Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Permanent Collection (Karamu)

‘PERMANENT COLLECTION,’ thought provoking, but inconsistent at Karamu

‘PERMANENT COLLECTION’ by Thomas Gibbons is presently in production at the Arena Theatre of Karamu. On the surface the play is about museums, race and culture. But, as one probes deeper, it is about how each of us perceives the world from our own perspective.

Gibson took his inspiration from the true story of the Barnes Foundation, an educational organization focused on art, located in Merion, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. The Foundation, which boasts one of the greatest collections of post Impressionist art in the world, has suffered great public turmoil since its eccentric founder, Dr. Albert Barnes, died in 1951. In a mind boggling action, Barnes left the foundation’s operation to Lincoln University, a historically black school. Eventually, because of a perceived racial divide, a number of lawsuits drained the Barnes of its endowment.

In the story, Gibbons explores the conflict between the newly-appointed African American director and the museum's longtime Caucasian education director who holds strongly to the museum's charter which forbids any changes to be made in the way the museum’s art is displayed. Fueled by an overzealous newspaper reporter, the private debate becomes public, and both men face off across the great racial divide.

The conflict is captured in a speech by the African American director who states, 'We pretend all things are equal, no culture is higher than another -- but in our hearts we know it's a lie. Shakespeare is better than folk tales. Bach is better than rap."

The play lays bare assumptions, beliefs, and bigotry as it defines itself.

Audience members are very likely to state, “He (Sterling North, the African American director) is right.” “No, (Paul Barrow, the caucasian director) is right.” No, North. No, Barrow. Gibbons’ well conceived use of language and plot devices carries us along on a journey of ever shifting darkness and light.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the play is that Gibbons is a white male. As he did in his wonderful ‘BEE LUTHER HATCHEE,’ which got a fine production at Karamu several years ago, Gibbons treads the line between the races with a deft and articulate hand.

The Karamu production does not live up to the potential of the script. The cast is inconsistent. Director Terrence Spivey failed to work with some of the actors on texturing their performances. Many of the lines are tossed away and lose their meaning. Yelling consistently substitutes for frustration and distress. In spite of this, some of the performances are acceptable.

John Busser is excellent as Barrow, but even he fades in the final scenes and seems to lose his characterization. Joseph Primes (Sterling North) has some excellent scenes as the museum director, especially those in which he is presenting controlled feelings. But he loses control of his voice and the character when he needs to show frustration and strength and fades into an unbelievable shell of the character.

Katrice Monee Headd nicely develops the role of Kanika, the African American assistant. Anne McEvoy consistently develops the role of a reporter, though she needed to be more cunning trying to develop the conflict into her fifteen-minutes of journalistic fame.

Rollin Mac Michael displays no understanding of how to effectively develop a role. He overacts and screams unnecessarily. Iris D. Tucker-Berry says words, avoiding the fact that those words have meaning.

John Konopka’s set design is wonderful. The floor of the theatre-in-the-round is a series of well-created impressionist art. Richard Morris, Jr.’s lighting design allowed for clear transitions.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘PERMANENT COLLECTION’ is an excellent script which has a powerful and though-provoking message. Unfortunately, the Karamu production fails to give full-life to the author’s powerful words and message.

‘PERMANENT COLLECTION’ runs through February 11 at the Arena Theatre of Karamu. For tickets call 216-795-7077.

Karamu’s next productions are the world premiers of ‘GREENSBORO FOUR,’ which runs from January 27 through February 18 in the Jelliff Theatre, and ‘JIM: FLESH AND BLOOD,’ a play about football player Jim Brown.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Groundworks Dancetheatre 1/07

GROUNDWORKS continues to entrance audiences

It’s been 9 years now since David Shimotakahara left Ohio Ballet to found his own dance company. GroundWorks Dancetheater bills itself as a highly innovative company of ballet trained artists dedicated to the development and presentation of new choreography and encourages collaboration with other art disciplines. It is that, and more!

