Saturday, September 23, 2006

Rabbit Hole (Cleveland Play House)

Realistic ‘RABBIT HOLE’ opens the season at CPH

‘RABBIT HOLE,’ which is now in production at the Cleveland Play House, is, as one reviewer of the New York production stated, “almost unbearable to watch at times due to its insistence on presenting a tragedy and its consequences with utter candor, and without sentimentality.” This comment is a tribute to the play. In addition, it is generally true of the CPH production.

The story involves a 4-year-old boy whom we never meet, and a car that swerves in the wrong direction at the wrong time. What we share is the fall out.

David Lindsay-Abaire has created an emotional play. But, unlike many plays broaching the topic of death, he does it with humor, pathos and a strong psychological understanding of the situation. It isn’t a morbid play. It is a realistic look at how not only the family, but the teenager who was driving the car are affected by a momentary incident.

I must admit, I had difficult sitting comfortably in my seat during the production. Having lost a grandson, my mind keep shooting off-stage to my life and that of our family and our reactions then and the legacy the experience has left. Though the incident was not the same, the same raw emotions are. In addition, I counsel people who are survivors of trauma. So be aware that I can’t be unbiased in my thoughts and feelings about the play.

Becca and Howie Corbett have everything a family could want. The accidental death of their son turns their world upside down. They are left adrift in their feelings and thoughts, floating further and further away from each other as one turns to a support group and the other turns inward. Each finds that their method of coping doesn’t work.

I found the CPH production, under the guidance of Artistic Director Michael Bloom, to be basically on target. This is a difficult play to stage. With the wrong approach it could be a maudlin experience, or if overdone, a melodrama. Neither of these outcomes is the intent of the author. Bloom and his cast stay true to the script’s intent by allowing the humor to come through, the pathos to be present, and the melodrama nonexistent.

As Becca, the woman who gave up her career to become a mother, only to suffer a catastrophic loss, Angela Reed nicely walks the thin line between emotional control and hysteria. Her contained emotion parallels many trauma sufferers, who believe that “being strong” entails having no feelings. And, finally, when her body screams loudly enough so that she cannot hold the emotional angst in any longer, her primal scream is heard and felt by her and the audience. This is a fine performance.

Danton Stone is not quite as successful as Becca’s husband, Howie. At times, especially at the beginning of the production, he acts rather than reacts to the lines and their intent and comes across as disingenuous. He seemed to grow into the part as the evening progressed.

Troy Deutsch is right on target as the teenage driver of the death car. His nervous inappropriate giggle on his first entrance, his awkward stance and facial expressions, his halting speech were typical of being over-stressed and confused as he attempts to state the feelings and thoughts which can’t be said with clarity.

Much of the comic relief in the play comes from Becca's encounters with her less than perfect mother and sister, who keep dropping by to keep her company. Both sense her unspoken disapproval of them, but they love her too much to let that get in the way of being there. These parts, which wavered between being overly self-absorbed and empathetic, were well played by Kat Skinner (Nat) and Genevieve Elam (Izzy)

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: I found the ‘RABBIT HOLE’ experience absorbing, at times humorous, but, most importantly, realistic. It is a snapshot of our family and all the other people who have gone through similar experiences. It’s a production worth seeing.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

‘FUNNY THING’ is a very funny thing at GLTF

The program for Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s ‘A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM’ asks the question, “What is funny?” The answer, at least in Cleveland for the next five weeks is, ‘A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.”

‘FORUM’ is a musical based on two plays by Titus Marrius Plautus, who is considered to be the father of comedy in the Western world. It was Plautus who invented the devices of theatrical comedy which have lasted to this very day. Most of his techniques, such as prat falls, cross-gendered misidentities, visual double takes, having characters who are bigger than life, makes the audience laugh at them and their actions rather than with them. It’s the kind of stuff that made Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges funny.

