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.