It is one of the few companies that revels in not having a home of its own. The troupe can be found performing in churches, dedicated entertainment venues (such as Cleveland Public Theatre) and public buildings (e.g., The Cleveland Botanical Garden).

Its mottos include: “undiluted,” “unfiltered,” and “unprocessed.”

In its short history, GroundWorks has established itself as a major force in Cleveland dance. As evidenced by the sold-out performances at their recent run at the Botanical Garden, David and his dancers, have gained a loyal following. The dance-ophiles show up no matter the venue.

In their most recent program, part of the Landmarks Series 2007, the company premiered, “U ME U,” choreographed by Artistic Associate Amy Miller.
Centering on the theme “the repetition of an idea in continually changing contexts,” the piece was a collaborative effort between Miller, dancers Felise Bagley and Mark Otloski, and guitarist/music composer James Marron. The selection, though very precise in its movements, had the feeling of being created on the spot. The visual interaction between the dancers and the musicians, who seemed to pick up their cues from each other, was strong. As Marron’s strumming slowed, the dancers moved slowly. When the performers sped up, so did the music. The sounds varied from discordant, to riffs, to a flow of melodic sound. The piece was, at times, serious, at other times playful. This kind of performance takes a special relationship between the choreographer, musician and dancers. Fortunately, Groundworks has all three in place! “U ME U” is a fine addition to the company’s repertoire.

The remaining two segments, Shimotakahara’s ‘MAJOR TO MINOR” and “THE MUSIC ROOM” were restagings of former presentations. Both were danced to a collection of musical creations.

“MAJOR TO MINOR” used such music as “I Wished On The Moon,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye” to investigate the bittersweet and sometimes humorous take on people in the pursuit of love.” Dancers Felise Bagley, Amy Miller, Mark Otloski and David Shimotakahara were excellent in making the transition from jazzy, to finger snapping, to humorous, with ease. The highlight was the delightful segment created around the song, “Peanut Vendor.”

“THE MUSIC ROOM” centers around a door, created by Narelle Sissons’, which becomes the sixth performer as it moves, flips, is slammed and opens and closes as it serves as a means for entrances, exits, being a barrier, a hindrance, and finally, a piece of bewilderment.

One must wonder how long some of the company members will continue to carry on their arduous dancing. Several of the group are no long youngsters and have passed the age at which dancers tend to slow down or retire. It would be a shame for Groundworks to cease its wonderment because of the lack of new performers. It is rumored that the company has been holding tryouts to expand its dancing corps. It’s going to be hard to have anyone come in and match the skills of Shimotakahara, Miller, Bagley and Otloski. We’ve seen the difficulty that Jennifer Lott, a well trained dancer has had in matching the precision of the present company. When she dances in tandem with Bagley or Miller, as happened in the Botanical Garden program, the differences in technique and polish shine through. It can only be hoped that when necessary, Shimotakahara can find the likes of the present company.

Capsule judgment: Groundworks is one of the top dance companies in the area and deserves the adulation it is receiving.

Thom Pane (based on nothing)

‘NOTHING’ is something at DOBAMA

During the day on Friday, I spent a class period trying to explain the workings of the human mind to my Psychology class. I recounted that the brain is the product of both heredity and environment. I shared that it often goes off on tangents for no presently identified reason. I also shared that sometimes, based on the situation and our mood and motivation, disorganization of ideas, emotional breakdowns, and the resulting flow of thoughts can reveal a great deal about a person.

Oh how I wish my students had been able to share with me the opening night performance of Dobama Theatre’s ‘THOM PAIN (based on nothing)’. My “brilliant” lecture actually came to life through the talented one-man performance of Scott Plate as Thom Pain.

Will Eno’s ‘THOM PAIN (based on nothing)’ was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. It has been called funny, edgy, honest, engaging and raw.

