Monday, November 25, 2002

Gina Gibney & Creatch/Company (Cleveland Public Theatre)

DANCE CLEVELAND at Cleveland Public Theatre works well

Dance Cleveland needs a place to present its smaller visiting companies. Cleveland Public Theatre has the Bolton Square Theatre in various stages of restoration. They can use the added income from someone using the facility. CPT’s space lends itself perfectly to dance. It allows the audience to be close to the action. It has excellent lighting and a very danceable floor area. Dance Cleveland and CPT have formed a working relationship that works well for both organizations.

The most recent cooperatively presented works were Gina Gibney Dance presenting 'TIME REMAINING' and Creatch/Company staging 'STUDY FOR A RESURRECTION.' The companies were an interesting contrast. Gibney’s all women's group works for grace and emotional resonance. Creatch’s male ensemble strives for gymnastic, intellectual and powerful achievement to explore and celebrate the sensibility and energy of men.

Gibney’s evening length project centered on the power of time and how it erodes and is renewed. Based on the concept that there is a time for every purpose, the dancers moved in synchronized patterns, blending flowing movements and costumes. The performers created visual images of support, separation and motion. It is interesting that there is kind of charisma that gently demands attention. These are not big, powerful, audience involving movements. She creates a balance between dance and stillness when the body's lines grab the eye and allows the viewer to fill in meaning. Gibney creates exquisite, sensitive choreography.

As one critic has put it, "Gina Gibney has established herself as a poet of modern dance today.” The CPT/Dance Cleveland sold-out audience was very appreciative of the quality of the dancing and the creative talent of the choreographer.

Creatch/Company, a six men ensemble, employs a form of movement entitled contact dance. It uses the body to paint relationships between people. STUDY FOR A RESURRECTION incorporates 13th to 16th century sacred music sung by a fine male ensemble who set the mood for the piece and over look and later entwine within the dancers to create a unit of music and dance.

The brotherhood of dancers creates images of bible stories, art works and AIDS influenced images. Dancing in loose fitting costumes, and sometimes in the nude using gossamer cloth to enhance the visual look of the human form, much like Michelangelo did in his paintings and sculputures, the dancers intertwined by moving underneath, on top of, wrapping around, pushing, rolling together, staring at, jumping and catching each other.

Capsule judgement: The performance was well received by the audience, but repeating the same movements and sounds for over an hour, in spite of the quality of the dancing and singing, created monotony. The program would have been stronger if another form of choreography was introduced to parallel the contact dance.

Other People's Money (Ensemble)

'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY' doesn't cash in at Ensemble

In these days of corporate greed, insider trading, Martha Stewart-like stock manipulation, Enron and Adelphia cheating, it is entirely appropriate that Ensemble Theatre chose to present 'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY.'

Jerry Sterner’s black comedy centers on corporate raider Larry "the Liquidator" Garfinkle, who gobbles up companies faster than the doughnuts he keeps in his office and limo. He is pure predator; a gross troll in a classy suit.

Written in 1989, 'OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY' turns on the conflict between good and evil, David and Goliath. It pits the bad guy Liquidator, who wants to acquire the New England Wire and CableCompany and to plunder its assets and shut it down, against Andrew Jorgensen, the company’s patriarch. It matches small-town business ethics against corporate America’s "Greed Is Good." How do we stave off Larry at the pass? Enter Kate Sullivan, the daughter of Jorgensen’s long time mistress. Kate is an attractive young attorney not above sexual politicking and muckraking. Can she convince Jorgensen that he needs to play the corporate take-over game? In the balance hangs the fate of 1,200 factory workers and the old-fashioned way of doing business.

Will Larry the Liquidator wipe out another nice guy from the landscape of free enterprise? As much as we’d like to think the answer is “no,” the real answer is, “sure.”

If only the production qualities had reached the script’s level. In the hands of the right director and cast, this play would be an audience pleaser. Ensemble’s production never catches fire. Except for Michael Raum portraying Garfinkle in a wonderfully evil, nebbish-not-a-real-nasty guy way, the cast seems to be walking through their performances. They never quite get emotionally involved. The situation is not helped by numerous line glitches, forgotten ideas, static characterizations, and some awkward staging. Everything from the costumes, to the set which doesn’t fit the script’s description, just miss their mark.

