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Average Rating Given : 3.00000
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REVIEWS

Zorro: The Curse of Capistrano, by David Richmond (developed by David Richmond/Drew Fracher)--based upon the works of Johnston McCulley
Is "Zorro" a "Turning Point" for the Cumming Playhouse?
Monday, January 23, 2006
4.0
It would be sad indeed to see the Cumming Playhouse continue to scale back on its commitment to local theater as appears to be the case on its website. In its young history, there have been several entertaining, family-friendly presentations that appear to be on the verge of extinction, in favor of brief, one weekend only acoustic concerts and such.

That said, a strong argument for reversing this decision is currently on stage with the arrival of "Zorro: the Curse of Capistrano," the initial production of a new theater company called Turning Point. To risk using an over-utilized theatrical term, the show is ambitious in the extreme.

Unlike most stage productions, "Zorro" employs several different settings and quick, rapid-fire scenes; indeed, a scene-by-scene synopsis would take several pages. Directors David Coyle and Joshua Howland uses the intimate surroundings of the Cumming Playhouse very well, making much from little, and the actors involved take the proceedings from there.

Chris Goldston, a Cumming theater veteran, is Don Diego Vega (as opposed to de la Vega, the original character's name), a boisterous pub brawler who, in the early 1800s is summoned home to Los Angeles by a note from his father Alejandro (Gene Heslin) that reads simply "Come." LA is being taken over by a corrupt government -- the ineffectual Alcalde (Stephen Jones) and the evil but dashing Captain Ramon (Matt Nichie). "Zorro" tells the tale of how Don Diego, with the assistance of his friend Friar Filipe (Marcus Durham) and Indian spiritualists El Brujo (John Carpenter) and Ybarra (Mary Russell), becomes Zorro, or "the Fox," all the while pursuing (along with Ramon) Luisa (Cara Mantella), who is far more taken with Zorro than with Don Diego.

It's best to check your knowledge of Zorro lore at the door, if you have any. Chief among the contextual complaints that I have is that the character of Don Diego is far closer to that of Zorro than any previous incarnations. What makes masked avengers work is that, more often than not, their alter egos are diametrically opposite to their true identities. Since Goldston's Diego is already a brawler and a noted expert with a rapier, is that mask and hat REALLY gonna fool anybody? In the original "Zorro" tales, Don Diego was a fop; a lazy philosopher who shamed his father with his apparent cowardice in order to protect his secret. Here, this opportunity sadly never exists.

That said, the play is terrific fun. The swordplay is assured and exciting; the action is fast-paced, and the cast is without exception inspired. Many supporting players assay multiple roles, and I had to chuckle to myself when one of them was placed in charge of his own murder investigation.

Goldston is supplied with countless quips that he performs with the same flourish as he does his swordfighting and is no less satisfying. Nichie's villain is hissably evil, and indeed received some boos at his curtain call for his acrid nastiness. His opera background is evident, as he and Goldston combine to keep the action over-the-top; scene chewing at its most digestible and delicious.

While the lighting was extremely adroit in execution, the sound was another matter. There were several instances in which the music drowned out the dialogue, and even worse, the expository arias of bar-maid Juanita (Olivia Sloan), making it difficult to make out her beautifully sung words.

My reservations aside, "Zorro: the Curse of Capistrano" is fun for the whole family. I'd love to see the same cast, though, in a more faithful adaptation of Johnston McCully's original. They are more cheated than we are.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
About Half a Humbug!
Monday, November 28, 2005
2.0
It's as inevitable as "Deck the Halls" by Mannheim Steamroller. It's the holiday season, and for the second straight year, Rosewater takes to the stage at the Cumming Playhouse with "A Christmas Carol," the venerable Charles Dickens classic that is woefully under public domain, meaning that adapters of this perennial masterpiece can pretty much do as they like without fear of reprisal (how else could Mr. Magoo have played Ebenezer Scrooge).

Rosewater should get kudos for some innovative work in their production. The revolving stage is a wonderful technique, used most impressively early in the show, as Scrooge enters his office seamlessly from the outside, while the set is in motion (certainly not as effortlessly as it seems). This economical use of the snug space provided at the Cumming Playhouse is heaven-sent, as the production requires twenty-two set changes.