It can’t be defined by traditional terms used for a theatrical script—drama, comedy, tragedy or farce. It defies description. What it is, is a look at life, the terror of life, the greatness of mortality, and the fragility and realities of existence. It is an odd and intoxicating affirmation of the value of being alive, with an underbelly probing into the uselessness and sometimes joy of being alive. It has the qualities of a Sartre and Camus existential probing into why one lives. It screams, “Why do we exist?”

The story is told with many stops and starts, pauses and digressions. The language is sometimes gross and often poetic. An ill-fated love affair is explained away with, “I disappeared in her and she, wondering where I went, left.” The language often contradicts itself. The character is so inconsistent that we never know whether we should believe anything he says.

Sound weird? It is. It’s probably one of the oddest plays you’ll ever see. For some it will be exciting, for others off-putting.

Someone actually got up about ten minutes into the play and walked out. He crossed right through the acting area to get into the cold night air. Was he a plant meant to highlight the nature of the production? When the man departed, Plate seemed confused. After a momentary pause, he launched into an “ad libbed” speech that tied the exit to his flow of thought and then used the device throughout the rest of the production to bridge ideas together. The same thing happened later when he “spontaneously” brought an audience member on stage and used him as a prop for yet another rambling tale.

I should have figured that this was going to be one of “those” evenings when, at the start of the show, Plate started to talk to the audience while he was standing in the dark. Was there a blown light cue by the techie in charge of illumination? The lights suddenly flashed on as the actor was telling us about the dark. The contradictions were startling.

Even the ending was not traditional. At one point, mid-sentence, Plate just left the stage and didn’t return. The audience sat, quietly, waiting to figure out whether we were in intermission, the actor had forgotten his lines and panicked, or the whole experience was really over. There was no closing curtain, no sudden rise in lighting level to signal, “it’s over.” Someone finally got up and left. Others followed. Yes, our experience was over.

Plate is marvelous! His confusion is real. The tears he sheds, the bodily shakes, the confused look in his eyes, the underplayed manic expressiveness on his face are real. Plate’s pain and Pain are real!

The show was directed by Joel Hammer, but who knows what his role was. Is this Plate’s conception or Hammer’s creation? It’s all part of those questions about the play that will never be answered.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THOM PAIN (based on nothing)’ is a 70-minute, no intermission or late seating, compelling piece of theatre. Is it for everyone? No. If you like escapist comedy or light musicals this is not for you. But, if you want to think, and see a marvelous performance, get down to Shaker Square and have a meaningful, if thought confusing experience.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

QED (Actors' Summit)

Outstanding ‘QED’ at Actors' Summit

I’m about to tell you that a lecture about physics makes for fascinating theatre.

You might think, “This reviewer has gone off the deep end.” Whether the latter statement is true or not isn’t the issue. The fact remains that physics, cancer treatment and musical theatre blended with marvelous acting and focused directing, does make for an enticing evening of theatre. Where? It’s on stage Actors’ Summit which is presenting Peter Farnell’s play ‘QED’ about Richard Feynman, the renowned physicist, professor and Nobel Prize winner.

QED stands for Quantum Electrodynamics, which was Feynman's field. QED is also the abbreviation for 'quod erat demonstrandum,' which basically means 'that proves it.' And what Farnell proves is not only that Feynman was a genius, who was part of the team that developed the atomic bomb, but a person of enormous warmth, creativity and passion. He was a real person who was as at home at the blackboard figuring out abstract formulas as playing the King of Bali Hai in a college production of ‘SOUTH PACIFIC.’

Alan Alda portrayed Feynman in both the Los Angeles and Broadway productions of ‘QED.’ A review stated of his Big Apple performance, “Alda's everyman demeanor is perfectly suited to this play; he is capable of winning over the audience immediately and guiding them, with a gentle hand, through what might otherwise be impossibly difficult subject matter. It is, however, always Feynman onstage. Alda has no problem vanishing into the character of Feynman here, with his manic mannerisms and strong adaptation to the ‘stream of consciousness’ style of Parnell's script.”

