sexton (Heidi) all nicely textured their roles.
For the younger generation, the extensive use of newsfeed, and computer and I-phone communication, will illuminate “life-as-it-is.” Others might find the constant bombardment of visual stimulation to be over-load. The changes aren’t a-comin’, they are here! The growing use of computer-generated sets and special effects, like the contemporary musical sounds, is part of what makes for the modern musical drama.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “DEAR EVAN HANSEN” is a mesmerizing evening of contemporary musical theater. Complete with pop-contemporary music sounds, staged with narrative storytelling tunes, and a relevant story line, it is one of the finest examples of the new wave of musical dramas. Don’t go expecting show-stoppers and an escapist plot. This is life as it is being lived, with all its angst and issues. The touring production, with choreography by Danny Mefford and direction by Michael Greif, is standing ovation worthy and is an absolutely must see!!
“DEAR EVAN HANSEN” runs only May 21, 2023 through as part of the Huntington Featured Performance Series. To purchase tickets, visit playhousesquare.org, call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
Saturday, May 13, 2023
CLEVELAND THEATER CALENDAR—June-August, 2023
KEN LUDWIG’S MORIARTY not one of CPH’s shining moments
Monday, May 08, 2023
Intimate Hanna Theatre a perfect venue for swingin’ AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
The setting in which a musical production takes place, often affects the pleasure one gets from the experience. A perfect case in point is AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ presently being staged by Great Lakes Theater in its intimate Hanna Theatre home.
AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ is a musical tribute which celebrates Fats Waller and his music. It is a series of song and dance numbers, sans any story line. The segments are woven together by choreography and music transitions. It requires an up-close and personal experience. The closer the better. This is not a production to stage at the likes of the Connor Palace or the State Theatres.
The show echoes the performances presented at the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom, the great New York black playgrounds of high society, and the Lenox Avenue dives filled with piano players banging out the new beat known as swing.
It was an era of rowdy, raunchy and humorous songs that reflected Waller, his music and view of life as a journey meant for pleasure and play.
The evening features GLT veterans, Jessie Cope Miller and Colleen Longshaw, who are joined by Tyrick Wiltez Jones, David Robbins and Brittney Mack and William Knowles, who serves as both the musical director and Waller.
The show was conceived by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horwitz and is locally directed and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre.
Creative staging, which often finds the performers singing to, playing with, and including the audience in the actions, plus dynamic choreography, makes for fun.
The actors croon, jive, wail, and dance their way through the songs that made Waller a household name in the heyday of American big band jazz music, singing such hits as “The Joint is Jumpin’,” “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-Ness If I Do,” I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling,” “Your Feet’s Too Big,” and the show’s namesake “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
The goings on include a Finale of six songs, including such classics as “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “Two Sleepy People” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” that keep the audience singing, clapping and stomping all the way out of the theatre.
Capsule judgment: If you love, even like jazz and want to swing back into the long-gone era or the Harlem Renaissance this is a show for you!
AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ runs at Great Lakes Theater’s Hanna Theatre home until May 21, 2023. For tickets go to https://www.greatlakestheater.org/or call (216) 241-6000
Saturday, April 29, 2023
ENERGETIC TINA IS A WONDER OF VISUAL AND MUSICAL DYNAMICS
TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL is a jukebox musical. The songs were not written specifically for this script, but are part of Turner’s history, both when she was partnering with her then husband, Ike Turner, and when she was a solo act.
In contrast to many shows of that classification, such as MAMA MIA, ROCK OF AGES and MOULIN ROUGE!, songs aren’t shoehorned into a trite plot, but flow naturally in the story.
Tunes include “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” Don’t Turn Around,” We Don’t Need Another Hero,” “Proud Mary,” and her biggest hit and anthem, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
TINA takes the theater-goer on a journey from the Queen of Rock and Roll’s humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, where she is abandoned by her parents, to her transformation into a mega-celebrity.
“Her live shows have been seen by millions, with more concert tickets sold than any other solo performer in music history.”
Written with Turner’s guidance, she insisted that, “the show does not hold back on the storytelling, and be truthful.” All the glory, the celebrity and happiness of her life, is balanced with the abuse she and her mother were subjected to by her father and then her personal hell inflicted by her jealous verbally and physically aggressive husband.
What you get is “the inspiring journey of a woman who broke barriers [and personal angst] and became the Queen of Rock n’ Roll.” Set to the pulse-pounding soundtrack of her most beloved hits, it spotlights one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time who has won 12 Grammy Awards.
The show displays all of the star’s notorious dance moves, her obsession with revealing dresses which accentuate her famous well-formed legs, sparkly iconic costumes and outlandish wigs, and her love of bright lights and expansive sets. This is full-out Tina. (Don’t be surprised to see lots of coiffed and costumed “Tina-look-alikes” in the audience.)
