Monday, October 31, 2005

Fallfest-Ohio Ballet (Ohio Ballet)

Ohio Ballet performs ‘FALLFEST’

From the time the Cleveland-San Jose ballet fled town, local dance fans have been waiting for a company to come forth and take its place as the leading company on the north coast. The logical successor was Ohio Ballet, which already had a comfortable financial base and a well-formed company.

Unfortunately, while other companies, such as Verb Ballets and Groundworks have continued to build strong followings, as evidenced by the less than 1/3 capacity audience at the Ohio Theatre for the Saturday night production at the recent ‘FALLFEST,’ Ohio Ballet has not filled the void. Verb Ballets’ recent Cleveland Public Theatre run was nearly sold out. Last season the company’s Play House Square performance was sold out. They have decided that their Play House Square performance this season will be two nights rather than one (February 24 & 25). Groundworks also has developed a strong following, leading to sold out houses.

‘FALLFEST’ was an acceptable, if not outstanding evening of dance. The program featured two world premieres, ‘TURN OF THE SCREW’ and ‘FAITH.’

Domy Reiter-Soffer’s choreography of ‘TURN OF THE SCREW,’ Henry James’ haunting tale of suppressed emotions, was danced to the music of the ”2nd Symphony” and “Variation on the Theme of Hartman’ by John McCabe. Reiter-Soffer also designed the costumes and decor.

The piece was well choreographed to fit the music and competently danced, but the redundancy of movements led to some tediousness. In spite of this, the use of masks, Edwardian costumes, varied mood lighting and an appropriate backdrop aided to create a generally positive effect.

Eva Trapp as the governess, and Oren Porterfield and Jeremy Lemme as the young girl and her brother, were excellent. Grant Dettling, the former manservant and Andrea Blankstein, as the former governess were also impressive.

The piece concluded to polite applause.

‘FAITH’ was a nicely choreographed, if unevenly danced piece by Jeffrey Graham Hughes. Performed to the music of Jean Sibelius’ “5th Symphony in E flat major”
the use of mirroring movements, varied carries, strong partnering, flowing motions and movements that fit the music led to a pleasant, if not memorable experience. The major problem was a lack of polish in the large corps segments. Often the dancers were out of sync with arm movements not parallel, leg placements not universally duplicated, and one or more dancers moving before or after the others.

In the second movement, Brian Murphy, who continues to be the company’s strongest male dancer, partnered wonderfully with Oren Porterfield. Jeremy Lemme was excellent in his solo work. Too bad he doesn’t perform as proficiently as a member of the corps.

‘FAITH’ was pleasant if not a compelling segment of dance.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Verb Ballets--October 23 (Verb Ballets)


Verb Ballets, since it has come under the watchful guidance of Artistic Director Hernando Cortez and Executive Director, Dr. Margaret Carlson, has blossomed into one of the finest local dance companies. It has built a solid fan base as was illustrated by its SRO Playhouse Square performance last year and its continued solid audience numbers in their various other venus, such as Cain Park. Their recent residence at Cleveland Public Theatre was no exception. A Thursday night opening, usually a weak evening for attendance, was nearly sold out.

The audience’s desire for excellent dancing, polished performances and creative illusion were well met.

Cortez’s world premiere piece, “Backlash,” was stunning. Dancing before mylar streamers, the dancers, clothed in similar material, sparkled and shimmered. The non linear dance mirrored the music by Eric Ziolek. “Verbtuosity,” in its world premiere, was played superbly by saxophonist John Perrine and peercussionist Benjamin Winters. (Perrine also entertained before and after the piece with a solid jazz performance.) Trad Burns’ lighting effectively highlighted the dancers as they moved in and out of shadows, creating abstract images by angular and discordant moves. Marcela Alvarez, Danielle Brickman, Erin Conway, Glynn Owens, Mark Tomasic and Tracy Vogt worked in perfect sync. This is a winning addition to the Verb Ballets’ repertoire.

