Sunday, September 30, 2012

Disappointing THE WINTER'S TALE at Great Lakes Theater

Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE, now on stage at Great Lakes Theater, centers on jealousy, a false accusation, deaths, banishment and reuniting.  The plot, was taken from Robert Greene’s pastoral romance, PANDOSTO.  The Bard made some minor changes, mainly giving the script a happy-ever-after conclusion.

The story, which takes place in Sicilia and Bohemia, finds King Leontes accusing his wife, Hermione, and his friend, Polixenes, the visiting King of Bohemia, of having an affair.  The pregnant queen, shortly after giving birth to a girl, “dies” (the quote marks, as you will be aware if you see the production, are important).  The baby (Perdita) is sent into exile.  Shortly after, the young prince (Mamillius), dies of grief, leaving Leontes without an heir to the throne.  Through a series of mythical instances, a statue of Hermione comes to life, Perdita, who has been saved and raised by a dim-witted Bohemian shepherd, returns with Florizel, Leontes’ son, and the friendship of Polixenes and Leontes is reinstated.

The title of the play comes from a speech when Mamillius, the royal heir warns, “a sad tale’s best for winter.”  This idea is re-enforced when we are alerted to pay attention to the words of children.

THE WINTER’S TALE is most commonly identified as a romance.  However some modern literary experts consider it to be a problem play because, as originally written, the first three acts have strong overtones of psychological issues, while the last two acts are comedic and concludes with a happy ending.  (Be aware that the Great Lakes production is compressed into two acts.)

It is this difficulty in clearly deciding on whether the play should and needs to stress the message, or should be played as farce/comedy, that may be behind the inconsistency of the GLT production.  Director Jess Berger, in spite of his impressive credentials as a leading Shakespearean director, doesn’t seem to have clearly decided which way to go. 

The necessity to build the emotional aspects of the ideas, making sure that the lines have clear meaning, or stressing farcical double takes and broad exaggeration, seems to have gotten lost.  The development of the first and second acts are a total disconnect, leaving the audience to wonder whether they have just seen two separate one-act plays.

David Anthony Smith, as Leontes, starts out screaming and then has no place to go in developing what should be an increasingly maniacal march toward unbridled jealous rage, and destruction of his family. His portrayal lacks the necessary nuance. His point of dénouement, a plot requirement, never becomes clear.  

Juan Rivera Lebron as the Old Shepherd who finds the abandoned Perdita and his son, Clown (Juan Rivera Lebron), don’t texture their performances, playing exaggerated buffoons, much to the delight of the audience, but not the benefit of the plot.

Lovely Kimbre Lancaster’s Perdita, is a clearly etched role. Handsome Miles Gaston Villanueva is excellent as Florizel.  They both exude the joys of youthful love. 

Laurie Birmingham steals the show as Paulina, a member of the court, who plays an important role in the plot development.  This is a well conceived and developed portrayal, as is Lynn Robert Berg’s Polixenes. 

Tom Ford has some delightful moments as Autolycus, the light fingered rogue.  Young Ryan Vincent nicely handles the role of Mamillius.

David Barber’s art moderne set design, complete with its astrological implications, works well.  However, Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes, much like the production, are confusing.  They are a blend of many styles, not helping in character clarity or idea development.

Capsule judgement:  GLT’s THE WINTER’ TALE is a disappointment. This is a difficult script to produce due to the many emotional and psychological levels which require a clear staging philosophy.  Due to the lack of focused directing by Jesse Berger, the production never sets a clear course and leaves so much of Shakespeare’s brilliance untapped. 

Review of Reviewer's Review--Milford Gottlob

 I really liked and agreed with your review of LOMBARDI [Cleveland Play House]. A 3-pointer out of 6 points is fair and pretty accurate.


Review of Reviewer's Reviews--Mary Ann Wormser


Sat. afternoon my friends and I were wondering what we were going to  do in the evening.  I had a few spare minutes and was looking at my e-mail.  I saw your name and a play [THE NORMAL HEART @ Ensemble Theatre]  I had never heard of.  Something prompted me to open it rather than wait until later.  I always read your capsule judgement first.  That prompted me to read the rest today and not wait until tomorrow.  I called my friends, suggested we go.  As usual, you were 100% correct.  It was excellent.  There was a very small crowd (they told us there was a very large crowd last night).  I hope they have a full house every night from now on.  Thank you for getting us to that excellent play.