The story follows Plautus’ standard structure. While the Master and Mistress are away, sons and slaves will play. In this case, Pseudolus, a slave who wants to be free, decides to help Hero, the son of Senex and Domina to elope with Philia, a virgin who has been sold to the nation’s greatest warrior. Chaos ensues via comical misadventures, coverups and plot twists.

The book was written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbert, while the music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim. In spite of such wonderful songs as "Free," "Lovely," "Pretty Little Picture," and "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,’ Sondheim’s score was cooly received by critics when the show opened on Broadway in 1962. However, the production’s run of 966 performances is Sondheim’s longest running Big Apple show. The original production starred the
irrepressible Zero Mostel, who was also the lead in a moderately successful 1966 film version.

The script was revived on Broadway in 1972 with Phil Silvers, and again in 1996 with Nathan Lane as Pseudolus. Lane was replaced during the run by Whoopi Goldberg.

Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s production, under the adept directing of Victoria Bussert, is nothing short of hysterical. Bussert and her wonderful cast pull out all the stops. Every shtick and gimmick possible has been incorporated into the happenings. To add to the doings is the fine musical direction of John Jay Espino, the creative choreography of Janet Louer, Jeff Herman’s traditional scenic design and Nicole Frachiseur’s era correct creative costumes.

Usually, the role of Pseudolus is the key role in this play. However, as good as Tom Ford is in that role in this production, he is overshadowed by Jeffrey C. Hawkins whose Hysterium is hysterical! It’s worth the price of admission to see Hawkins in action.

Also adding to the laugh-fest is Dudley Swetland as Erronius, a doddering old man; Laura Perrotta as Domina, an overbearing wife and a woman with implants gone bad; Aled Davies, Hero’s father and sex-obsessed husband of Domina; and Scott Plate as Miles Gloriosis,
a pompous warrior. As the star-crossed lovers, Matt Lillo and Kate Rockwell are fine. Their “Lovely” was a smile inducer. Credit also must be given to Wilson Bridges, Dougfred Miller and M. A. Taylor, the omnipresent clowns whose roles vary from eunuchs to soldiers.

Highlights include the opening number, “Comedy Tonight,” the show-stopping ”Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” and the delightful “Lovely Reprise.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GLTF’s “A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM,” is a laugh delight. It’s the kind of production that audience members will totally
enjoy. Congrats to Victoria Bussert and her cast and crew for a wonderful production.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Wild Party (Kalliope Stage)

There is a 'WILD PARTY' going on at KALLIOPE

A friend who had seen Kalliope's 'THE WILD PARTY'related a story that an elderly man, about halfway through the second act of the show, got up from his seat, said, "I've had enough of this depravity," and stumbled toward the exit. Hey, man, you hit on one of the play's central cores...the depravity of some relationships and the depravity of much of society. Moral...if you are like the offended man, are easily put off by nudity, a simulated orgy, and raunchy words, you might want to avoid the corner of Lee and Cedar for a while. If, on the other hand, you are interested in seeing passions out of control and investigate moral decadence, 'THE WILD PARTY' is your thing.

Andrew Lippa, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for 'THE WILD PARTY,' is one of the new breed of musical theatre creators. He's in the mold of Jonathan Larson, the conceiver of 'RENT' and Jason Robert Brownwho developed 'SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD.' They see lifeand place it on the stage with all its realties, flaws and warts.'

THE WILD PARTY' won the Outer Critics Circle Awardfor best Off-Broadway musical of 2000. It was nominated for 13 Drama Desk Awards including best new musicalAdapted from a book-length poem by Joseph Moncure March, the story takes place in the Roaring Twenties.

It tells of one wild night in the Manhattan apartment shared by Queenie and Burrs, a vaudeville dancer and a vaudeville clown. In a relationship marked by abuse, which mirrors the prohibition and gangster-controlled era in which they live, the duo throws a party to "end all parties." The event is attended by uninhibited guests including Black, a handsome and smooth operator and Kate, who has a "thing" for Burrs. Queenie and Burrs set out to make each other jealous. After a long night of no-holds-barred, Burrs' jealousy erupts and he is killed by Black. Queenie steals out, leaving in her wake the passed out revelers and a former life.

