Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Theatre of the Absurd…WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF @ Lakeland Civic Theatre

Edward Albee, author of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF,  now in production at The Lakeland Civic Theatre, is one of the best known Theatre of the Absurd American writers.  This form of theatre, which was at its apex shortly following World War II is based, in part on existentialism, and asks “what is the purpose of existence?”  

Absurdist playwrights create situations in which the characters are caught in hopeless situations and repeat meaningless actions.  The plots may go beyond realism.  The stories often highlight individuals who seem to have no purpose in life and are caught in situations where their communication breaks down.  Any hope for rationalism gives way to illogical speech and leads to the highest form of dysfunction, silence.

Albee, who was adopted at an early age, led a life of luxury, but was seemingly denied love by parents who didn’t really know how to raise a child.  They gave him the opportunity to go to the finest schools, but never bonded with him.  His background is often credited with creating in him a hostile view of society and relationships.

Albee’s writing career has been filled with highlights.  He received three Pulitzer Prizes for drama—A DELICATE BALANCE (1967), SEASCAPE (1975), and THREE TALL WOMEN (1994).   Interestingly, his WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, considered by many theatre historians to be his greatest work, was not honored with a Pulitzer.  It was selected for the award by the drama jury, but the advisory committee, with no explanation, overruled the selection and gave no award that year.  Rumors for the action centered on Albee’s being openly gay, which was repugnant to the conservative board.   It is interesting that Albee, himself, states “I am not a gay writer.  I am a writer that happens to be gay.”

Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is a classic example of absurdist writing which probes the modern condition.  It contains biting dialogue by highlighting the dysfunctional relationship between two people who seemingly have only one purpose…the psychological destruction of each other.

The play centers on Martha and George.  He is a seemingly inept professor at the small New England college whose President is Martha’s father.  The duo has been married for many years, use alcohol to escape from their miserable existence and play word games to torture not only themselves, but anyone else who enters their chaotic home. 

One evening, after a faculty party, a young couple, Nick, a new Biology instructor, and his wife, Honey, are invited by Martha, to come over for drinks.  Little do they know the verbal torture session that is about to take place. 

Alcohol flows freely, secrets are exposed, and the end result is an emotional bloodbath.  Each horrific episode is keyed or ended with George and/or Martha’s repetition of the words, “who is afraid of Virginia Woolf” chanted to the tune of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” from Disney’s THREE LITTLE PIGS.  

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF has three acts.   “Fun and Games” lays the foundation for what is to come through a series of verbal, physical and emotional expository revelations.  “The writing of the first act is often hailed as some of the greatest in all of the American theatre.”  The second act, “Walpurgisnacht,” takes its theme from the night that witches meet and Satan appears.  In “The Exorcism,” the evicting of demons and other spiritual entities from a person or area through elaborate ritual, take place..

The Lakeland production, under the direction of Martin Friedman, is compelling.  The acting is excellent, the tension often gets unbearable.  The audience laughs and wonders why they would be expressing such a positive emotion to such terrible verbal destruction of others.  The ending leaves both the audience and the actors exhausted. 

The Lakeland cast is not alone in their high fatigue level.  Uta Hagen, who played Martha in the original Broadway production, indicated that playing the role of Martha was like having a nervous breakdown every night.  In fact, the strain was so much on the actors, a separate cast played the matinees.  Having seen the original production, I can attest to not only the brilliance of Hagen, and her costar, Arthur Hill, but to the utter exhaustion of the experience.

Greg Violand’s take on George is fascinating to watch.  The role often engenders ranting and raving.   Violand’s George is almost laid back.  He seldom raises his voice.  Instead, he thrusts and hits his target through textured underplay.  He puts on the role of George and never takes it off.

Molly McGinnis does a consistent interpretation of the sexy boozed Martha.   She does not spew the venom of Hagen, nor Elizabeth Taylor, who was in the movie version with Richard Burton, but McGinnis does create a Martha to be reckoned with.

Studly Daniel Simpson is excellent as Nick, the young professor who has been coerced into marriage by a “pregnant” Honey, she of wealth and beauty. Katie Nabors well develops Honey, the  hypochondriac with psychological issues.

