A User-Driven Site for Theater in Atlanta, Georgia
Companies Reviewed#
Onstage Atlanta, Inc.10
Stage Door Players8
Aurora Theatre6
Soul-stice Repertory Ensemble4
ART Station Theatre4
The Process Theatre Company3
The New American Shakespeare Tavern2
Horizon Theatre Company2
Atlanta Lyric Theatre2
Georgia Ensemble Theatre1
Theatre Gael1
Actor's Express1
Dad's Garage Theatre Company1
Theatre in the Square1
Actors Theatre of Atlanta1
Average Rating Given : 4.74468
Reviews in Last 6 months :

Lakebottom Proper, by Topher Payne
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Oh my god. I laughed so hard I peed my pants. We saw the premiere in Columbus earlier, but I thought this version was way funnier. Topher Payne has such an ear for dialogue and DeWayne Morgan has a real gift for getting the most out of Topher's words. The timing was crisp, the direction sharp, and the characterizations arch. Such a good time. Laughed my ass off.

Bye Bye Birdie, by Book by Michael Stewart, Music by Charels Strauss, Lyrics by
Deja vu All Over Again
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Ah, the Fifties. Sexual repression, racial segregation and polio. Oops! Did I say that out loud? These practical concerns are mostly absent from the frothy concoction that is Stage Door's production of Bye Bye Birdie. It's a mad romp through the Fabulous Fifties, taking as its touchstone the real-life Elvis Presley's induction into the army in 1958. The Elvis standin here is the eponymous Conrad Birdie, superbly played by Nicholas Morrett. Morrett is especially effective in the musical numbers, the best, in my opinion, being "Honestly Sincere" during which an hysterical Kathleen McCook, as the mayor's middle-aged wife, swoons prettily, ass over teakettle. Kudos to Jim Alford's costuming for all the frilly petticoats.

McCook is only one of a conglomerate of familiar actors taking a back seat to a gaggle of talented teenagers that director Robert Egizio brought in to play . . . well, the teenagers. More about them in a bit. Especially notable among the adults are Charlie Bradshaw as Mr. MacAfee, performing the classic "Kids." It's a tall order, since that song is so iconically linked to the lovely and lovable Paul Lynde, but Bradshaw puts his own stamp on it. Cathe Hall Payne is adorable as the overbearing mother, Mae Peterson, a walking punch line to all those jokes about how many of her ilk it would take to screw in a light bulb. (Answer: None. "Don't worry about me darling; I'm fine sitting here in the dark.") Denise Arribas is fantastic as the fiery, sultry, completely competent but altogether frustrated Rosie Alvarez. She sings, she dances, she looks great in a shirtwaist. The surprise, for me, was Brad Bergeron as Albert Peterson. I had initially thought he'd play Birdie. Bergeron excels in larger than life roles (Lancelot in Camelot, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, the police sergeant in Pirates of Penzance, etc.). But his Albert comes across as an overgrown kid, a perpetual adolescent, unable to grow up/settle down/commit to his Rosie. It's an interesting twist but it worked for me (plus the height differential between Bergeron and Arribas is kinda cute).

But the real fun (and crowd favorites) for the evening were the kids. (Sorry, Mr. MacAfee, they were pretty near perfect.) Group numbers, fueled by Ricardo Aponte's robust choreography and Linda Uzelac's excellent musical direction, were great successes. Hannah Wilkinson as Kim MacAfee has a clear sweet voice and a saucy attitude nicely suited to play a worldly young woman on the brink of adulthood (who still likes to dress in her tomboy clothes). Keenan Rogers is sweetly confused as Kim's new steady, Hugo Peabody, as he tries to navigate the new deal of going steady while trying to keep his cred with the guys AND compete with a rock and roll star. A real standout was Sam Lauten as Harvey Johnson. Watch for his moment in the sun during "The Telephone Hour" (a song still rattling around in my head) while he tries to make a date with first Penelope, and then Debra Sue. Last, but not least, is Chase McGrath as the youngest MacAfee, Randolph. Some of his movements feel a little studied, but he is precious nonetheless in a demanding role.

Bye Bye Birdie appears to be all froth and feel good happy times up front, but it's actually a sneaky satire of our view of domesticity in the Fifties. Note the solid Kelly Fletcher, as Mrs. MacAfee, standing patiently by, waiting to do her man's bidding. Note Rosie, Albert's long-suffering assistant, patiently waiting for him to get a clue and snip his Mama's apron strings. But note, too, how Mr. MacAfee has to follow his wife's schedule (she runs the house). Rosie thinks up a way for Albert to save his company. She's actually the engine – he's the caboose. Yet ironically, when Rosie finally gives up on Albert and strikes out on her own (she decides to drown her sorrows in a bar, where they try to throw her out because of her gender, but she infiltrates the back room "secret society" meeting) she quickly becomes a little more attractive than she bargained for and ends up running from the attention she sought. George Deavours and Al Dollar are among the ensemble backing up the melancholy but thoroughly delightful "Baby, Talk to Me" in which Rosie asserts her independence from Albert.

Conrad's songs, notably "Honestly Sincere" and "One Last Kiss" are hardly more than one phrase repeated over and over to a lot of hip swiveling. And the final comedown for this teenage sex/rock god (he's coming to the heartland of America to kiss a girl before he "goes to war" – could he be any more macho?) is that he has to escape town dressed in women's clothes ("widow's weeds"). Upon reflection, the entire musical invites the audience to "look behind the curtain" at what was actually going on in the Fifties, which, to judge by Rosie's tour de force "Spanish Rose," was a time not very unlike our own.

Proof, by David Auburn
Connecting the Dots
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
In January 1913, G.H. Hardy, a Cambridge academic, received a letter from a young Indian clerk, who, although he was largely unschooled, not having started math until he was 10, included several mathematical theorems he had worked out for himself. Hardy originally dismissed the letter as a hoax, but he found the letter nagging at his consciousness. Some of the theorems were already known, but others were new and radical, some even beyond Hardy's understanding. Eventually Hardy brought Srinivasa Ramanujan to Cambridge and they collaborated for years until the latter's untimely death at the age of 32. Hardy used to say that his greatest contribution to mathematics was that he discovered Ramanujan. Google "Hardy-Ramanujan number" before you see "Proof" and listen for it to pop up.

The reason I got to thinking about Ramanujan after watching "Proof" wasn't because of the Hardy-Ramanujan number (although I'll admit that was an added bonus when I realized the tie-in.) It was the idea that Ramanujan, like Catherine in this play, had a problem with perception. Ramanujan was dismissed by Cambridge mathematicians before Hardy discovered him because he was unschooled. Clearly he could not be capable of advanced mathematics. It would be as if a patent clerk could unlock the workings of the universe. (See, for example, Einstein's theory on relativity.) It would be as if the janitor walked in and solved an advanced math problem that no one else in the class was able to tackle. (See, for instance, Good Will Hunting.)

This is the attitude Catherine encounters in Proof. She's largely unschooled in higher math, having spent her college years taking care of her ailing father, and she's female, math being mostly a male game. The mathematical proof that is the subject of the play, then, is initially taken for her father's work, even though he was mentally ill years before his death. During a very brief episode of lunacy for him, Catherine had returned to school, but in her absence her father's illness reasserted itself, and she reluctantly returned to care for him. It was in this time of sacrifice and frustration that she began her own work, her own proof.

Look up the word Proof, and it's not only evidence, not only a mathematical construct, but it also means "validation" and it also means an impression struck to look for errors, like the proof of an engraving, or the galley proof for a (paper) book, or a photographic proof. I'm always intrigued by texture and layers and there are many forms that proof takes in Auburn's play. There's the work Catherine has performed, then the validation of the work as correct, then the attribution of the work as hers and not her father's (which involves a courtroom-like cross examination of Catherine by her sister Claire because there is no "evidence/proof" that Catherine performed this work except her word). Then there's the "striking off of errors" as the play focuses in on what really matters, the validation of Catherine, to herself, and to the young man she's opened up to, and the proving, finally, of their relationship to each other. Sidelines include the muzziness of alcohol (defined by its proof, double its alcohol content – I've never understood that) and the catty competitiveness of the sisters as to who was the better daughter – the one who stayed and enabled (perhaps in a good way?), or the one who supported with money and clear-headedness (I always prick up my ears when an author names a character Claire).

The cast at Onstage is amazing. Jennifer Lee is wonderfully brittle and hard nosed as the emotionally cold Claire, as she efficiently, remorselessly tries to tie up the loose ends left by the messy death of her father. (This is a thankless role – everyone always hates Claire.) Tom Gillespie has a wry delivery as the father, Robert, and this earned some laughs at odd places, but then that's how life often is: we laugh at the saddest places so we don't fall apart. Robert is somewhat detached, caught up in his work and later his madness. In this emotional vacuum, then, Catherine (Barbara Uterhardt, alternately prickly and luminous as the role demands) is trying to survive without losing her own sanity, and she's afraid, due to proximity and genetics, that's she's losing her battle with the murky enemy, lunacy. In the latter half of the play, Uterhardt imbues Catherine's attempts to "prove" her authorship with a kind of surrealistic irony. She's not so much shocked at the betrayal of those who won't believe her as disbelieving that this can be happening to her at all. It's more than merely the proof of the proof that's at stake. It's a validation of who she has struggled to become, and she feels the sands of her very identity shifting beneath her feet.

Michael Henry Harris' choice to present the piece on the smaller stage puts us in the midst of this familial dysfunction. Auburn cleverly plays with time and perception in his play, turning and twisting what we think we know and understand. (This is wonderfully aided by Barry West's set – a living room of sorts that is "outside" with planks that look like a porch, but also suggest a roof. Chairs are perched right at the end of the stage, suggesting everything could fall apart at any moment.) Catherine is a slob, staying up and drinking at all hours, and then sleeping until late in the afternoon. Claire is a bitch. Hal (Topher Payne) is out to make a name for himself. Robert is insane, brilliant or both. Yet none (and all) of those things is true, as we learn that Catherine was working in the wee hours of the night on her proof. Claire was working not only to support herself but to send money home to keep Catherine and Robert in food, clothing and shelter. Robert's legacy proves to be much more than mathematical. And Hal is the biggest revelation of all.

Topher Payne is fantastic, playing a guy who's basically a goofy math nerd, but he's able to make him likeable, even sexy, managing to convey his confusion and puzzlement when Catherine claims the proof as her own. He knows, he just knows, in his gut, that she's not capable of the type of work he's looking at, but he's so gentle with her, trying to reason with her in his sweet, soothing Mississippi drawl. And when Hal's finally convinced, after days of working through the proof on his own, that he's wrong, he's man enough to say so, and to stand in awe of the elegance of what Catherine has accomplished. Payne and Uterhardt have great chemistry together (if you can say that about a story centered around math). There's never any reconciliation between Catherine and Claire; they're like parallel lines, side by side, never touching. But in Hal Catherine finds acceptance and validation, things her father tried, but failed, to give her because of his illness. It's almost a little too pat, like "all a woman needs to save her is a good man" and if I remember correctly, the movie had Catherine walking off alone, independent, in order to avoid the pat ending. But in Payne and Uterhardt's hands, you sense only the tentative beginnings of a new equation, lines of stress shifting, perceptions changing: the long hard slog of being human made a little easier by sharing it with a kindred soul. Whether it lasts remains a matter for proof.

Side Show, by Henry Krieger and Bill Russell
Life Challenge
Thursday, October 14, 2010
I've never liked the circus. I took my kids the requisite number of times, but it didn't change my opinion of the whole mishmash as being vaguely unsettling and creepy. Only when I saw Cirque du Soleil did I start to think there might be something beyond the sawdust. OnStage Atlanta, however, is not Cirque du Soleil, so I went to see Side Show with some degree of trepidation. The opening song, "Come Look at the Freaks" fed into my worst fears. However, much as with my experience with Cirque, I was intrigued by the pathos, beauty and compassion in the story of the Hilton Sisters, conjoined twins whose careers spanned the circus, vaudeville and movies.

Rachel Miller (Daisy) and Kimberly Bates (Violet) do a fantastic job of creating the illusion that they are literally bound at the hip. So seamless was their performance, I had assumed they were wearing a joined costume. But when the girls sang of their very different individual aspirations, they physically separated, and it was a telling moment for me. Suddenly a "thing" that was an oddity became two real people and I was uncomfortably aware of just how deep my own prejudice ran, because I was much more comfortable with them apart than I was when they were joined.

That's a big theme of Side Show, the marginalization of those who don't fit into society's definition of "normal." Daisy and Violet are regarded as freaks, but as they explain over and over and over (as the reporters at different stages of the girls' lives ask the same inane questions) they have the same desires and dreams as anyone else: to fall in love, get married, maybe have a family (in Violet's case) or be rich and famous (Daisy). The only way they are different from anyone else is that each always has to consult the other before taking even the smallest step. Is the mother of a newborn, then, a freak? Are newlyweds any less odd than Daisy and Violet?

As Daisy and Violet become more real, more normal to us, Side Show switches our perceptions. Violet is disappointed in love, jilted by her fiancé because he doesn't think he can deal with her special circumstances, but waiting in the wings with an open heart and his own offer of love is her friend Jake who has followed the twins and taken care of them through their entry into the world outside the circus side show. Jake is achingly, beautifully, portrayed by Apollo Levine, a fantastic singer who had me in tears with his rendition of "You Should Be Loved." Because of her own inability to accept Jake's "special circumstances," Violet rejects Jake's offer of true love. Ultimately the sisters are left only with each other, a fate they embrace in the stirring "I Will Never Leave You."

The singing was superb (especially, as noted, by Mr. Levine). Charlie Bradshaw, as Terry, the twins' manager, was rock solid. A lot of Side Show is sung dialogue, a style I personally find superfluous. Mr. Bradshaw's clear concise delivery, however, would render the telephone book a work of art. He is too often wasted in a minor part that has one good solo, and it was a joy to watch him in a robust role, and listen to that marvelous voice roll over the audience. The only exception was Matt Carter as The Boss. Perhaps it was a deliberate choice, but I wish Ms. Uterhardt had let him speak his lines.

Anthony Owen's set design is fantastic, with glimpses of bodies ensnared and trapped in the architecture, struggling for freedom. Remembering Owen's driving choreography in Urinetown, I wish he'd been persuaded to sprinkle a little of that genius into the dancing here (he did not choreograph), but there were some numbers, especially the one I'll always refer to as the Egyptian number (Colin Hughey rocks), that were immensely satisfying.

So, other than my usual criticism (not enough Jenna Edmonds), this was very much a worthwhile outing, one I thought about long after I left, and one whose songs have become embedded in my mind. OnStage continues its pursuit of challenging, sometimes offbeat, material and turns in another solid production.

The Music Man, by Meredith Willson

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Golly, Clyde, guys! Geeeeeeez! While my opinion is moot, given that the play has already closed (I saw it closing night), I thought this production hit on all cylinders. The opening rhythm piece "Rock Island" was especially well done, down to the set piece being just flimsy enough to yield a convincing "moving train car" motion. Meredith Wilson can be a little bit like Mozart - too many notes - but everyone did an admirable job, with impeccable diction, so that every word was precisely understood without feeling like the show was dragging for us slightly older patrons.

Of course, I was sitting in the first row. I am a big big Marcie Millard fan. Ditto for Geoff Uterhardt. I must confess that Ingrid Cole is stealing my heart as well. I do think that there's a big difference being front and center for a live production, as opposed to the balcony. I had gone prepared to be disappointed in Harold Hill. After all, how could Alan Kilpatrick top Robert Preston? However, Kilpatrick played Hill so as to involve the audience in the joke. He engaged the audience with a twinkle in his eye, letting us know that he knew that we knew this was all a con (which of course the audience is too sharp to fall for, but that the rubes on stage lap up). I think that biplay may not have penetrated to the upper seats, but it was certainly felt where I was sitting.

My only problem with Kilpatrick was that his voice did not blend well for the several lines he had to sing with Emily Stokes, but then she is a powerhouse. The back and forth in their duets worked well. It was just those last several lines that were supposed to marry them together - his voice was overpowered. One small jot in an otherwise wonderful performance.