The music is a combination of jazz-era sounds, coupled with contemporary tones. Though none of the songs will be remembered for long, the overall effect of the music is excellent.

The Kalliope Stage production, under the direction of Paul Gurgol fulfills the authors intentions. The realistic, yet stylized staging works well. The script needed some cutting, however. After a while it felt that we were being overwhelmed with filth--enough is enough. Make the point and get on with it.

'WILD PARTY' contains some of the very best dancing and choreography seen on local stages. Michael Medcalf, the founder and leader of Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, pulls out all the stops in his creative concepts. This is dancing and choreographic staging at its best!

The beautiful and talented Melody Moore is excellent as Queenie. Her "Maybe I Like It This Way" and her duet "What Is It About Her," which was sung with Tommy Foster (Burrs), were compelling. Moore is matched by Kalliope favorite Jodi Brinkman (Kate). Both as an actress and a singer, Brinkman continues to impress every time she appears on the theatre's stage. Her version of "Life of the Party"was a highlight.

Medcalf stops the show with his dancing in "Jackie's Last Dance." He absolutely lights up the stage whenever he moves. He reeks sexuality.

Kyle Wrentz is physically, vocally and performance right as Black. His version of "I'll Be Here" was well sung and interpreted. Madelaine True added to the decadence as the overboard lesbian. Her "An Old Fashioned Love Story" was well performed.

Tommy Foster, though looking overly made up (e.g., pencil lines on the forehead for feigning age), is generally believable at Burrs, though his singing varied from good to slightly off-key. The dancers were fine.

Showing special talents were Dezare Foster, Cedric Hall and the very talented Kathleen J. Turner.Musical director Michael P. Hamilton's sounds were well conceived and played. Lance Switzer's lighting design and Kim Brown's era-right costumes added much to the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: 'THE WILD PARTY' is definitely not for everyone. For those who are willing to be challenged and view the unscrubbed version of how some lead their lives, and want to see a well-staged and generally well performed but unnecessarily long play, Kalliope is one place to party.

Porgy and Bess (Beck)

Challenging ‘PORGY AND BESS’ being performed at BECK

‘PORGY AND BESS,’ now on stage at The Beck Center, has a fascinating history. In 1926 George Gershwin read ‘PORGY’ by DuBose Heyward. He wrote the author suggesting that they collaborate on a folk opera basedon the novel. Heyward was enthusiastic, but it
wasn’t until almost a decade later that Ira Gershwin joined Heyward to write the script which had been germinating in his brother George's imagination.

Termed an operetta, it was assumed that it would be staged in an opera hall; however, Gershwin chose to have it performed in a traditional Broadway theatre. The Alvin Theatre production lasted only 124 performances, losing much of its backers’ investments.

Following the Broadway showing, though the script was not produced much in this country, many of the songs achieved popularity through recordings, and the musical was performed extensively in Europe where it was considered a true American opera. It wasn’t until 1970, when the Houston Grand Opera performed an uncut version of the script that the show received itsdeserved US attention. There is a local connectionto the show’s history. In 1976 Lorin Mazel and the Cleveland Orchestra made the first complete recording of the score.

The story is set in Charleston, South Carolina, at the turn of the century, in a small black enclave called Catfish Row. It tells about Porgy, a crippled beggar who falls in love with Bess, a woman of uncertain reputation who is under the domination of the villainous Crown. Crown kills a Catfish Row inhabitant during a craps game and flees. When he returns for Bess he is killed in a fight with Porgy. Porgy goes to jail, and Bess is enticed to New York by Sportin'
Life, a scheming gambler. At the show's end, Porgy, who has been released from jail, heads to New York in search of “his” Bess.

The show’s score includes such songs as “Bess, You Is My Woman,” “I Loves You Porgy,” “I Want My Bess,” and “Lawd, I’m On My Way.”

