Saturday, September 22, 2018

“The Woman in Black” less than it could be at the Cleveland Play House


Susan Hill, author of the book The Woman in Black, the source of the play of the same name now being staged at the Cleveland Play House, relates: “The Suffolk coast. Winter. The early Seventies. Behind the path giving onto the shingle beach and the North Sea, are marshes, mysterious places with narrow paths where reed-beds make a dry rustling sound in the low wind that moans across here. I rented a house for several winters to work and often walked the marsh paths. Once, I was making fast for home when dusk was closing in.

The blackened hull of a rotting boat lay low in the mud. The last geese squawked home in the darkening sky. I sensed ghosts everywhere, looked behind me as I walked faster. There was a strange, steely light glinting, and shadows. Easy to let your imagination run away with you there and the scene stayed with me, though it was another 10 years before I actually made use of it.”

The resulting “use of the experience” was a 1983 Victorian ghost story entitled The Woman in Black.   The book was met with acceptable reviews, but hit its stride when, in 1987, it was transformed into a play by Stephen Mallatratt.  

The London West End production, which opened in 1989 and is still running, has been staged over 11,000 times and is the second longest running drama in English theatrical history. It is only eclipsed by Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which has had over 27,000 performances.  It was adapted into a 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe.

The play is, in fact, a play within a play.  Retired solicitor, Arthur Kipps, engages a young actor to coach him in how to deliver a public reading of a ghost story he has written, based on a real life experience. 

The actor eventually takes over the role of Kipps and acts out, with the aid of Kipps, who portrays a number of parts, the tale of a mysterious spectra that haunts an English town.

The tale, as related, took place many years earlier when Kipps was a junior solicitor working for a Mr. Bentley.   Kipps was sent to Crythin Gifford, on the north east coast of England, to attend the funeral of Mrs. Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow who lived alone in the huge, foreboding, desolate Eel Marsh House, separated from the town by a causeway.  At high tide it was cut off from the mainland.  

At the funeral, Kipps observes a woman dressed in black, surrounded by a group of children. 

Upon arrival at Eel Marsh House, Kipps is confronted by unexplained noises, a galloping horse drawing a carriage, screams of a young child and a woman, and the appearance of the Woman In Black.

He finds papers which reveal that Mrs. Drablow’s sister, Jennet, gave birth to a child.  Because she was unmarried, her sister and the sister’s husband adopted the boy with the understanding that Jennet was never revealed as his mother. 

Jennet went away for a short period, but returned to take care of the boy.  One day, a horse and carriage, carrying the boy across the causeway, sank into the marshes and the boy died.  Jennet stood at a window helplessly watching. 

Rumor had it that when Jennet died, she haunted Eel March House and the town of Crythin Gifford as The Woman in Black.  According to local tales, a sighting of her presaged the death of a child.

Thus is laid the foundation for what happened to Kipps upon his return to London as it related to his own marriage and child. 

At the end of his tale, Kipps finishes his reminiscence with the words, "They have asked for my story. I have told it. Enough."

It can easily be seen why the play had captured the minds of the London theatre goers.  Unfortunately, the CPH production, under the direction of Robin Herford, is lacking.  The visual image is not aided by designer Michael Holt’s oft-confusing and distracting set.

The production lacks intensity.  Though some of the scary aspects of the script are present, the needed “jump for fear” factors and the “impending doom “is often missing. 

Adam Wesley Brown is quite acceptable as The Actor.  Bradley Armacost, however, as Arthur Kipps and other roles, is often difficult to hear due to a lack of projection.  Therefore, some intricacies of the story are lost.  Hopefully, as the show runs and the actors will get comfortable and increase the intensity of their performances.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  At this pre-Halloween season “The Woman in Black” appears to have been a good choice.  The success of this type of play is dependent upon the audience using its imagination, and the moments of shock-induced terror and the jumpy, scream-induced moments.  These, unfortunately, are somewhat missing in this production. 

 
“The Woman in Black” runs through October 7, 2018 at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to http://www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Next up at CPH: (October 13-November 4, 2018) Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning “Sweat.” The capsule judgement of my review of the Broadway production was: “Theater represents the era from which it comes, and “Sweat” clearly and shockingly tells the depressing tale of what went on during the financial downturn of this country and the resulting hysteria and desperation by a group of people who felt they had been disenfranchised by big business, betrayed by their government, and sold out by their union and political leaders.  It is an important play which fulfills the educational obligation of the arts.”

Saturday, September 15, 2018

God admits he’s imperfect in hysterically funny “An Act of God” at Beck


   
God, or a facsimile thereof, in the form of Mike Polk Jr., who in his other life is a local comedian and Fox 8 personality, is appearing on the Beck Center for the Arts stage, in a mock spiritual conversation with his audience.

The script, which was written by David Javerbaum, and was adapted from his book, The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, is sure to offend some, and regale
everyone else in sustained laughter.  In other venues it has been called "a gut-busting-funny riff on the never-ending folly of mankind’s attempts to fathom God’s wishes through the words of the Bible and use them to their own ends.

It starred both Jim Parsons (Sheldon on Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon) and Sean Hayes (Jack of “Will and Grace”) in its two successful Broadway runs.

“God” shares with us, “Yea, I have grown weary of the Ten Commandments,” therefore, he “has come before us to expand the list. Or rather rewrite it, since some of the originals were too good to let go.”

God is not doing this task alone.  He is accompanied by his two favorite archangels, compliant Gabriel (Brian Pedaci) who acts as God’s “yes” man, and the inquisitive Michael (Allan Byrne) who asks lots of probing questions, such as why God allowed the Holocaust and why children die of cancer, while also probing audience members to throw inquiries and barbs at the Almighty.

God doesn’t put up easily with Michael’s antics.  The poor guy not only gets sent off the stage, but loses a wing for his impertinence.

Performed on a white-stepped modernistic set, such topics as circumcisions, Jesus, the difference between lies and liberties, believing in thyself, respecting children, who are the Muslims and Jews, the lack of “God” in China, and the new ten commandments, fits well the relaxed, stand-up comedy format.

Polk, who on opening night was obviously fighting a cold, has a nice presentational-style, that makes his “blasphemous” statements less stinging than if he “acted” God-like.  He toys well with the audience, and laughs at himself and the deity he is playing in a non-attacking way.  This is a wonderful unique performance which does not try to imitate either Parsons or Hayes.

Both Pedaci and Byrne are spot on as the archangels.

Director William Roudebush obviously has an understanding of the difference between comedy and farce, not forcing slapstick or overdone lines.  The show’s pace allows for laughs, without begging for them.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Act of God” is one of those funny, funny irreverent scripts that, while it may offend some, gets a no–holds-barred, must see fine production at Beck Center for the Arts.  You’ll be upset or leave with a smile on your face respecting a writer who can come up with a clever way to confront the ills of the world in a humorous way.

“An Act of God” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through October 7, 2018.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org  

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Well-performed, but uninspired “A Little Night Music,” @ Lakeland Civic Theatre


Like much of the works of Stephen Sondheim, from the start, “Little Night Music” proves to be a different type of musical.  Rather than a traditional overture, one-by-one, a quintet of singers, who will act like a Greek chorus throughout the production commenting on varying situations, introducing the audience to characters and clarify the plot’s goings on, enter, tuning up their voices.  Eventually, they blend into an overture composed of different songs from the score. 

Sondheim, an eight-time Tony winner, whose works are noted for their lyrical sophistication and musical complexity, is oft praised by critics and underappreciated by the general public.

His musicals abandon the romantic plots favored by Lerner and Loewe and Rogers and Hammerstein.  This is ironic since, from the age of ten, Sondheim was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II, the father of his boyhood friend. 

His works tend to be dark, exploring the ironic, grittier and unglamorous sides of both present and past life. 

