Sunday, July 19, 2020

I'd Sell My Soul

I first read The Picture of Dorian Gray in high school. It was the late eighties and I remember remarking how "relevant to the times" Oscar Wilde was and "don't we all have something we'd sell our soul for?" in an overly pretentious response to my favorite teacher Mrs. Cappellucci's "What do you like about this book?"

Reading Dorian made me feel smart, and grown up. Sophisticated. On each reading I'd pick up something new. An insight into my own character, perhaps, or a quote I'd write in my journal to ponder.

So I wasn't sure I wanted to see a stage version of one of my favorites. Firehouse Theatre often brings bold theatre, but would I get anything out of seeing my beloved novel come to life? Would it meet my teenage-romantic expectations? Would it have the same impact?

In a word, YES! The first, and by far the best reason to see it? Billy Christopher Maupin is simply superb. So deftly did he embody each character that the transitions from one to the next were seamless. I felt as though Maupin had read my diaries. His Henry, was the Henry I picture. And so with Basil, and Dorian. Maupin is such a skilled actor that each of the dozen or so characters was a creation unto its own, sometimes with just a subtle change in the timbre of his voice, or the placement of his hands. 

                                                     
                Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

The second reason? For that I have to go back to the first week in March, and the last live play I saw. I never could have guessed, leaving the theatre that night, that it would be the last opportunity to do something "normal" for some time. And I never would have guessed that four months later, the definition of theatre would have to change. 

How the audience experience was executed due to the Covid-19 pandemic is almost as profound as the acting. The three masked audience members - yes, just three- were greeted at the door at 6-foot length with a thermometer check, and an assigned number. I had number 3, so I had to immediately go and wash my hands in the upstairs bathroom. The other guests, 1 and 2, avoided the climb and got the nice new downstairs bathrooms. Our seats were rows apart. The only non-masked person was Maupin, and what a metaphor that was for the interpretation of Dorian Gray.

 Usually, there is at least some crinkling wrapping paper, an untimely laugh or cough. Some audience noise that reminds me that this is live theatre. Instead, this experience felt so intimate. And the lack of audience feedback noise meant that I heard every word, and every sound. Would I have noticed Scott Burton's use of crickets for sound backdrop? I'm not so sure I would have. But really hearing all the sounds added a dimension that took my viewing experience to a new level.  And not just Burton, but the entire production team deserves a shout out.                                                  
The 19th-century gothic novel was adapted for the stage by Shirley Kagan and Billy Christopher Maupin. Ms. Kagan also directed the adaptation for the world premier at Firehouse Theatre. Dorian continues through August 7, 2020 at Firehouse Theatre.
 
While I know that most of us would sell our souls to have these uneasy and frightening times behind us, I think I'd sell my soul to see Maupin bring Dorian Gray to life for the first time again.















Sunday, March 8, 2020

Mounting the Rostrum

"Women have the right to mount the scaffold; they should likewise have the right to mount the rostrum." - Olympe de Gouges

And mount the rostrum they do. 

Four of the most badass women in Richmond - all at the top of their craft - come together under the direction of a fifth badass woman - and have our full attention. 

Laura Grunderson's play The Revolutionists is a comi-tragedy about four women revolutionaries set during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, a time of mass hysteria and public executions. 

The Revolutionists is based on four actual historical figures: playwright Olympe de Gouges, political assassin Charlotte Corday, Marie Antoinette, and the face of the French Revolution herself - Marianne (known as Marianne Angell in the play) - whose image lives on today in statues, coins and stamps. 


As the play opens, Olympe de Gouges (Maggie Roop) faces her own beheading and imagines writing a play with a different outcome. De Gouges is an intellectual force in her own right and threatens the monarchy. 

As she sets about rewriting her own story, she is called upon by political assassin Charlotte Corday ( Lydia Hynes)- who has fatally stabbed Marat in his bathtub - to write Charlotte's final words before facing her executioner. 

Marianne Angell (Katrinah Carol Lewis) comes to De Gouges for pamphlets in support of her cause of abolishing slavery in the Caribbean colonies. 

And Marie Antoinette (Maggie Bavolack) just wants a more favorable telling. 

