Eugene Strikes Back! "Broadway Bound" at Workshop Theatre Completes Acclaimed Neil Simon Trilogy

bwaybound "Being in love can be a real career killer.”

That's a classic quote from the beloved Eugene Morris Gerome, the protagonist of Broadway Bound, the final play in Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy, which opens this Friday, January 16 in The Market Space at 701 Whaley.   University of South Carolina professor David Britt, who directed both previous installments for Workshop Theatre, returns to finish out the series.

USC senior Ryan Stevens steps into the lead role to complete the Eugene trifecta.  “First and foremost, it’s a real honor to get to step in and be the culminating Eugene," says Stevens.  "Jared Kemmerling, who played him in Brighton Beach Memoirs, really created a very youthful, energetic portrait of Eugene as a kid.  Jay Fernandes, whom I’ve gotten the pleasure of working with personally, carried him through into young adulthood in Biloxi Blues.  They both, in their respective shows, had to show Eugene growing up and adapting to different things - to the Depression, to the War, etc.,” Stevens says.  "For me, in Broadway Bound, he’s older now - he’s starting his proper adult life. He’s got a chance here, a chance for efficacy. In the previous two plays, Eugene was really more observant, of family drama, of drama in his unit. With his career here, with the chance to become a writer, he’s getting an opportunity to actually do something for himself, for everyone to see.”

As a member of USC’s improv troupe Toast and a playwright himself, Stevens is no stranger to comedy and to the trials that a writer such as Eugene may face.

“I’m about his age, and as a senior here at USC, I’m about to be in a pretty similar career situation.  I know how he feels, absolutely!  When you’re writing, you want to believe what you’re writing in, and sometimes that carries over into a sort of syndrome where you just decide ‘This first draft? It’s flawless. Final draft. Done.’   Eugene’s brother, Stanley, in a lot of the scenes they share, is poking holes in the logic of what Eugene writes. Every critique he has is valid, but for Eugene, it’s infuriating!  Any writer, in having their work reviewed, has that feeling of ‘Dammit, I know the logic is weak and this joke didn’t land and there’s a huge plot hole there, but I’ll be DAMNED if someone who isn’t me is going to tell me!’ I like to think that I, as Ryan, have gotten better at taking critique, but Eugene still bristles a little when he has to do the dreaded thing that haunts all writers’ dreams: edit,” Stevens elaborates.

 

William Cavitt as Stanley and Ryan Stevens as Eugene

 

Alongside all these comedic moments there is still a serious story to be told.

Simon is “very deft at handling all the clashing moods that happen inside this little house," Stevens explains. "David Britt has been great at reminding us that all of the humor comes from the same place as the drama, because it comes from us, the characters, the people and our relationships to one another. Neither humor nor drama really occur in a vacuum -- there has to be the human element to tether it, to make it feel real (and) relatable,”

While the story may be set in a decade different to our own, audiences today can still cherish the lessons learned through the eyes of a young writer similar to Stevens himself.

“Right now, these days, there’s all this talk about how this generation is the worst generation ever, that we’re lazy and entitled, and all this nonsense, which I really think is nonsense, because we didn’t do any of this! We didn’t create the world’s problems - the generation before us did, and we’re just the ones footing the bill. But by the same token, we’ll stand a much better chance of solving our problems and closing this hostile generation gap if we quit believing it ourselves. A lot of people my age have heard it so much that they’ve started believing it themselves,” Stevens says.  "Broadway Bound is very clear in the fact that the previous generation of adults is always just as backwards and screwed up as the current one. It was true in the 1940’s, it’s true today, and it’ll be true in the future. There are always generation gaps. Broadway Bound wants the younger generation to realize that their parents are fallible, yes, and fallible because they’re people too. The age range in the play is at the point where the youngest character is 23, and therefore, nobody is a child anymore. Everyone is sort of on an equal playing field. Which is how it should be, for young and old. There’s no talking down in this play, there’s no pretension or condescension to anyone. The kids and the parents are on the same plane. Does that level of emotional honesty have some blowback? Of course. But it’s still better than acting like the people of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are too divided to communicate.”

Broadway Bound's cast includes Samantha Elkins and Lou Warth Boeschen, returning from 2013's production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, again playing Eugene's mother Kate and her sister Blanche respectively.  William Cavitt,who appeared in Britt's 2014 production of Biloxi Blues in a different role, will portray older brother Stanley, while Chris Cook, last as seen as Lear opposite Cavitt's Edgar in this past fall's SC Shakespeare Company production of King Lear, plays father Jack. David Reed, who performed with Cook and Cavitt in the 2013 High Voltage production of Dracula, rounds out the cast as grandfather Ben. Reed in a way comes full circle with this performance, having played Jack in a 1990 incarnation of Broadway Bound at Town Theatre. The original Broadway production ran for over two years, and was nominated for four Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards, winning two of each, and was a 1987 Pulitzer finalist. The original cast included Jonathan Silverman, and Jason Alexander (who went on to star in The Single Guy and Seinfeld respectively) as Eugene and Stanley, with Linda Lavin (a Golden Globe winner for the long-running tv series Alice) as Kate.

Workshop Theatre's new production of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound will run January 16-25 at The Market Space at 701 Whaley. Tickets can be purchased through the Box Office at (803) 799-6551, or online at www.workshoptheatre.com .

~ Haley Sprankle

A. R. Gurney's "The Dining Room" - Rachel Arling reviews the new Workshop Theatre production

10698504_722000094522659_2184738282356308280_n “The trouble is, we’ll never use this room. . . The last two houses we lived in, my wife used the dining room table to sort the laundry.”

So says a modern home buyer during the first scene of A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room, a series of vignettes that take place in an upper-middle-class dining room throughout several time periods. As someone whose formal dining room has been converted into a home office, I can relate to the home buyer in the play. Dining rooms are practically obsolete these days, right? However, Gurney’s play reminds us that there was a time when they were the center of family life. The decline of the dining room coincides with the weakening dominance of the “WASPs of the Northeastern United States.” Gurney alternates between satirizing this “vanishing culture” and showing nostalgia for it. Ultimately, though, the play is less concerned with documenting a specific society, and more concerned with presenting universal snapshots of human life.

Workshop Theatre’s production, directed by Daniel Gainey, uses six actors to portray over fifty characters.  It is a true ensemble show, so all of the actors remain visible onstage the entire time. The minimalist set by Richard Király consists of a single wall covered with picture frames, which are left empty so that we can imagine decor suitable for each household and time period depicted in the play.  There are no props--nearly everything is mimed.  Six high-backed wooden dining room chairs are the only furniture pieces.   I expected a table; however, Gainey’s decision to leave the table to the imagination is smart because it allows for more flexibility with blocking, keeping the show visually interesting.

The versatile cast includes Hans Boeschen, George Dinsmore, Samantha Elkins, Ruth Glowacki, Emily Padgett, and Lee Williams. The actors wear unobtrusive black clothing, relying solely on physical and vocal characterization to differentiate their parts. The show’s only costume piece is an apron that signifies servant status (all of the women play maids at some point). Each actor plays a variety of ages, from stern grandparents to excitable young guests at a birthday party.  The actors are especially effective when they play children; during the birthday scene, they burst with giddy energy, but try hilariously hard to contain it so they can placate the adults and receive their cake. Other notable acting moments include Boeschen and Elkins’ utter certainty that their family’s future is at risk because of a single remark someone made at their country club, and Glowacki and Dinsmore’s strong chemistry that develops while their characters crawl around on the floor (don’t ask.)

cap

The show’s most touching vignette occurs at the end of the first act. Padgett plays an elderly woman who struggles with dementia and cannot recognize her own family during Thanksgiving dinner. Padgett masterfully portrays the woman’s attempts to overcome her confusion and hold on to her train of thought. The woman’s most devoted son (played by Williams) tries every method he can possibly think of to help her remember, and his refusal to give up is heartbreakingly beautiful.

In a play with so many separate stories, some are bound to be more engaging than others. Most of my favorite scenes happened during the first act, so the second act seemed to pass more slowly for me. Luckily, if a particular scene fails to catch your interest, you can rest assured that a completely different scene will replace it soon enough. With a running time of about two hours (including intermission), the show is not too long.

My only real complaint about this production is the fact that the actors never exit the stage even when their characters temporarily leave the dining room. In such instances, the actors just walk upstage, turn around, and stand stiffly until it is time for them to re-enter the scene. This situation becomes awkward when the actors have “offstage” lines, which they deliver while remaining rigidly still and facing backward. I would have been less distracted if the actors in question had simply exited the stage for a short time. I think Gainey was perhaps overly committed to the concept of keeping all the actors visible the entire time. However, this scenario only occurs a couple of times throughout the play, so it’s not a big deal.

On the whole, Workshop’s production of The Dining Room is a success. Gainey makes an admirable directing debut, and he has selected a cast of actors who are game to try anything. Watching them play with the material is a treat.  The Dining Room runs through this Sunday, November  9, at The Market Space at 701 Whaley, with evening performances at 8 PM Friday, Saturday and Sunday, plus matinee performances at 3 PM on Saturday and Sunday.  Visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com/TheDiningRoom.html or call (803) 799-6551 for more information.

~ Rachel Arling

Director Daniel Gainey Dishes on Workshop Theatre's "The Dining Room," opening Thursday 11/6 at 701 Whaley - a preview by Haley Sprankle

10698504_722000094522659_2184738282356308280_n Chattering excitedly, the cast of The Dining Room at Workshop Theatre fills the room with energy as they await the start of rehearsal.

“Alright everyone, let’s get started.”

The cast immediately focuses, and Act I begins.

“And the dining room!  You can see how these rooms were designed to catch the morning light.”

The Dining Room is a play by A. R. Gurney which features 18 vignettes set in various dining rooms, and the problems each family may face in theirs.

In director Daniel Gainey’s upcoming production, there is a cast of six actors (Ruth Glowacki, Samantha Elkins, Emily Padgett, George Dinsmore, Hans Boeschen, and Lee Williams) who portray all the characters, young or old.

cap

"If I win the lottery, I'd form an acting troupe with this group and be a happy man. I look at them, and can't help but smile that six intelligent and talented people trust me enough to risk themselves and their craft for my vision.  It's humbling, and they are so brilliant," Gainey remarks.

Not only does having the cast play a multitude of characters of different ages showcase each actor’s versatility as a performer, but it also gives a sense of timelessness to the play; it shows that we all carry the issues we face throughout our lives.

"Nostalgia is a vicious plague or an effective sedative, depending on where you fall in history,” Gainey says. “Gurney is poking at a lot of nostalgic icons or scenarios, as if to make us diagnose ourselves. Are we holding on to our pasts because our futures are empty, or are we living in a past dream to avoid a current nightmare? What are we really missing, and is it worth the energy we spend to pass it to the next generation? Those questions are relevant everywhere and at all times, I think."

This generational difference plays a major part in the production. Each scene is set in a different time with people of differing ages trying desperately to understand each other.

“That’s your generation, Dad.”

“That’s every generation.”

“It’s not mine.”

“Every generation has to make an effort.”

Although new generations may bring change, people often still hold on to what they know, and hold on to the past.

"When you walk in a room, but forget why you went there - that pull, that path that leads you to that spot over and over again - like the pause in a seeming ridiculous, heavy handed run-on sentence - that feeling is what this show is all about,” Gainey says.

Gainey’s direction of the cast and minimalist use of props and costumes draws the audience in to what the story is really about: a sense of home.

The Dining Room connects, whether it is the room or the play. But I didn't want this to be a love letter to a room that is disappearing in many new home constructions,” Gainey says. “For me, it's the characters. I feel like I've known the people before--or even be related to them--and sometimes, I think I am these characters. When a play can do that, you have to dig into it."

The Dining Room runs at 701 Whaley’s Market Space from November 6-9. Thursday through Sunday performances are at 8 p.m. with additional matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. Go to workshop.palmettoticketing.com, or call (803) 799-6551 to reserve your tickets now.

~ Haley Sprankle

Five Guys Named Moe: Workshop Theatre Opens New Season at 701 Whaley - by Haley Sprankle

New beginnings spark for Workshop Theatre as they open their 2014-2015 season with the  jukebox musical Five Guys Named Moe.   The biggest change the company is facing is their new  performance location in The Market Space at 701 Whaley Street. guysnamedmoe3

"Five Guys Named Moe is the first production in this new space," says the show's director, Lou Boeschen.  "No precedents have been set indicating how we should transform this completely empty space into an intimate theatre. This  can be both good and bad. You are open to think outside the box and set the stage any way you  like, but you don't have the experiences of a prior production to show what works or doesn't  work in the space.”

This new space opens up vast opportunities for inventive, fresh new staging opportunities, which add a new level of artistry that audiences may not have seen at Workshop before. Each director is able  to completely create his or her desired environment, allowing a lot of liberties with blocking and  staging.

“When I first started to visualize Five Guys Named Moe, it was difficult not to see it in the  familiar setting of Craft Auditorium at the corner of Bull and Gervais Streets," said Boeschen.  "After meeting with  set designer, Lee Shepherd, I was able to quickly adjust my thinking. I came to Lee with several  ideas about how I wanted the stage area to be arranged with different levels and a dedicated  place for the band. He took those ideas and, using his expertise for building a set off-site and  moving it into a performance space, came up with a fantastic design.”

The front porch at the Market Space at 701 Whaley

Not only will the new space be created to fit the musical and the vision that Boeschen has, but it also  must accommodate a live band, which is not always the case with every theatre.   “There will be a live band led by our musical director, Roland Haynes, Jr. He's assembled a quintet of  talented musicians, a few of whom he plays jazz gigs with regularly," explained Boeschen. "The music is the core of this  piece, a character in a sense. It is important to me that the band be a part of the action on stage.  From their bandstand on the right side of the stage area, the cast members are able to interact  with Roland and the other musicians.”