Friedman, in the program notes, explains that the multi-level open platform setting, covered with what looks like dulled-down aluminum foil, is part of his philosophy to strip down a play’s physical trappings and inspiring the audience and actors to focus on the language and storyline of the play.  Normally, I might agree with him, but I think this particular play works best in a set in which the walls literally come in on the actors, causing a claustrophobic atmosphere,  a cage that screams there is no place to hide, no place to escape.  As is, the wide expanse of the Lakeland Community College theatre stage is so massive that some of the tension dissipates into the wings and fly gallery, and, at times, the voices get lost. 

Capsule judgment:  WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF gets a very credible staging at Lakeland’s Civic Theater.  The acting is of high quality.  Potential audience members should be aware that, though the show clicks along at a nice pace, this is a long three-act play with two intermissions.  It’s well worth a trip to Lake County to see this seldom produced classic.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF runs Friday through Sundays from September 18-October 4, 2015 at Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland. For tickets call 440-525-7134.

Please vote for Issue 8--which supports Cuyahoga County's Arts & Culture sector and is NOT A TAX INCREASE.  The continuance of your local theatre’s and other arts providers depend on this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Emotionally draining, intellectually satisfying DEATH OF A SALESMAN @ Ensemble Theatre

Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama, now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, is universally recognized as one of, if not the greatest modern American play.   Others that are recognized as top classic plays are LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Eugene O’Neil),  STREET CAR NAMED DESIRE (Tennessee Williams), OUR TOWN (Thornton Wilder), and WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (Edward Albee).

Miller, the son of a wealthy Jewish manufacturer, watched as his father’s fortunes disappeared during the depression.  Because of this, much of his writing focuses on anxiety, insecurity, and personal achievement.  Constantly, Miller asks, “What is the right way to live?”  This theme is apparent in such works ALL MY SONS, THE CRUCIBLE and THE PRICE.

Arthur Miller is one of the few playwrights who has successfully spanned the post-World War II era into the late 20th century.

Critics often have difficulty classifying Miller’s writing.  The designations span such terms as social criticism, modern tragedy and psychological study. 

The University of Michigan graduate seldom gives answers, he asks questions.  As is the case with many Jewish thinkers and writers, based on years of being involved in the Talmudic tradition of education which asks questions rather than giving solutions, Miller presents and leaves it to the reader/viewer to answer and learn from the experience. 

Miller, who is well-versed in theater techniques as well as dramatic literature, often instructs on set and lighting factors, in how to  stage his plays. In DEATH OF A SALESMAN, he uses flashbacks, and advises set directors, when possible, to use scrim material, which allows characters to appear behind what appear to be solid walls, to enter the scene, but are still outside the action.  This way, past life and present life meet, but don’t collide.   Some technical directors, as is the case at Ensemble, attempt to use lighting effects to create that illusion.

It is interesting to note that in the script, Miller describes the setting to be a small house, surrounded by high apartments, which blocks out the sun from the residence.  It describes his Brooklyn boyhood home which was encroached upon by buildings.

Miller uses the concept of the modern tragedy in developing the story.  Willy, the central character, lives a life of illusions and lies to create a world of “success,” but, in the end, as with most of his life, he dies with a false dream.  The more Willy makes up his personal lies, and engages in illusion, the harder it is for him to face reality.  He exits as a tragic character who is to be pitied, not praised.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN places the spotlight on Willy Loman, an everyman who has eked out a living as a mediocre salesman by traveling his territory attempting to get merchants to buy his goods.   Living with the philosophy that people who are well-liked will be happy, he obsesses in his desire to teach his son, “Biff,” a proficient athlete, that he has to be a winner.   Much of Willy’s world disappears as Biff, through a series of bad decisions, based on the false beliefs taught by Willie, fails to achieve “greatness.”  Interestingly, as the play concludes, it appears that only Biff, not Willie’s wife, Linda, nor his son, Hap, has learned the futility of Willie’s life and death.