He finds inspiration in the unlikeliest of sources—the opening of Japan to Western trade for “Pacific Overtures,” a legendary murderous barber seeking revenge in the Industrial Age of London for “Sweeney Todd,” the paintings of Georges Serrate for “Sunday In The Park With George,” fairy tales for “Into The Woods,” and a collection of individuals intent on eliminating the President of the United States in “Assassins.”  Even his one true comedy, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” centered on slavery in ancient Rome.
   
“A Little Night Music,” with a book by Hugh Wheeler, was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film, Smiles of a Summer Night, and exposes the lives of several couples, including such topics as infidelity, verbal relational abuse, and birth out of wedlock.  The play’s title is a literal English translation for Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.

As is often the case with Sondheim, the score has elements not often found in musical theater.  Its complex meters, pitch changes and high notes for both males and females present a challenge for performers. 

The story “explores the tangled web of affairs centered around actress, Desirée Armfeldt, and the men who love her: a lawyer, Fredrik Egerman and the Count Carl-Magnus Malcom.  When the traveling actress performs in Fredrik's town, the estranged lovers rekindle their passion.  This strikes a flurry of jealousy and suspicion between Desirée, Fredrik, Fredrick's wife, Anne, Desirée's current lover, the Count, and the Count's wife, Charlotte.  Both men – as well as their jealous wives – agree to join Desirée and her family for a weekend in the country at Desirée's mother's estate. With everyone in one place, infinite possibilities of new romances and second chances bring endless surprises.”

The show contains “A Weekend in the Country” and “Send in the Clowns,” two of Sondheim’s most well-known compositions.  Also in the score are “The Glorious Life,” “In Praise of Women,” and “The Miller’s Son.”

The vocalizations in the Lakeland production are well performed, as are the musical sounds of the orchestra. 

As has come to be expected, Trinidad Snider displays strong vocal abilities and acting skills as Desiree.  Her “Send in the Clowns” was masterful.  Singing meanings, not just words, she brought depth and clarity to the song.

Though his acting generally stays on the surface, Rob Albrecht (Frederick), sings well in “Now” and “You Must Meet My Wife.”

Talented Eric Fancher, another vocal and acting master, creates a properly self-loathing Henrik, Frederick’s son, who is hopelessly in love with his step-mother.

Meg Martinez masterfully interprets “The Miller’s Son.”

Ian Atwood is properly pompous as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, and Neely Gevaart shines as Countess Charlote Malcolm, his put-upon wife, who gets her revenge.

The rest of cast is also strong.

What’s missing is variance of performance tempo, and the charm and playfulness written into the script, but not translated onto the stage.  This is surprising as director Martin Friedman, a Sondheim expert, has displayed over and over in Sondheim stagings, his ability to bring life into the writer’s works. 

The scenic and lighting designs work well and Kelsey Tomlinson’s costumes are era correct.  The choreography is serviceable, though not overly creative.

Capsule judgment: In spite of a talented cast, “A Little Night Music” is uninspired and not up to the usual high level of Lakeland’s Sondheim script presentations. 

“A Little Night Music” runs Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 and at 2 on Sundays September 7 through 30 at Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland. For tickets call 440-525-7134.  (The college is only 10 minutes from the 90-271 split!)

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Must see “Alabama Story” is compelling at Ensemble


Kenneth Jones, the author of “Alabama Story,” now on stage at Ensemble Theatre in its Ohio premiere, stated in an interview, “In May 2000, while reading the New York Times, I came across the story of Emily Wheelock Reed, the former State Librarian of Alabama who had been challenged by a segregationist state senator in 1959. Senator E.O. Eddins [of Demopolis, Alabama] demanded that a children’s picture book — Garth Williams’ The Rabbits’ Wedding, about a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit — be purged from the shelves of Alabama libraries on the grounds that it promoted race-mixing. Their conflict was reported worldwide. Before I finished reading the article, I knew this was an idea for a play.”

He went on to say about the play that resulted: “It’s a romance, a political thriller, a memory play, a workplace drama, a tearjerker, a comedy, a discussion about race, censorship and political desperation, and a rumination on the power of books. Most important, it’s a play about how we behave when we face terrible circumstances — how character is revealed in times of transition, change and crisis.”

He adds, “I hope that “Alabama Story” sparks a memory of a beloved book, the person who gave it to you and the day you realized that a turning of the page could be both terrifying and wonderful, and that — on some level, no matter what our differences — we all share the same story.”

The story takes place in still segregated Montgomery, Alabama as the civil rights movement is in its early stages.  A no-nonsense female head of the State Library system makes book selections based on the National Library Association’s recommendations.   A bigoted state senator, a true son of the south in political views and conservative religion, tries to impose his racist views upon all he touches.  This includes the tomes on library shelves.

A parallel story evolves when two childhood friends meet by chance, as adults, the same year as the library incident.  She is the white daughter of a wealthy cotton plantation owner, and he is the son of her family’s long time black cook.  An incident between the girl and boy caused his mother and him to leave “the big house.”

Inspired by real events, “Alabama Story” touches on Civil Rights and censorship issues in the Deep South.   Presently, in these days of rising bigotry fueled by the irrational tweets of an impulsive President, the play, which has been billed as “a humor-laced social-justice drama is a sort of vest-pocket cousin To Kill a Mockingbird,” which also was the target of campaigns to rid it from libraries, has real implications.

Ensemble’s production, under the well-focused direction of Kenneth Jones, is riveting, compelling and emotionally eye-opening. 

The entire cast shines.  Anne McEvoy portrays head librarian, Emily Reed, with conviction.  This is a well-textured quality performance that presents a real person, speaking real language, in a totally believable way.

She is ably supported by Cody Kilpatrick Steele as Thomas, her assistant, Eugene Sumlin as Josh, the black man, Adrienne Jones as Lily, the white “rich” girl, and Craig Joseph in multiple roles.  Though, at times, he overly postures thus creating a stereotype rather than a real person, Joseph Milan is properly pompous and hateful as Senator Higgins.

Walter Boswell’s set design, Ian Hinz’s lighting, and Tyler Whidden and Becca Moseley’s sound, all add to the production.

Capsule judgment: “Alabama Story,” a well written account of a real life incident is theater at its finest displaying excellent acting, an enveloping script and a technically complementing design. This is an absolutely, must see production!


 
“Alabama Story” runs from September 7-30, on Thursdays through Sundays at Ensemble’s Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensembletheatrecle.org

Ensemble’s next production is a staged adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 
“East of Eden.”  It will appear in the theatre’s Mainstage Theatre from October 19-November 11.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Dobama’s “Sunset Baby” exposes the underbelly of the great sacrifice of survival





Dobama kicked off its 59th season with Dominique Morisseau’s three character, 90-minute play, about two generations of urban outlaws struggling to find their way through life by lying, stealing and often hiding their real feelings. 

Morisseau became a playwright almost out of necessity.  While working toward her degree in acting at the University of Michigan, she found herself frustrated over the lack of roles for African American women.  She started to write plays from a feminist perspective that contained opportunities for female performers, especially black women.

The two-time NAACP Image Award winner was listed as one of the top “20 Most Produced Playwrights in America in 2015–16.”

On the surface, “Sunset Baby” focuses on Nina, a sensuous young black woman who goes through life with a chip on her shoulder and a “I’ll do anything to get through life” attitude.  She, along with her “boyfriend” Damon, the father of a young boy from another relationship, sell drugs, scheme and pull guns when necessary, to “make it.”

Nina’s mother recently died, leaving her a packet of love letters that she had written, but never mailed to her husband, Nina’s father, Kenyatta, a jailed member of the Black Panther Party. 