The cast has been rehearsing in the Workshop Theatre rehearsal space on Elmwood Avenue, and will be able to  move into the theatre just a short four days before they open.

fiveguys2

“Throughout the rehearsal process, I referred to the ground plan design often when explaining  blocking and spacing to the cast," Boeschen recalls.  "The cast is using some of the smaller set pieces already in the  rehearsal space, which is not much smaller than the area that will be set as a stage at 701  Whaley.  Joy Alexander, the choreographer, has worked hard to create perfect choreography for  this style of show, but she has also kept it very flexible. The first night on the set, Sunday, will  be used for blocking and adjusting choreography spacing. I am anticipating needing to  make a few adjustments, but nothing major,” said Boeschen.

Along with all the adjustments and accommodations that the theatre faces as they debut in their  new performance space, Boeschen will also debut as a director.

fiveguys1“I felt it was time to get my feet wet and direct a show. I didn't want to tackle a huge musical  production my first time at the helm, however, so a small revue-style show seemed like a good  starting point. I submitted my interest to direct and was chosen by the play selection committee  at Workshop to direct Five Guys Named Moe. I love Louis Jordan's music, and the story written  by Clarke Peters that connects the songs is genuine,” said Boeschen.

fiveguys3Although Workshop has produced Five Guys Named Moe before, this new cast brings a fresh  take on the musical.  “There are a couple of names and faces in the cast that audiences will recognize from previous  productions at Workshop, Town Theatre, Trustus and even Opera USC, but we have some  newcomers as well. The guys all have rich musical backgrounds, which is a blessing for a show  like Five Guys Named Moe. I've enjoyed working with both the seasoned performers and the  first-timers, as they each bring a distinct energy and eagerness to the process,” Boeschen said.

Five Guys Named Moe runs September 18-21 in The Market Space at 701 Whaley. Regular priced adult tickets are $22, senior and active military tickets are $20, student tickets are $16,  and children (12 & under) are $12.  Come out for a new experience at a new location with an old friend, Workshop  Theatre.

~ Haley Sprankle, Jasper intern

From press material:

The Story: His woman left him, he’s broke, and it’s almost five o’clock in the mornin’. But don’t be worryin’ ’bout our hero, Nomax. Out of Nomax’s ’30s-style radio pop Five Guys Named Moe. They cajole, wheedle, comfort and jazz him with the whimsical hit songs of Louis Jordan, one of the most beloved songwriting talents of the twentieth century. With more than fifty top ten singles on the rhythm and blues charts, this great composer and saxophonist brought a popular new slant to jazz that paved the way for the rock-and-roll of the 1950’s.

Five Guys Named Moe show dates and times: Thursday, September 18 @ 8 pm Friday, September 19 @ 8 pm Saturday, September 20 @ 3 pm and 8 pm Sunday, September 21 @ 3 pm and 8 pm

Go to workshoptheatre.com to purchase tickets online or call the Box Office at 803-799-6551 between noon and 5:30 pm. Workshop Theatre’s Box Office is located at 635 Elmwood Ave., Columbia, SC, 29201. Box Office hours are from noon to 5:30 pm. Reservations can be made online 24 hours a day through the website.

 

Transylvania Mania at Workshop Theatre - a review of "Young Frankenstein" by Jillian Owens

youngfrank1 It seems appropriate that the last show ever to be performed by Workshop Theatre at their Gervais and Bull Street location would be Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein. Emotions surrounding their move to 701 Whaley run high among the Columbia theatre community. Only something silly and fun will do for this occasion. Adapted from the 1974 film of the same name, Young Frankenstein tells the story of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fron-ken-steen”!), grandson to that other Frankenstein who terrorized the townsfolk of Transylvania with his monsters for decades.

Kyle Collins as Dr. Frankenstein - photo by Rob Sprankle

Frederick is summoned to Transylvania to claim his inheritance when his Grandfather dies. At first, he has no intention of “joining the family business” of creating monsters, but then he meets Igor (played by Frank Thompson), a masterless hunchbacked stooge who pronounces his name “Eye-gor,” and who softens his resolve in the song "Together Again (for the First Time."  A visit from the ghost of his dead grandfather (played by Hunter Boyle), and the temptation of taking on a sultry local by the name of Inga (played by Courtney Selwyn) as his lab assistant remove it altogether. With the assistance of Igor, Inga, and his horse-scaring housekeeper Frau Blucher (played by Elena Martinez-Vidal, he builds a monster that-- you guessed it--ends up terrorizing the village.

Elena Martinez as Frau Blucher ("Nee-e-e-e-igh!") - photo by Rob Sprankle

This is one of the best put-together casts I’ve seen. Kyle Collins is a delightfully neurotic Dr. Frankenstein, and Thompson is a brilliantly hilarious Igor. Vicky Saye Henderson delivers a standout performance as the Doctor’s madcap socialite fiancée, Elizabeth Benning, who is more than a bit frigid with the good doctor in the song "Please Don't Touch Me." Selwyn is an exciting and relatively new talent, having only one other production under her belt (the recent Ragtime at Trustus.) With impressive vocal chops and other…ahem…assets, she is perfectly cast as Inga, and I look forward to seeing her talent grow in future productions. Martinez-Vidal earned the most laughter as Frau Blucher, sometimes without havingto say a thing.  Jason Kinsey is perfectly cast as The Monster, and his “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number does not disappoint.

Courtney Selwyn as Inga - photo by Rob Sprankle

This is one of those rare Columbia productions that has somehow managed to capture the best of our local talent, and has showcased it fantastically well. Even the ensemble is comprised of actors and actresses whom I’m accustomed to seeing in lead roles. And I’ve never seen a show where the cast is so clearly having such a ridiculous amount of fun.

Frank Thompson as Igor - photo by Rob Sprankle

That’s what this show is. Pure fun. Well, not all that pure. There are plenty of bawdy jokes, songs (such as the song, “Deep Love,” which is referring to exactly what you think it’s referring to) , and silly sight gags. But this is nothing that would surprise anyone who’s ever seen a Mel Brooks film.

Young Frankenstein is a big show, both in cast size, and technically speaking. Randy Strange has done a phenomenal job with the challenging set requirements, most impressively in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. This is a bittersweet compliment, as this is to be Strange’s last show in his decades-long career-- but what a way to go out. What couldn’t possibly be built on such a small stage is created through the clever use of projections by Baxter Engle, also credited as Sound Designer for this show.

Director Chad Henderson, Choreographer Mandy Applegate, and Music Director Tom Beard have created a production that is truly a triple threat. Great direction, great choreography, and great musical talent have come together to make the last show on this stage something truly special.  Young Frankenstein runs though Saturday, May 24;  contact the box office at 803-799-6551, or visit www.workshoptheatre.com for ticket information.

workshop

"Biloxi Blues" at Workshop Theatre - a review by August Krickel

biloxi1 Last spring, Workshop Theatre audiences were introduced to the young Eugene Jerome, a horny, wisecracking, young teenager with a sensitive, intellectual side in Brighton Beach Memoirs. The alter-ego for playwright Neil Simon in his acclaimed and semi-autobiographical "Eugene trilogy" (also referred to as the "BB trilogy"), Eugene has now matured. Into a horny, wisecracking older teenager with a sensitive intellectual side. It's 1943, and he's in boot camp in Mississippi, experiencing Biloxi Blues. Director David Britt returns with a strong and age-appropriate young cast to track this next step of Eugene's journey. The tone is intentionally uneven, alternating between classic sketch comedy, sweet romance, and intense, character-driven drama, and the language and themes are at times as R-rated as you'd expect from the setting, but it's an amazingly honest memoir from Simon.

As Eugene, Jason Fernandes strikes the perfect tone as a young man in the process of finding himself. He still has an incredible gift for wordplay and funny observations about life, which, as in the earlier play, he often delivers to the audience directly, narrating the play's action which stops long enough for him to break the fourth wall. Yet Eugene now knows he wants to be writer; he's read all the great authors whom he hopes to emulate, and in his journal, his observations on life and human nature are fairly deep and insightful. Matthew Broderick played the role on Broadway to great acclaim just before filming Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Eugene is a wittier (if less mischievous) Ferris, if Ferris were a Jewish New Yorker. (In one of those "Awwww" moments, Broderick evidently brought cast mate Alan Ruck, who played Pvt. Carney on Broadway, along to Hollywood, where Ruck played Ferris's best friend Cameron.) Fernandes's bio indicates he is from Long Island and a freshman in college, so he already has the accent and age down pat.  Resembling a young Adam Sandler, he successfully navigates the tricky jumps in tone from wisdom to naiveté to working the crowd like a Borscht Belt comedian.

biloxi3Another standout in the cast is William Cavitt as Wykowski, ostensibly the gung-ho bully in Eugene's platoon. Unrecognizable from the dapper British gentleman he played in High Voltage's Dracula last fall, Cavitt also excels at revealing the humanity in what could have easily been a stereotypical stock character. Stephen Canada also has some good moments as sad sack Carney, and like Cavitt, does a great job with capturing the Northern accent. Canada and Fernandes have a surprisingly touching scene which shows how clearly, yet simultaneously subtly, Eugene is growing up.  Seemingly insulting Carney as untrustworthy due to his constant vacillation, Eugene explains that they are both about to be in combat situations where decisiveness can save their lives, which is a very mature observation for a kid just a few weeks into basic training.

As local hooker Rowena, Jennifer Moody Sanchez is appropriately sexy and vampy, biloxi2showing trace elements of compassion as she realizes that she will be Eugene's first. (As above, part of the honest nature of this play is that we find ourselves rooting for an innocent kid to lose his virginity to a hooker.) Her Southern accent drips with magnolia blossom honey, much like Park Overall's film portrayal, and almost seems too extreme, but we've all known ladies from that era who drawl with great pride, plus this is a memory play, and that's surely how all Southern accents sounded to both Simon and Eugene.

biloxi6Winsome Haley Sprankle shines as Daisy, the adorable sort of red-headed Catholic school girl that we'd all go fight Hitler for in a heartbeat. Her scenes with Eugene are a great example of Simon's excellence with dialogue:  Eugene, as the surrogate for the playwright, has the advantage of a middle-aged Tony-winner from the 1980's writing his snappy lines, while Daisy speaks like the heroine of a 1940's war movie.  The way they flirt at a USO dance by bonding over literature is just incredibly well-written, and well-acted by these young performers: he is familiar with Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan and Henry James's Daisy Miller, she counters that she also likes Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and O'Neill's Anna Christie, and of course he points out that he likes writers named Eugene. That's the basis for true love right there, or what passes for it when millions of young men were shipping off to war, with no guarantee of return. Fernandes, Cavitt, Canada, Sanchez and Sprankle are also uniformly strong with projection.

A pivotal subplot involves misfit Pvt. Epstein (Colby Gambrell) and the harsh discipline biloxi5of Drill Sgt. Toomey (Lee Williams.) Eugene acknowledges Epstein's criticism that he is too much of an observer, recording his life experiences with a writer's skill, but rarely taking the lead. Both characters suffer from the anti-Semitism of the era, but Eugene finds a way to blend in via his wit and social skills, which is a recurring theme, and source of guilt, for many Jewish authors. Eugene rarely jokes in his diary entries, and writes that he admires Epstein, but suspects that he is a homosexual, which bothers him - and it bothers him that it bothers him. Which is about as eloquent and honest a line as I can imagine.

Toomey goes through the expected tyrannical procedures familiar to us from a hundred movies, and from the war stories of our fathers and grandfathers, but again, Simon shows his dramatic gift via tiny nuances of characterization: no matter how harsh Toomey is on his men, the one time he will come to someone's defense is if anyone within the unit is anything but supportive of his fellow soldiers. And sure enough, halfway through the play, no one is complaining about the physical rigors of boot camp any more, and the aggressive barracks-room banter has acquired a sort of rough camaraderie and acceptance. Epstein is often called the central character of the piece, but Gambrell rushes a lot of his lines, and more often cedes focus to Fernandes. Williams likewise has got the right anger and aggression for Toomey, but I never quite accepted him as a tough non-com, although he'd make a terrific rigid captain or major. That said, he is quite convincing in an unexpectedly tender moment when the platoon loses one of their own, calling the youth "son" as only a leader can.   Williams has had a baptism by fire in his first two years of local theatre, tackling challenging roles in works by Henley and Albee, and I look forward to more from him in the future. I also suspect that a few run-throughs with a live audience by the time you read this will have given Gambrell the opportunity to even out a little of his delivery.

biloxi4As above, several scenes are Simon's chance to lend his considerable comedic talent to vintage skits about fresh recruits bantering with their drill sergeant, and GI's with a weekend pass at a whorehouse. Other scenes, however, are genuinely moving drama, with Simon demonstrating that his career could have gone in the direction of his idols like Fitzgerald, had comic genius not been his meal ticket to fame. Simon is of course famous for his comedies, but we need to remember that he has more Tony and Oscar nominations than any other writer in the world. He has won the Pulitzer, and four Tony awards, including one for this very play, which beat out  Tracers, As Is, and new works from August Wilson and David Rabe, for best play in 1985.  The juxtaposition of jokes and raw emotion may be a little unsettling for those looking for The Odd Couple, as will the language and frank sexuality, but the pay-off is worth it.

A couple of random notes: I commend the male cast for fully committing to their roles - all sport military buzz-cuts, significantly helping the show's authenticity, and all manage to do some intense push-ups on stage while not dropping a single line.  Also, full disclosure, I may not be entirely impartial here, because a lifetime ago I played Eugene's older brother in the third play in this trilogy, and when Eugene declares that there must be at least 52 sexual positions, since he once saw a pack of dirty playing cards, I instantly thought "Well, his brother had to have given him those!"