The reviewer could have penned those words about Neil Thackaberry’s performance. His is a tour de force enactment.

Under Wayne Turney’s capable directing, Thackaberry spends his almost one-and-a half hours on stage in what is close to a solo piece, talking to the audience, yakking on the phone and briefly interacting with a female student (Miriam, capably portrayed by Jocelyn Roueiheb), who may be as interested in him as an intellect as a potential sex mate.

Throughout, we remain fascinated. We are compelled to share in his intimate decisions about whether or not to have yet another operation to curb his raging cancer, his dealings with a group of visiting Russian dignitaries, and his performance in the musical.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Actors’ Summit seems to deal exceptionally well with solo shows. Their ‘CLARENCE DARROW: A ONE MAN SHOW,’ which starred Thackaberry and ‘GIVE ‘EM HELL HARRY,’ which starred Turney, the play’s director, were both outstanding. Add ‘QED’ to that list! This is a must see performance.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fat Pig (The Bang and The Clatter)

A MUST SEE! ‘FAT PIG’--thought provoking, well performed at BANG AND CLATTER

The Bang and The Clatter is dedicated to producing “innovative, challenging works, of exceptional quality and imagination with a particular emphasis on modern American plays.” They intend not only to entertain, but “to push the envelope, and lick it.” They accomplish those objectives in ‘FAT PIG,’ which is getting its local premiere at B&C.

Neil LaBute, the play’s author, is noted for his ability to expose the underbelly of human behavior. He often focuses on the casual cruelty that one person can inflict on another, either intentionally or unintentionally. His recent feature film, ‘IN THE COMPANY OF MEN,’ showcases two male co-workers who relieve their boredom by deciding to both court a deaf woman, build up her self-esteem, and then simultaneously dump her.

‘FAT PIG’ highlights the pettiness and meanness of people who deride others because of their physical appearance. It showcases the effect of peer pressure to conform to arbitrary evaluation of others. To make matters even more pointed, LaBute writes in such a way that we laugh through our tears. He makes the viewer feel guilty about laughing, even psychologically restricting the audience from applauding at the end of brilliantly written and conceived scenes.

The script centers on a romance between an attractive guy (Tom) with an upscale career and an amply endowed Rubenesque woman (Helen).

Tom and Helen have their first encounter at a self-service restaurant. She is eating three slices of pizza and dessert while he pecks away at a salad. They talk, she is charming and full of self-put downs over her weight. He, after a series of bad relationships, including one with a co-worker, is charmed with her unaffected realism. They begin to date. He hides the fact from his co-workers. Eventually, the need to face reality hits and leads to an emotionally drenched ending.

The Bang and The Clatter production, though a little slowly paced, is enveloping. Director Sean McConaha has finely honed the skills of his actors. He highlights the emotional highs and lows, effectively keys the pauses, glances and awkward moments. He is aided by a cast which ranges from brilliant to effective.

Jenna Messina, as the full-bodied Helen, takes on a very difficult role. The actress who plays the role must not only physically fit the part, but have a personal attitude that allows the audience to truly believe that in real life she is proud of who she is, yet vulnerable to the attacks of others. Messina plays the role with total believability. This is a tour-de-force performance!

Sean Derry is not as physically attractive as might be expected for the actor playing Tom . He doesn’t have the Brad Pitt looks that make women weak-kneed, but he is such a fine actor that he makes us believe the illusion is true. He is brilliant in the final scene as he glances toward where his friends are congregated, probably making fun of the hefty Helen, while carrying on a conversation with the woman he supposedly loves.

Tony Waver shines as Tom’s caustic co-worker who exemplifies all the shallowness of our advertising-driven culture which stresses superficiality and appearance over substance. Alana Romansky is convincing as Jeannie, a co-worker who yearns for a permanent relationship with Tom, but, at times her character slips and we get words rather than meanings.