Now generally classified as a folk opera--a folk tale in which people would naturally sing folk music--the show receives few productions due to its difficult casting, singing and acting requirements. It is this challenge which has been undertaken by Scott Spence, Beck’s Artistic Director, the cast and the technical crew.

Having seen a dress rehearsal, I can only do some supposition of what will happen as the cast settles into their roles and gets comfortable with the material.

From what I perceived, it’s worth seeing the show if, for no other reason, to be enthralled by the singing and acting of William Clarence Marshall as Porgy. He has a powerful and emotion-laden voice. He interprets songs effectively, which is so important in this operatic format. His acting is completely believable. Wow!

Also strong are Shellie Wyatt, whose rendition of “Summertime” opened the show on a positive note. Her reprise of that song was one of the show’s emotional highlights. Brian Keith Johnson is properly snarly as Crown. He has strong vocal abilities. His “Red-Headed Woman” was well rendered. Karen Clark-Green (Serena) interpreted warmly the emotional “My Man’s Gone Now.” The chorus generally sings well.

Unfortunately, though she has a fine singing voice, Dione Parker Bennett, did not have the physical attributes or the acting skills to effectively develop the role of Bess. It was difficult to believe that she was the sultry and beauteous woman that men would
fight over. Devon Settles was also hard to accept as Sportin’ Life. He needed to be more snake-like. His version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” failed to develop the proper under belly meaning of the song. He didn’t move or dance in a manner that fit the role.

Trad Burns lighting, especially during the storm scene, was impressive. At times, Stuart Raleigh’s overly enthusiastic orchestra drowned out the vocalists. This is very problematic in a show that requires the audience to hear the words of the songs.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘PORGY AND BESS’ is an awesome undertaking. Beck Center should be praised for bringing this important American theatre classic to the stage. When the cast settles into their roles, it should result in a very positive experience. As is, it’s worth attending just to see and hear the wondrous William Clarence Marshall.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Respect (Hanna Theatre)

‘RESPECT’ leaves ‘em screaming and dancing at the Hanna

Over the last century, the lives of women, have gone through a major transformation. This topic has been the subject of a number of musical and straight plays. ‘RESPECT: A MUSICAL JOURNEY OF WOMEN,’ now on stage at the Hanna Theatre, is another in the series. Judging from the opening night audience, this journey is going to have a lot of travelers on board.

Dorothy Marcic, the show’s author, based the script on her book, ‘RESPECT, WOMEN AND POPULAR MUSIC.’ That manuscript analyzed the top-40 female song lyrics since 1900. She conceived the show in a chronological sequence, mainly centering on the experiences of one woman, her female relatives and the individuals with who they came in contact, or were the movers and shakers during the 60-some year journey.

The author states, “ For more than the first half of the last century, the voices of women in Top-40 popular music has been one of neediness and dependency. I'll do anything for you; just be my baby, even if you're no good and treat me bad; just LOVE me and I'll stand by my man. By the end of the century, things were quite different. Popular music had come far enough so that women looked for the hero within themselves, were urged to get on their feet and make it happen, ready to stand on her own with or without a man.”

The conclusion that Marcic reaches is "I am woman-hear me roar," and "I will survive." Thus, women should find and follow their own dreams. Where this leaves men is another topic, one not dealt with in this script.

The script generally flows well with logical verbal and vocal transitions. Though a little long, a 90 minute one-act, rather than a two-act production would be preferable. Some songs could be easily dropped such as, “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,” the television tunes segment, and “Video” even though it was cleverly choreographed.

The Hanna show is well directed by David Arisco, with strong music supervision by Phil Hinton and musical direction by Gary Rusnak. Russ Borski’s scenic design, Jean Tessier’s lighting design and Mary Lynn Izzo’s creative costumes add to the quality of the production. Though no choreographer is listed, the dance sequences were cleverly conceived.

