Sunday, December 16, 2007

Red{the orchestra}


Several weeks ago, Red {an orchestra} performed ‘A RED SOLSTICE.’ A classical orchestra with a twist, Red’s mission is to redefine, redesign and rediscover classical music. It offers a perfect venue to get those young and old, seasoned classical music lovers and neophytes who know nothing about the classics, to experience the sounds of the masters, emerging and emerged. All this with musical proficiency.

Johathan Sheffer, the artistic director and conductor, packages programs that excite and entice. Their solstice program featured the amazing veteran violin soloist, early-teenaged Caroline Goulding, not only playing Vivaldi’s “Concerto No. 4 in F minor,” but also a fast paced Irish fiddling tune. Also featured was 20 year-old Andrew Lipian, he of astounding countertenor voice, and soprano Jung Euh Oh in Heinrich Schultz’s “The Christmas Story.”

Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead

Sean Derry gives tour-de-force acting performance at BANG AND CLATTER

As Sean Derry was literally pounding his head on the floor at the conclusion of ‘POUNDING NAILS IN THE FLOOR WITH MY FOREHEAD,’ now in production at The Bang and Clatter Theatre, I totally empathized.

For two acts I, and members of the audience, had been subjected to and immersed in a series of attacks and tirades using language that was vulgar, angry and outrageous. Almost all things political, social, moral and ethical had come under attack. Almost every foul word and image had been used to assault our senses.

Throughout I could not help but wonder what it felt like for Derry to go through a nervous breakdown nightly. Not only did he have hundreds and hundreds of words to memorize and spit out each night, but the emotional level of the one-person show allows for little time to relax. Almost every line is explosive, there is no calm within the storm.

Eric Bogosian’s ‘POUNDING NAILS IN THE FLOOR WITH MY FOREHEAD’ is a series of character studies, concentrating on men who range from the seriously troubled to those positively repugnant. The monologues were originally portrayed by Bogosian, himself. Since then, a number of actors have taken up the role. I doubt if any one them did a better job than Derry, Bang and Clatter’s co-artistic and managing director.

Bogosian is the writer of ‘TALK RADIO,’ a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He also authored ‘subUrbia,’ ‘GRILLER’ and ‘SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL.’

The opening segment, “Molecules,” finds a bum in a subway talking in detail about the molecules that infect others from his bodily excretions. It verbally slaps the audience into an awareness of Bogosian’s hateful reaction to the ills of this nation.

Other characters include a guilt-ridden suburbanite, a doctor prescribing the worst medicine in the world, and a “recovering male” who confesses his shame to fashion models in magazines because of the fantasies he harbors about them.

As a reviewer of a previous production stated, “Bogosian has deep-seated anger, and the author’s anguish swings between the longing for numbness and the desire to feel something. Monotony is never a problem in this show.”

Capsule judgment: The show is not for gentlefolk, definitely not for redstaters. It is, however, for anyone who wants to see an amazing performance, probably one of the best performances on local stages this year, and have their mental and physical senses assaulted.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Santa Land Diaries

‘SANTALAND DIARIES’ a pleasant holiday escape at CPT

David Sedaris, author of ‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES, which is getting its umpteenth local production, this time at Cleveland Public Theatre, credits his fame to the attention he got when he read his “SantaLand” essay on National Public Radio.

In 2001, Sedaris was selected to receive the Thurber Prize for American Humor and was named by Time magazine as “Humorist of the Year.” He is the author of the best selling ‘NAKED’ and ‘ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY,’ both collections of his personal life experiences.

‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES’ is a one-man show which is supposedly a true account of Sedaris’ stint as an elf at Macy’s department store in New York. First read as an on-air essay on December 23, 1992, the material was reworked into a play in 1996 by Joe Mantello. It has since become a staple of the holiday season on both professional and amateur stages.

Under the direction of B. D. Bethune, Cleveland Public Theatre’s production, which stars Doug Kusak, is a pleasant evening of theatre.

Kusak has a mobile face, a good sense of comic timing, nicely underplays the role and is generally delightful as Crumpet, the elf in green velvet smock and red and white stockings. He interacts well with the audience, without making anyone uncomfortable. His highlights are a Billie Holliday interpretation of “Away in the Manger,” and his compassionate final speech when he relates a tale of what may be his working with the “real” Santa Claus.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are in the holiday mood, and can put up with another jolt of festive cheer, Cleveland Public Theatre’s ‘SANTA LAND DIARIES’ will entertain you.

Friday, December 07, 2007


‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ delights audience

The gentleman sitting behind me at opening night of ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ at the Cleveland Play House, seemed to be an “expert” on all things “A CHRISTMAS STORY.’ Unfortunately, almost everything he was telling his companions in a very loud voice, was mainly incorrect.

According to the self-anointed expert the play “was written by a Clevelander” and “that’s why it is set in Cleveland.” Fact: The story on which the movie and play were both based was written by Jean Shephard who was a Chicago native. The play was written by Philip Grecian, a native of Topeka, Kansas. The play is not set in this area. It is located in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana.

The “font of knowledge” went on to recount how the movie was made in Cleveland. Well, he was almost right on that one. Some of the scenes were shot in Cleveland, but due to a lack of big snows during January through March of 1983, when the movie was being shot, most of the filming was done in Canada. Yes, it was at 3159 West 11th Street in Tremont, where The Christmas Story Museum is now located, that some of the exterior hourse shots took place. (The interiors were filmed in a studio in Toronto.) And, yes, the parade scene was in front of the now closed Higbee’s Department Store in downtown Cleveland. The film makers had to make fake snow for those scenes.

He also said that the majority of the cast of the film were Clevelanders. Again, nope. The leads were Hollywood professionals, including Darren McGavin who played the Old Man, Melinda Dillon as the mother and Scott Schwartz as Flick. His information on the role of Ralphie was also off-base. He stated that Tom Hanks played Ralphie. No, Peter Billingsley played the role. Hanks did appear on stage in Cleveland as a member of Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, but he was not in the movie of ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY.’ I guess if you count all the extras in the parade scene (including yours truly) and other street scenes (which also included this reviewer) he might be right on the number of Clevelanders in the film.

And then there was his final pronouncement: “The Chinese restaurant the Parkers went to for Christmas dinner is still in business here.” Wrong, again. The restaurant scene was shot in Toronto. (Some locals have dubbed the C&Y Chinese Restaurant on St. Clair as the present day stand-in for the play’s Bo Ling’s Chop Suey Palace).

With that out of the way, what’s the play about? It relates a delightful, warm and fuzzy 1950s tale, about a mom who knows best; a dad who is a lovable boob; young Ralphie, who wants "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and 'this thing' which tells time"; and the adventures of Ralphie and his friends.

There are subplots concerning the major prize the Old Man wins, how Flick is “triple dog dared” into sticking his tongue to a freezing metal pole, Ralphie’s disappointed reactions to his “Little Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin,” how Ralphie finally stands up to the bully Scut Farkas, and the next door neighbors' hound dogs who create a worldly hell for the Old Man.

The CPH production, under the direction of Seth Gordon, is generally delightful. It is nicely paced and visually creates the right moods.

Charles Kartali, playing The Old Man for the third time in this venue, populates the role. His tirades, his over-reactions, his anti-Father Knows Best persona is one of lynch pins of the show. Local favorite, Elizabeth Ann Townsend is properly compassionate as Ralphie’s mom. Kolin Morgenstern is delightful as Flick. (He probably should have been cast as Ralphie.) Lily Richards as Esther Jane, the girl who has a crush on Ralphie and Naomi Hill as Helen, the class brainiac, are fine. Christopher McHale, in his third appearance as Ralph (Ralphie all grown up) is full of youthful spirit as the narrator.

It is always dangerous to critique the performances of children. But, since CPH is a professional theatre, which can draw its cast from the entire country’s theatre community, the level of expectations has to be maintained, no matter the age of the performers. So, here goes. Though Billy Lawrence was generally acceptable as Ralphie, he is a little long in tooth to be playing the role. He is more a teenager than a child in size and mannerisms. Some of his performance was robotic, making the audience aware that he was acting, not living the role. Justin Montgomery Peck (Schwartz) had some nice moments, but his poor articulation made it almost impossible to understand his lines. Cameron McKendry (Scut Farkas) was not menacing enough to be playing the bully. He showed good acting presence and would have been better cast in another role.

Capsule judgement: ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ is the perfect holiday production to which to bring children and introduce them to the world of live theatre. Unless you’re a theatre critic, the few flaws with the show should not bother you, and all should leave with a warm feeling of life in the “good old days” before Iraq wars, Fox news and the concern over terrorist attacks. Oh, for the street cars on Euclid Avenue and downtown with shopping at Higbee’s and May Company, and being able to have lunch at Mills Cafeteria.

Monday, December 03, 2007


‘PULP,’ a reliving of lesbian fiction of the 1950s, gets a good production at CPT

‘PULP,’ now making its Ohio and regional debut at Cleveland Public Theatre, is a parody of lurid lesbian fiction of the 1950s which centered on the “love that dare not speak its name.” The script, which was written by Patricia Kane, concentrates on the themes of many of those fictions novels: the outsider, the tough broad, the siren and the hyper-sexuality of a renegade sub-society, all of which take place in a gritty urban setting.