Like all classics, the themes in DEATH OF A SALESMAN still ring true today. Its harsh criticism of American capitalism may not be quite as shocking as it was when the play first premiered, but with the explosion of the housing bubble and numerous business shams, the concept still holds up.  His message of living with a set of false values rings clear.

The play’s requiem, takes place at Willy’s newly dug graveside.  Only the family and two neighbors are in attendance.   None of Willy’s supposed minions of business associates are there.

As the play reaches its climax, Biff encourages Hap to come west with him to start fresh lives.  Hap refuses, unable to grasp the reality of Willy’s false philosophy of life.  He declares that he will stick in New York to validate Willy’s life and death.  Linda, who has acted as Willy’s enabler, looks into his graves and asks him for forgiveness for being unable to cry, and wonders aloud why he has ended his life when, after she has made the last payment on their house, “We’re free and clear.”

Ensemble’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN is emotionally draining and intellectually satisfying.  Director Celeste Cosentino has honed a fine production that develops Miller’s intent and purpose.

Greg White creates a Willy who lives life as an illusion.   Some actors portray the character with strong emotional highs and lows, others with brooding rage.  White travels a path of consistent low-key almost depressed control.  Even in his strong emotional scenes, his voice never becomes a shout.  The interpretation is very affecting.

Keith Stevens nicely textures the role of Biff, showing both stubborn misguided pride and an evolving understanding of who he is and how he got there.  The scene where he finds Willy in a hotel room with a company secretary is heartbreaking.

Mary Alice Beck underplays Linda so well that it becomes clear that she is blind to Willy’s weaknesses and false delusions, and enables him out of unwavering love.  Her “honor must be paid” speech is compelling, as is her exposing Willy’s act of putting a hose on the natural gas line in the basement for a potential suicide attempt.

Steven Hood creates a ghost-like, compelling aura as Uncle Ben, the illusion Willy turns to in periods of despair.

Johnathon Jackson creates in Hap, Biff’s younger brother, a failed young man who has mainly been ignored by Willy, a playboy who, like Willie, is living false dreams.

Joseph Milan (Charley) and James Rankin (Bernard) nicely portray the real successful men, who contrast with Willy’s life of false illusions.  The scene in which Charlie reveals to Willy that his son, Bernard, is going to plead a case before the Supreme Court, is a shining example of the differences between Willy’s need to create importance by making-up hoped for dreams, and Charlie and Bernard’s quiet acceptance of what comes from life when you act, rather than fantasize.

Other than some confusing lighting effects, the technical aspects of the show are well executed.  Especially effective are the pictures of the apartment buildings surrounding and sucking the air out of the Loman residence.

Capsule judgment:  DEATH OF A SALESMAN is one of America’s great play scripts.  The classic gets an excellent production at Ensemble.  As the script gets few present-day productions, anyone who has never seen the play on stage, or those who need another viewing to evaluate their own philosophical life path, should definitely see this production.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN runs Thursdays through Sundays from September 18-October 11, 2015 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org


Please vote for Issue 8--which supports Cuyahoga County's Arts & Culture sector and is NOT A TAX INCREASE.  The continuance of your local theatre’s and other arts providers depend on this.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Well-conceived THE SPITFIRE GRILL at Beck Center


Opening night of THE SPITFIRE GRILL was a special evening for the Beck Center for the Arts.  It was the start of the organization’s 82nd season and Scott Spence’s 25th anniversary as Artistic Director.

THE SPITFIRE GRILL, with music and book by James Valcq and lyrics and book by Fred Alley, which is based on Lee David Zlotoff’s 1996 film of the same name, is a combination of myth and folktale which takes place in Gilead, Wisconsin.

As described in a travel book which convict Percy Talbott is reading at the start of the play, the rural town is filled with “Autumn colors” and is located along the Copper Creek.  Ignoring that it is February, and the leaves have long been off the trees, Percy, upon her release from prison, makes her way to Gilead, where the streets are deserted, many of the storefronts boarded up, and there is a single place to eat, The Spitfire Grill, which has been for sale for years, with no buyers.