The Revolutionists is a play-within-a-play. A *meta* play about art and theatre and power. Grunderson's script sometimes feels more concerned with the meta than the immediate. It tends towards the intellectual. However, this dynamic ensemble of extraordinary women under Chelsea Burke's adroit direction give it all the heart and soul to elevate the play to something fierce and powerful.

Photo Credit: Tom Topinka 

Though the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror are more than two hundred years past, the play is more than relevant to the 21st century. 

In just the last week, women are mourning the dissolution of Elizabeth Warren's campaign for president. She may have mounted the rostrum, but a woman still has yet to lead the helm. 

TheatreLAB's The Revolutionists is a call for the women revolutionaries of our time to stay the course. Our stories are powerful, after all, and we will no longer let them be rewritten by the patriarchy. 

The Revolutionists continues at TheatreLAB's The Basement through March 21. For tickets click here

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Theatre As Therapy

It is 3 a.m. and insomnia has reared its ugly head. Wouldn't it be more romantic to say the muse has struck and she calls me to write? Yes, but it wouldn't be the whole truth. Mental Illness Awareness Month isn't until May. But I'm aware of my own mental illness every month. And most days.

As an extroverted introvert who suffers from social anxiety and depression, my mental illness can be a little perplexing. I really *do* want to get together for coffee. And I also cancel a lot because I'm so tired - mentally, physically, and spiritually, that sometimes getting out of bed requires more energy than I can muster. I walk a fine line between soul-replenishing long naps all about self-care, and avoidance naps . . . sleeping to escape the anxiety of being social when my brain chemistry is out of whack.

I take Prozac and Busbar. I go to therapy. All necessary to  ensure I can remain a responsible, functioning adult. That I can get up and go to work, feed the dog, love my husband, and be present for my adult children on those occasions they still need me.

My therapist practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques.  My favorite is the grounding chair. And my favorite seat is the one that puts me in the middle of an audience excited to see the latest production.

And so I go to the theatre. As a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle, that's my *job.* But it is also my therapy.

I am not a doctor and so this is not medical advice, but I prescribe the following:

Quill Theatre's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead closes soon, but there's still time to see Tom Stoppard's award-winning play. Influenced by Beckett's Waiting for Godot and using text directly from Shakespeare's Hamlet, this play is a love affair to the tragicomedy, and wordplay. It is the story of two minor Hamlet characters - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - who are dead- and turns them into the bumbling lead actors in their own melodrama wondering why in the world they are not part of the play that is being staged all around them.

Quill's production is brilliantly directed by James Ricks. I was utterly mesmerized by the interplay between Tyler Stevens (Rosencrantz) and Adam Turck (Guildenstern). Joe Pabst is resplendent as the Player King with his stellar cast of Tragedians (Cedar Curran, Joel Kimling and Josh Mullins). The *minor* characters in Stoppard's play are Hamlet (Joel White), Ophelia (Mia Richards), Claudius (Travis Williams), Gertrude (Donna Marie Miller) and Polonius (Bill Blair). All give exceptional performances.

Theatre is better than Prozac.

And it is not too late to pick up your prescription.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead runs through February 16 at Dominion Energy Center. For tickets click here.






Thursday, November 28, 2019

Pee Power to the People!

Peeing is a very personal matter. And unless you're in a third world country with limited resources or are transgender in a hostile political climate in which where you pee is a matter of debate, urinating is something we generally take for granted. For most of us, when we've GOT to go, we GET to go. 

In Urinetown, the power struggle between the poor and the wealthy centers around a 20-year drought which has caused a water shortage. Private bathrooms are a thing of the past. And the evil corporation Urine Good Company, run by CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell , controls the city's bathrooms.

If you ain't got the dough, you don't get to go.  But mother nature is a bitch, and sometimes that means you go wherever you can. In Urinetown, public urination is a jailable offense. And Officers Lockstock and Barrel are deadly serious in their pee patrol. 


Photo Credit: Tom Topinka


When Cladwell's daughter, Hope, falls in love with Bobby Strong, the leader of the people's resistance, all hell breaks loose and hilarity ensues. Urinetown is a uproarious comedy about class warfare.

