Sunday, October 24, 2021

Peccavi

Peccavi. Latin for I have sinned.

Peccavi. In my thoughts and in my words. In what I have done, and what I have failed to do. 

I am a racist. I want to qualify that with "but not intentionally," and "I'm not as bad as..." But it's important for me to acknowledge. I have said and done things that are racist without thinking. And I have failed to act. 

I have said of a person of color "they are so articulate." While I'd like to think I've also said that about a white person, I can't be certain. I have listened to people, even close friends, question a black person's intelligence or intentions and been silent.

Silence favors the oppressor. Never the oppressed.

The spring and summer of 2020 in Richmond, Virginia changed things. The Black Lives Matters protests turned the tables and toppled long-standing statues. They also exposed long-standing prejudice and hatred. I marched in some of those protests. I raised my fists and yelled "Black Lives Matters" until a black woman lovingly pointed out to me that perhaps it wasn't my fist to raise. Perhaps I should march alongside my black brothers and sisters and let them raise their fists, and shout their pain and anger. Perhaps I should march in silence and listen to their voices. 

Last week I saw The Niceties at Conciliation Lab and last night I saw Pipeline at November Theatre. I'm a critic, and it is my job to review-to turn a critical eye- on performances. I'm choosing not to do so now. I am choosing to lower my fist, to march in silence, and to learn. 

I am learning that while we all may share similar situations, our experiences are vastly different. 

When my youngest was twenty, I woke up to a call from my son. The police officer who pulled him over for excessive speed and sat him on the hood of his car and put him in handcuffs let him call my number over and over again until he reached me. I was shaken when I received that call. But I didn't live in fear of it on a daily basis. It never crossed my mind to fear that the officer might kill him. And in our privilege, my son who had been going 99 in a 65 zone, got to keep calling his mom until she picked up. And then he let my son come home to me. Scared and frightened of his mom's response, but not harmed. 

A few years ago I was at Starbucks when a man saw a sticker on my laptop- Let Bi Girls be Bi Girls- and exposed his bigotry and homophobia. "Evil," he whispered in my ear close enough so that his spittle wet my ears. "Your wicked thoughts and impure acts will land you in hell." He towered over me. I was seated in such a way  I couldn't get up. Yes, I was frightened and angry. But I could see the baristas watching what was happening. And knew they would step in before I was in any danger. 

I am a white person of privilege. I can display my activism with a sticker on my computer. And I can wear my orientation on my sleeve. But it is not my skin. I can tuck my computer away in a bag, and I can walk hand in hand with my husband and pass for straight.   

As a white person, I have seen myself reflected in almost every place I've walked into. My stories have been told for centuries. My skin color is reflected in history, and my triumphs have been celebrated. It's time for me to step back, to get out of my comfort zone, and to listen to the voices that speak truths that have never been, and will never be, mine. To take my white critical eye and turn it inward, while I take in and embrace and learn from the stories that are not mine to critique. 

It is not the job of people of color to entertain us or make us feel comfortable. Yes, theatre can entertain and comfort, but it ought to also provoke thought, and ask us to question long held beliefs. There have been difficult conversations in the Richmond theatre community over the past few weeks. It is my fervent hope that those of us in a position to do so can use these conversations to build bridges, and mend fences, and transform lives. In the end, aren't we all better off, isn't our community all the richer for the diverse viewpoints and experiences? Shouldn't we all feel that the arts reflect the full spectrum of humanity? 

I say yes. 

Please go see The Niceties and Pipeline. Support local theaters like The Conciliation Lab and Virginia Rep. Read the stories of Dominique Morriseu and Eleanor Burgess. Celebrate the strong and powerful work being done by directors of color like Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates and Katrinah Carol Lewis. Uplift the performances of newcomers to the scene like  Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew and Trevor Lawson and seasoned performers like Debra Clinton and Todd Patterson. 

Peccavi. Please forgive me.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Even If We Suck At It

Pivotal moments call us to dig deeper, to draw on inner strength we may not even know we possess.  We throw ourselves into the fire knowing we may get burned. And we would do it over and over again. Because some moments call us to love fiercely. Even if we suck at it.