Mark Tomasic is one of, if not “the” premiere local male dancer. His dance talent, excellent physical control, powerful gym-toned body and good looks, puts him well above his peers. Not satisfied with his reputation as a dancer, Tomasic has decided to branch out and establish himself as a choreographer. So far his choreography hasn’t reached the same level as his dancing. His “Before the Time After” is a case in point. Danced to the music of J. S. Bach, the dancers spent much of the piece removing sand from pails upstage, carrying handfuls downstage, sprinkling the sand on the apron of the stage and writing messages into the granules. As the man sitting next to me whispered, “I don’t know what’s going on.” I readily agreed. The dancers were well disciplined, confident in their movements, but failed to create a coherent impression.

Choreographer Troy McCarty’s world premiere ‘TANGO NON GENDER’ was excellent. Both sensual and disciplined, the light piece was danced to three tango rhythms with classical ballet movements in a tango environment. McCarty threw stereotypical partnering to the winds as men danced with men, women danced with women, women performed as leads and men performed as followers. The result was gender bending effective.

Cortez’s ‘LIKE BEING AWAKE SLEEPING AND HEARING SEEING”made for a long but enjoyable sit. Called a surrealist manifesto, any attempt to figure out a story, to gain a message, is an exercise in futility.

Danced to the music of Sasha and John Digweed, the quick movements fit the rapid music and rather than creating a unified piece it was a series of disjointed movements. The over-all effect is like walking through an art gallery, glancing at images after images, that have not been arranged by theme. Each composition stands alone as does each of the performances and performers in this creation.

It is not surprising that Cortez credits his inspiration for the work to Max Ernst and Meret Oppenheim, two of the world greatest surrealistic artists. Ernst is credited with developing the medium of collage. Oppenheim, is noted for the use of unusual materials to create art. One of her most famous pieces, for example was a teacup and saucer created of fur.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Verb Ballets continues to excite and excel! Those who have not taken advantage of seeing this company, which is quickly becoming the major force in local dance, should attend upcoming performances.

MacHomer - Hanna Theatre

‘MACHOMER’ delights at Hanna

Before the action starts, the voice of Rick Miller, the creator and sole performer of ‘MACHOMER,’ now in a short run at the Hanna Theatre asks, “How many of you have seen the Simpsons TV show within the last month?”
The majority of the audience screamed a positive response. He then asked, “How many of you have read Shakespeare’s ‘MACBETH’ in the last month? A few feeble voices, including mine, responded in the affirmative. In actuality, I lied. I haven’t picked up a copy of ‘MACBETH’ in many a year, but I did read it in high school and probed it deeply in two Shakespearean theatre classes in college and have seen at least a dozen productions of one of the Bard’s
greatest tragedies. Someone needed to stand up forthe Bard!

What did Miller’s questions have to do with the show? ‘MACHOMER’ is a hyper-meld of Shakespeare and 50 Simpsons voices. And, yes, you guessed it, Homer is Macbeth, well, is Machomer.

The show actually follows most of the original script,though it is abbreviated. But as pronounced and phrased by Bart, Ned Flanders, Troy McClurem, Barney Gumble and Marge, the words take on altered meaning.
Add some classic Simpson’s characteristic lines, and you have an idea of what the evening is like.

Capsule Judgment This little-over-an-hour intermissionless production is not for Shakespearean purists. It is for Simpson followers. Those of us who aren’t “Simpsonites” greatly appreciated the tremendous talent of Miller and the creative use of the cartoon power point presentation that accompanied Miller’s voices and antics, but weren’t swept up in the gales of laughter which surrounded us.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Footloose - Carousel Dinner Theater

Fine ‘Footloose’ lets loose at Carousel

Several years ago a new trend hit Broadway. Rather than develop a musical with an untested plot line, producers turned to films as a source of getting audiences into the theatre. Three such shows were ‘FAME’ ‘SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER’ and ‘FOOTLOOSE.”
‘FOOTLOOSE’ is now on stage at Carousel Dinner Theatre.