I love new discoveries. I came to Urinetown with no idea what it was about. I left a fan.

Under Matt Polson's skillful direction, and with a stellar cast, this was a theatrical experience I won't soon forget. Kudos to Matt Shofner (Bobby Strong), Madison Hatfield (Hope Cladwell), Michaela Nicole (Penelope Pennywise), Caldwell B. Cladwell (Luke Schares), Kelsey Cordrey (Little Sally), Bianca Bryan (Officer Lockstock), Travis West (Officer Barrel/Piano), Levi Meerovich (Hot Blades Harry/Piano), Allisan Paige Gilman (Little Becky Two Shoes), Lennon Hu (Senator Fipp/Bass), Maggie Bavolack (Josephine Strong/Clarinet), Anne Michelle Forbes (Soupy Sue) and Joe Lubman (drums). Each and every one  had stand-out performances with top notch voices and acting. 

And congratulations go to Travis West for his clever musical direction. And Nicole Morris-Anastasi  knocked it out of the park with her choreography. Set design, costuming, lighting, and sound were all exceptional. 

Urinetown is a true ensemble performance without a weak link. 


Urinetown (music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Books and Lyrics by Greg Kotis) first debuted in 2001, and is set in the early 1900's, however it's timeless in its depiction of power versus poverty. There's another musical in town right now. Thousands are paying top price to see a show with similar themes. Wouldn't it be wonderful if even just one percent of the people paying top dollar for *that* show could support local theatre. With Urinetown, they'd get their money's worth tenfold. 

Urinetown runs through December 28 at TheatreLAB's The Basement. For tickets, click here

Not only do you experience great theatre,  but you can pee for free without being arrested. Although Bryan's Officer Lockstock is so sexy you might just want to be handcuffed.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Officially Holiday Season

There are plenty of indications the holiday season is in full force. Whether we like it or not.  Christmas trees at Walmart,  holiday music on loop at Mix 98.1 F.M, peppermint mochas at Starbucks,! ornaments and bells galore - even Santa - in my office.

But it is NOT officially the holiday season until Richmond Triangle Players does their annual show.

This year's selection, Times Square Angels is a hit! With drag queens, lovestruck Romeos, sinister villains and naughty angels giggling and acting up when they think God (voiced by Susan Sanford) isn't paying attention, RTP's production of Charles Busch's renowned play is the perfect way to officially welcome the holiday season.

Irish O'Flanagan (Wette Midler a/k/a Luke Newsome) is a second-rate night club performer fighting to keep her place as the center of attention. She falls in with the wrong crowd - Chick La Fountain (Eddie Webster) and his cronies - and heads down a dangerous path. Albert hopes to show her the error of her ways and give her one last chance to turn her life around. And while Irish has a tendency to alienate those who could most help her - seasoned performer Helen Sternhan (Michael Hawke) for example - underneath the corsets she has a heart of gold and earns the loyalty of old friend and lovestruck Eddie (endearingly played by Carlen Kernish) and her maid, Peona (Nora Ogunleye).

Luke Newsome (Richmond drag queen Wette Midler) is stunning in red evening gown (Alex Valentin's costumes are lovely) and gorgeous Joel-Furtick wig. And her performance as Irish O'Flanagan is sweet and charming.

I'd like to come out (pun intended) and confess my crush on Jeffrey Cole who is devilishly handsome and charming in the role of the less-than-angelic Albert trying to earn his place in Heaven.



Times Square Angels is not a sophisticated story. And it doesn't need to be. It's sweetly reminiscent of  holiday classics such as It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. Melissa Rayford deftly directs this nostalgic, heartfelt, and joyful audience-pleasing holiday gem.

There's an encore at the end - a fun sing-a-long with cast members lip syncing their hearts out to our favorite Yuletide tunes. Helen's  Auld Lange Syne as the swan song is nostalgic and tender. A perfect way to end a show about second chances, and the true meaning of the holiday spirit.

You can catch Times Square Angel through December 21, 2019. To purchase tickets click here.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

I WANNA BE DIRTY

Gimme an "M," gimme an "O," gimme an "R," gimme a "G," gimme an "A," gimme an "N." What does that spell? Jim Morgan as one damn fine Frank 'N' Furter. Can I get some tips on makeup and walking in heels?