For Trisha Lee (Marie Lucas) that moment comes when the young, widowed mother is challenged by her daughter, Jolene, in ways that cause Trisha to question everything she knows to be true. Jolene, who sports all black clothing with pink hair, informs her mom that she isn't a girl. At least not all girl. She's also part boy. "Jo" is gender queer - a revelation that will upend everything in Trisha's life. 

Richmond Triangle Players returns to theatre with a sucker punch to the gut with The Pink Unicorn, brilliantly directed by Raja Benz who takes Eliser Forier Edie's play, a masterfully written piece of LGBTQIA activism,  and creates a moving, thought-provoking, hopeful and gorgeous work of art. 

Marie Lucas is breathtaking in her role as the grieving mom who takes on an entire town in order to advocate for her child whose coming out has lasting implications for the small Texas town.

Lucas is funny and poignant with a perfect range of emotion. Every step of the way I was rooting for the courageous mama bear learning how to best love her cub. Anything, including accepting  that the child she knew as a little girl with a pink unicorn, is their own person, with their own truth. 

Confronting the alphabet soup that is the LGBTQIA umbrella is daunting. Trisha vacillates from terrified and angry to bewildered and ultimately curious and accepting. We learn with Trisha as she educates herself in personal pronouns, gender identities, marginalization, advocacy, and humanity. 

                                                                Photo Credit: John MacLellan

Ms. Lucas wears overalls, her hair in braids and tied with a bandana. Around her waist is a tool belt with colored chalk she uses to fill in the chalkboard that provides the three walls of the set.  As she narrates Trisha's story, she creates a mural depicting a small town woman learning the world is just a bit bigger and more colorful than the neat and tidy box she's always known.  

In the end, all that matters is love. It's the bottom line.  In  protecting and loving Jo as fiercely as she can, Trisha takes on her bigoted church, her narrow-minded mother and becomes a reluctant champion of equal rights. Her love is messy. She gets things wrong. She sometimes "sucks" at it. Sometimes it's a snot-nosed, drunken weep fest at the local bar. Other times it is questioning a god who would take her husband, leaving her to navigate uncharted territory alone.

The lights, the sound, the costuming all enhance what is at its core a beautiful story of a woman learning to expand her worldview to see her child as they are.

The Pink Unicorn is a script I wish I'd written. In Benz's extraordinarily talented hands, with Lucas' gripping performance, The Pink Unicorn is one of the best shows I've seen in a very long time, from a theatre that is often known for light-hearted and fun musicals and cabaret fare. This is a serious piece that leaves no doubt that RTP isn't just about getting laughs, that they take seriously their mission to produce "transformational" theatre "rooted in LGBTQ+ experiences, and supporting and celebrating the development of queer artistry."

We are not called to be perfect. We are called to show up, to grow, to rise above our limited worldview. And we are called to love - imperfectly. 

Even if we suck at it.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

They Came Back!

Yep. They came back indeed. 

Socially-distanced, and masked, a respectable crowd of theatre lovers attended VA Rep's first live production since the pandemic dimmed the lights more than a year ago. 

Ella and Her Fella Frank was a fitting choice for VA Rep's return. Light fare, familiar music, and two of the most beloved local actors - Scott Wichmann (Frank Sinatra) and Desiree Roots (Ella Fitzgerald). A dip your toes in the water kind of re-entry. Refreshing, not too deep, and fun. 

This juke box musical was first conceptualized in 1999 by the late Randy Strawderman. With his family in the audience and a dimming of the lights after the show, this memorial performance was a fitting tribute to a man who was an influential part of the Richmond theatre community. 

Written by Bo Wilson, and directed by Katrinah Carol Lewis, Ella and Her Fella Frank imagines the heavenly reunion of real-life friends Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. 

Roots was resplendent as the legendary Fitzgerald, with truly knockout costuming. And Wichmann, long known for his portrayal of Sinatra, was handsome and charming. Every so often he would glance up to the balcony where his wife was sitting. My heart melted. 