While it's natural to compare a well-loved play to its movie incarnation, Robert Preston, priceless as he was, in both The Music Man and much later in Victor/Victoria, had the benefit of numerous takes to get the perfect performance. DaCosta had special effects to zap the uniforms at the finale. Better to compare Robert Preston in his Tony winning performance in the original Broadway musical, where he was called by one critic "indefatigable." This was in 1957, remember. A different time in a galaxy far, far away. I thought Kilpatrick was a little slicker, a little slyer . . . more suited for the 21st Century con man.

I had a great time. It was a thoroughly enjoyable night at the theater, and I was not the only one cheering.

Company, by Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by George Furth
A Life of His Own
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Before the pad and the pod and the touch and the shuffle, people actually hummed to themselves as they walked along. If they were lucky, they got a Stephen Sondheim tune stuck in their collective heads. If they were very lucky, they got an entire score from a show as wonderful as "Company". It's been a week and they're still playing in steady rotation for me.

There really aren't enough words to describe how great Stage Door's production of "Company" is. From sweet ballads like "Sorry, Grateful" and "Someone Is Waiting"" to the driven "Marry Me a Little" and "Alive," with detours into the frantic "(Not) Getting Married Today," comedy- laden "Have I Got a Girl for You (Whaddaya Wanna Get Married For?)" and the wry and raucous "The Little Things You Do Together" and "The Ladies Who Lunch," not to mention the crowd pleasing "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" and "Another Hundred People," every song is a gem. I overheard one woman say she never realized that so many of the Sondheim songs she liked came out of the same musical. And the brilliant thing about Sondheim is how impeccably each piece fits its purpose and connects with every other song. It's a master class in composition. And where else can you find lines like "It's the concerts you enjoy together, neighbors you annoy together, children you destroy together – that make perfect relationships."

But if it were just about the music, which indeed can and does stand alone, it wouldn't be theater: it would be a concert. All this wonderful music is wrapped around the poignant story of a guy, finally, at 35, coming of age in New York, made palpable by Chuck Welcome's spare but evocative set and John David Williams' and Michael Magursky's lighting. What starts out as a light and crazy romp about a confirmed bachelor and his extended family of married friends takes a left turn somewhere in the last act when Bobby's rich older friend Joanne (the au courant term being "cougar") offers to "take care of him." And Bobby wonders aloud, then who will he take care of? It's a shift in his perspective, from looking for the perfect woman, a blend of all of the great qualities of all his married women friends ("a Susan sort of Sarah, a Jennyish Joanne") to wanting to actually give of himself.

All of Bobby's friends are crazy happy miserable in their own way. The women all want to do for him (or do him) and the men all want to have what they perceive is his perfect life. At first "company" seems to refer to the relationship Bobby has with each couple – "three is company, two is boring" Bobby says. But in the exploration of each couple's tongue in cheek "perfect relationship," some broader insights about marriage are showcased, and "company" takes on a completely different meaning.

The bookends in the marriage showcase are Sarah (Kathleen McCook) and Harry (Charlie Bradshaw) and Joanne (Jennifer Levison) and Larry (Geoff Uterhardt). Larry and Joanne are older versions of Harry and Sarah, couples who bicker and hurt each other so easily (because they know exactly where to stick the knives) that outsiders wonder how they ever got married in the first place. But without Bobby present, Sarah and Harry express love for each other, and Larry says that except around Bobby, Joanne doesn't drink. "I wish you could meet the real Joanne some day," he tells Bobby. Larry unabashedly affirms that although Joanne is difficult, he's a very happy man, in love with a woman he finds endlessly fascinating.

Closer to the ideal of marriage, and bracketing the heart of the show, Marcie Millard and Luis Hernandez are hysterically funny as David and Jenny, in a terrific scene which is, at its heart, about abandonment of ego. The audience loved it. Shane Desmond (what a great voice) plays Peter, a man who divorces his wife but continues to live "at home" in order to fulfill his family obligations. In fact, Peter says, he's more married to Rachel Miller's Susan now that he's not married than when he was actually married.

For me, though, the wedding cake couple of "Company" is embodied by Paul (Justin Anderson) and Amy (Barbara Uterhardt), the good and the innocent, people who manage to hurt each other by being scared and human. Bobby actually proposes to Amy (on her wedding day!) in a desperate attempt to avoid getting married (because Amy has spent the last scene refusing to get married (yes, on her wedding day). Bobby's preposterous proposal serves as a reality check that drives her out into the rain and into her own perfectly imperfect relationship.

Dustin Lewis, as Bobby, is a fine stalwart center for the show, deftly navigating what amounts to straight man for all his crazy married friends for much of the time. Bobby is kind of a bounder, but he's never really unlikeable, and Lewis is able to shift gears smoothly from the guy who's driving his (three) girlfriends crazy with his emotional inaccessibility and sincere but ultimately empty overtures into an accepting person with a full and open heart.

"Company" can be enjoyed as a sly wink at marriage, a cornucopia of Sondheim hits, a breezy gloss on bachelorhood. But watch out for that left turn in the last act, when Bobby falls hard – not for any particular girl, but into the realization that to be really alive he's going to have to let another person in, uncomfortably close. It won't be perfect. It won't even be close. But it will be his own.

Designing Women LIVE, by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, adapted for stage by Topher Payne
Both Sides Now
Thursday, February 25, 2010
The guys are hysterical as the gals. Of special note are DeWayne Morgan out-sashaying Delta Burke as Suzanne, Topher Payne's indelible Julia Sugarbaker (Topher has such a gift for the musicality of language), and Jill Hames' pitch perfect cluelessness as Bernice. The episodes Process has chosen to reprise have many crowd pleasing lines - so much so they were often spoken by the audience in anticipation. These are our hymns, our call and response. And we have learned them well.

Wednesday's performance was SRO, Thursday's performance starting to shape up as a packed house as well, so don't delay if you want to catch this delightful show.

Three Days of Rain, by Richard Greenberg
Light Notes
Thursday, February 25, 2010
I loved this piece with a passion usually reserved for Tennessee Williams -- maybe because at its heart is a doomed Southern beauty. Maybe it's the persistence of the image of red bursting from a crystal statue, reminiscent of Williams' red blossoms on a white wall . Maybe it's the canny construction, a mystery play told in reverse, the intricate puzzle, the koan of guilt and madness told in a language of light and shadow.

The mundane facts of the play are these: that a brother and sister, Nan and Walker Janeway, meet their childhood friend, Pip, for the reading of the Janeway Will. Ned Janeway, father to Nan and Walker, was business partners with Theo Wexler, Pip's father. Janeway and Wexler produced marvels of modern architecture, chief among these being the "Janeway House." As part of the estate, as a way of perhaps connecting to a father he saw as silent, remote and uncaring, Walker wants the House, and is even willing to buy what he presumes will be Nan's share. He is crushed when he discovers that his father (with a cavalierness Nan declares "wicked") willed the House entirely to Pip.

Walker then searches for meaning and solace in his father's journal, recently discovered in the now decrepit loft space Janeway and Wexler once shared. Walker begins to read, hoping for insight, for a bridge to the past. But he is disappointed to find the journal cryptic to the point of mendacity. "Three days of rain," he says. "A fucking weather report. Who does that?" Then Ned finds a line in the journal, very faint, barely visible in a certain light, that illuminates the past, at least for him. Satisfied, he burns the journal, declaring he no longer wants or needs the House.

What follows is apocalyptic, in the sense that it is a revelation, opaque to Nan and Walker, but apparent to the audience, as to what really transpired in the lives of Lina, Ned and Theo, as the actors who first portray Nan (Barbara Uterhardt) and Walker (Michael Henry Harris) and Pip (Justin Sims) now play their respective parents. Ned's (apparent) aloofness, the cryptic comments in his journal, the creative genius behind the partnership's architectural greatness, all prove to be mutable, changing with the shifting sands of perception.

OnStage's production cunningly plays with this idea of shifting perception. The loft set transforms from abandoned and decrepit to clean and modern with the shift in focus from the children to the parents. Mostly done via "makeover" (new curtains, bedclothes, art on the walls), there is, however, an odd thing happening with the dirt marring the plaster. In the livable space, the smudges and fingerprints look like artistic stenciling – yet nothing has changed except the perspective. Another nod to this concept, I thought, was Lina's costume, a frothy little confection of peach lace, outwardly very prim and ladylike. The color, however, acted almost like a body stocking, and I got the definite impression of nudity, though the actress was completely clothed. Finally, Onstage has chosen to present the play in their second space, a much more intimate venue than the main stage. The traditional confines of the stage are broken in Act II, and the boundaries of the action push against the audience, heightening the sensation of fluid space.

The central image of the play, the Janeway House, is said to be a creation of such singular beauty that it "embodied the ideal of architecture as frozen music." Every room, explains Nan, owing to its many fenestrations, is a unique experience, filled with "liquid light." It's like living in a prism," says Walker, "except it never gets hot." The Janeway House was the most livable of modern houses, and was made famous by an iconic picture in Life Magazine. But many people, according to Walker, turn down the offer to visit the actual house because they don't want to ruin the "experience of the photo." I was reminded of a Magritte painting captioned "This is not a pipe." The photo is not the House. (There's actually an argument about a preliminary drawing of the house, whether it is or is not, in actuality, a different house altogether.)

Lina, having been drenched in the rain, asks Ned to "talk small" to her while she changes. As Lina physically disrobes (from the nude transparency of the peach lace), Ned emotionally uncovers his heart. This is a man for whom talking is torture, whose therapy for his stuttering consists in giving himself permission to breathe as if he had a right to the air. Yet Lina only wants to hear the sound of another human voice: it doesn't matter what is said. It's just the sound of his voice that is soothing. It seems to soothe Ned, also, and as his stutter gradually disappears, his voice becomes hypnotic. Ned begins to tell Lina his only ambition, which is to go through life unattached to any one place or thing, a sort of vagabond prince, and at the end of this verbal "ramble" (echoing the physical ramble Ned yearns for), the audience is treated to a revelation. It's such a quiet moment that it's as if the audience has been collectively holding its breath, and then releases it in a unison sigh.

Michael Henry Harris is terrific as Ned, especially in the contrasting emotional notes he's able to hit as Ned and Walker. Walker is everything Ned is not, monopolizing center stage, the conversation, everyone's time and attention. He is so difficult to be around, that even when he is absent, he demands attention and worry as he precipitously drops out of sight. In a telling exchange, Pip suggests to Nan that she just imagine Walker dead, because it would be easier that way. Harris' Ned, by contrast, is still, silent. There's a flash of anger and arrogance (in his argument about the drawing of the house) that presages Walker, but for the most part Ned is mute until Lina unlocks something in him with her needfulness and we get the beautifully mesmerizing scene above.

Justin Sims has the journeyman role here, as Pip is a man thoroughly contented with his life, striving only to prove that just because he's happy doesn't mean he's a moron, and Theo is too self involved to be sympathetic. But Sims does a smoothly credible job (it's very easy to imagine him as a soap opera star), and his nightly take (as Pip) on Oedipus is a regular crowd pleaser. Nan, too, if not happy, is thoroughly contented. Uterhardt plays her with a touch of despairing motherliness, but no brittleness. As Lina, she has more room to flex her muscle, and we see Lina's inchoate yearning to be something special (even if it's an eccentric alcoholic), that will eventually doom her to madness.

Three Days of Rain is an extremely referential play, both to a greater body of work (Niebuhr, Shakespeare; Sophocles to touch on a few) and to itself (Walker has become so much the vagabond his father wanted to be that he keeps all his money in traveler's checks; the House, celebrated for its openness and grace, was built for people Ned says he left because they had no grace, etc.) so as to create a richly textured layering of meaning. [Even the title exists on several levels within and without the play.] Certainly the play is enjoyable on its face without delving any more deeply than Pip's comical exegesis of Oedipus, but the back and forth echo play lends itself to a constant sense of déjà vu as relationships are illuminated, connections drawn and discarded, spirits lifted or crushed. Three Days of Rain resonates with light and shadow, illusion and reality, secrets and revelations. This play shimmers, echoes, turns, and as Ned begins, at the end, to draw the Janeway House, it becomes opaque once more, a mystery as fascinating in the remembering as in the telling.

The Fourposter, by Jan deHartog
Monday, February 8, 2010
Jan deHartog's The Fourposter is a play of such simple elegance as to be deceptive. A gem of spareness and immediacy, it is at once recognizable, yet contains no extraneous parts, much like a Picasso line drawing. The Fourposter is the story of Michael and Agnes, seen at various points in their relationship: a wedding day, the birth and raising of children, the downsizing of a suddenly empty household. All conversation takes place in and around their fourposter bed. Nothing very out of the ordinary happens. And yet the story told is of the essence of an intimate committed relationship, both the good and the bad. No line, no word can be added or subtracted. It is perfection.

With a script of such fine balance, the trick is to find actors who will embody, rather than act, the parts. It takes actors of great restraint and sensibility, even humility, to be able to embody characters like Michael and Agnes. When done well, the audience may assume the actors were just "playing themselves." Indeed, the original Broadway casting for this play featured the real life couple Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.

Stage Door hit the jackpot with Shayne Kohout and Tim Batten. Ms. Kohout has a regalness in her bearing that evokes the primness of the 1890s, the steely spine so evident in women born in the 19th Century. Mr. Batten gives Michael an almost military discipline and reserve in his posture, suggesting an era when men did not share their feelings easily. In the intimacy of the bedroom, the steely spine and the military bearing are allowed to waver, offering glimpses into the more private Michael and Agnes. As Michael advances in his career, Mr. Batten affects, for a brief moment, a certain pomposity of speech, quickly punctured by heated conversation with his wife. By understated, almost visceral attributes Ms. Kohout and Mr. Batten finely layer their portrayals, freeing themselves to be totally natural in their conversation.

In my favorite scene the actors, in full view of the audience, change costume and re-dress the set, before packing up and leaving their home for the last time. (Fittingly, the music accompanying this transformation is Pachelbel's Canon, a single theme varyingly repeated.) Again, Ms. Kohout and Mr. Batten are understated. They do not hobble their steps or quaver in their speech, but merely suggest age with quiet deliberateness and dignity. The final touch, ending as they began, suggested that they were at the threshold of a new beginning. It was, again, very simple, yet very affecting.

Jim Alford's costuming (assisted admirably by George Deavours' wigs) and Chuck Welcome's set beautifully echo the waxing and waning of Agnes and Michael's relationship. Alford's palette moves from sunny expectant tones for the birth of a child through the neutrals and cool tones suggesting class consciousness, prosperity, and estrangement. Welcome produces a vanity just as Agnes appears, very smart, in stylish gold and black. New curtains appear as the couple begins wearing fashionable Chinese silks. In the final scene, Alford dresses his characters in a style owing as much to comfort as to fastidiousness, and Welcome has moved the vanity to a functional corner, no longer a centerpiece. Small things. Expertly placed. All servicing the story.

There comes a moment in a deep snowfall when sound retreats, save for the hiss of snow on snow. It is a moment of surpassing peace and beauty, created by tens of thousands of tiny snowflakes, each negligible on its own. Nothing extraordinary happens in The Fourposter, just the passage of tens of thousands of ephemeral moments, very like those in any couple's lives, but here told with steadfast simplicity and truth, so as to leave an impression of final, exquisite beauty.

The Harvey Milk Show, by Patrick Hutchison and Dan Pruitt
Let Your Light So Shine Before Men
Monday, November 16, 2009
Reviewer's Note: Having seen this production a second time, on a night when major cast members were NOT sick, I'm going to have to nudge it back up to a "5." The execution was sharp, the singing superb, and I was more impressed than ever with Bryan Lee. Frankly, by the end I was crying like a little girl. I stand by my original assessment that if you want the Harvey Milk Story, you need to watch the movie, but this, the Harvey Milk Show, is a beautiful testament to the dream of one of America's true heroes.

My original review (of a show I found out later had been remastered because of cast illness) follows:

This is not the Harvey Milk Story – we actually don't learn a lot more about Harvey Milk than we knew when we started – a New York Jew, he eventually landed in the Castro District of San Francisco and made several unsuccessful runs for office, but eventually won, becoming the first openly gay public official in California (one of the first in the nation). This is the Harvey Milk "Show," "show" in the sense of a demonstration, a model of a way to live.