Kenyatta, an advocate for black rights, was an active member of the organization, founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in the 1960s, which was identified by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."  Hoover supervised “an extensive counterintelligence program to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members, discredit and criminalize the Party, and drain the organization of resources and manpower.”  Though the group did initiate violent reactions to police, they also instituted a variety of community social programs, including health clinics and food programs.

Kenyatta, who abandoned his wife and child because of his belief in the Black Panther cause, was put in jail, and became alienated from Nina (who was named after singer and Civil Rights Activist, Nina Simone).

When he attempts to reunite with his daughter, he is rejected.  She wants nothing to do with him and refuses to let him even read the letters left to her by her mother, letters sought out by scholars interested in writing about the revolutionary ‘60s.

Kenyatta has difficulty expressing his emotions.  Nina has no cap on her feelings of abandonment and disdain for her father.  In utter frustration she rants, “I sell drugs and rob my own people, and my mother died an addict.  And now here’s daddy coming back here to be sentimental.”  She concludes with a withering epitaph: “Ain’t nothin’ sentimental about a dead revolution.”

Damon is adrift in his own tortured way.  He blurts out about the mother of his child, “[she] making me out to be the bad guy, when I’m only half-bad.”

“Sunset Baby” is wisely directed by Justin Emeka.  The frustrations and misunderstandings come out clearly.  His cast is up to the task of bringing to life Morisseau’s often over-lapping, powerful, Ebonic-tinged speeches and sounds.

Mary-Francis Miller transforms herself into Nina.  She doesn’t act, she is!  Greg White, though sometimes hard to hear due to his controlled demeanor, is on course as Kenyatta.  His final scene is emotionally wrenching.  Ananias J. Dixon plays the smoldering “black man frustrated by life” with the proper attitude.

Scenic designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski has the unenviable task of trying to create the needed intimate, “distressed apartment in Brooklyn” in the long rectangular Dobama acting space.  She doesn't’ completely succeed.  The audience in the center areas of the theatre are close enough to feel included, while those in the side sections are too far away for the needed intimacy.  The apartment is also too large, too “respectable” for the distressed.  A more confined acting area would have added to the strangling feeling of the speeches.

The use of Nina Simone songs during the show were both a boon and a problem. They set the proper tone, but when they underscored spoken lines, even when the volume was low, they distracted from the speeches.

Capsule judgement: “Sunset Baby” is an unnerving, thought-provoking script which exposes the viewer to not only the black experience in this country, but forces them to think back to both the turbulent 1960s and the effect the political and societal problems of the day had on those who actively lived through those times.  It is a well-conceived production worth seeing.

“Sunset Baby” runs through September 30, 2018, at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.

Next up at Dobama: “John” by Annie Baker, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of the very successful Dobama production of “The Flick.”   It will star Dorothy Silver, Cleveland’s Grande dame of theatre.  



Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Music, staging, performances makes reimagined “Jane Eyre” special



Charlotte Brontë’s book, “Jane Eyre,” is a gothic melodrama which centers on strong-minded Jane’s cruel treatment by her sadistic cousin and aunt, being shipped off to jail-like boarding school, departing to become a nanny for the ward of the wealthy but psychologically tortured Edward Fairfax with whom she falls in love, and the resulting angst of secrets revealed.

When the musical “Jane Eyre” opened on Broadway in 2000, it was classified, along with the likes of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Jekyll and Hyde,” as being a “tragic-poetic musical drama.”  It was, as were the others, based on an important epic tale, was dark in mood and staging, had big sets, and had lush, over-drawn orchestrations.

In spite of being credited with having a “luxuriant score, haunting and memorable music, crisp and intelligent lyrics,” the Broadway show ran for only 209 performances. 

Most reviewers agreed it, as was also the case with the other tragic-poetic musicals, they were over-staged.  “Phantom” was noted for the crashing chandelier and rowboat floating across the stage, “Jekyll and Hyde” for the “two people in one” physical switches and Jekyll ending his life by impaling himself on a swordstick.

These shows were noted for too many performers and too much emphasis on sets and costumes, which visually drowned out the tale itself and the impact of the music.

Along came Miles Sternfeld, the artistic director of Cleveland Musical Theatre, “a non-profit professional theater company that produces newly developed and re-imagined musical theater, featuring Broadway and Cleveland artists with emerging talent.”

Sternfeld felt that many of the problems with “Jane Eyre” could be fixed by shrinking the production, reexamining the score, and reimagining some of the book.

In most ways, as evidenced in the well-directed, perfectly cast, beautifully choreographed, and impressively scored music, Sternfeld was right.  The CTP’s “Jane Eyre” is special!

Gabriel Firestone’s simple, ever-changing set, focuses the action into a compressed proscenium within proscenium, forcing the audience to focus on the actions.  Even simplifying the set more and depending more on subtle electronic graphics would help.  Benjamin Gantose’s dark lighting and Sydney Gallas’s period-appropriate costumes enhanced the somber mood.  



The talented cast is both period and style correct.  Andrea Goss, has the right attitude and demeanor for the high-minded Jane, while Matt Bogart transitions beautifully from morbid to caring as Edward.  They both have big Broadway voices and sing meanings rather than words, making the vocals carry the story.

The duo is aptly supported by Allison England (Mrs. Reed/Mrs. Fairfax) and Emma McClelland (Young Jane).  The rest of the cast (Cody Gerszewski, Lauryn Hobbs, Emma McClelland, Genny Lis Padilla, Laura Perrotta, Fabio Polanco, Gregory Violand, Sydney Howard, Patrick Mooney, Nina Takacs) is superb, switching into various roles, attitudes and accents with ease.

The musical, without show stoppers, dream ballets or line dances, is greatly enhanced by choreographer Martin Céspedes’ masterful creation of moving tableaus by subtly altering bodily positions and movements to create meaningful stage pictures. 

The real star of the production, besides Miles Sternfeld’s sensitive direction, is the musical score.  Though it could have used a signature song, such as “The Music of the Night” (“Phantom of the Opera,”) Paul Gordon’s music, with additional lyrics by John Caird, seamlessly carries the message of Caird’s book, placing the instrumental and vocal sounds parallel to the spoken words.

The contributions of Nancy Maier (musical direction) Steven Tyler (additional arrangements), Brad Haak (music supervision/orchestrations), Conor Keelan (associate orchestration) and Alex Berko (music preparation) cannot be overlooked.

Capsule judgement: “Jane Eyre,” in its new form and format, is a musical that shows that a “small” production, in which care is taken with directing, casting and technical aspects can make musical theatre more captivating than big, splashy, over produced shows.  With an additional “signature” song, the revised script seems ready for an off-Broadway, small theatre run.

 “Jane Eyre,” runs through September 9, 2018 at the Rose and Simon Mandel Theatre located on the Cuyahoga County East Campus (4250 Richmond Road, Highland Hills).   For tickets, $15 to $45, call 216-584-6808 or visit http://clevelandmusicaltheatre.org/.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Playwrights Local and Dobama present “Down By Contact”



CTE is a “neurodegenerative disease found in people with multiple head injuries.” It often occurs in athletes involved in boxing, football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby and soccer, all activities that include the participants being hit in the head, often resulting in concussions.

“CTE cannot currently be diagnosed while a person is alive. The only known diagnosis for occurs by studying the brain tissue after death.”
 

In 2012, retired National Football League’s Junior Seau committed suicide.  He shot himself in the heart.  It is speculated that he made the conscious choice not to “blow out his brains” because he wanted his brain to be donated to Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, who was doing research on CTE.  

Pressure from the NFL management denounced Omalu’s professional ethics, qualifications and motives and pressured Seau’s son to withdraw his father’s brain from the testing.  In 2013 the research was completed and “the brain pathology report revealed that Seau did have evidence of CTE.”