The play’s outsider is Terry Logan, a butch woman from Texas, just discharged from the Women's Army Corps. On a train bound for Chicago during a hot summer in 1956, she meets Pepper who figures out that Terry is a kindred spirit and invites her to The Well, a Chicago (gritty urban setting) lesbian nightclub where she works. The club, which features drag performances (women dressing as men) is owned by Ms. Warren, the ice princess (the siren). Terry lets her libido draw her initially to Eva (the hypersexual). As a plot developing device, several other characters have hidden or misguided loves, but by the time the lights go out after 90-minutes of sexual innuendos, sexual explicity, and sexual trysts, three couples have been formed and, if fairy tale endings are your thing, you’ll accept that they will live happily ever after.

An original score of period-sounding songs, with music by Andre Pluess and Warren, are performed with various degrees of proficiency as nightclub numbers. The score sounds familiar, but careful listening will reveal, like pulp novels, that the songs contain strong, overly ripe lyrics. Lyrics like, "Lips that taste of tears lose their taste for kissing."

The script, which is a combination of melodrama, farce and musical review, lends itself to an over-the-top production. How can a play which repeats and repeats and repeats the line, "I'm a lesbian plain and simple. I don't make any bones about it," be done seriously?

Fortunately, for those who will venture to CPT, director Scott Plate uses asides, over-exaggeration and physical underscoring to accomplish the generally well-done production.

Plate keeps the goings centered. The laughs come from the overdrawn characters and the way they are over-played. The cast, with the exception of Maggie Arndt (Terry), are excellent. Arndt is not macho enough, not sure enough, not cocky enough to make us believers. She has an underbelly of vulnerability that is off-setting. Her singing also leaves much to be desired.

Sheffia Randall Dooley, the only Equity member of the cast, and purely the audience favorite, overdoes the role of Eva/Bing, with appealing certainty. She effectively wails her musical vocals.

Allison Garrigan as bar owner Viviane, develops a clear and convincing character as the rigid appearing ice princess. Her opening musical number sets the right mood for what’s to come.

Kimberly Lauren Koljat is consummately sweet as the bartender who befriends Terry. Her crush on Sarge/Winny, one of the drag entertainers who is also an excellent marksman (hey, what did you expect, this is a lesbian-centered script), is tenderly developed. Elizabeth Wood is convincing as Sarge/Winny.

Butch Marshall, the Music Director, plays one mean piano to back up the cross-dressing devas.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: CPT’S ‘PULP’ takes an appropriately contrived script, and makes it into a well planned over-the-top production that generally works well, in spite of a weakly portrayed linchpin character. Will non-lesbian audience members enjoy the show? The very conservative will not. They will probably be uncomfortable with all the same-sex kissing and touching and sexual innuendos. Those of the more liberal ilk probably will appreciate the cleverness for what they see and hear.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Twelve Angry Men

‘TWELVE ANGRY MEN’ gets superlative production at Palace

In the program notes for ‘TWELVE ANGRY MEN,’ now on stage at the Palace Theatre, Gina Vernaci, Vice President of Theatricals for Playhouse Square Foundation writes, ’TWELVE ANGRY MEN’ reminds us that a fair trial by our peers is among our essential rights as Americans.” In these days of reduction of our civil rights by the Bush administration, the issue is probably as relevant, if not even more significant, than it was in 1954, the year in which the play was set.

Vernaci also comments that the play raises the issues of a jury made up of 12 white male jurors deciding the fate of a minority offender. Though not as common these days, since women and minorities have been added to juries, the problem of being “judged by our equals” is still an issue in some jurisdictions and parts of the country. The O.J. Simpson murder trial is a case in point.

TWELVE ANGRY MEN’ was originally written as a teleplay which was shown in 1954 on ‘STUDIO ONE.’ It became a major motion picture starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Ed Binns, Martin Balsam and Jack Klugman. The script was rewritten into a stage play in 1964 by Reginald Rose. In 2006, Roundabout Theatre Company opened the first New York production of the script. It was such a success that it was extended seven times, finally running 32 weeks. The success of that production inspired the touring version.

The story centers on a jury meeting to decide the fate of a black delinquent teenager. It appears that a guilty verdict will be quickly decided upon until a juror raises the possibility of “reasonable doubt.” From that point on, the happenings take strange and unexpected twists and turns.

The touring production is flawless. The acting, the directing, even the set add up to make an exciting evening of theatre.

Under the direction of Scott Ellis, a play that could be static, sizzles. From the very start, as we hear the off-stage voice of the judge giving the jury their instructions, the oppressive heat in the room, both the temperature and the temperaments, are crystal clear. The conflicts and even the humor are well developed. Each character is purely etched.

Richard Thomas, probably best know for his role as John Boy on ‘THE WALTONS,’ has an impressive theatrical background that takes him far beyond his media fame. He is the perfect catalyst for questioning the youth’s guilt, underplaying the role to get maximum effect.

Kevin Dobson (Juror Ten), who is best known for his role as Telly Savalas's partner in the 1970s crime drama ‘KOJAK,’ is impressive.

Julian Gamble (Juror Three) is the epitome of self hatred as the angriest of the jurors. Mark Morettini (Juror Seven) is excellent, as is Alan Mandell (Juror Nine) as the old man with an understanding of the angst of life. In fact, there is no weak cast member.

Capsule judgment: ‘TWELVE ANGRY MEN’ is an impressive production that should capture and keep the attention of audiences, even if they’ve seen the film or the play before. Applause! Applause!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

THE NUTCRACKER (San Jose Ballet)

‘NUTCRACKER’ returns as Ballet San Jose comes home

On December 12, 1979, The Cleveland Ballet premiered its version of ‘THE NUTCRACKER.’ Twenty-three hundred people attended the production at Cleveland Public Music Hall. Much has happened to the ballet scene on the north coast since that momentous day.

In 1986 a group of California Silicon Valley benefactors offered a partnership to the Cleveland Ballet. Productions would be staged both in San Jose and Cleveland. With this new arrangement the local ballet company, which was co-founded by Ernie Horvath and Dennis Nahat, was able to offer the dancers added performing exposure and would provide each community a great company for a moderate, shared investment.

Much to the chagrin of Clevelanders, Nahat, much like Art Model, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, took “our” creation and left town. Thus, in 2000 Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley was born. The reasons for the “failure” of the local company are numerous, and lots of finger-pointing followed. Over-spending and lack of constraint by Nahat, the exodus of large corporations from the Cleveland area which eliminated funders, and poor management by the ballet’s board, have all been blamed.

Whatever the past, a sold out house was present for the opening night of ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ at the State Theatre. In contrast to the negative greetings given even the mention of Model’s name, the audience gave loud applause to Nahat’s initial appearance as Godfather Drosselmeyer (a part which he trades off with local favorite Raymond Rodriguez).

‘THE NUTCRACKER’ is a fairy tale-ballet in two acts with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It is based on “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice,” a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann. It was first presented in 1891.

The story concerns a young girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince, a fierce battle against a Mouse King and the romantic adventure in which she is taken on a journey by a handsome prince. In their travels they experience a snowstorm, and journeys to Muscovy, The Land of the Shifting Sands, and the Land of the Ivory Pagoda.

Production highlights include the Dance of the Snowflakes and The Dance of
The Sugar Plum Fairy (actually a performance by the Trsarina and Tsar).

Since the story is set around the holidays, productions usually are staged during the Christmas season.

Except for the overly long opening scene, which contains a lot of walking and little dancing, the choreography is excellent. Nahat uses that exposition scene to add some of his signature attempts at humor.

Because the production has seven alternating principal casts, who you see in the lead roles of Maria, the Nutcracker/Prince Alexis and the Tsarina Tatianna and Tsar Nikolai is a matter of chance.

Fortunately, on opening night Karen Gabay, a long time local favorite and artistic director of Point of Departure, which is in local residence during the summers, danced the Tsarina. As always, she was radiant and commanded the stage. Maykel Solas (Tsar) partnered Gabay well.

Maria Jacobs was our Maria. She is petite, lovely and moved with ease. Her point work was excellent and she floated in her leaps. Her Prince was danced by Ramon Moreno whose small stature was a perfect match for Jacobs. His circle turns and partnering were well done and elicited much applause.

The sets were beautiful as were the costumes, though I prefer the snowflakes in tutus rather than long skirts,

Capsule judgment: Ballet San Jose’s ‘THE NUTCRACKER’ is one of the better stagings of the ballet. It is nice to see classical ballet in a local venue. It can only be hoped that Gabay and Rodriquez will be able to develop their POINTE OF DEPARTURE into an all year company and allow us to get the bad taste of the departure of The Cleveland Ballet out of our psyche.

We Got Bingo

‘WE GOTTA BINGO’ an interactive happening that encourages the audience to “let loose.”

Don’t go to see Bingo, now on stage at the 14th Street Theatre in Playhouse Square, expecting to see a great theatre epic. What you’ll participating in is a free-wheeling, interactive, mostly adlibbed experience, filled with playing Bingo, polka music (what else?), dancing, being dragged up on stage to participate in shenanigans, and winning prizes such as a fake stuffed turkey or a used sweater or sitting on a throne if you are lucky enough to actually achieve a bingo.

