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REVIEWS

You Can't Take it With You, by George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart
A trip to a sweeter time
Monday, June 14, 2010
4.5
I may have seen better overall productions of this favorite, but I am hard pressed to remember when and where. From the opening scene to the highly animated and most original curtain call, performed with gusto by the cast to Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” the play will captivate you and hold you, gently. through the antics of the loving, if not slightly unorthodox, Sycamore family.

Generally the show is well cast and expertly directed, by the inimitable Barbara Rudy. Would that it had been in a different venue. The audience really deserves to behold the beautiful set, all at once, at a curtain rise, instead of having the edge taken off by looking at it for some minute before the show starts. It would appear that, if John Christian, owner of Blackwell Playhouse, read my comments on his theater in my last review, he either chose to ignore them or is oblivious to the fact that there are too many choices for community theater for one to choose a theater which is neither clean nor, in yesterday’s case, climate controlled. Unless he heeds my and several dozen other warnings, I predict he will continue to operate with 20% capacity audiences.

The Sycamore family, expertly portrayed by Pete Borden as Grandpa, the old man in residence, retired for 35 years, Brad Rudy as the father (Paul), Anita Stratton as the mother (Penny), Rene’ Voige as the elder daughter (Essie), Brad Corbin as her husband (Ed), and Kimberley Lowe as the younger daughter (Alice) are an absolute delight to watch. From Grandpa who attends commencement exercises and catches snakes, to Paul and his basement fireworks manufacturing antics, ably assisted by Mr. De Pinna who is also Penny’s model for her painting of ‘The Discus Thrower, (portrayed by veteran Mike Crowe), to Penny’s playwriting and painting ventures, to Essie’s home candy making business and her ballet dancer aspirations, practiced to the accompanying strains of the xylophone played by Ed (Yes, I am told that Brad Corbin actually learned to play the instrument for this show), you will fall in love with the entire Sycamore family.

Rounding out the household, is Rheba, the maid who can’t be a toe dancer because “I got corns”, delightfully played by Kirby Mason, last enjoyed in “Parade”, and her boyfriend, Donald (Angel Escobedo) who “don’t go no place much” because he’s “on relief”. Essie’s Russian ballet teacher is portrayed by Randy Drake, whose bio says that he has been an actor for less than a year. One would never imagine that from his portrayal of the bombastic Mr. Kolenkhov. From the Russian accent to his Russian bluntness, he was a great choice for this role.

Alan Phelps and Laurel Cressman, as Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Kirby, have limited stage exposure, but capitalize on it, by turning in flawless performances, including Mr. Kirby being thrown and penned in a wrestling match with Kolenkhov. Jim Wilgus, as the hapless Mr. Henderson, of the IRS, and again as the man from the Justice Department conducting a raid on the Sycamore home, was convincing in both roles and hilarious in his exchange with Grandpa about 24 years of back income tax. Veteran Glen Varnado, plays his partner in the raid.
Audience favorite, Barbara McFann is more than convincing, as the displace Russian Grand Duchess Olga Katrina, now working as a waitress at Childs’ Restaurant, in Times Square. Long time performer, Mary Lynn LeCraw is a hoot as the boozing, over the hill actress, Gay Wellington. Brought home by Penny to read a new play, she proceeds to become intoxicated and pass out on the couch.

At the heart of this play is the developing story of the love between Alice Sycamore and the young son of her boss. The pair creates the right chemistry between the star crossed lovers embarking on the first hesitant steps into true love. The lovely Kimberley Lowe will have the men in the audience falling in love with Alice, and the ladies will find James O’Grady, as young Tony Kirby, a nice piece of “eye candy”.

If there are two slightly weak spots in this show, they would exist in the characters of Grandpa, played by Pete Borden, and Tony, played by James O’Grady. To be sure, this was a meaty role for a young man making his acting debut. It encompasses a wide gamut of emotions. For the most part, O’Grady comes through with finesse beyond his experience. It is only in his failure, at times, to jump on his cues and maintain the momentum of the moment that his inexperience shows. It is not enough to distract anyone, other than the theater professional. I predict a fine future for this young man and hope to see more of him very soon.

In the character of Grandpa, the patriarch of the family, Borden at times allows his southern heritage to show in his speech. I have come to accept that totally losing one’s inborn southern accent is every bit as difficult as losing one’s British accent. He also has moments when his hard charging, John Wayne type character carried through into his onstage character, where it is definitely out of place.