The "story" part of this Show, its emotional heart, is carried by the character Jamey, a composite Everyman. It's Jamey's family, his fears, his losses, his loves we learn about. When we first meet him, he's singing a hustler's song "Wouldn't You Really Like to Dance with a Cowboy," a minor inversion of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," the song that opens Oklahoma (you remember Oklahoma, where everything is OK). Discarded by his father, Jamey finds a surrogate in Milk and slowly (albeit with much drunken backsliding) learns to make his own Family and define Home for himself. Bryan Lee projects an angry vulnerability as Jamey that makes this journey moving. It's not necessarily a gay story, although Jamey is gay. It is an intensely human story, about finding the courage to be your own self and live your own life. This, then, is the Harvey Milk Show, the Harvey Milk legacy.

Geoff Uterhardt as Harvey Milk was, I'll admit, a surprise. He's schooled most of the "Googie" out of this performance, done something with hair pieces and makeup to make himself look older and his features darker – I thought he captured the "look" if not the actual appearance of Milk. But the real revelation was the accent. I have no gift for this kind of thing myself, but I do have an appreciative ear. The accent wasn't so harsh as to be annoying or not understandable, but it definitely gave one the impression that even among outsiders, Milk was an outlier, and he catches, I think, the quality of joy and authenticity present in Milk's life.

Some of the best scenes are between Milk and Jamey, with the two opposed methods of dealing with ostracism: Jamey all angry bravado, Milk all determined activism. The best of this crop of scenes is the elegiac number "Young Man" which Milk posthumously reprises as he passes the charge to Jamey to get out and do something to remake the world. It's a battle cry which has resonated through the years, surfacing most recently as "Got Hope?" and "Yes We Can." (Personally, I couldn't listen to "We, the People" without thinking of the last presidential election, but "Young Man" is Harvey's personal challenge.) Jamey's stance at play's end, hands in back pockets, echoes his cowboy salvo from the opening, but his attitude and his world have changed, because of Harvey's example, and he faces the future with calm determination.

Jeffrey Brown is a strong choice for the role of Dan White. As his mentor Mr. Jones says, he has the "right look," the clear eyed, noble chinned, square shouldered All American golden boy. For a time White and Milk are able to play off each other, but eventually White's simplistic view of the world, they way things are supposed to be (which is, by definition, the way they've always been before) is his undoing. As the world changes, and White loses his footing, Mr. Jones is able to twist him to his own venomous purpose in the cleverly dark "Swarm" during which he produces the murder weapon in a kind of metaphysical legerdemain.

The real standout is the Evil Personified Mr. Jones: Luis Hernandez is the consummate villain, whether playing a kind of demented Henry Higgins, grooming Dan White for politics, or strolling whistling, cigar in hand, through the fire and carnage he's created after the White "Twinkie defense." I've seen Hernandez in several "mogul" roles and he seems to have perfected the "holier than thou, I can squash you like a bug without ruining my manicure" expression. He is priceless, and much scarier in his suave sophistication than any slavering psycho.

The set's best attributes are the line drawings of the Castro District and City Hall flanking the stage. However, the minimalist panels were used to great effect for a grotesque shadow work during the chilling "Swarm." This was easily the most disturbing image of the play, indeed, one of the most disturbing things I've seen in a long time, and I found myself wishing that the mob beating in "Having Ourselves a Party" in the first act had been handled with the same intense savagery.

One other area where the set did not disappoint was during "Anthem." As the cast gathers for a candlelight vigil, the backdrop lights up with scores of tiny lights, giving the illusion of a mass of mourners snaking up the hills of San Francisco. Later, when Milk sings to Jamey about believing in miracles and reaching for the stars, the lights evoke an earthly Milky Way.

Quite by accident the day after I saw The Harvey Milk Show I caught the last hour of Outrage, a documentary about closeted gay politicians who use the power of their position to persecute the gay community (usually, it's felt, as a way of deflecting inquiries about themselves or denying their own sexuality). How odd to have these two bookends, the openly gay life lived in service, not only to his gay constituents, but to all people, contrasted with these closeted lives devoted to destruction, most especially of themselves.

I once heard Harvey Milk say that everything he ever did was for the gay cause. With respect, I'd have to disagree with him. Harvey Milk fought for the human cause, and The Harvey Milk Show shines a light on that struggle, and invites us all to pick it up.

Buy My House...Please!, by Gabriel Dean
Home Wrecker
Friday, October 23, 2009
Most of my problems with this production stem from the play itself. In short, a very pregnant couple needs to sell their house quickly. Their real estate agent, Peter, gets them a gig on one of those "stage your house and sell it fast" shows, which is more a vehicle for its diva star Shelby than it is a DIY demonstration. In this framework, I think Dean was going for "a house does not a home make" but too many side trips ruined the through line.

Doyle Reynolds (Peter) and La La Cochran (Shelby) try gamely to prop up the show, which just never feels like it's quite there. Reynolds is superb as a kind of hyperkinetic wind up doll, kow towing (literally) to the magnificence of Cochran's celebrity. Cochran has great stage presence and plays Shelby as a predatory diva/cougar/guru/fixer. When the play stays on Reynolds and Cochran, or even when it's on the young married couple, the Larks, it's workable, but the entire subplot with the wife's dad just pulls focus. Why not have the DIY diva go after the husband? This is not at all a comment on Bart Hansard, who was quite good as the father, very reminiscent of Mark Addy (A Knight's Tale; Game of Thrones). I'm just commenting that the role of the wife's father, with the wife's attendant hangups about him seemed superfluous to the play.

While sweetly affecting in her role as the pregnant young wife Bryn, Bethany Anne Lind was unfortunately at times inaudible. As a previous reviewer noted, some of the best laughs in the play come from the young couple's attempts to clean up their language in anticipation of their "new arrival," and Lind certainly made me believe there was genuine affection (and some irritation) there for her husband Tim (a very capable Matthew Myers), enough certainly to make the pregnancy plausible, which is why it was all the more upsetting when her voice disappeared. When she rose up to protect her home, when she got mad, when she objected to being patronized, she was wonderful. But I don't think she needed to be quite so tentative earlier to make her transition into Protector of the Hearth work.

The play also ends on a curiously flat note, with a sweet little moral and metaphorical passing of the baton to the next generation. Here again, if the role of the wife's father were eliminated, Bryn, having reasserted the natural order of things and protected her family, could have as easily handed said baton directly to Tim, placing him in co-ownership of Home. The imposition of her father, rather than strengthening, I thought, diluted this nuclear bond.

The muddied ending was further muddled by the after play video clips. Most were inaudible. None were funny, with the very notable exception of, again, Reynolds and Cochran. The very first clip was very funny, and would have sufficed as an acerbic comment on the real relationships I think Dean was trying to highlight, and ended the play with a light epilogue. The cast comments however, seemed totally out of place, and having sat through the first couple, one felt trapped into staying through to the end of them. I believe they were meant as "exit music" so treat them as such.

Moon Over Buffalo, by Ken Ludwig
Moon Shine
Monday, October 12, 2009
Shazam. Robert Egezio catches lightning in a bottle with Moon Over Buffalo. Egezio does many things well (act/direct/dance/choreograph and I'm sure I'm leaving several out), but his forte is directing farce, and this is a superbly entertaining production. Mistaken identities? Check. Slamming doors? Check. Cheating spouses? Check. Deaf mother-in-law? Check - Check and mate. Well done all round.

While all the performances are excellent, and the timing (an absolute necessity in farce) top notch, of special note is Darrell Wofford as the aging leading man, George Hay. He's the obligatory cheating spouse and the imminent (in nine months) evidence of his pecadillo doesn't bother him nearly as much as his leading lady (wife Charlotte, sharply embodied by Karen Whitaker) leaving him upon discovering his latest escapade, making it impossible for George to mount his matinee production of Cyrano (or is it Private Lives?) and impress Frank Capra, who is looking for a replacement star for The Scarlet Pimpernel. George reacts to losing his "big break" by getting piss-faced drunk and Wofford's performance, replete with many physical gags is one of the most incredibly funny things I've ever seen. Of course, Charlotte relents when she realizes what's at stake (a chance for her to star opposite hubby in The Scarlet Pimpernel - these are not altruistic people) and comes back just in time to entertain Mr. Capra and sober up George (with lots and lots of coffee - yeah, that always works).

Also very effective is John Markowski in a beautifully understated portrayal of Paul, the stage manager and ex-fiance of Roz, the Hays' non-theatrical daughter. As Ethel (Holly Stevenson, a crowd favorite), George's mother-in-law, says, life with the Hays is like "living in an asylum on the guard's day off." Roz (Kelly Criss) has tried to escape this life for something more "normal" (in the form of new love Howard, played with a sweetly awkward sensibility by Kelly David Carr) and so Roz has rejected both the theater and Paul. But every time Paul walks on stage Markowski projects the calm at the eye of the storm. That's not to say he doesn't bring the funny. There's one scene involving George and Paul and a pair of pants . . . well, it defies the imagination. Don't be drinking your wine while you watch it.

The secret to staying young is laughter. Go see Moon Over Buffalo and take a couple of decades off your chronological age.

The Trials and Tribulations of a Trialer Trash Housewife, by Del Shores
Something Special
Friday, August 28, 2009
Have you ever wanted to go back in time and catch one of your favorite actors at the beginning of his career? Would you have been able to see the seeds of greatness? I myself have scrambled for cast credits because I was captivated by a performance. An example would be the movie Mystic Pizza, which I saw because I like Conchata Ferrell and because I had heard there was a young actress to watch, Annabeth Gish (a relation of the great Lillian Gish). However, the performance that blew me away was by a little girl from Smyrna, Georgia who was all eyes and smile and hair (oh that hair!), and she just glowed. I remember very little about Mystic Pizza, except for the certainty I felt in my marrow that this Julia Roberts girl was something special.

It may seem odd to start a review of The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife with an aside about Julia Roberts, but the connection is this: there are two performances, in this well-crafted, well-paced and exceedingly well-acted production, that made me all tingly, with that "I'm watching greatness being born" feeling I got the first time I saw Julia Roberts on screen.

In "Trials" the scenes are introduced with blues numbers sung by Caitlyn Martin. The songs are intricately interwoven with, and expertly comment on, the action. Not merely background, they feel specific to each piece. Ms. Martin not only sings beautifully, she has attitude as well, alternately sad, sexy, and at times a little cheeky. Although her singing is integral to the play, much as the Narrator is in Our Town, it stands on its own merit as well, constituting a one woman show outside of the main piece. She's gorgeous to look at, dressed to kill, and her voice is a honeyed wine filling the thirsty parts of your soul. The blues singer weaves in and out of the Housewife's life like a guardian angel in a sexy red dress. The play's reveal, as told by the Housewife's friend, LaSonia (Roblyn Allicia), shines through the blues singer, and she becomes the prism illuminating the wasted potential of a life lived in fear.

The dust devil kicking up that fear is the character of J.D. Winkler (Travis Young), the Housewife's husband. Mr. Young doesn't so much play J.D. as inhabit him. He imbues this role with such presence and veracity as to be stunning. He is ferocious. Make no mistake, J.D. is the kind of low down character that is a waste of humanity, but the playwright is very clear that Willadean (the Housewife, played by Claire Brown) loves him and stays in what is clearly an abusive relationship because of that love. Mr. Young is able to navigate his tender scenes with Willadean with the same dexterity that he attacks the scenes of abuse, all without losing the integrity of his character. Comparisons always spring to my mind when I see his work: Anthony Hopkins, Toby Maguire, and a young actor I like very much: Jeremy Renner. You never see them "acting." There's such purity and clarity in their work. Travis Young belongs in that company.

Certainly, this creates a problem for Mr. Young. "Trials" contains very graphic language and violence, and the actor told me that some nights he'd like to just slink out the back door. It is a testament to his conviction and courage that he doesn't pull his punches in his characterization. J.D. is the fulcrum upon which the play moves, and he has to be a monster for Willadean to engage in battle. It's called acting, but the great ones make it look like they're not acting.

After the performance I asked Director DeWayne Morgan where he had found all these wonderful actors, because they were all excellent (including an unrecognizable Jennifer Lee as the comically sluttish Rayleen). All the work was great, but keep your eye on these two: Caitlyn Martin and Travis Young. You'll be hearing more from them. They're something special.

Urinetown: The Musical, by music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis
Privilege to See
Friday, June 27, 2008
Several years ago Geoff Uterhardt tried to drag me to see Urinetown. As I recall, my reaction was "why would I want to see a musical about bodily fluids?" I am afraid, though, I have to pile on in what seems to be unanimous praise for this production, which I liked so much I immediately went back and saw again.

To be fair, the cast boasts several of my favorites other than Googie: Jenna Edmonds (whom I have a big girl crush on), Sims Lamason (a triple threat of beauty, grace and great pipes), and Charlie Miller (whose Paul Ruebens delivery cracks me up no end). I also discovered new treasures to love: Leslie Bellair, whose crisp dance steps and brilliant comedic timing delightfully inform the ensemble, and bring unexpected punch to her understudy of Hope; Joey Ellington as Officer Barrel, who manages to bond several generations of theater goers with his Pat Butram homage (someone once described Butram's voice as sounding like a turkey being strangled – listen to Ellington and see if you don't agree); and Robert Wayne, who I have often found a little tentative, but who here attacks the role of Caldwell B. Cladwell with ferocious gusto. The only downside to my newfound appreciation for Wayne is that I cannot get his surreal rendition of "Don't Be the Bunny" out of my head!!! As Cladwell's tan, suave and richly oiled counterpart, Senator Fipp, Scott Ebert is marvelous. His short solo left me panting for more.

The ensemble sounds and looks terrific. They just flat out blew me away. Kudos to Clay Causey, the Musical Director. Flawlessly energetic dance execution. Ricardo Aponte's choreography, always impressive, just seems to get infinitely better and better. Anthony Owen (who also did the fantastically intricate set) is superbly punk and John Markowski, blue eyes blazing personifies lost innocence. Lindsay Creedon hurt her ankle in the beginning of the second act, but the ensemble covered beautifully. I just assumed she'd show up eventually with some piece of stage business. It wasn't until my second viewing that I realized just how cleverly the cast had covered because she has a LOT of stage "business," including a finale gag, all of which made the experience just that much richer. This brings up a salient point about this production: every character has been fleshed out in great detail, so the show can be seen multiple times and still deliver surprises. Yet I never got the feeling the primary action was being "upstaged." Character driven blocking and business (even in the dance numbers) created an excellent balance and sometimes insight (notice how often Officer Lockstock, an omniscient narrator, is paired with Little Sally, the innocent waif, even in fight scenes).

The musical numbers themselves are a delightful pastiche of Stomp and Music Man (Cop Song), Evita (Urinetown), Big River (Run Freedom Run), Les Mis (Tell Her I Love Her), and even West Side Story (Snuff that Girl). I'm sure I've missed other clever attributions in this unusual production. The structure itself is a sly wink, in that Officer Lockstock, from the very beginning, breaks the fourth wall and speaks very candidly to the audience about this being a strange sort of Musical, and not a very happy one at that. Musical and societal conventions are lampooned, while at the same time the very serious issue of increasing demand for diminishing resources and the rich and privileged few's exploitation of that demand is examined. Current, much? Have you watered your grass this year? Or managed to fill up your gas tank today? Urinetown's revolution of the poor seems fanciful, but Bobby Strong's refusal to collect the new facility tax is mirrored in today's news by Philadelphia Sheriff John Green's refusal to evict homeowners facing foreclosure. Sheriff Green told the mortgage companies (aka Urinetown's rich), the people are hurting: find another way. I found Urinetown spookily on point.

Topicality aside, I now have to turn to the four people who are the absolute standouts in this production. Alli Simpson, as Ms. Pennywise, has got a drop dead song, Privilege to Pee, less than ten minutes into Urinetown, which she delivers with a powerhouse voice. If you are fifteen minutes late and you miss this song, you should be beaten with a stout stick and forced to come back another day. If it weren't for the necessity of continuity, I'm sure the audience would have given her a Standing O right there. Sims Lamason, as Hope, and Clint Pridgen, as Bobby, not only have great chemistry, but their voices blend so prettily in a song like Follow Your Heart. [As an aside, when I saw Leslie Bellair as Hope, I was more impressed with the comedic aspects of the song, and not so much its lyricism, which is an excellent reason to see several actors put their own unique stamp on a role.] Pridgen and Lamason both get their own moments to shine in the rousing Run Freedom Run and I See a River. Lastly, Jenna Edmonds' rendition of Tell Her I love Her (with, admittedly, comic undertones) rivals any rendition of On My Own I've ever heard. Her sweet clear voice seems to have wings as it sweeps over the audience, banishing sorrow.