The “plot,” and I’m using the word in the broadest sense, centers on the decision to combine an Italian Catholic parish with an Irish one (let the bickering and insults begin). By mistake, the wrong church is destroyed by the wrecking company, so a fund-raiser has to be held to get the money to redo the building. Far fetched? Of course, that’s what leads to the ridiculousness of the double sexual inuendos, the entrance of the archbishop (who was sitting next to you just two minutes ago in normal clothing), and the mad racing around by the cast. It’s also what caused one of my tablemates to fake a leg injury so he didn’t have to do the Chicken Dance.

Performed in the vein of the long running ‘TONY N’ TINA’S WEDDING,’ ‘WE GOTTA BINGO,’ which is being performed both here and in St. Paul, places you in a German beer garden. The “meal” consists of Bruschetta San Dominica,
Insalata del Lotto, homemade lasagna, warmed garlic bread and an
assortment of Wunderbars. Now, don’t get the idea this is gourmet food. It’s served on paper plates, you eat with plastic forks, and the bread comes wrapped in aluminum foil. Think, Ladies Auxiliary food served in a church basement!

Many names familiar to local audiences are in the cast including Eileen Burns (who sings up a storm), Liz Conway, Paul Floriano (as his usual ill-tempered curmudgeon), Patrick Carroll, Lissy Gulick (the lady can actually play the bass), June Lang (who portrayed Mrs. Vitale in ‘TONY & TINA’S WEDDING) and Dan Marshall (who looked fetching at the conclusion in a fishnet off-the-shoulder outfit). And, Paul Hupalowsky, from where else than Parma, playing the accordion. The affair is guided by Resident Director Jacqi Loewy and Director Ross Young.

Capsule judgment: The cast seems to be having a good time. The audience, depending on an individual’s possessing the ability to let loose and just let things happen, including being a willing or unwilling participant in the shenanigans, leaves smiling. (This would make a great holiday party occasion. Groups of 16 or more get priority seating and special ticket prices.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007


‘CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS’ is ridiculous beyond belief!

Michel de Ghelderode, the author of ‘CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS OR (DID YOU SAY SPHERE?),’ the play now being performed by Cesear’s Forum, was a Belgian playwright who reached his writing peak between 1930 and 1945. He was quite prolific. In fact, no one is sure exactly how many plays he wrote. He gained an international reputation because of the controversial 1938 Paris production of ‘FASTES D'ENFER’ (“Chronicles of Hell”), which explored the heights of religious exaltation. At the opening night it is reported that there was a near riot in the theatre.

His plays resound with violence, demonism, holy madness, and off-the-wall humor. Often it seems like the actors are ad-libbing their lines and the actions seem spontaneous. Most plays can be classified as dramas or comedies or musicals. Ghelderode’s works defy classification. Theatre of the absurd? Well, much of what goes on is absurd, but that’s not really the definition of “absurd” as it applies to “theatre of the absurd.” Absurd in that form of play script means out of sync, not ridiculous. It explains the works of Edward Albee and John Paul Sartre, not Ghelderode.

How about vaudeville? Maybe, kinda of. As the public relations for the play states, “a satirical vaudevillian farce.” I’ll buy that. Kind of.

Story line? You kid! There isn’t any storyline, per se. Christopher Columbus and his attempt to prove the world was not flat. Kind of. We do learn that Chris, who stumbled upon the Americas, did so supposedly trying to escape from the “erratics” of his age . As Ghelderode states, “Columbus has always tried to escape.” Make no sense? Don’t worry about it. Don’t look for the production to make sense. Just go to see ‘CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS OR (DID YOU SAY SPHERE?)’ to have a good time. And, be sure that you go with the attitude of having a good time. A Three Stooges, Monty Python, Marx Brothers good time.

The Cesear’s Forum production, under the directorship of Greg Cesear, pulls out all the stops. John Kolibab, he of Zero Mostel mobile face and body, is hysterical as Columbus. His lines flow as if he is making them up on the spot. He is often as surprised by what he says as is the audience.

Jean Zarzour, known locally as the owner of LIPSCHTICK, lets out all the stops as The Woman. The woman who, as the show biz terms states, “eats the scenery” (destroys everything in her path) as she dances, sings and acts like someone one-step away from being deranged. She is hilarious.

The rest of cast tries hard, can’t keep up with Kolibab and Zarzour, but, again, it matters not as the entire happenings are so outrageous, it’s hard not to laugh at about everything that takes place.

Capsule judgement: If you are in the right mood (manic) and appreciate comedy (way out comedy) and the ridiculous (really ridiculous) you’ll fall off your chair laughing at ‘CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS OR (DID YOU SAY SPHERE?).’ On the other hand, if you want a plot, and aren’t in the mood for mental chaos, you’ll not be a happy theatre-goer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Phantom of the Opera (Baldwin Wallace College)


Baldwin Wallace’s Music Theatre Program is consistently recognized as one of the finest educational experiences for students interested in musical performing arts. Under the sage leadership of Victoria Bussert, graduates have gone on to successful careers in various phases of the theatre including starring on and off-Broadway.

It is no wonder, with the reputation of the program, when there was an investigation to designate several schools to do the first amateur productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA,’ that BW was chosen.

The show deservedly ran from November 6 to 18, to sold out houses. Performed by two different casts, this dual approach gave more students a chance to perform major roles. In addition, due to the vocal difficulty of the score, it allowed for conservation of the voices in training.

‘ THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’ is based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. The music was composed by Webber, with lyrics by Charles Hart and additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe.

The story focuses on Christine DaaƩ, a beautiful young performer who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius known as "The Phantom of the Opera," who terrorizes the Paris Opera. It was a smash hit in London and New York.

Normally, I do not review college performances, but since the BW production was a world amateur debut, I am breaking the pattern.

Phantom is a difficult show. It has a very complex score. It requires massive sets, numerous special effects, many period costumes and a large and very talented cast. It is a challenge for professionals, let alone the limits of a college budget and on and off stage talent.

Bussert wisely altered the script so that some of the special effects could be eliminated. The famous crashing to the stage floor of the chandelier was modified and the boat floating on water was eliminated. It mattered little. The overall effect was positive. This was a very, very good production.

Emily Leonard, who played Christine ,was enchanting. Pretty and petite, her voice was radiant. Her acting was believable, even when saying Webber’s over-stylized lines. This young lady is Broadway ready!

Handsome Paul Rawlings portrayed Raoul, Christine’s lover. He has a fine voice and a dashing air that fit the role well.

Erin Childs belted out the role of Carlotta, the opera diva who Christine has replaced. She properly overdid the role. Why Bussert had Childs and several other members of the cast present their lines to the audience, rather than directing them at the person to whom they were speaking, is a mystery. Kate Merrick was excellent as the ballet mistress who has a special relationship with the Phantom.

Unfortunately, Javar Parker, who played the role of the Phantom the night I saw the show, was not as strong as needed. He has a pleasant voice, but the role requires more vocal abilities than he displayed. His acting stayed on the surface and he was often difficult to hear, in spite of being miked.

The singing and dancing choruses were excellent. The choreography by Janiece Kelley-Kiteley and Associate Choreographer Martin Cespedes was excellent.

The orchestra, under the direction of Stuart Raleigh, was superb. There was a full sound, and the complicated musical arrangements were easily handled.

Jeff Herrmann’s scenic and lighting designs were outstanding. Charlotte Yetman’s costumes, which were era correct, were amazing in their detail.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: BW’s ‘THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, though not of professional level, was much more than anyone would expect from a college production. Bravo!!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spotlight on Pierre-Jacques Brault

Profile: Pierre-Jacques Brault—theatre founder with an eye on the future

In this age of diminishing corporate support for the arts, the tight economy, limited theatre venues and a competitive market for audiences, what would motivate a young college graduate and some of his friends to create a professionally based, not-for-profit community supported stock theatre?

The odds obviously didn’t phase creative and dedicated Pierre-Jacques Brault and his life-partner, Brian Marshall. In 1998, they dedicated themselves to providing entertaining, enlightening and high quality premiere or rarely performed works for the audiences of Greater Cleveland. Ten years later, while other well-intentioned theatrical venues have come and gone, Mercury Summer Stock (MSS) is alive and well.

How and why did MSS come into being? In a recent interview, with eyes flashing and an endearing smile creasing his handsome face, Brault, a 1997 Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin graduate, related the story of a stage struck Beachwood kid, with a dream to create theatre. He started at age 8, being the only child in the Music School Settlement’s ‘AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITOR.’ He continued to perform under the guidance of Jill Koslen and Laura Gee, the artistic directors of the Beachwood and the Heights Youth Theatres. He even found himself on stage with his mother in Solon Player’s production of ‘MAME.’ It was only natural that he gravitated to Baldwin Wallace, with its nationally recognized musical theatre program headed by Vicky Bussert.

During their freshman and sophomore years, Brault and Marshall wanted a new challenge. They realized that Cleveland had no musical summer stock company. Borrowing seed money from friends and family, the dynamic duo, produced ‘FALSETTOS’ in the Ensemble Theatre space in the Civic in Cleveland Heights. They continued to use the venue through 2001 after which Ensemble had to abandon the space when the building was sold.

Brault, who has directed and taught at Stage Door Manor, the well-known Catskill Mountain summer theatre camp for aspiring theatre students (grads include Natalie Portman, Zach Braff and Jon Cryer), directed at the Virginia Musical Theatre, Chagrin Valley Little Theatre and Willoughby Fine Arts. He also was involved in productions of the Repertorie Theatre of St. Louis and the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, where he was the assistant to Choreographer Janet Watson for ‘GYPSY,’ which starred Donna McKechnie.

