Sunday, April 14, 2002

Saturday Night (Beck Center)

'SATURDAY NIGHT' Sondheim's tooth cutting musical

The musical 'SATURDAY NIGHT' was Steven Sondheim’s first attempt at a musical. It began as a play by the authors of the screenplay for 'CASABLANCA.' Money was secured for a staging, but the producer died suddenly and the project was abandoned. Individual songs were published and became part of Sondehim lore. Then, in 1997 a London theatre company, with the blessing of the composer, staged the show. It then had a short off-Broadway run and found its way to the Beck Center stage.

Having completed its run, the odds of your ever seeing it again are remote. This is not the Sondheim of 'WEST SIDE STORY,' 'SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE,' 'COMPANY,' or 'INTO THE WOODS.' This is a Sondheim who writes such lyrics as, “a girl is a thing that is made of glass lace.” This was Sondheim who wrote about a group of Brooklyn male friends who spent most of their waking hours complaining because they didn’t have dates and the attempt of one to become a “swell.”

Fortunately for Beck audiences, director Fred Sternfeld decided not to take the script seriously. He wisely played much of the action as if he were doing a 1930 MGM “let’s go out to the barn and do a musical” complete with exaggerated line interpretations and stylized dance movements.

Several cast members stood out. Rebecca Borger was a delightful as the ditzey Celeste and Kenneth Bently made the role of Ray fun. The multi Times Tribute award- winner Craig Recko was somewhat miscast in the lead role. He seemed uncomfortable with the stylized dancing and stilted lines.

Capsule judgement: It is always interesting to see new theatre pieces...even if they are not of the highest literary quality. This was a good lesson in seeing Sondheim before he matured into one of America’s greatest contemporary lyricists.

Betrayal (Cleveland Play House)

'Betrayal' fails to captivate at Play House

Harold Pinter is a first class poet. His plays and films are masterfully crafted word songs. He is multi-talented. His plays include 'THE BIRTHDAY PARTY,' 'THE DUMB WAITER,' 'PARTY TIME' and 'CELEBRATION.' His film credits include 'THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN,' 'THE HANDMAID’S TALE' and 'BUTLEY.' Television credits are 'THE HOTHOUSE,' 'PARTY TIME' and 'LANDSCAPE.' He has appeared as an actor in numerous plays, films, tv and radio. His bio lists over 25 international awards. This is one very, very prolific man.

'BETRAYAL,' now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, was first presented in 1978 in London. It contains biographical material, but is not autobiographical. The story, which is written in a backwards tunnel of time, starts with a meeting between adulterous lovers, Jerry and Emma, two years after their seven year affair has died. In nine scenes the play moves back through the stages of the affair, until the play ends with its beginning in Emma and her husband Robert’s house. In the process we see Jerry and Emma’s love for each other and the interactions between best friends Robert and Jerry. We are eavesdroppers in a series of betrayals.

This is a world of poetic tone. Unfortunately, the Play House production, under the direction of Peter Hackett fails to fully orchestrate those rhythms. The play, written as a two act script, is performed without intermission. The slow pace, the lack of setting up many of the humor lines, and the physical setting of the Bolton Theatre, all add up to a less than satisfying enactment of a wonderful script.

The Bolton, which was envisioned as CPH’s answer to an intimate space doesn’t serve the purpose well. This is an intimate play, we need to feel close to the action. The depth of the stage, the fact that much of action takes place near the rear of the stage, doesn’t allow the audience to become involved.

Paul Vincent Black’s Robert doesn’t make us feel his cause for betrayal. Anne Torsiglieri’s Emma doesn’t project the pain that leads to her affair and betrayal. Even the always competent Andrew May fails to dig into the bowels of Jerry. They all just seem to be saying words, not beautifully crafted words.

Pavel Dobrusky’s sterile set doesn’t help in creating the necessary intimacy.

Capsule judgement: All in all, the Cleveland Play House’s BETRAYAL misses the theatrical mark. Bad? No. Not to be seen? No. Wonderful? No.

Blast! (Playhouse Square Center)

'Blast!' explodes with entertainment at the Palace

It has been dubbed “a novel art form, “ “a musical spectacular,” and a “new artistic genre.” In reality, BLAST!, now on stage at the Palace Theatre, is an undefinable piece of entertainment. How many adjectives and adverbs are there to explain perpetual motion and sound, a visual explosion of pleasure, audience glee, and enthusiastic appeal? No matter the number, they can all be used to describe BLAST!

BLAST! has no story line. It is a series of musical numbers, accompanied by a flag show, musicians sitting on chairs hanging from the ceiling, cast members twirling rifles and sabres, performers sitting next to audience members, musicians marching up the aisles, and drummers playing in the lobby during intermission. Add to that the use of grass blades, bells, wings, scalenes, double sticks, media flags, poles, techno flags, techno sabres, glow rifles, glowing light rods, whistles and whirly gigs. The drummers are dynamic, the dancers excellent, the music foot-tapping, the musicians competent.

The rendition of “Gee Officer Krupke” from 'WEST SIDE STORY' found cast members running, writhing, and interacting with each other in a delightful parody. “Color Wheel” was emblazoned by a flag team using material of varying hues. “Tangerinamadidge” was a song played on didgerydoos.