Percy reports to Joe Sutter, the handsome young local sheriff, who is to act as her parole officer.  She needs a job.  Old widow, Hannah Ferguson, has a bad hip and a caustic tongue, and a secret to hide.  She needs help in running The Spitfire, and, in spite of a conflicted beginning, Percy fits the bill.

As the story unfolds, we meet Effy Krayneck, the nosey, gossip-spreading post mistress, Caleb, Hannah’s nephew, who has lived his life in the shadow of Eli, Hannah’s “perfect” son who went off to the war with a hero’s parade but was “lost in action,” and Shelby, Caleb’s abused wife.   A mysterious man, who is left a loaf of bread each night by the outside wood pile, turns out to be the pivotal character of the plot.  Add a revealed murder, a raffle, the development of friendship, a budding relationship, the gaining of an appreciation for the simple things in life, and a reunion, and you have the elements of the plot.

In contrast to the many loud, over-sung and over-amplified musicals, Valcq has created pleasant country, bluegrass and pop ballad sounds into a twangy Americana score, played by a keyboard, violin, cello and guitar.  No loud guitar rifts, booming bass, and pounding drums here.

The lyrics, which are meant to be heard, and which help develop the storyline and create clear characters, picks up the tone and meaning of the story.

Interestingly, none of the songs stand out on their own.  No show stoppers, no big dance numbers, no top ten hits.  The tunes work, as does the script, to develop a  simple, soul searching tale with some of the same qualities of OUR TOWN.  It’s a tale which should make the viewer think of the values and purposes of life and what is really important. Even the humor is gentle.

Beck’s production, under the direction of William Roudebush, is well conceived.  Though the pace is a little languid at times, as the cast plays before audiences and hits a cadence that builds in laugh spaces and accommodates audience reactions, the pace should pick up.

The cast is universally excellent.  Neely Gevaart creates a Percy who, while crusty on the outside, is tender underneath.  Though a little difficult to understand at times due to flat articulation, her messages are well developed.  She has a fine voice and generally sings meanings rather than words.  She did a nice rendition of “Shine.”

Kate Leigh Michalski takes on the character of Shelby with clarity and purpose.  Her presentation of the beautiful ballad, “When Hope Goes” and the revealing “Wild Bird” are production highlights.

Dan Folino is acting and vocalizing terrific as the frustrated and haunted Caleb.  The conclusion of his “Digging Stone” was met with much deserved prolonged applause.

Lenne Snively balanced off the cantankerous nature of Hannah with well developed controlled underlying pain.  Her “Forgotten Lullaby,” was nicely sung, “Shoot the Moon” was a delight, and her rendition of “Way Back Home” was very effective.

No one plays gossipy overdone “very mature” woman better than Lissy Gulick.  By her third entrance, each succeeding appearance was met with anticipatory laughter.

Shane Patrick O’Neill was excellent as Sheriff Joe Sutter, the hometown boy longing to get on the next train out of town, but held back by an unidentified need.  He has a strong singing voice that was well displayed in “Forest for the Trees.”

Derrick Winger created the right presence as the mysterious Visitor.

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster did a nice job of constraining the musicians so that they underscore the singers, rather than overpowering them.  This is extremely important due to the Mackey Main Stage’s very poor acoustics.  Even so, though the cast wore microphones, some of the lyrics were lost.

Aaron Benson’s rustic wooden multi-level set created the correct mood, but due to a low hanging staircase, actors had to duck under the overhang causing awkward entrances and exits.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  THE SPITFIRE GRILL is a nicely honed script, filled with excellent music.  It gets a well-conceived, acted and sung production.  


THE SPITEFIRE GRILL is scheduled to run through October 18, 2015 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go on line to http://www.beckcenter.org 

Next up at Beck?  ‘MOTHERS AND SONS,” Terrence McNally’s Tony nominated play in its regional premiere from October 9-November 15, 2015.