I've seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show at least half a dozen times, the movie and stage productions. So I'm no virgin, but I'm not quite a slut, either. Michael Hawke's fabulous direction of this cult classic was so sexy I came twice. To the show.

Stephen King warns of using too many superlatives as a sign of a lazy writer, but I can't help but gush. It's astounding. From the wildly creative direction, fantastic music, gorgeous costuming, phenomenal choreography - some of the most fun use of the ensemble dancers I've seen - and incredible hair and makeup (Joel Furtick, my new favorite color is Magenta!), Richmond Triangle Player's  production of Rocky Horror Picture Show was a smash success, the entire run sold out before the show even began.

RHPS holds special memories for me. I can associate particular memories with specific songs and moments in time. But this production was hands down my favorite. I already mentioned the incredibly sexy (and mega talented) Jim Morgan, but the entire cast was terrific.



Levi Meerovich's Riff Raff was stunning. Deliciously creepy, and man does he have pipes. Even the narrator (Jeffrey Cole) had sex appeal. I love a man in a smoking jacket pipe in hand. Brad (Luke Newsome) and Janet (Madeleine Witmer) were absolutely charming as the naive newly engaged couple whose car breaks down on a stormy night outside a strange castle. And their transformation from nice to naughty was tantalizing.

Although Adam Turck doesn't have the strongest voice, his physique and boyish charm were well-suited to the role of Rocky, Frank ' N' Furter's "creation." I was delighted to see the return of Carlen Kernish as both Eddie and Dr. Scott.

While RHPS may not be everyone's cup of tea, this production at Richmond Triangle Players was thrilling, chilling . . . and fulfilling.

Please bring this show back so that we can all do the Time Warp again!


Saturday, September 28, 2019

I'm a Little Bit Racist

The October 7, 2019 issue of People magazine arrived in my mailbox yesterday. I've somehow accidentally subscribed to a magazine I never read. Most issues have gone straight to a pile on my bookcase. Who knows, maybe I'll need magazines for a collage or something? But this latest issue caught my eye: A photograph of Felicity Huffman with the caption "Facing Her Fate." Huffman is facing prison time for her role in a college admissions scandal - cheating to get her own children into elite schools. 

TheatreLAB opens its 2019-2020 Season - Power and Privilege - with Admissions, which may as well be the Huffman scandal but set at Hillcrest, an elite co-ed college prep school. 

Joshua Harmon's award-winning play is a scathing critique of power, privilege, and hypocrisy where passionately held views collide with personal experience. In the hands of Director DeeJay Gray and a stellar cast of some of Richmond's most talented actors, the show comes alive and the audience is left questioning their values, beliefs, and behaviors.  I left the show feeling uncomfortable. Am I a racist?

 Sherri Rosen-Mason (Donna Marie Miller) is the admissions director who has made it her life's mission to make Hillcrest's milky white student population more diverse.  When their diversity numbers hit eighteen percent, she celebrates with her husband, Bill (David Clarke), the progressive headmaster and English teacher at the Academy. They drink champagne, and stroke their egos for all the good and heartfelt work they've done.

But when their son, Charlie (Tyler Stevens) is wait-listed at Yale, and his good friend Perry - who happens to be biracial - gets in, their hypocrisy is exposed. Charlie goes on a verbal rant that is spoiled, white privilege personified.  Stevens' self-pitying, spoiled-rich-boy monologue is one of the standout moments of the show. 

Charlie and Perry are friends. But Charlie knows he's the superior student.  So there must be another reason that Perry got in and he didn't. Another standout moment happens when Ginny (Sara Collazo), Perry's mom, confronts her good friend, Sherri, and calls her out on her white privilege. Ginny demands Sherri acknowledge that whether she likes it or not, she does believe that Perry got the spot at Yale . . . because he's black. 

Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

Providing comic relief is comedienne extraordinaire, Jackie Jones as Roberta, an older administrator at Hillcrest who is charged with compiling pictures for the school catalogue. When Sherri informs Roberta  the catalogue doesn't reflect their student population, and that she needs to get more representative photographs,  Roberta awkwardly navigates the new lingo of political correctness. We squirm as Roberta tries to get clarity on what her boss wants. Roberta states that she doesn't see color - a phrase about as cringe-worthy as 'I'm not racist, I have black friends.' Trying to understand her boss's concerns, she further puts her foot in her mouth, asking clarifying questions such as "do you mean darker ?" 



I am not color blind. I do see color. And sometimes that makes me an unintentional racist. I truly believe my heart and convictions are in the right place. But as a woman who grew up in an upper middle class mostly white neighborhood I've internalized some racist tendencies. I'm not proud of it, and I work hard to overcome those tendencies. I'm reminded of the song from Avenue Q: Everyone's a Little Bit Racist.

From costumes and set to extraordinary performances by Donna Marie Miller, David Clark, Tyler Stevens, Sara Collazo, and Jaqueline Jones, Admissions knocks it out of the park.  If this production is any indication, we're in for one hell of a season at TheatreLAB. Be prepared to squirm and have to face your own power and privilege in the mirror.


Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Games We Play

Forrest Gump was wrong. Life is like a game of chess. We play by the rules, and the roles - king, queen, rook and pawn - are set by a society that likes order and conformity. But what happens when there are too many queens, or the pawn makes an unexpected move? The board is upended and we are left crawling on our hands and knees to reassemble the pieces into love....messy, complicated, chaotic. But real.

It is 1979 and Act One of Falsettos opens with the quartet of Marvin (Matt Shofner), Whizzer (Durron Marquis Tyre), Jason (Rowan Sharma) and Mendel (Dan Cimo) romping around the stage bitching about their quirky, unconventional lives. The opening musical number, "Four Jews in a Room Bitching," is hilarious, and upbeat, and sets the bar high - fantastic singing and lightening-paced choreography.

Marvin is a self-absorbed, rich business man who has left his wife, Trina (Casey Payne) and their son Jason for his gay lover Whizzer. Add in Mendel (Dan Cimo) who is Marvin's therapist and you've got a complicated game-board. Which gets even more complicated when Mendel falls in love with Trina, and neurotic Marvin loses a his shrink.



Bring the tissues for Act Two. By now we are invested in the characters - warts and all - It is 1981 and so much has changed in three years. Marvin has matured. He lives in an apartment where Jason spends his weekends, befriends the neighboring lesbian couple (Kelsey Cordroy as Dr. Charlotte and Rachel Marrs as Cordelia) and co-parents Jason with Trina and Mendel. This cobbled-together chosen family has completely captured our hearts as we build towards Jason's Bar Mitzvah. But by 1981 the landscape has changed in the gay community and something bad is happening. Dr. Charlotte is increasingly distressed by the patterns she is seeing as a hospital internist. When Whizzer collapses during a game of racketball the frightening, mysterious disease hits close to home.

Falsettos is marvelous. Bravo to Debra Clinton for directing and choreographing one of the most moving pieces of musical theatre I've seen. I was 11 in 1981. But 10 years later I would lose my dear friend Chris to A.I.D.S. For those of us in the audience who have experienced that devastating loss, Falsettos takes on a deeper level of meaning.

The performances never let up. As an ensemble the cast of Falsettos is the Gary Kasparov of musical theatre. And each individual performance was stellar. I sat next to Rowan Sharma's mom. She commented on the pressure of being the only kid in a show full of superbly talented actors. Ms. Sharma, Rowan held his own every step and note of the way.

There was no one standout performance; each actor had their own standout moment: Shofner's angelic voice soared with "I Never Wanted to Love You," Ms. Payne gutted me with "I'm Breaking Down," and I'm still not over Tyre's "You Gotta Die Sometime."

My only issue with the show was with the set. It felt cobbled together, too. I'm sure the crooked, empty frames on the walls the characters rearranged from time to time had a purpose. But I didn't get it.

Falsettos earned every second of the standing ovation. This morning my heart is still aching, but is more full, too. Here's to upending the game board of life and crawling on our knees through the muck and stink and chaos of life. Here's to upending our prescribed roles, and turning the game of life into a song of love.