The production is aided by a well-conceived scenic design by Sean Derry. Sean McConaha’s selection of musical interludes helped bridge the often overly long between-scenes pauses.

In other productions of the play, the titles for each of the seven scenes are projected on a screen. The device reinforces the theme of each segment. It is an effective device which could have helped the B&G’s excellent production to be even more pointed.

Capsule judgment: Several years go, while visiting in Washington, DC, I saw a production of ‘FAT PIG.’ The show was outstanding and went on to win several Helen Hayes’ Citations, DC’s equivalent of the Tony Awards. The Bang and The Clatter production is every bit as effective as the presentation in the nation’s capital. THIS IS A MUST SEE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE!!!!!

Sleep Deprivation Chamber (Cleveland Public Theatre)

Purposeful, but poorly written SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER at CPT

Racial profiling, using race as a primary determinant in the characterization of a person considered likely to commit a particular type of crime, is alive in the United States. Whether for traffic stops, following certain people in grocery or department stores, or checking and rechecking individuals in airports, the practice is carried on. It affects African Americans, Arabs and all others who those in-charge might consider to be of “questionable character.”

Adrienne and Adam Kennedy’s ‘SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER,’ now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre, highlights an authentic case in which a Black college student (in real life, Adam Kennedy) is pulled over for having a non-functioning rear taillight on his car, and is beaten by the arresting officer. Eventually, after a period of excruciating experiences which affect not only the young man, but his entire family, the charges are dismissed by a judge after hearing the “facts” of the case.

While well-meaning, the Kennedy’s script is not well written. It is often redundant and adds much material that elongates the experience with little pay-off. The flash-forward and flash-back format causes confusion. This story would make an effective 15-minute one act, but should not have been crafted as a 90-minute presentation.

Besides the script problems, the production gets lost in the large Gordon Square Theatre. This is an intimate piece which would have been much more appropriate for CPT’s smaller Levin Theatre space.

Clevelanders will find themselves familiar with many of the play’s references. Local streets and comments about the Indians and Bob Feller pepper the dialogue. But after a while, even that loses its effect.

Director Caroline Jackson Smith does an acceptable job of staging. She uses all parts of the facility...the main stage and the overhanging loges for settings for the scenes. She has not, however, honed the skills of some of her actors. Some of the performances are excellent, others quite poor.

Lisa Langford is effective as the narrator and mother of Teddy Alexander, the young man accused of the “crime.” At times, however, she is difficult to hear in the vastness of the auditorium.

Daniel H. Taylor, is excellent as Teddy, the falsely accused son. He is very natural and is believable in his role development.

Stuart Hoffman is a cast highlight as the Caucasian officer who shows disdain and lacks remorse for his actions. Derek Koger portrays Teddy’s lawyer with accuracy.

On the other hand, Yolanda Wilson (lawyer) and Dolores Boda (the Assistant DA) lack meaning in their line presentations.

Capsule judgment: ‘SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER’ sends an important message regarding racial profiling. Unfortunately, the script is not well conceived, and the presentation not convincing, which leads to an overly long performance experience.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Allen White reviews the reviewer

I was one of the fortunate people who got to see the
> show (THE LIGHT ON THE PIAZZA)in New York, and
> again last night. After seeing the NYC production I
> told people the show was "stunningly beautiful", and the performances, especially Victoria Clark and Kelli O'Hara, were incredible.
> My wife did not see the New York production, and
> didn't understand what I saw in the show. She was mostly bored, and felt that Margaret was completely lost. On the way out of the theatre I heard others who wanted to know why this show won the Tony Award for best musical, because it certainly wasn't very good. (It didn't, but it was nominated for that honor --Victoria Clark did win the Tony for Best
> Actress in a Musical.)
> Mr. Berko's review was accurate, because the beauty of the show was mostly
> lost in last night's performance. I fear much of that was because of the
> understudy not having the range to portray a role as complicated as
> Margaret. I can say that I love the song "Dividing Day", because of its
> complicated message of love somewhere lost, and I barely recognized it last
> night.
> The show requires the woman playing Margaret to have incredible range, both
> in acting and in singing. Perhaps the woman scheduled to play her has that
> range, but Ms. Brockman certainly does not. I wouldn't say that you should
> avoid the show, because it's a wonderful show, but last night was certainly
> not representative of that.
> Allen White