Mary Ann Wormser

Saturday, September 29, 2012

THE NORMAL HEART @ Ensemble: emotionally moving, expertly performed

Each night during the 2011 Broadway revival of THE NORMAL HEART, Larry Kramer, the author of the script, stood outside the theatre to distribute a letter to members of the audience.

The letter stated:  “Thank you for coming to see our play.  Please know that everything in THE NORMAL HEART happened. These were and are real people who lived and spoke and died, and are presented here as best I could.  Several more have died since, including [the character named] Bruce, whose name was Paul Popham, and Tommy, whose name was Rodger McFarlane and who became my best friend, and Emma, whose name was Dr. Linda Laubenstein of New York University Medical Center. She died after a return bout of polio and another trip to an iron lung. Rodger, after building three gay/AIDS agencies from the ground up, committed suicide in despair.  On his deathbed at Memorial, Paul called me (we’d not spoken since our last fight in this play) and told me to never stop fighting.”  (To read a copy of the letter go to:

Reading that letter sums up the power and emotional development of this 1980s play about AIDS.  1980?  Why go back and dig up all that stuff?  The times have changed.  The diagnosis of AIDS is no longer a death sentence.  There is the cocktail.  It appears that a vaccine is on the horizon.  Oh, how wrong that thinking is.  Without Larry Kramer, and his band of activists, organizations such as The New York Times and The Center for Disease Control would not have acted.  The money for research for defining and dealing with the illness would never have come forth from the homophobic President, Ronald Reagan, or the purported closeted gay Mayor of New York.  This is history, real history, which needs to be kept alive.  Theatre represents the era from which it comes, that the 1980s is the era of AIDS.

As a counselor at both the Whitman Walker and Chase Braxton clinics in Washington DC and Baltimore, during the height of the AIDS crisis, I can attest to the frustration and sadness of sharing with those tested that they had been confirmed with the disease.  Counseling gave way to making funeral plans, dealing with sharing the news with parents, family and friends, making arrangements for Meals on Wheels, and securing volunteers to help when hospitals, social service agencies, and the various governments cast a blind eye, or refused to give service to those with the disease.  This experience parallels the machinations of Kramer’s script. 

The play, which originally opened off-Broadway in 1985, was revived in 2004, and again in 2011.  The later production, which recently ended its run, received last year’s Tony as Best Revival of a Play.  Largely autobiographical, the well written script is filled with rage, exploration, and, believe it or not, humor. 

It centers on one man, Larry Kramer (named Ned Weeks in the play), and his attempt to break a conspiracy of silence, indifference, hostility, and homophobia, and to gain acknowledgement and funding as his friends mysteriously die.  His “enemies” are not only the political establishment, but the conservative and fearful members of the gay community, who refused to speak loudly in order to protect their jobs and their privacy.  Weeks, a gay Jew, preferred, and still prefers, loud public confrontations to quiet diplomacy.  That difference of how to confront the plague is at the heart of the history of AIDS and the play.

Ensemble’s production, under the razor sharp eye of Sarah May, is mesmerizing.  It’s long, but never fails to grab and hold the viewer’s attention.  The performances are top notch.

Brian Zoldessy gives an award winning performance as Ned.  He is Ned, he doesn’t portray Ned.  Not for an instant does he waiver from a clear characterization.  He is properly enraged, shy and driven.  Wow!

Derdriu Ring as Dr. Brookner, the New York doctor who first confronted the illness and then fought the brave battle, against horrific odds, to treat and do research, is Zoldessy’s equal in creating a real person.

Scott Esposito is excellent as Felix, the lover who helps Ned get in touch with feelings other than guilt and rage.

Jeremy Jenkins (Tommy), Dan Kilbane (Mickey), and David Bugher (Bruce), members of the AIDS Task Force, and Jeffrey Grover as Ben, Ned’s brother, all are character correct.  Richard Worswick and Benjamin Gregg, who each portray three roles, complete the excellent cast.