Falsettos continues through October 5 at Richmond Triangle Players' Robert B. Moss Theatre. To purchase tickets, click here.



Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Level Up

I have never made it past level 1 on a video game. The last time I played, I got vertigo. Three months later a large ocean wave  tumbled me around in the surf and knocked the crystals back in place. I've never understood the fascination with video games and would grumble when my kids spent hours in front of the screen.

But Dante Piro's debut play,  Level 4, gave me an entirely new perspective; and a better understanding of the allure of the game.

Piro, a video game enthusiast himself, wrote the script after finishing one of his all-time favorite games. After basking in the accolades and closing credits, waiting for the game to reset, he realized "it wasn't going to end . . . the only way to stop this was to turn it off. And I didn't want to do it. I wanted to stay in that moment forever."

He wrote Level 4 to explore the sense of loss he experienced when his beloved game was over. But rather than write about the game from his experience, he wrote Level 4 from inside the game.  What did it feel like when the world went dark. From the inside.

Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

Level 4 is about more than just video games. It is about perseverance, teamwork, and about empathy - putting ourselves in someone else's shoes. Even if that someone else is not real. I may not be a gamer; but I've mourned the ending of a novel, and felt as if I'd lost someone I loved. I can empathize.

The show was ably directed by Chelsea Burke. And the acting was quite strong. Adam Turck was charming as The Hero playing his way through Karma Quest. Chris Klinger's Light Lord, the main character in the video game, gave a nuanced and compelling performance. Adam Valentine was delightful as Light Lord's sidekick Strobe. Levi Meerovtich as Mertens,  guardian of the game's arsenal, was hilarious at times.  And Breezy Potter rounded out of the cast as The Heroine and Tammy. I wanted to see more of her on stage. Her supporting characters were well-developed and distinct.

Despite being too long - in both acts - the play was quirky and funny. A bit of tightening of the dialogue might have  helped with some slow pacing and brought out even more of the very witty one-liners.

Kudoes to TheatreLAB for spotlighting a local playwright. It's exciting to be in the audience of a world premier event.

Level 4 continues through August 31, 2019 at TheatreLAB. For tickets click here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The "P" Word

"I found her diary underneath the tree, and started reading about me." Words from a Bread song  I probably first heard around the same time I first heard the word "pussy." I still know all the words to the song, and still cringe at the "P" word.

At that time, the "P" word was used almost exclusively as a pejorative or sexual term. Something said to hurt someone deeply or used sexually - often pornographically. It is no longer the dirty little secret seldom whispered in public. It is a battle cry for women reclaiming their power (think of the "pussy hat" phenomenon for the Women's March). For the girls of Dance Nation and Teacher Pat's (Chris Klinger) dance team preparing for regionals and beyond, it is a mantra of primal power and discovery.

Clare Barron's pulitzer prize-nominated play Dance Nation is a brilliant exploration of the pressures of teenage adolescence with some supernatural twists and turns and a sarcastic and caustic sense of humor. It is also a tough, provocative, combative, and in your face drama not for the feint of heart.

Watching Dance Nation was like being exposed to my 13-year-old self in all its tumultuous glory (that feeling you get when someone reads your diary, maybe?). I was even part of a competitive team - marching band for me - complete with the coach's inspired pep talks pre-competition and a choreographed team cheer. And while I was contending with my menstrual cycle and struggling with my sexual orientation, my friend Brook - much like Connie (Sanam Laila Hashemi) - was still playing with Barbie dolls.

Amina (Lydia Hynes) and Zuzu (Trinitee Pearson) competing for the right for the coveted solo might as well have been the infamous battle over first and second chair waged between me and my friend Renee. It was technical skill versus passion, and depending on coach's mood, I was most often second chair. My father once scolded our band director for preferring precision over passion.

I haven't been so uncomfortable since seeing the masturbation scene in I Love You, Man in the movie theater with my two teenage sons. And it is okay to be uncomfortable. Important even. Life is not a smooth cake walk along a perfectly shady tree-lined boulevard with whimsical melodies to lighten the way. It is fucking messy. And I can't think of a messier time than adolescence.