The Light in the Piazza (Playhouse Square Center)

A dim ‘LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA’ at the Palace

A rather surprising thing happened at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square on the opening night of the touring production of ‘THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. During the curtain call following the show, no one stood up. Yes, it was Cleveland, Ohio, the home of the automatic standing ovation, and nary a soul jumped out of a seat!

‘THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA,’ Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel’s musical, based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer, tells the story of a mother ((Margaret) and daughter (Clara) traveling through Italy, the daughter's romance with a Florentine (Fabrizio), and the mother's determined efforts to keep the two apart.

Margaret is in a loveless marriage and has brought her daughter to Florence, home of art and beauty, to escape the mother’s reality and flashback to a happier time. Clara was kicked in the head as a child by an errant pony at a birthday party. Though she has the body of a woman, she has the emotions of a 10-year old. Fabrizio is a twenty-year old Italian who, in a chance meeting, falls in love with Clara. As happens in all good soap operas, true love wins out in the end.

The show garnered six 2005 Tony Awards. The score by Adam Guettel, who is the grandson of Richard Rogers of ‘SOUND OF MUSIC’ fame, has been praised for its ability to create the mood of falling in love and evoking strong emotional feelings.

So, with all these positives, why did the touring production receive luke-warm applause from the less than sold-out opening night audience?
•Maybe it was the fact that the play is an intimate experience, which was nurtured by the small New York theatre in which it was performed, while it was lost in the vastness of the Palace.
•Maybe it was because the role of Margaret was portrayed by Jane Brockman, an understudy who gave a stiff, one-dimensional veneer to the character and had only an acceptable singing voice.
•Maybe it was because the score, in spite of the superlatives that have been used to describe it, doesn’t have a single hummable or memorable song.
•Maybe it was because the soap-opera/melodramatic story line didn’t evoke the emotional response in the audience that it should have because the show is almost more operetta than musical theatre. In fact, this show may have given life to a new format in theatre, the soap operetta.
•Maybe because the show failed to live up to the image of the traditional musical. There is no dancing or show stopper in this vehicle, no message to carry from the theatre..

That is not to say there are not highlights in the production. Handsome David Burnham has a strong and well-trained operatic voice and develops a well-textured Fabrizio. And, as Clara, Elena Shadow is totally believable as the waif-like woman/child. She has a lovely singing voice. The duo are worth seeing.

The full orchestra was excellent. The sets and costumes quite acceptable.

Capsule judgment: Don’t Go To See ‘THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA’ with the expectation of being “blown away.” It is a pleasant diversion which never reaches the level of expectation of a six Tony Award winner.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Of Mice and Men (Cleveland Play House)

Emotional 'OF MICE AND MEN' at CPH

‘OF MICE AND MEN,’ John Steinbeck’s play, which is now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, was the author’s attempt at writing in a format which he entitled a play novelette.

Steinbeck envisioned that the novel and the play would have the same format and be interchangeable. For example, each chapter is arranged as a scene, and each scene is confined to a single place.

In spite of the fact that the book is a classic which is read by most high school and college students, and sold over 120,000 before it was even published in 1937, Steinbeck considered the work a failure in the sense that it did not accomplish his goal since the play version was rewritten by George Kaufman, who directed its first production.

The novel/play which was transformed into five films, an opera and numerous stage productions, is not without controversy. In the 1990s several school libraries banned the book for “promoting euthanasia.” In fact, the book is number six on the list of the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books.