As Lockstock, Geoff Uterhardt is not a "standout." What Geoff is, at his heart, is Googie. He is an entertainer. He has that sixth sense a performer develops that allows him to know what the audience is feeling, when their attention is wandering, and how and where to "point" his performance to get them back. [I've seen him do this, sometimes with an ad lib, in character.] He personifies what Thorton Wilder called the collaboration between player and audience. As such, he is the perfect choice for Lockstock, the audience's "window" into Urinetown, and reminds me of no one so much as Guy de Liberte, the founder of Cirque Du Soleil. Let's play!

Holding all these great talents together is Barbara Uterhardt, who proves yet again she is an actor's director (everyone gets their moment in the sun), but only to the extent it serves the play (or Ms. Barbara's vision). Rock on guys. This one's a hit! Or as said more eloquently in another review: don't be the bunny. See this show.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, by John Cameron Mitchell; music and lyrics by Stephen Trask
Hot and Tight
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
For my money, there is no actor in Atlanta who can stand on his pins and just flat out sing with total abandon better than Craig Waldrip. As Hedwig he proves he can do it in six inch heels, a five pound blond wig and a star spangled jumpsuit. The best seats are by the runway, preferably near the pole (thanks for the tip, Freddie!), but Hedwig roams the audience, so there's really not a bad seat in the house.

Angela Motter reprises the role of Yitzhak, Hedwig's long-suffering husband and is very funny in her own right, The Angry Inch is hot (especially Dan Bauman on bass), and Linda Uzelak's musical direction is top notch. The performance I saw was supposedly a dress rehearsal, but it sure felt tight to me.

Freddie Ashley proves again and again he can find fresh aspects to material I thought I knew. Loved Hedwig, loved the music, loved the show.

All in the Timing, by David Ives
Fugue A La Cart
Monday, February 25, 2008
After a season spent tackling infanticide, homicide, suicide, filicide, murder, mayhem, and institutional genocide, OnStage Atlanta lightens up, presenting selections from David Ives' All in the Timing and Mere Mortals. These are delightfully concocted confections of ironic whimsy, designed to make us nod knowingly, wink conspiratorially, and occasionally laugh out loud. There's something for everyone: a dictator's wife pondering the reason the gardener might have smashed an ice axe into her husband's head (which, incredibly still works 36 hours later): "Perhaps he just wanted to pick your brain?" ("Variations on the Death of Trotsky"); a young man who identifies more with machines than people and yet is still able to find true love at the office supply ("Singular Kinda Guy"); or Ives' sci-fi explanation for why some days just don't turn out the way we want ("The Philadelphia").

Three of the pieces are especially good. "Time Flies," a rumination on the romantic challenges of the ephemeral mayfly (a creature which, because its sole purpose in its brief life is to copulate, does not require a mouth), manages to strike interesting parallels with the urgency of the modern singles scene. When I pointed out to my husband that the depiction of the young couple snacking while canoodling on the couch and watching some tube was scientifically inaccurate (because adult mayflies do not eat), he pointed out to me that they probably don't watch television, either, but this was FICTION. Jenna Edmonds and Justin Sims were very fetching as the young lovers and Tom Gillespie gave a spot on interpretation of a famous narrator. Director David Klein made good use of his material, and it was a very lively and funny piece.

"Sure Thing" is about a more everyday kind of couple. Stories about time travel or alternate realities let us ponder the intricacies of interconnectedness. Can a butterfly really flap its wings in China and cause a tornado in Kansas? On a more prosaic level, the preponderance of the DVR and TIVO have habituated us to the idea that life should have a rewind button. Justin Sims (sans his mayfly wings), with a rangy "aw shucks" quality which worked well for his cowboy in Bus Stop last season, and Carrie Walrond-Hood, striking a deft balance between debutante and soccer mom, play two people whose paths cross at a streetside café. As their conversation proceeds, the many pitfalls inherent in any tentative relationship gape, and Sims falls into them, one after another. But Ives allows him a reset, sometimes by only a word, sometimes by a whole paragraph, until we see the through line. It's rather like watching Schrödinger's cat getting killed over and over until he finally gets it right, all the alternate realties collapsing and releasing him from that damn box. In less capable hands than director Michael Henry Harris', this piece's fugue-like structure could have come off as nothing more than an acting exercise, but it rang true, and funny, and I liked it a lot.

I must admit, though, as a lit major from way back, my favorite piece was "Words, Words, Words", which attempts to answer the musical question, if three chimps sat in a room and typed into infinity, would they produce Hamlet? At times I felt my husband (another lit major) and I were the only ones laughing, as the allusions flew hot and heavy, but even a passing familiarity with Mel Gibson's or Kenneth Branagh's movies should give the theater goer enough background to get the general satire. Charlie Miller was perfect as the erudite Milton, and Jennifer Lee was appropriately savvy as the politically motivated Swifty, but Kelsey Bailey (who is, I will admit, an intern) was so faint I could barely hear her. She has a beautifully sweet voice, and her bio says she hopes to pursue a career in theater, so she shouldn't be hiding her gifts. Director Barbara Cole Uterhardt needs to tell her, "honey child, represent!"

Several of the pieces, "Words, Words, Words" included, merit several viewings, as there's just so much going on at once, and laughter often obscures the lines. Only seven of the nine pieces are shown at any given show, so the makeup is different each time. The post-show dustup with cast and crew proved illuminating. A cast member gave me the origin of one of the lines in "Words3," and I was able to give her the origin of a line that had seemed familiar to her [Danny Kaye movies being a useful trivia category.]. As this presentation by Onstage involves the entire New Artistic Company, I urge you to stick around and meet some of these amazing people. It's quickly becoming one of my favorite places to hang out.

Note: The use of "Words3" was suggested by Dedalus' use of "T2" in his review of Room Service (although he somehow got his superscript to print correctly). Any other similarity to any other work created by stringing more than three words together, including the Declaration of Independence, the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, the speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or the speeches of Gov. Deval Patrick, are purely coincidental.

Breaking Legs, by Tom Dulack
Kiss Bang Boom
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I wasn't too keen on seeing Breaking Legs. I'm one of the few people in America who wasn't disappointed in the ending of The Sopranos. I'd long stopped watching before the final cut to black. So a comedy about some "wise guys" did not pique my interest.

But I adore actors, and a finer trio of wise guys could not be found. Lee Buechele seemed to me a little more Irish than Italian, but I certainly believed he knew his way around a bar. Michael Shikany, decked out in designer sweats and running shoes, with his definite articulation (complete with gestures) was the best muscle since Tony Lapaglia redefined the form in Betsy's Wedding. "I did not know this," cracks me up every time.

But the piece de resistance was George Crolius as Mike Francisco, an aging don, who because of scars from an earlier injury cannot smile when he laughs. The result is a macabre cackle that punctuates some of the funniest spots in the show.

Amber Chaney is pitch perfect as the predatorily feline Angie who sets her sights on Allen Hagler's scholarly Terence O'Keefe. She stalks him until he catches her. In one oddly hysterical and erotic scene, Angie asks Terence for a foot rub. There's a different kind of "rub" going on outdoors, and something other than a foot rub going on indoors. It's funny, and confusing, and erotic, and disturbing, all at once. The flyers for this show say "for mature audiences" and this would be the scene your ten year old would be pestering you about. Leave the kiddies at home.

Hagler has the comfortable good looks and body language of an older Mark Hamill (Return of the Jedi, not Episode IV). And he plays a great drunk.

Chuck Welcome outdid himself on the set. I'm sure by now he mumbles under his breath every time he has to dress yet another "eatery/restaurant/bar." How many has it been now, Chuck? But he got to do the carved bar, stained glass lights. Real class.

Again, as I said in my review of Room Service earlier, this play is not going to illuminate any of Life's Great Truths, but it'll keep you young and laughing. Go, enjoy.

Room Service, by John Murray & Allen Boretz
Room With Askew
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I don't know why I don't get out to Marietta's Theater in the Square more than I do. It's actually closer than many of the places I frequent. I think it's because, as much as I decry the American "cult of personality," I tend to frequent theaters where I know the actors or the director or the theater owners, and I've just never gotten in with the TITS crowd. It's the "Hey Norm" syndrome, I guess.

So it was with Room Service: I knew several people in the cast, and recognized Hugh Adams from an earlier production I'd seen him in. I'm also old enough (ahem) to remember the Marx Brothers and so had a passing familiarity with the story.

Hugh Adams as Gordon Miller does a wonderful job in a killer part, he's in practically every scene and the first one required him to don every stick of clothing in his closet in one of the show's many running gags. Having recently been pulled onto stage in one of those "involve the audience" vignettes, I can tell you it's HOT AS BLAZES up there. So, as I watch Adams putting on more and more clothes, my heart goes out to him. He's sweating bullets. Even after he's no long wearing his closet, he must keep his hat on (it's a 30s thing), so I worry about heat stroke. His delivery is somewhere between conniving huckster and soothing conman, with just a hint of hysteria. He was delightful.

LeeAnna Lambert (Hilda) also is a ray of sunshine, enlivening every scene she's in. I've seen LeeAnna in several things, and she gets my Meryl Streep award for never speaking in the same accent twice. I've heard Cockney, Louisianan, and now Brooklynese. She's a hoot, as enjoyable as any Judy Holliday vehicle I've seen. [It takes brains to play the dumb blonde and make it funny – more so in these modern times.]

Another high point is Andrew Benator as Leo, the big city naïf. He becomes Gordon's foil in an elaborate scheme to keep the hotel room, which is a prerequisite to finishing the production of Leo's play, which is a prerequisite for paying for the aforesaid hotel room. Yeah, it's a Gordian Knot of a House of Cards. Everything seems to be going well – until it all starts to come crashing down. I've seen Benator channel Woody Allen, but he goes in a different direction here, evoking an early Woody Harrelson.

Tension arrives in the form of Don Finney's hotel inspector. Finney is absolutely hilarious in an over the top caricature of an officious knob polisher. It's not a subtle performance, but then, this is farce. The blustery flamboyance of his portrayal is put to good use later when William Murphey's Binion imitates him on the phone, right down to his favorite phrase, "Suffering Butterballs." The audience loved it.

Googie Uterhardt and Cara Mantella inject as much inspiration as they can into parts which are pretty stock. They're both good, but the parts (second banana / girl with obvious charms) are underwritten and serve mainly as sight gags. Charles Green gives the illusion of running very fast and still standing still (kind of a live action roadrunner cartoon), and Bryan Mercer defies physics in a dual role that merits its own dialogue cue. [Being familiar with Bryan, I found this bit of stage business a scream, but his characterizations were so different, I'm not sure how many in the audience actually realized one person played both parts, even with the dialogue reference.]

Add in lots of slapstick, one scene I've watched over and over on the TITS website and still can't figure out how they do it, and a big reveal at the end, all make for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. It won't make you any smarter, or illuminate the human condition, or reveal who's going to become the Democratic nominee for President, but it will cause you to laugh a lot and may thereby extend your life a few years. So, be healthy, go out and enjoy a show.

A Lesson Before Dying, by adapted by Romulus Linney from the novel by Ernest J. Gaines
Saturday, January 26, 2008
OnStage Atlanta continues its presentation of raw, powerfully provocative pieces with Romulus Linney's adaptation of Ernest J. Gaines' "A Lesson Before Dying." "Lesson" is the story of Jefferson, an innocent young man imprisoned and sentenced to die in 1948 Louisiana. In an effort to save his life, Jefferson's defense attorney compares his execution to the slaughter of a hog. Jefferson retreats into an animalistic fugue state, from which his family and friends try to rescue him.

Harley Gould's set shows the long hallway Jefferson must traverse to get to his visitation room, and the "room" itself is a platform placed at a sharp angle to the audience, creating visual dissonance. The walls of the room are delineated only by a window and door, but the platform is small and constrained, deftly suggesting the confinement of prison. To modern audiences, the prison setting will evoke echoes of "Dead Man Walking" or "The Green Mile," but Jefferson is no Sister Helen's lost sinner or Stephen King's fantastical healer. He is a flesh and blood man, beset on all sides by a justice system that has not so much failed him as refuse to acknowledge his humanity, an attorney who disappoints him most offensively, a mother figure who seeks to assuage agony with comfort food, and a teacher who offers what appears to be too little too late. Jefferson retreats into a shell of primordial fury. As the play progresses, he gradually reconnects spiritually with the world, eventually becomes a cause celebre for the town, and finally achieves nobility by offering his death as an heroic sacrifice.

Antjuan Tobias Taylor plays Jefferson as a nascent volcano of a man: he smolders, he burns, he belches fire and smoke. Despite being hampered by the physical constraints of the set and character, and Jefferson's psychological impediment, Taylor bursts forth with a torrent of words and energy, at times cursing and spitting, going to a deeply disturbing place most of us would not care to contemplate, let alone visit, casting off all those who seek to aid him. The words of the poem came to me "Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Of course, Thomas' poem was about old age, and Jefferson's situation is direly different.

Taylor is supported by a dynamite cast. Most effective is Gina Lynn Guesby, who captures brilliantly the subtle variations of tone and posture inherent in Miss Emma. She is all deference when the Sheriff is in the room, but steel wrapped in velvet with the teacher, Grant. Note, too, how she manages to get her way, even when dealing with the Sheriff, in a situation where she has no explicit power. The rocks are not visible in the deep waters in which Mss Emma treads, but she has learned to navigate around them with delicate grace. Guesby conveys all by the angle of her back and where she chooses to focus her gaze.

I also very much liked James Lentini's characterization of Deputy Paul, a prison guard who feels guilty about his place in Jefferson's situation. He is not responsible for it, but he is a participant in the system that caused it, and he is therefore "guilty by association." Lentini does an excellent job projecting discomfort and ambivalence. He is profoundly changed by the events he witnesses (in contrast to the Sheriff's single gruff acquiescence), and one senses, at the end, that Paul may be close to breaking with the inhumane system which has given him his living.

Sherricka White brought a welcome ethereal quality to the role of Vivian Baptiste, the idealist, becoming nearly angelic during her visit with Jefferson. Nat Martin, as Rev. Ambrose, the pragmatist, both looked the part and exuded the necessary gravitas, reminiscent of the precise eloquence of the late Roscoe Lee Browne. Michael Henry Harris, in the thankless job of Sheriff Guidry (a/k/a The Evil Establishment), neatly sidestepped the temptation to play a stereotype

I was most troubled by the character of Grant Wiggins. He seems very unsympathetic at first, and I caught myself wondering why couldn't he just leave Jefferson in peace. [I know, I know – no justice, no peace.] As I came to know Grant, however, I realized that he was keeping the world at bay with his cynicism and sarcasm just as surely as Jefferson was doing with his outbursts. Grant's rage has been distilled over a lifetime, bottled up and pushed down deep inside. He retreats into the superiority of his education, holding himself aloof and counting himself blameless in his neighbors' struggles. As Grant warms to the task of visiting Jefferson, however, he begins to open up to his world, becoming a better neighbor, a better boyfriend, a better teacher. Nathaniel Ryan's portrayal is an extremely subtle one, very interior, very intense, comparable to the (earlier) work of Daniel Day Lewis: his final, quiet scenes with his students and Deputy Paul are simply stunning.

In the final analysis, though, the play hinges on the transformative power of Taylor's courageous portrayal of Jefferson and his hero's journey. As the innocent called upon to perform an impossible task, Taylor sulks, screams, rants and unabashedly debases himself. He then seamlessly transitions to diligent student, and flawlessly finishes as the master, calmly conducting his final hours. Like the character he portrays, Taylor is the "bravest man in the room."

Piling On
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I know this production has closed, but I just had to pile on and say job well done to the Lyric. This was a wonderful night at the theater. I heard later there was some backstage drama that required the director to step in at the last minute in the role of Frankie. He was absolutely terrific. You're going out there a director, but you're coming back a star!!! Big favorites were the Plaids' rendition of a Beatles song (so wrong - yet so right) and the Calypso sing-a-long. I'd write more, but my girl she take me money and run Venezuela.