Down By Contact,” now being performed on the campus of Gilmour Academy, appears to be broadly based on Seau, named Carson Busser in the script, and his deterioration into alcoholism, mood swings, paranoia, lying, behavioral problems, mood swings and cognitive thinking issues including financial irresponsibility. All of these are possible signs of CTE.
 

It is appropriate that the production is being co-produced by Playwrights Local and Dobama.  “Playwrights Local is dedicated to supporting the dramatists of Northeast Ohio. As a playwrights’ development and production center, they foster diverse talents and present locally written works.” 
Dobama, commonly referred to as Cleveland’s Off-Broadway theatre, has a mission of premiering the best contemporary plays by established and emerging playwrights.”
 

Les Hunter, the author of “Down By Contact” is a member of the Playwrights GYM at Dobama Theatre and on the Board of Directors of Playwrights Local.  The author’s works have received over 40 productions across the country.
 

Down By Contact” takes place in the mid-to-late 2000s, about the time that attention was being placed on the physical and mental problems of athletes.  It is set in the Kaides’ mansion in the suburbs of a large, Midwestern city. 
 

As the story unfolds, we observe as Carson communicates with the ethereal, Trypp, a close football buddy, reliving tales of the past.  He is hyper and erratic in dealing with his wife and son, using escapist and avoidant language.  More and more it becomes obvious that the Carson is paranoid and out of touch with reality.
 

Carson speaks of “stars exploding,” that “football is a game that runs on money,” and “that there is an enemy inside you.” 
 

The topic of “Down By Contact” is current and relevant.  The material has many strong scenes, but needs to be refined. 
 

Some of the speeches are erratic in purpose and intent.  Why the son appears in a Speedo bathing suit and dog collar is not clear.  In several instances, on opening night, it was unclear if the actors were transposing lines or if that was the prepared dialogue.  In addition, the audience seemed unaware when the play was over due to a lack of vocal and idea clarity. 
 

The performance aspects, especially the character development of John Busser (Carson) were excellent.  His quivering hands, stumbling walking and sometimes slurred speech created a realistic CTE survivor.  The rest of the cast (Corin B. Self (Trypp), Liam Stilson (Tommy) and Margie Zitelli (Kelsey) were acceptable in their character development. 
 

Capsule judgment: “Down By Contact” exposes the audience to an important present-day issue:  the effects of head trauma on athletes. It also vividly shows the effects of CTE and how the National Football League tried to avoid responsibility for a lack of protection of the players.  The script itself needs some refining and further development.  
 

Down By Contact” is being performed in the Tudor House at Gilmour Academy, located on SOM Center and Cedar Roads in Gates Mills.  There is a parking lot immediately adjacent to the building.
All of the scheduled performances are sold out, but an additional staging has been added on Thursday, August 30 @ 8 PM.   For information go to www.http://playwrightslocal.org/

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Surreal “Bloomsday” gets impressive production at none-too-fragile



What does Steven Dietz, the author of “Bloomsday,” which is now on stage at none-too-fragile, have in common with Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee?  Yes, they are all American playwrights, but, believe it or not, they are all tied for number eight on the list of the Top Ten Most Produced Playwrights in America. 

Dietz, in contrast to the other two, who are each generally considered as one of the greatest modern American writers (the others are Arthur Miller, Willian Inge and Eugene O’Neil), has had the majority of his plays produced in regional theatres and has little general population name recognition.  None of his works has been staged on Broadway, but his scripts appear regularly in community theatre and non-professional venues.

What makes his 34 political and comedic plays so popular?  Dietz has the ability to examine personal betrayal and deception in a perceptive way that grabs and holds an audience’s attention.  He is also noted as a “trickster plotter.”  This writing device is at the very center of “Bloomsday.”

The story, which takes place in Dublin, is a tale of the past and now.  Literally, it takes place in the past and the present, at the same time, basically a kind-of surreal time-travel experience.

We first meet Caithleen, a young twenty-something Irish lass while she is leading a group tour of James Joyce’s Dublin, pointing out the major sites described in “Ulysses,” the classic which Robert, one of the tour’s participants, refers to as “an under-read and overpraised piece of drivel.” 

In the play, Robert warns Caithleen not to pay much heed to Robbie, a young American who will soon be on her tour.  He relates what is going to happen between the duo. At first this is confusing, until we realize that the older Robert is the younger Robbie and the youthful Caithleen is Cait, who Robert also talks about.

The tale, with humor and drama, “embodies how one can, with age, make peace with lost opportunity — yet still feel pangs of regret.”

The title, “Bloomsday,” refers to June 16, on which the life of Irish writer, James Joyce, is universally celebrated.  It was selected as it is the time of the writer’s first outing with Nora Barnacle, his wife-to be, and is named after the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom.”

“Bloomsday,” is the kind of script that none-too-fragile does so well.  The play, which has a challenging format, requires fine acting and directing to avoid being a confusing, abstract evening of theatre.

As is usually the case, n-t-f’s performance is masterful.  Under Katia Schwarz’s well thought-out direction, and the well-textured performances of Derdriu Ring (Cait), Tom Woodward (Robert), Brooke Turner (Caithleen) and Nicholas Chokan (Robbie) are compelling.

Capsule judgment: “Bloomsday” is a provocative script which gets a fine production.  It continues none-too-fragile’s reputation of being one of the best local theaters.  This is a staging well worth seeing!

For tickets for “Bloomsday,” which runs through September 1, 2018, call 330-671-4563 or go to nonetoofragile.com

Up next: Matt Pelfrey’s “Freakstorm” 
(November 16-December 1, 2018)
“On a rainy night in Los Angeles, a young couple get an abrupt visit from two old friends.  They're not stopping by for pleasure, but to warn them that someone, or something, from their past that is coming for them all...”

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

2018 FALL Cleveland Theater Calendar




Here’s a list of some of the offerings of local theatres for the fall season (September-December, 2018).  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATRES! 

You can track my reviews on http://www.royberko.info or contact me to get on my direct review list.  You can see a synopsis of the members of the Cleveland Critics Circle comments about the plays they see at http://www.clevelandtheaterreviews.com/




BECK CENTER 
  216-521-2540 or http://www.beckcenter.org
8 p.m. evenings, 3 p.m. matinees

(September 14-October 7) AN ACT OF GOD—A comedy which attempts to give a new meaning to the phrase divine intervention.

(October 5-November 4) WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF—Edward Albee’s masterpiece of mind games and devastation.

(December 7-January 6, 2019) SHREK THE MUSICAL—The musical tale of a social outcast who takes an exciting journey to find out the real meaning of life.

BLANK CANVAS  

440-941-0458 or http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/
Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm

(October 5-27) CANNIBAL THE MUSICAL—From the co-creator of “South Park” and “The Book of Mormon,” comes the “All Singing! All Dancing! All Flesh-Eating” true story of the only person ever convicted of cannibalism in America.  (Show will have a “splatter zone!)

(December 7-22) AVENUE Q--The Tony winning puppet-centric musical that addresses humorous adult issues.  A cult favorite!

CESEAR’S FORUM  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.cesearsforum.com/
Kennedy’s Theatre—enter from the Ohio Theatre lobby

(September 21-29 @ 8 PM)) PLATH AND ORION--Two one-act plays by Lanford Wilson concerning a chance meeting between two women.  Their poignant, telling and poetic conversations reveal plainly their individual boundaries of hope and reality.
 


CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE  
216-241-6000 or go to http://www.playhousesquare.org
7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 Saturday and Sunday

(September 15-October 7) THE WOMAN IN BLACK— Halloween comes early this year! Arthur Kipps never believed in the supernatural until he came face to face with evil!

