Average Rating Given : 2.90909
|The New Depot Players||4|
|ART Station Theatre||2|
|Broadway Across America||1|
|Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts||1|
|Alliance Theatre Company||1|
Reviews in Last 6 months :
|Murder is a Game, by Fred Carmichael
Sunday, April 5, 2009 ||
This is where we left off after director Cyndi Evans’ production of “A Curious Savage” last season.|
“Call me crazy, but I think Ms. Evans should round up her best actors— [including] Parker Beck, Patrick Telley, Robbi Scruggs whose dead-pan delivery made demented-mom Florence all the more disturbing, the Toms Harrison and Johnson, maybe Amber McCullough from this season’s ‘Crimes of the Heart’—and then look for the right script.
“Only a fool could resist.”
Cyndi did most of what I asked for – she reunited Telley, Scruggs and Johnson.
In her new show, Telley and Johnson were standouts from their very entrances. It is a pleasure to watch these natural-born actors at work.
Scruggs, however, disappointed me from Line One of her starring role. It was as if she was trying too hard to play comedy. She ham-handed punch lines and read her dialogue in a curiously la-di-da vocal pitch disconnected from any physical presence.
New Depot Players newcomer Ernie Smith, her leading man, presented a well-defined character, but think of what heights he could have hit with Amber McCullough as his leading lady!
And how delicious Parker Beck would have been in the triple role of actress/mistress/daughter!
Instead, Katy Durham seemed lost in that pivotal role, as Maridel Reynolds (I know, Cyndi’s sister) did in hers. Perhaps it is not yet time for either actress to have so much stage time, and I say this as delicately as possible in the hopes of nurturing their progress toward more substantial performances.
Two actresses do not require improvement. The rubber-faced NDP veteran Connie Davis was as entertaining as her award-winning Twink Futrelle role two seasons ago.
And we’ll always remember when big-eyed Miranda Tamaska stopped by Conyers on her way to small or silver screen work, hopefully under a director who does not saddle her with an overdone “Noo Yawk” accent.
Overall, although Scruggs broke my heart by not being as fabulous as I remember her, the most disheartening aspect of the show was clicking on this Web site and finding no other reviews.
Does no one recall my critique of “Daddy’s Dyin'” and its attendant hullabaloo? I thought for sure we had birthed some new theatre critics. Now Rockdale Writer has to do all the heavy lifting—again.
|Wicked, by Stephen Schwartz & Winnie Holzman
The Wicked Ticket: “Legally Blonde” meets “Carrie”|
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 ||
“Wicked” tells the backstory of “The Wizard of Oz” in which Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West, aka Elphaba or Elphie, meet in school, become best enemies then friends then on opposite sides of a war of the words (and spells).|
Elphie becomes hated and hunted after her kindly deeds are misinterpreted by a malicious spin doctor who wants to keep the focus off her own miscarriages of justice.
Boy, do I know what that feels like. (See my review for “Daddy’s Dyin’”) Try to raise a community’s standards a little bit, try to offer some guidance so those already making noteworthy contributions can deepen and enrich their performances and what happens?
No good deed goes unpunished.
It’s not easy being green
But I digress.
“Wicked” might also be called “Clever.” Libretto writer Winnie Holzman peppered the pages with sharp-as-a-tack references to some of the movie’s most beloved lines. The best is when kinetically-talented outcast Elphie returns to the family mansion; her surprised sister Nessarose (played by Deedee Magno Hall) asks Elphie what she is doing there and Elphie replies, “Well, there’s no place like home.” [Hold for laugh.] Carmen Cusack as Elphie handled that line, as she did much of her delivery, with understatement unusual in a Broadway spectacle. Clarke can deliver shivers as well as laughs, like when the actress crammed sheer terror into the few lines Holzman wrote to sketch the chilling evolution of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow—“He won’t need one now” and “Don’t let him die.”
Katie Rose Clarke as Glinda is pitch-perfect on the hit “Popular.” However, Clarke took us on a journey down the Yellow Dumb as a Brick Road. Perhaps Holzman wrote her that way but there’s only so many times you can beat a dead horse of a different color.
Dorothy receives a light touch—literally. At first only a voice from the floorboard, she emerges not as a paid actor but as a shadow on a screen, courtesy of set designer Eugene Lee and lighting director Kenneth Posner.
The gorgeous Munchkinland costumes by Susan Hilferty are exactly what I would expect if, say, the dressmakers from the court of “Camelot” took up residency in Little Five Points after sojourning through the punk clubs of Tokyo.