Capsule judgement: To be successful Sterner's play requires a black-comic sensibility to fire the plot, Ensemble’s version lacks this. It’s worth attending 'OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY' to see Raum and gobble down a Gilly’s “Not Just Donuts” at intermission. (In the original play Dunkin Donuts was bannered. In Cleveland, it’s Gilly’s which is located in Little Italy which gets the eating honors.) Hopefully, as the rest of the cast gets more comfortable with the material, the production will blossom into a unit that brings full meaning to the play.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Fall program 2002 (Ohio Ballet)

Ohio Ballet presents pleasing winter program

Ohio Ballet is presenting a very pleasant evening of dance as its FALL PROGRAM. It showcased in Cleveland’s Ohio Theatre on November 15 and 16. It will be repeated on November 22 and 23 at the E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.

FRIENDS AND LOVERS, which consists of three pas-de-deux, examines relationships. It featured strong performances by all of the women dancers and exceptional partnering by Alicia Pitts and Brian Murphy. Young Eric Carvil is improving with each Ohio Ballet performance. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for William Hoppe who still needs to learn the necessary confidence and skills. The live musical accompaniment of Antonin Dvorak’s music was beautifully performed by Linda Nagy Johnston, Madelena Burle Marx and David Fisher.

CAPTURE, choreographed for the Diavolo Dance Theatre, was a fascinating piece. It featured a proficient Damien Highfield and the effervescent Amanda Cobb. Cobb entered and exited a segmented silver half-sphere into which Highfield was attached. The segmented globe rocked and twirled to Juliet Prater’s well-conceived original far eastern music creating a visual illusion of flow and movement.

PYGMALION & GALATEA, choreographed by Jeffrey Graham Hughes, was the weakest segment of the evening. The dance movements were often out of sync with the mood and cadence of the music. In spite of this, Jesica Salomon was wonderful. Unfortunately Dmitry Tubolstev didn’t get physically and emotionally involved in his dancing. He is talented, but his posturing creating overly affected moves and gestures to convey a surface level performance. He failed to emotionally connect with his partner.

SIXTY-EIGHT, choreographed by Leslie Cook, combined music of Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Buffalo Springfield into a series of dances. It paralleled the musical styles of 1968, the year the Ohio Ballet was created 35 years ago. The highlight was a jazz version of “Summertime” and was beautifully danced by Amanda Cobb and Damien Highfield. Brian Murphy, the company’s strongest and emotionally most involved male dancer, lit up the stage. Strong performances were also put in by Jesica Salomon, Larissa Freude, Kristin Knapp, Alicia Pitts and Mary Beth Hanson.

On Golden Pond (Cleveland Play House)

Selection of 'ON GOLDEN POND' at CPH questioned

Ernest Thompson’s ON GOLDEN POND is a play about aging, love, family and forgiveness. It was an instant hit when it opened on Broadway in 1979. The 1981 film version won Academy Awards for Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. The present Cleveland Play House’s production is entertaining, eliciting laughs and some tears from the audience.

Why did CPH chose a show that is one of the most-oft done plays on the amateur theatre circuit? According to the show’s program Artistic Director Peter Hackett indicates that he chose it because the Associate Directors of Monomoy Theatre, Mike Hartman and Darrie Lawrence, where Hackett saw the show in the summer of 2000, were available to do the show at CPH. He indicates that he is delighted that they are reprising their roles. There are many in the local theatre community who question whether CPH, which proposes to be a major US professional theatre, should be produce such shows rather than stretching itself by appealing to younger audiences and doing more challenging scripts. That controversy withstanding, ON GOLDEN POND is appearing at CPH and needs to be reviewed.