After seeing the show, it is impossible to read Kramer’s 2011 letter and not be incensed by the lack of action of governments, including our own, regarding the epidemic.  It heightens the already negative thoughts about the money gouging of pharmaceutical companies.  It shockingly illuminates the awareness of the number who have died because of the lack of social action and of those who were denied service until it was realized that AIDS was not a gay disease, but a universal illness.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE NORMAL HEART is an absolute must see production.  The message is important.  The quality of the script impressive.  The production is one of the highlights of this theatrical season!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Verb Ballets opens Fall season with EXPLORE DISCOVER;

This season Verb Ballets, Cleveland’s largest contemporary dance company, is mainly featuring a single choreographer at each program.  This concept continues the company’s goal of supporting and fostering emerging talent.  Programs will highlight the works of Antonio Brown, Chung-Fu Chang and Richard Dickinson.

It is appropriate that the first evening of EXPLORE DISCOVER showcases the work of local dancer and choreographer, Antonio Brown.

Brown, who is a member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, was born and raised in Cleveland.  He began his dance training at the Cleveland School for the Arts under the guidance of Bill Wade (Inlet Dance).  He went on to study at the Julliard School, and has performed with a number of noted dance companies.  Besides performing, he developed an interest in choreography, and staged works for such organizations as Verb Ballets, August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, and The Julliard Dance Ensemble. 

Brown, who is noted for his dynamic personality as well as his non-stop energy, displays these traits in his dance concepts. 

The Verb program opened with CONTINUUM (2011), performed to a remix assembled by Brown, which represented his youthful and free form style and featured a dervish of balletic, rolling, running, sliding, arms flailing, free form lifts, and movements.  Though a little long, it was engrossing.  Trad Burns’ lighting and Janet Bolick’s blue and maroon costumes helped create the right moods.

Tom Evert’s THE PRESIDENT (1986) featured the focused dancing of Brian Murphy.  The piece showcased the anguish, reconciliation, sleepless nights, and pressure of the man who holds the highest position in the land.  Complete with the unfurling of the American flag in the conclusion, it was an appropriate selection for this season of political infighting.

THE ROAD TOGETHER, choreographed by Brian Murphy was performed to Sigur Ros’s Med Sud I Eyrum.  Short and intense, it showcased Ashley Cohen and Ryan DeAlexandro nicely exploring the challenges that keep us apart.  Centering on moving on and around two chairs, the duo came together and broke apart in anguish and angst.  There was a clear message, nicely developed by Murphy and his dancers.

I’M ON MY WAY (2012) was choreographed by Brown for himself.  Centering on a pile of clothing which Brown put on and took off in an attempt to find the “right look,” there was a shallowness of effect.

Performed to a remix of various artists, PASSING BY (2012), was youthful, repetitive, and overly long. The free form movements, though well danced, did little to capture and hold the attention.

Capsule judgement: Antonio Brown, whose work was the centerpiece of EXPLORE DISCOVER (9/22/12) has great potential as a choreographer.  Though it might be incumbent upon a local reviewer to extol his work, it would not be a service to him or his audience.  Brown is  just developing a style and dance philosophy that will take years and maturity to polish, and needs honest evaluation to help him on his path.  Verb should be praised for giving the young man a chance to ply his creativity and give him a chance to experiment.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lakeland’s PROOF:  masterful script and production

What happens when you combine a well conceived script, which tells a meaningful story, and it gets a masterfully staging?   You get, Lakeland Theatre’s PROOF.

Is there a thin line between genius and mental illness?  Can a person “burn out” when s/he gets near the age of 40, no longer able to muster up the deep thoughts that appeared so easily in their early twenties?   Can a woman be a mathematical genius?  These are only three of the questions broached by playwright David Auburn in his 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning play PROOF.

PROOF centers on Catherine, a young woman who has spent years caring for her father, Robert, a professor at the University of Chicago, who was a brilliant mathematician in his younger years.  As he passed forty, he lost his acuity.  He wrote continually, but the material was irrational.  After he dies, Hal, a former student, probes into Robert’s ramblings with the hope of finding something worth publishing, thus pushing ahead Hal’s stalled career.  With Catherine’s help, Hal discovers a paradigm-shifting proof about prime numbers in Robert's office.  He assumes it was his mentor’s work.  Catherine claims the proof was conceived by her.  Hal questions this conclusion, doubting that a woman with little in-depth knowledge of mathematics could create such brilliance.  His reaction not only seemingly ends their relationship, but brings front-and-center Catherine's fear of following in her father's footsteps--mathematical genius and mentally ill.

