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REVIEWERS SIX DEGREES
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Companies Reviewed#
Actor's Express2
Georgia Shakespeare2
Onstage Atlanta, Inc.1
Alliance Theatre Company1
Synchronicity Performance Group1
Average Rating Given : 2.00000
Reviews in Last 6 months :
REVIEWS

Burn This, by Lanford Wilson

Friday, June 25, 2004
2.0
It is very interesting to me when I see reviews that vary so greatly, especially when one of them seems the polar opposite of my own thoughts. I saw the play in the latter stages of the run, and couldn't disagree more with Dedalus on this one. Wilson is a fantastic playwright in a Williams style pressure cooker kind of way. I didn't write a complete review for procrastination reasons, but after reading this review, I was stunned into writing something at least.

The production I (and apparently green2u) saw failed in the very place you saw success, the Pale-Anna dynamic that wasn't dynamic at all. Barrett's performance seemed disingenuous and unfocused. There was no hint of real emotional history with Pale's brother which would inform the attraction to Pale. May's performance was muddy as well. There were so many times the ranting just sounded like unintelligible, and worse, meaningless, white noise. The two moments of physical altercation between Pale and Burton were laughably awful, especially when one of those involved is supposed to be into the martial arts. It's a lesson that even seemingly brief and easy moments can benefit from a fight choreographer. Freddy Ashley created the only interesting, multi-dimensional character in the show.

The lights were sometimes treated as actual lights turned on and off by characters, and other times were shut off "supernaturally" leaving the characters to awkwardly wander away from the scene. That inconsistency was a major distraction from the flow of the piece. Anna's wig and the costumes were terrible. A wealthy man's tux with beat up 70's thrift store zip up boots? A Gone With the Wind looking ball gown for New Year's in NYC? The set was fine, but the direction within it led to long, excruciatingly slow scene changes while waiting for characters to slink on and off (see also: lighting) casting soap opera glances in this direction or that.

Well, that's why we go isn't it? We're all different, so the experiences will be different. It's puzzling to me when the experiences seem so drastically incongruous, but I love that it's possible.

Be Aggressive, by Annie Weisman
The low-comdram diet
Monday, June 14, 2004
2.0
I agree with Dedalus on a number of points, most importantly on the disjointed feel of the script. Maybe the playwright's goal was just to show us all that a play doesn't have to make a choice between the "wacky cheerleader" comedy and "my mom's dead, but i don't want to grow up" drama, but Annie Weisman proves just the opposite. The play itself begs to be given a solid identity, and I was begging right along with it. This pastry burned before it rose. The comedy is underwhelming and the drama overbaked.

Performance-wise, Megan Hayes as Leslie is enjoyable and serves as the comedic banner carrier. Cheri Christian as Laura finds some nice moments, but, perhaps owing to the script, doesn't always muster the sincerity that makes us care. The first smoothie monologue is fine, but the monologue as a device is overused in the text. Jeff Portell as Laura's father seemed disinterested and borderline apologetic on the night of this performance, and Allison Fleming could not overcome being miscast and tragically miscostumed as Leslie's mother. The cheerleader chorus device was ok for small cheer sequences, but the snippets of character performances were weak.

In terms of overall production values, the scrim scenery panels were an interesting choice but not really a good one for such a small space. As transformable walls they were ok, but the choice of incorporating them into scenes as doors or windows was awkward as was seeing the stagehands waiting behind them during certain scenes. The music choices (typical sports arena fare) and the marketing materials were focused uniformly on the wacky cheerleader aspect of the script which may be a contributing factor in both reviewers' confusion.

Ms. Hayes' fun performance, the comfortable seating and my childhood fondness for Twinkies account for the 2 rating.

A Christmas Carol (2003), by Dickens / Bell
Humbug indeed
Monday, December 8, 2003
2.0
Ghost of Christmas That-Should-Take-a-Few-Years-Off-or-Totally-Reinvent-Itself

A few members of my family have long wanted to see the Alliance’s production of “A Christmas Carol”, so this year we all went. The Alliance Theatre dusts off the cloaks and top hats for David H. Bell’s “A Christmas Carol” promising to “take you back to Victorian London” and spill grand spectacle over the stage and “right in your heart”. Lower your expectations or start a new tradition by reading the book with your family.

First, things I liked. If there’s one thing the Alliance has going for it, it’s the scenic department, and this show was another fine example of their work. Set designer D. Martyn Bookwalter makes good use of the elaborate fly and trap systems, but muddies the waters a bit by going for the overall feel of “a vast Victorian warehouse filled with a lifetime’s worth of foreclosure acquisitions.” A cluttered assortment of old dining chairs stacked at the sides of the stage and a colloage of old rugs seem to have been the bulk of the collateral confiscated by this financier. The costumes were also nice, as you would expect from a shop that must have stockpiles of the appropriate uniforms collected over the years. On the matter of individual performances, I believe Brad Sherrill as Bob Cratchit and Rebecca Blouin as Belle/Ensemble were absolute stand outs, while Elisabeth Omilami delivered a lively (though distinctly un-Victorian) performance as Mrs. Fezziwig and Scrooge’s housekeeper. Sherrill’s Cratchit especially has a warm feel, a springy step and contagious good will. Interestingly enough, I think his performance in what many consider to be a rather ho-hum role far exceeds his performances of the past summer at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival.

