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


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.

Thursday, July 25, 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.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fist to the Heart

As I flip through the pages of Hope Whitby's Traveling the River: poems, the sunlight is streaming through my window reflecting a perfect rainbow across the pages of the book. And just like that, with "a fist to the heart," Whitby has snaked her way into the river of my heart. With exquisite words and an even more exquisite spirit, Traveling the River is a slow amble through the terrain of the heart of a strong and brave woman. A poet.

I also discovered that Ms. Whitby is my soul sister. In her poems, she fantasizes about meeting Hemingway, one of my favorite authors. She pays homage to my favorite poet in "Reading Neruda On Top of Afton Mountain," and the effect of listening to Nina Simone, my go-to blues singer, is captured to perfection in "Nina Simone, Sing Me My Blues."

I'm in love with Whitby's haiku poems that capture the beauty of the natural world:

no two are alike
swirling sea of March snowflakes
daffodils protest.

Did I mentioned that daffodils are my totem flower? Another sign that Whitby is a soul sister.

And enthralled with her ability to capture the ordinary, as in "Apartment 1C Haiku":

up for no reason
my chihuahua snores softly
sleepless in RVA

And envious of the way in which she has transformed her pain - physical and spiritual - into an ode to second chances.

"Blessed is the voice that sculpts words," she writes.
"with poetry, I plant perennials of love."

Whitby is a reader and a lover of words. She is nourished and inspired by them. And those who will travel the Nottoway river with this beautiful poet will be equally nourished and inspired by her perennials of love.

Support local artists. Purchase a copy of Traveling the River here

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

It's Piping Hot!

Pies aren't the only thing in town that are piping hot. TheatreLab's The Basement - the "shape shifting" space of Broad Street - is on fire through March 16 with its sensational production of Sweeney Todd.

Sweeney Todd is my husband's second favorite musical. He approached Theatre Lab's production of his beloved musical with guarded enthusiasm. I'm less familiar with the classic Stephen Sondheim musical. We both left the show feeling we'd been transported to Fleet Street. The atmosphere in The Basement was electrifying. And I couldn't help but feel a shiver down my spine as we left the building. Was someone lurking in the shadows?

What's even better than a full live orchestra playing from a pit underneath the stage? A piano (John-Stuart Fauquet) and a violin (Marissa Resmini) - staged as part of the set - playing exquisite, eerie music.

And the voices. Every single one. Superb.

Alexander Sapp was so convincing as the titular character that I'm afraid to run into him in a dark alley. No way I'd let him shave my hair.

Photo by Tom Topinka

And Bianca Bryan as Mrs. Lovett was fierce and fiery, and sexy as hell. I'll take the piccolo player and the priest.

Photo by Tom Topinka

The rest of the cast was exceptional as well. Matt Polson (as Anthony Pope), Mallory Keene (as Johanna), William Anderson (as Judge Turpin), Kelsey Cordrey (as Beadle Bamford, Audra Honaker (as Beggar Woman/Pirelli) and Matt Shofner (as Tobias Ragg) lent powerful acting and voices to the leads for an ensemble performance that earned every minute of the spontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovation.

Sweeney Todd is now my favorite musical I've seen in Richmond. And my husband went twice.

Bravo to Deejay Gray and the production team (JS Fauquet, Michael Jarett, Ruth Hedberg, Joey Luck, Connor Scudder, Maggie Bavolack, Addie Barnhart, Tom Topinka, Destiny Martinez and Breezy Potter) for a fresh, sizzling take on a classic tale.

It's no surprise that the show is sold out. You might just have to kill  to get a ticket. I hear theatre patrons are quite tasty.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time there was a guy and a girl,  a broken Hoover vacuum and a broken heart.

Circumstances converge and the despairing Irish musician (Ken Allen Neely) and full-of-life Czech immigrant (Katherine Fried) form a special kind of alchemy. With nothing but their love of music in common, they share a five-day friendship cum impossible romance. The result of their whirlwind collaboration is a demo CD and memories of their rare, serendipitous encounter. Thank God for broken Hoovers.

This collaboration was brought to life by Virginia Rep with direction and choreography by Artistic Director Nathaniel Shaw. And it is nothing short of magical.