Biloxi Blues runs through Sat. March 29th at Workshop Theatre; call the box office at (803) 799-6551, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com/BiloxiBlues.html for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

 

 

"Crimes of the Heart" - a review of the new show at Workshop Theatre

(L-R) Katie Mixon, Allison Allgood, Erin Huiett Tennessee Williams meets Steel Magnolias meets Charmed. That's how Crimes of the Heart might be pitched for a tv miniseries, as the power of three sisters reunited by family crisis enables them to navigate the murky swamp waters of Southern Gothic dysfunction. Beth Henley's dark comedy (or witty drama, depending on your perception) was all the rage in the early '80's, winning both the Pulitzer and the Critics' Circle Award for best play, receiving multiple nominations for Tony awards and Oscars (for its screen incarnation) and running for 535 performances on Broadway.  In ensuing years it has become a staple of regional and community theatre, due to its small cast, simple set, and easily-accessible-themes of love, loss, conflict and reconciliation among family members. These themes, being universal, have been addressed in other works before and since, and as a result, much of the material seems awfully familiar, but director Jocelyn Sanders has chosen a talented cast for her revival currently running at Workshop Theatre, and they ensure a spirited and lively evening of fun on stage.

The Magrath sisters can't get a break.  Their mother notoriously committed suicide when they were children, after their father abandoned them; the grandfather who raised them now clings to life in a hospital. Eldest sister Lenny (Allison Allgood) faces becoming a spinster as she turns 30 in small-town Mississippi in 1974, while free-spirited, scandalous middle sister Meg (Katie Mixon) is recovering from a failed show business career and a stay in a psychiatric hospital. Meg's return coincides with the arrest of youngest sister Babe (Erin Huiett) for the attempted murder of her abusive husband. As the play opens, we learn that even a beloved family horse was struck by lightning.  This all sounds pretty grim, yet most of the show plays like a situation comedy, as if Tennessee Williams had penned a terribly wicked episode of Designing Women. Lenny is a more functional version of The Glass Menagerie's Laura or Summer and Smoke's Alma, with Meg and Babe high-strung variations on Blanche Dubois.  (If in parallel time streams Blanche had either set out for California, or married a rich lawyer, only to give in to her penchant for young boytoys.)  Mixon portrays Meg fairly seriously, allowing the laughs to come naturally with the lines, while Allgood goes for a more comic interpretation, while nevertheless revealing assorted wounds and vulnerabilities.  Huiett faces the biggest challenge. In the notes I took during the performance, I see that at three different times I wrote "This is a woman on the edge."  Huiett employs an array of vocal mannerisms and affectations to convey a person repressing deep emotions, and some work better than others.  There's a detached, upwards lilt to much of her delivery, yet to me, it's indicative of her very tenuous grasp on stability.  Babe chooses each word very carefully, fearful that she may reveal too much about the shooting and what led up to it, and more fearful that recalling certain events may send her off the deep end.  It takes getting used to, but there is great power in her performance, especially in a riveting monologue midway through the show.  Huiett admirably sustains tremendous highs and lows over the course of more than two and a half hours. (There is only one intermission, in between Acts 2 and 3, so be forewarned.)

(L-R) Katie Mixon, Erin Huiett, Allison Allgood

Denise Pearman, George Dinsmore and Hans Boeschen (alternating in his role with Lee Williams) do good work as supporting characters; all function as plot devices to provide exposition, and to give one or more sisters a challenge or obstacle to overcome, yet each performer has some good bits. Dinsmore, as Meg's ex-boyfriend, becomes frustrated as he falls into familiar patterns of behavior; the actor flails his hand with unspoken emotion and powerlessness, giving a visual echo to the thoughts we know are within.  Pearman is the sisters' nosy neighbor/catty cousin, and perfectly captures the parochialism of a small-town "Ladies' League" member. (Interestingly, her hair is far more beautiful than her nature. Bless her heart.) Boeschen is growing as an actor, and is convincing as a rookie lawyer determined to save Babe from jail, while trying to resist his attraction to her. Although as Huiett observed in a tv interview promoting the show, good luck with that.

Director Jocelyn Sanders has successfully helmed a number of big-cast, big-budget musicals in recent years, but is back in her comfort zone of character-centric drama, with plenty of opportunity to focus on characterization, line readings and mannerisms.  At times the sisters, each histrionic and often hysterical, talk at once in rapid fire, but then Sanders will allow for a long and uncomfortable period of silence, to accentuate a particular emotion or realization. The entire cast does well with body language. Characters find themselves alone on stage, sometimes pacing frantically, or engaging in frenzied stage business, alternating with quiet and meaningful moments of reflection. The action takes place in the kitchen of the Magrath family home, with a finite number of places to locate the actors (a table, some chairs, the counter, a cot placed by a stairwell) yet Sanders keeps her cast moving rapidly yet naturally. She also creates some interesting stage pictures, as when Lenny, ostensibly the eldest and most grounded, rests her head in the lap of her younger - and ostensibly more troubled - sister, looking for comfort and reassurance.

Randy Strange's set is up to his usual level of excellence. A glimpse of a tree outside the kitchen window is well-lit by Barry Sparks's lighting design, which incorporates subtle shades of violet and blue to remind us of the time of day during different scenes. Baxter Engle's sound design incorporates a very believable ring for a busy kitchen telephone that thankfully sounds exactly as if it's ringing (instead of a sound effect coming from a speaker somewhere else.) I might add that on opening night the rings were timed perfectly, since nothing ruins a mood on stage like a phone still ringing after the actor has answered it.  Costumes by Alexis Doktor are.... well, I can't say attractive, so let's just say they are quite authentic for the 1974 setting, and are exactly what these characters would think are attractive.

Literary aficionados will surely catch hints and traces of everyone from Faulkner to Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers, while theatre buffs will spot themes addressed in the plays above. Younger audience members will have seen similar plotlines in a dozen or more made-for-cable movies. Still Henley is working in a tradition, and her work, and in particular this work, has influenced a generation of successors and imitators.  Were this the miniseries I imagined above, there would also be preceding scenes focusing on the Magraths' childhood years, and a conclusion where we learn if Babe prevails in court, if Lenny finds a "fella," and if Meg can ever pull it together. Instead, the play ends in media res, with the assurance that the reunited family unit will somehow find the strength to prevail.  Which is almost disappointing, but I thought about the implications over the weekend, and realized the bigger message. As each parental figure leaves, the Magraths' lives slowly unravel, and each sister grabs at some possible escape. Had they stayed together, Babe might never have ended in a bad marriage, or at least might have found the strength to leave it sooner. Lenny seems quite confident and happy when her sisters are around.  Even Meg, who provides most of the liveliness that keeps the family unit going, might make fewer bad choices if she were secure in the knowledge that her (remaining) family loves her.  Indeed, the implication is that the power of three together is more than the sum of its parts. When the sisters laugh and giggle and gossip together, their problems seem smaller somehow, and easy to overcome.  None of that would succeed, however, without the talent of cast and director working in concert to bring out the nuances and themes within the text.

Whether by design or fortunate coincidence, Workshop is revisiting some of the more important plays of the last few decades this season, each representing a particular genre.  Last summer's Doctor Dolittle was a classic tale for small children, while Beehive was a musical revue featuring girl groups from the 60's. Sleuth was a male-centric, sophisticated comic thriller, and here Crimes of the Heart represents female-centric theatre that addresses....well.... affairs of the heart. Up next is a vintage but decidedly male-centric Neil Simon coming-of-age comedy, Biloxi Blues, and the season concludes with a wacky and broadly comic new musical straight from Broadway, Young Frankenstein. That's a nice and representative tour through the repertoire of modern theatre, and exactly what one expects from Workshop.

Crimes of the Heart runs through Sat. Jan. 25th, with a 3 PM matinee on Sunday the 19th.  Call the box office at 803-799-6551 for more information, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com .

 

~ August Krickel

Brian Childers plays Danny Kaye this weekend at Workshop Theatre, and talks about his roots in local theatre

image This weekend, award-wining professional stage performer Brian Childers brings his critically-acclaimed one-man performance as Danny Kaye to the stage of Workshop Theatre for two shows only.    An Evening with Danny Kaye is co-sponsored by The Katie and Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center as a fund raiser for the theatre. Show dates and times are: Sat. December 7 at 8 pm, and Sun. December 8 at 3 pm.

Childers, a Columbia native and veteran performer on local stages, took time recently to talk with Jasper about his career and this special production.

Jasper:  Tell us a little about your background, and how you became involved in theatre locally.

Childers:    I was born in Columbia, SC, and graduated from Irmo High School.  My first "role" was in a production at our school assembly. I played the Narrator, and my mother says there was no stopping me. I was singing from the time I was able, and sang in church and school all the time. I did my first children's theatre rroduction with (Bette Herring's) Upstage Children's Theatre in Columbia many years ago, but I really cut my teeth on working with such theatres as Workshop Theatre, Town Theatre and the Lexington Arts Association.

Jasper: What were some especially memorable shows at Workshop, and some people you really enjoyed working with?

Childers:  Growing up in Columbia, I always wanted to be in a show at Workshop Theatre, and I got the privilege to be in several shows there.  I did And the World Goes Round, a play called Scotland Road, Scrooge, the Stingiest Man in Town, and one of my all time favorite theatrical experiences was playing John Adams in 1776 at Workshop. I worked with such directors as David Swicegood, Cindy Flack, and Clarence Felder. I loved every set I have ever seen built by Randy Strange. I really love the staff and crew at Workshop.

Jasper: At what point did you make the transition into acting professionally?

Childers:    I finished college, and came back home for a year and a half, not sure what was the next step to take. I actually did a full season and a half of back-to-back shows at Town Theatre and Workshop Theatre. Those were some of the best times that I can remember. After that season I decided it was time to head up north and try my wings in show business.  I decided not to move directly to New York. I had many friends who had up and gone to the Big Apple and had not worked since!  Instead, I decided to move to Washington D.C.    There was, and is, a thriving theatre scene there. I thought that if I couldn't get cast in Washington, I certainly was not going to get cast in New York. I was incredibly lucky in Washington:  I worked constantly for the next 5 years.  (After) my first audition, I landed the role of Emory in Boys in the Band at my first professional theatre company, The American Century Theatre. It was this theatre that brought about the life changing role of Danny Kaye.

Jasper:  You first played Kaye in Danny and Sylvia; how did you initially get cast?

Childers:  I was in a production of Hollywood Pinafore with The American Century Theater.  I was playing the role of Raif Rackstraw. When Jack Marshall (the show's director and the artistic director of the theatre) and I discussed what to do with this character, unbeknownst to us at the time, we really shaped him as a Danny Kaye-type without meaning to. There was one scene in particular that Jack saw me play and apparently the lightbulb went on.  Jack had had the script on his desk of Danny and Sylvia, but was convinced he needed someone who really could be Danny. So when Jack saw the scene in the show he ran back to me at intermission and said, “You are going to play Danny Kaye, and I have a script on my desk.”  I immediately said "Oh, I love Danny Kaye", but the truth was I knew very little if nothing about him. I went home that night and googled Danny Kaye... and then I thought "WHAT HAVE I GOT MYSELF INTO??"   Once we started rehearsals with Jack Marshall, I knew all was going to be fine. He directed me and taught me how to play Danny Kaye.  And that was the start of this incredibly long wonderful journey. I have been playing Danny Kaye on and off for over 13 years.

Brian Childers as Danny Kaye

Jasper:  Kaye was a huge star at one point, but perhaps not as well known now to modern audiences, apart from his iconic role in White Christmas. What do you think about him as a performer, and then as a character to play?

Childers:  Danny was really a genius. He could sing, dance, act, clown, and hold an audience in the palm of his hand. He was a true entertainer. That word isn’t used much these days. You have a singer, or a dancer, or even a triple threat, but Danny was much more than all those things. At one point he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood.  Danny conducted symphony orchestras, was a professional Chinese chef, a pilot and was fascinated by surgery of any kind. Versatile was definitely a way to describe Danny.

Playing Danny as a character has been one of the greatest challenges and most fulfilling things I have ever done as an actor and performer. Danny was complicated offstage and yet was so wonderful with an audience onstage. It's a dream for any actor to dive into a role like that.

Jasper:    What are some particularly enjoyable roles and shows that you have done?

Childers:  Of course playing Danny Kaye Off-Broadway for three years was pretty spectacular. Danny still remains my favorite role. When I first arrived in DC, I landed the part of Emory in Boys in the Band. Perhaps because it was my first real professional experience,or just the great character that it is, I loved that role. I was fortunate to be cast in a brand new musical called 90 North at the Kennedy Center, which made me a member of Actor's Equity, the theatrical union. I played Tom Sawyer on the National Tour of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and loved the cast and the role.  And starring in a national tour was a very big learning experience.   I actually loved playing John Adams at Workshop Theatre in 1776. When I got the call that I was cast, I was floored.  I told the director I was entirely too young, and I was performing with some terrific actors in the theatre scene there at the time. He told me trust him, and it would be fine. I did, and I loved the role and the cast of that show.

Jasper:  What can audiences expect from this performance in Columbia?

Childers:  An Evening with Danny Kaye is just as it sounds. I have been in several different book musicals of his life, (including) Danny and Sylvia and another very successful show I did called The Kid from Brooklyn. Both covered his life story. This show is not that.  Danny used to perform one-man concerts all over the world. Many people over the years came up to me and said "Why don't you do a show that was like the concerts he used to do?" So I put together this show. The idea is that the audience is coming to see Danny in his one-man concert.  There is nothing but music and stories. I perform some of his greatest material, from  "Tchaikovsky", "Minnie the Moocher" to  "Hans Christian Andersen" and of course "White Christmas". The show is filled with great music and laughter - a fun and exciting evening at the theatre. My hope is that it will bring nostalgia to some and for others (introduce) this great performer to a new generation.

Brian Childers

Jasper:  Finally, why do you feel organizations like Workshop Theatre are important to a city like Columbia?