Bravo to gutsy director Maggie Roop and the fantastic cast and crew of TheatreLAB's production of Barron's pulitzer-prize nominated play.  The production and performances are unforgettable and shocking. I am embarrassingly squeamish at the "P" word, and that meant that at least 200 times throughout the evening, I was squirming in my seat hoping no one would notice my discomfort.

Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

Great theatre doesn't just entertain. It informs, illuminates, provokes, pushes envelopes, and has a lasting impact. TheatreLAB's Dance Nation is great theatre.

I left Dance Nation wanting to reclaim my own power.

"Perfect pussy," I whispered.

Baby steps.

Dance Nation continues through August 3rd. For tickets click here.



Thursday, July 18, 2019

Tornadoes on Broad Street

Last Saturday night I fell for a man with no heart, and swooned over another with no brains. Sounds like my past love life. Throw in my mad crush on Glinda and it almost sounds like Confessions of a Bi-girl: Her Diary.

Aaron Sutten Photography

While Virginia Rep's November Theatre put on a very fun overall production of The Wiz, it was a tin man (D. Jerome Wells), a scarecrow (Dylan T. Jackson), a good witch (Jessi Johnson) and some stellar choreography that stole the show.


Aaron Sutten Photography
 
The tornado scene was exceptionally well choreographed. Very cool. And I may be just a little more prone to self-confidence this week after Glinda's rendition of Believe in Yourself. Okay, Ms. Johnson, if you insist.

The story, of course, was familiar. The Wiz was updated in the 1970s from the 1930s Wizard of Oz as a soul version portraying contemporary African American culture both based on the beloved book by L. Frank Baum.

Mariah Lyttle's Dorothy was charming and playful, particularly in her interactions with her companions on the yellow brick road. And Brandon LaReau's Cowardly Lion was terrifyingly sweet.

The Wiz had all the elements - good acting, singing, choreography, set, and a fantastic orchestra led by Anthony Smith. Everything was well-executed. But with the exception of a handful of songs  - Ease on Down the Road, and Believe in Yourself notably - I didn't find the music particularly memorable. I didn't leave singing any of the tunes in my head. So it wasn't my favorite musical, but I admired most aspects of Virginia Rep's production of it.

The Wiz continues through August 4. For tickets click here.



Thursday, June 27, 2019

Madness or Eccentricity?

There's a fine line between madness and eccentricity. But for the name and connection to the Kennedy dynasty, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale ["Little Edie"] - would be considered mad. But thanks to their social standing -  Jaqueline Bouvier [Kennedy] is Little Edie's cousin - the mother/daughter duo have been elevated to the status of reclusive eccentrics.

But is there really a difference? In this case, eccentricity was simply madness with lots of money attached.

The Bouvier story is well known, and Grey Gardens among the most iconic homes in America. First splashed across the tabloids, and later captured in the documentary film Grey Gardens this story is so renowned you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who hadn't at least heard about it.

But I came to RTP's production of Grey Gardens: The Musical knowing very little. I was a child in Germany in the early 1970s and the scandal somehow escaped my attention. From what little I did know, I wondered how in the world this story could be a musical.

In fact, Grey Gardens works exceptionally well as a musical. Edith Bouvier Beale considered herself a singing virtuoso, and she and Edie's shared language was songs they'd sing around the piano as they imagined fame and fortune. But as if often the case in dysfunctional families, a shared language brings a complex tension between joy and despair. Music is their common language: and it both binds and strangles them.

As the musical opens, Little Edie (Gray Garrett) is anticipating her engagement party. She is set to marry *the* Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. (Elijah Williams) and is on cloud nine. But her mother Edith (Susan Sanford) and Edith's paid companion George Gould Strong (Eddie Webster) have hijacked the party and are planning a concert to showcase Edith's talent. Edie is dismayed to learn of the concert - she wants her engagement party to be her moment in the spotlight. But Edith is incapable of letting anyone else shine, and even purposefully sabotages the engagement. Joe learns from Edith that his fiancĂ© has a somewhat scandalous past - an unfortunate and very public wardrobe malfunction - which has earned her the nickname "Body Beautiful Beale" - and runs. Just like earlier suitors who caught glimpses of the madness and fled.