Based on the1984 film which has become a cult cinema sensation and insured stardom for Kevin Bacon, the story contains a simple, if unlikely plot line. Ren MacCormack lives in Chicago. He is into the club scene and is leading a pleasant life until his father suddenly walks out on the family. Along with his mother, he is forced to move to Bomont, a backwater town where his aunt and uncle live. Streetsmart but gentle Ren is enrolled at the local high school. As the new kid in town he is given a hard time by both the students and the faculty. He is appalled to discover the town's adults, under the guidance of the local preacher, have imposed a law against "public dancing" and rock music. Ren sets about to change things, falling in love with the preacher's daughter Ariel in the process. As in all good musical theatre fairy tales...the happy ever-after ending is achieved.

‘FOOTLOOSE THE MUSICAL’ came into being in 1998 with music by Tom Snow, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbi. Pritchard wrote the original screenplay. Additional music was contributed by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Stein.

Unlike ‘FAME,’ ‘FOOTLOOSE’ gives the audience the movie songs it expects to hear, and unlike ‘SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER,’ it complements those songs with newly written, honest-to-goodness songs that support the plot. The music doesn't exactly break new ground, but it makes for a good listen.

Light plot, non-complicated book, the musical should be a snap to stage, right? Wrong. It is not easy to mount. There are four teenage leads surrounded by an ensemble of approximately 25 including a gaggle of adults. They must all sing, dance and act.

Carousel has been fortunate on two levels. It has the show’s Broadway director and it has cast performers who can perform at a highly satisfying level. Director/choreographer AC Ciulla has created a production that works well and choreography which shines. The cast performs that choreography with pizazz, especially the male dancers.

Pleasantly, your first impression of the cast will probably be, "My goodness, how young and how talented." None of the usual thirty-year old Broadway gypsies playing high-school students. And, none of the local high school kids, not quite ready for prime time, trying to play themselves. It freshens the whole evening.

Mike Backes, playing Ren, is both physically attractive and talented. His singing and dancing abilities are impressive. He is totally believable in the role. Of course, the fact that he did the national tour of ‘FOOTLOOSE’ as Ren doesn’t hurt. His version of “I Can’t Stand Still” is fine.

Nicki Scalera is a beautiful Ariel. She is rebellious and sexy, but never loses the expected basic decency and innocence of a preacher’s daughter. Her voice is lovely. It is unfortunate that, as an accomplished dancer, she isn’t given more opportunity to strut her stuff. Her singing of “Almost Paradise” with Backes is wonderful.

There's an effective girl trio (Vanessa Ray, Amanda Flynn and LaQuet Sharnell), so typical of the era, and a wonderful, funny red-neck boy, Willard, played to perfection by Robert Koutras, who basically steals the show.

Clevelanders know the name of Paul Floriano from his many local roles. He does a nice job of making Rev.
Moore believable and vulnerable. This is a hard job because the character of the vulnerable but hard-edged “bad guy” is not well written. Marci Reid, as Ren’s mother, and SuEllen Estey as the reverend’s wife, both have strong singing voices and excellent acting skills. Their version of “Learning to be Silent” is excellent as is Estey’s solo “Can You Find It In Your Heart?”

The sets, lighting and costumes are functional and well designed. The musical accompaniment is excellent.

Show highlights include the creatively choreographed opening number, “I’m Free/Heaven help Me,” “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” and the finale.

Capsule Judgment Carousel’s ‘FOOTLOOSE’ may not be the greatest of theatre vehicles, but this production is well worth seeing. It harkens back to the good old days of musicals when nice music, wonderful dancing and a light but satisfying story line, all packaged together in a well-directed show, were all that was required to make audience’s happy.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Room Service (Cleveland Play House)

Humorous, but not hysterical ‘Room Service’ at CPH

Farce is a theatre or movie form which aims to entertain by developing unlikely, yet often possible situations by use of disguises, mistaken identity and exaggeration. It has a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases toward the end of the play. Broad physical humor, and deliberate absurdity or nonsense are the lynch pins of farce.