No, I didn’t forget to mention Stephen Schwartz’ music. I was saving it. Cusack belts his songs out of the park, getting a bigger hand than Clarke for the Act I finale “Defying Gravity.”
As far as dancing goes I thought there would be more of it, but instead of a choreographer the show has musical staging by Wayne Cilento. Eh—what can you do?
The Halloween performance should be a wild ride! So should All Souls Day and The Day of the Dead, two of the final nights of the Broadway show’s Atlanta run. It’s BYOB--Bring Your Own Broomstick.
You can’t have mine.
|Daddy's Dyin' Who's Got the Will?, by Del Shores
I thought they did very well, considering the lack of rehearsal time|
Saturday, October 25, 2008 ||
However, a potty-mouth play like this does not belong in Conyers. Hard to imagine a theatre troupe earning a reputation for high-quality work when it panders to the lowest common denominator. I have to admit, though, the night I saw it, it found its audience. They even gave the actors--who, it has been pointed out to me by one of their own, are amateurs--a standing ovation.|
|So Here's The Deal, by Bob Bergen
You don't have to be Jewish to love Bergen|
Sunday, October 19, 2008 ||
When Hollywood, California resident—and, not incidentally, THE voice of Porky Pig for the last 20 years—Bob Bergen hit the ATL in March he taught a two-day voice-over workshop which I visited at the invitation of his producer and my friend Marian Massaro. One of the techniques I heard him explain is physicalize the character. Scrunch. Make faces. Gesture. Cavort. Expend the kind of energy a marathon runner would envy. |
And last Friday night Bergen did all those things, which explains how a one-man show can fill the stage with so many characters there isn’t room for another actor.
The script of “So” (sprinkled with sound effects, executed flawlessly by The Basement Theatre’s techie) took us from Bergen’s childhood home in Cinncinati, Ohio to a Hollywood meeting with his idol Mel Blanc of Looney Toons fame and through his ongoing adventures in animation (which can get a little blue, but we’re all adults here).
By alternately deploying the helpless appeal of Porky, the cynicism of Bugs Bunny and the energy of the Tasmanian Devil, Bergen went beyond giving impressions of people—he became them. The result was a rapid-fire series of punchlines, highlighted by a hysterical look at his first day as a Universal Studios tour guide in which everything that could go wrong, did.
Throughout, Bergen employed equal parts chutzpah and humility to tell the tale of an American dream come true.
And best of all? His curtain speech is "Th-th-th-that's all, folks!"
|Working - A Musical, by Studs Terkel, Stephen Schwartz, Nina Faso
Didn’t always work for me|
Thursday, August 28, 2008 ||
Once upon a time when this writer had not yet decided on a career, Studs Terkel’s book “Working” was both Whitman’s Sampler and crystal ball. The interviews—monologues, really, since the questions were eliminated—gave glimpses into what it would be like to be an ironworker, truck driver or political fundraiser.|
After seeing this production of the musical based on the book, I now know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a telephone operator, just like Heather Lamb (played by Kim Fratesi) and eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. It’s a guilty pleasure that Heather confesses so openly, making it an appealing perk worth enduring the hours of tedium in between.
Colleen Hargis-Gaenssley’s interpretation of waitress Delores Dante reminded me of why I (briefly) chose the food service industry—Ms. Dante had such an appetite for her line of work, I identified with her. Everyone has to eat. The whole world comes to me.
Colleen also delivers another stunning portrayal, that of millworker Grace Clements, but in what can only be called an anti-recruitment scenario Colleen mimes the back-breaking working while droning on about the awful conditions. It’s a chilling scene that every high school graduation coach should have taken his or her students to see. (Yes, the show has closed and I missed deadline big time. But I wanted to share my thoughts with you for the record anyway.)
Colleen (who also choreographed) translates from one character to another with ease, but not all the actors have her fluency despite director Anne Hargis’ (her mom) efforts to stretch their ranges by giving each of them a number of roles to play.
Speaking of numbers, often Ms. Hargis put too many bodies on stage; nearly half of those bodies were obese. Her choice of identical t-shirts as a uniform/costume was too arbitrary; the weight-challenged performers should have worn more flattering and less distracting button-down shirts.
Ms. Hargis also selected or allowed New York accents for some of the workers, which was unfortunate except in the case of Britt Reagan. As fireman Tom Patrick, Britt made it work flawlessly. A slight Hispanic cadence flavored his portrayal of Robert Nunez, box boy and migrant worker, which seemed to help him burst out with a menacing passion that rippled through the audience like fear. Britt, a junior majoring in theatre, is one of the discoveries that make this job so delightful.