The stars of the show, besides the songs, are the cast members. Working their way through the likes of “Bird In a Gilded Cage,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” the four woman cast generally acted, danced and sang with purpose. They accomplished the goal of clearly interpreting the songs and using verbal transitions to further the author’s purpose.

Tina D. Stump, who is pure soul, wailed her way through “I Will Survive” and ripped her way through “Hard Hearted Hannah.” The woman controls the stage and every song she warbles.

Tricia Bestic is a dynamic and endearing performer. Her version of “As Long As He Needs Me” was electrifying. “I Wanna Be Loved By You” was a smile highlight as was “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”

Melissa Barber was generally fine, but, at times, she displayed some inconsistency in her vocalizations and song interpretations.

Paula Kline-Messner was excellent as the narrator. She was totally believable in the spoken segments and sang well.

Capsule judgment: ‘MENOPAUSE’ ran and ran and ran at the 14th Street Theatre in Playhouse Square. Judging by the opening night audience’s reactions, the same production group has another hit with RESPECT.
‘URINETOWN’ is okay, but not great at Carousel

Last year, when Beck Center, produced URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL! I stated, “Beck’s’ production is outstanding! The cast is excellent...not a weak link in the chain.” I’d love to say the same thing about the Carousel Dinner Theatre production, but I can’t. That’s not to say the production was bad, it just didn’t live up to my previous experiences with the show.

The show is fun, in fact, a total delight, but it also has a serious underbelly. This is a tale of greed, corruption, love and revolution in a city where water is worth its weight in gold. Messages pervade, such as what happens when big business is given the right to control our lives. Think of the pharmaceutical and medical companies and their stranglehold over our health. What is it like to be lied to continually in an attempt to push a political and economic agenda? Think of the amount of money being made by the oil and military-industrial complex and influential public officials. Think of the rape of the environment caused by loosening the clean air act. The fantasy of the situation described in ‘URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL’ has become near reality.

The first act of the Carousel show, as directed by Jennifer Cody dragged. The cleverness was missing. The cast seemed to be moon walking through their roles, often not connecting with the audience. The second act, however, sparkled. The pacing intensified and a feeling of abandonment set in. The transition centered on Brian Loeffler’s excellently choreographed act two opener, “What is Urinetown.” This, “Cop Song” and “Run, Freedom, Run” were the show’s highlights.

Chris Murrah has a good singing voice and developed a clear character as Bobby. Karen Katz was a delightful scene stealer as Little Sally. She and Murrah were absolutely consistent in their high quality level.

Al Bundonis was not playful enough as Officer Lockstock. Much of the success of the production centers on his characterization. Unfortunately, he never quite hit the right stride. Patrick Carroll was totally ineffective as Senator Flipp. Robert Stoeckle was not slimy enough as the bad guy, Caldwell B. Cladwell. Without the audience hating him, much of the play’s core erodes. Also adding to the problems was the tinny sound of the overly keyboarded orchestra.

Carousel deserves kudos for taking a severe bend in their usual safe production road by producing this controversially titled and subject-mattered script. Hopefully, they will continue to challenge their audiences.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘URINETOWN THE MUSICAL’ can be a delightful and meaningful experience. The Carousel production comes close, but has too many weaknesses to be a stellar production.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Verb Ballets (Nature Center)

VERB BALLETS, a treat at the Nature Center

On the way out of opening night of Verb Ballets’ ‘NATURE MOVES 2,’ which was staged at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s auditorium, a woman who
attends almost every dance program in the area gushed, “They are absolutely consistent. What a treat.”

Yes, she is right. Verb is consistent and they are a treat. Artistic Director Hernando Cortez has molded his company into a very effectively operating dance machine. The dancers are well-trained and perform with purpose and focus.

‘NATURE MOVES 2’ consisted of four pieces. The opening offering, danced in well designed black and white costumes by Suzy Campbell, was “Shadow of Nes-min.” It was based on The Book of the Dead, a collection of prayers and spells believed to provide
aid for the spirit of the deceased. The live piano music, excellently played by Michael Schneider, was proficiently interpreted by the dancers. Consisting of a number of dramatic poses and intricate body moves, the segment was danced well by the company. It is not a show stopper, but served as a good curtain raiser to show the skills of the company.