Please vote for Issue 8--which supports Cuyahoga County's Arts & Culture sector and is NOT A TAX INCREASE.  The continuance of your local theatre’s and other arts providers depend on this.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Broadway legend John Kander to attended Musical Theater Project’s PERFECTLY MARVELOUS @ Allen Theatre

Liza Minnelli once said, “The greatest thing about [John] Kander and [Fred] Ebb is you sing their songs and you feel good.”  She was referring to the multi-award winning Broadway writing team who gave the world such songs as, “How Lucky Can You Get?,” “Maybe This Time,” “All That Jazz,” “Cabaret,” and “But The World Goes Round.”

These, and other compositions, came from such Broadway shows as CABARET, THE RINK, THE ACT, WOMEN OF THE YEAR, AND THE WORLD GOES ROUND, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, FOSSE, CURTAINS, and THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS.  The duo also contributed to such movies as FUNNY LADY and NEW YORK, NEW YORK.

Kander and Ebb met in 1964.  Though it had a short-run, their first collaboration, FLORA THE RED MENACE, created a bond between the writers and Liza Minelli.  At age 19, she not only made her first Broadway appearance in the show, but was the youngest person, to that date, to win a Tony Award.

In 1966 the duo transformed the play I AM A CAMERA into CABARET, which went on to win seven Tony Awards.   The musical, about the decadence in Germany that helped lead to the rise of Hitler, was later turned into a movie, which again reunited Liza Minelli with Kander and Ebb.  She won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Sally Bowles.

The Broadway show and film CABARET also starred Tony and Academy Award winning Cleveland-born Joel Grey, who will appear on October 24 & 25 at the Allen Theatre in JOEL GREY UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL, as part of Cleveland Play House’s Centennial Celebration Weekend. 

Shows like THE HAPPY TIME, ZORBA, 70 GIRLS 70, and CHICAGO followed, and led to Kander and Ebb being anointed Broadway royalty.

Besides their three Tony Awards, the duo were recognized for their contributions to theater and music with the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors.

Ebb died in 2004, but Kander continues to create.  Last season THE VISIT, a work that the duo started in 1998, starred Chita Rivera on Broadway.

The 88-year old Kander will be the subject of The Musical Theater Project’s PERFECTLY MARVELOUS:  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER, which will be performed at the Allen Theatre on October 31 @ 8 PM and November 1 @ 2 PM.  

The TMTP concert will feature Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba, who attended the University of Akron, danced with the Ohio Ballet, and performed on the Great White Way in three Kander and Ebb’s shows.

Others in the TMTP multimedia concert will be Bill Rudman, The Musical Theater Project’s Artistic Director, musical director Nancy Maier, and performers Derrick Cobey, Katherine DeBoer and Matthew Wright.

For tickets to PERFECTLY MARVELOUS;  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER call 216-241-6000 or go online http://www.playhousesquare.org

On October 29, two days before Kander attends the PlayhouseSquare concert, he will be at Oberlin College, his alma mater, for a production of his 2011 musical, THE LANDING, which he wrote with Greg Pierce (nephew of David Hyde Pierce).  The script will be staged at the Apollo Theatre, 19 E. College Street.  Admission is free, but tickets are required.  To obtain tickets, call the Oberlin Central Ticket Service Box Office at 440-775-8169. 
JOHN KANDER: HIDDEN TREASURES, 1959-2015, a 2-CD deluxe collection with a 70-page booklet, including written notes by Jesse, Green, theater critic of “New York” magazine, and dozens of production shots and behind-the scenes photos of Kander’s musicals, will be released shortly.  Produced by Ken Bloom and Bill Rudman, the 49-tracks will include recordings from Kander’s student compositions at Oberlin, songs cut from CABARET, CHICAGO, and tunes released for the first time from Kander’s archives, as well as new recordings by Anita Gillete and Karen Ziemba.  It can be pre-ordered at http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org

Sunday, September 13, 2015

World premiere of Ken Ludwig's A COMEDY OF TENORS delights @ CPH

The Cleveland Play House opened its 100th season in a lavish and theatrically exciting way.  An invitation only group of CPH financial supporters, politicians, and theatre enthusiasts, draped in tuxedos and high fashioned gowns, entered the beautiful Allen theatre lobby to have their pictures taken with the 2015 Best Regional Theatre Tony Award statue.  Guests were then escorted into the inner lobby where a cocktail party was in full swing.  