Childers:  I believe that theatres such as Workshop play a vital role in both the community and in the cultivation of young talent. Community theatre enriches the lives of those who take an active part in it, as well as those in the community who benefit from live theatre productions. On either side of the footlights, those involved represent a diversity of age, culture, life experience, and a strong appreciation of the importance of the arts. Places like Workshop Theatre are essential and must be preserved and nurtured. I know that I would not be where I am without actively taking a part in Workshop Theatre. It is a privilege to be able to return and perform at Workshop Theatre.

...................

Brian Childers won the Helen Hayes Award for Best Actor in a Musical for  Danny and Sylvia: A Musical Love Story, as well as the Mary Goldwater Award for his portrayal. The  New York Times wrote that this was "an outstanding performance by Brian Childers as Kaye," while Talkin’ Broadway said: "Childers makes you feel as if you are watching the real Danny Kaye. Every gesture is perfect and he has mastered the mimicry and dialects that were such a great part of Kaye's performances."  In 2014, Childers will play the title role in The Jazz Singer Off-Broadway.  You can also learn more about his career at http://www.brianchilders.net.

Details on this special performance can be found at the Facebook event page  and at the Workshop Theatre site.  Tickets are available online,  or call the Workshop box office at 803-799-6551.

~ August Krickel

 

"Sleuth" at Workshop Theatre - a review by Jillian Owens

 

sleuth2

Would you like to play a game?

No no no! This isn’t the latest installment of a poorly-written body horror series. This is Sleuth, a mystery/thriller by Anthony Shaffer. The title made me think this play was  probably a just silly British farce of some sort. I hadn’t seen it, or either of its film versions (both starring Michael Caine.) Upon entering the theatre, I was warned that  “There will be at least one, and possibly more gunshots in this show.” by at least three  ushers.

"Spoilers,” I thought.

The show opens in the lavish country home of Andrew Wyke (played by Hunter Boyle), a successful writer of many mystery novels and a man obsessed with games.  He’s clever, and he knows it.  Games of strategy and wit are what he lives for.  Shaffer once said he based parts of this character on his friend, Stephen Sondheim, who also  shared a love of games.

Unfortunately, his wealth and intelligence aren’t enough to captivate his much younger  wife. She has left him for the handsome young Milo Tindle (played by the also  handsome Jason Stokes). Wyke invites Tindle to his home to presumably discuss the  details of his pending divorce from his wife.

(L-R) Hunter Boyle and Jason Stokes match wits in "Sleuth"

Sleuth surprised me in many ways. As I said, I didn’t expect this play to be much more than a witty farce. But it is much smarter than that. What begins as a situation comedy, with plenty of funny wit-matching and clever dialogue, becomes something far darker  and complex as the action unfolds. Wyke and Tindle aren’t the only ones playing  games here. This script was written to toy with the audience and their expectations as  well. Just when we’re comfortable and think we understand what this show is about,  Sleuth takes another turn - carefully placing its next piece.

Boyle and Stokes are well-cast in their roles as the jilted-but-proud novelist and the  young-but-not-so-dumb lover. It’s a tricky thing to go from quick banter to far scarier  places at the drop of a hat, but they do this fairly well. Their British accents aren’t bad, although a bit of Southern crept in every now and again. There were opportunities  where they could really brought out the more sinister moments of this play with even  more intensity, but I only saw this show on its opening night. With seasoned actors  such as these, I expect even more commanding performances as the show  progresses.

Randy Strange’s country manor set is impressive, with all the trappings of wealth  presented in a style you’d expect of Wyke. Alexis Doktor’s costumes are nicely done as well, although they seemed to lean towards the 1970 publication date of this play, rather  than the contemporary setting that is indicated by the use of a few modern bits of  technology throughout the show. There were a couple of technical glitches in the  performance I caught, but seeing Hunter Boyle play them off made me forgive thesesmall flukes.

I hope others aren’t put off like I almost was by what kind of play they assume Sleuth may be, because you really don’t know. Trust me. I would love to share more...but I’m afraid  that would just ruin the game.  The play runs through Sat. 11/23; call the box office for ticket information at 803-799-6551, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com.

~ Jillian Owens

 

 

Rockin' the Beehive - a review of "Beehive the 60's Musical" at Workshop Theatre by Melissa Swick Ellington

There are plenty of good reasons why Beehive - the 60's Musical has been brought back to the Workshop Theatre stage after a successful run fifteen years ago, and eight of them light up the performance with stunning vocals and infectious energy. Jocelyn Sanders and Daniel Gainey provide expert direction that shapes a fluid journey through 1960’s music, as the eight performers celebrate female singers and songwriters. While the first act presents a vivacious stroll through girl groups of the early sixties, the second half of the show really rocks the house with the rough, raw sounds of Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin. Medleys combine excerpts of familiar favorites through fictional characters, as in the extended party sequence that features “It’s My Party,” “I’m Sorry,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” among others. beehive2

The Beehive ladies excel at inviting the audience into their world, as the performers handle the audience participation segments with friendly enthusiasm. Valdina Hall, a consummate musical theatre performer and a cast member in the first Beehive production at Workshop, launches the show with confidence. Her warmth and magnetism permeate the occasions when she addresses the audience directly, one of the show’s many strengths. (I enjoyed the good fortune of attending Beehive as the middle member of three generations of girls who love to sing. My mother observed, “When Valdina is on stage, you just feel like everything is going to be all right.”) Jordan Harper’s exquisite yearning and soaring vocals illuminate “Where the Boys Are” and “To Sir With Love,” while Tameshia Magwood thrills with her stirring rendition of “Proud Mary.” Devin Anderson is a true powerhouse who fires up the stage in “One Fine Day,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Respect.” The rest of the cast (Rayana Briggs, Roxanne Livingston, Brandi Smith, and Safiya Whitehead) brings versatile talent to a slew of musical numbers; the directors deserve commendation for insightful pairings of singers with songs.

The design team makes cohesive choices that support the production with efficiency and purpose. Randy Strange’s scenic design features dynamic visuals and useful levels, while Barry Sparks provides masterful lighting design. The placement of the excellent band onstage proves valuable, as the music (directed by Roland Haynes, Jr.) is front and center throughout the performance. The band’s presence also enables energizing interaction with the performers. Singers and musicians benefit from Baxter Engle’s effective sound design. Choreography by Barbara Howse-Diemer evokes the girl groups of the sixties, evolving through different movement styles as the decade progresses. Costume designer Alexis Doktor provides visual evidence of the decade’s social changes as the performers replace pastel florals with psychedelic miniskirts.  Expectation of impressive wigs and hairstyles comes with the territory in a show called Beehive, and this production does not disappoint. Bobby Craft’s expertise as stage manager keeps the energetic show running smoothly. Design elements work very well together; the lighting and choreography establish a definite shift in tone with “The Beat Goes On.” A few issues with clarity of spoken dialogue over band accompaniment early in the show and a couple of awkward transitions are minor quibbles in light of Beehive’s audience-pleasing power. My young daughter proclaimed upon leaving the theatre, “That was a great show!”

Beehive at Workshop Theatre delivers an entertaining showcase of 1960’s music through the considerable talents of eight versatile and hard-working performers. Beehive earned great buzz from responsive audiences on opening weekend and deserves to pack the house with sixties music lovers through the remaining performances. Be assured that this production is not a series of imitations of the original singers. These Beehive performers make unique contributions to create something that is at once both nostalgic and new.

Beehive the 60's Musical  continues at Workshop Theatre through Saturday, September 28, with curtain at 8 PM, except for a 3:00 PM Sunday matinee on September 22. Contact the Workshop Theatre Box Office at 803-799-4876 for ticket information, or visit www.workshoptheatre.com.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

........................................................

Jasper   welcomes a new critic to our theatre team.  Melissa Swick Ellington earned a Ph.D. in Educational Theatre from New York University. She has directed or performed in numerous productions in professional, community, and educational theatres in New York and South Carolina. She taught theatre in K-12 and university settings for over a dozen years.

Confessions of a Good Man Opens at Harbison, Tarzan + Doctor Dolittle Continue at Town and Workshop

Confessions2

Walking on Water (WOW) Productions playwrights Tangie Beaty and Donna Johnson have teamed up with author Kevin A. Rasberry to present their brand new production, Confessions of a Good Man.  The show is a prelude of sorts to Rasberry’s book, Evolution of a Good Man, which will be released in 2013 as well. WOW will be returning to the Harbison Theater at Midlands Technical College to bring this show to life for FOUR  nights only! Run  dates are Thursday July 25 - Sunday July 28, and tickets range in price from $20 - $30 (with group rates available.)

Confessions of a Good Man is an inspirational stage play that gives a glance into the mind and struggles of one man. The production tells the tale of three brothers who grew up in the same household, but ended up with three vastly different lives. Each of the brothers takes his own path to try and become like their father, the epitome of a good man. Although the goal seems to elude them all, each of their paths lead to the same place...home. Family secrets, lies and love both bind this family together and keeps them bound. Will a confession free or destroy them?

National Gospel recording artist Blanche McAllister-Dykes, a South Carolina native, will join cast members Kayla Baker, Dana Bufford, Deon Generette, Rod Lorick, Regina Skeeters, and Will Young, IV.   WOW Productions' mission is to inspire, educate, encourage and empower artists and audiences to make communities more conscious and compassionate places. WOW believes in utilizing local and upcoming artists who also share the desire to utilize the performing arts in making a difference in not only their surrounding communities, but nationwide.  For more information about WOW Productions and Confessions of a Good Man please visit www.wowproduction.org or call 803.807.2969.

COAGM_4x6_Back

Town Theatre meanwhile continues its run of Tarzan the Stage Musical, based on the animated Disney film, which was in turn based on the classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

tarzan1

Tarzan’s adventure begins when a shipwreck leaves him orphaned on the shores of West Africa. This helpless baby is taken under the protection of a gorilla tribe and becomes part of their family. Growing into a great hunter and leader, Tarzan is much-loved by his ape mother, Kala, but yearns for acceptance from his ape father, Kerchak. When he eventually encounters his first human – Jane Porter, a curious young explorer – both of their worlds are transformed forever. Despite challenges, foes and differences, Jane and Tarzan find that together they can overcome all odds. This unlikely love story, full of adventure and songs by Grammy winner and rock icon Phil Collins promises touch your heart, while thrilling you as Tarzan literally swings over the heads of the audience and onto the stage.

Alternating in the role of Young Tarzan is Luke Melnyk (The Music Man) and Jadon Stanek (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) with newcomer Liberty Broussard and Caroline Quinn (Annie) alternating as Young Terk. Parker Byun (Miss Saigon, The Music Man) plays the grown Tarzan, with Town newcomer Celeste Morris as his leading lady, Jane Porter. The influence of parental guidance pervades the show in ape form with Kala, portrayed by Laurel Posey (Guys & Dolls) and Kerchak, taken by Scott Stepp (Annie Get Your Gun, The Odd Couple), and in human form with Professor Porter, played by Frank Thompson (White Christmas, Harvey). And what is a Disney tale without a scoundrel or two? Creating strife from the-get go is Kristy O’Keefe (Joseph…) as the leopard and Chad Forrister (The 39 Steps) as the conniving Clayton, a nefarious hunter. On the opposite end of the mischief spectrum is the feisty adult Terk played by Jackie Rowe (Peter Pan.)

Photo by David Barber. — with Parker Byun and Celeste Morris.

Director/Choreographer for this production is Shannon Willis Scruggs; the Scenic Designer/Technical Director is Danny Harrington; and the Costumer is Lori Stepp. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Tarzan come to life on Town's stage, with only four shows remaining: Thursday July 25- Sunday, July 28. Curtain is at 7:30 pm, and 3 pm on the fimal Sunday matinee. Tickets are $15-25. Call the box office at 803-799-2510, or for more information visit www.towntheatre.com.

d

Workshop Theatre meanwhile continues its production of the family-friendly musical Doctor Dolittle , with book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, and based on the classic film.  This is a tale about the adventures of a doctor who learns to speak to animals, and who takes a journey from the small English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh to the far corners of the world. In the beginning, Doctor Dolittle is wrongly accused of murder and the animals and his friends rally together to prove his innocence. Once Dolittle is pronounced innocent, he continues with his search for the Great Pink Sea Snail -- the oldest and wisest of the creatures on earth. This is the classic tale of kindness to animals based on the stories of Hugh Lofting.

dolittle2

Lee O. Smith (Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka) plays Doctor Dolittle, the wacky, but kind doctor who can talk to animals. He is joined by Kate Huggins (Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella) as Emma, Hans Boeschen (Legally Blonde the Musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella) as Matthew Mugg, Liza Hunter (Disney Camp Rock) and Marra Edwards (The Color Purple, Disney Camp Rock) as Polynesia, Doctor Dolittle's parrot, and Workshop newcomer Ben Connelly as Tommy. along with a host of youth actors.

E.G. Heard Engle (Disney's Camp Rock, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella) directs a talented cast of veteran actors and up-and-coming youth. Music director Daniel Gainey (Disney's Camp Rock, Songs for a New World) helps create a harmonious sound, and choreographer Katie Hilliger (Disney's Camp Rock, Hairspray) brings her energetic style to the dances.  For ticket information, call the box office at 803-799-6551 from noon to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, or visit www.workshoptheatre.com.  Only three performances remain:  Thursday July 25 - Saturday. July 27.

You can read reviews by August Krickel for both Tarzan the Stage Musical and Doctor Dolittle at Onstage Columbia.

 

 

Giulia's back, and Patrick's got her! Bakari Lebby brings "The Shape of Things" to Workshop!

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of, and cheerleader/advocate for the wealth of young talent that currently abounds in Columbia.  This weekend, audiences get chance to see some of the best and brightest, in Neil LaBute's  The Shape of Things, running for two nights only, Friday 6/28 and Saturday 6/29 at Workshop Theatre.