Home for the Holidays 2007, by Robert Egizio and Chuck Welcome; Musical arrangements by Linda Uzelac
Best Christmas Ever!
Monday, December 3, 2007
This was the third time I've seen Home for the Holidays, and I was expecting the same homey, comfortable presentation of years past, but it's been reworked, with some really nice touches, turning a "nice" play into a "great" experience.

Cathy Hall Payne and George Devours both turn in their solid performances. They've become my surrogate Christmas mom and dad. Cathy provides a lot of the humor of the piece, with her exuberant embrace of the holiday spirit, and George is the ballast that keeps her from floating away over the rainbow. It's to George and Cathy's credit that they seem like a couple that is not only married, but has a real history together.

Rachel Miller: best Mary ever. She really connects with her audience, letting them feel her pain when she sings about missing her man at the holidays. I hope to see a lot more of Rachel in the future.

Craig Waldrip has one of the best set of pipes in Atlanta. He just planted those big old Army boots of his and let loose. His rendition of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" gave me goosebumps. A real show stopper. Craig also has a nice comic solo, in a number about a previous disturbing Christmas experience. This number, sweetly cute in past years, has been changed, and is now hilarious, with Cathy Hall Payne adding a surreptitious counterpoint.

Spencer Stephens injects real life into the banter between his character and Summer Bergeron's Noel. He makes the tension palpable and elevates the entire situation far beyond a set piece for songs. His picture should be in the dictionary next to the phrase "comic timing." His sweet voice also invested his own solos of "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas" with poignancy and longing for home and tradition.

But I've saved the best for last. In addition to providing a comic foil for Spencer (giving as good as she gets, and after all is said and done, getting the last laugh), Summer Bergeron is one hell of a song stylist. "O Holy Night" is usually performed as a soaring flight into the stratosphere by sopranos with supreme confidence (and a little pride, let's admit) in the top of their range. It's beautiful to perform and divine to behold, and it's been done 99 ways to sundown. Summer's take is more hymn than aria, reminding us of the reason for the holy night's existence. Her voice is so rich, so mellifluous, that she glides through the high notes like they're nothing special. She places her emphasis on the commandment to fall on your knees in the presence of a miracle. She will leave you shaken and thunderstruck.

There's a lot of theater to see this time of year. It takes the precision of a military campaign to get everything in. Home for the Holidays is one program you need to get on your "must see" list.

The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
A Trick of the Light
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Henry James' Turn of the Screw has been called the finest ghost story ever written, owing in no small part to its rich and varied interpretation. Its influence can be felt in such diverse modern venues as the horror soap opera Dark Shadows, the current ABC series Lost, and M. Night Shyamalan's classic The Sixth Sense.

I was reminded of Sixth Sense's debt to Turn of the Screw after watching OnStage Atlanta's production of Jeffrey Hatcher's two actor adaptation. Both stories are ostensibly ghost stories, involving children in peril whom an adult is trying to extricate. Both involve absent fathers, isolated protagonists, intimations of abuse, struggling single "mothers," and a young "different" male child at the center of the maelstrom. Both stories are deep, psychological pieces insistent in a belief that secrets hidden are injurious and that to expose them to the light of day will effect a cure.

Director Rachel White tapped Barbara Cole Uterhardt and John Markowski, both so effective in last season's Bash (latter day plays) to play the governess and her ten-year-old charge, Miles. Uterhardt plays the governess as strong, resolute, loftily ambitious with just a hint of avarice (after all, she muses, Miss Jane Eyre started out as a mere governess, did she not?). She does not allow us to see her fear: she is repulsed by the ghosts' carnal designs, but full of steely English resolve, steadfast in her belief in herself as the children's protector. The chink in her armor appears, significantly, when Flora, Miles' little sister, wanders into the lake. It is the lowly and practical housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, not the resolute governess, who swims in to rescue Flora. Dark water, it turns out, terrifies the governess.

Markowski plays not only the boy Miles, but the governess' employer (a soon-to-be-absent "father"), and the elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. That Markowski accomplishes this latter characterization with nothing more than a change of posture and accent is an acting class in itself. He morphs back and forth with ease, and even stands in for the ghost during one incredible scene -- more about that later. His ability to move from childlike innocence to adult carnality in the blink of an eye is crucial to one shocking display which brought an audible gasp from the audience the night I was there. Neither of these actors has any problem chewing up scenery, and mindful of this, director Rachel White wisely removed most of it so they could conduct their master class.

This is not to imply that the lack of scenery is a detraction from the production: far from it. In fact, the severe stage, and somber costuming combine to form the perfect backdrop for the third "actor" in OnStage's production, Mike Magursky's amazing lighting. From faces that eerily float out of the fog to a bright and dewy English morning, his robust spots and stark shadows are fearlessly provoking. Anyone who has ever for one second thought they'd like to pursue lighting as a career should not miss this skillful presentation. We become inured to the glossy FX of cinema, but Magursky's lights are something more akin to stage magic. In one remarkable illusion, the governess stands in the manor hallway with the ghost Peter Quint at her shoulder. Uterhardt is brilliantly lit, but Markowski, next to her, dissolves into a mere shadow. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

It is perhaps fitting that Turn of the Screw shares one last attribute with The Sixth Sense. Remember the moment when Bruce Willis' psychologist finds another meaning to young Cole's "secret" that he sees dead people? The entire film is stood on its head as the audience becomes aware that what they believe they have "seen" is not actually what they have watched. A revelation of similar import (the turn of the screw, if you will) occurs at OnStage and we're not quite sure, at the end, what really happened, and just whose face Evil wore: after all, the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape, or maybe, at OnStage, to wrap itself in Magursky's magnificent lights.

BASH (latterday plays), by Neil Labute
The Tie the Binds
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Brad Rudy said it first, and better than I, but then, that's never stopped me before. Not since Bret Easton Ellis's "American Psycho" has a literary work so eloquently interwoven horror and everyday life. "BASH" is like a rock underfoot that turns to reveal things squirming across its underbelly. As you stare, revulsed (and a little fascinated), it whups you upside the head.

Matt Hamner is engaging in Iphigenia in Orem, with a sweetness reminiscent of a young Robin Williams. He tugs at our heartstrings describing how God supported him through the death of his daughter. Soon, though, his confession of complicity in her death becomes not a penance, but an attempt to excuse the inexcusable, and I found I wanted to put my fist through his face.

After that sequence, the hormonal rush of the young couple in Gaggle of Saints was a relief. John Markowski and Julie Gibbs as John and Sue are full of themselves and each other, out on the town in their faith's equivalent of a Spring Fling or Prom, all gussied up in tuxes and floaty dresses. Then John pricks his finger on Sue's corsage, and everyone forgets to breathe as Sue admits that the sight of John's blood, bright against the white of his shirt, excites her.

Gaggle turns out to be the most provocatively violent of the three pieces in "BASH," and John Markowski, with his driving energy, does not disappoint. He walks a razor's edge between religious zealot and confused adolescent, even suggesting at the end, while professing his love for Sue, that he might be, just the tiniest bit, confused about his own sexuality. I continue to be impressed with this young man.

Of special note, too, is the lighting design of Anthony Owen. Quietly understated in Iphigenia, modulating from cozy amber to interrogation white, Gaggle is all clean lines: the prom suggested in "snapshot shutters," Sue and John's separation with a "split screen." When Sue retires for a nap, Owen shrouds her in darkness, except when she "lights up" to whisper how excited she was by the blood. Fearlessly, Owen casts John's face in stark troglodyte shadow, suggesting the animalistic adventure to come.

As shocking as the first two acts of violence are, their impact is cleverly mitigated by juxtaposing images of sleep. Even at its most graphic and violent (John's description of the attack in the park), Labute swings us back to the quiet of Sue's hotel bedroom, where she murmurs about the blood.

Third acts are usually about resolution, and in Medea Redux Barbara Cole Uterhardt appears to be giving testimony against a teacher who molested her in her early teens. Uterhardt's character, though, freely admits enjoying her teacher's attentions. Even after he abandons her, pregnant, she glories in her beautiful son. Yet her narration of love and affection is told against the backdrop of her first sexual encounter, when, trapped against the glass of an underground aquarium, she watched a hammerhead shark swim slowly back and forth. The image of this young girl, caught between two predators, has the same kind of breath stealing effect as Sue whispering about the blood.

Uterhardt is an actress confident enough to take her time with a role, to let the audience see the character think. We talk sometimes of a performance being pitch-perfect, but Barbara also plays the rests, painting with negative space, the sound of snow falling on snow. I was so sure I knew where she and Labute were going . . . and I was so wrong.

The Woman asks a question at the end of "BASH." It's the question she imagines her lover asked, at the end, and it echoes long after we've left the theater, like the sound of a tree falling in winter, cracking under the weight of all that snow. It will chill you. It will haunt you. It will not be ignored.

Italian American Reconciliation, by John Patrick Shanley
From Nuts to Soup
Thursday, May 3, 2007
In Italian-American Reconciliation, Huey, played by Al Stilo, is stymied in his personal life because he's left his heart (and his manhood) with the person of his ex-wife. It's as if he lost his hands, he says, and he's got to go back and find them. This might be understandable, except that Janice, the ex-wife in question, is an unlikable harpy of a woman who shot his dog. Then she tried to shoot him as well. Huey's friend Aldo (Anthony Rodriguez) tries to talk him out of getting back together with Janice, and even goes so far as to hatch a plan of his own to make the ultimate sacrifice (after all, she still has her gun) and romance Janice himself, thus making her "unavailable" to Huey.

The play hits its stride when Aldo puts his plan into action, as he and Janice (Lala Cochrane) dance through a bizarro version of Romeo and Juliet. They're not really made for each other, and they both know it, but there's still some sizzle there. "I wasn't being mean," Janice says, "I was flirting. You were just too dumb to notice." "Believe me," replies Aldo, "if you'da been doing it right, I woulda noticed." We find some understanding for Janice, played by Cochrane as a beautiful wounded lioness of a woman. She'd rather be alone than pitied. She'd rather be feared than ignored. Lala's antics, it turns out, were intended to get a rise out of Huey. The more he accepted her, the more ignored she felt. In a telling exchange Lala tells Huey he never SAW her, and Huey tells her she never HEARD him. When they finally discover they've been doing a kind of reverse double accommodation, dealing at cross purposes, their healing finally begins.

The real reconciliation here, however, is not between Huey and Janice. Setting the play against the background of an Italian neighborhood, we're made keenly aware of "heritage" and where people "come from." But Huey's disconnect is not with his ethnic heritage, but with his personal life. Al Stilo does a masterful job appearing positively shlubbish while pining for Janice. After Huey makes his peace, he emerges a new man, looking like he spent a week at Club Med, a real spring in his step. Even finding that his girlfriend, Teresa, has moved on (to another country altogether) doesn't phase him. He knows he can cope now that he's complete within himself.

Of special note here is Caroline Masclet, who portrays Teresa with sweet conviction as a girl who'll do most anything for the guy she loves except stand around and watch him immolate himself. She recognizes long before Huey does that nothing can happen between them until he divorces himself spiritually from Janice. Lynne Ashe, too, is welcome, providing a good dose of earthy charm as Teresa's Aunt May, who helps midwife Teresa and Huey's budding relationship. While she's waiting for that to heat up, she graciously helps Aldo out as well. In between she serves up the minestrone. We should all have an Aunt May.

What pulls it all together, though, is Anthony Rodriguez's Aldo. He tells us up front that he's telling us a story, but we know it's a true story, because he's got his mom present to verify. He wears his heritage on his sleeve, comfortable about where he's come from ("this is my ma"), who he is ("hey, how ya doin'?"), and where he's going ("I got an engagement"). Even with his wise guy competence, though, we see, in a kind of parenthetical commentary, that Aldo is subject to the same foibles as Huey. He's got a woman that he can't live with, and he can't live without. The difference is that Aldo doesn't psychoanalyze himself. He's a man with an appetite for life and he jumps right in.

There are people in this country who would have us become homogenized, who would do away with our Greek Festivals, our St. Paddy's Parades, our Cinco de Mayos. To me, that would kind of be like eating unsalted soda crackers for the rest of your life. Which would be a shame when there's so many rich cannelloni and ziti and lasagna, not to mention tamales, enchiladas, souvlaki, moving along to sopapillas, risogalo, baklava, gelato, you get the idea. As Auntie Mame said, life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death. So enjoy!

As an aside, Italian-American Reconciliation is slated to be the last show in the Aurora Interim Space. Run, do not walk (well, actually, you might want to drive) up to Lawrenceville and beg Tony, AC or Al to take you on a tour of the cathedral, um, castle, the new home of the Aurora. It's gorgeous, and it's going to be a blast getting to see and do theater there.

So many plays, so little time.

The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (Abridged), by Adam Long, Reed Martin, & Austin Tichenor (& Matth
The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But
Thursday, May 3, 2007


Some people have complained that the Bible should not be used as a source for humor. Those people should probably not see this play. Instead they should go contemplate the platypus. What exactly was God thinking? Was He having an off day, or was He thinking "THIS'LL blow their minds"? I'm pretty sure God has a great sense of humor or we'd all be toast. 2,000 years after the Atonement and we're still playing the spiritual equivalent of "Chopsticks."

This play contains giggles and gaggles, yuks and guffaws, some audience dressup, the tiniest bit of political commentary (along the lines of why must God's children continue to kill each other in His name), and a great deal of good natured ribbing about a Book we all claim to revere, but as the play notes, don't always understand as well as we pretend. (Don't worry: they have a song for that.) In the end, the message is clear that we're all God's children, with the emphasis on "child."

So, if you like your religion pristine, wrapped in a virginal shroud, if it's a delicate thing which must be secreted in the holy of holies, set apart high on an altar, protected in a golden ark, then this is not the play for you. If, on the other hand, you've actually read parts (or all) of the Bible, if your religion is a tough, sinewy thing that pulls you through the valley of the shadow of death, if God is your passenger on I-285 as well as your co-pilot, and you talk to your creator as you mow the lawn, fix your dinner or contemplate life while in your privy closet, then give us a big Amen! and come on down, ya'll. This is a play for you.

Beyond the Rainbow, by William Randall Beard
Pot of Gold
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
In a word, Wow. Natasha Drenu is amazing, a real class act, a consummate performer. Close your eyes and you will swear you're in the room with Judy Garland, right down to the grace notes. This is no impression, hitting hard at the high points. It's a full-bodied integration, full of subtle touches like the little wobble Garland had in later years.

Laura Floyd is a find, engagingly vulnerable as the teenage/young adult Judy. She doesn't sound so much like Garland, but she's got a great big voice and is more than a match for Drenu. They had the audience eating out of their hands during their duets.

Multiple casting of the men in Garland's life lends a poignant perspective, as David Kronawitter portrays Louis B. Mayer (head of MGM and Garland's surrogate father) and Sid Luft (second husband/Lorna's father), both of whom "always took care" of Garland, while looking after their own selfish interests. Daniel Triandiflou plays both Garland's father, and Vincente Minnelli (Garland's first husband/Liza's father). Triandiflou is especially good as Minnelli, a man who, it is explained, is "the same way" as Garland's father (that being defined as friendly to young boys and more interested in a Gene Kelly than a Judy Garland). Ellen McQueen is Judy's mother and later her best friend, but she really shines as Hedda Hopper, appearing periodically as the punctuation point to Garland's career.

In an effort to be complete, the play begins with Judy's life as a youngster, and unfortunately between the overture and the parents' bickering, the evening gets off to a slow start. That's not a slight of the band or of the young actress who plays the Baby Francis. It's just that the real history of Garland's life, as the lead line for the play says, is in her songs. Once the play hits Hollywood, and the songs begin in earnest, the magic begins, all the way beyond the rainbow.

The Taffetas, by Rick Lewis
Sweet Tarts
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
I like to think I have really eclectic musical tastes, but as much as I love Sondheim, as clever as I find Prince, as much as I appreciate the irony in the lyrics of a Randy Travis song, there's just something about the ballads of the 50s that thrill. Perhaps I'm just showing my age (I was born in 1950).

My only criticism of this musical is that there's so much music that most of it is done in medley form. It's like a melodic smorgasbord, and I like my songs a little more complete. But I realize the sampler technique appeals to the more general public. After all, if we didn't cut something, we'd have been there all night. (I would have stayed, believe me.)