It’s interesting that the author attended the University of Chicago where he studied political philosophy, not mathematics.  In reality, it matters little as there is no actual inclusion of mathematical concepts.  This should relieve those who fear the show because it might be too abstract and technical.

The Lakeland production, under the razor focused direction of Martin Friedman, wrings clear meaning from the script.  This may well be the finest of the four productions of this play that I’ve seen.

Mitchell Fields makes Robert a living being.  He slips into Robert’s skin and becomes the mathematician/professor. Elizabeth Conway makes Catherine, his youngest daughter, a compassionate, troubled woman.  This is not just a performance. Conway transforms Catherine into a real multi-faceted woman.  Her disheveled hair, which is accompanied by erratic finger combing, parallels her troubled mind, but she displays rationality, when her hair is coiffed.  It’s a wonderful stage device to allow for audience clarity.

Aron Elersich, as Hal, the young mathematician,  develops a clear character, even drumming his fingers on his legs and beer bottle to represent his alter drummer ego.  Laurel Hoffman, as Catherine’s older sister, clearly develops her character, and completes a picture-perfect cast.

Keith Nagy’s backyard set, complete with mathematical formulas on the fences, is realistic and makes for an excellent blank canvas for Friedman to paint the script’s pictures.

Capsule judgement: What happens when you combine a perfectly perceived script, which tells a meaningful story, and a gets masterfully staged show?   You get, Lakeland Theatre’s PROOF.  This is a production everyone interested in a good story and a great production must see!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

XANADU:  Beck makes bad script into funky fun

So there is no question about the praises that appear in this review:  XANADU is a bad script, with an uneven musical score, and few redeeming qualities.  In spite of this, the Beck Center’s production is mostly funky fun.  There are three reasons for this:  Martin Céspedes’s choreography, Scott Spence’s awareness that playing the material as a comic strip rather than a “for real” piece of musical theatre was necessary, and some over the top performances.

Xanadu’s so-called storyline centers on Sonny, an artist who becomes frustrated because of the low quality of his mural of the Greek Muses.  His depression leads to thoughts of suicide.  But, on Mount Olympus, Clio, Zeus’s youngest daughter, decides to come to Venice Beach, California, and save him from himself.  She, along with her seven sisters, descend and help Sonny combine the arts with something athletic, roller skating.  Forbidden from appear as a Muse, Clio changes her name to Kira, wears roller skates and leg warmers (an important plot device) and speaks in an Australian accent.  In the process, Clio/Kira falls in love with Sonny, and problems from above are created, as her jealous sisters encourage the forbidden love, potentially causing Clio to be banished into the underworld (that’s where you and I live). 

Honest, that’s the story.  Could I make up such ridiculousness?

Everything about XANADU is strange.  The musical score, rather than being written by a librettist and a composer, as is the norm, is a series of songs, some written by Jeff Lynne, others by John Farrar, but none co-conceived.  The play is based on a flop movie which was originally inspired by two other less than world shaking flicks, DOWN TO EARTH and its sequel HEAVEN CAN WAIT.  Both are based on a rather obscure poem, A Vision in a Dream and refers to a Chinese province where, in the rhyme, Kubla Khan established his pleasure garden. 

Again, could I make this stuff up?

The movie, which lost a great deal of money for its producers, has become a cult favorite, making it a ROCKY HORROR SHOW-type experience, where viewers, often shod in roller skates, dress the roles and act scenes at midnight showings.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2007, ran for over 500 performances, receiving the Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Musical.  This, in spite of the fact that it received mostly marginal reviews.  A tour of the show appeared in Cleveland in 2010 to basically negative reaction.

Songs from the show include such modern classics as All Over the World, I’m Alive, Have You Never Been Mellow, and Magic.

Director Scott Spencer, realizing that he was not directing the likes of WEST SIDE STORY or CHORUS LINE, takes on the staging with a joyful mockery, bridging tongue in cheek comedy with farcical overtones.