Recent USC grad and local musician Bakari Lebby first directed this play a couple of months ago in USC's intimate Benson Theatre.   He wrote one of the best guest blogs we've ever run, which you can see here, and my review (not technically a real review, as I saw a run-through rehearsal some days before the show opened) is here.  One excerpt:

For me, you could have successive nights of Hugh Jackman doing Les Mis live with a million-dollar stage set…. and I’d still rather see four dedicated kids on a bare stage doing something meaningful to them.  This show is sometimes described as a dark comedy, a serio-comedy, or a “dramedy.”  I’d describe it as a dark fable about contemporary relationships and society, set in the context of college dating, with some great moments of humor (in the vein of perhaps Sex and the City or Friends) as well as some chilling implications about the choices that people make for love.

cap

It was a great theatrical experience, and Lebby hit a home-run with his directorial debut, aided in large part by Patrick Dodds (who played Moritz in Spring Awakening at Trustus, then sang "Those Magic Changes" as Doody in Grease at Town) as the protagonist's jerk best friend, and Katie Foshee as the female lead Evelyn, a role played on Broadway by Rachel Weisz.  I first saw Foshee and Lebby in the ensemble of jocks and brainiacs in High School Musical at Workshop in 2008, in which a radiant Giulia Marie Dalbec played Sharpay.

Now Lebby is bringing his production to Workshop for a special limited run, with Dodds and Dalbec taking over the leads.  As he describes it, "Jeni (McCaughan) at Workshop asked me if we could bring the show back for two nights, and I said yeah!   We offered the last cast their roles back, but the timing didn't work out for anyone other than Patrick.  Patrick and I talked about the option of having him play (protagonist) Adam.  We were both intrigued by it, because it would be a good chance for him to play a role in unfamiliar territory, in a show that he already has a handle on. That's just a really cool opportunity I think. He's doing a great job at it, and he is a different Adam than the last one, which is cool."

"Giulia is also a different Evelyn. It makes this production a bit different, which is really cool to check out.  Giulia is (like) my big sister and we haven't worked on a show together since High School Musical when I was 17, so I'm really stoked to get to work with her talent, and we already have a type of comfort and knowledge of each other, so we play well together. If that makes sense. It's always fun for me to see her in straight plays since we don't get a lot of that out of her."

Dalbec was almost every play produced in the Midlands over the last 5 or 6 years, playing everyone from Gypsy to Elle in Legally Blonde to Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and was profiled in the March 2013 Jasper as one of Columbia's "Leading Ladies."  Dodds was featured as one of "Columbia's Theatrical Brat Pack" in  the November 2012 issue.  Both have been absent from major Columbia stages for far too long (actually, just a matter of months, but that's too long for me!) and without giving away the show's plot, there are perfect, ideal parts for each to play.  LaBute is an eloquent poet of the stage,  whose dialogue is so natural and realistic that his way with words is sometimes overlooked, just as his themes, which center around familiar, commonplace scenarios of modern relationships, are sometimes dismissed as not being important.  I suggest that the way people treat each other in their one-on-one relationships might just be the most important theme for humanity.

Joining this new cast are Kayla Cahill and Jeremiah Redmond.  Lebby says "Kayla Cahill is originally from New Jersey, and has a BA in Theatre from USC. She graduated in 2012. We were good friends in school. She was in Romeo & Juliet directed by Robert Richmond as the Nurse, and (played) Queen Elizabeth in The History of Queen Elizabeth I.   Jeremiah Redmond is from Lexington, SC and has most recently been seen in High Voltage's Reservoir Dogs and in Trustus's production of Kitty Kitty Kitty directed by Daniel Bumgardner."

The Facebook "event" page for the production is here.  An interview with Lebby can be found online at the Free Times.  For more information, visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com/ or call 803-799-4876.

~ August Krickel

Midlands Theatres Announce New Seasons!

Dueling Shreks.  Dueling Les Miserables. Dueling Clybourne Parks, dueling Hamlets ...well, I guess technically any production of Hamlet is a dueling Hamlet.  Neil Simon and Anthony Shaffer. Tom Stoppard and John Guare. Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline. Dracula and Frankenstein, Ash and Elvis.  Revivals of classics, and brand-new shows direct from Broadway. Looks like there is something for everyone in the next year! I'm not sure that Jasper has ever broken any news before, but to my knowledge, this is the first report from last week's "One Last Hurrah" celebration at the Art Bar, the culmination of One Month, One Columbia. Representatives from many of the area's theatres announced their seasons for 2013-2014.  A few were not able to make it, and I've lifted some titles and dates from their websites.  Others do a calendar year format rather than a "school year," so in those cases I've listed what info is available.

The-Comedy-and-Tragedy-Masks

First Disclaimer: I have not included commercial venues (like the Township, the Koger Center, etc.) that book productions, but they have some great shows coming up too.  Nor have I included one-time shows, high school shows (however excellent they may be), church and religion-based events, dance and music productions, etc.  I'm all in favor of those too, but this is about local community and professional theatres.

Second Disclaimer: theatre seasons often change, so this is in no way a definitive or comprehensive listing.  Look for something in a future print issue of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts for details and more specific dates and information.

Third Disclaimer: the event was held at the Art Bar, so my memory may not be perfect.  If there's anything significant that I have listed incorrectly, drop me a note at akrickel@jaspercolumbia.com .

That said, in no particular order, we have the following shows to look forward to!

Town Theatre

Les Miserables - September

The Foreigner - late fall

Elvis Has Left the Building - January

Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story - March

Shrek: The Musical - May

..........

High Voltage Theatre

Dracula (a new stage version by Chris Cook, developed in collaboration with Dacre Stoker, great-grand-nephew of Bram Stoker) at the West Columbia Riverwalk Amphitheater - October 10-13, 17-20, 24-27, 30-31

classic thriller at Tapp's Art Center (details tba) - February

classic thriller at West Columbia Riverwalk Amphitheater (details tba) - Spring

..........

USC's Theatre South Carolina

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard - Sept. 27 - Oct. 5 at Drayton Hall

The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov - Nov. 15-23 at Longstreet Theatre

The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow - Feb. 21 -  March 1 - Longstreet Theatre

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (OK, like you didn't know that) - April 18-26 - venue tba

plus a full season of black box shows (details tba)

hamlet

Stage 5 Theatre

Hamlet - September

Lombardi - November

Special Holiday Event - December

Clybourne Park – April

..........

Lexington Arts Association (at the Village Square Theatre)

Shrek: The Musical - September 20 - October 6

Steel Magnolias - November 1 - November 10

Always…Patsy Cline - December 6 - December 15 (non-season show)

9 to 5: The Musical - January 17 – January 26

Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka JR. - March 7 - March 23

a musical revue (details tba) - May 9 - May 18

..........

Workshop Theatre

Beehive - September

Sleuth - late fall

Crimes of the Heart - January

Biloxi Blues - March

Young Frankenstein - May (including Frau ....BLUCHER!)

..........

Theatre Rowe

Murder Ahoy! - June 27 - July 28

Over the River and Through the Woods - August 16-17, 23-25

The Altos (tentative) - September 20-22, 27-29

Little Shop of Horrors - October 18-19, 25-26, 31

tragedy-and-comedy

Chapin Theatre Company

How to Eat Like A Child (based on the book by Delia Ephron) - Aug. 2-4 at the Old Chapin Firehouse / American Legion Building

Unnecessary Farce, by Paul Slade Smith -  Sept. 19-22, 26-28 at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College

..........

South Carolina Shakespeare Company

Hamlet - Oct. 16 - 26

Les Miserables - Apr. 16 - May 3

..........

On Stage Productions

An Evening of One-Acts - September

Yes, Virginia - The Musical - December

Second Samuel - February

Hey G - April

..........An Evening of One Acts -  September - 

Columbia Children's Theatre

The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley - September

Ho Ho Ho! - November/December

Puss In Boots (a new comic version by CCT's Jerry Stevenson) - February

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fair(l)y (Stoopid) Tales - April

The Commedia Snow White - June

..........

Trustus Theatre

Thigpen Main Stage:

Ragtime - September

Venus in Fur - November

A Christmas Carol - December

Clybourne Park - January-February

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, by Tom Stoppard, with music by Andre Previn; featuring the SC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Morohiko Nakahara - Feb.-March

See Rock City and Other Destinations - spring

The House of Blue Leaves - May

Evil Dead: The Musical - summer - groovy.

Winner of the Playwrights' Festival - August

Side Door Theatre

Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche (returning from its sold-out run in January) - Fall

El Diario De un Psiquiatra (A Psychiatrist's Diary) - a world premiere by Julia Vargas, presented in Spanish by La Tropa - November

Love, Lost and What I Wore, by Delia Ephron - January

a NiA Company show - Spring

Off-Off-Lady Series

The Adding Machine (pending rights) April 24-May 4 - venue tba

In the Red and Brown Water - June - at the Harbison Theatre

..........

WOW (Walking on Water) Productions

Confessions of a Good Man - a new play by local authors Tangie Beaty, Donna Johnson, and Kevin A. Rasberry - July 25-28 at the Harbison Theatre

other original works in 2013-14 - TBA

..........

If you didn't notice, including the groups collaborating in the Side Door, that's 15 different theatre groups!  In little bitty Columbia, SC - who knew?  Well, you probably did, since as I'm saying more and more these days... Columbia has always been a theatre town.  Look for details on all of the above in coming months here, and in print issues of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts. And many thanks to Larry Hembree and Debora Lloyd, the co-chairs for Theatre for OneColumbia, for organizing and facilitating One Last Hurrah!

~ August Krickel

 

Workshop Theatre’s "The Color Purple" Offers a Beautiful Rainbow of Colors for Columbia Audiences - a review by Stephen Ingle

When a stage musical is based on a very popular movie, in turn based on a very popular novel, it is often almost impossible to accept the new format, actors, and plot adaptations as genuine. However, when I attended Workshop Theatre’s presentation of the musical adaptation of The Color Purple, I had no problem separating the live performance from the film. This was because the stage production was so fantastic. For those not familiar with the film plot, The Color Purple is a coming-of-age story about Celie, an African-American girl (Devin Anderson) in the early 1900s who is forced by her father to marry "Mister" (Shawn Logan) in exchange for some livestock. Mister mistreats her, abuses her, forces her to wait on him and all of his sons hand and foot, and breaks off all communication between Celie and her sister/best friend Nettie (Kanika Moore.) This naturally causes Celie to feel completely alone in this world, and hopeless that she will never see Nettie again or ever know what it’s like to feel happy, safe, and secure. The mirror image to this story line is that of Sofia (Michelle Rivera) who is married to Mister’s son Harpo (Bobby Rogers). Sofia is a very strong-willed woman who refuses to let any man abuse her or tell her what to do and, in fact, is the abuser to her husband. However, when she leaves Harpo (ending up as a maid for a white family) she finds that her temper lands her in jail. When she is released, she is a shell of the woman she once was, and has become docile and closed off. caption

The other influence on Celie’s life comes in the form of a sassy singer named Shug Avery (Katrina Blanding). She is a boozy, juke joint singer, and the object of Mister’s desire. Her character reflects the independence that Celie so desperately needs, but also reflects the sadness of living a lonely life. All of the performances are, for lack of a better word, riveting. Although they do not really look 14 years-old, Devin Anderson (Celie) and Kanika Moore (Nettie) truly inspire both through their touching and playful scenes together and their beautiful harmonies during their duet. Devin Anderson, however, does a spectacular job guiding the plot along through Celie’s life. As Sofia, Michelle Rivera performs at a level that could rival Oprah’s depiction of the film role. Her transition from strong, loud, and independent matriarch to beaten down and muted victim was handled brilliantly by the actress. As Shug, Katrina Blanding seamlessly handles the role of a gin-soaked club singer turned responsible married woman, and the scene between her and Celie where she helps Celie discover her femininity is performed with both sensitivity and effectiveness. Another performance worth mentioning is that of Shawn Logan as Mister. From the character you love to hate as the abusive and controlling husband, to becoming a submissive pleaser to Celie, his performance perfectly illustrates the traits of shameful, funny, and charming.

ColorPurpleSplash

All of the aforementioned kudos would not have been possible without the stellar direction of Jocelyn Sanders, beautiful musical direction of Roland Haynes, Jr., and energetic and inspirational choreography of Barbara Howse-Diemer. Unlike straight plays where there is one director, musicals are unique because of the combined visions of these three roles. In The Color Purple, it appeared that all three of these brilliant directors came together and shared a vision that paints a masterpiece of sadness, inspiration, humor, and humanity. Typically in big musicals with huge casts, one’s eye will directly be drawn to a weak link or “dead zone” in the cast. It is always a nice surprise to not be able to find one. Additionally, hats off to the costume designer Alexis Doktor specifically for the wonderful African costumes that took the audience to a whole new place, time, and feeling of joy. Unfortunately, the one African scene where the village is attacked by some sort of outside forces was very unclear. When the members of the tribe ran off, the sound effects were muddy. Had I not seen the movie and known it was an invasion, I would have thought they were running from an oncoming storm. In fact, as has been the problem with other musicals, some of the dialogue and songs suffered from the lack of microphones. Also, the show does run very long at almost 3 hours. There are several extraneous scenes towards the end with songs that simply delay the wonderful ending we are all waiting for. However, that is my issue with Marsha Norman, who wrote the book, and not with anybody connected with this production.  Jocelyn Sanders weaves together a beautiful tapestry that even Alice Walker (the original novelist) would be proud of. The Color Purple is a show that will quite literally make you laugh, cry, sing, dance, and cheer.

~ Stephen Ingle

Show Dates: March 20-24 & 27-30

Show Times: 8:00 p.m. except March 24, which is a  3:00 p.m. matinee

Prices: $22 for adults, $20 for seniors/military, $16 for students, $12 for children

Contact the box office at 803-799-6551 for ticket information, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com.