All the Taffetas are great performers, but I'll admit to a bit of a prejudice for Kelly Fletcher. She's just got this great big voice that seems to go on forever. I'd love to see her do a solo act, maybe illuminating the life and work of the great Peggy Lee (Fever!). Sims Lamason also pleases, although, again, I wish she'd been allowed to sing the entire version of "Cry."

I don't know where Robert Egizio finds these great talents, but don't stop. Please don't stop.

M. Butterfly, by David Henry Hwang
Gender Bender Knot
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
David Henry Hwang's "M. Butterfly," a glittering gem of a modern classic, will soon leave OnStage Atlanta. Live theater is ephemeral: there are no reruns of productions missed. Theater goers instinctively know this: there's always a run on the box office for closing weekend. April 13-14 is M. Butterfly's closing weekend.

Hwang's play is an intricate ivory latticework, complex with meaning: a treatise on east-west relations, a study in self deception, a kinky love story complete with betrayal and death. Gallimard, a French diplomat, is unfaithful to his wife and takes up with the Chinese opera star Song, spilling state secrets (among other things) over the course of their affair, because Song is also a spy. Song in turn betrays Gallimard, destroying his carefully constructed world. The play contemplates how little men and women understand each other, or themselves. ("Do you know why men play all the women's parts in Chinese opera?" asks Song. "Because only a man knows how a woman should act.") It's also a brutal condemnation of western arrogance wrapped in a raw sexual metaphor. The west, Song accuses, "emasculates" the Chinese.

"M. Butterfly" opens with the opera, "Madame Butterfly." The opera serves several purposes, introducing Song the performer, and providing the prism through which to view Gallimard's fascination with his ideal woman, the delicate beauty Butterfly. An opera is a highly structured fantasy, not reality, but Gallimard is oblivious to this (and to the racial and sexual stereotypes apparent to a modern audience) and transfers all his feelings about the character Madame Butterfly to Song. A tension is immediately apparent between Gallimard's fantasy of Butterfly/Song and the audience's perception of the real Song.

Anthony Owen's amazing set, the Japanese shoji of the opera, crowds center stage, trapping Gallimard in this fantasy. As the opera segment ends, the shoji rotate and reveal (like Oriental puzzle boxes) Song's rooms, the diplomatic quarter, and later France. Gallimard's life weaves in and out of a narrow strip of light and shadow between these worlds. Often, when Gallimard addresses the audience, the Japanese facades face outward, mute reminders of the opera by which Gallimard informs his life, as Gallimard appears, ghostlike, between them.

Hwang cleverly sets out to garner affection for Gallimard, despite his western arrogance and myopia, by contrasting him with a buddy, Mark, a creature so sublimely sexist, with his crass assessment of the female anatomy (complete with crude gestures) as to make Gallimard a saint of sensitivity in comparison. In a smart bit of casting Mark and Sharpless (Butterfly's apologist in the opera segments) are played by John Markowski, wonderfully dignified and upright as Sharpless, ambitiously disgusting as the lecherous Mark. Markowski has the charismatic energy of a young Tom Cruise (a Top Gun/Risky Business Tom Cruise, before he Jumped the Couch). I hope we see more of him.

Another element working for Gallimard, at least in OnStage’s production, is Rial Ellsworth, doing real journeyman work. Gallimard is a monster of a part, in practically every scene, and a great deal of that unaided narration, one of the hardest things to ask an actor to do. Rial plays Gallimard with breezy effusiveness, bringing to mind a big clumsy puppy, so keen to have people like him that his words tumble over themselves in his eagerness to get them out. Gallimard's awkwardness with women, his splendid obtuseness, and his lack of perspective about his own actions leave us vaguely uncomfortable, but it’s rather like seeing a train wreck coming: we can’t look away.

One of the things keeping Gallimard on track with reality is his wife, Helga, played with absolutely stunning clarity by Bobbie Elzey. Some actors have an innate comfortableness on stage, and that's exactly what's needed here. Long after the play's end, I was haunted by the image of Helga sitting on the bed, drying her hair: such a homey, comfortable scene, played by Elzey with effortless sensuality. Helga is robed, of course, but she is fresh from her bath, bare-faced, naked beneath her robe. Think Glenn Close in "Meeting Venus." Yet Gallimard is clueless. In fact, he's insulting, running on about the opera singer (his fantasy woman). Elzey's is a crucial part. Helga appears several times, amid obvious symbols of truth, life, and love. Without her, Gallimard would be simply pathetic, but in his rejection of Helga and all she represents, Gallimard engineers his own tragic fall.

David Klein, as Ambassador Toulon, with his imposing statute and honeyed voice encourages Gallimard in that fall. He seeks Gallimard's "special understanding" of the Oriental mind, and Gallimard is free with his insights, not realizing the fallacy in extrapolating political ideology from a (flawed) sexual relationship. Toulon knows the source of Gallimard's "special knowledge" but doesn't care that the insights are suspect: he's a true Teflon politician and when the advice sours, he simply passes the buck.

Song, played by Alex Dickos, is not a typical Chinese woman. When Gallimard first sees Song performing "Madame Butterfly," his effusive compliments on the performance of such a beautiful part (Rial is splendid in his overeagerness to please) strike the wrong note, as the opera star reminds him that the Japanese enslaved and tortured the Chinese. Song finds performing a European's version of a Japanese heroine distasteful, and vows never to do so again. Yet Gallimard is so involved with his own fantasies that he continues to address Song by the pet name Butterfly after explicitly being told how offensive it is. He never opens his eyes to any of Song's real attributes, and while he is blind to the reality of his Song, the audience is not. Song knows all that Gallimard knows, down to the last trooper being sent into Vietnam. It is in these scenes, where Alex smoothly changes from the sweet cooing cadences used to entice Gallimard to the brisk staccato reports to Comrade Chin that we see Song's true character. In contrast, we see Gallimard grandly philosophizing with Toulon that the Chinese will support the west because they admire strength and forcefulness.

In Kazuo Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day" the butler Stevens sits by a calm body of water and reflects on a life of idealized service, devoted to a less than sterling master. "I didn't know, you see," is his excuse. Gallimard's tragedy, in contrast, is not so much that he was deceived as that he gloried in his self-deception. His heartbreaking cry "I knew" is only exceeded by the character of the slur he hurls at Song: the worst name he can conceive is the naked truth. The resolution is not played for surprise: this is no "Sixth Sense" or "Crying Game." Rather, it is a reflection of how human beings are complicit in their own fate. When the raw reality of the world overtakes Gallimard, he retreats, irrevocably, into the finality of his dream.

Bat Boy: The Musical, by Laurence O'Keefe, Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming
Dad's Garage Must See
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
First let me tell you what I didn't like: I hate the Hertz Stage at the Alliance, and that's where I saw Bat Boy: The Musical. It's like singing inside a lead tank. There's no "bounce" to the room. Please, Susan Booth, the next time Coca Cola gives you a coupla mil, splurge and buy some sound boards for the sides of this room. Else the next person to stage a musical there should be taken out and summarily shot (no offense to Sean or Sally meant, they knew they'd be taking their baby home eventually). The AJC and Creative Loafing both carped on the singing, but I've seen some of these people at other venues, and believe me, it wasn't them: it was the room.

Having said that, Jill Hames can make herself heard in a lead tank. I once heard her, unmiked, in the audience at Art Station, another room which is sound dead. Man, can this girl sing! Where are the record moguls? Golden opportunity here, guys. And cute, so much so, I'm always inclined to spell it kyute, but if I did, my husband would divorce me. She's especially adorable when her Shelley is rapping with Michael Schneider's Rick or frolicking in the forest with Clifton Guterman's Bat Boy.

Geoff Uterhardt is another singer who had no problems with the lead tankiness of the room or the comedic and dramatic challenges of playing Dr. Parker. His is a character driven by unrequited love, unresolved sexual tension, guilt, grandiose ambitions, and probably a little bit of "being the smartest person in the room." Poor Dr. Parker. We're allowed to laugh at him. We're allowed to pity him until he makes it impossible to go any further. And his contribution is crucial, both to Bat Boy's survival and the denouement of the play. With his shaved head "Googie" makes ample use of his pliable features to suggest the many levels of Dr. Parker's dark spiral.

All this hinges on Guterman's ability to make Edgar, the Bat Boy, a believable and sympathetic character. Just talking in the synthetic teeth must have been a challenge (but presented its own set of adorable quirks for the character: one of the things my daughter liked best about Edgar was the way he would close his mouth). Singing must have been well nigh impossible. The bodily contortions the character goes through truly suggest an other worldly creature. I'm sure most of the people on this list are familiar enough with theater to know it's not always the safest profession: the night I was there, Clifton had gotten whacked in the face during one of the blackouts, I think. What I took for makeup was a real shiner. And one of his teeth broke (which he absolutely covered: I would not have known if I hadn't been looking straight at him when it happened), and I never did see how he got it back in. I saw it break, and I saw him calmly palm it. Several minutes later both teeth were back in place. Believe me, his lack of costume left no place for him to carry a spare.

But this sounds terrible, doesn't it? Do you really want to see a play about a half starved, naked, feral creature who can only screech? Aw, the "growing up scene" (sung to "I'll Show You a Thing or Two") was every bit as inspiring as "The Rain in Spain" from "My Fair Lady" and it came at exactly the right time. I needed Edgar to cease to be a pet and become a person, and he did. He became a real person, and I became totally invested in his fate. What an extraordinary transformation through the course of the play, and what an extraordinary performance by Guterman.

Those of you who know me in real life, who know who I am, know that I think everything in life relates back to Buffy and Spike. I'm always taking that out of my reviews before I submit them, because I know that's not true for all people. But come on, a story about a girl and her "bat boy" friend? What does he eat? (Hint, it ain't insects.) The overtones here are too clear to miss. If you're a Buffy and Spike fan, you'll love the forest scene. Here endeth the lesson.

The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie
Mixed Nuts
Wednesday, March 5, 2003
Dedalus and I normally agree on productions (see, for instance, our almost identical takes on Soul-stice Rep's Midsummer Night's Dream last year). However, I found Matthew Patten's Det. Sgt. Trotter one of the better things about Stage Door's Mousetrap. I thought the accent very workable working class.

In fact, all the accents were very good, not just "general English" but specific to locations and class, so that, for instance, Mary Claire Klooster's Miss Casewell came off as someone who'd traveled a great deal and gained a more continental tone. Cheryl Kasper and Christopher Deel, as the Ralstons, on the other hand, were much more "received pronunciation."

My problems with this play have always been with the first scene. As Dedalus points out, efforts were made to warm up the Ralstons. They are, after all the principal characters the audience needs to care about. But I had a great deal of difficulty believing these people were celebrating their first wedding anniversary. Oh, hell, let me be frank: I didn't believe they were sleeping together. But maybe I presume too much about 1940s English couples. Deel's Giles was extremely reserved, which I actually came to like later in the play: he seemed to be watching everyone through hooded eyes, so had my vote early on as "murderer most likely." Kasper's Mollie generated more heat with the young Christopher Wren.

And as Christopher Wren, Christopher Skinner was the real "find" in this production. He managed to convey a troubled alternative sexuality that was in no way camp or contrived. Hard to believe he's still a high school senior. His adrenalized portrayal injected energy and humor into every scene he was in, was a tremendous crowd pleaser, and made me jealous of a scarf. I can only hope to see more of Mr. Skinner in the future.

Mousetrap is not on my list of favorite plays, but I attend live theater to participate in something that is quite ephemeral: a connection between actor and audience that can only exist in that moment. I got that in spades with Christopher Skinner, so I came away quite happy with my theater going that evening.

Golden Boy, by Clifford Odets
Knockout Punch
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
This is a strange play about a strange time full of strange characters to whom I feel little connection, but by god Damon Boggess and Agnes Harty made me care about them nevertheless. It's a vestige of my age and upbringing that I care more about the guy's journey than the gal's and I think Harty had the more difficult emotional task. Her character is one tough cookie, but you have to see her conflict, her struggle with her choices, in order to care about those choices, and did I mention she's a tough cookie? Harty navigates this paradox gracefully, never giving away too much, her facade gradually spidering like the glaze on fine old china. Beautiful, serviceable china, that you cry over when it's broken.

But the true revelation in this piece is Boggess. He's one of those rare actors that the spot always seems to shine on, even back when he was doing small parts at the Shakespeare Festival. He's not a physically imposing man, but that works here. He's slimmed down, buffed up, and is wound tighter than a spring coil. And Angry: Angry at his neighborhood, at his pop, at his brother, at life in general. The boxing ring gives him a place to focus that anger.

There's one scene that makes this play, and proves Boggess' worth (and make no mistake, Boggess is the Golden Boy). Joe's father has presented him with a violin for his birthday. It's actually a late present, since Joe had a fight scheduled that overshadowed the intended presentation. The violin becomes more of a going away present, then, as Joe prepares to go on tour, fighting the bouts his manager has lined up. Pop gives him the violin, and Joe is entranced (it's a superbly beautiful instrument). He lifts it from the case, lovingly strokes the wood, fingers the bow, fits it to his chin, readies his fingers, touches the strings and elicits the barest whisper of sound, hardly more than a sigh presaging a kiss. Then he stops. Puts away the violin and gives it back to his father, barking "return it." Boggess manages to convey, in those few minutes, all the yearning for and anguish over the road not taken.

Expertly directed by Heidi Cline (when does that woman sleep?). Very nice work by Melanie Colvert as Joe's comfortably barefoot sister, Bruce Taylor as a fight gangsta, and Isma'il ibn Conner as Joe's trainer. Excellent set, minimalist in the boxing world, overstuffed at home. If there are still tickets left in this, its final weekend, go check out Golden Boy.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, by Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove, Larry Gelbart
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Hysterical. Hysterium. Jeff McKerley. In the Forum. At the Tavern. And you missed it. Shame. On. You.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, by Joe Dipetro & Jimmy Roberts
Pitch Perfect
Sunday, January 12, 2003
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, back for its third year [playing through January 26, 2003 at the 14th Street Playhouse], doesn’t disappoint. It’s an hysterical romp through the eternal biplay between the sexes, and whether you’re het, bi, gay or celibate-by-choice you’ll find something to laugh at. Old marrieds, new marrieds, and those just shopping around are all well represented.

First off, this is Jill Hames’ show. I don’t understand why someone doesn’t snap up this woman and give her a recording contract. She’s got three of the best songs of the show, and she’s pitch perfect every nuance. She’s got a great set of pipes, but she doesn’t just sing the songs, she delivers in the tradition of all great chantueses from Helen Morgan to Peggy Lee. Plus, did I mention she’s funny? Right after making you cry with “I Will Be Loved” she’ll turn around and tickle you with her rendition of a driven to distraction Minnesota mom, and her take on “Always a Bridesmaid” has every woman in the audience chuckling along. I’ve seen this show seven or eight times (no, I am not related to Jill) and she can still make me laugh.

Having said that, Gayle Samuels has really “found the funny” in her bits. I thought her Rosie Ritz scene was especially funny and endearing this year, I thought due to some interesting lighting choices by the designer, Cat Tate. [I never used to notice lighting unless it was bad, but I’ve been bedazzled by the designs of this, I think, brilliant woman. Cat Tate: remember that name.] The Rosie Ritz bit is so poignant it’s usually greeted with a collective sigh at the end, but this year I found the audience applauding Rosie’s guts and gusto approach to the shambles of her life. And Gayle looks great, especially when telling an “ex” that she’s been going to “jazzercise.” She’s especially funny when teamed with Eric Moore in “Sex and the Married Couple,” a tango through the tangle us old marrieds have to navigate to get some.

Eric Moore has the most beautiful song in the show, the haunting “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You?” I’ve heard it done several ways, but I find his choice of endings especially appropriate. He also gets one of the biggest laughs in the show playing a husband stuck in Macy’s while his wife shops. It’s the counterpoint to Jill’s bridesmaid song. Men everywhere bond in spirit.

Which brings me to Geoff Uterhardt, the other Y chromosome in this ensemble. I have a special place in my heart for Geoff a/k/a Googie. He’s never looked more handsome or sounded better. Note to wardrobe: purple really is his color. He seems to be everywhere at once, what a critic called last year “the rubber band man who holds it all together.” He is especially funny when teaming up with Eric Moore in “Why? ‘Cause I’m a Guy.’” The song is a hoot and the guys have a blast with it. And that seems to be Googie’s modus operandi: have a great time and let us in on the joke, whether he’s playing a sex starved con, a dad in love with his car, or an older gentleman trying to make a connection (you have to see this last, a lot of it is visual). There have also been several fresh jokes added at the actor’s expense, and while funny (and surprising for someone who has seen the show more than once), they also serve to put his indelible stamp on this part.