Once is a Tony Award winning musical based on the movie written and directed by John Carney. The score is based on music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

Neely and Fried are exceptional in their roles. And so are the ensemble musicians. The choreography is terrific throughout and even the choreographed set changes are beautiful and moving.

Photo by Jay Paul

This "jukebox" musical is seamlessly told. The interplay between the ensemble and the score as they bring to life Hansard and Irglova's emotional, gut-wrenching melodies and lyrics is a joy to watch. With gorgeous costumes, and a creative set, VA Rep's Once is a home run on all counts, from beginning to end.

Photo by Jay Paul 

We are accustomed to, even long for our heroes and heroines to live happily ever after. But life is so much more complicated and nuanced. And though the guy and girl's fated meeting is a brief blip in time, the results of this one-in-a-million chance encounter remain in our hearts.

Once is a not-to-be missed crowd-pleasing show that will leave you breathless and reminiscing on our own once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Once continues at November Theatre's Arenstein Stage through March 3, 2019. Click on this link for tickets.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Keeping it Relevant

Plague stricken Thebes is in chaos. Citizens demand that king Oedipus (dl Hopkins) do something about it. Oedipus's brother-in-law Kreon (R.O. Crews) delivers a message from the oracle of Delphi- - - the plague will cease when the murder of Laius - former king of Thebes - is avenged. Oedipus vows to find the murderer. 

And we know the rest. Was it his fate to kill his father King Laius and wed his mother Jacosta (Patricia Alli)? Or was it self-fulfilling prophecy? Oedipus heard the prophecy, believed it, and fulfilled it. Could he have changed course?

Textbooks have been written about the answer to that question. And Oedipus Rex, considered by many to be Sophocles' masterpiece, has been dissected, analyzed, debated by high school and college students ad nauseum. 

So how do you keep Sophocles' masterpiece relevant? Director Vinnie Gonzales sets the drama in 1920s South with wisdom (the moral) imparted by a fire and brimstone preacher (Jeremy V. Morris) and a chorus of gospel singers (Shantell Dunnaville, Shalimar Hickman Fields, and Shalandis Wheeler Smith) providing inspiration.  

Gonzalez shows that it doesn't really matter that Oedipus was written more than two thousand years years.  Its themes - incest, betrayal, state power, fate v. self-determination, hubris are timeless and universal. 

In fact, the heart of the Oedipus narrative seems to be playing out in our own government. Think of the White House as the castle and Mr. Trump the tyrannical king. Not such a stretch.

Firehouse Theatre's Oedipus under Gonzalez's strong direction, offers across-the-board top-notch performances - particularly by Morris who is the embodiment of the Southern preacher; from intonation and cadence in his oratory, to the foot stomping, hand-waving nuances of the physicality of a charismatic preacher. Yes, Morris, I do believe!

Oedipus, a gospel myth offers one of the finest endings I've seen in quite some time. I still get chills thinking about it.

Niomi Kaiser's costumes are spot-on; a perfect blend of ancient and early 20th century Southern garb. 

The play is fodder for conversation. Why do we as human beings have this capacity for evil? Is it a deficit of human nature or a consequence of our social systems and power structures? These questions are just as relevant in 2019 as they were in Ancient Greece. 

Oedipus, a gospel myth continues at Firehouse Theatre through February 23, 2019 (my 49th birthday). For tickets visit:

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Care Out Loud

For how many of us is the act of stepping outside to the mailbox an act of courage?

I sometimes walk down to our front gate in my pajamas and hope the neighbors don't see me. But that is an act of privilege not bravery.

Not many.

I had the honor and privilege to attend Richmond Triangle Players' production of Trans Scripts, Part 1: The Women and even serve as a guest moderator for the talkback following the performance. I was nervous, sure, but brave . . . not really.

Courage is stepping out the door as your authentic self knowing much of the world fears, misunderstands, even hates you. For many trans women stepping out the door can literally be a matter of life and death. 

Playwright Paul Lucas spent five years conducting interviews with trans women and men. His interviews have been edited into this beautiful play which won several awards at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Lucas is currently working on transforming his interviews with the men into Trans Scripts, Part II: The Men.