(October 13-November 4) SWEAT A compelling portrait of pride and survival in the Rust Belt. To read my review of the Broadway production go to:  https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=3114387099896190039 - editor/target=post;postID=638743968349909341;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=3;src=postname

(November 23-December 23) A CHRISTMAS STORY—Ralph’s back!  One holiday wish.  And a world that seems to be conspiring to make certain it doesn’t come true.  “Be careful or you’ll shoot your eye out!”

CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE
  216-631-2727 or go on line to http://www.cptonline.org/



(October 4 – 6) ¡OBRAS EN EVOLUCIÓN 2018! A FESTIVAL OF NEW PLAY READINGS--written & directed by Teatro Publico de Cleveland Ensemble Members. In English & Spanish with bilingual supertitles.
 

(October 11-27) YA MAMA! The autobiographical story of a young Afro-Creole girl losing a mother, gaining a stepmother, and becoming a mother—all while being an artist. (Originally developed and produced by CPT in 2011.) 

(October 20 – November 10) EVERYTHING IS OKAY (AND OTHER HELPFUL LIES)—the World Premiere of a hot mess musical, in which a group of close friends struggle to navigate the tragedies of life.
 

(November 8 – 11) Y-HAVEN THEATRE PROJECT--Created & Performed by the men of Y-Haven, a branch of the Greater Cleveland YMCA, a transitional housing facility for formerly homeless men recovering from substance abuse and mental health challenges.  The Y-Haven Theatre Project captures an authenticity and emotional power as the cast shares their true-to-life experiences often hidden from the world.
 

(November 23-24) PINCH AND SQUEAL’S WIZBANG!--Two spectacular nights of absolute holiday madness filled with ridiculous acts, local circus performers, and professional misbehavers!
 

(November 29-December 22) CONNI’S AVANT GARDE RESTAURANT: A SNOWBALL’S CHANCE--This hilarious musical performance includes crazy cabaret, comedy, dancing, game show competitions, violence, and a five-course meal. The performers cook and serve the feast, using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. World Premiere.

convergence continuum
convergence-continiuum.org or 216-687-0074
Thursday-Saturday @ 8
 

(October 12-November 3)—THIS MUCH (OR AN ACT OF VIOLENCE TOWARD THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE)—Gar can’t decide between the man who plays games and the man on one knee with a ring.  Everyone wants answers, but nothing lives up to the image he has in his head.  Ohio premiere.
 

(November 30-December 15)—RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN—an unflinching look at gender politics.



DOBAMA
 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org
check the theatre’s blog for performance time
 

(September 7-30) SUNSET BABY—Ohio premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s tale of a tough, independent woman in Brooklyn, who is visited by her estranged father, a former revolutionary in the Black Liberation movement, who seeks to mend their broken relationship.

(October 9-November 11) JOHN—A young couple struggling to stay together, stop at a bed and breakfast.  They encounter a cheerful innkeeper, her blind friend and an eerie world crammed with toys and one very odd American Girl doll.

November 30-December 30) ELLA ENCHANTED—Based on the best-selling novel, this modern Cinderella story is filled with delightful music, beautiful puppets, high adventure and plenty of girl power.
 


ENSEMBLE THEATRE
  216-321-2930 or http://www.ensemble-theatre.com
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

(September 7-30) ALABAMA STORY--A black rabbit marries a white rabbit! — stirs the passions of a segregationist State Senator and a no-nonsense State Librarian in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama, just as the civil rights movement is flowering. Another story of childhood friends — an African-American man and a white woman, reunited in adulthood in Montgomery that same year — provides private counterpoint to the public events of the play.

(October 19-Noveber 11) EAST OF EDEN—A staging of John Steinbeck’s tale of Adam Trask, who is determined to make a new start in California’s Salinas Valley.  But family history, sibling rivalry, and the impending danger of World War I will threaten their little piece of paradise.

(November 30-December 16) AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS—A world premiere staging of Jules Verne’s tale of Phileas Fogg, and his new French valet, attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. 



GREAT LAKES THEATER
  http://www.greatlakestheater.org or 216-241-6000
Wednesday-Saturday @ 7:30, Saturdays @ 1:30, Sundays @ 3

(September 28-November 11) MAMMA MIA! —ABBA’s music set into a tale of love, laughter, family and friendship.  Hanna Theatre

(October 5-Novemer 4) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE –Jane Austin’s classic novel comes to the stage.  Hanna Theatre

(November 30-December 23) A CHRISTMAS CAROL—Charles Dickens’ classic tale of one man’s ultimate redemption.  Ohio Theatre


INTERPLAY JEWISH THEATRE   interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com or 216-393-PLAY
(Play readings at Dobama are free, but reservations are required.  Presentations at the Maltz Museum are fee based)

(September 16 @ 7 PM) Jazz violinist AARON WEINSTEIN presents
V I O L I N S P I R A T I O N! --Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Hts.
A dessert reception follows the performance.
A minimum $10 donation per person will be collected at the door.
RESERVATIONS are required, including all names in your party. Contact interplayjewishtheatre@gmail.com; or call 216 393-PLAY and leave a message.

KARAMU HOUSE  216-795-707) or www.karamuhouse.org

(September 20-October 14)—SASSY MAMAS—back by popular demand we relieve the experiences of three longtime girlfriends who find themselves single and ready to ensnare much younger suitors. 

(October 25-November 18)—DAY OF ABSENCE—A one-act satire about an imaginary Southern town where all black people suddenly disappeared.

(November 29-December 30)—BLACK NATIVITY—Langston Hughes’ famed retelling of the Nativity story with an entirely African-American cast, performed in gospel style!



LAKELAND CIVIC THEATRE  440-525-7134 or http://lakelandcc.edu/academic/arts/theatre/index.asp
Performances at Lakeland Community College

(September 7-28) LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC—Stephen Sondheim’s Tony award winning musical about unrequited love, beautiful melodies and a total lack of misunderstanding amongst all the characters.  Musical highlights include “A Weekend in the Country.”




NEAR WEST THEATRE   216-961-6391 or nearwestheatre.org
(September 21-30) NEWSIES—Youth cast, ages 9-15—a musical based on the Disney film.

(November 16-December 9) CARNIVAL—Intergenerational cast, ages 7 and up—The “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” musical in which Lili, a lonely orphan, is enchanted with a traveling carnival. She gets to join the troupe and ends up working with the puppet act and two men fall in love with her. 


none-too-fragile theatre   330-671-4563 or http://www.nonetoofragile.com
Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 8, select Sundays @2 and select Mondays at 8

(September 28-October 13) FREAK STORM--Mark Pelfrey’s macabre comedy tells the tale of a young couple who get a visit from two old friends who tell them that someone, or something from their past is coming for them all!

(November 16-December 1) BOOGIBA--Explores the lasting effects of war upon two soldiers of different eras.



OHIO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL  www.ohioshakespearefestival.com
(Winter and Spring Home: Greystone Hall, Akron) Thursdays-Saturdays @ 8, Sundays @ 2

(September 28-October 14)—TREASURE ISLAND:  AN ADVENTURE WITH MUSIC—a new play by Terry Burlger, based on the novel by Robert Lewis Stevenson.   World Premiere.

(November 30-December 16)—SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE—Young Will Shakespeare has writer's block... the deadline for his new play is fast approaching but he's in desperate need of inspiration. That is, until he finds his muse – Viola. This beautiful young woman is Will’s greatest admirer and will stop at nothing (including breaking the law) to appear in his next play.