Farce is generally perceived by theatre directors and actors as the most difficult to perform. To be successful, in a farcical performance, actors must look and be ridiculous while doing what looks normal and effortless. To be successful farcical writing, places characters in situations in which they simply can’t escape without some great exaggeration. To contemplate farce in its highest form think Lucille Ball, Danny Kaye and the Marx Brothers. To think well written farce think Kauffman and Hart’s ‘YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU,’ Oscar Wilde’s ‘THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST,’ Noel Coward’s ‘HAY FEVER’ or Neil Simon’s ‘RUMORS’ and the classic British farce, “NOISES OFF.’

‘ROOM SERVICE,’ now on stage at the Cleveland Playhouse, is a farce. Originally a 1937 play, it was transformed into a movie of the same name in 1938. Both the Broadway play and the movie starred the Marx Brothers and Lucille Ball, in one of her first roles.

The story concerns a would-be a Broadway producer trying to stage a depression era play with no money. In order to get this done, he must find a way to pay his enormous hotel bill, rent a theatre, pay the playwright and satisfy bill collectors. In his path he needs to deal with a waiter-but-really-great Russian actor, a just-off-the-bus-from-the- hick-town author, an irate hotel executive, and...., you get the picture.

Interestingly, the film is notable for being the only Marx Brothers film not written especially for them. It is also considered one of their weakest films. As one critic stated, "the Marx Brothers were constrained by having to play characters with a passing resemblance to human beings." In other words, the characters must be bigger than life an the plot must race to its “happily ever after” conclusion.

That lack of bigger-than-life is at the heart of the Play House’s problematic production. There just isn’t enough farce. Yes, there are laughs, but it just doesn’t let loose. It is not madcap. Remember the side-splitting feeling after seeing Lucille Ball stomping on grapes or devouring chocolate candies in her most notable TV shows? Or, Kramer dashing into Jerry’s apartment in many ‘SEINFELD’ episodes? Ever see the slamming door routines in the British farce, ‘NOISES OFF’? Remember Danny Kaye double talking in ‘ME AND THE COLONEL’ or being totally outrageous in ‘THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY?’ Those qualities simply aren’t present in the CPH show.

Part of the problem is director Jeff Steitzer’s casual pacing of the show. This has to be madcap, not languid. Though there are instances of chaos, enough to give hope that once the show gels, there may be a “letting loose,” on opening night hesitant would be the gait description. The quick one-liners are often lost. The snappy dialogue doesn’t snap. The double takes and the ridiculous are often lost. Completely? No, but not enough to make this farce a non-farce!

Several members of the cast get into the right mood. Tom Beckett, as the hotel manager, can hardly keep his feet on the ground. He charges and storms around like an exploding Roman candle firecracker. He is delightful. If only all the other cast members had had their wicks lit like Beckett’s. Mark Alan Gordon plays double duty in their production. Both of his characterizations were right on. His voice cracked, his body quaked, he had a nervous breakdown before our very eyes as the potential backer of the play. He was equally funny as Senator Blake. Even his makeup and hairpieces were overdone to perfection. Greg Thornton almost stole the show as Sasha, the Stanislovsky-trained actor turned waiter. Larry Paulsen’s Faker Englund had some wonderful moments. His mobile face, popping eyes and skinny body well-keyed many of his lines.

On the other hand, Todd Gearhart in the Groucho role, never got beyond his matinee idol good looks. This was a cardboard cut-out performance. No texture, no depth, no bigger than life. In other words, few laughs here. Ronald Thomas Wilson whined his way through the role of the doctor without making the character live. Craig Bockhorn, as Harry, the play’s director, didn’t ever quite develop a characterization. A potentially hysterical moose head bit-laid a large bomb. (Part of this may have been caused by the totally non-real looking moose’s head.)