ON GOLDEN POND centers on two elderly people, Norman and Ethel Thayer, returning for their 48th year to their summer home on Golden Pond in Maine. He has heart palpitations, failing memory and a caustic tongue. Chelsea, their emotionally distant adult-daughter comes to visit along with her “boy friend” Bill and Billy, his 13 year old son by a previous marriage. Billy stays behind as Chelsea and Bill go off to Europe on what turns out to be their honeymoon. We see a transformation in both Norman and Billy as they bond together. The summer ends. The Thayer’s are about to leave when Norman has an angina attack. Will they ever return to Golden Pond?

Carol Dunne’s direction is basically on-key. Mike Hartman is wonderfully endearing as Norman. Darrie Lawrence is fine as Ethel. Kate Levy does well as their daughter. Young Adam Siciliano doesn’t quite allow us to see the transition from a kid ripped apart by divorce who transforms before our eyes into a nice young man under the loving guidance of the irascible Norman. Bill Clarke has created an attractive and functional set. Those who attend ON GOLDEN POND will enjoy themselves.

Capsule judgement: Though a questionable choice for a theatre of the professional caliber, the production is quite effective.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

South Pacific (Playhouse Square Foundation)

'SOUTH PACIFIC' pleasing but lacks spontaneity at the Palace

When, on March 31, 1943 the curtain came up at New York’s St. James Theatre, and a lone male voice sang out the words to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” a new era in musical theatre was ushered in. Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein took the art form from an escapist vehicle to a new level when they conceived 'OKLAHOMA.' Most musicals since then follow the Rogers and Hammerstein pattern of the well-made play which is a story line into which the music and the dancing are integrated, a story line that has a beginning, a middle and an end.

They also developed the concept of having the first act end with a problem that will be solved in the second act. The viewer must come back or the solution to the dilemma won’t be know.

The duo also used a writing technique that was uniquely their own. In each of their shows they had a key song that carried a philosophical social message that was the key to the show. In 'THE KING AND I' the decision that had to be made about breaking with the past and moving into modernity was presented in “It’s a Puzzlement.” In 'CAROUSEL' the question of faith and courage was brought forth in “Never Walk Alone.” In 'FLOWER DRUM SONG' the challenge of breaking from cultural traditions was highlighted in, “The Younger Generation.” In what some critics think is their best musical, the 1953 Pulitzer Prize winning 'SOUTH PACIFIC,' the powerful “You Have to Be Carefully Taught,” confronts the subject of racism.

In spite of the brilliance of the script one might wonder whether the touring production of 'SOUTH PACIFIC,' now at the Palace Theatre, focuses on the play or its superstar Robert Goulet. From his solo first entrance, which was met with prolonged applause, to the spotlights which were always a little brighter on Goulet than anyone else, the staging seems to center on him. He is well-suited in voice, age and stature to portray Emile de Becque, a role he made his own in a 1987 revival of the show that toured the US and Canada. Unfortunately, it appears that he has so comfortably fit into the role that he is on automatic pilot. This attitude seems to have been picked up by the cast as they go through the motions of the show.

The tale centers on an island in the South Pacific during World War II. Two love relationships are threatened because of prejudice. Nellie, a nurse from Arkansas, falls in love with the mature French planter, Emile. Nellie learns that he has been married to now deceased islander and has two children. She reacts negatively to his liaison with a dark-skinned native. Lt. Joe Cable denies himself the love of a Tonkinese girl, with whom he has fallen in love, out of the same prejudices that haunt Nellie.

The show’s wonderful musical score includes: “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair,” and “Honey Bun.”

Amanda Watkins makes a pleasant Nellie. She is attractive, has a fine voice and a nice vitality. Her scenes with Goulet, however, lack the intimacy necessary to make their love seem believable. Brian Noonan, who has matinee idol looks, has a powerful singing voice. His renditions of “Younger than Springtime” and “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” were show highlights. Armelia McQueen is delightful as Bloody Mary. David Warshofsky needed more abandonment in portraying Luther Billis. The men’s chorus was outstanding.

The orchestra’s musical sound was fine. The choreography lacked creativity. The settings worked well.

Capsule judgement: This production of 'SOUTH PACIFIC' is not bad. It is quite pleasant, but, it lacks that extra spark that transposes a show from good to great.