PLAYHOUSESQUARE
   216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
See the website for specific dates and times

(October 2-21) HELLO DOLLY—The national tour starts here!  Betty Buckley stars as Dolly in the Tony Award winning musical based on Thornton Wilder’s THE MATCHMAKER.  Songs include: “It Takes a Woman,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Hello Dolly” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”  Connor Palace

(October 30-November 18) LES MISÉRABLES--“Les Miz” is born again.  A new staging of Boubilil and Schonberg’s Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon, based on the Victor Hugo novel.  Songs include: “One Day More” and “I Dreamed a Dream.”  Connor Palace

(November 27-December)—CHICAGO--Huntington Bank presents a touring production of one of the longest running American musicals in Broadway history.    Connor Palace

BROADWAY BUZZ--Get the inside scoop on Key Bank Broadway shows from host, Joe Garry, one hour before performances. Please check event schedule for exact dates and times. Broadway Buzz Pre-Show Talks are held in the Upper Allen, accessible through the Allen Theatre lobby.

PLAYHOUSE SQUARE TOURS—Nearly 100 years after our historic theaters first opened, Playhouse Square has become the largest performing arts center outside of New York City and hosts nearly 1,000,000 guests and 1,000 curtains each year. Each of the theaters has its own story to tell. Our tours are a great way to learn about the history and community impact of one of Cleveland’s most important cultural institutions.  1 st Saturday of each month, 10-11:30 AM, every 15 minutes a 90-minute tour leaves from Key Bank State Lobby.  No reservations needed for groups of 10 or fewer.




THE MUSICAL THEATER PROJECT
http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or 1-800-838-3006 for tickets and information
(productions staged in review format with narration)


(September 17-- The Music Box Supper Club @ 6:30 PM)—MARVELOUS PARTIES—The songs that make shindig sizzle—featuring Eric Fancher, Laura Lindauer, Nancy Maier and Bill Rudman.  12:18 PM  Tickets—800-838-3006

(October 19--First Baptist Church of Cleveland @ 7 PM) (October 21—Mixon Hall, Cleveland Institute of Music @ 3 PM)—SILVER LININGS, THE SONGS OF JEROME KERN—a lecture/performance of the melodies of the human heart.

(November 14—Solon Center for the Arts @ 7 PM) (November 18—Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square @ 3 PM)—JUST FOR LAUGHS—A celebration, through explanation, live performance and video clips of what makes us laugh at a song in a musical featuring Bill Rudman, Nancy Maier, Douglas F. Bailey II, Ursula Cataan and Sherri Gross.

(December 14 @ 8 PM, December 15 @ 2 PM—Stocker Arts Center) (December 16 @ 7 PM and December 17 @ 7 PM—Nighttown)—A CHRISTMAS CABARET--“Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow” and about every other holiday song from Irving Berlin.  Featuring Bridie Carroll, Nancy Maier, Joe Monaghan and Bill Rudman.


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Topically important “Spring Awakening” impressively staged at Near West Theatre


This past season, NBC aired “Rise.”  The television show spotlighted a high school in a conservative working class neighborhood.  The school’s new drama teacher, portrayed by Josh Rado, decided rather than staging a traditional, escapist musical, that the students and community would grow from doing “Spring Awakening,” an exploration of “young people navigating a world full of pain, frustration, growing up and peopled with not only teens, but adults who often don’t have the best intentions.”

The musical includes incidents of sex, nudity, incest, teen pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, suicide and abuse.

On the unfortunately now-cancelled “Rise,” the town was galvanized on whether the show should go on as liberal and conservative factions put pressure on the school board to win favor of their point of view.  As is, the musical had one showing and then was closed down.

Fortunately, Near West Theatre, which is now staging “Spring Awakening,” has a board and production staff who, unlike the community on “Rise,” are supportive of exposing their casts and audiences to the realities of life.

“Spring Awakening” is based on an 1891 German play written by Frank Wedekind in response to the author’s belief that his society was stifling and hypocritical toward sexuality and their treatment of youth.

The story centers mainly on Wendla Bergmann, Moritz Stiefel and Melchoir Gabor.  Denied proper teaching about puberty, sex, and existence, they flounder through life with repercussions of their suffocating adolescence, and are forced to live with the consequences of the actions of their misguided parents and sadistic teachers. 

Musician Duncan Sheik and lyricist Steven Sater took Wedekind’s material and transformed the tale into a vivid and moving musical, which, on Broadway, starred Lea Michele as Wendla, Jonathan Groff as Melchior, and John Gallagher Jr. as Moritz.  The staging won eight 2007 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  Its original cast album received a Grammy Award.

In the story, angst prevails. 

Wendla asks her mother for an explanation of where babies come from.  Her mother avoids the issue so the girl doesn’t realize that her love affair with Melchoire could lead to pregnancy. 

Moritz, whose father is verbally abusive, has high anxiety.  When he misquotes a Latin line, his over-bearing teacher chastises him harshly, sending the boy on a tailspin toward suicide. 

One of the school girls, Martha, accidentally admits to her friends that her father abuses her physically and sexually and that her mother is either oblivious or uncaring.  Martha makes the girls promise not to tell anyone, lest she end up like Ilse, a friend from childhood, who now wanders homeless after her similarly abusive parents kicked her out of their home. 

Two schoolboys, Hänschen and Earnst, meet, talk, kiss and reveal their forbidden love for each other.

Melchoire, in an attempt to educate his friend about the sex act, writes a paper which illustrates the deed.  He is sent to reform school for his indiscretion.

The Near West production under the generally sensitive and creative direction of Kelcie Nicole Dugger is compelling, clearly showcasing societal hypocrisy and its consequences.

Robert Kowalewski is character perfect as the rebellious Melchior.  He has a grasp of not only the character, but that he is acting as the fulcrum around which the plot revolves.  His vocalizations are strong.

Sarah Farris is properly naïve and tender as Wendla.  Zack Palumbo creates a sensitive and realistic character as Moritz.  Antonio DeJesus (Hänschen) and Matthew Brightbill (Earnst) are believable as the homosexual couple.

Mike Obertacz properly textures his various adult male roles as does Amanda Bender in the adult female roles, but one must wonder why she used the ridiculous accent as the female teacher…causing laughter in a play which is anything but humorous.

The music under the direction of Scott Pyle rocks!

Based on their goal that “Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in community, through transformational theatre arts experiences,” the venue uses mass casts in order to include as many youths as possible.  This often creates over-crowded stages and meaningless characters.  Though this cast is huge, they are well used due to creative staging and blocking.

Capsule judgment:  Near West Theatre’s “Spring Awakening” is a masterful production that well fulfills the philosophy and production excellence of the venue.  The script is powerful, as is the show.  Congrats on a job well done!


"Spring Awakening" runs through August 12.  For tickets 216-961-6391or go to http://www.nearwesttheatre.org/tickets

Monday, August 06, 2018

Clevelanders invade Canada for the Shaw Festival—2018


The Shaw Festival, located in Niagara-on-the Lake, is often like being in downtown Cleveland on game day.   Lots of 216/440 residents migrate North for a day, days or a week to visit “the most beautiful little city in Canada,” as Niagara-on-the Lake is often called.  They purchase peaches, cherries, and nectarines, tour the wine country and attend plays at The Shaw.  It also doesn't hurt that the present exchange rate is $ .77 American for the Canadian dollar.  (For the non- mathematical—Americans get a little over 20-cents back for every dollar they spend. Use credit cards to get the highest exchange rate.)


The Shaw Festival is a tribute to George Bernard Shaw, his writing contemporaries, and plays that share Shaw’s provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity.  

 


It’s a good idea to make both theatre and lodging reservations early, especially with the B&Bs on weekends. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (http://www.wellington.house@sympatico.ca), directly across the street from The Festival Theatre, within easy walking distance of all the theatres, where the breakfasts are great and the furnishings lovely. For information on other B&Bs go to www.niagaraonthelake.com/showbedandbreakfasts





There are some wonderful restaurants.  My in-town favorites are The Grill on King Street (905-468-7222, 233 King Street) and Niagara’s Finest Thai (905-468-1224, 88 Picton Street), with Old Winery, (905-468-8900, 2228 Niagara Stone Road), a worth-while five-minute ride from downtown.