Co-directors Melissa Rayford and Keri Wormald crafted the stories of Josephine (Mario Bernier), Luna (Vita Cleveland), Eden (Alex Davila), Tatiana (Eden Lane), Zakia (Zakia McKensey), Violet (Boomie Pedersen) and Sandra (Michael Stailey) with care and sensitivity. 

Bravo to the actors who held space for these women's stories with integrity and love. Bravo to the actors who step out in courage in their own daily lives as trans women. And Bravo to the creative team for making sure the show was performed by trans women. 

Representation matters.

Kudos to Richmond Triangle Players for producing this important piece of theatrical activism. Those of us in the audience are better for it. Provocative and moving, the play was also a call to action to put our "Ally" buttons where our mouth is. 

I was struck by the diversity of the audience. There were more people of color and colors of our rainbow represented than any show I can remember. 

Representation matters.

It is human nature to categorize and homogenize. One of the play's most important messages is that there is no single trans narrative. Trans women have rich, essential, personal stories uniquely their own. During the talkback Vita Cleveland, in response to a question asking what the commonalities were among trans women, answered "Death and oppression." Bam. 

Another audience member took the opportunity to commend the women, their bravery and remind them that they were beautiful. And to say essentially (and I'm paraphrasing) that she just wants people to get along. Something along the lines of "if you are nice to me and care about me and my family, I'm happy to care about you and the people you love." One of my favorite moments of the entire evening came in Cleveland's response . . . "THEN CARE OUT LOUD!"

It really isn't enough to forward a meme or two on Facebook showing your support. We need to care when it isn't convenient; when it might even cost us something. Care in the ballot box. Care when you see a trans sister being bullied or worse. Inaction in the moment, but condemning it later over social media is not caring.

Care out loud. 

Trans Scripts was presented with the support of Diversity Richmond with proceeds benefitting Nationz Foundation, a non-profit providing "education and information related to HIV prevention and overall health and wellness. Nationz Foundatin "inspires the community to take responsibility for their health; and works towards a more inclusive Central Virginia for LGBTQIA+ identified individuals."

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Who Knew?

Who knew that one of the most popular Shakespearean actors of the mid-late 1800s was an African-American man who performed throughout the world? I hadn't heard of New York born Ira Frederick Aldridge until I attended Red Velvet. And that's a shame. Evidence of how education can be white-washed leaving gaping holes in even a solid liberal arts education.

Fortunately, Quill Theatre's official entry into the 2019 "Acts of Faith Festival" helps fill that knowledge deficit; just one of the reasons theatre is so important to a well-rounded education.

Red Velvet by playwright Lolita Chakrabarti is the story of Ira Aldridge and the price of being a black actor in the mid-1800s. Facing discrimination in the United States, Aldridge emigrated to England and built his impressive career throughout Europe. In Europe too, however, Aldridge faced suspicion and prejudice. He paid a heavy emotional price for his celebrity.

While Red Velvet is not specifically a play about religious faith, Artistic Director James Ricks writes "You don't have to be a history professor to recognize that for an African-American man to pursue this course at this particular point in history is in itself an act of faith . . . "

Red Velvet is an essay on theatre and history and the courage of one man to pursue his dream against all odds.

Against the backdrop of public riots in the streets of London over the abolition of slavery, Ira Aldridge (Jamar Jones) steps in to the lead role in Othello after the great Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean has collapsed on stage. The replacement is met with fury by Kean's son, Charles (Cole Metz), who believes the role should be his by birthright. The rest of the cast is bewildered at best. They question director Pierre LaPorte's (Eddie Webster) judgment in making such a controversial choice.

Even the servant Connie (Desiree Dabney), also black, keeps her distance and is skeptical of Mr. Aldridge.

The entire ensemble's performance was strong. I particularly enjoyed Jamar Jones' transition to King Lear toward the end of his career. Webster's performance as LaPorte was also strong - subtle and nuanced. And as a native German speaker, I give a special shout out to Stevie Rice (Casimir/Henry) and Rachel Dilliplane (Halina/Betty/Margaret). I'm not always able to understand when actors attempt to speak German, but I understood every word.