Roots and Wichmann sang their hearts out with performances of favorites such as 'Lady and the Tramp,' 'Can't We Be Friends,' 'Cheek to Cheek,' and a scat-tastic "It Don't Mean a Thing.'
Unfortunately, the live band often, and in key moments, drowned out their sound. At times it seemed to be the battle of the saxophones rather than the duets of Ella and Frank. 

It was opening night, so hopefully the sound balance has been worked out. The show really does have the potential to be heavenly. 

The set was impressive. I loved the globe-shaped lights. The musicians were appropriately and safely spaced. Along with the nuanced lighting, we really did get the feel of being in an intimate night club. 

And there were several nods to the pandemic. Roots and Wichmann moved around the stage at an arm's length from each other - socially distanced dancing - and each time they tried to touch, there was an invisible shield that drove them apart. 

Near the end, they were finally able to embrace . . . life beginning to return to normal. 

As she enters the stage, a look of wonder on her face, Roots comments to band leader/pianist Larri Branch "they came back!" 

"Yep," was his signature reply. 

 And we did come back. And it felt momentous. There were more than a few tears. I cried a few of them. 
When Phil Whiteway addressed the audience and welcomed them back after the long hiatus, I got choked up. 

VA Rep's Ella and Her Fella Frank was just the right way to bring back the audience. Congratulations to the entire cast and crew for getting our feet wet after so long out of the water. 

Performances continue through September 12, 2021. For tickets click here.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Telling the Truth - Unusual Politics

"We're not going to have the America that we want until we elect leaders who are going to tell the truth - not most days, but every day." - Ann Richards

There's nothing "usual" about politics these days nor live theatre in the time of COVID. But there is some hope - for both - and it can be found at Firehouse Theatre in Holland Taylor's gem of a play, Ann.

The larger-than-life former Governor of Texas is channeled by Jaqueline Jones who transforms into Governor Richards before our eyes. Jones' trademark sense of humor and exceptional acting talent are on full display as she gives the audience a glimpse into the life of the boisterous, opinionated, and feminist advocate for the people.


                                                                    Photo by Bill Sigafoos

Ann Richards first came to national attention at the 1988 Democratic Convention and soon was well-known and beloved for her no-nonsense, truth-telling advocacy of the marginalized.  Ann takes the audience through Richards' unusual path from the local PTA, a failed marriage, and an alcohol problem, to her one-term governorship. A role which demonstrated to women from all walks of life and political viewpoints that there IS a place for women and it IS in higher office.

In addition to Jones' truly rich performance, kudos go out to the top notch production team. Billy Christopher Maupin's direction was seamless, and Todd Labelle's lighting was spot on (pun intended). Granted, she had a load of talent to work with, but Erica Hughes' did a phenomenal job as dialect coach. I watched the 1988 Democratic Convention, and I could sit back, close my eyes and believe I was hearing Governor Richards' voice. 

I enjoyed every minute of Ann

No, there isn't anything usual about politics or theatre these days, but art prevails and feeds our souls even during the worst of times. And Firehouse Theatre (and the entire production team and actors committed to a safe and meaningful experience) makes this possible with contactless performances limited to 2, 4, 6 or 8 (who do we appreciate? Firehouse!) audience members. And select performances are live-streamed (see below for the remaining performance schedule and ticketing information).

Firehouse Theatre's synopsis of Ann notes "one of Richards' most passionate beliefs was that democracy depended on everyone voting and actively participating in manifesting the ideals of equality and justice for all." 

Go Vote. Our lives and livelihoods hang in the balance.


Performance Schedule:

Fri, Oct 16  @ 7:30pm (capacity of 8)
*Sat, Oct 17 @ 7:30pm (capacity of 8)
Sun, Oct 18 @ 4pm (capacity of 8)
Fri, Oct 23  @ 7:30pm (capacity of 8)
Sat, Oct 24 @ 7:30pm (capacity of 8)
*Sun, Oct 25 @ 4pm (capacity of 8)

*live-streamed performances (capacities are for the performances at Firehouse, not the stream)

Tickets are available for the live performances at  https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040c44a5a828a7ff2-ann for a suggested donation of $30 or pay what you will.

And to sign up for one of the two live streamed performance go to
https://forms.gle/dnmhhqXGcjXvs1BLA

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.