So go, see this show. If you’ve seen it before, see it again. It’s the perfect antidote for the post holiday seasonal blahs. You’ll start the new year off right – laughing your ass off.

I have to put a postscript to this: although I knew this play was being reprised and the approximate opening dates, and the production company (Horizon), and the venue (14th Street Playhouse), I could not find tickets for the life of me. And, as you see, I have had to put my review on the original production page, although Alan Kilpatrick and Shontelle Thrash were not in the production last year or this year. Most credits are still corrrect. Exceptions are Stage Management by Sean Griffin, Lighting by Cat Tate as I mentioned before, Pianist S. Renee Clark, Violist Martha Yasuda in addition to Latonya Peoples. Understudies this year are Ann Street and Wendy Bennett; Craig Waldrip and Jamez Rogers. At least Horizon now has a reference to the production on its website,, but one hopes to see something about a show BEFORE it opens. I only finally found out the number to call because I was on the Horizon mailing list, so for awhile they effectively limited their audience. While I would give the play an A, the publicity department gets a D.

To get tickets, call the WOODRUFF Arts Center, 404/733-5000, and to see the play, travel to 14th Steet Playhouse.

Lend Me A Tenor, by Ken Ludwig
Surprise Party
Friday, August 23, 2002
Take two tenors (one amateur, one pro), two dames (one amateur, one, uh, pro), and two identical Otello costumes, mix with a little Chianti and garnish generously with phenobarbital, and hilarity, as they say, will ensue. Normally I try to get my reviews up as soon as possible after I see a play, at least before the AJC review comes out, because, often as not, the AJC is 180° wrong. But Wendell Brock actually hit a triple with his review of Aurora Theatre’s “Lend Me a Tenor,” calling it a “farce to be reckoned with” (AJC, August 9, 2002, p. Q5). If you like your doors slammed, your dresses dropped and your entendres doubled, this is the show for you.

The true standout in this production is Artistic and Producing Director Anthony Rodriguez. Tony’s ebullient personal style is the perfect underpinning for his bravura performance as “Il Stupendo” Tito Merelli, the world’s most famous opera tenor, who has agreed to grace the city of Cleveland with his presence. Unfortunately, His Grace’s presence comes complete with jealous wife, and as it turns out, she has reason to be jealous: seems Tito is interested in more than arias.

Some of the best moments are between Tito and his Maria (Jennifer Courtade). I couldn’t have been more impressed if they’d argued in Italian. As it was, their arguments were inflamed, overlapping and brilliantly engaging. Equally engaging was their makeup scene, as Tito tries to entice Maria with dreams of a relaxing vacation of sea, sand, sun and sex. You could see the proud resolve of his Roman princess start to melt, and there hasn’t been a sexier “close the door” since Leslie Ann Warren said it to Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria. You just know something naughty is afoot.

Upping the naughtiness factor are the two dames, the charmingly innocent Maggie, played with sweet conviction by Melanie Colvert, and the fiercely determined Diana, played with stunning focus by Barbara Cole. Maggie is such a naif, she actually does a little curtsey when Tito tells her she is beautiful. Diana is the true huntress, not caring if she has to “do business with a kangaroo” if it gets the job done. The play turns on a case of mistaken identity, but in one of the more hilarious scenes, it’s actually Diana’s identity that is in question. It’s one of those truly wonderful moments in live theater, when you’re sure you know what the premise is, but the tables get turned.

Geoff Uterhardt has a very funny role as a bellhop, and he pulls out all the stops, injecting a frenetic energy into his scenes as a kind of adrenalized Chevy Chase. Daniel Burnley and Patti French provide just the right amount of ballast as the opera company’s manager and opera guild’s president. I’ve spoken before on this site about French’s chenille robe of a voice, sexy as all get out. She works especially well sparring with Burnley (who displays a comic edginess I hadn’t seen in him before), and later switches to a seductive purr when she asks Tito if there’s anything, just anything at all, she can do for him.

A lot of this play is timing, and kudos to director Freddie Ashley for getting it right. In one howlingly wonderful display (which got a show stopping round of applause the night I was there) Burnley runs his assistant Max (played amiably enough by Brandon O’Dell) through their strategy for keeping Tito out of harm’s way. Max is there to run the numbers, so to speak, to make it possible for the star that is Tito to shine. Max is a slight, shy, Barney Fife of a man, and it’s easy to see why his girlfriend (the chaste Maggie) has been refusing his entreaties to “fling” with him for the past three years. He’s a lightweight, while Tito, as embodied by Rodriguez, is the raw sexual power, energy and ego that is an operatic hero.

A special word needs to be said about O’Dell. He’s the quintessential Max, squinting behind his wire rims, Adam’s apple bobbing, stuttering, hesitant. He does have a crystalline (what my nanna would have called Irish) tenor, which blends beautifully with Rodriguez’ more robust voice in their duet. [I’ve never been a big fan of opera, but I hummed their piece nonstop for a week. It is amazing.] This is a play about mistaken identities, so you know that at some point O’Dell will put on the Otello costume and Max will get mistaken for the opera star, a la Danny Kaye in any number of movies. And this being live theater, you know you’re going to suspend your “disbelief” that anyone in their right mind would believe this negligible pipsqueak could be Il Stupendo. The play is so brilliantly funny at this point, though, that you’ll enter right into the spirit of make believe.

An odd thing happens though when O’Dell puts on the disguise. Off come the glasses. The dark makeup contrasts startlingly with the blue of his eyes, the wig and beard give his face breadth, and by golly, he turns into a hero right in front of your eyes. It’s a remarkable transformation, all the more remarkable because it happens without the aid of any of the trick photography or “how the hell did they do that?” special effects that make us doubt what we see on film. In these days of flying Spider Men, digitally animated Jedi Knights and cave trolls, it’s difficult to believe that one actor can have such a profound effect using only his body and his voice, but that’s why I love actors. They're full of surprises.

Tony Rodriguez wears big shoes in this production. Fortunately, Brandon O’Dell is a perfect fit.

The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash
Feeling's Mutual
Saturday, June 1, 2002
When I was a young girl, Janice Ian had a song called “Seventeen.” I’d play it over and over, to my mother’s distraction, feeling sorry for myself on Saturday nights when, instead of going out as I was sure all the pretty, popular girls did, I did the plain, practical thing and studied for a calculus test. “Rainmaker” has always had a certain resonance for me: a plain girl, whose worth should be obvious to any idiot with two eyes, who languishes because of preconceived notions of what’s pretty and what’s feminine, finally gets her due when the handsome stranger strolls into town and golly, gee, wants her. I know, I know: scratch a cynic, you’ll find a romantic.

Lizzie, the anti-princess of this tale, and her menfolk, are living through a drought, the life literally being sucked out of them by the heat. Cattle are dying and the farm is failing. It’s a metaphor, what can I say. The handsome stranger in the tale doesn’t ride in on a white horse. He’s a snake oil salesman, a carnival huckster, a con man, rolling in on a brightly colored wagon, full of wild dreams and crazy promises, like making it rain when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. As embodied by Damon Boggess, Starbuck reminded me of a Revival Meeting Preacher. If only everybody had a little more faith in him, he could bring a deluge. [The connection to that image was so strong for me, it got me wondering what Boggess could do with that other iconic Burt Lancaster role, Elmer Gantry. Have faith, sister.]

He’s not getting any help from Noah, the antithetically named older brother, who only believes in the bottom line and facts, plain and simple. (Wonder where Lizzie gets the idea she’s plain?) But the younger boy, Jimmy, is all about faith (though Noah has tried to bash it out of him, especially faith in himself). And the father, H.C., is willing to take what he calls a gamble (a “leap of faith”), because, as he says, “sometimes people pay off better than cattle.”

Matt Johnson, as Jimmy, is a standout. He plays Jimmy not so much as a dimwit as a big overgrown teenager. It helps that he towers over Michael Schneider, lending to the gawky image. Schneider is in his element playing the solid, safe as houses Noah. He’s the guy you want to see on the ladder getting you out of the burning building. He’s the cop on the scene of an accident that takes charge and brings order out of chaos. He’s the quintessential big brother. It’s in the interplay between these two characters that the play has some of its more hilarious moments. I dare you to hear the word panatella ever again without your lips forming a smile.

Marshall Marden as H.C. brings a studied calm and authority to the part of the father. You believe he’s seen it all, lived through it all, and can still make his grown son come to heel (albeit grudgingly) from clean across a room. Similarly well played are Nick Rhoton in the part of the sheriff and Randy Weinstein as the hapless deputy who wants nothing to do with the Curry clan and their efforts to “marry Lizzie off.”

And we’re back to Lizzie (Barbara Cole). Not only “plain,” she’s plain spoken, as well. I’ve seen Cole tackle this kind of role before – she seems to be making her way through the canon of Southern Women (well, there was that one Bronx receptionist, but I digress), and I knew she could handle the honesty part, but “plain”? This is where Hollywood would have put the character in glasses and called it a disguise. Cole went a different way. Pulling her hair back into a neat bun, wearing practical shoes and a serviceable apron, she’s schooled her trademark smile into a series of smirks, quirks and looks of bemusement that suggest a much loved and revered, older, maiden aunt – which is exactly what Lizzie is afraid she’s becoming.

It takes something as big as the sky and with all the power of a man in his name to literally shake her out of her shoes and get her to let down her hair. In an interesting twist, I went to see this production a third time because Nick Rhoton, the actor playing the sheriff, understudied the role of Starbuck and did it for two performances. I wanted to contrast the two actors, and it was a revelation. Boggess and Rhoton are both fine young actors, but where Boggess suggested fire and faith, a conversion of the soul, Rhoton suggested loss and redemption, a reclaiming of worth. And for both actors, in the end, Starbuck doesn’t save Lizzie. Starbuck and Lizzie save each other.

Love Letters, by A.R. Gurney
Loved Love Letters
Monday, May 6, 2002
Have to admit I didn't want to go see this. Spiderman was opening, and I needed something really big to get my mind off my own troubles. Two people reading their love letters out loud sounded like a yawn. But from the very first (Daniel Burnley as a seven year old accepting a birthday party invitation and Karen Howell's saucy retort) I found this to be hilarious, touching, sweet, funny, sad. You name it. It hit all the notes, and was pitch perfect. Just a wonderful piece, beautifully conceived and written, and movingly presented by Burnley, Howell and Thomas. In the end, the one advantage live theater will always have over film is its ability to allow us to be touched and enlivened by other people's lives in real time. I'll continue to go to the theater and catch my films on DVD.

Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller
A Man's Worth
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
I had the good fortune to see this play a second time on the same day I saw "Ivanov" and I was really struck by the similarities between the two. Willy Loman is "boxed in" and Ivanov is "trapped." Each man tries to deal with his dilemma in a different way, but in the end, those differences are inconsequential and lead to the same question. What is a man worth?

Pat Bell is, I think, simply amazing as Linda, Willy Loman's wife. Really extraordinary. Daniel Burnley's performance is so good that someone in the audience remarked, well, it was easy: he didn't have to play Willy Loman. He WAS Willy Loman, the same age, the same build, etc., etc. They got a shock later when they saw the actor, out of character. He's not like that at all! Oh my goodness, he's so YOUNG and HANDSOME! You will excuse me for laughing. My daughter is an actress, and she keeps telling me, that's why they call it ACTING. Daniel Burnley makes you believe he IS Willy Loman.

I love the small parts: the two hard dames (Kim West and Chloe Sehr) "on call" at the restaurant, with their wonderful little streetwise accents; Nick Rhoton's smoothly unctuous waiter Stanley (light your cigarette Mr. Loman, get you a drink Mr. Loman, take your money, Mr. Loman -- I love to watch Nick work); and Dolph Amick hitting just the right note as the had-it-all-handed-to-me-on-a-silver-platter-but-that-don't-mean-it-ain't-mine Howard, comfortable before his time.

Al Stilo and Luis Hernandez are great as Charley and Bernard, the father and son who have realized the American dream. They don't have to talk the talk because they walk the walk. Mary Stewart and Bruce Taylor stand out as the icons of Willy's past failures, Stewart the symbol of his infidelity, Taylor the symbol of his indecision and lack of ambition. Stewart mocks Willy with her sensual laugh, Taylor haunts Willy with his shiny success (in an especially nice touch he's dressed in an almost flourescent white suit). When either Stewart and Taylor is on stage it's hard to focus on anyone else.

Geoff Uterhardt and Jeff Feldman – you know, they actually look like brothers. I know both these guys and I don't think they look at all alike, except they're both tall. Maybe it's how they lit the set, or the way the actors held themselves, or smoked a cigarette together, but damn, they really looked and sounded like brothers. (Or maybe, mom, it was just acting.) Feldman has the journeyman's part here. He reminded me a lot of Tom in "The Glass Menagerie" (and I'm dying to see Feldman in that role – hint, hint, directors). Biff is suffocating, and the only way he can breathe free is to leave, to get out west where there's big sky and lots of air. Uterhardt plays Happy, the son who stayed, who bought into the family hype and who resolutely keeps oiling the waters. He's especially good when he's playing off Nick Rhoton. I thought the two of them were going to slide right out of the restaurant on the waves of their mutual self admiration!

At bottom, though, the success of this play rests on the stooped shoulders of Willy Loman. We have to care about what happens to this sad little man. Willy possibly couldn't bear up under such a burden, but Daniel Burnley handles it quite nicely. And that's worth a lot.

Ivanov, by Anton Chekhov
I'll Drink to That!
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Heidi Cline knows Chekhov. If you've lived in Atlanta long enough, you know this. I'm not a scholar, so I approached this production with a certain amount of reluctance. After all, those Russians – they're a pretty morose bunch, right? And the playbill promised a dying wife, expressed anguish and a startling conclusion. I had a headache even before the play began.

What I was unprepared for was how FUNNY this play was. Al Stilo is a standout as the boisterous drunk Misha. He becomes the life of any party in two seconds, shouting greetings, romancing the women, setting off fireworks, all to the accompaniment of Dolph Amick's guitar. If things get dull, his solution is, drink more vodka! [This is Al's year as he is also appearing for Soul-stice as Bottom, et al. in "A MidSummer Night's Dream" (where he is equally hilarious) and as the loyal Charley in "Death of a Salesman" (where he is quietly effective).] Whether he's stripping down for a swim or scheming to separate a woman from her purse, he is eminently watchable.

This is an impeccable production (repeat: Heidi Cline knows Chekhov). The smallest roles are inhabited by two youngsters, Samantha Bentley and Jerry Bilbo with the kind of exactness and attention to detail that will have you remembering them long after you leave the theater. Equally memorable are Luis Hernandez, Marcelo Banderas and Nick Rhoton as a kind of Greek chorus of party guests. Mary Stewart, Sally Robertson and Iolanna Abdelaziz are fabulous as a troika of society women you don't want to mess with, and Randy Weinstein, Daniel Burnley and Anthony where-does-he-find-the-time Rodriguez are wonderful as the hapless men who mess with them anyway.

In opposition to all this noise and excitement and LIFE is Jeff McKerley's Ivanov, a man sunk so far down in anger and despair that he's created his own little black hole in the universe, capable of sucking the life out of everything and everyone around him. The soulful Barbara Cole as the dying Anna, and the beautiful Maria Parra as the vibrant Sasha are the poignant bookends to his anguish, but neither they nor the railings of Dr. Lvov (manfully portrayed by JAS Sustrich) can penetrate his ennui. Even Ivanov's anger and tears seem strangely muted. As Anna dies like a sputtering candle, gasping for air, Ivanov resembles nothing so much as the wisp of smoke from an already spent wick.

It takes guts to play a character so emotionally deadened, so heartrendingly lost, so wretchedly bewildered, and skill to do it without letting it slip into parody. McKerley's is a subtly nuanced performance, extraordinary to contemplate. Actors generally engage us, but McKerley doesn't allow himself that luxury. Ivanov has to remain set apart – at an exquisite remove – from his wife, from his lover, and finally from life.