Martin Céspedes picks up Spencer’s attitude and creates choreography that is a mélange of styles.  Among others, he uses ribbon, rock, tap, bop, line, modern, and hand jive moves.  His dancers are fun to watch, especially Matthew Ryan Thompson and Ben Donahoo, as the two cross dressing muses.  Thompson, who is making a career of playing fey, is a total hoot, as well as being a talented dancer.

Amiee Collier (Melpomene), as the wicked sister and Leslie Andrews (Calliope) as her co-conspirator, are delightful.

Handsome Sam Wolf (Sonny Malone) is physically right for the role, has a pleasant singing voice, but needed more dynamism to pull off the leading man role.  Kathleen Rooney (Clio/Kira), as with Wolf, looks the role, but her Australian accent often sounds more like New Joisey and her voice sometimes gets a little shrill.  She gets lost in her voluminous untamed blonde wig.  Her rendition of Magic is nicely done.  Wolf and Rooney’s Whenever You’re Away From Me is well sung. 

Greg Violand, who portrays Danny Maguire (a business man who was entranced by Clio, many years ago), and is double cast as Zeus, has the best singing voice in the cast.  The muses (Leslie Andrews, Maggie Stahl, Kathleen Ferrini) sing, pose, and dance well.

Trad Burns has transformed the Beck stage into a Greek temple, complete with lots of white pillars, which change colors through creative lighting.  Alison Garrigan uses traditional Roman togas, while dressing Sonny (Sam Wolf) in 70s inspired skin tight short shorts and funky tank tops.  Larry Goodpaster rocks the house with his musical arrangements.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  If you are in the mood for total silliness, want to hear some well sung classical modern songs, and desire to see some excellent dancing, XANADU is for you.  The “Magic” may “Suddenly” take you to “Xanadu,” allowing you to be “Suspended in Time,” so, “Don’t Walk Away” from seeing this show at Beck.

MOTHERFUCKER or is it MOTHERF**KER, captivates at Dobama

The Sapir –Whorf Hypothesis states that language is created because there is a way and need to express ideas, that the language used represents the culture and therefore expresses ideas in a way that reflects attitudes, often without a filter or censorship.  It goes on to state that we are our language. 

Stephen Adly Guirgis, in his script, MOTHERFUCKER WITH A HAT, illustrates this hypothesis well.  This is true not only in his choice of a title, but the way in which his characters speak, listen, and react to words.

Publicists for Guirgis’s play, which has been dubbed a “high octane verbal cage match about love, fidelity and misplaced haberdashery,” had troubles when the show opened in 2011 in New York.  Some newspapers refused to print the “real” title or even take advertising, so the producers had to change the play’s name to THE MOTHERF**KER WITH A HAT.   It’s going to be interesting to see how the more conservative local papers handle the writings about the show which is now on stage at Dobama.

As for the characters, four out of the five use language that might be called offensive, in polite society.  Why did Guiris use almost every four letter word in the English language?  He was reflecting the way that the people he was depicting really would talk.  These are individuals who were brought up in environments where this language is common, the language of the streets, the words that get to the base level of expression.  It’s not comfortable language for traditional theatre-goers, but it is the real language of some real people.

The story centers on Jackie, a former drug dealer, who has just been released from prison.  He not only has to conform to his rules of release, which includes participating in a twelve-step program, but has to adapt to dealing with societal rules.  This is not made easier by having a girlfriend like Veronica, who is a cocaine and pot user and has been having an affair while Jackie was incarcerated.  His problems are amplified by having an addiction sponsor, Ralph D, who speaks in clichés, is living a life which lacks reality, is in conflict with his wife, and turns out to be Veronica’s lover.   Jackie, in a rage over finding a hat in the apartment that he shares with Veronica, assumes that her lover is the downstairs neighbor.  Jackie gets a gun, proceeds to give the hat back to its supposed owner, and shoots a hole in the chapeau.  Thus, the play gets it’s name and spins out of control.

A 2011 production, which starred Chris Rock, the king of smut-mouth stand up comedy, opened to mixed reviews in the Big Apple.  The show received a median grade of B- according to StageGrade ( which, like the local area’s, reports summary reviews of New York productions.  In spite of the less than stellar comments, it ran to over 90% capacity during its run, mainly due to Rock’s drawing power and the shock value of the title.