A potentially hysterical scene in which characters get into piece of clothing after piece of clothing was so slowly done that the humor sapped out of it. Again, a pacing problem. On the other hand, the playwright’s return-from-the-dead segment near the end of the play was delightful.

Ursula Belden’s set complete with realistic room and New York Times Square skyline was both attractive and worked well.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Cleveland Play House’s ‘ROOM SERVICE’ is a smile show. It should have been a hysterically funny show.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

As You Like It (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

‘AS YOU LIKE IT’ delights at GLTF

When you go to see ‘AS YOU LIKE IT,’ now on stage at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival you would be well served to just forget it was written by William Shakespeare. Being open-minded will allow you to fully enjoy director Risa Brainin’s production without being upset that it doesn’t use Shakespearean traditional staging or stick with fidelity to the Bard’s language. Just accept Brainin’s creativity in molding a fine cast into a fun production.

‘AS YOU LIKE IT,’ written about 1598, is one of Shakespeare’s most-often produced romantic comedies. It was written just before he moved on to his major tragedies. It is not an original concept as it is based on Thomas Lodge's ‘ROSALYNDE.’

The play follows a pastoral tradition of writing in which a story involves exiles from the court going into the countryside. While in the rural area, they held singing contests and philosophically discussed the various merits of various lifestyles. Shakespeare used the same concept in ‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.’ The singing aspect allows for a nuance not often seen in many other Shakespeare productions. In the GLTF production, to add to the traditional songs, original music was written by Brad Carroll. It is creatively slipped into the show with a do-op quintet with lead singer Scott Plate doing not only fine singing, but creating a delightful portrayal that harks back to the style of 30’s musical films.

The story begins with the ousting of the Duke, father of Rosalind, from the throne by his own brother. With some loyal servants, he hides in the Forest of Arden, while back in the court Rosalind falls in love with the orphan Orlando and is subsequently also expelled. Rosalind disguises herself as a man, a common Shakespearean device. (‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ for example has gender-bending antics.) She escapes the court and brings along her friend Celia and Touchstone, the court jester. As always in Shakespeare's comedies, following unmasking and resolution, the couples sort themselves out appropriately and all is well that ends well.

As is the case in other Shakespearean comedies, the audience must realize that the situations are not real and therefore, observe with a suspension of belief. For example, though we may want to question it on a reality level, in order for the play to work we have to believe that Duke Senior does not recognize his own daughter in disguise and accept that Rosalind’s masquerade as a man goes undetected until the play’s happy ending.

The GLTF’s production is just plain out-and-out fun. Brainin mixes costume, language, musical and staging styles. Though traditionalists may quack, the melange of styles works well. Scenic Designer Chris Pickart’s sets work well. Devon Painter has a great time blending sado-masochistic leather outfits with modern garb and sixteenth century clothing. Janiece Kelley-Kiteley’s choreography is extremely creative and well executed.

The performances are excellent. Julie Evan Smith as Rosalind, and Kathryn Cherasaro as Celia, are delightful. They play off each other well and create a charming pair of young court-mannered ladies. Jeff Cribbs is properly earnest and love struck as Orlando, though his slight physical build doesn’t translate well into his being able to grapple and beat the bulky Gilgamesh Taggett, the court wrestler. But, as with much of this show, it works if you suspend your logical beliefs. Chunky Paul Kiernan, as Orlando’s mean brother who turns nice guy, and Taggett (double cast as Orlando’s other brother) don’t physically look like they belong in the same family with the slender Cribbs, but, again, suspend belief and their acting carries them to acceptability.

Marc Moritz is delightful as Touchstone, the court clown. His black and white split down-the-middle costume adds to his nuanced performance. Nina Dominque is hysterical as his love interest who spends much of the play being carted around the stage in a wheelbarrow, with her legs symbolically spread apart.