 

Memorable Theatre Moments from 2012 - August Krickel's picks

This time last year, on a lark, I put together a stream-of-consciousness recollection of some things I had enjoyed on stage over the preceding year.  Would you believe - we set a new record for site visits with that blog post!  Sure, sure, the site and blog were still young, and most of it was folks logging in to see if they were mentioned or not, but still, it showed everyone involved that there is significant interest in theatre among the greater Columbia arts community.  As I wrote at the time, "theatre for me is sometimes not about the final product, but rather individual moments that move me, make me smile, or stay with me long after the show is done."  This year I have been fortunate to see most of the shows at the main theatres in downtown Columbia:  7 of 8 done on the Thigpen Mainstage (plus a late-night show) at Trustus, 3 of the 5 done at the Trustus Side Door, 5 of 6 at both Town and Workshop, plus a couple at Columbia Children's Theatre.  That's 23 freakin' shows, which sadly means that I didn't have time to see any at the many excellent theatres and venues on campuses and in the suburbs.  So with that disclaimer, I give you the best, funniest, and most memorable theatre moments for me from 2012: - the opening image as the curtain rose in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Town Theatre, with dancers frozen in exotic poses. In particular, Haley Sprankle, Grace Fanning and Becky Combs were draped over their partners with extension that went from here to the moon, and it perfectly captured the look and feel of the carefree and free-spirited Riviera setting.

- Doug Gleason in Scoundrels, goofing and camping it up shamelessly, then breaking into song with the voice of an angel, not a buffoon.  In my review, I wrote that he reminded me of the young Bill Canaday, a gifted comic actor now happily retired from the state and (at least temporarily) the stage. Several people mentioned to the real Bill that they saw his name in a theatre review, and he laughed and later told me that this was like the actor's nightmare - was he supposed to have been in a show somewhere?  Did he miss his entrance?

- Elizabeth Stepp as a huffy, haughty insect, miffed over being shooed away in Pinkalicious at Columbia Children's Theatre.  Lindsay Brasington, vamping and cooing for the press as she imagined being the first doctor to diagnose acute "pinkititis." George Dinsmore, dramatically confessing to his wife after all these years, his dark secret that he too secretly had a fondness...for the color ....pink.  (At which point Sumner Bender leaned over and whispered to me "But they named their daughter ... Pinkalicious?"

- Shelby Sessler's tour-de-force as three separate and distinct characters in Alfred

Hitchcock’s 39 Steps at Town.  Only a couple of weeks after portraying the titular tyke in Pinkalicious above,  she played a va-va-voomish German femme fatale,  a forlorn Scottish farm wife, and a proper yet spunky yet romantic British lady. As the German she somehow managed to not only play dead, but to feign rigor mortis, stretched out over an armchair... I still don't know how she managed it.  As the lady, she and her castmates mimed all the effects to convey a train speeding down the tracks.... and if you looked down, very subtly her hand was fanning the hem of her skirt back and forth to add the effect of wind.  Not surprisingly, she was one of three finalists for Jasper Theatre Artist of the Year, and organized the entertainment for the November issue release party at City Art.

 

 

- Avery Bateman and Kanika Moore playing multiple roles in Passing Strange at Trustus.  Bateman cracked me up as a materialistic princess-type whose life with hero Mario McClean was pre-planned within about 5 seconds; then she and Moore turn up as Dutch girls, then Germans. "Have a conversation vit' ze hand," Moore declares, almost getting American slang right. Even music director Tom Beard got a line in on stage, rising in outrage, when the cynical German nihilist characters dismiss the punk movement as commercialism, to protest "What about The Clash, man???"    Also loved the vivid colors that symbolized the free-spirited European setting of Passing Strange, provided via original paintings from ten local artists, and director Chad Henderson's always-moving, never-a-dull-moment, no-one-wasted-on-stage  blocking.  (And sure enough, Henderson was voted Theatre Artist of the Year by Jasper readers!)

- Randy Strange's lush, opulent, plantation-interior set for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Workshop Theatre. There was something to take everyone's breath away in this classic show, from Jason Stokes in a towel, to E.G. Heard (and on alternating nights, Samantha Elkins) in a negligee. Ironically, the beautiful and talented Heard teaches theatre at my old high school, while the equally lovely and gifted Elkins teaches drama at the one I was zoned for. I seem to recall my old theatre teacher was nicknamed "Sasquatch" - my how times have changed!

- G. Scott Wild utilizing the teeny Side Door Theatre space at Trustus more efficiently and realistically than I had ever seen before, with his set design for A Behanding in Spokane. The entire show takes place in a hotel room, and Wild wisely used every single

inch of available space, including the main entrance into the theatre as the room's only door, complete with deadbolt and peephole.  And Wild himself, perfectly capturing a world-weary, frustrated (possible) serial killer, then seamlessly segueing into the character's actual nature: a world-weary, frustrated, hen-pecked nebbish.  When you meet him, you realize Wild is quite young, but with little make-up and primarily mannerisms, he effectively embodied a character 20+ years older than he. Christopher Walken played this role in New York, but I somehow suspect that Walken played Walken, while Wild embodied and fleshed out the character.

- Also, in Spokane, Elisabeth Smith Baker embraced a challenging character role.   In my review, I wrote that she somehow managed "to be pathetic and sympathetic, winsome and adorable in a skanky sort of way, vulnerable, crafty and resourceful, yet sometimes just dumb as a post. She has some nice moments of physical comedy that would make Lucille Ball proud.   At one point she makes a quite logical decision to try to charm her way out of a life and death situation, yet her effort is so obviously contrived that only an idiot would fall for it... and of course, one does."

- Sumner Bender and Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, both getting a chance to sink their teeth substantial roles in In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at Trustus.  Color-blind casting is always a tricky challenge, and Bender and her infant's wet nurse need to be white and black respectively, because of specifics in the script, but Rodillo-Fowler played another society lady, and peer to Bender.  Was she perhaps the mixed-heritage daughter of a prominent admiral or missionary? Could she have simply been adopted, and raised in starchy whitebread Victorian society?  Or was she (as my spirit-guide Dr. Moreau suggested) a Native American? Most importantly, it didn't matter.

- Vibrator also featured the return of Steve Harley, not seen enough on local stages in recent years. I got some mileage out of this line of his:  "Hysteria is very rare in men, but then he is an artist.” The artist referenced was played by Daniel Gainey, one of a number of gifted young actors who seemingly came out of nowhere to captivate local audiences. (See Wild and Gleeson above, and Andy Bell below; with Gainey, "nowhere" was actually many roles in opera and operatic musical theatre.)

- Speaking of Gleeson, he played a vastly different type in Andrew Lippa's Wild Party at Workshop, still a clown, but a scary one. The extreme physicality of some of the choreography was impressive, as were his scenes with Giulia Marie Dalbec (his leading lady in Scoundrels above, but more on her in a moment.) Also in the cast as part of the ensemble was Grace Fanning, as an underage party girl in the Roaring 20's. At one point the lyrics describe each "type" as they enter: a dancer, a producer, a madam, a boxer, and.... as Fanning sashays in, anticipating something like "a flapper," "a beauty," "a vamp" .... all she gets is: "a minor." The look of shock and outrage on her face was priceless, a combo of "I'm busted!" and "Is that all I get?"

- the strong supporting cast in Grease at Town, finally getting to sing all their best songs. The film version cut out a lot of the 50's do-wop homages, and focused on Sandy and Danny.  Here, Sirena Dib got to break hearts with "Freddy My Lo-ove," and Patrick

Dodds (still sporting his high hair from Spring Awakening) not only got a chance to smile on stage, but rocked out with "Those Magic Changes," two of my favorite songs of all time. Hunter Bolton reclaimed Kenickie's "Greased Lightning" (complete with the original lyrics describing exactly what sort of wagon it is) while Jenny Morse and Mark Zeigler beautifully harmonized in "Mooning," a song I had forgotten entirely. Leandra Ellis-Gaston got to drop the (Italian) F-bomb on Town Theatre's stage (it's just the seemingly meaningless "fangu," but it means the same thing) and was another example of how color-blind casting rarely hurts

anything.  Sure, the script calls for Rizzo to be Italian, but who's to say her dad wasn't progressive, and married an African-American?  Dodds also got some incredible moments of physical comedy with Haley Sprankle, as he tries to match her, move for move, at the prom.

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Stepp, a gifted comedienne, literally throwing herself into each scene with abandon, as a beautiful Cinderella (at Columbia Children's Theatre) who still managed to get plenty of laughs.

 

 

 

 

- Gerald Floyd's increasing frustration with life after death in Almost An Evening (at the Trustus Side Door) navigating obstacles that ran from a maddeningly matter-of-fact receptionist (Vicky Saye Henderson, another Theatre Artist of the Year finalist) to a smooth-talking, winking bureaucrat (Jason Stokes.) Followed by his sympathetic portrayal of a grieving Texas father, in his scene with Kendrick Marion, playing against type as a stuffy, repressed government operative.

- the graphic puppet sex and nudity in Avenue Q at Trustus. And Kevin Bush hastily inventing his girlfriend Alberta...from ...um... Vancouver...in Canada.  And Katie Leitner voicing and manipulating two very different-sounding characters, Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, with the aid of Elisabeth Smith Baker, who voiced plenty of others too, including one of the Bad Idea Bears. "Important day at work tomorrow?  Let's do some shots!"

 

- the commitment by director Shannon Willis Scruggs and costumer Lori Stepp to go all the way into the absurd in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Town.  The musical numbers are pastiches of various styles (country, rockabilly, calypso, etc.) and here, almost like a live cartoon, the cast morphed quickly into Frenchmen with berets, cheerleaders with pom-poms, you name it. Frank Thompson as the King, baby, i.e. an Elvis-style Pharaoh, was particularly amusing.  James Harley noted in his review that "some of the show’s best energy comes from deep within the ensemble, Charlie Goodrich leading the way with 100% commitment to every movement he makes on stage."  There were dozens of people on stage at any given time, so I made a point to look for Goodrich within each number, and sure enough, whether or not he had any lines, he was always the best at reacting appropriately to whatever was going on.  And conceiving the "hairy Midianites" as members of ZZ Top was just inspired.

- Katie Foshee, who has enlivened the ensembles of about a hundred musicals in recent years, stepping into (and owning) the lead role in Camp Rock - The Musical at Workshop.  Avery Herndon and Alex Webster too were adorable as they as they succumbed to puppy-love-at-first sight, and Kathryn Reddic made a great mean girl.  From her bio, Reddic would have had Linda Khoury for drama in high school, meaning that she is well-versed in Shakespeare, and as a current English major at Vanderbilt she is surely immersed in Shelley and Keats, Joyce and Yeats, Chekhov and Strindberg, yet she rocked out like Beyonce in some complex hip-hop dance numbers.  Commodore girls represent, y'all.

- James Harley back on stage in Palace of the Moorish Kings at Trustus, under-playing a complex character who wasn't given a lot of lines or movement. Silence can sometimes speak volumes, and Harley had some great moments where he started to say something... then words failed him, and the point was nevertheless made.  But he did get a few memorable lines as a member of the "greatest generation," who never felt entirely comfortable as being seen as a hero, since he never killed anyone, never did anything heroic, and only served after being drafted.

- Elisabeth Smith Baker (yet again!) so sweet and natural in Next to Normal at Trustus.  And the show's big "reveal," which fooled me entirely, even though I more or less was familiar with the plot.  Andy Bell made a great transition from musician to actor/singer on stage, and the entire cast distinguished themselves as professionally as if they were the original cast on Broadway. The set too (by Danny Harrington, with input from Chad Henderson) showed how even the big-name New York shows are going for simple, stylized, low-cost sets these days, which often work better than trying to achieve realism.

- Giulia Marie Dalbec dominating the year with not one but four bravura performances.  While she has played countless roles as vixens, ingénues, or someone'sgirlfriend or daughter, Dalbec made her mark as a name-brand lead in Scoundrels and Wild Party (above) and as Elle in Legally Blonde at Workshop. The word that immediately comes to mind to describe her on stage now is "confident" - and with that confidence, she bravely took on the role of the meek Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (also at Workshop) and nailed that one too.  Half the time Honey was drunk, or passed out, or ignored by everyone else, but Dalbec was always engaged in believable action and movements, however subtle.

 

- Robert Michalski's swaggering cameo as a UPS delivery guy in Blonde; I don't think I've ever seen a performer simply walk across a stage and then through the audience and get such a big laugh.  As I wrote at the time, he definitely had a package, and was determined to deliver it.

- Elena Martinez-Vidal's characterization (complete with New England accent) of Martha (in Virginia Woolf) as an aging Snookie, the college president's scandalous daughter who bluffs her way through academia via booze, sex, humor and bravado.

- Paul Kaufmann playing 35 different characters in I Am My Own Wife at the Trustus Side Door. Clad for most of the time in a dress!  The main figure was an East German "tranny granny" who may or may not have been a pioneering cultural historian, a murderer, an informer for the secret police, and/or a courageous activist and supporter of the oppressed gay community in Berlin.  After a while you got used to most of the various German and American "voices" ...and out of the blue, he's also a crisp Anglo-Indian reporter called Pradeep Gupta, with the perfect, smooth, musical lilt to his voice that you'd expect.  And this was a week after playing the male lead in Next to Normal !

 

 

- the striking, sunset-hued panels that comprised most of the set for Next Fall at Trustus. And the banter between G. Scott Wild and Jason Stokes (both yet again!) as mismatched lovebirds who just happen to be guys.  And the odd (but probably fairly common) paradox of fundamentalist Christian characters as they try to rationalize their own "sinful" lifestyle, especially as detailed by Bobby Bloom.