MOTHERF**KER is not an easy play to sit through.  The characters have few redeeming qualities, the language is rough, and the conclusion somewhat unsatisfying.  Yet, in spite of this, the characters are so clearly etched, the violent grip of addiction clearly spotlighted, the living life with false hopes exposed, the problems created by helplessness highlighted, the meaning of moral relativism exposed, and the concept that some people refuse to be loved amplified, a play which could be off-setting, turns out to be fascinating.

Dobama’s production, under the adept direction of Dianne Boduszek, is spot on.  The author’s intent and purpose are well developed.  The production does not run from the needed gruffness of the language, but embraces it so that even the most sensitive ear can simply accept the expression as the authentic voice of these people.

There is not a weakness in the professional cast.  Jeremy Kendall, who embraces the role, is enthralling as the addicted, explosively emotional Jackie. 

Charles Kartali is properly smug and phony as Ralph D., the sponsor from hell.  Anjanette Hall clearly creates a Veronica who reacts and responds from a background filled with angst.  Bernadette Clemens effectively makes Ralph D’s wife into a woman caught in a charade of life, who needs to escape.  Jimmie Woody creates in Cousin Julio, Jackie’s relative, a fey character who seems to be the only person who has some semblance of clarity.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT, the play that dare not speak its name, has a lot to say.  In spite of the almost immediate negative reaction of some people to the title, the production makes for a very compelling evening of theatre.  Congrats to Dobama for not steering away from the script because of the title and the realistic language.

Friday, September 21, 2012

LOMBARDI kicks a field goal at Cleveland Play House

Vince Lombardi, the long time Green Bay Packers coach, is considered to be one of the, if not the most inspirational football coaches of all time.  Unknown to many is the fact that if not for Paul Brown, the first head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Lombardi might never have gone from being a New York Giant’s offensive assistant coach to his reign with the Pack.  It was Brown, recognized as the father of modern football, who, in 1958, recommended that Green Bay hire Vincent Thomas Lombardi.

LOMBARDI, which is now on stage at Cleveland Play House, is a bio-fiction by Eric Simonson whose scenes shift between the Lombardi house to the playing field, to his office, to the locker room.  Based on the book WHEN PRIDE STILL MATTERED:  A LIFE OF VINCE LOMBARDI by David Maraniss, the story centers on the fictional Michael McCormick, a supposed reporter for Look Magazine, who is assigned to do a feature on Lombardi.  McCormick’s boss, Tom Ryder, arranged for McCormick to be a house guest of the Lombardi’s, Vince and his wife Marie. 

It’s 1965. Lombardi has transformed the Pack into a championship team, following a 12-year losing streak.  (And, you thought being a Browns fan is rough.)  The reporter’s probing displays both Lombardi’s brilliance and dark holes, his all too human positives, and his flaws and vulnerabilities.  It also showcases the love for his players, his difficulty in being a good father, and his wife’s keeping him in some kind of emotional balance.

How much of this depiction of the great man is true?  Who knows.  Can we trust Maraniss’s book and Simonson’s play?  Whatever, the story, as it is developed by the duo makes a plausible case for revealing the Lombardi known to the public as well as the private man.

Lombardi is as well known for his pontificating about life, as he was as a football genius.  His quotes include:  “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.” “Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all the time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while…you do them right all the time.” And, “To achieve success, whatever the job we have, we must pay a price.” 

Interestingly, as revealed in the play, his most famous line, “Winning isn’t everything it’s the only thing,” wasn’t a Lombardi original.  It was actually uttered in the 1953 movie, Trouble Along the Way.

The CPH production, under the direction of Casey Stangl, is generally engaging.  The two-act play is well paced, the characterizations clearly etched, the staging on target. 

Bob Ari, who won over Cleveland audiences as contemporary artist Mark Rothko in last season’s RED, is mostly effective as Lombardi.   Part of the difficulty in his character development is the way the role is written.  Ari often finds himself having to change emotional moods with little lead up or stimulus, which results in some acting rather than reaction moments.

DeeDee Rescher as Maria, Lombardi’s heavy drinking wife, is wonderful.  She has a fine sense of comic timing, a consistent New Jersey accent, and handles sarcasm well.

Nick Mills, as Michael, the reporter, jumps back and forth between being the story’s narrator and the principal catalyst for the action, comfortably.  He is quite believable.