Dougfred Miller almost steals the show as Jaques, the melancholy doomsayer who recites the “All of the world’s a stage...” soliloquy, one of the Bard’s most famous speeches. After his initial song, each time Scott Plate strikes the melodramatic pose that indicates he is about to sing, the audience howled with delight. Derdriu Ring (Phebe) and Nicholas Koesters as her suitor (Silvius) also are wonderful.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: GLTF’s ‘AS YOU LIKE IT’ is a delightful production. Go with an open mind. Remember, this is not traditional Shakespeare, stay open to what it is and you’ll have a fine time.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Alicia Hoisington reviews the reviewer

Roy, I must say this... your reviews are the only ones that I even bother to read. I generally don't like to read reviews, but I value your opinions and I love your reviews. I just thought it was time to speak up! Keep 'em coming!

Alicia Hoisington

Monday, October 03, 2005

Topdog Underdog (Beck Center)

Disturbing ‘Topdog Underdog’ at Beck Center

Early in her writing career The New York Times dubbed Suzan-Lori Parks, the author of ‘TOPDOG UNDERDOG’ now on stage at Beck Center, "the year's most promising new playwright." Since then she has gone on to become one of America’s premiere screen and stage writers. Her play ’IN THE BLOOD’ was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. ‘TOPDOG UNDERDOG’ won that prestigious prize.

Alphine Jefferson, the Dramaturge for Beck Center’s ‘TOPDOG UNDERDOG’ states in the show’s playbill, “This is not a ‘Black’ play. This is not an ‘African American’ play.” The writer goes on to state that the play is about the ‘determination to overcome the past.” I disagree with all of those concepts. I think it is a brilliant “Black” play. I think it is a play which speaks to the “African American” community. I didn’t perceive any attempt to “overcome the past.”

Park’s play, which includes both drama and humor, uses the framework of sibling rivalry, with its mix of love and jealousies, to examine urban African American existence. Building on the broken family, get rich quick schemes, lack of reality, not taking long term consequences into consideration but satisfying present day desires, she exposes raw nerves that only those who are familiar with the life can totally appreciate. This appeared obvious on opening night as the interracial audience seemed to react from their backgrounds. While Caucasians generally sat politely and observed. Many of the African American viewers orally voiced opinions, laughed at “in jokes” they shared with the playwright, and gave the production a standing ovation.

The primary recurring theme in the play is the game of Three Card Monty. This is the shill-game often seen on street corners in urban areas. It is played by flipping three cards and getting someone in the vicinity to bet on where the sole black card is located. Lincoln, once a hustler, had used the profits from this con game to keep himself and his brother out of poverty. Lincoln has since reformed, but Booth wants the once-plentiful income to continue, so he begins practicing the Three Card Monty routine, while stealing to make ends meet. Throughout the play he urges his brother to revert to his scamming days or, at least, teach him the routine.

Parks has wisely chosen the title of the play. If a person is on top, then someone is on the bottom. There has to be a winner and a loser. In Three Card Monty one person, the top dog, wins. The other loses. This also corresponds to our society, the land of the haves and have-nots. Lincoln and Booth are both have-nots, as is much of the African American community. Some of those issues smacked all Americans on the side of the head with the recent revelations of living and social conditions of the survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Some reviewers complained that by naming the characters Lincoln and Booth the play’s conclusion is precast and therefore predictable. So what? We know where the train wreck is heading and it does the expected. This is not a mystery in which we have to guess the killer’s identity. This is not a fantasy which leads us down paths to the unknown. The author wanted to alleviate the guess work and center on character development and investigation of societal issues. I believe she did that with clarity.

Don’t assume this is a perfectly written play. It is not. The script has too many words. Some of those could have been cut without losing much effect. But, given the script, director Dale Sheilds has directed the play for maximum effect. He is blessed with two brilliant actors. Both Ed Blunt and Jimmie D. Woody are superb. They never lose their characters. They were often mesmerizing. At no time could one’s attention be drawn away from the stage.