- Abigail Smith Ludwig, conveying the flowing, soft, lyrical beauty of German syllables and consonants in a  disgruntled rendition of "O Tannenbaum" in Winter Wonderettes at Town. And Alexa Cotran, yet another remarkable discovery, a very young performer who matched her older castmates note for note, scene for scene. Cotran bears a striking resemblance to my first grade teacher, who had that exact same huge 1960's hairdo, perfectly coiffed here by Cherelle Guyton, who was responsible for most of the good-looking hair in the shows mentioned above.

- the wonderful cast of [title of show] at Trustus in just about every moment on stage. Laurel Posey recounting her recurring lead role as "corporate whore," and Robin Gottlieb segueing from a cute number on secondary characters into Aerosmith were especially funny, but somehow the genuine moments in this little show touched me as few usually do.  "Who says four chairs and a keyboard can’t make a musical?  We’re enough with only that keyboard - we’re okay with only four chairs. We’ll be fine with only four chairs - we’ll rock hard with only four chairs!"  That sort of do-it-yourself mentality and optimism can be applied to so many things in life, as can their conclusion that it's better to be "nine people's favorite thing, than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing."  Score one vote for the rice crispy treats, as this was far and away my favorite show of the year.

- the actual do-it-yourself production of Plan 9 from Outer Space - Live and Undead 2.0 presented at Trustus, but essentially cobbled together on a shoe-string six months earlier at Tapp's Art Center.  Thanks to enlisting the aid of some of Columbia's finest actors, the show almost became a real play, even though the basic idea was to do a tongue-in-cheek spoof of what many feel is the worst movie ever made. So many of the cast were inspired in their campy re-imagining of the film's original dialogue, including Jennifer Mae Hill as a sexy stewardess (Hill was a gifted actress at Trustus, Chapin, and elsewhere long before she got into doll-making) and Chad Forrister as the stolid hero. Forrister was also the hero of 39 Steps above, and has perfected the mock-heroic, ever-so-slightly-exaggerated tone required by these spoofs.  Victoria Wilson was beautiful as an evil alien, but used a

rich, serious, Shakespearean voice that reminded you of Judith Anderson or Maggie Smith. Some of Forrister's best moments came with Catherine Hunsinger, playing the soon-to-be-abducted heroine.  There's an exercise in acting classes called "give and take," where two actors alternate allowing each other to take focus and dominate a scene. Hunsinger could have gotten some laughs as a stereotypical 1950's housewife, and given some to Forrister; instead, she wisely chose to downplay her performance, setting him up for vastly bigger laughs than either would have gotten separately.  As I wrote in the review, "Another example of her generosity on stage comes when the zombie-fied Scott Means attacks her; she swoons melodramatically...but at the same time, falls over the actor's shoulder in a perfectly-timed movement, allowing him to lift her easily, with as much grace as two ballet dancers.  Well, or pro wrestlers."

Hunsinger is a fearless performer, taking an emotionally demanding role in Spring Awakening the year before as the (semi-compliant) victim of a disturbing rape/seduction by the show's protagonist, yet somehow she managed to allow him to still seem deserving of the audience's sympathy. And then she tackled the Olivia Newton-John role in Grease (above) which is surely a daunting vocal challenge for the most talented of singers, but she filled Sandy's saddle oxfords with ease.  That incredible voice had its biggest test in Plan 9, as Hunsinger's character was pursued across stage and into the house by zombies.  The

original villains' make-up from the film was absurd enough, and here it was made even campier, yet Hunsinger chose to play the entire scene straight. As Chris Bickel cued some vintage movie chase-scene music and Hunsinger gamely screamed her head off, just for a moment I was no longer at Trustus.  Just for a moment I was a 13-year-old watching the Mummy or the Wolfman or the Creature abduct some forgotten heroine on the Universal or Hammer Studios back lot. Just for a few seconds there was a genuine chill down my back, as a brave young actress fully committed to being a terrified damsel in distress, running for her life from unspeakable horror.   Theatre is supposed to transport you, to take you out of yourself, and so this was for me, however briefly, the most memorable moment on stage in 2012.

So there are some of the things I enjoyed in the last year.  How about you?  That "comments" section below is there for a reason. What did you enjoy on stage in 2012?

~ August Krickel

 

Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" at Workshop Theatre - a review

Eugene Jerome is a dreamer, spinning baseball playoff fantasies in which he is both star and announcer. These dreams alternate with visions of being a writer, wishesthat his family might occasionally cut him some slack, and most importantly, wishes of seeing a girl naked.  Any girl, even if it's his nubile cousin Nora, staying with the Jeromes along with her mother and little sister after her father's death. In other words, Eugene is a 15-year-old boy, and the alter-ego for author Neil Simon, whose acclaimed Brighton Beach Memoirs is very loosely based on his own life.

In Workshop Theatre’s new production of this classic, both Jared Kemmerling, as Eugene, and Connor Odom, as older brother Stanley, are playing about two years above their own age, but capture the essences of their characters perfectly. As narrator, Kemmerling addresses the audience directly, setting up assorted family issues that take place over a week in September of 1937, as seen from the highly subjective point of view of a bright but smart-aleck teenager, who just happens to have the most successful comedy writer of the 20th century providing his dialogue.  These interactions play out, with Eugene often adding a running commentary along the way via asides to the audience. The role of Eugene made a star of Matthew Broderick on Broadway and earned him a Tony, and Broderick has to some extent been playing the same impish wisecracker who talks to the audience ever since.  Kemmerling really has good timing and stage presence, especially for such a young actor, and Odom's age actually works, giving him the impression of being a baby-faced young adult, which explains some of his struggles to make decisions and be taken seriously as a man, not a boy.

I must confess that it's hard for me to be completely impartial here since I know these folks so well.  No, not the actors, although I've met a few of the older cast members in passing a few times, but rather the characters, as some 22 years ago I played older brother Stanley in a local production of Simon's sequel to this play.  For me the most moving moments here were the natural interaction between the two brothers, and Stanley's frank discussions with his father about what it means to be an adult, but take that with a grain of salt.

The beauty of this show (and what brought it so much acclaim in the 80's) was that it marked a change in tone for Simon, who had already been mining his own life experiences for material for years. (If you ever want to see two brothers, one naive and one worldly, as swinging bachelors in New York, check out Simon's very first play, Come Blow Your Horn; if you're curious about how one copes after divorce, see The Odd Couple, or for how the other copes after the death of a spouse, see Chapter Two.) Here Simon takes his ear for dialogue and ability to portray the range of ordinary human emotions, and allows them to flow naturally for entire

scenes, without significant punch lines, until Eugene pops in at the end to sum everything up from the viewpoint of both the sarcastic kid, and the mature writer's memory.  Upstairs, the brothers engage in frank, and hilarious, discussion of the mechanics of puberty that wouldn't be out of place in American Pie or Portnoy's Complaint.  Downstairs, it's close to Tennessee Williams territory as the adults wrestle with problems that threaten to tear the family apart. Perhaps in the greater scope of things they don't have it so bad: Dad risks his health by working multiple jobs to support his family in the middle of the Depression, widow Blanche imagines herself as unemployable, unattractive, and a burden to her sister, hot cousin Nora and little sister Laurie feel neglected and under-valued by their still-grieving mom, and Stanley makes some unwise decisions at work.  So, pretty much any family anywhere, but Simon's genius allows us to see how intensely routine domestic conflicts can affect those involved. There is no perfect resolution; instead, forgiveness, acceptance, compromise, the occasional white lie, and the lost art of actually talking things out provide a fragile peace, until the next mini-crisis arises.

Samantha Elkins, as Blanche, and Lou Warth, as mom Kate, are best at capturing the

sound and tone of Jewish Brooklyn residents, but Kemmerling was getting there even as the opening night performance progressed. The pale blonde Warth has gone brunette, while the striking Elkins (who stepped into this role only two and a half weeks before opening) dons glasses, pins her hair back, and drops her voice by an octave or so to play much older than her own age. Both are quite believable, and do some good dramatic work in a deeply hurtful argument over virtually nothing.  Their best moment together comes as both draw inward, their backs turned as they fight back tears, unable to express how shocked and sad each is to have turned on her sister. Father Jack (Hunter Boyle) is a long-suffering mensch who accepts his mandatory role as head of the family in any number of "just wait 'til your father gets home" scenarios, but prefers to offer his modest wisdom as reasonable advice. Boyle is an accomplished, veteran actor who has distinguished himself when cast against type, especially as a sympathetic Juan Peron a few years ago in Evita. Here, sadly he is simply the wrong actor for the role, and isn't particularly believable. Fortunately, he delivers his lines with good timing and clarity, allowing his partners on stage to shine in their scenes. The miscasting doesn't really hurt the play much at all, but it doesn't help anything either.  Allie Stubbs and Catherine Davenport alternate as Nora; I saw the latter on opening night, and she and Kimberly Hubbard (as Laurie) have some good moments on stage, together and with others, but I must warn all of the younger cast members: as a former Stanley, I can attest that the upstairs level of the set will swallow your lines, so project as you have never projected before!

Speaking of that upstairs level, Randy Strange's set design is practical: a completely realistic rectangular box with the fourth wall removed would be boring, and would pose sightline difficulties for audiences on each side of center. Instead, the home's living and dining room areas are opened out, giving the actors plenty of space in which to move, and the upstairs bedrooms are angled and situated to be as close to the audience as possible. (But a few extra mikes up there still couldn't hurt.)  Director David Britt successfully helps his cast to navigate the fine line between comedy and drama which the characters cross and recross so often. Still, with the name Neil Simon attached, a fair number of potential audience members are likely to be convinced that this is hokey, sit-com style family fluff, which it isn't. Likewise, others may be taken aback by the blunt discussions of sexuality, some salty language, and a few stretches of fairly dark conflict, which are no worse than anything on, say, Mad Men, but just be advised. Ultimately this is one of the most beloved and praised works from one of the biggest comic playwrights of the last 60 years, performed capably by some good local actors, in an enjoyable community theatre context. Brighton Beach Memoirs run through Sat. Jan. 26th; contact the Workshop box office at 799-6551 for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at Workshop Theatre - a review by August Krickel

Shattered survivors struggle over scraps of nourishment in a barren, apocalyptic wasteland in Workshop Theatre's new production of Edward Albee's classic play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  At least, it seems that way, as we spend a few desperate hours in the alcohol-fueled, vitriol-filled lives of a seriously disturbed, and disturbing, married couple, George and Martha. Audiences eager to experience Albee's dark fable with no holds barred will undoubtedly get their money's worth and then some, thanks to brilliant characterizations by a committed cast. Metaphors notwithstanding, the set-up for Who's Afraid is deceptively simple: two academic couples drink, carouse, and argue into the wee hours of the morning. Martha drunkenly and shrewishly criticizes George's shortcomings as a husband, a professor, and a man; he returns fire with wry, catty observations on said drunken shrewishness. Like rival boxers engaged in a harmless exhibition bout, often one or the other can't resist sneaking in a sucker punch or two. Neither really knows where to draw the line, but a bizarre game/deception has enabled the marital battle to rage on for 23 years. Like many, I read this play many years ago, and saw the Burton-Taylor film version, but I had forgotten how devastatingly witty the dialogue is. Elena Martinez-Vidal portrays Martha as an aging Snookie, the once-scandalous college president's daughter, now using booze and random affairs to carry her through a seemingly unhappy marriage. For Martha, it's far easier to get laughs from a clever play on the author Woolf's name and the nursery rhyme, than to actually discuss (or understand) Woolf's work.  Stann Gwynn as George wears a natty, professorial blazer, but sinks his hands deep into its pockets as if it were an old sweater, indicating general despair. Oddly, however, he is verbally clever and quick, nimbly playing with words, images and ideas; if this brilliant man's career has stalled, one wonders how responsible his drunken wife may have been in the squashing his ambitions. Both leads are at the top of their acting game, utterly believable as these amusing yet unlikeable characters.

Lee Williams and Giulia Marie Dalbec play a younger couple, labeled Nick and Honey in the program, although Nick is never referred to by name, and only he ever calls to his wife, as "honey."  Dalbec is either offstage or passed out (or both) for almost half of the play, but does a great job in a radically different role for her, playing mousy rather than the usual vivacious. During long stretches while others are speaking, she is always completely in character, busy with countless, unobtrusive little bits of business that make perfect sense.  It would be very easy to say that Williams seems awkward and self-conscious... except that Nick the character is supposed to be seen that way.  One could add that he is at times overwhelmed by the forceful personalities of the two leads...yet again, the character is written that way. Albee never gives Nick the lines to establish him as a scholar or scientist; in fact, in many ways he seems to be a younger, blander, incomplete version of George himself, with modest career goals, a wife who can't hold her liquor, a wealthy and larger-than-life father-in-law, and unspoken issues in his past. (The Trekkie in me wants Nick and Honey to be George and Martha from some alternate universe, visiting via a temporal flux, but no such luck.) Overall, Williams does his best with a difficult role.

I might have wanted to see a deeper debate on science vs. history or philosophy, but Albee is working in a different direction entirely, as the couples spend a solid two and a half hours (plus intermissions) seemingly fighting over nothing.  There's a central (and famous) plot twist that I won't reveal here, but in retrospect, it seems telegraphed from early in the first act, but I'm uncertain how newcomers to the show will perceive it.  Martha tells George that he doesn't know the difference between truth and illusion, to which he replies "No, but we must carry on as though we did."  In interviews, the playwright has professed a desire to aggressively engage the audience in the business of understanding the material, and accordingly we have to fill in many of the blanks and connect the dots for George and Martha's backstory and motivations. Only at the very end do we glimpse the actual affection and co-dependency shared by the couple, which then explains much of the dysfunctional fiction they have created, but audiences, scholars and critics have spent the last half century debating just how believable and effective that may be, from a literary standpoint. From a dramatic standpoint, it's quite moving.