When you go see this play, and you really should, be prepared to be swept up and transported back to the time before American lost its virginity with World War II, when life was simpler, sweeter and more enjoyable. Be prepared, also, to question your life values. As Grandpa observes, “Life can be beautiful, if you just relax and let it come to you.”


Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose
It was worth seeing.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
3.5
After almost two weeks in southern California (Fantasyland, I call it), I got back in town late Saturday afternoon, only to be whisked away to the Blackwell Playhouse to see the final performance of “Twelve Angry Men”,



The play was well enough done, and featured some strong performances by Mike Crowe (Juror # 3), Brad Rudy (Juror # 10), Steven Banks (Juror # 4) and Greg Smith (Juror # 8). The rest of the cast gave balance performances, with moments of exceptional insight into the characters.



However, there were several missed directorial opportunities. I am not sure why they were missed. I prefer to think it is because the director, my friend Pete Borden, was forced to play a small role (Juror # 2) and was unable to give his full attention to the director’s job. If that is not the case, I am left with the possibility that he is losing his edge.



The set was simple with a table, chairs, flag on a stand and a real working water cooler. That is just as well, since this drama is totally character and dialogue driven. An elaborate set would distract somewhat from that.



I fully realize that the theme music from Perry Mason is protected by copyright, as is the music from “Matlock”, and choosing appropriate music for this drama was not easy. Nevertheless, Borden surely could have come up with something more appropriate than Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” Give me a break!!



Lastly, let me touch on the venue. I had never attended a community theater production in a place which gave me a feeling of “cluttered” and “It’ll do”. I can no longer say that. Owner, John Christian, would do well to turn some bright lights on his theater and take an honest look at it. If he doesn’t think a “general clean and straighten” is in order, then I am afraid he is doomed to continue to with poor attendance.



All in all, the production was well worth seeing. I am told that attendance was dismally low. Since the production was acceptable, the reason for the lack of attendance might be ticket prices, the economy, the play, the director, the venue, or any combination thereof.


Glorious!, by Peter Quilter
A couple of degrees off center
Sunday, May 9, 2010
2.5
I have wondered many times just why this play was even written. After seeing CenterStage North’s production, I am still wondering. I have now added to my musings the question of why they chose to do the play.

The evening began with a curtain speech, which resembled a Jay Leno monologue, in length, but lacked the comedy and the holding power. The director, Jaimes Lee, a lovely young lady who, unless my eyes deceived me, could not be old enough to have gained much experience in directing, seemed in an extremely talkative mood.

As to the performance,it seemed to be a couple of degrees off center most of the time. While it was well enough done to elicit laughter at most of the appropriate times, it definitely lacked the energy and drive required to captivate and hold the audience.

In the lead, Phyllis Giller was far and away the bright ray in an otherwise quasi cloudy evening. To say the least, her portrayal of Florence Foster Jenkins was brilliantly carried to great heights by this talented lady.

The timeless Jeffrey Bigger, who normally can be counted upon to save a lackluster performance, seemed, at least to me, to be there only for the purpose of delivering his lines. In all fairness, his performance was adequate, but it lacked the fire he normally brings to the stage.

The rest of the cast also performed adequately. Daniel Rich was the imbibing British boy friend, and was joined by Cheryl Baer as Florence’s friend and admirer, Judith Beasley as her nemesis, and Stacy Bowers as her defiant and back-talking Mexican maid. I cannot criticize what they did, but what they did not do. I was left with the impression that they had little feeling for the play.

The sight of the lovely and petite Mrs. Lee (I assume the Stage Manager, Brandon Lee, to be her husband), in her lovely dress and high heels, moving furniture and set pieces during the four, (count ‘em- four) blackouts, definitely smacked of amateurism. She looked so out of place in the role of stage hand, I was tempted to jump up and do it for her.

In this writer’s opinion, the best thing about this play, aside from Mrs. Giller’s delightful portrayal of Florence, was the fact that CenterStage North seems to have gotten rid of, at least temporarily, those accursed cubes which have been used to supplant director imagination in too many recent productions.

Maybe they had a bad night. Go see it for yourself. It is worth the price of admission to see and hear Mrs. Giller.

To be sure, the audience, for the most part, appeared to enjoy the play. And, in reality, is that not what community theater is all about?


The Scene Stealer

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