The crowd then assembled in the Allen Theatre for the world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s A COMEDY OF TENORS. 

Last May, the play had a reading as part of the New Ground Festival.  With Ludwig present to judge the quality of the script, as well as audience reaction, it became quickly obvious that the grand master of farce was well on his way to another big hit.  In part, as a result of the reading, A COMEDY OF TENORS was booked as the opening show for CPH’s second centennial season.

A COMEDY OF TENORS is the second in Ludwig’s look at the world of farcical classical musical stagings.  His first show on the topic, LEND ME A TENOR, is one of modern America’s best farces.  It received nine Tony award nominations, has appeared twice on Broadway, has been translated into sixteen languages and has been produced in twenty-five countries.

A COMEDY OF TENORS carries forth many of the madcap characters from LEND ME A TENOR.  There is Henry Saunders, the former Mayor of Cleveland, who is now a producer of operatic concerts.  His son-in-law, Max, now a recognized tenor, is still Saunders’ do it all man Friday.  Tito Morelli, (“Il Stupendo”) the temperamental, world famous Italian tenor and his ever put upon wife, Maria, are still bickering and threatening each other.  Add Carlo, the new heart throb tenor, who is having a secret affair with Mimi, Morelli’s daughter, Tatian Rac√≥n, Tito’s former lover, and a surprise guest, and hysterical chaos reigns. 
 
Farce, a light dramatic work with a highly improbable plot and exaggerated characters, is hard to both write and perform.   The writing must be so precise that the audience is led to laughter by the realism of the language imbedded in unbelievable situations.  The performances must be authentic, not beg for laughs, and the actions so broad that they require laughter.  Lots of door slamming, mistaken identifies, non-stop stage movements, and pure joy on the part of the audience are the keys to success. 

Laugh after laugh greets one improbable scene after another.  Ludwig knows no ridiculous limits.  There’s a talking deli tongue, lots of people in underwear, cast members diving off a balcony, sexual innuendoes that might shock, some Swedish put downs that are sure to bring groans, and making fun of death.   Even the curtain call is hysterical.

The cast has been melded into a unit by director Stephen Wadsworth that understands that, for farce to work, the actors must be totally real in their character development.  Their earnestness must come across.  These are “real” people caught in a series of ridiculous situations.  We laugh at what is happening to them, the outlandishness which is coming out of their mouths, but not at them per se.

Ron Orbach rants, raves and overplays Saunders to perfection.  He creates a producer who is walking on a tight-rope of hypertension.

Petite Rob McClure, he of unbounded energy and fine tenor voice, leaps over ottomans, dashes around putting out possible disasters, and sweetly allows us to share the wonder of the birth of Max’s son, with total glee.

Bradley Dean creates a Tito who is a hot-blooded Italian drama queen, an aging superstar on the cusp of his career, and a loving father and husband, with nice texturing.  He has a wonderful touch with comedic timing and a great singing voice.

Antoinette LaVecchia as Maria, Tito’s high strung wife, is his counterpart in displaying stereotypical Italian excitement, and gets her share of laughs. 

Handsome Bobby Conte Thornton charmingly cavorts around the stage showing off his gym-toned body in a pair of tighty-whities as he romances Mimi,  Tito and Maria’s daughter.   He, as the other tenors in the cast, has a fine singing voice.  His face slapping scene with Mimi, brought verbal gasps and laughs from the audience

Beautiful Kristen Martin is very believable as Mimi, while Lisa Brescia does a nice turn as Tatiana.

Charlie Corcoran’s plush, art deco set, is not only attractive, but well built as it stands up to the numerous powerful door slams.  William Ivey Long’s costumes are era correct, including the males’ high-waisted pleated pants, and the female courtier dresses.        