Kids often recognize Pierre-Jacques for his run in ‘BLUES CLUES.’ Broadway? Well, close. He appeared in the off-Broadway show, ‘IN MY DREAMS I’M SURROUNDED BY NAKED MEN. (“Yes,” he said, with a sly grin and a slightly red face, “I was a naked man!”)

Since MSS found a home at Parma Little Theatre, it has grown its audience by 47%. The patrons include young families, adults ranging from 25-45 and a strong senior citizen following (about 40% of the audiences.) Braunt feels the theatre is having an impact on the west-side of Cleveland, Parma, Parma Heights and Bedford Heights.

The future for Mercury Summer Stock? For its 10th anniversary MSS will present revivals of ‘HONK,’ ‘BLOOD BROTHERS,’ and a premiere production of ‘THE UTTER GLORY OF MORRISEY HALL.’

The future for Pierre-Jacques Brault? Next spring he will be directing ‘THE FANTASTICS’ for Ensemble Theatre and the summer will find him directing at Cain Park. He and Marshall, who is presently appearing in the Hanna Theatre’s ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY,’ have been out and partnered since their freshman year of college and are house looking. The duo who graduated from Baldwin Wallace in 2001, have “a healthy jealousy” and “challenge and learn from each other.” “I’m looking for a place to do my masters.” “I’d like to direct in New York.” “I’d like to …! “You know, anything is possible!”

Yes, for this special and talented young man, anything is possible!

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Weak Inge play gets equally weak production at Ensemble

‘A LOSS OF ROSES,’ now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, was William Inge’s least successful plays. In contrast to such hits as his Pulitzer Prize winning ‘PICNIC,’ ‘COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA,’ ‘BUS STOP’ and ‘DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, which many consider to be his most significant play, ‘A LOSS OF ROSES’ was a failure on Broadway. It ran only 25 performances and earned the nickname, “A Loss of Grosses.”

Inge, who was a troubled soul, was one of the three most heralded modern era playwrights who dominated the dramatic theatre scene in the 1950s and 60s. Arthur Miller asked, “What’s the best way to live?” Tennessee Williams showcased people who found themselves in places and situations they didn’t understand and in relationship with people who didn’t understand them. Inge looked for the shadows and darkness of life.

‘A LOSS OF ROSES’ is a poignant story, but, unfortunately, it touches on so many themes that it doesn’t develop any of them well. It is talky, unfocused and drenched with symbolism and metaphoric layers. The motivations of its characters are often unclear. Part of this may have been Inge’s own psychological confusion. A closeted homosexual, he fought his “demons” for years, finally committing suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1973 at the age of 60.

The story concerns a relationship between a mother (Helen), whose husband drowned trying to save their son Kenny, and the son. She claims to love him, but wants to have him become more independent. He wants to give her everything, but resents her authority and feels tied down. When Lila, an actress and the boy’s former baby sitter, comes to stay, a new factor enters the equation. Kenny is boiling with unbridled hormones, and Lila is beautiful, open and charming. The darkness in each of them hangs over their heads and the ending leaves each disappointed.

Ensemble’s production, under the direction of Bernard Canepari, doesn’t do much to help the script’s weaknesses. The pacing is slow, the tensions not totally developed, and many of actors have difficulty developing clear characterizations.

Only Jason Markouc, as the son, textures his character well. His angst, frustration, confusion and rudderless existence are clear. Amy Pawlukiewicz as Lila, the actress and former baby sitter, has some good moments, but just isn’t consistent. Her scenes with Markouc lack sexual tension. In fact, the major kissing scene between the two found no smolder, their lips not even squarely meeting and their bodies unengaged.

Julia Kolibab, as Helen, has some good moments, but at times loses her believability. Robert M. K. Daniels, as the next door neighbor and Douglas Kusask, the supposedly domineering “bad guy,”never develop clear characterizations and are unbelievable. Dorothy Canepari does well in a brief appearance as a faded actress.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Between a weak script and very amateur production qualities, Ensemble’s production of ‘A LOSS OF ROSES,’ is a less than satisfying theatrical experience.

High School Musical

‘HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL’ leaves kids reviewers, tweens and teens screaming at The Palace

On the way out of ‘HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL,’ the touring show which is now on stage at The Palace Theatre, an adult male, who was accompanying a fellow reviewer said, “I really enjoyed that. I didn’t know anything about it beforehand.” I’m not sure what planet he’s been on, but he must not have a television set, know or be related to any tweens or teens, or read the entertainment section of a newspaper.

’HIGH SCHOOL MUSCIAL’ is BIG! The story is typical after-school boob-tube fodder. Troy Bolton, super stud captain of the East High basketball team, and Gabriella Montez, a pretty, shy transfer student who excels in math and science, try out, and against the odds, beat out the school’s drama queen, Sharpay and her twin bother Ryan, for the lead parts in their high school’s musical. Despite other students' attempts to thwart their dreams, Troy and Gabriella resist peer pressure and rivalry, inspiring others along the way to “be everything they can be.” (Okay, as a former junior high school counselor, I’m a sucker for plays with a healthy moral!) And, of course, it all ends with a kiss and a great curtain call production number.

First released as a telefilm in January, 2006, it was not only the most successful of Disney Channel’s original movies, but it spawned an entire industry. ‘HIGH SCHOOL MUSCIAL 2’ was released in August of 2007, an ice show version is touring and there is a casting call out for “3,” which will be released to movie theatres in 2009. The merchandise sales are booming, all the way from pink boa pens to key chains in the form of basketball shoes to “I love Troy” t-shirts. Disney has released the script for high school and student productions which will bring in even more bucks through royalty fees.

It has made household names out of Zac Efron, who plays Troy Bolton in the tv versions, and Vanessa Hudgens, the portrayer of Gabriella Montez. They are now the king and queen of gossip magazine front pages.

Not only has the show caught on with tween age girls, it is a big hit with junior and senior high school kids of both sexes. At the Palace production there were numerous males, some dressed in Albuquerque East High Wildcat basketball jerseys (another product of the Disney product blitz).

With the youth audience in mind, I took my “kid” theatre reviewers Alex (12 and a talented pianist) and Noah Berko (a 10 year-old jock), to critique the show. On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), they gave the production a “9 1’2”(Alex) and “8 1/2” (Noah). Reasoning: “There were some real clever special effects.” (They especially liked the staging of the winning shot of the championship basketball game.) “There was more humor in the play than the movie.” “It was more interesting watching real people dancing and singing, than seeing it on a screen.” “The play tryout scene had some funny parts.” “The scene in detention was hysterical. The worm was a riot.” (Dante Russo, doing an inch-worm dance, was a stitch and brought laughter and applause.) “I liked watching the clever way they changed the scenery.” “The quality of the singing and dancing was good.” “The ending was dynamic.”

From an adult perspective: The stage version, which follows the story of the movie, and adds two new numbers, is every bit as good as the film, and in many cases better. (Yes, I’ve seen both tv productions!) Seeing the characters in real life is more engaging. . The singing is professional quality. The casting is right-on. I especially liked John Jeffrey Martin (Troy), a tall athletic looking and engaging young man who adds a more real quality to the character than the aesthetically perfect Zac Effron who didn’t have the “jock” aura. Arielle Jacobs (Gabriella) is totally engaging. The duo has nice interpersonal chemistry. Chandra Lee Schwartz (Sharpay) is properly repulsive as the drama queen, while Bobby List, a terrific dancer, gives a nice sensitivity to Ryan, Sharpay’s henpecked twin. Ellen Harvey is delightful as Ms. Darbus, the diva drama teacher. The rest of the cast is also excellent. The choreography is creative and nicely executed. The orchestra is excellent.

There are some locals in the show. Ashley Campana, who is in the ensemble, was born in Elyria and raised in Vermillion and Westlake. Guitarist Joe Parker is from Lyndhurst, and bass player Paul Reich is from Akron, as is Dan Bailey, the show’s Associate Conductor.

Capsule judgment: The touring company of ‘HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL’, which is composed of many Actor’s Equity performers, is an audience pleasing production. It’s a wonderful way of introducing tweens and teens to the world of live theatre.

Side-note: I hate to be a grouch, but it is annoying to be the victim of a mother of the three and five-year olds, who sat behind me, explaining everything in her “outside” voice to her cherubs. Much to the irritation of those around her, who paid $67.50 for each of their premium seating tickets, she did little to control the three-year old’s crying through the last ten minutes of the show. (Maybe a minimum age of 7 would be appropriate for evening performances of shows that last over two hours.) Also, don’t be surprised when the wrappers of the candy bought at the concession stands, are ripped open mid-song and empty soft drink cups are thrown on the floor and roll noisily down the raked auditorium floor. (I know, Play House Square makes lots of money from the concession sales, but how about restricting food inside the theatre?)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Chosen

Play House’s ‘THE CHOSEN’—a thought provoking, near perfect production

On stage, at the start of ‘THE CHOSEN,’ now being performed at the Cleveland Play House, are two desks, each in its own pool of light. A volume of the same book lies on each desk. Two scholars scan the books. Though they live but five blocks away, they live in different worlds and the wisdom and insights they gain from reading THE TALMUD (the book of rabbinic commentary pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history) is also totally different.