Having just returned from the Festival, I offer these capsule judgments of some of the shows:

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR-- “Oh What a Lovely War” is not only a compelling stage production, it is a fine history lesson and one of the few real highlights of The Shaw’s 1918 season.  This is a must see!


GRAND HOTEL--“Grand Hotel, the Musical” is a pleasant evening of theatre.  The plot is overdrawn, unrealistic, and typical of musicals where dance, singing and melodrama reign.  This is a musical, like “42nd Street” and “Anything Goes,” filled with dancing and meaningless dialogue and shtick.


THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW--“The Magician’s Nephew” is a visual wonder.  Whether you buy into the story’s religious implications, or not, it’s worth attending, just to see the stage illusions in action.  This is one of this year’s Shaw highlight productions!


STAGE KISS-- Most audience members should find “Stage Kiss” cute, even delightful, but as this production proves, farce is hard to do.  In fact, it is the most difficult of all acting/performance forms.  The performances and the results are not bad, just missing the special quality that makes Ruhl’s plays shine.  


OF MARRIAGE AND MEN-- One must wonder, with all the great Shaw scripts available, why Artistic Director Tim Carroll selected this tandem of one-acts to perform.  In program notes he claims that the world is in a state of distraction and needs to “reclaim our attention.”  Though “Of Marriage and Men” is not a distraction, it is not great theater that will not “waste our time,” it is not the quality of script that will make us want to “switch off our phone.”  


O’FLAHERTY V.C.-- As is often the case at The Shaw, the lunch time play is one of the Festival’s highlights. ”O’Flaherty V.C.” is no exception!  It is a delightful and revealing lesson on his writing and the Shavian attitudes and ability to make his points with wit and satire!  Hurrah!


To read the complete reviews of the shows I saw, go to:  http://www.royberko.info
Other season shows are: “The Orchard (After Chekhov),” “Mythos:  A Trilogy,” ”The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Baroness and the Pig,” and “Henry V.”



For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.



Go to the Shaw Festival!  Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are and see some theater! 

Don’t forget your passport as it’s the only form of identification that will be accepted for re-entry into the U.S. and figure in time to get through customs at the U.S.-Canadian border.

“O’FLAHERTY V.C.” delights and instructs at The Shaw


“Nations are like bees; they cannot kill except at the cost of their own lives.”

Satirist and playwright George Bernard Shaw is noted for skewing the English, their class governmental and educational systems, their treatment of the Irish and women, as well as religion and any form of government other than socialism.  His “O’Flaherty V.C.” is a classic one-act example of Shaw at his best. 

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest of the British military award system.  It was first presented by Queen Victoria during the Crimean War.  In its 162-year history it has on been granted only 1,358 times. 

“O’Flaherty V.C.” the Shavian comic/satire, centers on a young World War I Irish soldier, Dennis O’Flaherty, who, while serving in the British army, exhibited such bravery that he was awarded the VC.   Under the banner “Boys! Come along.  You’re wanted,” he has been returned to his Irish village to recruit for the armed services.  (It should be known that, at the time, Irish republicans were opposed to a war to defend the British Empire.)

The return home is not only an issue of politics, but, O’Flaherty had not told his mother that he would be fighting on the British side in the war, not against it.   He also admits, in a conversation with General Sir Pearce Madigan, a local landowner, he had no idea why the war was being fought.  He just joined up to get away from home.

When his mother appears, all hell breaks loose when she discovers he's been fighting for the British.  He also reveals that he is sick of life in provincial Ireland and since he's experienced France, he never wants to come back and hopes he can get a French wife.

An Irish brough-ha-ha breaks out between mother and girlfriend, Teresa, when she appears and reveals that Dennis gave her a valuable gold watch.

Dennis says he can't wait to get back to the peace and quiet of the trenches. General Madigan sympathizes, commenting, "Do you think that we should have got an army without conscription if domestic life had been as happy as people say it is?"

In the play’s preface, Shaw argues that “most soldiers do not enlist for patriotic reasons, but through a desire for adventure, or to get away from a restricted life.  This is especially true of the Irish, since an Irishman's hopes and opportunities depend on getting out of Ireland.”

The acting is top-notch.  Ben Sanders creates reality as O’Flaherty.  Tara Rosling delights as the opinionated, controlling Irish mother. Patrick McManus is properly stuffy and military-like as General Madigan, and Gabriella Sundar Singh gives a nice imitation of a put-upon Irish lass.

Director Kimberley Rampersad keeps the action moving swiftly along!


Capsule judgment:  As is often the case at The Shaw, the lunch time play is one of the Festival’s highlights. ”O’Flaherty V.C.” is no exception!  It is a delightful and revealing lesson on his writing and the Shavian attitudes and ability to make his points with wit and satire!  Hurrah!

Shaw’s “Of Marriage and Men” two one-acts dedicated to women, and the men around them






“The test of a man’s or woman’s breeding is how they behave in  quarrel.  Anybody can behave well when things are going smoothly.” (G. Bernard Shaw)

Showcasing the complex nature of marriage and relationships, George Bernard Shaw’s attitudes about the superiority of women, attacks on the British class system, the French-English war of words, definition of desire and the role of heart versus needs is on display in his two slight scripts, ”How He Lied to Her Husband” and “The Man of Destiny,” being performed at The Shaw as “Of Marriage and Men.”

Supposedly written over a period of four days while he was vacationing in Scotland in 1904, the satirical commentary is a takeoff on Shaw’s “Candida.”

Of the play, Shaw stated, "Nothing in the theatre is staler than the situation of husband, wife and lover in which assumptions and false points of honor are made."  And that is exactly what “How He Lied to Her Husband” is about.

A handsome young man (Her Lover/Henry) writes poems to a young beautiful young lady (Herself, in fact, named Aurora), expressing his undying love.  Herself is married to an elderly man (Teddy) who plies her with diamonds and beautiful clothes.

What will happen if her husband finds out about the poetry and the affair?  Henry to confesses his love for Aurora, which pleases Teddy so much he proposes having the poems published as a tribute to his wife.  What should the volume be called?  Henry replies, "I should call it ‘How He Lied to Her Husband.’"

The play is slight, as is the production, under the direction of Philip Akin. 

A very cleverly choreographed set change transformed the stage from an English  drawing-room to an Italian inn and garden!

The Man of Destiny,” the second half of the program, is an 1897 play by Shaw.   It is set during the early career of Napoleon, shortly after his victory at the Battle of Lodi. 

While eating, Napoleon receives news that some dispatches that a courier had been carrying were stolen by a devious youth.  The youth turns out to be a woman, dressed like a man.  A convoluted tale follows in which a battle of wits between the great leader and the woman takes place, which includes the possibility of an affair by Napoleon’s wife, Josephine and a possible scandal.

As with “How He Lied to Her Husband,” ‘The Man of Destiny” is not a major work in Shaw’s cannon.   A pastiche, it is neither compelling nor overly entertaining.   And, as was the curtain raiser, it gets an acceptable production.   

Capsule judgment:  One must wonder, with all the great Shaw scripts available, why Artistic Director Tim Carroll selected this tandem of one-acts to perform.  In program notes he claims that the world is in a state of distraction and needs to “reclaim our attention.”  Though “Of Marriage and Men” is not a distraction, it is not great theatre that will not “waste our time,” it is not the quality of script that will make us want to “switch off our phone.”  

Farcical “Stage Kiss” entertains a little at The Shaw



“I am an advocate for state illusion; stage realism is a contradiction in terms (G. Bernard Shaw)

Sarah Ruhl, an American playwright and essayist, and a two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is noted for creating vivid theatrical works.  She tends to center on the mundane aspects of daily life, with side trips into love and war.