The play, which is set on a ranch in the Salinas Valley in California during the Great Depression of the 1930s, centers on George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant workers who dream of owning their own farm. Unfortunately, like the line in Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Mouse,” which laid the foundation for the title and the script’s theme, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” the dream is not achieved.

George, is large, strong, unintelligent and innocent at heart. He lives to touch soft and furry things (rabbits, mice, soft materials), but often acts out physically when the animal nips or someone pulls away from him. George is his caretaker, friend and conscience. George and Lennie are like mice in the maze of life. Their extraordinary friendship distinguishes them from other lonely migrant workers who are individualists, afraid to show their softer feelings or bond with another person.

The CPH production, under the direction of Seth Gordon, is generally effective. The cast, with a few exceptions is excellent.

Jeffrey Evan Thomas is outstanding as Lennie. This is a difficult role. There is a temptation to overdo the character and make him pathetic or comic. Thomas walks the fine line with perfection. This is an amazing performance.

Harry Carnahan is believable as George. His affection and desire to protect Lenny from hurt, including his making a startling decision at the play’s final curtain, is clear. Even his oft repeated “If I was alone I could live so easy,” is clearly developed as a ploy to cover his need for the bonding.

Chet Carlin is convincing as Candy, the old man who has little for which to live. Jeremy Holm develops the role of Slim well , as does Wiley Moore as the “nigra.”

Amanda Rowan weakly stays close to the surface as the daughter-in-law of the ranch’s owner. Vayu O’Donnell is not believable as her husband. Caleb Sekeres (Whit) who uses a flat, no-affect delivery, fails to develop any characterization.

Hugh Landwehr’s multi-set design works well and James C. Swonger’s sound design helps develop the mood.

The first act is well-paced, but the second act lagged.

The power of the conclusion was disrupted by Gordon’s decision to bring up the lights too quickly, startling the audience back to reality, thus breaking their emotional envelopment.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘OF MICE AND MEN’ is a generally effective presentation with two srong performances by Jeffrey Evan Thomas and Harry Carnahan. It is a production that should be attended not only by the many students who study the show, but by those who like a good script which gets a good production.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Both Sides of the Family (Charenton Theater)

‘BOTH SIDES OF THE FAMILY,’ a thought provoking probe at Charenton

She is an Episcopalian, married to a Jew, who is bringing up her daughter in the Hebrew faith.

He is a Jew, married to a Catholic, who is feeling guilty because he knows little about his heritage, has allowed his son to be brought up out of the faith, realizes that he wants to probe his roots, and is frustrated because he can’t pass on his history to his son.

Thus, we have the premise for Maryann Elder Goldstein’s ‘BOTH SIDES OF THE FAMILY, which recently had its world premiere at Charenton Theater Company.

The one-hour play, has an interesting format. Its two characters, who are on stage throughout the production, never speak to each other, don’t interact, and only at the end have a passing but significant connection.

Both humorous and poignant, Goldstein has probed not only inter-religious marriage, but the purpose of religion, the importance of tradition, and the bond of family. The dialogue is natural. The humor is appropriate to the situation, not gimmicky. The angst is nicely developed. This is a good script!

The Charenton production, under the adept directing of Jacqi Loewy, is nicely paced, the concepts stand out, and the acting realistic. Author Maryann Elder Goldstein, who may well be playing her real-life self, is totally believable as She. Jeff Grover, who, besides playing He, added material to the script. He was realistic as the frustrated He.

Capsule judgement: ‘BOTH SIDES OF THE FAMILY’ is a well-written script which received a fine production at Charenton.
Charenton, which finds itself in the same nomadic state as Ensemble and Dobama, is looking to make their home in Gallery 324 at the Galleria. They are looking for an “angel” to finance their desire into a reality. Potential donors may contact the theatre at www.cherenton or call 216-469-9160.