Set in 1944, writers Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok use the strife between opposing Jewish viewpoints of the Orthodox (adherent Jews) and the Hasidim (those who maintain the highest standard of religious observance) to probe into the social issues of communication, friendship and education. The script also displays a political underbelly, probing into the controversy of the founding of Israel, the Holocaust and the role of modern thinking

Danny is the son of Reb Saunders, a Hasidic rabbi. Reuven comes from a more liberal Jewish family. The two find friction, and then common ground through baseball and a shared fervor for scholarship and debate. They struggle to reconcile their fathers honed beliefs and find their own paths, separate from those that their elders envision for them.

The concept of silence permeates the goings-on. From the very first word of the play ("Silence"), ‘THE CHOSEN’ explores the difficulties, and eloquence, and blessedness of silence. Danny tells Reuven that "you can listen to silence; it talks to you… sometimes it cries." These are the lessons taught to him by what appears to be a distant father. On the other hand, Reuven's abba (father) has taught him to "learn to listen behind the words, to that which is not spoken." And, in the end, Reb Saunders teaches both boys that "the heart speaks through silence."

Potok’s book ‘THE CHOSEN’ was published in 1967. It was made into a movie starring Robby Benson and Rod Steiger in 1981. The play script was first performed in 1999. A musical version had an abbreviated eight performance run off-Broadway in 1988. Potok, who wrote ‘THE PROMISE’ as a sequel to ‘THE CHOSEN,’ died in 2002.

The CPH production, under the keen eye of director Seth Gordon, is near perfection. Local actor, George Roth gives a sensitive, nuanced and intelligent performance as David Malter. Adam Richman, as the adult Reuven Malter, the play’s narrator, involves the audience with his comfortable and direct manner. Jeremy Rishe makes Young Reuven live. He has a real and natural manner that breathes honest life into the role. Andrew Pastides takes Danny from a rigid and stiff youth through his journey to awareness with introspective understanding.

Though he inhabits the character of Reb Saunders, Kenneth Albers fails to produce the cadence, rhythm and texture of speech and gestures that permeated the communication of older Jewish men who came from eastern Europe. It is a physical and verbal sound that I heard over and over from my grandfather and his friends. It created them, it was them. It gave them "taam," their flavor and essence. Albers was missing that “taam.” I’m not sure those unfamiliar with those sounds and mannerisms will know that they should have been present, but for those who are aware, it will make a difference.

Michael Lincoln’s lighting design and James Swonger’s sound design added dimension to the production. Michael Raiford’s set was practical and impressive though the overuse of candles which dropped from “heaven” became a bit much after a while.

Capsule judgement: ‘THE CHOSEN’ is a must see production. Don’t be afraid that if you are not Jewish, you will be lost in the language or the philosophy. The script explains all and Gordon has paced the production so the ideas come through with clarity. (The program does an excellent job of defining terms and concepts…get there early enough to read it.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Martha Graham Dance Company

MARTHA GRAHAM DANCE COMPANY pleases its audience!

Martha Graham is considered by most dance aficionados to be the queen of concert dance. Along with George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham, she laid the foundations for non-balletic dance in this country. Years after her death, her works still glow and inspire.

Her company recently performed in Cleveland under the sponsorship of Dance Cleveland, Cuyahoga Community College and Playhouse Square Center. The two concerts each had a different set of offerings. Opening night consisted of ‘ERRAND INTO THE MAZE,’ ‘ARDEN SONG (REDUX),’ ‘DIVERSION OF ANGELS’ and ‘ACTS OF LIGHT.’ With the exception of ‘ARDENT SONG’ each segment was well conceived and performed.

Using Graham’s powerful, athletic, gymnastic forms, which utilizes the floor as well as the space above it, ‘ERRAND INTO THE MAZE’ complete with robotic moves, created a power illusion in which every movement was in perfect sync with the musical notes of Gian Carlo Menotti. It was masterfully danced by Miki Orihara and Tadej Brdnik.

The actual choreography of Graham’s ‘ARDENT SONG’ has been lost, so Susan McLain reconceived the movements. While using many of Graham’s tools (powerful and sensual movements, gymnastic leaps and writhing on the floor) ,the piece missed the expected power of the original conceiver. The conclusion was met with courteous applause by the sold out audience.

‘DIVERSION OF ANGELS,’ using geometric patterns of movements, successfully explored mature, erotic and adolescent love.

‘ACTS OF LIGHT,’ based on the Emily Dickinson poem which states, “Thank you for all the acts of Light which beautified a summer now past to its reward,” was a three-part creation which creatively examined a conversation of lovers, a lament, and a ritual to the sun.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Martha Graham Dance Company lived up to its world class reputation and advanced billing. Dance Cleveland and CCC are to be commended for bringing major dance companies to the area. It must have been gratifying for the sponsors to see a sold out house for the opening of the season.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Measure for Measure

‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ adds up to thoughtful fun at GLTF

‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE,’ Shakespeare’s dark comedy/problem play, is in production at Great Lakes Theatre Festival . Though written more than 400 years ago, it is impossible to view the actions and not be aware how it resonates in the present day world.

The play centers on secret identities, manipulation, and the search for truth. The plot is complexly woven, and the resolution comes with the unraveling of the layers of intrigue. The Bard alludes to such questions as: Should an individual commit a sin in order to save another person? And, Is it moral for one person or group to condemn or vilify another because of his/her beliefs?

The story centers on the fate of Claudio, who has been arrested by Lord Angelo, the temporary leader of Vienna. Angelo was left in charge by the Duke, who pretends to leave town but instead dresses as a friar to observe the goings-on in his absence. Angelo is strict, moralistic, and unwavering in his decision-making. He decides that there is too much freedom in Vienna and takes it upon himself to rid the city of brothels and unlawful sexual activity. Laws against these behaviors and institutions already exist, and Angelo decides to strictly enforce them. Claudio is arrested for impregnating Juliet. Although they were engaged and their sex was consensual, Claudio is sentenced to death in order to serve as an example to others. We follow as the tale of intrigue unfolds to a satisfying and expected ending.

In a philosophical sense, the play is about a society desperately in need of finding a sound balance between repression and acceptance of human nature. One group preaches rejection and making outcasts of those who don’t follow their definition of morality—think the religious right. On the other hand, there are those who accept that humans are flawed, and be accepted for who they are—think social moderates.

Shakespeare appears to come down on the side of social moderates who, as represented by the Duke, apply laws and interpret dictates in a humane way. He also showcases the underhanded operations of people who act “holier than thou” but are, in reality, not living up to their preaching—again think of the number of recent politicians and religious leaders who have been exposed for leading double lives…one they preach and legislate, the other they live.

GLTF’s production, under the light-hearted hand of Risa Brainin, wraps the story in modern dress, contemporary settings, softened traditional speech patterns, while adding contemporary slang and a farcical twist to the proceedings. Though Shakespeare traditionalists might cringe, the over-all effect is an audience pleasing evening of theatre.

Richard Klautsch is excellent as the Duke of Vienna. He develops a clear, consistent and believable character. Kathryn Cherasaro makes Isabella, Claudio’s sister, a sensitive and convincing person whose beliefs are severely tested as she fights for the life of her brother who has committed an act of which she does not approve, but must show loyalty and sisterly devotion.

If you know Andrew May as portraying over-the-top lovable buffoons, you’ll have to switch mental gears to truly appreciate his portrayal of Angelo. May fine tunes the character of the hypocritical moralist. It’s nice to see May being given the opportunity to display the depth of his acting abilities.

Though a little over the top, David Anthony Smith (Lucio), complete with hippie hair and clothing, gives a sucker-sucking, farcical , audience pleasing interpretation to the role.

Russell Metheny’s scenic design is a practical work of sculpture. The linear, contemporary metal and plastic panels, much in the style of Yacov Agam’s optical and kinetic art, was used well to create a series of locales. Branin choreographed the scene changes with military cadence and precision.

Michael Klaers’s light design added to the overall effect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GLTF’s ‘MEASURE FOR MEASURE’ will please audiences who want their Shakespeare on the light side. It is a perfect vehicle for exposing students to the Bard in an intriguing way. On the other hand, Shakespearean purists may go running down the aisles exiting the theatre, but they’d better be careful, as the cast is constantly charging up and down the walkways.

Holy Ghosts

‘HOLY GHOSTS’—acting exceeds script

Romulus Linney, the author of ‘HOLY GHOSTS’ now being produced by Beck Center, holds a Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and is the father of Laurie Linney. Linney, spent his childhood in North Carolina and Tennessee. The author of three novels, thirteen plays and twenty-two short stories, he has used his southern experiences as a device for anchoring much of his writing.

‘HOLY GHOST’ centers on Nancy Coleman, a run-away bride. Her husband Coleman comes after her not only because he wants her back, but she has taken some of his family’s heirlooms. Coleman finds her at the rural meeting house of a southern Pentecostal sect. Nancy has not only been accepted into the family of the church, but has declared her interest in becoming the wife of the Reverend Obediah Buckhorn. Rich with atmosphere and the feel of southern rural life, the play probes into the circumstances and stories of the various sect members—culminating in a snake-handling scene in which the cynical Coleman, to his own amazement, is himself converted into a believer.

The play, as the Beck Center’s director states in the program notes, “probes the universal human need to believe.” It also shines the light on how some people test their faith in ways unimaginable to most of us as it examines how, through acceptance and love, people sometimes get what they need. What the attendee will take from the production is parallel to the person’s religious and philosophical beliefs. Some may be repelled by the fanatical faith of the characters. Others will identify with the need to “follow God’s words.”