Sharing Britt’s magnetic stage presence is Amber McCullough, who shone as housewife Kate Rushton, desperately reaching out for appreciation and trust.
Joni Howard also impressed as grocery store checker Babe Secoli, confidently guiding new clerks through the miles of aisles.
A deliciously droll second-act pick-me-up was Les Mosley as ex-copy boy Charlie Blossom. His interlude was like a cross between “The Front Page” and “Natural Born Killers” interpreted by comic Steven Wright.
However, there were some characters that did not work for me.
As ironworker Mike Dillard, Joseph Harrison seemed oddly feminine. He may have been playing against stereotype but he stretched himself very close to Village People status. Did Anne not notice?
Likewise, corporate executive Rex Winship, played by Rick Bryant, was more Milquetoast than mogul. I understand portraying a conflicted character adds depth to a role, but in the few minutes we had to meet each worker the subtlety just became confusing.
Also appearing were Jill Miller, Chad Aiken, Kelly Gregg, Blakely Bryant, Connie Davis and Tom Harrison. Musical director was Lenae Rose. Set design (kudos!) by Anne and Rick. Lights by Carissa Worm.
|Bingo: The Winning New Musical, by Michael Heitzman & Ilene Reid
"Bingo" is on the money|
Friday, July 18, 2008 ||
Though the characters are campy and broadly drawn, by the end of the evening they seem like friends of yours as well as each other.|
I found myself marveling at the expenses lavished on the set, not to mention the $18 in potential prizes the audience can actually win.
This gave me added incentive to stay past intermission, as I was already having a good time, but here's a warning for those with sensitive ears: there are curse words and a crude sexual reference in the second act.
So if you're like me and "first act" most shows (leave at intermission), you can take your parents to see this with no squirming.
However, don't leave early if you find yourself in Seat A5. That's all I can say.
|Dearly Beloved, by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten
Wedding belle blues|
Sunday, April 27, 2008 ||
Conyers, home of the Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts and their partner the New Depot Players, is the kind of town where it is possible to get married between the crape myrtle and a propane tank, which is why that line got such a big laugh March 22 at the metro Atlanta—no, Georgia—premiere of “Dearly Beloved.” Written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, the comedy was acted by the Players with breakneck—or is it break arm?—speed under the spirited and energetic direction of Cyndi Evans.|
Conyers is also the kind of town where a phone call from the local equivalent of the play’s Futrelle sisters keeps an opening-night audience waiting for 10 minutes. “Can you hold the curtain?” I can almost hear them say. “We’re just now paying our bar tab.”
The theatre, Center Street Arts, does not have a curtain, mind you. Nor does it have proper chairs, as Ms. Evans said in a pre-curtain (!) speech, but you can sponsor a real theatre seat for $500. Ms. Evans said this completely deadpan even as concealed somewhere onstage was a sign bearing the photograph of her husband, local pharmacist and city council member Vince Evans, as the fictional $450 meat sponsor of the wedding of Tina Joe Futrelle and Parker Price.
Yes, meat. Twink Futrelle, played by New Depot Players newcomer but stage veteran Connie Davis who has the most gorgeous hair color and the most delightfully malicious facial expressions in the whole cast if not in all of theatrical Atlanta, gets Clovis Meats to contribute 300 pounds of pork. To save even more money on a slim catering budget, Twink graciously helps her sister, mother of the bride Frankie Futrelle Dubberly, with expenses by asking wedding guests to bring pot luck dishes to the fellowship hall of the Tabernacle of the Lamb. The resulting littered landscape of Tupperware and tin foil by set decorators Ms. Evans, Chris Mauran (get well soon!) and Colin McCord almost becomes another character even as it appalls poor Frankie.
Poor Frankie. Played by Amy Simerly with eye-of-the-hurricane understatedness that translates into the evening’s best performance, Frankie is the rock on which all the Futrelles' troubles fall. “A woman is like a tea bag,” she says. “You don’t know how strong she is until you stick her in hot water.”
Her other sister, Honey Raye Futrelle, comes home like the prodigal sister after a mess of marriages wrecked both her own life and the singing career of The Sermonettes, the gospel touring group composed of the Futrelle sisters. Becky Chapman in the role gives Honey Raye the wise-cracking delivery and gestures of a Texan Mae West long overdue for her next cocktail.