When it opened in London, and then on Broadway, the show received generally positive reviews from the critics. Comments included, “astonishing,,” elegantly staged,” and "As bio-musicals go, this is as good as it gets." Other stated, "the show is slickly choreographed, beautifully designed and roof-raisingly well-sung," as well as, “the production becomes a full-blooded rock show that is life-affirming.”
At the end of TINA, THE MUSICAL, the entire Connor Palace opening night audience was on its feet screaming, singing and dancing. And, then to top it off, for an extended period the cast and orchestra put on a mini-Tina concert.
The touring production, under the direction of Phyllida Lloyd, with choreography by Anthony Van Laast, is as well-done as the Broadway production. The pizzaz, opulence, and visual razzle dazzle light up the stage.
The cast is outstanding. Naomi Rodgers sizzled as Tina on opening night. She shares the role with Nurin Villanueva. The duo change-off so who you see depends on which performance you attend.
Young Avyvah Johnson almost steals the show with her dynamic and delightful portrayal of Young Anna-May (young Tina Turner). Her voice and stage presence resulted in a screaming curtain call.
Also strong were Carla R. Stewart as Gran Georgeanna and Roz White as Zelma.
Garret Turner is nasty-right as Ike Turner, Tina’s controlling, abusive and vindictive husband.
Locals might spot BW Music Theatre grads Gordia Hayes on stage as a swing and starting May 13, Roderick Lawrence will assume the role of Ike Turner.
Capsule judgment: If you love the music of Tina Turner…you will love THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. If you don’t know her music…you will love THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. If you don’t like musical theatre…you will love THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL. Get the idea…you will love the TINA TURNER MUSICAL.
THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL runs through May 14, 2013 at the Connor Palace in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. For tickets: 216-241-6000 or www.playhousesquare.org
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
BUBBLY BLACK GIRL lights up stage at Karamu
It’s been called “…[a] sharp and tasty new musical…charming…as the show ingeniously turns professional perkiness, the lifeblood of the American musical, into a funny, poignant comment on ethnic self-denial.”
It’s been described as “The play opens with an explosion of music…accessible and enjoyable to people of all races and genders…the bubbly mixture of humor and pathos makes for an entertaining—but not feather weight—show.”
Audiences have been apprised that it “speaks with wisdom and resonance not only to African-American audiences that share her experience and reference, but to any sensitive soul who ever has been on the outside, struggling to fit in.”
What am I talking about? THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CAMELEON SKIN, Kristen Childs’ musical now on stage at Karamu, Cleveland’s home to the nation’s longest performing Black theatre.
Karamu, where Russell and Rowena Jellife, two Oberlin graduates, in 1915 founded a settlement house on the corner of East 38th Street and Central Avenue, that eventually became a magnet for many of the best African-American artists.
In the 1920s the Jellifes sponsored the Dumas Dramatic Club, which eventually evolved into a well-known and respected Karamu theatre under the guidance of Reuben and Dorothy Silver. During the tenure of the Silvers “works by African American authors such as Langston Hughes and LeRoi Jones, as well as classics from the American theater were staged.” Colored-blind casting reigned and there was a general atmosphere of interracial theatre.
In the 1960s and 70s “Urban unrest and the growing Black Arts Movement forced a reconsideration of Karamu's goals as they related to interracial theater.” The Silvers were replaced, the dramatic performance space floundered with confused lack of purpose until Tony Sias, the present President and CEO, took over. Now, under his guidance important and appropriate plays like BUBBLY BLACK GIRL are being staged.
As Sias describes the present script, “It is not often that we see a coming-of-age story about a young Black girl on stage, especially one who is an artist, trying to self-actualize in America.”
He goes on, “While we use music and humor as our mantra, our [Karamu’s] tradition is to have you walk away with a better understanding of how the theatre is not only a place of entertainment, but a place where stories of fiction can help us relate to and learn how to cope with and tackle real life experiences.”
BUBBLY BLACK GIRL asks a series of questions centering on “What's a black girl [Viveca] from sunny Southern California to do? White people are blowing up black girls in Birmingham churches. Black people are shouting ‘Black is beautiful’ while straightening their hair and coveting light skin. The answer? Slap on a bubbly smile and be as white as you can be! In a humorous and pointed coming-of-age story spanning the sixties through the nineties, Viveca blithely sails through the confusing worlds of racism, sexism and Broadway showbiz until she's forced to face the devastating effect self-denial has had on her life.”
It must be remembered when seeing and evaluating productions of shows done at Karamu and other community non-Equity theatres, that their casts are usually populated by enthusiastic but often undertrained and non-professionally experienced performers. They are seldom, if ever, “better than Broadway,” in spite of the views of friends and family.
BUBBLY BLACK GIRL is a case in point. While expertly directed by Nina Dominque and creatively choreographed Kenya Woods, the cast is often stretched beyond their acting, singing and dancing abilities.