Last night Ludwig shared, in a conversation we had following production, the challenge of writing a farce.  The author, who loves Cleveland, has been in town during the rehearsals of the show and had been doing some rewriting the script.  That  tweeking continued until shortly before last night’s curtain went up.  His reaction to the CPH staging was on the personable Ludwig’s cherubic face, as he wandered the crowd, smiling, sharing stories, and graciously receiving a massive number of compliments from the assemblage.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Ah, what a night at CPH.  The viewing of their well-deserved Tony, a Ken Ludwig farce which will forever be listed as having had its world premiere beside the PlayhouseSquare chandelier, was a class act celebration of the theatre’s one- hundredth anniversary.  As for the play, if the opening night audience’s reaction is an indication of things to come, Ludwig should be well- off financially from the royalties to be garnered from the professional and amateur rights to the show.  If you love farce, if you go to the theatre to have a good time, you must see A COMEDY OF TENORS.

A COMEDY OF TENORS runs through October 3, 2015, at the Allen Theatre in the CPH complex at PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Please vote for Issue 8--which supports Cuyahoga County's Arts & Culture sector and is NOT A TAX INCREASE.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Well acted, overly long IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP at none too fragile

Neil LaBute, the author of IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP, now on stage at none too fragile theatre, is noted for writing plays and movies filled with hatred, distrust and disdain for humans and human nature.  

His writing style, where characters hold supreme over the plot, are filled with terse, rhythmic and language-oriented speeches.  Much like his mentor, David Mamet, he also stresses relationships, political correctness and macho attitudes. 

LaBute is often accused of being an unforgiving judge of the ugliest side of human nature.  In each of his scripts, one or more of his characters often has a dark underbelly, and is self-absorbed. 

The author is usually brutally clear in delineating the bad guys in his plots and takes on topics that others avoid.  For example, in FAT PIG, he confronts the role of subtle and overt mistreatment of overweight women.  

He often has a surprise or shocking ending to his plays.  LaBute has been called “a moralist who seems to delight in depicting human cruelty and in hoodwinking an audience.”  IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP, both of these traits hold fast.  He pulls the rug from under the emotional feet of the viewer, by throwing in an ending that many couldn’t predict would be coming.

The play opens with Bobby, a carpenter, entering a cabin in disarray just outside of an unspecified college town.   He has been asked to come to help Betty, his older sister, the Dean of Liberal Arts, to empty out the place, as she wishes to rent it out now that the tenant has suddenly moved out. 

The duo is a classic example of sibling rivalry.  They had an overbearing father, a conflicted childhood, and long time differences concerning the purpose of life.  Betty, is married, with two children, educated and worldly.  Bobby, twice divorced, crude, quick tempered, outspoken, and seemingly not concerned over civil correctness. 

A storm rages both outside and inside.  As the duo bickers, their troubled history is revealed.  Truth and deceptiveness flow forth, with an unexpected ending.  The writer highlights, “the lies you tell yourself to get by.”

‘Nuff said.  Giving away too much of the plot would ruin the experience for those who will go see the play, so no spoiler alert is needed here.

In 2013, LaBute was named one of the winners of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Awards in Literature. 

As much as I tend to like LeBute plays, IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP is not one of his best works.  Though I found the ending, much a like Jeffrey Archer or O. Henry surprise ending, enticing, the play is much too long.  LeBute needed to apply a red pencil to about fifteen minutes of the hundred minute no-intermission work.  After a while, enough of the bickering was enough. 

If LeBute didn’t cut the length of the script, then director Andrew Narten should have.

Both Sean Derry as Bobby and Leighann Niles Delorenzo as Betty were outstanding.  They sparred like fighters in a ring, feigning, attacking, hitting each other with verbal sledge hammers.   When the ranting and raving was over, not only the actors, but the audience was exhausted.

Capsule judgement:  Sean Derry and Leighann Niles Delorenzo light up the none too fragile stage in this battle of deception, lies, and false values.  Though overly long, Neil LaBute’s IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP still makes for an interesting evening of theater.

For tickets for IN A FOREST, DARK AND DEEP, which runs through September  19, 2015, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Surprising OR, at Dobama

Dobama Theatre’s mission statement indicates that it is its purpose to “premiere the best contemporary plays by established or emerging playwrights.”  Why, then, are they opening their 2015-16 season with a play set in 1666-1670?