Craig Beck as Wiley Hicks hasn’t missed any cocktails; in fact for Hicks cocktail hour is a moveable feast. Beck, in his stage debut, takes a role of incoherent outbursts and drunken walks and turns it into a joyful explosion of his inner child, giving himself over to the audience with the utter unselfconsciousness of a toddler at play.
Finding brand-new New Depot Players is one of Ms. Evans’ quests, she said in a pre-curtain (!) interview; part of the fun of directing is, for her, in nurturing new talent. Reading between the lines of that ambition could translate into nervousness and dead spots as less experienced thespians say their lines and wait for their next cue. But Ms. Evans has folded the newcomers into the mix of tried and true players like prop maker Willa Kerr folded yellow glue into white ovals to make plastic deviled eggs. Tom Johnson as Sheriff John Curtis Buntner twirls a mean prop pistol and shows he can handle comedy as well as the drama of this season’s “The Boys Next Door,” although he needs to tone down the eyeliner. Scott Mills, also from that drama, has a little less success as Dub Dubberly although buoyed by New Depot Players veteran Ms. Simerly as his leading lady he turns in a solid performance. His character is Dad to the bride’s twin sister Gina Jo, a role in which Megan DeMarco blends take-charge helpfulness and blushing shyness into a fresh, unpredictable and utterly charming portrayal. In fact, Gina Jo blows Tina Jo (also played by Ms. DeMarco) completely off the stage.
It is Tina Jo, however, that the evil Patsy Price, mother of the groom, wants blown off the stage, the altar and the upper echelon of Fayro, Texas society—how dare that white trash marry her precious son Parker? In a bulldozer of a role, New Depot Players volunteer coordinator Maria Morales Johnson (no relation to Tom) shows off her years of onstage experience with an unreservedly convincing performance as The Mother From Hell. I’ve never been to Fayro, which I suspect the authors made up anyway, but I have no doubt that Ms. Price orders her daily cocktail from the country club waiter in the same honey tones that Ms. Johnson exudes even while steam pours from her ears and venom from her overpriced heart.
Another stage veteran seen in Conyers for the first time is Temos Wooten (no relation to the playwright), playing reluctant UPS delivery man-turned-preacher Justin Waverly. His befuddled expressions add maximum comedy firepower to his character’s inner turmoil over the shock of 1) being impounded into a wedding, 2) wearing absurdly short vestments and 3) running into the Love of His Life, the fresh-as-a-peach Gina Jo.
How any actor can stand under the lights and let people look at him or her is beyond me—I used to know, being a drama major and all—but Ms. Evans’ sister Maridel Reynolds bosses the stage like her character Geneva Musgrave bosses the wedding party. She makes the audience feel like a better-informed version of the hapless congregation being mollified offstage by the Poultry Queen singing songs about chickens.
Let us not forget Ms. Evans’ own turn in the role of deliciously deceitful fortune teller Nelda Lightfoot. Word has it that Ms. Evans stepped in at the last minute—OK, two weeks ago—and bravely went onstage despite an opening night mishap in which she mistook the show business adage “Break a leg” for “Break an arm,” thus making her the only cast member actually in a cast.
As they say in Fayro, the show must go on.
|The Curious Savage, by John Patrick
Sunday, April 27, 2008 ||
I’m a fool.|
Yes, I am.
It took me till Act III to get the point of John Patrick’s 1950 comedy “The Curious Savage,” revived last night by the New Depot Players in Conyers, Ga.
It’s about women’s lib.
The injustices that happen to Ethel Savage would never have happened to a man in the same circumstances, which are the inheriting of a fortune and the desire to form a charitable foundation. Such a man would have been called a philanthropist. But Ethel is called crazy and—although there is no evidence in the script that she presented the violence required for involuntary commitment—sent to a psychiatric institution by her disinherited and disappointed stepchildren.
It took me two acts and an intermission to catch on because I failed to heed playwright Patrick’s own warning that appearances can be deceiving, like the character of Florence who seemed completely sane until the chilling moment when she introduced an oversized doll as her five-year-old son.
You see, the play’s main motif—beribboned with bon mots like a long-lost Oscar Wilde script—seems to be the teeter-totter balance between hard-nosed reality and the world of whimsy. It’s both a strong statement and a popular one; when the play originally opened on Broadway, post-World War II patrons may have also seen its thematic cousins “A Streetcar Named Desire”and “Brigadoon” during the 1947-1948 theatre season, as well as “Bell, Book and Candle,” which shared the 1950-1951 season with “The Curious Savage” albeit briefly since “Bell” ran for 233 performances and “Savage” petered out after a paltry 31.