In spite of Linney’s credentials, the play is generally not well written. Some of the dialogue is forced and unnatural. The transitions are weak. At times it appears that the bridges were written to tie together a series of pre-written monologues, much like the style used to create musical reviews.

In spite of the script problems, the Beck show generally works. Director Matthew Wright has done an excellent job of developing clear characters who understand their underlying emotions. However, a combination of Wright’s blocking, Richard Gould’s scenic design and the theatre space causes for difficulty in hearing some of the characters’ line. Wright often placed individuals so their backs were to a majority of the audience, usually facing the back wall of the set. The sound goes over the top of the low set and bounce off the theatre walls or get lost in the high ceiling. These problems were heightened when the characters shouted. And scream they did. Actors and directors often think that yelling at the top of their lungs is the only way to show strong emotions. It isn’t. Vocal inflection, intensity and pauses are often more effective, and some of this cast should learn that concept.

Nicholas Koesters (Coleman Shedman) developed a character that was both egomaniacal and pathetic. A little less shouting in certain places, more controlled emotional frustration and better diction might have helped polish the characterization.

Laurel Johnson was often unintelligible as Nancy Shedman. When she screamed and faced away from the audience, her words just floated away. Her realization scene at the end of the play was very effectively portrayed.

A. Neil Thackaberry straddled the line between fanatic and astute leader, with skill. Rhoda Rosen was properly school marmish. Curtis Young was effectively clueless to the realities of life as the preacher’s son. Only space restricts my listing each member of the cast as doing a very effective job.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘HOLY GHOSTS’ may not be an easy production for some to sit through due to the preachy religious material and script weaknesses. On the other hand, the quality of the acting is strong enough so that anyone interested in quality performances will be wrapped up in the character developments. Don’t be surprised if you leave the theatre both mentally and physically exhausted.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Verb Ballet (Nature Moves 3)

Verb Ballets enters new era with a revised company

Verb Ballets’ recent ‘NATURE MOVES 3,’ a two-night program at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, marked a new era in the company’s development. Gone were Mark Tomasic, the company’s premiere male dancer, who has retired, and Jason Ignacio, the diminutive Filipino dynamo who lights up a stage when he appears in solo performance, who has moved to New York.

The loss of Tomasic is a major hit. Much of Artistic Director Hernando Cortez’s choreography centered on the handsome, muscular Tomasic as the fulcrum, around which the other dancers moved. Cortez will have to reconstitute that choreography as none of the males in the “new” company has Tomasic’s dominant presence. Some of the slack will be assumed by Brian Murphy, a strong dancer in his own right, but it’s like the Cleveland Indians minus Grady Sizemore or Victor Martinez.

Jason Ignacio, because of his size, often looked out of place in a line with the taller male dancers, but in specialty numbers he was terrific. His brother, Sydney, who joined the company last year, does not have the stage presence or the developed skills to make up for Jason’s loss.

Joining the company are former Verb dancers Robert and Brooke Wesner. Robert, who shines as a solo dancer, has shown in the past that he often looks out of place in corps lines as he fails to pull back and blend in. He does add a new dimension to the company as he is a competent choreographer.

Brooke Wesner, a tall, statuesque blond, is a strong and competent performer who adds yet another cog to the company’s already competent female dance ensemble.

The ‘NATURE MOVES 3’ program, which found the company for the third consecutive year at the Natural History Museum, featured two world premieres, a preview performance, and a company premiere.

‘SLAPPING STONES,’ choreographed by William Anthony to music by Tom Waits, centered on the theme, “We never learn to use what we know deep down.” Consisting of flowing contemporary moves, the world premiere was well danced. Though not overly distinctive, it held the audience’s attention and showcased the entire company. Suzy Campbell’s costumes and Trad Burns
lighting enhanced the offering.

The late Heinz Poll, the founder of Ohio Ballet, was an exceptional choreographer. Upon his death he left the rights to his creative works to those with whom he was associated. ‘DUET’ is the property of Richard Dickinson. He gave permission to Verb to add the dance to its repertoire. A traditional classical selection, the duo of Danielle Brickman and Brian Murphy were glorious. Brickman exhibited strong certainty on point as she moved easily and held prolonged toe positions. Murphy was confident in his partnering and displayed command of the balletic moves. The smiling duo flowed to the beautiful music by Johann Sebastian Bach which was well performed by pianist David Fisher and cellist Greg Fiocca.

Robert Wesner was commissioned by the Buffalo Symphony to choreograph a piece which will be performed on October 20 in Buffalo. Being presented as a “preview,” ’TICO TICO,’ a tango infused dance, was the third offering in the Nature Moves program. Well conceived by Brooke and Robert Wesner, who displayed strong partnering skills, the performance, which resembled a segment of TV’s “Dancing With the Stars,” received prolonged applause.

‘SONGS,’ choreographed by Hernando Cortez to “Songs of a Wayfarer,” by Gustav Mahler was another world premiere. The selection is the fifteenth original dance developed by Cortez since his joining Verb. A strong solo by Brian Murphy was the performance’s highlight. Another solo by Sydney Ignacio was full of fluidity and flair, but the dancer displayed a lack of concentration and polish. Filled with flowing movements and dramatic facial expressions and much reaching to heaven, the segment was competently danced, but not overly compelling.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Verb Ballets has a challenge ahead. Can it maintain its reputation with the loss of Mark Tomasic? From what was showcased at its recent ‘NATURE MOVES 3,’ as presently constituted, Verb is a very competent, but not a compelling or exciting presence. Let’s hope that they will meet the challenge and continue to be one of the premiere company’s in the region.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dear World

‘DEAR WORLD’ a pleasant diversion at Kalliope

‘DEAR WORLD,’ which is now being staged by Kalliope Stage, is one of those plays that, on the surface, has all the elements that should have made for a long running Broadway hit. The musical, which opened in 1969, starred Angela Lansbury, was written by Cleveland native Jerome Lawrence and Elyria’s Robert E. Lee (‘MAME’ and ‘INHERIT THE WIND’) and had music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (‘HELLO DOLLY!,’ ‘MAME,’ and ‘LA CAGES AUX FAUX.’ To add to the mix, it is based on Jean Giradoux’s much acclaimed play ‘THE MADWOMAN OF CHALLIOT.’

So, why did ‘DEAR WORLD’ open to terrible reviews and run only 132 performances? The script went through many rewrites, songs were cut and others added, directors were hired and fired, choreographers came and went, artistic differences between Lansbury and each of the directors emerged. Most important, in the minds of some of the show’s cult followers, was that the intimate show was overwhelmed by massive production qualities and the theatre in which it opened was too large for what should have been an intimate show.

‘DEAR WORLD’ is the story of three "madwomen" (Aurelia, Constance and Gabrielle) who deviously scheme to stop some businessmen who plan to drill for oil in the neighborhood of Chaillot in Paris. And, as in all good musical farces, eventually the forces of “poetry, love, and idealism win over those of materialism, science, and greed.”

Kalliope’s 75-seat, four row theatre, is a perfect intimate venue. Be aware that Kalliope is staging a different script than the Broadway flop. The show has been rewritten and cut songs restored. The revised version received a 2000 production at Goodspeed Musicals and at Sundance Theatre in 2002. Both of these stagings received more positive reviews than the original Big Apple production.

Kalliope’s production is entertaining. Juliette Regnier (Mme. Constance) and Marla Berg (Mme Gabrielle) are total delights. They are the epitome of farce well played…broad, but believable. Omri Schein’s comic timing and mobile face light up the stage each time he appears as the Sewerman. Dash Combs is pleasing as the Mime. Jodi Brinkman, as always, sings and acts with positive effect.

Liz Rubino, who was forced into action twenty-four hours before the show opened, sang the role of Countess Aurelia well. She failed to develop the comic madwoman approach on opening night, but she is a talented actress and as the show runs, she should develop that aspect of the role.

Jared Sampson has matinee idol good looks and a nice voice. Unfortunately, his performance abilities don’t match his other attributes. He acts his lines and feigns facial expressions rather than experiencing them. The three Presidents were generally played much too subtly, not making the characters bigger than life…a requirement for bad guys in farces. (BTW..that fake cigar did little to enhance President One’s character.)

Russ Borski’s set worked well, especially considering the postage sized stage he had to work with. Unfortunately, the quality and design of his costumes left much to be desired.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DEAR WORLD’ is not a classic musical theatre script. In spite of a fine pedigree, the piece doesn’t command awe. With that said, Kalliope’s production, under the direction of Paul Gurgol, is entertaining and most attendees will enjoy themselves.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Spotlight on Greg Violand

Profile: Greg Violand…a working actor who is staying local!

Most native North Coasters who are interested in being in the theatre flee the area as soon as they are old enough or feel they have gained the ability to make it “big.” They migrate to New York, LA, or Chicago—the meccas of the entertainment industry. “There is just not enough work here to financial sustain me,” one such transient said.

Not so with Westlake resident Greg Violand. Violand, along with Maryann Nagel, his wife of 22 years, have remained in the area and are prospering, at least by “artist” standards. They are two of the few local theatre performance regulars who don’t teach, direct, “have real jobs” or do temping to pay their way. They are performers. They act, they model, they do industrial films, occasionally getting work away from here, but return to this area and make it their home.