In Act Two, Susan Sanford returns playing Edie in her later years, as she's resigned to living in the prison of Grey Gardens, unable to leave her elderly mother (Boomie Pedersen). Their home has become a hoarder's nightmare with dozens of cats and trash everywhere. We see their true descent into madness. Edie puts on shows in outrageous costumes - singing "The Revolutionary Costume for Today" and imagining the life she always wanted but could never grasp.


And Edith, confined mainly to her bed, takes odd joy in boiling corn for the local young handyman, Jerry (Elijah Williams) as she croons "Jerry Likes My Corn."

The cast of RTP's Grey Gardens is extraordinary, particularly Susan Sanford in Act Two as the older Edie. Her talent is jaw-dropping, and the rest of the cast is well up to the task of creating exceptional theatre.

With expert musical direction by Kim Fox and inspired direction and choreography by Debra Clinton, Grey Gardens is not to be missed.

This is not the kind of musical that will have you humming as you leave the theatre, but it is unforgettable nonetheless.

Due to popular demand, the show has been extended through July 27, 2019. For tickets click here.




Wednesday, May 1, 2019

But Can He Write? It's Local and It's Personal

It was a thrill to be part of the world premier of Chandler Hubbard's play, Animal Control. Firehouse Theatre's artistic director Joel Bassin took pains to convey to the opening night audience just what a momentous occasion it was. But those of us who "knew Hubbard when" didn't need the reminder. There was a clear electricity in the air.

We knew Hubbard could act. I became a fan watching him in The Altruists in 2015. But could he write? We were about to find out.

The answer is a resounding yes. Hubbard's script is tight, gut-wrenching, funny, and well-paced. But a strong script isn't worth much without strong direction and performances. Did Firehouse Theatre's production of Animal Control make the great?

Another resounding yes.

Congratulations to director Joel Bassin and the superb ensemble cast. Hubbard was beaming after the show. Rightly so.

Kim Hawkins (Donna Marie Miller) is an overworked and under appreciated animal control officer who has to make life and death decisions in the overcrowded Carson County Pound. The weight of her decisions was conveyed with Miller's exceptional dramatic timing, as well as the unspoken body language which clearly demonstrated Deputy Hawkins' distress. It is easy to feel sympathy for Ms. Hawkins while at the same time loathing the authority she has to determine the fate of the "guests" at the kill shelter.

And we have sympathy and antipathy towards the rest of the characters as well. Marc Hanson (Adam Turck) sets this tragedy in motion by reporting a minor incident in which Dan Stanley's (Arik Cullen) pit bull bites Hanson's dog causing lacerations to the dog, and moral outrage to its owner.

Seeking justice and renumeration, Hanson's report leads to an inevitable encounter between the two dog owners as well as Stanley's neighbor, Patty Smith (Lucretia Marie Anderson), a single mom who has had run-ins with the pit bull as well. We understand Smith's desire to protect her kids, but react to her meddlesome tactics to punish Stanley for his dog's behavior.

Stanley's barely contained rage is palpable. We'd like to dislike him for not controlling his menace of a dog, but come to appreciate his love and devotion to the dog who started life as a bait dog.



Wouldn't we all make a report if our own dog had been attacked ? It's easy to start out sympathizing with Hanson, but his moral outrage grows tiresome, as we realize the issue isn't entirely black and white or good vs. evil.

Corrine Lowell (Journey Entzminger), Deputy Hawkins' assistant provides comic relief. And seems to be assigned the role of remembering the real victim - a misunderstood, and defenseless dog.

Animal Control is a tragedy. We know it won't end well for anyone involved. But Hubbard draws out the tension throughout, and the inevitable ending is not necessarily the one we were expecting.

Not only is Animal Control local, it is personal as well. The play drew on Hubbard's experience when his own dog was attacked by another dog. The play was personal for me as well. Last November I was walking my dog Max when an unleashed pit attacked us. I have the physical scars to remind me. But the emotional scars linger even longer.

This excellent play, and strong production will linger with me as well.

Animal Control runs through Sunday May 12, 2019. Click here to purchase tickets.