Nevertheless, that was 31 times that the silent screen star Lillian Gish may have made her entrance in grand dame style; the play builds up to her appearance by the theatrical device of having the supporting players gossip about her character and in so doing give the audience a great deal of information about what kind of woman to expect.
It’s an entrance that Judy Mauran as Ethel is unable to make at the New Depot Players’ home, Center Street Arts, because the construction of the black box theatre itself and the set accomodating its design require her to enter from downstage left instead of upstage center. After pages of fanfare, instead of taking the stage as a crazy-as-a-fox matriarch propelled by her thirst for adventure and her unconquerable spirit, Ms. Mauran slips onstage like a well-heeled but sensibly-shod nun. We salivate for Mame, and we get a serving of Gooch.
It’s not Ms. Mauran’s fault. It’s theatrical feng shui. If director Cyndi Evans duplicated the Broadway set, then it’s no wonder the original closed after two weeks.
Petty set construction complaints aside, this psychological battle between reason and savagery by the pre-Pulitzer Prize playwright of “Teahouse for the August Moon” pits, in one corner, a family snarling like a pack of dogs, descending into madness with threats of destruction, and in the other, lunatics treating each others’ space, feelings and idiosyncracies with respect and even love.
“Savage,” to quote the institution’s Dr. Emmett, glows like the reflection of a moon on a lake when Ms. Evans gets the pace and her actors’ interpretations right.
“But strike it and it’s destroyed,” Emmett, played by Patrick Telley, said.
Telley, whose voice brings back memories of the late Robert Preston from “The Music Man” and “Victor Victoria,” is one of the actors whom Ms. Evans got right.
His Dr. Emmett was a nuanced study of perplexion, a doctor of the mind having two minds about his newest patient. Telley seemed genuinely puzzled by Ethel’s so-called condition; with good reason, since the dichotomy between her stepchildren’s claims and her own demeanor and speech would have rendered Freud himself unable to reach a diagnosis.
Another standout is Parker Beck as Fairy May who is, as Ethel calls her Act III costume, “sheer delight.” Playing a role created on Broadway by the late Lois Hall, who enjoyed icon status during the 1950s as the queen of the B-movie Western, Ms. Beck flounced, hopped and pirouetted her way through the evening while lending complete gravity to lines like, “You’re very generous for your size and weight.” With her husband Craig Beck’s success last season in his theatrical debut during “Dearly Beloved,” perhaps Conyers will see this husband-wife acting team in a suitable vehicle.
Other theatrical debuts, however, in this production have not been quite as triumphant.
Which is why this critic waited until after closing night to post the complete review. I am not entirely heartless; I couldn’t bear for the actors to go on after reading what I have to say about them.
Vanessa Outlaw as the nurse Miss Willie has one emotion: cheerfulness. Luke Conway as inmate Jeffrey is sweet but annoying, albeit some of that blame must be borne by Ms. Evans who unimaginatively insisted he disguise his character’s imagined scar by holding his hand to his face throughout Acts I, II and III. Both “actors” are as expressive as a box of popsicle sticks. When Ms. Outlaw and Conway—whose characters are supposed to be married to each other—have a scene together, it’s like a tête-à-tête between two unusually stiff clothespins. Although Conway is able to impart an appropos tenderness to his exit line “Don’t forget to take your umbrella,” which is Ethel’s code for “I love you,” it’s too little too late.
Bob Morris as Samuel, one of Ethel’s stepsons who is required to deliver the naïve yet appropriately evil double-entendre “We are savages,” is sadly miscast. The pool of talent must have been shallow, perhaps siphoned off by more attractive auditions elsewhere, for the NDP to charge admission for this awkward performer’s Sunday-school skit skills.
Ms. Evans has said that she thinks it fun to work with new actors. Her mantra, however, should be, “The customer is always right.” All the performers must be of the quality of Ms. Beck and Mr. Telley for this group to attract larger audiences and create raving fans out of them.
It’s not only the inexperienced actors who contribute to my dissatisfaction, however. Just because a thespian has a resume or even an award does not mean he or she can get by.
Tom Harrison as Congressman Titus Savage had ample opportunity between casting in February and the close of the state legislature in April to observe some real politicians down at the state capitol. Whether or not he took advantage of that rich field of research for his character, he only turned in a caricature of a pompous ass. The tragedy is that this player—who won honors last season for his debut in “The Boys Next Door”—is capable of so much more.