Violand, a graduate of Elyria Catholic High School, is now appearing in ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT,’ at the Hanna Theatre, where he gets to sing, dance and act, and do takeoffs of ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF,’ ‘SPAMALOT,’ and ‘THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.’ The show is scheduled to run through December 2.

Violand has been acting professionally for over twenty years. He has been seen on stage at such venues as Beck Center, Cain Park, Dobama, Actors’ Summit, Cleveland Play House, Great Lakes Theater Festival, Lakeland Theatre and Elyria Summer Theatre. He is a multi Times Theatre Tribute award winner.

It was through Elyria Summer theatre that I first met Greg when he played Fagin in ‘OLIVER.’ My son, Eric, was Artful Dodger in that production. Shortly after that meeting, I hired Greg to teach at Lorain County Community College. He much preferred performing to teaching, so he morphed into his role as “freelance actor.” “Versatility and availability are the keys”, he says, “ you have to have as many skills as possible to get a job and be willing to go anywhere at anytime to do them.” Last year found him in Hawaii for a job and he’s booked in Orlando in February. Most recently he was in ‘BECOMING GEORGE,’ a musical which received its world premiere at MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia.

Other credits include the movies ‘FALLING IN LOVE,’ with Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep and ‘MIRACLE DOG,’ which was shot in Chagrin Falls with Rue McClanahan, Kate Jackson and Stacy Keach. Greg recounted, during a recent interview, that he sometimes gets stopped at super markets when people recognize him as “that guy in the movie about the three-legged dog,” which gets regular play time on late night TV.

Why does he stay in the Cleveland area? His family is here, he prefers bringing up his tween-aged daughter in this area rather than in NY or LA. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be interested in going somewhere else if the opportunity was right, but he considers himself a “working actor, not a star .”

He finds his latest assignment, working with the four-person cast of ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY,’ to be fun. It gives him an opportunity to run in a show for four months rather than the usual two or three weeks. He recounts that the director, Bill Selby, is “a good guy,” who has done the show a long time. As for the cast, Greg smiles as he says, “I’m old enough to be their father.”

What happens from here? As is the case when you are in an industry where there is no security, no certainty of a tomorrow, he isn’t sure. He’ll continue to try out for shows that recognize his status in Actor’s Equity, the national actor’s union, do industrial films and commercials and voice-overs, and maybe, if the opportunity is right, venture off to other horizons. In the meantime, six times a week on the stage of the Hanna Theatre, among other characterizations, he puts on a dress and wig and mimics Harvey Firestone as a cross-dressing Tevya, in ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’ meets ‘HAIRSPRAY.’

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Arsenic and Old Lace

‘ARSENIC AND OLD LACE’ farces it up at Great Lakes Theater Festival

A major decision any director who is to stage ‘ARSENIC & OLD LACE’ must make is whether to present the material as a black comedy, letting the lines of the play develop the macabre humor and carry along the plot; or as a farce, in which exaggeration is used to heighten the hilarity; or as an enhanced farce, in which a lot of shticks and gimmicks enhance the already farcical situations and lines.

Drew Barr, the director of Great Lakes Theatre Festival’s ‘ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, has definitely decided to use the enhanced farce mode. There is nary a line or movement which does not scream, ‘Laugh at what I am doing, what I am saying.” This approach will probably delight most attendees as it makes for a funny, funny evening. Others may plead that the play can stand on its own and doesn’t need all that “unnecessary stuff” to make it joyful.

The script, a clever combination of the farcical and the ghoulish, centers on two elderly sisters. In their Brooklyn neighborhood they are noted for their charitable gifts and are beloved by the police and neighbors alike. What is unknown is that the “sweet” duo’s works of charity include poisoning lonely old men who come to their home looking for lodging. Their family home is also the residence of a nephew who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt. They are often visited by another nephew, Mortimer, a theatre critic who eventually discovers that the aunts are hiding the corpses in the window seat until Teddy can take the “yellow fever” victims to be buried in the Panama Canal (graves dug in the basement.) A third nephew, who has a resemblance to Boris Karloff, appears after having escaped from a mental institution. What eventually happens? I’m not telling. All I can say is that the ending is obvious, but never the less a laugh delight!

Originally written by Joseph Kesselring, the script was adapted for its New York production by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. Interestingly, when Kesselring taught at Bethel College, he lived in a boarding house, and many of the features of its parlor are reflected in the play’s description of the Brewster’s living room, where the action of the play is set. The murderous old lady plot line may have been inspired by events that occurred in a house in Windsor, CT where an older woman took in boarders and allegedly poisoned them for their pensions.

The play opened its New York run in January of 1941. Its form was perfect for the mood of the time. Playgoers were looking for some entertainment to take their minds off the war in Europe and the growing fear that America would be pulled into it. The production became an immediate critical and popular success, running for 1,444 performances. In 1944, Hollywood released a film version directed by Frank Capra, which stared Cary Grant. The film was a box office success.

The GLTF production goes all out for laughs, and laughs it gets. The performers bump into doorways, trip over sofas, chase each other around like the Keystone Cops, and showcase over-exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. The overall effect is exhausting, and depending on your sense of humor and love of slapstick, either delightful or overdone.

This interpretation is perfect for mobile faced, double-take expert Andrew May. He is hysterical as Mortimer, the theatre-hating reviewer who appears to be the only member of the Brewster family who has any semblance of sanity. If you like May as an off-the-wall character, you’ll love his performance.

Lynn Allison makes for a sweet Abby Brewster. She plays the part more for realistic comedy than for farce. On the other hand, Laura Perrotta, sounding and looking like the late-Judy Holliday on hallucinogenic drugs with a stiff neck, is way over the top. She is an excellent actress who didn’t need to overdo everything to get laughs.

David Anthony Smith is perfect as Teddy. He not only looks the part, but sounds like Roosevelt. Dougfred Miller is properly evil as psychopathic Jonathan. Most of the rest of the cast follows the director’s lead and are over the top.

Russell Metheny’s set is excellent, as are Charlotte Yetman’s costumes.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘ARSENIC AND OLD LACE’ isn’t a message play. It is a device to entertain the audience, and entertain the GLTF production does. One wonders, however, if the same enjoyment could have been engendered with a little more restraint.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Forbidden Broadway-Special Victims Unit

‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY’ delights at Hanna

“That was fun,” “The ‘LES MIZ’ part was hysterical,” “I didn’t get all the in-jokes but that didn’t matter, I still loved it.” Those were some of the comments I overheard as I was exiting the Hanna Theatre after the reviewer’s night of ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY—SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT.”

In January of 1982, out-of-work actor Gerald Alessandrini, who needed a way to showcase his talents, assembled some musical parodies, and made them into a night club act. The result was a critical and audience praised production which morphed itself into ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY,’ now the Big Apple’s longest running musical comedy revue.

Alessandrini nicely skewers shows, stars, playwrights, lyricists, choreographers and producers. He has an endless supply of new material as each Broadway season proceeds through its production year. As long as Broadway exists, there is potential for more Forbiddens.

Updated regularly, ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY’ has had several editions, countless revisions, national and international tours, and thousands of special performances.

The show being staged in Cleveland, ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY—SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT,’ is not as complete as other productions of the script. Thinking that local audiences will not have seen the latest Broadway hits, parts of the goings-on have been dropped. The result is delightful, but I wish that Alessandrini and Director/Choreographer William Selby had had a little more respect for North Coast audiences and given us the authentic material.

Alessandrini supposedly centers this reincarnation on a format of TV’s ‘LAW AND ORDER.” The idea is that heinous crimes are being perpetrated against hapless victims…those who attend the Broadway theatre by reviving old shows and keeping productions running well beyond when they should have.

As does the TV show, FB-SVU starts out with Jerry Orbach (Greg Violand) and B.D. Wong (Brian Marshall) investigating a murder. In this case it’s the gunning down of aged, cigarette-smoking Annie (Tricia Bestic), while standing center stage in her classic red dress and curly mop of hair, singing her signature tune “Tomorrow.” Well, in this case, it’s "I'm thirty years old/Tomorrow, Tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, the concept of the investigation of other crimes is never again specifically addressed as the show goes merrily along with the Special Victims Unit stars never again appearing. But, this is a review, not a well-written play, so this “minor” oversight can be forgiven.

Most of the shows that are referred to have toured Cleveland. A segment from ‘LION KING,’ in which the actors complain about the discomfort of the costumes and masks, is delightful. ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,’ as well as many other Disney shows, are mocked. A fight for who is a better actress centers on the two female stars of ‘WICKED.’ Greg Violand convulses the audience in his take on ‘MONTY PYTHON.’ Violand, in great voice, also does a delightful bit mocking “THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.’ Brian Marshall is properly miffed because night after night he has to portray a feline, complete with flees, in ‘CATS.’ An argument between Chita Rivera (Carmen Keels) and Rita Moreno (Tricia Bestic), set to music from ‘WEST SIDE STORY,’ was an audience pleaser. A segment from ‘RENT’ also got extended laughter and applause.

Outstanding individual performances abounded. Violand did a fun take on ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’ entitled ‘FIDDLER WITH NO JEWS’ complete with a Harvey Fierstein in drag take-off. Marshall brought forth an updated version of ‘CABARET,’ while Keels did a great Julie Andrews shtick. Bestic mocked Liza Minnelli and Ethel Merman, while Keels skewered Sarah Brightman.