According to Nathan Motta, the theatre’s Artistic Director, OR, “is intrinsically intelligent, sumptuously sensual, persistently playful, full of frivolity, and is chock-full of surprises.”  That explanation, even though enticing, doesn’t answer the era question.  He goes on to say in the program, “It’s relevant.  This play is thought-provoking and addresses themes and issues that are as true today as they were in the 1660’s or the 1960’s.” “And,” he added in his pre-curtain opening remarks, “definitely today.”

The play does include some lesbian acts and free love content, but even so, there seems to be a stretch of the Dobama definition.  That said, the play is inventive, playful and funny.  It is cleverly written by American playwright, Liz Duffy Adams.   Using Restoration period language mixed with contemporary text provides there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience guessing about the outcome. 

Starting out as a drama, the script nicely morphs into comedy and then stretches into farce, complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, sexual innuendoes, cross-dressing, and overblown characters and characterizations.

Duffy Adams received the “Women of Achievement Award” from the Women’s Project Theater, as well as being a recipient of the Lilly Award, which recognizes outstanding work of women in the American Theater.

The story centers on some real people, Aphra Behn, a former British spy and the woman credited with being the first female playwright in the Western world, Nell Gwynne, a famous actress of her day, King Charles II, who ruled over the restoration era which marked the end of the republican/Cromwellian rule of England, and Will Scott, a double agent who may or may not have been Behn’s lover and a conductor of a plot to kill Charles II.

Whether any or all of the actions of the play really took place is questionable, so this is not a history play, but probably historification.

Alphra wants to get out of the spy business and become a playwright.  She might succeed if she can finish the poetic play she is writing.  Unfortunately, she is constantly interrupted.  King Charles wants to make love with her.   So too does Nell Gwynne.  William Scott shows up, hiding out from Charles’s soldiers.

Questions arise:  Will Alphra finish the play?  Will Scott succeed in his plot against Charles?  Will Gwynne find true love with Charles, Alphra or both?  Who is the hyper-hysterical “woman” who appears to demand the play be finished immediately?  What role does Aphra’s maid have in bringing the plot to some sort of conclusion?

It might help the viewer to have some knowledge of the era, and the role of Cromwell, Charles’ pledge to the king of France that allowed him to regain the English thrown, and the role of the church at the time, but in the end, what Adams presents isn’t intended to teach a history lesson, but to entertain.

The Dobama cast, under the adept direction of Shannon Sindelar, does a nice job of keeping the intermissionless, ninety-minute comic romp moving smoothly along.  The farce works adequately well.  The double and triple identities achieved with some acceptable costume changes, aided by a cabinet which makes for quick wig and costume changes, and a little bit of forgiveness on the part of the viewers,  adds up to some belly laughing fun.

The beautiful Lara Mielcarek creates the right image as Aphra Behn.  She nicely textures the role, making her slight overdramatic performance an integral part of the playwright’s bigger than life image.

Natalie Green is adorable as the uninhibited Nell Gwynne, the actress, in an era when actresses were less than accepted members of society.  No acting here.  She is Nell Gwynne.  She also does a fun take on portraying Aphra’s stooped, cantankerous housekeeper.

Geoff Knox, who not only plays Charles, but William Scott, steals the show with his cross-dressing portrayal of the unnamed woman who is going to produce Aphra’s show.  His accurate machine gun delivery of a five-minute soliloquy, done without breathing, resulted in an ear-shattering round of applause as “she” made her exit.

Ben Needham’s plush set design generally worked well.  There were some effects which appeared to be more affect then effect, with fading of the lighting instruments at times when there seems to be no need.  Some of the sounds and music didn’t develop the mood, and, at times, drowned out the performers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: OR, is an amusing and revealing historification take on the Western world’s first recognized woman playwright, and her supposed relationships with Charles II, the King of England, and Nell Gwynn, one of the most famous actresses of her time.  The Dobama production is long on farce and fine acting!  It makes for a entertaining evening of theatre. 
OR, runs through October 4, 2015 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Dobama’s next production is Tanya Barfield’s THE CALL, October 25-November 15, 2015.

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