Just because Karen Winstead Ruetz is a veteran Depot Players trouper does not mean she is a dependable asset. While her physical comedy was entertaining, her mugging and now-and-then imitation of what she thought was a high-society accent dissipated any goodwill provided by her pratfalls.
Other performances contribute more than they take away.
Tom Johnson as Hannibal, an inmate, presents an interesting side for the audience to explore after his portrayal of a caregiver for mentally-challenged residents in last season’s “The Boys Next Door.”
Ms. Mauran gives a complex reading that conveys ingenuousness and deviousness in equal measure.
Maridel Reynolds shines less brightly than in her “Dearly Beloved” debut but is completely believable as a grumpy client with a prodigious memory for everything she hates.
My hates, despite what you have read so far, did not include this entire production.
I cannot call it “tenacious mediocrity unhampered by taste,” as no doubt Patrick dared the critics to quote him back in 1951 in a line uttered by Ethel about her own one-shot venture into the theatre business.
I am dissapointed, however in the aspects Ms. Evans had the power to change. Besides her unfortunate casting choices, there are the problems of staging and pace.
The pace was too breathless throughout for its bursts of even greater frenzy to be completely effective and appropriate. The proportion of inexperienced talent—one newbie for almost every two stalwarts—took away the audience’s sense of security; what may have been dramatic pauses are easily dismissed as forgotten lines.
The staging, already in trouble with that stage left entrance, was further hampered by a sofa stage right behind which actors clustered like hens taking cover from a fox.
While my list of demands seems endless, I nevertheless discourage Ms. Evans from retiring from directing with “Savage” as her swan song, although she said she has toyed with the notion.
Call me crazy, but I think Ms. Evans should round up her best actors—Mr. and Mrs. Beck, Telley, Robbi Scruggs whose dead-pan delivery made demented-mom Florence all the more disturbing, the Toms Harrison and Johnson, maybe Amber McCullough from this season’s “Crimes of the Heart” and Amy Simerly from "Dearly Beloved"—and then look for the right script.
Only a fool could resist.
|The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful, by Charles Ludlam
Anagrams and shenanigans|
Saturday, March 10, 2007 ||
“Oh, this is fun. It’s like Christmas, only with murder and mayhem.”|
With those words actor Brik Berkes in drag as Victorian-era housekeeper Jane Twisden sums up “The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful,” playing through March 10 at ART Station Theatre.
The fun of “Irma Vep”—an anagram whose meaning is revealed in Act III—is in the British comedy troupe Monty Python-meets-ghoulish cartoonist Charles Addams send-up of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.”
But it takes a rainy Thursday night audience the entire one-hour length of Act I to get into the fun. They’re deader than a vampire’s victim until Act II (and a little Chablis at the concession stand?) roars in like a lion.
By then we (hic) have latched onto the quick-change concept that runs beneath this two-actor, eight-character romp across the moors of rain-swept England and the bone-dry depths of the Egyptian desert.
Berkes not only plays the seemingly-subservient servant Jane but her master Lord Edger Hillcrest as well, ruling out those two ever having a scene together.
Likewise, Geoff “Googie” Uterhardt impersonates Jane’s male counterpart Nicodemus Underwood and the servant’s mistress Lady Enid Hillcrest. Strangely enough, however, they actually do have a scene together, preceded by Lady Enid’s announcement “I feel like I am Nicodemus.”
By Act III, however, beating the dead horse of the quick-change delight has tired us again, as have the overblown gestures and vocal affectations under which any real acting is difficult to detect.
Even self-referential lines like “A man who dresses like a woman can’t be all bad,” doubtless a high point when the late Charles Ludlam first performed it in New York, fail to engage.
We were given fair warning. After all, the word “dreadful” was in the show’s title.
Props must be given, however, to the production team that made it all possible, especially Nyrobi Moss who designed and constructed the quick-change costumes and Michael Hidalgo who is credited with creating the scenery and lighting but must also have devised the backstage passages through which the actors zoomed to opposite sides of the stage in time for their cues. David Thomas directed the where-will-they-pop-up-next-and-as-who action. Jon Goldstein stage managed, which means he had the nightmare task of making sure the right actor was in the right place at the right time and in the right costume, as did Nancy Knight, manager of props and special effects.
|Sister Act: The Musical, by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner
Sister Act journeys from silver screen to out of town tryout|
Sunday, January 28, 2007 ||
No matter what I think of it, “Sister Act: The Musical” is going to Broadway. |
It’s too much of a disco-dancing, jive-talking, money-making cash cow not to join its sisters “The Producers,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Grand Hotel” in the pantheon of films-turned-musicals.