The cast, composed of Cleveland performers, Tricia Bestic, Brian Marshall, and Greg Violand and New Yorker Carmen Keels is excellent. They all have fine voices and confident stage presence. Director Selby keeps the show moving swiftly along.

Often referred to as “A Cleveland treasure with at least three hands,” Marge Adler serves with wonder as the Musical Director, Pianist, and part-time performer.

Side note: It would have been helpful if the songs and/or shows were listed in the program in their order of presentation.

Capsule judgment: ‘FORBIDDEN BROAWAY-SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT’ will be a delight for all those familiar with Broadway shows and personalities. But what about the non-theatre regulars? I asked the couple sitting next to me, who confessed that they are not “theatre people,” their views of the production. Their answer? “We loved it! We’re going to bring friends to see it.”

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dale Wasserman reviews the reviewer

Dear Roy Berko,

I enjoyed your review of my LA MANCHA, even though it caused twinges of pain in the esthetic regions. The twisted concepts of "concept" directors diminish and damage a play which has very precise aims and intentions. Your Cleveland production is a poor imitation of the Court Theatre's Chicago production to which I gave my blessing in agreement that it was a valid vision, even if it differed from my original intent. Your Cleveland production simply plays tricks to be different--the differences warping the play as written.

My memories of Cleveland go all the way back to the Jelliffes of
Karamu House whom I knew very well. I have a new play about Haiti,
AN ENCHANTED LAND, born of the time I spent in sad, sad Haiti, while
I was manager of the Katherine Dunham Company which headquartered
there. I premiered this play in London, but it hasn't yet been seen
in this country, and I think it would be ideal for Karamu. May I
send you a copy to see if you agree?

With my very good wishes,

Dale Wasserman
(author to the book of 'MAN OF LA MANCHA")

Friday, September 21, 2007

Man of La Mancha

Is the Play House “different take” on ‘MAN OF LAMANCHA’ for better or worse?

(This review was altered from its original distribution following an email from Dale Wasserman, the author of the book for 'MAN OF LAMANCHA' which clarified some factual information.)

While visiting New York in 1965, a friend said he had tickets for a new show being staged at the ANTA Theatre that had opened several days before. He knew nothing about the play, but asked whether I was willing to attend. Always the theatre adventurer I said, “Sure.” The show? ‘MAN OF LA MANCHA.’ My reaction? I sat transfixed as Richard Kiley and Clevelander Joan Diener rolled out what has since been dubbed the “right the unrightable wrongs” musical. It was one of the greatest nights I have ever spent in the theatre. So great, that for many years, I refused to go to see any other production of the show. I didn’t want to ruin the “perfect” experience.

‘MAN OF LAMANCHA’ centers on Miguel de Cervantes, an aging failure in his varied careers as playwright, poet and tax collector, who has been thrown into a dungeon to await trial by the Inquisition for the offense of collecting taxes from the Catholic Church. Fellow prisoners attempt to steal his possessions, including an uncompleted novel entitled "Don Quixote." Seeking to save the manuscript, he proposes to tell the tale as a play to entertain his self-appointed convict jury.

Through such songs as "The Impossible Dream," "I Really Like Him," and "Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)," the play celebrates the human spirit. In this present age of depletion of personal freedoms, a misguided march into another country for “their own good,” of certain religious groups attempting to set their agenda for all, the concept of individual human sprit is as relevant today as when it was originally written.

"MAN OF LA MANCHA" was conceived as a non-musical teleplay. Writer Dale Wasserman did not do an adaptation of the famous novel, but focused on a major theme, "Only he who attempts the ridiculous may achieve the impossible."

Years later Wasserman was requested to turn the idea into a musical. With lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh, it opened in 1964 at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. Rex Harrison was offered the lead, but the musical challenges dissuaded him. Enter Richard Kiley, whose career soared after portraying the dual roles of Cervantes and Don Quixote.

The Big Apple production won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and best actor for Kiley. It was revived on Broadway in 1972, 1977, 1992 and 2002.

It was with positive anticipation that I went to see the Cleveland Play House’s production. Since it was being staged by Amanda Dehnert, who directed last season’s remarkable ‘MY FAIR LADY’ at CPH, I expected to be blown away. I was not blown away. In fact, though I think many of those who see the production will react positively, there were just too many gimmicks, and moving off-center of the story line, to make for my loving the production.

Dehnert has reinvented some of the script, the music and the concept. I am not opposed to innovation if it enhances the over-all effect and doesn’t move from the author’s intent and purpose. I remember sitting at the original production, eyes welling, awed by the pinspots of light on Kiely’s face as he sang the “The Impossible Dream.” I remember sitting in my seat at the end of the show, unable to move. At CPH, there was no emotional high. I left, basically psychologically unmoved.

This is supposed to be an intense, intimate and emotional theatrical piece. In spite of the small theatre space which was ideal for the staging, I found the intimacy largely lost. Many of the songs were sung directly to the audience, rather than aimed at the person on stage to whom the lyrics are aimed. I question the casting of a man to play the housekeeper in drag. It was distracting. It got a laugh, but how did it move the plot along? There was a lack of choreography which had enveloped me in previous productions. I missed being carried on the quest when Don Quixote and Sancho “rode” into the battle. The ending in which Cervantes says goodbye to the corpse rather than Sancho left me confused. The rape scene was lacking the needed intensity. The scene was rushed, the horror not totally developed, the attack was brutal but not evil enough. The explicitness was necessary as we realize later that Quixote’s effect on Aldonza is so complete that even the horrific rape does not erase the respect for self that he has instilled in her. That he has, in fact, achieved the impossible dream, at least as it relates to her.

The production does have many positive aspects. Philip Hernandez is very credible as Cervantes/Don Quixote. He makes “The Impossible Dream” his own, not doing an imitation of those who proceeded him in the role. “Knight of the Woeful Countenance” gets an excellent interpretation. Rachel Warren is Aldonza. Her final scene is excellent as is her interpretation of “Aldonza.” Jamie La Verdiere is delightful as Sancho. His “I Really Like Him” was so pure of innocence and belief that it told the whole story of why some people do what they do, purely out of loyalty. The clarity of the spoken word by the entire cast helps the audience understand the story.

The musicians are good, though, at times, they got a little carried away and drowned out the vocals. Some viewers might be distracted by the musicians doubling as cast members. The question, again must be raised as to what that device did to further the plot.

Some of Dehnert’s “new” production elements, which are touted in the public relations and the program, aren’t that original. We’ve seen cast members playing musical instruments in the recent Broadway restagings of ‘SWEENEY TODD’ and ‘COMPANY.’ And, doing this script as a one-act/intermission-less show, has been done before, as has gender role reassignment.

Capsule judgement: I predict that most audience members will enjoy and have a positive experience at CPH’s ‘MAN OF LA MANCHA.’ My concern is that sometimes in the guise of being innovative, the message of the writer and the emotional responses of the viewer are set aside for the sake of gimmicks and for trying to be part of a new wave.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rounding Third

Actors’ Summit hits homer with ‘ROUNDING THIRD’

When our son was six he participated for the first time in Little League baseball. During his initial game a player on the other team dropped a fly ball. When the kid came off the field his father charged over to him, yelled, “What in the *#&% did you do out there?,” and smacked the kid. Our son, his eyes wide with wonder said, “Do I have to play Little League?”

With kids no longer having the freedom to play pick-up games, but participate in sports organized by adults, questions are often raised. “Is the game for parents or the kids?” “Are parents living out their dreams through their son or daughter?” “Is this supposed to be fun or is it competition for winning which teaches that “life is not fair and you’d better learn that right now!”?

Richard Dresser’s comedy is a journey of two Little League coaches from their first meeting to the climactic championship game. The audience is the stand-in for the team, so the coaches speak directly to the viewers about competition, character, punctuality, and the importance of wearing the right equipment.

Don is a blue-collar, macho, win-at-all-costs veteran coach whose son is the star pitcher. Michael, a corporate executive, has always been the odd-man out, the last picked for any team. He believes that the job of a coach is to shield the kids from the intense pressure of competition and make sure they have a good time. Obviously, they are going to conflict. The results are hilarious, touching and thought provoking.

By the end of the play, both of the coaches’ lives and attitudes have changed and the audience leaves asking, “Whose philosophy is right?” And, incidentally, “What is my philosophy concerning winning, losing and life in general?”

Dresser is a good writer. His lines are real people speaking. Male viewers will easily see their neighbors, relatives and maybe even themselves in the well etched characters. Women might see the men in their lives.

Actor’s Summit’s production, under the adept direction of Constance Thackaberry, is on target. She has a good grasp of Dresser’s concept and has a keen understanding of the workings of the male mind. Maybe directing her husband (Keith Stevens) has something to do with that.

Stevens (Don) fully develops the win-obsessed baseball coach. He is consistent in his guy talk, interpretation of male friendship and womanizing. He reflects the highs and lows of his life with clarity.

Daniel Taylor (Michael) is not quite as consistent as Stevens , but does a good job of making Michael real. The character’s motivations seem clear, but Taylor sometimes loses the flow of conversation and some of his actions seem forced.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘ROUNDING THIRD’ is both a delightful and thought provoking script. It gets a very good production at Actors’ Summit. This is definitely a “Yes, go see!”