Jim Mason, the creative force behind the show, developed the concept in 1985. A life-long veteran of drum and bugle corps he set out to transform the squads into a complete theatrical experience. As he says, “BLAST! is almost like a Disneyesque animation, only in BLAST! the animation comes to life with real people playing the music and interpreting it visually.”

Capsule judgement: Even non-enthuiasts can be won over by the presentation. As one audience member said, “I was expecting to come out with a headache from the loud noise. Instead I came out humming, whistling, dancing, and wishing that I could entertain like those kids!” (The average age of the cast is 23.8 years.) Yes, it’s impossible not to have a blast at BLAST!.

Sunday, April 07, 2002

Groundworks Dancetheatre & Actors' Summit--2002 (Groundworks Dancetheatre)

Groundworks Dancetheatre--a special treat

Anyone in Northeastern Ohio who appreciates dance and has not had the experience of attending a performance of GROUNDWORKS DANCETHEATRE, has missed out on one of the country’s most exciting companies.

Headed by Artistic Director David Shimotakahara the group performs in various settings. Their latest offerings were staged at Actors’ Summit in Hudson.

Performing to well-deserved near sold-out audiences, the combination of dance and musical performances by pianist David Fisher and guitarist Stephen Aron, was an emotionally fulfilling evening.

Hamlet, the Ballet (Ohio Ballet)

Ohio Ballet's 'HAMLET, THE BALLET' visually effective

Earlier this year the Ohio and Dayton Ballet companies combined to present a wonderful dance version of 'PETER PAN.' Their newest joint venture is the full-length balletic version of Shakespeare’s 'HAMLET.' Though the production does not reach the excitement level of 'PETER PAN,' 'HAMLET, THE BALLET' makes for an enjoyable evening of dance.

Choreographing to contemporary composer Phillip Glass’s composition, choreographer Stephen Mills wisely chose to stylize the production. Mills, the Artistic Director of Ballet Austin, was hailed by Dance Magazine for his sleek and sophisticated version of 'HAMLET, THE BALLET.' And sleek and sophisticated it is. Except for the repeated device of using vertical leaps to portray anguish, the choreography showed texturing and integration of music and movement.

The ballet follows the Hamlet story closely enough that viewers familiar with the Shakespearean piece have no trouble in understanding the danced story. In general, Hamlet’s father is killed by his uncle Claudius. Claudius marries Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet broods, sees visions, and is visited by the ghost of his dead father who asks him to revenge his death. In the process of plotting revenge, more murder, intrigue and finally the destruction of Hamlet’s world, as we know it takes place.

Kirk Henning, who portrayed Hamlet on opening night, danced with ease but he lacked the physical and emotional presence needed to portray the great brooding and bigger-than-life character. Rachel Carmazzi was lovely as the emotionally tortured Ophelia. Mary Beth Hansohn danced and portrayed the role of Gertrude with strength and power. Dmitry Tubolstev, as he has done in previous performances, continues to feign emotion. Though adequately danced, his Claudius was overacted. Brian Murphy exerted his usual strong presence as Laertes. The sword fight between Murphy and Henning was extremely effective and well staged.

Tony Tucci’s lighting design, Christopher McCollum’s contemporary costumes, and Jeffrey Main’s scenic design added a strong visual dimension to the production.

Capsule judgement: Yes, this ballet is sleek and sophisticated!

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Actors' Studio)

'WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF' superlative at Actors' Summit

Edward Albee’s play WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? opened on Broadway on October 13, 1962. That same month, the world seemed poised on the edge of a nuclear war when the United States faced off against the Soviet Union over the presence of nuclear weapons on Cuba. Much like the missile crisis, George and Martha, the play’s protagonists, hurl threats, epitaphs, and fight a battle of wills.

Interestingly, though the play is considered to be one of modern America’s classics, the script did not win the Pulitzer Prize. The committee actually selected it as the winner. However, the award is overseen by Columbia University, and the trustees decided that the explicit language, interest in "taboo" subjects, and controversial public reception made it the wrong choice. Nonetheless, it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Play that year.

In this era of Jerry Springer and similar television shows which are embraced by the public, the profanity and hateful words between George and Martha that so shocked audiences in the 1960's, now seems commonplace.

The story concerns the relationship between George, a history professor, and his wife, Martha, the daughter of the college’s president. It depicts a series of battle games with escalating stakes upon which George and Martha have built their marriage. The proceedings encompass a young couple, Honey and Nick, who are guests in the house.

Director Neil Thackaberry, in a master stroke of interpretation, decided to pull away from the oft-used device of George and Martha constantly shouting at each other. Instead, using a clue from the script in which the characters comment on the fact that they are “numbed enough,” he chose to have them underplay their lines. This is not to say the venom is not present. Much like snakes, the couple strikes quickly and often, subtly, with deadly results.

Paula Duesing and Tom Fulton’s performances are both astounding and outstanding. They totally understand the nuances of Albee’s lines and live their roles.

Though his lines are effectively delivered, Peter Voinovich doesn’t have the physical presence to play Nick, the young professor who is described as a stallion. In addition, he sometimes feigns feeling with exaggerated facial expressions.

Susanna Hobrath shrilly whines her way through the role of Nick’s wife Honey, making her spaced out rather than pathetic.

Robert Stegmiller’s light and set designs are excellent.

Capsule judgement: Actors’ Summit should be justly proud of their mounting of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. If you like fine modern theatre at its best, see this production.