So, you go. Have fun. Get exhilarated by the cigarette smoke, the booze, the sex. But in the quiet moments, the spaces where the play breathes, pay attention to McKerley's eyes. Watch him make the lights go out.

Bus Stop, by William Inge
Hoot and a Half
Monday, March 11, 2002
Take a bunch of strangers, throw them together in a public place, stir in a little (okay, more than a little) sexual tension, and see what develops. In this instance, it's the quirky little home comedy "Bus Stop." For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, there's this cowboy, fresh off the ranch, who falls, hard, for a girl with more than a few miles on her. He's likeable enough, even good looking, but he's only used to cows and horses, so his courting skills leave a lot to be desired.

Marcus Hester is excellent as the callow cowboy, Bo, and Chloe Sehr resolutely assays the part of Cherie (French pronunciation, if you please), the been-there, done-that chanteuse, without once resorting to a Marilyn Monroe impersonation. As Hudson Adams remarks in his director's notes: "You're not sure Bo and Cherie will still be together by Topeka. I like that."

Anthony Rodriguez is a hoot as Carl, the bus driver who's looking out for a different kind of rest stop, and Pat Bell is his quiet anchor as Grace, the owner of the cafe.

The real finds in this piece, however, are Randy Weinstein, as Bo's older pal Virgil, Jeff Feldman as the Sheriff, Will, and Samantha Bentley as the young waitress Elma. Weinstein imbues Virgil with a type of sweetness that makes you ache for him alone at the end. Feldman is always, always, always a joy to watch, one of those rare actors who can walk out in a cowboy hat and boots and tell you a story just by the way he stands. Not content to get by on just the "right look," though, he adds other small touches. Check out his choice of reading material.

I fell in love, though, with Samantha Bentley. Her sweet, expressive face was a window directly into Elma's soul. Innocence, intelligence, wit, intrigue, respect, shock, distaste, all flickered past. It was like watching some rare and beautiful species of angel communicate without words. I told her afterward that I was so in love with Elma, I couldn't understand why Bo didn't leave with her instead of Cherie. Maybe Sheriff Will hung out a "No Trespassing" sign.

I liked these folks. 'Course, I'm from Kansas and my folks are Okies. Like I said, a home comedy.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare
Let Hilarity Ensue
Monday, February 25, 2002
7 actors, 22 parts. I heard and understood the concept, but I didn't believe it could be done. Having seen it, however, I'm surprised it's not done this way more often. Deft costuming, engaging props and versatile actors fill in the spaces so the audience, while challenged to keep up with the break neck pace, is never left out in the cold. They were, however, falling off their chairs and covering their faces they were laughing so hard the night I saw it. All the ensemble discharged their parts admirably (especially the Wall). We're going again. See you there.

The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams
Of Unicorns and Others
Tuesday, October 23, 2001
In the interest of full disclosure, I am related to someone associated with this production, I adore Tennessee Williams, and I think the director, Dave Thomas, is the most excellent interpreter of his work. Having said all that, I approached this staging with a certain amount of trepidation as Push Push did a standout production this past year with the fabulous Carol Mitchell Leon as Amanda. I needn't have worried.

While Push Push's production opened the play up, performing it in the round, Dave Thomas returns to a more classic interpretation of the play. Tom Wingfield, as played by the wonderful Daniel May (who may arguably be Atlanta's best young male actor) is the still voice deconstructing for us the struggles of his dysfunctional family. His quiet narration becomes the glass through which we view the ultimate shattering of his sister Laura. I once heard the great Anthony Hopkins say that the older he got, the more he realized that he was at his best when he was "more still," and May has got it down. It is a great compliment to him that his finest moment on stage comes when the focus is on someone else. Only by seeing the play several times could I appreciate his amazing performance, so generous is he with other actors, so effortless is his performance.

Jane Bushway as Amanda Wingfield is incredible. I've always thought this must be a thankless part, the controlling mother. During one performance a lady sitting next to me, muttered under her breath, "well, she's just too bossy!" But Ms. Bushway endows Amanda with just enough human sympathy that you care about her. You empathize with her efforts to "get her family ahead." Every parent who has ever tried to encourage a child to be less afraid, try harder, prepare for the future . . . you get the idea. She says at one point that her concern has made her a monster to her children. Maybe, but we all recognize ourselves. It would be so easy to go over the top with Amanda, and I've seen it done that way, but Ms. Bushway hits just the right tone.

Adam Fristoe plays the gentleman caller with flair and good willed abandon. He provides a glimpse into the real world, and, as Tom says, since he is an emissary from the real world, he is more real. Not just a gum popping, Dale Carnegie kind of guy bent on self improvement, Fristoe's caller is an appropriately Gentle Man, a promising candidate for the key to unlock Laura's dreams.

Because the lynchpin of this drama, of course, is Laura, the owner of the glass menagerie. A shy "home girl," in her own environment Laura can cope. She'd like nothing better than to "be like all the others." But she knows she's different, and because she's so fearful of putting herself on display, she is crippled both physically and spiritually. Laura is good at hiding her fragility, and with the impetus of the handsome gentleman caller she takes the first tentative steps out of her self imposed jewel box. Yet in the final analysis, though glass can catch and flash back the fire, it "breaks if you breathe on it." Barbara Cole navigates this complexity nicely, moving from whispering timidity to innocent wonder to heartbreak. It's her best work yet, but that's no surprise. It's not the first time Dave Thomas has directed her in a Williams play.

The last image in the play is a haunting one, one of those time stopping, breath holding moments you'll play back in your memory (this IS a memory play) again and again. Classics have a lot to give – that's why they're classics. Go see "The Glass Menagerie" and get the classic treatment.

Big River, by Roger Miller
Really Big River Show
Wednesday, October 3, 2001
In a word, WOW! In this musical based on the Mark Twain tale of Huck Finn, everyone is a standout, including the guys in the band! Andy Meeks ("Baby") maintains a level of energy unmatched by any I've seen, projecting both the sweetness and the humor that are the hallmark of Huck. Eugene Russell IV ("Hambone," "Sweat") as Jim fills the stage with his presence and power, giving us a portrayal of an authentically modern man trapped in a different time, and he does not coddle us with the comfort of distance. Donna Maddox Newsome has one of those time-stopping song moments in "How Blest We Are": made me want to stand up and testify! And Melanie Hoover and Sandra Benton have a beautiful trio with Kristen Funk in "You Oughta Be Here With Me". [Melanie has one of those voices that should be on a Nashville recording contract somewhere.]

Of course, the favorites are always the clowns. Keith Riley as Tom Sawyer has several good moments with a pig. The antics of Scott Poythress ("Clue: The Musical," "Christmas Canteen") as The King and David Kleist as The Duke are belly-laughing good, and Dolph Amick as Pap Finn gives an absolutely show-stopping performance of "Gov'ment," which he manages to sing quite perfectly while appearing to be, at the same time, falling down drunk. My husband marveled at it all the way home.

"Big River" is a very funny play with great songs, but it also carries a serious message, about friendship, loyalty, human dignity and standing up for what's right. One of the most riveting moments is "The Crossing." Perhaps the events of the past several weeks have sensitized us to human courage in the face of cruelty, but there weren't many dry eyes after that.

Go now. Grab a raft and ride the big river. Or climb into your SUV and skeedaddle. But get to the Aurora and see this one.

The Robber Bridegroom, by Alfred Uhry/Eudora Welty
A Tonic for the Spirit
Sunday, September 30, 2001
Long before the television set turned Americans' living rooms into a 24 hour window on the world entertainment was a community affair. People gathered in city halls, barns, schoolhouses, churches, out of doors - anywhere spacious enough to accommodate a crowd - and entertained each other as a relief to the hardships they faced in life. They played instruments, they danced, they sang, they cracked each other up. And they told stories, marvelous stories. That's the beauty of "The Robber Bridegroom." It's a wonderful story, woven from bits and pieces of history and fantasy, fairy tales, myths, tall tales and whimsy. And like all good tales, it's alternately scary and exciting, funny and touching, with a lot of toe-tapping, knee-slapping music thrown in to boot.

Theatre Gael's rendition is a lively and energetic one, and the talent is certainly up to the challenge. The wonderful Donna Wright is suitably vicious/hilarious as the evil stepmother. See if you don't recognize the precursor of several Disney villainesses in her Salome. Nevin Miller, Fiona Leonard and Juliana Finch are real standouts, both in the pre-show singalong they lead and later as the pungent Goat Family. Bryan Davis is always a joy to watch, and Rob Warren is a real crowd pleaser. Together, they do indeed prove "two heads better than one." And the puppets – well, they're not my cup of tea, although there was that one moment between Rosamund and Al Stilo's frog . . . Take your kids: between Rob and the puppets, they'll have a blast.

But I'll have to admit that my favorites were Geoff Uterhardt and Marcie Millard, as the roguish Jamie Lockhart and the winsome Rosamund. Determined to stay apart, destined to become lovers, they have several of the play's most beautiful musical moments together, and both these kids can really sing. Or maybe I'm just a sap for a good old fashioned love story. After all, what girl hasn't secretly wished her white knight came with a cool hat and a billowing black cape!

It's a shame all the music couldn't have been live. There was great live music before the show. And during the show several songs were accompanied by guitar or fiddle (as in the "several beautiful moments" referenced above). The several songs done live only served to show up how lacking the tracked accompaniment was. In any case, it's a minor quibble with what was otherwise a rollicking good time. So pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and do-si-do over to Theatre Gael. It's good for what ails you.

Godspell, by Book by Michael Tebelak, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Love, Exciting and New
Friday, August 3, 2001
Apparently, the AJC reviewer felt that the "Love Boat" reference in Godspell was hammy. All I know is, people laughed, and I made my husband laugh twice more on the way home by humming the Love Boat theme. It's a hoot!. Go see Godspell. Only one week left!

Two Rooms, by Lee Blessing
Atlantans, make up your own mind
Friday, August 3, 2001
I haven't seen this play, but because the forums don't seem to be generating any discussions, let me say here that I totally agree with the admonition of the previous reviewer to go see for yourself and make up your own mind. I could fill a book with the names of plays I've seen and loved that the AJC panned. They are more often than not way off base. I plan to see both offerings of ATA.

A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennesee Williams
Laughter Among the Tears
Saturday, July 28, 2001
Why in the world would anyone want to go see Streetcar at the Tavern after Jessica Phelps West's tour de force in the same play at Theater in the Square? Patricia French and Tim Habeger is why.

When I saw Patty French's picture, cigarette aloft, from Fefu and Her Friends, I knew I had to see her tackle Blanche DuBois, and I wasn't disappointed. Is it possible to channel a fictional character? With her flaming red hair and whisky rasped voice, she wasn't the faded Southern flower; she was the bloody-but-not-bowed boxer, bruised, battered, yet undefeated. And that voice! When I die, I'm going to ask St. Peter to let me have Patty's voice in my next life.

Tim Habeger and his crew reinvented this play (much as Tim did for The Glass Menagerie). What they created was a much more humorous, edgy, energy driven piece than seen before. Patty French's Blanche doesn't so much wind down as wind up more and more tightly, like an ice skater executing a spin faster and faster by coiling more and more inward, like that little whirlpool water makes circling the drain.

She was especially good flirting with Jeff Watkins' Mitch. She doesn't so much stalk him as preach to the uninitiated innocent. He's kind of like my dog, all big and lovable, sort of goofy, potentially messy. Every time Blanche tried to seduce him with her witty banter, you could see his eyes glaze over, and the wheels start to turn in his head as he tried to catch up - huh? Seriously, I have never heard people laugh so hard, or even SEEN the humor in Streetcar before, and I credit Tim Habeger with finding it.

Agnes Harty was a surprisingly fresh Stella and Dikran Tulaine a very satisfying Stanley (although my heart belongs elsewhere for those roles), and Dik's accent was great (only one teeny tiny slip and it made me love him all the more). Maurice Ralston as Steve was a standout in a part that's usually a non-entity.

So, no, this wasn't the Glass Menagerie, with moments of tragic, quiet clarity. It was a bold bawdy tale of a denizen of the Tarantula Arms, visiting her sister in the Big Easy, in the end only passing through. Maybe it wasn't your cup of tea, but it was whiskey, neat.

Godspell, by Book by Michael Tebelak, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Go Jesus, Go Jesus!
Friday, July 20, 2001
This is not your father's Godspell! From the very first chord (an all-too-familiar computer sound) to allusions to hip hop, this new staging brings Godspell into the new millennium. Go see what all the fuss is about!

Geoff Uterhardt (Carousel; Alice in Wonderland; I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!) as Jesus is a perfect fusion of old and new, evoking on the one hand the timelessness of the desert and on the other the wise cracking comic. You may think he looks too sweet to pull off playing the son of God, but wait until you catch his second act. He takes an abstract and makes it real in space and time, a difficult task for any actor, not to mention pulling it off amid the distractions of soft shoe, magic and juggling.

Heidi Cline – multi-talented, certainly (she did the costumes, too). This entire website isn't big enough to contain her bio. You may know her as a dramatic actress from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire or as a character out of Shakespeare from one of her roles at the Festival. Or maybe you thought she was a director of musicals such as Sweeny Todd or The Fantasticks or I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change! or comedies such as the laugh-yourself-silly Hay Fever. But Atlanta, this woman can SING. Plus, she looks great! I want the number of her personal trainer.

Shawn Hale, fresh from his stint as the sometimes murderous Mrs. White in Clue, the Musical, gets a chance to show off his wonderfully clear voice. Valerie Payton (Cotton Patch Gospel) will make you believe angels do walk among us, AND sing. Her voice blends beautifully with Wendy Bennett's sweet soprano in one song so haunting I don't think anyone in the theater breathed. Neil Ghant is a real crowd pleaser, somehow being Everyman and Superman and every character in between. He and Robert Egizio provide a lot of the energy for what is a very funny show. Robert's another one of those people who seem to do it all, sing, dance, direct, do comedy, look great in a bathing suit . . . oops, I digress.

Rita Dolphin (The Fantasticks, Sweeny Todd) has the agility of a gymnast, the comic timing of Lucille Ball, a voice I'd die for. And then there's Jill Hames (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) who has that wonderful ability to not just simply sing a song but "sell" it to the back seats. All the little girls want to be her, all the little boys want to date her, and I want to be a mogul so I can get her a recording contract.

And finally there's Pete Hauenstein. Where do you find the talent to portray both John, the cousin and precursor of Jesus, and Judas, his ultimate betrayer? Answer: you tap the guy who plumbed the madness in Hamlet's soul. I hear the Tavern is bringing Hamlet back next February, with Mr. Hauenstein reprising the title role, but while we're waiting, we can relish his wonderfully subtle performance as John/Judas drifts away from Jesus.

Each one of these people, individually, would be a reason to see this show, but the sound they make when they're together is truly amazing. Backed by the musical direction and piano of Patrick Hutchison (The Harvey Milk Show) and a sensational rhythm section, the music lifts you out of your seat. People stayed after to applaud the band. Kudos to Dave Thomas and his Art Station for getting these people together!

One word of caution (and this paragraph contains a
so don't read it if you don't know or want to know how the story ends): youngsters love this musical – there's enough silliness and singing to keep them entertained, and Art Station is the kind of intimate space where it's a real joy to treat kids to live theater. But if you're lucky enough to have a member of the under-9 crowd with you, be prepared for some tough questions when the hero dies (I told you Geoff had a second act). You can tell them not to worry, because, in the end, "Long Live God!" Or, as they were chanting in the back row when I was there, "Go Jesus, Go Jesus!"

Blood at the Root
by Dominique Morisseau
University of West Georgia Theatre Company
Murder Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
by E. Xavier Wheeler
Laughing Matters
Almost, Maine
by John Cariani
Centerstage North Theatre
BattleActs! Comedy Improv Competition
Laughing Matters
Blood at the Root
by Dominique Morisseau
University of West Georgia Theatre Company
Daddy Long Legs
by John Caird (book) and Paul Gordon (songs)
The Legacy Theatre
Laughing Matters Winter Wonder Laughs
Laughing Matters
Midnight at the Masquerade
by The Murder Mystery Company
The Murder Mystery Company in Atlanta
Murder Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
by E. Xavier Wheeler
Laughing Matters
Stories on the Strand
Atlanta Radio Theatre Company
The Bachelor! A Double Date of Death!
by Marc Farley
Agathas: A Taste of Mystery

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