The heart of the play is the interaction of the cast and Mr. Aldridge as they wrestle with their prejudices. The genuine on-stage connection between Aldridge and actress Ellen Tree (Frances Saxton) proves particularly vexing to the sensibilities of the more proper cast members.

Ricks' choice for the "Acts of Faith Festival" is unexpected. And it works. Theatre ought to educate, and I admire his choice to broaden the definition of faith.

Quill's production of Red Velvet is a thoughtful and relevant reflection of the importance of theatre in continuing to break new ground - then and now.

Performances continue through February 9, 2019 at Dominion Energy Center's Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse.  For tickets call 804.340.0115.804.340.0115

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Talk is Cheap

Talk Radio, the brain child of playwright Eric Bogosian and Tad Savinar was originally staged off-Broadway in 1987 at The Public Theatre and starred Bogosian himself as Barry Champlain, the caustic, sarcastic and downright cruel late night shock jock. The play has since appeared on Broadway and been made into a film by Oliver Stone. 

With the advent of social media and forums like Facebook and Twitter where anonymous cruelty has been elevated to an art form, it is hard to imagine that 32 years later Talk Radio would still be as relevant.

But talk is cheaper than therapy. And people are still drawn to train wrecks.

5th Wall Theatre's production of Talk Radio, directed by Morrie Piersol, stars Scott Wichmann as Barry Champlain. And Wichmann steals the show. He IS the show. Which is not to diminish the performances of the supporting cast. But Wichmann commands the stage and the airways. His interaction with the unseen callers (Darrelle Brown, George Dippold, Chandler Hubbard, Gina McKenzie, John Mincks, and Paige Reisenfeld) provides the heart of the show. Just like actual late night talk radio, there is no show without the faceless callers addicted to abuse at the hands of the shock jocks.

TJ Spencieri's strong set design highlight's Champlain's dominance while diminishing the roles of the team around him. Some of the most effective scenes show the team frantically reacting to something that Champlain has said - you can see but not hear them behind the glass partition.

The sound design by Roger Price is also strong. It's easy to sit back in the audience and imagine you are on a long road trip in the middle of the night listening to desperate callers pouring out their hearts just to be verbally assaulted by the shock jocks they seem to idolize.

I've been on those road trips, and tuned in to the late night shows. It's mesmerizing in the same way that motorists slow down to gawk at a terrible wreck.

The action takes place just as Champlain's show is about to go into national syndication. Producer Dan Woodruff (Chandler Hubbard) has asked Champlain to tone it down a bit prompting Champlain to be even more outrageous. The action is phrenetic; Champlain smokes, drinks, swears, and carries on multiple conversations both with his unseen callers and the production team supporting him.

And it isn't just the callers who suffer Champlain's wrath. Stu Noonan (PJ Freebourn), the loyal tech who screens Champlain's calls is equally abused by the man he idolizes. And so is Champlain's assistant and sometimes lover, Linda Macarthur (Haliya Roberts). We get insight into the off-air, private Champlain through moving monologues delivered by Stu and Linda. 

The action is at its most intense when Kent (John Mincks) calls in reporting his girlfriend has possibly overdosed and may be dying. Champlain treats Kent with the same in-your-face, insulting disregard as he does the other "pathetic souls" who call in their fears, anxieties, prejudices, and loneliness.

And while the listeners generally relish the verbal battles, they call in to the station to express their concern for the safety of the girlfriend. Champlain takes the shock level up a notch by inviting Kent to come to the station and get on the air with him. The on-air interaction with Champlain and Kent is fascinating. Mincks charges the stage and offers one of the shows most memorable moments.

The show (and the station's programming) is bookended with Sidney Greenberg (Darrelle Brown) a loquacious tax advisor promoting a mortgage scheme and Dr. Susan Fleming (Gina Maria McKenzie) a soft-spoken psychologist who gives the play a serene conclusion.

Talk Radio is a lively and thought-provoking and Wichmann is mesmerizing. I could listen to him for another 32 years. But Talk Radio will be off-air after January 26, 2019. Tickets are available through 5th Wall Theatre at: The show is being performed at The Basement (300 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219).