Blunt, as the wiser Lincoln, is a study in control and precision. He is alternately despondent and wickedly sharp, often in the same moment. Woody’s Booth, who is younger and more given to impulse, is developed with pinpoint accuracy. The chemistry between the two is spellbinding.

Don McBride has created a perfect shabby claustrophobic room. It sets the proper mood. Deanna Cechowki’s costumes, especially the suits that Booth has stolen, often lack the sharpness that “cool” Black men would wear, but are serviceable.

Capsule Judgment: ‘TOPDOG UNDERDOG’ is a powerful, if overlong play. It is well directed and acted by the cast at Beck Center. It is a production well worth seeing.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Forbidden - Red Hen Theatre

Red Hen Theatre tries hard, but stumbles with ‘Forbidden’

Theatres often have a specific mission. Kalliope Stage does American musicals. The Jewish Community Center’s drama program concentrates on plays written by or about Jews. Red Hen Productions is this area’s voice of feminism. It’s not that other theatres don’t do feminist plays, but Red Hen dedicates themselves to this cause.

One of the imperatives of a theatre which wants to have a voice is not only to have a mission, but to select plays that are well written and say something, and then make sure they are well performed.
Unfortunately for Red Hen, in spite of their best intentions, ‘FORBIDDEN’ by Pat Rowe fails on two of these three criteria. The play does have an interesting premise which fits into the Red Hen parameters, but is not well written or staged.

Set in Berlin near the end of World War II, a relationship develops between Felice and Lily. One is Jewish, the other is not. Erich, Felice’s best friend and would-be lover, wants her to break for the border with him. Felice refuses to leave, supposedly because of her love for Lily. Inevitably, their fragile arrangement cannot withstand the pressure of the round-ups of Jews and homosexuals. Felice is taken off to a camp where she eventually dies. Lily lives out her life perpetuating a mental image of their relationship.

Originally documented by the journalist, Erika Fischer, in her book ‘AIMEE AND JAGUAR’, the story later became a German feature film of the same name.

This is Pat Rowe’s first play. Her lack of playwrighting skills shines through. The script is fragmented, the transitions between scenes are often unclear, much of the language is in written form rather than an oral style, many of the staging requirements make for a lack of reality, and some of the dialogue is trite.

The production itself is also problematic. Director Karen Gygli has failed to probe deeply into the characters and some of the performers have difficulty developing and maintaining characterizations. She also creates problems through questionable staging decisions. A picture supposedly of the two women appears suddenly on the wall of their apartment. The picture is obviously not of the two women we have seen. In the previous scene, Lily appears on stage in a white bathing suit, but the picture on the wall has two women who look nothing like the characters and are both dressed in black swim wear. Jews wore the well-documented yellow star. In this production the star was white and suddenly appeared in the last scene when it had to have been worn by Lily when she was taken away. In one scene Felice crosses her fingers as a sign of good luck. Jews do not use this gesture
as it is a Christian symbol. The off-stage voices of the children and party-goers did not work to create reality.

As for the acting, Liz Conway is generally effective as Felice. In most scenes she develops a consistent character. Elizabeth Wood is not as consistent as Lily. She often acts, rather than reacts to her lines, allowing for hollow interpretations. This is especially true in the ending scene when she is supposedly an old lady looking back. Because of the structure of the play, the actress is not given time to make any physical changes through makeup and clothing. Quivering hands and trying to create a crack in the voice do not an old women make.

Dan Kilbane is believable as Erich, though a little more emotional strength might convince us of his ability to live through the round-ups and act as a member of the resistance. Heather Peterson and Kevin Coughlin are acceptable in their multi-roles.

Nicole McLaughlin, portraying Friedl, Lily’s neighbor, is much too young for the role. A bad wig and poor makeup to compensate for her age does not cover up this miscasting.

The multi-platform set is poorly constructed and aids in making the action unbelievable. The lapping
curtains instead of doors is distracting.

The playbill is excellent, presenting a good discussion of the play and the playwright as well as a digest of the Jews in Germany from 1933 to 1942.