It won’t matter that lyricist Glenn Slater compares God to a mirror ball, when the show itself is a fragmented set of reflective surfaces. It’s about life! It’s about change! Freedom! Deception! Sisterhood!
Big freakin’ deal if nightclub singer Dawnn Lewis as nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier doesn’t carry the show, she grimly hauls it around like the giant purse and emotional baggage her character brings to a new home in this fish-out-of-water tale.
So it needs a little tweaking before it plays New Haven, Boston and Philadelphia. The suburban Baby Boomers at whom it is aimed won’t mind its resemblance to a disco where swirling lights and loud music overwhelm any attempts to get to know strangers beyond “Hi, I’m a Libra. I like sunsets and walks on the beach.”
In their defense, however, SATM characters aren’t really strangers.
The Hero, the Heroine, the Villain—they’re in every fairy tale. The Sidekick. The Father Figure. We know them all. They’re also in every Disney movie.
You see, my theater insiders, Disney plays an uncredited role in SATM.
Disney Studios is the former employer of SATM director Peter Schneider, who until June 21, 2001 was studio chief. Disney is also a big fan of what Atlanta Journal Constitution entertainment reporter Steve Murray identified as a formula older and more stable than that of Coca-Cola. I can’t say it any better so here is what Murray wrote on May 11, 2006:
“A hero and heroine from different worlds. Colorful sidekicks for comic relief. And a hissable villain. And at some point, somebody breaks out in a yearning song about wanting to grow up, get out and explore the Big World Out There.”
SATM may not be a cartoon but it bears the Disney stamp as assuredly as do “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Tarzan.”
Heroine Deloris is a washed-up, barely-clad party girl who turns the beat around even if her backup singers outnumber the audience.
Buttoned-down Hero Eddie Souther, played by David Jennings, holds the rank of sergeant at the Philadelphia Police Department where his gun is under lock and key and the only beat he knows is a desk.
Villain Curtis Shank, played by Harrison White, wants to beat the Heroine after she sees him commit murder and goes into witness protection as far from the spotlight as the Hero can put her.
Colorful sidekicks include trios of memorable performers: Danny Stiles, Melvin Abston and Dan Domenech as the Villain’s henchmen who have a star turn in the clever number “Lady in the Long Black Dress;” and Amy K. Murray, Beth Malone and the scene-stealing Audrie Neenan as Sister Mary Patrick, Sister Mary Robert and Sister Mary Lazarus, respectively.
And gosh darn it if Sister Mary Robert doesn’t let loose about getting out and exploring the Big World Out There in her star turn “The Life I Never Led.”
Another formula, favored by Disney but much older, guides the SATM script written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner based on the 1992 Touchstone Pictures screenplay by a group of writers including Carrie Fisher but credited to "Joseph Howard."
Former Disney Studios story analyst Christopher Vogler described a plot called the Hero’s Journey in a Disney memo he turned into a 300-page book called “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.”
In this 1998 book in which he references the movie “Sister Act” four times, Vogler said the plot at the heart of every myth is a series of scenes called Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor, Crossing the Threshold, Tests Allies and Enemies, Approach to the Inmost Cave, Ordeal, Reward, The Road Back, Resurrection, and Return with the Elixir.
Print this out and check them off one by one during the show if you don’t believe me.
Oh, I know you’re going; it’s better to beat the crowd to $65 tickets in Atlanta than surrender $100 a pop on the Great White Way.
With tried-and-true formulae supporting it like the metal scaffolding of David Potts’ skeletal set, I’ll be darned if SATM doesn’t have what it takes to take its place alongside other Disney properties on Broadway like “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aida,” the Elton John musical which also made its out-of-town tryout at the Alliance and got tweaked before its Broadway opening.
SATM—with a little tweaking like, oh, more romance between the Hero and Heroine, recasting the Villain with an actor with diction skills, not humiliating the Sidekicks with silly costumes and (yes!) the right star in the lead role—will run forever.
Cast credits: Elizabeth Ward Land plays Mother Superior; Henry Polic II, Badia Farha, Andi Gibson, Wendy James, Wendy Melkonian, Craig A. Meyer, Claci Miller, Patina Renea Miller, Lisa Robinson and Roberta B. Wall play multiple roles.