‘KU’U HOME,’ a company premiere, was pleasantly danced by newcomer Sydney Ignacio. He is a proficient dancer who, under the guidance of Cortez, should develop
well. He needs to learn to exude confidence and solidly stick his landings on leaps.

For those interested in classical ballet, Cortez incorporated ‘ANDANTE SOSTENUTO’ into the program. Choreographed originally by Heinz Poll, it is an
interpretation of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Second Movement Piano Concerto #2 in D minor. Anna Roberts, who never looked completely comfortable, danced the female role in this pas de deux. She displayed some nice toe work. Brian Murphy very competently partnered. It would have been nice to see Murphy given more of an opportunity to display his strong balletic skills.

‘WOLFGANG STRATEGIES,’ is a sprightly piece, set to several musical compositions of Wolfgang Mozart. A modern ballet with classical overtones, the world premiere, was an audience pleaser. Danced with flowing hands and high jumps, a feeling of abandon and glee was present as the dancers and audience alike smiled throughout. As in all the pieces in the program, Trad Burns lighting helped set the mood and visually guide the audience.

Burns’ and Cortez’s accomplishments in being able to create excellence is amazing as the Nature Museum’s space is a lecture hall, with a long narrow stage and none of the lighting instruments usually found in auditoriums. Bravo!

As I have stated in the past, Cortez needs to figure out where he is going next regarding the company’s personnel. He took a major step forward in putting Brian Murphy under contract. He has also added Sydney Ignacio to his corps of dancers. Ignacio is a work in progress. The women of the company continue to be excellent. Cortez has a major task. Competent male dancers are hard to find and the fact that Verb is a core rather than a star-centered company makes finding males even more difficult.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Verb Ballets continues to impress in its climb to its position as the area’s best and most consistent mid-sized dance company!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Let Freedom Ring (Ensemble)

‘LET FREEDOM RING’ an audinece pleaser at Ensemble

The arts are representative of the era from which they come. They reflect the activities, the attitudes and the people of a particular time period. ‘LET FREEDOM RING,’ Bill Rudman and Eric Coble’s musical review, stresses the concept of era representation built around the theme of social conscience as reflected in the American musical.

Composed of 40-some songs from 75 years of American musical theatre, they echo lyricist Sheldon’ Harnicks’ belief that the songs are social documents. “They tell us who we were and who we are--as individuals, as members of a community, as citizens of a nation.” They are most-often the writings of those lyricists who had a social conscience and spoke their beliefs in the words to the songs included in musicals.

Rudman believes that Yip Harburg was the most politically committed lyricist. Others might argue that Oscar Hammerstein, who built his shows with Richard Rodgers around a social theme expressed in each show’s major song, eg., “You Have to Be Carefully Taught” in ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’ and “It’s a Puzzlement” in ‘THE KING AND I.’ That, not withstanding, Rudman and his co-conceiver, the prolific playwright Eric Coble, have constructed a generally well-integrated review.

Integration, blending the songs into a unified theme with clear transitions, is a major problem with many reviews. With the exception of the passage from their love segment (“Who Cares,” “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “What Good Is Love?”) into the work segment (“Song of the Sewing Machine” and “Millwork”) and the first act finale “The Silent Spring” transition to “Joe Worker,” the verbal, dance and spoken bridges work well. One might also question, however, the choice of “Joe Worker” which seems to fit better into the work segment, as an act finale. Usually, the last song of an act leaves the audience with unfinished business which they must come back to solve or is a dynamic presentation which leaves the audience buzzing.. “Joe Worker” didn’t succeed on either of those levels.

The Ensemble production, under the apt direction of Eric Schmiedl, is very entertaining. David Shimotakahara’s and Pandora Robertson’s choreography is outstanding. In fact, it is the show’s strongest element.