She is noted for setting up plot lines and using a nonlinear form of realism, throw in “curve balls,” surprises, plot twists and complications.  She once said of her writing, "Everyone has a great, horrible opera inside him. I feel that my plays, in a way, are very old-fashioned. They're pre-Freudian in the sense that the Greeks and Shakespeare worked with similar assumptions. Catharsis isn't a wound being excavated from childhood.”


“Stage Kiss,” a farcical tale of what happens when two actors (He and She), who were former lovers, are forced to share a stage kiss, with unforeseen consequences.  The line between reality and stage pretense soon blur.  It is a play within a play and is typical Ruhl.   


The story concerns He and She, who meet again, after many years of separation, to perform in a badly written 1930s melodrama.  They take up where they left off decades earlier with life-changing consequences.  Or, what could be life changing consequences.  She leaves her husband and surly daughter.  He dumps his kindergarten-teacher girlfriend, who moves in with She’s husband.  The reality of the past hits as the duo rehearse yet another bad play, this one about a hooker and an IRS operative.  He and She realize that their past history was probably right and they move beyond their “stage kiss” and face reality!


The show, under the directorship of Anita Rochon, is quite adequate, but misses being the hysterically funny illusion that it could be.  Part of the issue is that the farcical aspects of Ruhl’s are not fully developed.


The cast, (Fiona Byrne (She), Neil Barclay (Director), Jeff meadows (Kevin), Martin Happer (He), Sanjay Talwar (Husband), Sarena Parmar (Millie), and Rong Fu (Millicent) just doesn’t ever get the needed realistic, over-done aspects that make farce work.  The ridiculous has to come from the difficult balance of being overly sincere, realistically false, and making the characters bigger than life while not making them over-blown.  


Capsule judgment:  Most audience members should find “Stage Kiss” cute, even delightful, but as this production proves, farce is hard to do.  In fact, it is the most difficult of all acting/performance forms.  The performances and the results are not bad, just missing the special quality that makes Ruhl’s plays shine. 

Creatively staged “The Magician’s Nephew” captures the imagination with cardboard boxes and electronic graphics


“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing (G. Bernard Shaw)

“The Chronicles of Narnia” is a series of seven fantasy novels by C. S. Lewis.  Many consider that this series, and Lewis’s writing style, changed the very nature of children’s literature.

The series, which has sold over 100 million copies, takes place in the mythical land of Narnia, where magic, mythical beasts and talking animals interact with children. 

The series includes such titles as “Prince Caspian:  The Return to Narnia,” “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “The Silver Chair,” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which have been transformed into a stage play, as has “The Magician’s Nephew.”

The books are not without controversy.  Taking his themes from Greek and Roman mythology, as well as British and Irish fairy tales, the stories overlay Christian themes.  The latter causes difficulties for those who do not subscribe to religious teachings.

Lewis has suggested that he did not directly intend to write his Narnia stories as Christian tales, but that these aspects appeared subconsciously as he wrote.  In ‘The Magician’s Nephew,’ for example, the story explores a number of themes, including “atonement, original sin, temptation and the order of nature.”

“The Magician’s Nephew,” was published in 1955 and is a prequel to the series, tells the tale of how Narnia was created and how evil first entered it.  It relates how “Digory Kirke and his friend, Polly Plummer, stumble into different worlds by experimenting with magic rings made by Digory's uncle. 

In the dying world of Charn they awaken Queen Jadis, and they witness the creation of a Narnian world (where Jadis later becomes the White Witch).  Many long-standing questions about the world are answered as a result.”

The Shaw production, under the very creative touch of director, Tim Carroll, set designer Douglas Paraschuk and projections designer Cameron Davis is visually and aesthetically compelling, easily transferring us from London, at the turn of the twentieth century to the worlds beyond.

Magically, brown cardboard boxes become walls, thrones, rocks, trees and so much more.  Perfectly choreographed moves the objects, and the appearance of images on them.  Use of masks and puppets add to the illusions, as do the well-conceived costumes designed by Jennifer Goodman.

The acting is top notch.  Vanessa Sears (Polly) and Travis Seetoo (Digory) convincingly transform themselves into tweens.  Their enthusiasm and joyousness easily convey the curiosity, fear and adventuresomeness of youth.

Special note:  Backstage tours of the Festival Theatre are available to allow participants to not only see the stage, dressing rooms, costume production areas and make-up areas, but to participate in mask making and reproducing the stage actions of “The Magician’s Nephew.”  It is a great experience for both kids and adults.

Capsule judgment: “The Magician’s Nephew” is a visual wonder.  Whether you buy into the story’s religious implications, or not, it’s worth attending, just to see the stage illusions in action.  This is one of this year’s Shaw highlight productions!
 

"Grand Hotel' a minor musical treat at The Shaw


“The great advantage of a hotel is that it’s a refuge from home (G. Bernard Shaw)

“Grand Hotel, Berlin. Always the same – people come, people go – One life ends while another begins – one heart breaks while another beats faster – one man goes to jail while another goes to Paris – always the same. ... I'll stay – one more day."  Thus, one of the lead characters in the Luther Davis (book) and Robert Wright (music and lyrics) conceived “Grand Hotel, The Musical” summarizes life in the center-piece of the musical.

Based on Vicki Baum’s novel and play, “Menschen im Hotel” (“People in a Hotel”) and the 1932 feature film, the story focuses on a 1928 weekend in the elegant facility.  A weekend in which a multitude of guests come and go in pleasure, frustration and chaos.

 
The show was Broadway bound in 1958, but bad reviews out of town, and the illness of one of the lead actors, caused the New York opening to be cancelled.


Thirty years later, much due to the creative efforts of Tommy Tune, who demanded new songs and a story rewrite, the show’s 1989 production received 12 Tony Award nominations, including a well-deserved one for direction and choreography for Tune.  It became one of the select group of Broadway shows to top 1,000 performance on the Great White Way.


It’s 1928.  The roaring ‘20s are at its height.  Decadence, outrageous extravagance, gangsters, high living and low morals, jazz and uninhibited dancing are the vogue.  


Using a series of overlapping tales, the plot showcases “a fading prima ballerina; a fatally ill Jewish bookkeeper, who wants to spend his final days living in luxury; a young, handsome, but destitute Baron; a cynical doctor; an honest businessman gone bad, and a typist dreaming of Hollywood success.”


Lots of plot twists and turns are in high gear.   A morphine addict as a result of his World War I injury, loosely narrates as the front desk clerk waits for the birth of his son, a young good-looking and broke Baron uses his charisma to charm the women while trying to get out of the clutches of a gangster, a past her prime prima ballerina is scheduled to make her last attempt at pleasing an audience, her dresser tries to hide her love-feelings for the dancer, a fatally ill bookkeeper tries to live a weekend of splendor, a textile mill manager tries to fake his way through an ill-conceived business deal, and . . . . . .


The production, under the directorship of Eda Holmes, gets what it can from the material.  Parker Esse’s choreography is creative and era correct.  The vocals are good.  The acting fits the material.


Deborah Hay is diva correct as the ballerina, matinee-idol handsome James Daly charms as Baron von Gaigern, Michael Therriault is appealing as Otto Kringelein, Vanessa Sears is character correct as Flaemmchen.


The music, which is continuous throughout the show, is well interpreted by Paul Sportelli and his orchestra.  The show’s set is well-designed by Judith Bowden.


Capsule judgment: “Grand Hotel, the Musical” is a pleasant evening of theater.  The plot is overdrawn, unrealistic, and typical of musicals where dance, singing and melodrama reign.  This is a musical, like “42nd Street” and “Anything Goes,” filled with dancing and meaningless dialogue and shtick.