Branton Box has the good looks and Superman body of the womanizing playboy Paul Hornung.  Box has the cocky attitude and swgger down perfectly.  William Oliver Watkins as Dave Robinson, and David Hardie as Jim Taylor each develop a spot on characterization.

When the show opened on Broadway, of the five major reviewers, two loved it, two hated it, and one was on the fence.  The script was termed, “heavy on sports and light on content”  and “the play doesn’t make it to the goal line.”   It was also sized up as being “mostly predictable and mechanically digestible.” On the other hand it was also dubbed,  an “extremely well-crafted piece of intelligent middlebrow theater.”

I found the script uneven, lacking at times, while being fascinating in some instances.  The story held my attention, but was not compelling.  The production got all it could out of what it had to work with.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  LOMBARDI doesn’t get the full six points of scoring a touchdown, but is good enough to get three for kicking a field goal. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review of Reviewer's reviews--Elynmarie

Hi Roy,

I am so glad to see you reviewing Weathervane productions now. [Referring to the review of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY]

Also as I often do, I concur with much of what you have written. I saw the show tech weekend with my son (we had seen it together in NYC, my friend Brian Kerwin played the role that Richard [Worswick] played in Akron) and it hung together pretty well.

I too liked the set but I hope that the actors had an easier time negotiating the steps opening night as when we saw it they seemed a little high for stage.

I enjoyed reading your comments and insights as always.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

August: Osage County

Weathervane opens 78th season with intriguing AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

The Weston’s of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, give new meaning to the phrase dysfunctional family.

The dark comedy was developed at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and, after a strong run in the Windy City, came to Broadway in 2007, where it ran for 648 performances. The US national tour, which featured an amazing performance by Estelle Parsons, played in Cleveland. The script is so universal in its themes that it has been staged in such disparate settings as England, Israel, Puerto Rico, Australia, Germany, Spain and Sweden.

The story centers on Beverly Weston, an alcoholic, the family patriarch, and award winning poet, who-disappears. His wife, Violet, eats prescription drugs like they are popcorn. Her bossy sister, Mattie Fae, has a secret that is about to be revealed. Daughter Barbara’s marriage has fallen apart. Fourteen year-old granddaughter Jean is a secret pot smoker. Without knowing it, daughter Ivy is involved in an incestuous romance. Daughter Karen is engaged to a man with a questionable past and present. Before disappearing, Beverly hired Johnna, a native American, to be the family’s housekeeper, but why is a mystery. The Sheriff appears to reveal something. What? The answer is the pivotal plot device that sets AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY on its climactic and unnerving course.

It might not be so bad if the whole thing was made up. But the author admits that Violet, the vindictive, substance abusing mother, is based on his maternal grandmother, who he states, “was a piece of work.” When Letts gave the play to his mother to read, he was nervous, but her first response was, “I think you’ve been very kind to my mother.” Kind? Only if kind means Attila the Hun on meth!

The Weathervane production, under the sharp eye of Jacqi Loewy, is a well conceived community theatre level staging. The characters are clearly etched. Most of the emotional development shows clear motivation. There is a nice level of character development rather than actors just playing roles.

Alex Cikra walks the difficult line making Beverly Weston into a believable drunk. So often actors go too far, feigning slurring and unsteadiness. No such problem here, Cikra does drunk well.

Laura Stitt has the most difficult role of the three sisters, as she needs to be in emotional control almost throughout. She achieves the right levels of pathos and frustration. Tina Thompkins nicely underplays Johnna, the Native American housekeeper.

Tom Stephan portrays the henpecked Uncle Charlie, who morphs into a man with a backbone, effectively. Harriet DeVeto, as the pill popping Violet, the clans mother, is generally effective, though sometimes it is difficult to see her level of clarity versus drug induced stupor.

Alan Scott Ferrall’s set design is impressive. The three level set is era correct, realistic, and except for the difficulty for those in the first five or so rows to see the action on the highest level, works well.

Be aware, as the publicity and the play’s opening announcement reminds, that this is definitely a show for adults only, as the language is rough, with almost all four letter words repeated numerous time. This is not a script for the up-tight.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The Weathervane production of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is a well conceived community theatre level staging and well worth the drive to Akron.