High point numbers are “Status Quo,” “It’s the Right Time to Be Rich,” “Everybody Says Don’t” and “A Wonderful Way to Die.”

Nancy Maier does an excellent job of piano accompaniment. Todd Krispinksy’s scenic design is attractive and functional. Steven Schultz’s projections are purposeful and often include creative whimsy.

The cast is effective, but uneven. Placing Mick Houlahan, a consummate professional singer and actor on stage with a group of still learning college kids made for a startling contrast. Houlahan is confident, knows how to sing meanings instead of just words, and can control an audience with a smile or a twinkle of the eye. Though the kids try, they just look and sound like they are close to being ready for prime time, but not quite there. This production, with the likes of Dan Folino, Tracee Patterson, Monica Olejko and Kyle Primous, would have been astounding.

This is not to say that Hannah DelMonte, Erin Childs, Javar Parker and Michael Russo are bad, they aren’t. They were just outclassed by Houlahan and the requirements of the material.

The strongest of the youth quartet is DelMonte. She has a pleasant but not outstanding voice, a compelling presence and lights up the stage when she speaks. Childs has an affable voice in the lower registers, but has trouble projecting in the higher range. Some of her acting is shallow.

Parker was inconsistent. Some of his vocals (e.g, “Just Don’t Make No Sense”) were excellent, while at other times he sang without much meaning. Russo has a pleasant voice, but little stage presence. He never appears completely relaxed, especially in songs like “The Locker Room” in which he seems to be uncomfortable with the material. Often he makes distracting facial configurations, singing out of the sides of his mouth.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘LET FREEDOM RING!’ is a sure-fire audience pleaser. With a more experienced cast and a few adjustments in the script, this could have been a complete winner.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Murder of Crows (convergence-continuum)

Another Wellman script at convergence-continuum

Convergence-continuum is up to its old tricks. Since it was founded the venue has produced out-of-the-loop, out-of-the-norm, outside-the-mainstream-audience productions. Many of them have been written by language trickster Mac Wellman, a friend of Clyde Simon, the theatre’s artistic director.

The theatre’s latest Wellman play is ‘A MURDER OF CROWS,’ an environmental tragic comedy that centers on a teenager who is waiting for a major calamity to occur. She is surrounded by a dysfunctional family (what else can you expect, this is a Wellman play). Her mother is an emotionally drained skeleton; her brother, who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, is a golden monument in the front yard; an aunt and uncle secretly transport shopping bags full of money; and a father who returns from a gruesome death in which he was buried headfirst in a sludge pit. (Honestly, I’m not making this up.)

The group lives in an unspecified heartland area, downwind of what appears to be a toxic waste dump. It’s an area that Wellman has written about so much that his fans call it “Macland.”

Also populating the area is a murder of crows. Murder of crows, that ‘s a group of them, like a pride of lions, tower of giraffes, or gaggle of geese. These crows sing and act like a Greek chorus and comment on the goings on. (Again, I’m not making any of this up.)

The convergence production is under the usual adept directing guidance of Clyde Simon who does double duty as Raymond, the father.

Lucy Bredeson-Smith, who is one of the most consistently excellent actresses in the area, is mesmerizing as Nella, the mother. Geoffrey Hoffman is excellent as the gold coated son. Denise Astorino misses some of the right notes as the girl obsessed by the impending doom. Lauri Hammer is appropriately obnoxious as the bigoted aunt. Wes Shofner gives his usual excellent performance as the father. The crows aren’t much as singers, though they must have been watching the movements of our feathered black friends, as they do everything except fly around the theatre in their attempts to imitate the birds.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Wellman is definitely an acquired taste. I still haven’t learned to savor his concoctions. That doesn’t mean you won’t. If you like abstract concepts, in a well-packaged production, you’ll enjoy ‘A MURDER OF CROWS.’ If not, more traditional offerings are opening at other local theatres.