Director Cynthia Gilliam allows the fast and furious dialogue to proceed naturally, never missing any of the many laugh lines that pepper the dark material.  I was surprised at how fresh and contemporary the 50-year-old script seemed, with just the tiniest hint of the Mad Men era, before certain modern expressions became common.  Costumes (by Janet Kile) are authentic, and yet could be worn today; a couple of random references to the Depression and World War 2 are the only things to indicate the setting. Towards the show's conclusion, George recites part of a Latin requiem, while Martha recounts an often-told story. Gilliam cleverly takes advantage of Gwynn's rich voice and has him actually sing the words, giving the moment a haunting beauty that is not otherwise found in the original.  Randy Strange's set accurately depicts an ordinary, upper-middle class living room, but I must praise whoever dressed the set (I'm guessing Meg Richards, credited for props.) Among all the customary suburban bric-a-brac are two framed photos, and sure enough, they are youthful portraits of Gwynn and Martinez-Vidal.

The ultimate question becomes: did I enjoy the play?  My answer is that I thoroughly enjoyed and admired the performances by the cast, and the new insights gained into the material via the director's vision.  I’d really question someone who actually enjoys Albee, much as one might admire the first ten minutes of Saving Pvt. Ryan, but not technically enjoy them.  Albee is one of the giants of contemporary theatre, and undeniably a genius, although possibly a mad genius. Joe Six-Pack who might otherwise be watching WWE Raw will likely not appreciate this work (although it features similar smackdowns and trash-talking!)  Any literate adults with backgrounds or interests in literature, sociology or psychology, and who want to see challenging themes acted out live by gifted performers, need to see this production.  With only seven performances left in a 199-seat theatre, there's no excuse for there not to be standing room only.  The show runs through Sat. Nov. 24th, i.e. the Saturday after Thanksgiving, contact the Workshop Box Office at 803-799-6551, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

Cynthia Gilliam reflects on her upcoming production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at Workshop Theatre

Veteran Midlands director Cynthia Gilliam, one of the founders of Workshop Theatre, recently took time to chat with Jasper Theatre Editor August Krickel about her upcoming production of an Edward Albee classic. Jasper: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is currently being produced on Broadway in a very high-profile revival - why do you think it still resonates with audiences?

Cynthia Gilliam:  For me, Albee's script is as timeless as Macbeth. Delicately balanced between comedy and tragedy, I believe this play will be staged again and again, right on into the foreseeable future. While George and Martha are bickering, disappointed, aging, alcoholics, they are deeply in love with each other. Their marriage, like the play, is a tightly wound tragicomedic concoction bound to endure. While (the) script is incredibly heavy lifting for actors, it is a different experience for the audience, when it is well played.  First-timers are as amazed and delighted at the rich comedy in the script as they are raked by the anger and vitriol there.

Jasper:  Albee has said that he wants audiences still to be completely entranced by and caught up in his shows even as they leave the theatre.  What sort of ideas/themes/messages do you hope audiences will take from this show?

CG:  However they are wounded, most people manage to make their way through life as best they can. Those with scars seek others similarly wounded, and they accommodate each other, often with made up games, hearty laughter, and a good sex. The cards we are what they are. We must deal with what we are dealt.

Jasper:  This is the 50th anniversary of the original Broadway premiere of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  However, you've done this show previously in Columbia?

Cynthia Gilliam:  This marks my third, and most likely final, encounter with (this) play. I produced and directed it the first time with Milton Dixon as George, and Bette Herring as Martha at the Playbox Theater, housed in an old Postal Office in Eau Claire. Years passed, and Russell Green, former head of the Theater Department at USC and an incredible director, cast me as Martha opposite Bob Hungerford’s George in a production staged at Charlton Hall Antiques Gallery on Gervais Street.   Acting with Hungerford was a stellar experience, and Russell was a whiz, with a very firm hand. We were gypsies back in those days, but we managed to stage credible productions, get decent reviews, draw good crowds, pay our bills, share what was left over, and do exactly as we pleased. Adding up the days and nights spent on these first endeavors would likely equal five months of living inside this script. Martha was my very last appearance as an actress.

Jasper:  Stann Gwynn and Elena Martinez-Vidal (profiled in Jasper 004 as one of Columbia's "leading ladies") play George and Martha in this production.  Just like with the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor film version, it may be hard for local audiences to realize that Stann and Elena are old enough for these roles.  Have you worked with them before?

CG:  This production is my first opportunity to work with Stann, although I have admired his talent on many occasions.  He and Elena cast me as their director, and I responded to their call!  Elena and I go way, way back. We have been talking for several years about working together again.

Jasper:  We've followed the career of Giulia Dalbec-Matthews for a number of years, and are so impressed with the increasingly complex and challenging roles she has taken on in the last year.  Still, the vulnerable character of Honey is very different from anything she has done on stage previously - how did you come to cast her?

CG:  I have made a point of trying to see everything (on stage) I can this year, as I want to do more, and need to know what everyone is doing, and how well. Lucky for me, I saw Legally Blonde at Workshop, primarily because my daughter, Liz, is involved in producing the show at Dreher High School, and she wanted to see it.  I was struck with the incredible energy and focus coming from Giulia, (and so) I cast Giulia based on her performance in Blonde.  I believe Giulia is very serious about growing herself as an actress.  Wise beyond her years, her intuition tells her that the more roles she tucks into her resume, the more she can widen her range of opportunities. To become the best actress you can possibly be, you have to practice the craft regularly, stay on the lookout for roles that will give you growing pains and lengthen your reach. I admire her for taking on this part, and she is making it all her own. She is very “directable.”

Jasper:  We profiled veteran Workshop Theatre set designer Randy Strange this summer in Jasper 006. How is he to work with?

CG:  To borrow from Mr. Albee, Randy is “a beanbag”. He is the perfect collaborator. Because of Randy, this cast will have more than ten days to rehearse on a complete, furnished, and finished set. He has made a very challenging prop called for in the show, and I tested it three days ago. I irritate the snot out of him, but he endures and produces just what I need. Who could ask for more?

Jasper:  Big-budget musicals are always a hit locally, and sometimes so are new, name-brand dramas, but this show is 50-yrs. old, and touches on issues not everyone might relate to (academia, middle-age, upper-middle-class malaise, etc.)  Why should a Columbian theatre-goer come see this show?

CG:  Theatre-goers should come to this show for the same reason they would attend a fine production of Hamlet. Virginia Woolf is an American classic, and, as you said, it is over 50 years old. Yet, people are still putting it up on the stage all over the country. It is worth hearing and seeing every decade or so.  Were I in Chicago next week and a production was running there, I would book tickets as soon as I got to my hotel.   I do not believe it will wilt with time or fall from favor. There is so much in this script that is yet to be mined and put on display.

........................

Ticket information can be found at http://www.workshoptheatre.com/ or by calling the box office at 803-799-6551 from noon to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Show dates are Nov. 9-11, 14-18, and 23-24.  All performances are at 8:00 PM, except for matinees on Sunday Nov. 11 and 18.


 

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves – A Blonde Bombshell Falls on Workshop Theatre! A review by Stephen Ingle

Legally Blonde - The Musical opened at Workshop Theatre on Friday night, and it was a performance that Gloria Steinem, Helen Gurley Brown, and every other feminist would have proudly supported.  Even if you have not seen the movie which this musical is based on, or are not a fan, this production will have you seeing blonde on your way out the door.

The play tells the story of Elle (wonderfully portrayed by Giulia Marie Dalbec), a Malibu blonde whose obsession with pink, fashion, and everything trendy borders on the sickeningly stereotypical.  After graduating from UCLA, where she was a proud member of the Delta Nu sorority, she thinks her boyfriend, Warner (Daniel Gainey), is going to propose, sealing her fate as a rich lawyer’s wife.  However, he has different plans, and decides she’s not the right fit for his future as a prominent lawyer and senator. So, he goes off to Harvard Law, and Elle has to re-think her master plan.  Here is where the feminist mystique gets lost, due to the fact that Elle decides to study, study, and study to also get into Harvard, all for the sake of getting her man back.  When she arrives, Elle has to face up to the fact that law school isn’t the pink parade that she thought it would be, and she has to get to work. By sheer movie and musical magic, she runs into Warner, and discovers that he has a new girlfriend, Vivienne (Shelby Sessler) who is much more suited to the political power couple from Warner’s dreams.  Faced with the reality of losing her man, Elle decides to throw herself into her studies with the help of a law class teaching assistant, Emmett (Mark Ziegler).  Unlike Elle, Emmett comes from a humble background where his single mother worked and slaved to make sure he could attend law school.  Emmett even works three jobs while at school to make ends meet. Elle enrolls in a law class run by a ruthless law professor named Callahan, where Emmett is the assistant and both Warner and Vivienne are in class, too. Callahan announces that he will accept four students as interns at his very prestigious firm based on their performance.

Emmett decides to take Elle under his wing and make her work through holidays to get that internship. This pays off when she is asked to join Callahan’s legal team in a high profile case defending a gorgeous blonde workout guru accused of killing her much older husband.  Unfortunately, Elle comes face to face (literally) with Callahan’s true intentions when he tries to kiss her, and sexually harasses her. In the end, Elle saves the case and the day, she and Emmett get together, and she moves past Warner and Vivienne. Overall, it follows the rule of the well-written plot with all the stages in place – exposition, rising action, climax, denouement, and resolution. It’s a fun ride, especially with some of the musical numbers. The most notable numbers are “What You Want,” Blood in the Water,” “Bend and Snap,” and “Gay or European.” As I implied in the title, this show is carried by the female roles. The “chorus” comprised of Elle’s friends from UCLA help keep the story moving with their unyielding energy.  Besides Giulia Marie Dalbec, who truly does a phenomenal job, other standout performances are Kathy Milliron as Paulette and Sarah Farra as Brooke.

Unfortunately, the male actors in the show couldn’t quite hold up their end of the bargain. Although they had wonderful singing voices, for the most part there was simply no chemistry between them and Elle. In the role of Emmett, Mark Ziegler just didn’t have the edge as the blue-collar, working student struggling to get through school to provide the dichotomy to Elle’s more spoiled, rich girl persona. He came off more as the best friend or nice guy who finishes last, which was off-putting, since he wins Elle in the end. As Warner, Daniel Gainey played the part with a nice level of soft sincerity, but there was a certain schmarmy-ness missing from his opportunistic, ladder-climbing character. Finally, Hunter Boyle did bring a lot of life to the role of Callahan, which made the song “Blood in the Water” so enjoyable. However, the very important moment of sexual harassment when he makes a move on Elle seemed glossed over, just lying there on the stage. Also, one slight technical note – the sound designer should really look into putting microphones above or on the catwalk above the set for the chorus. They open the show, and I couldn’t hear or understand them at all.

Overall, I recommend Legally Blonde - The Musical to Columbia theatre-goers. It’s a high energy, fun, and appealing show that will have you humming the songs on the way home. Also, for all you animal lovers, there are two very cute and apparently well-trained dogs in the production.

Legally Blonde - The Musical runs through September 29th at Workshop Theatre,  1136 Bull St.  Showtimes are at 8:00 p.m. except a September 23rd matinee at 3:00 p.m. Call the box office at  (803) 799-6551 for reservations between noon and 5:30 p.m.  Tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for senior citizens and military, $16 for students, and $12 for children under 12.

...................

Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts welcomes Stephen Ingle to our roster of theatre critics.  After living in Los Angeles for 15 years where he worked as an actor, writer, producer, and stand-up comic, Stephen returned to his roots in Columbia, SC. Having just received his Masters of Arts in Teaching in Theatre Education from USC, he is currently teaching Theatre in the Richland One School District.

 

A Little Princess, Camp Rock, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all running through this weekend

As I type this, the temperature has passed one hundred degrees yet again.  Wouldn't this be the perfect time to relax inside a nice, cool, dark theatre and see a live show?  If so, you have lots of chances through this weekend, as three local theatre companies present the final performances of their  summer productions. Chapin Theatre Company (aka Chapin Community Theatre) is currently  performing in the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, located at  7300 College St. in Irmo.  Currently running is A Little Princess., adapted from the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, with shows tonight (Thursday, 7/26) Friday and Saturday, and a final Sunday afternoon matinee.   This production, directed by Debra Leopard,  features Molly Corbett in the title role, with Jeff Sigley, MonaLisa Botts, and Eliza C. Spence among the adults in the cast.    From their press release:

A Little Princess is the classic story of Sara Crews, a little girl born in India who is sent to a London private school after her mother dies. After word arrives that her father has lost his fortune and disappeared, she is banished to the garret where she must use her creative imagination and spirited optimism to overcome her circumstances. Ultimately, she becomes an inspiration for girls and boys everywhere. An uplifting tale for children of all ages, NewsDay said there is "a lot of magic in it."  Visit www.chapintheatre.org for ticket information.

Workshop Theatre meanwhile is presenting three more performances of  Disney's Camp Rock - The Musical, this Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM. Read What Jasper Said about the show at  http://jaspercolumbia.net/blog/?p=1841 .

Town Theatre has four more performances scheduled for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Thursday through Saturday evening st 7:30 PM, and a final Sunday matinee at 3 PM.  Scott Vaughan plays the lead role of Joseph, Shannon Willis Scruggs directs and choreographs, and Lou Warth is the music director.   From their press release:

Based on the book of Genesis, this exciting musical follows the story of a young man with a knack for having prophetic dreams. He incurs the jealousy of his eleven brothers who sell him into slavery in Egypt where his talents eventually save the country from famine and secure him a position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. In due time, he is reunited with his now contrite and guilt-ridden brethren.  Its catchy music by Andrew Lloyd Webber utilizes a variety of musical styles and genres including rock ‘n’ roll, country-western, reggae, disco and even a French art song. Music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and lyrics are by Tim Rice. Joseph… is a winning show that is ideal family entertainment. Prepare to enter a world of dreams, for – as Joseph learns – “any dream will do.”     Visit http://towntheatre.com for ticket information.