My difficulty with the show is in the liberties it takes with the wonderful language of Dickens. William Pacer, who undoubtedly looks very much the role he has played for two straight seasons, uses the William Shatner approach to his line delivery, meaning that roughly twenty-percent of the dialogue is lost completely. He doesn't appear to understand the beauty and poetic use that Dickens has for the dialogue he has written. Pacer does show admirable restraint and compassion in certain scenes, most notably the death of Scrooge's sister and the breakup of his relationship with Belle, but sadly, his final confrontation with his tombstone is almost incomprehensible.

In addition, director G. Scott Riley blows through bookended narration of the story almost as though he's seeing these words for the first time. The first few paragraphs of "A Christmas Carol" are among the most lyrical expository preludes in all of English literature, but Riley glibly plows through them without even savoring the perfection of Dickens' word choices.

As sloppy as that is, Riley is perfection later in the show as the gleeful Fezziwig, complemented by Cumming theater veteran Cheryl Rogers as his wife. In this inspired sequence, the cast takes to the aisles of the theater to convey the merriment of the company Christmas party without detracting from the main event, which is Scrooge's betrothal to the fair Belle. The young actors in this scene (whose names are sadly missing from theaterreview.com's website) are superb and understated.

Fine makeup and lighting contribute to the appearances of the spirits in the production, but Marley's Ghost appears to have one volume only, as he screams and shouts his entire contribution. The more memorable Marleys on stage and screen have made their marks by alternating sinister quiet with mournful agony. And his chains seem much fresher than the seven years that Marley has been dead.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is beautiful, but too soft spoken, and would have benefitted by a discreetly placed body mike. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a towering giant, and plays the role with aplomb, alternating merriment and grave disapproval at Scrooge and his recalcitrant behavior.

And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a terrific creation, which I won't spoil here and is worth the price of admission. His introduction, however, is muted by an inappropriately placed musical interlude, one of many which serve to assist in the changing of scenes. While the "O Holy Night" duet is sweet and well-executed, it should have been placed elsewhere in the program.

Indeed, a few of the choral numbers, while welcome early in the show, could be whittled down, particularly in the ponderous last half of Act II, as Scrooge's redemption is played out about fifteen minutes too long, while musical interludes play between the scenes in the street, his nephew's home, and the office in the next morning.

Lighting, uniformly solid throughout the production, has a couple of problems. The initial appearance of Marley's ghost's face in Scrooge's doorknocker is quick, blurry and confusing, and Scrooge doesn't appear all that concerned.

Also, from the opening of the graveyard scene, the lights center stage clearly show Scrooge's name on the headstone. Scrooge and the spirit are stage left. When it finally comes time for the "big reveal," the light shines to highlight the name just as Scrooge collapses on the tombstone, blocking the name completely!

The play benefits from very strong supporting performances. Another name that stands out is John Spencer's, who is a strong Bob Cratchit, who could use a better barber. In fact, the entire Cratchit clan is a strong suit for the show.

Riley finally closes the two and a half hour show with a "literary license" that is unnecessary, and frankly jarring, which again I won't spoil for you here.

Consider "A Christmas Carol" carefully. I would strongly endorse it if the tickets were a tad cheaper, but I suspect that that was not a choice made by the production company. I would hope that Mr. Pacer and Mr. Riley would take another look at the language in the book prior to next year's production, and realize what a jewel it is.

OPENING SOON
Act Out! A Graduation Show
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OMP Comedy:The Onion Heads
by improv
Onion Man Productions
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by David Greig
Aris
CLOSING SOON
Act Out! A Graduation Show
Good Acting Studio
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by John Babcock
Agathas: A Taste of Mystery
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Capitol City Opera Company
Outlying Islands
by David Greig
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NOW PLAYING
Jesus Christ Superstar
by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
ACT1
Murder and Stranger Things
by John Babcock
Agathas: A Taste of Mystery
On The Light Side: The Golden Age of Broadway
Capitol City Opera Company

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