Highlights of this production include Kennedi Hobbs, who is pleasing as Viveca (aka Bubbly), Dayshawnda Ash, who brings down the house with her rendition of “Granny’s Advice,” and Jaren Hodgson who is properly obnoxious as Director Bob (Bob Fosse, in obvious disguise).
Edward Ridley, Jr. and his musicians do an incredible job of interpreting the score. Joe Burke’s projection and Cameron Caley Michalak’s scenic designs help enhance the production.
Capsule judgment: No, it’s not a production better than Broadway, but THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CHAMELEON SKIN gets a very creditable production and continues the role of Karamu in presenting Black-themed shows to its appreciative and enthusiastic audiences.
BUBBLY BLACK GIRL runs through May 14, 2023 in the Jelliffe Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street. There is free parking in a guarded lot adjacent to the theatre. For tickets go to karamuhouse.org
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
WHAT WE LOOK LIKE @ Dobama
It’s always exciting and challenging to see a “new” play script come alive in a staged production, especially by a creditable performance company. WHAT WE LOOK LIKE, now being presented at Dobama, CLE’s self-proclaimed off-Broadway company, is a case in point.
Written by B. J. Tindal (they/them) a Black queer playwright, the script had its inaugural production at Oberlin College in February of 2019.
It is a 155 minute-play with intermission (ignore the notation in the printed program, if you get one, which states, “This play will be performed with no intermission.”)
Billed as, “Both hilarious and poignant, WHAT WE LOOK LIKE is the story of the Hodges - a black family that has recently moved to a suburban white neighborhood. When the youngest son is asked to draw a family portrait at school, he creates an imaginary white family and the Hodges are thrown into a spiral.”
Playwright BJ Tindal says, “It’s about images of family and how race intersects with that and the pressures it puts on family units.”
Tindal had an interesting path to become a playwright. At Oberlin, he had his hopes set on majoring in creative writing. When he didn’t get into the required intro-level course his first semester, the aspiring playwright enrolled instead in an African American Drama course.
“Even though the department doesn’t have a playwriting concentration, the class influenced his decision to pursue theater and sparked the inspiration for a play that would help Tindal launch his career. The script was WHAT WE LOOK LIKE, a play he developed his first year at Oberlin.”
The play grapples with ideas of what a family is supposed to look like and how that can be damaging for some and beneficial for others. Tindal explains. “It’s about images of family and how race intersects with that and the pressures it puts on family units.”
WHAT WE LOOK LIKE premiered in the fall of 2014, Tindal’s junior year. It was presented again in spring 2015 during Commencement/Reunion Weekend. It now gets what is being called “The Professional World Premier” at Dobama.
The Dobama staging, under the direction of Darius J. Stubbs, does an adequate job of creating as good a production as possible with the often unfocused and overly long script.
The show starts off with great promise with a dual play going on in the same acting space. The black family is realistically portrayed and the white family is presented in “Father Knows Best” and “The Brady Bunch” stylized sit-com over-exaggerated to perfection. This format quickly disappears and we get a multi-topic tale of parental confusion, over-done teen-age angst and unrequited love, a tip of the toe into lesbianism, a contrast between white and black child rearing, an unrealistic tale of a child shuttled between two families with one set of parents unaware of the action, the revealing of why the black child drew himself as part of a white family and a “last supper” that includes overdone revealing of the entire convoluted plot.
At times the script, which needs much dramaturgy work of red pencil crossing out of extraneous scenes and unnecessary plot twists, is funny, other times it creates situations, such as the over-done black son’s infatuation with the white girl next door, and “stupid dad” segments, and bogs down.
The cast, Aamar-Malik Culbreth, Diwe Augustin-Glave, Rob Grant III, Alexa Fatheringham, Katricemonee Headd, Katie Booze-Mooney and Andrew Gorell all basically develop the character(s) they portray. Several, however, have difficulty projecting so they can be heard, carrying on “inside-voice” conversations, rather than thrusting his/her voice to the furthest corners of the space.
Vocal projection is especially important in the poorly configured Dobama long-thin stage where voices don’t carry well to start with and those seated in the extreme stage right and left seats miss much of the dialogue. (I could just hear the ghost of Donald Bianchi, the theater’s perfectionistic founder, screaming, from the last row, “I can’t hear you,” his epic admonishment to an actor who failed to project.)
Capsule judgement: Often with plays of new playwrights, over-complicated plots, over-done premises, and the need for extensive cutting waters down the effect of the premise. This is the case with WHAT WE LOOK LIKE. The Dobama staging, under the direction of Darius J. Stubbs, does an adequate job of creating as good a production as possible with the often unfocused and overly-long script.
WHAT WE LOOK LIKE runs through May 14, 2023. For tickets: call 216.932.3396 or go to https://www.dobama.org/