Production credits: Music written by Alan Menken. Choreography by Marguerite Derricks. Creative supervision by Michael Reno. Music supervision by Michael Kosarin. Orchestra conducted by Brent-Alan Huffman. Costumes by Garry Lennon. Lighting by Donald Holder. Co-producer: Pasadena (Calif.) Playhouse.
|O'Keeffe: Paintings from the Faraway Nearby, by Marki Shalloe
Say hello to Georgia|
Saturday, January 27, 2007 ||
When the subject of a one-person show springs from faraway onto the nearby theatrical horizon, audiences might not be ready. This state may have named her but New Mexico claimed the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, just as Georgia claims newspaperman Lewis Grizzard whose impressionist plays to sold-out crowds at a Stone Mountain theatre. |
If “O’Keeffe: Paintings from the Faraway Nearby” were performed in Taos, where the ground-breaking painter found her cow skulls, there would be lines out the door.
Here in Decatur, the audiences are so compact that the star of the show Josie Burgin Lawson, still wearing her costume and age makeup, has the luxury of saying a post-curtain call hello to each attendee.
I overheard her tell a second-nighter that the play written by Marki Shalloe will be part of the Georgia O’Keeffe celebration staged at the High Museum in Atlanta in 2008.
Only part of the show will take part; Ms. Shalloe will scale it down to one hour from its current 90 minute length.
More’s the pity.
What is she going to cut?
Surely not the self-deprecating moment when the artist says her work is unknown without the word September underneath an image, a reference to the calendar that introduced her to mainstream America.
Not the moment when she mocks an offstage curiosity seeker by mooning him.
“You said you wanted to see Georgia O’Keeffe,” she whines as the tourist flees.
Did I say it was a one-person show? It would be if Ms. Lawson did not invoke other characters from Ms. O’Keeffe’s nine-decade life. We meet her father, fresh off the boat from Ireland; we confront Ms. O’Keeffe’s husband, the photographer and impresario Alfred Steiglitz; we cower before the art teacher in whose studio she sketched her first male nude.
She soon abandoned figure class for still-life instruction, although she had mixed feelings about the plants that made her an art world star.
“I hate flowers,” she said. “But they’re cheap and they don’t move.”
Ms. O’Keeffe also hates nuns but loves ants, fun facts we learn in our collective role as a potential biographer to whom the artist addresses all her remarks.
It’s a difficult role to play.
We have only two possible responses: laughter as she rips apart critics, condescending men and Presbyterians; and tears as she relates how doctors cut her body and Steiglitz broke her heart.
But he can’t break her spirit.
“I know what I’m supposed to do,” O’Keeffe proclaims defiantly in front of her painting of a desert sky.
If you know what you’re supposed to do in life, this play makes you want to bolt from the theatre and do it whether it’s selling cars or applying paint to a canvas until it cannot hold one more stroke.
Just stay long enough to enjoy the performance by Ms. Lawson, a star well-chosen by director Jeannette Stinson.
Ms. Lawson, sometimes reminding one of Candice Bergen, creates the living portrait of a powerful woman still in her prime. Ms. Lawson herself has the power to let us believe when we know it’s only pretend. When Ms. Lawson urges us to go ahead and look at the desert, we actually turn our faces although we know we will only see the wall. The actress is so at ease entertaining her guest, about whom the character also has mixed emotions—sharing a confidence here, stabbing an unsatisfactory canvas there—it could easily be the reclusive artist herself offering us a ceremonial cup of absolutely dreadful yucca tea.
The set built and lit by technical director Mercury explores two aspects of the artist’s life. On one side is a wide open space on which Mercury projects images of cow skulls, skyscrapers and flowers that, as Ms. Shalloe writes in one speech, are linked forever with sexuality because Steiglitz shot nude photos of his wife in front of them. The other side is the home where the artist keeps her sketch pad, her brushes and a trunkful of O’Keeffe biographies.
Out of those biographies about a feminist icon of forbidding appearance, Ms. Shalloe has fashioned a real-life figure. In the process she has also crafted a dream monologue for any actress. It is crammed full of both matter-of-fact exposition and poetic rants, liberally peppered with memorable lines like “I named my car Hello.”
“O’Keeffe: Paintings from the Faraway Nearby,” co-produced with Theatre Gael who commissioned the work for its Marki Shalloe Festival last November, runs through Jan. 24 at Theatre Decatur. For tickets call (404) 373-5311.