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.’