David Bell’s adaptation and direction of Charles Dickens’ classic morality tale lacks any sense of dramatic momentum, with Scrooge’s character arc more like a character bump. The action in general trips along at a pace that seems more concerned about choreographing the caroler mob and getting to the next snippet of a Christmas song than investing in the redemption of the supposed central character’s soul. In the first act, Chris Kayser‘s Scrooge comes off as a non-descript, disagreeable old fellow with a few odd views on holidays and a not so palpable fear of apparitions. Scrooge is dull and flat to the point that you hardly expect him to inspire anyone’s attention at all much less their vitriol. The “Humbugs” are delivered as throw-aways, rather like clearing the throat than hurling a dart, and “Ahhhs” of terror sound more like the “Ahhhs” of a routine throat check. The character proves even less interesting as by the visit from Christmas Past which closes the first act, Scrooge seems ready to change his ways, leaving you to wonder if the other two ghosts might just get the extra time off to do some last minute shopping. Several of my guests at the performance were perplexed by this as well. The best moment of the first act was the effective use of the large window frame fly as the chained and tormented do-badders, companions of Marley in the afterlife, reach and grasp for Scrooge’s soul.

The second act brings LaParee Young as Christmas Present. Mr. Young’s performance as Fezziwig relied almost entirely on a weirdly cartoonish frivolity that distracts from any sense of heart-felt goodness and generosity that would be cherished in the fellow. Christmas Present had a similar problem manifested in his continuously forced laughter. As I said, Scrooge was already repentant by the end of the first act, and he fades from central character to near oblivion in the second. We get no sense of the true effect of the scenes on Scrooge, which is probably due to the fact that the character has nowhere to go. What’s left to do? Bring in another ghost anyway.

Christmas Future bubbles up out of Scrooge’s bed to show a world in which Tiny Tim dies and Scrooge’s bedclothes are stolen from his own dead body by his housekeeper. Of course when Scrooge wakes up he’s ready to set things right, even managing to get used to the breathless laugh that escapes his body. He orders up the prize turkey and has it delivered to the Cratchits, but unfortunately, we are given no scene at their house when the gifts are delivered, no scene at Fred’s where Scrooge finally meets Peg. The play flies on, quickly wrapping up the business of Scrooge accepting the invite to Fred’s, taking time for a jokey-joke, giving some money to the fundraisers, thanking the carolers, giving Bob a raise and telling the Cratchit children they’re all going to be his family too. Insert “God bless us every one” here and Atlanta’s odd standing ovation tradition.

On the whole, this unenthusiastic production makes me wonder why the Alliance has continued to ride such an obviously tired horse of 14 years, especially when I read Susan Booth’s comments welcoming the audience “to a celebration of tradition and new beginnings.” While the sentiment is nice, the direction and performances seem largely uninspired, and, in some cases, just plain bored. Audiences can go to any number of local community and semi-pro theatres to see a passable production of “A Christmas Carol” that is likely to have more heart or at least more enthusiasm, and for far less than $100+/family. The Alliance is surely capable of producing an innovative version of this story or a high-quality holiday alternative to reinvigorate its artists and its audience. As it is, the company should learn a lesson from its own Scrooge or the ghost of Christmas Future will just keep showing us the past.

Bel Canto, by Daniel Alexander Jones
B-flat
Monday, October 13, 2003
3.0
I settled into my seat at a recent Actors Express performance of Bel Canto to introduce myself to the new Artistice Director’s directing style while anticipating some fine performances. What transpired was an evening of artistic choices that criss-cross the index of a modern theater textbook with little unification. The set design is ok, though the spiked beams that lean from roof to floor remind one of sagging telephone poles. If the desired effect was to project a feeling of miscommunication, perhaps it was successful.

At the center of the text is Benjamin, a young man of 16, whose family was torn when his father took off for Canada. Benjamin and his mother struggle to make the transition from the Bay Area of California to small town life in the Northeast. His life seems to find some focus after a chance meeting with a master voice-teacher, Barbara Scarlatti, turns him on to the wonderful world of classical singing.

Daniel Alexander Jones’ apparent interest in this Marian Anderson, a renowned and controversial African-American operatic figure, and his need to incorporate a wide platform of socio-political issues seems to have gotten the better of him, to the detriment of this play. The writing skips from the naturalistic to the pseudo-lyric and back ad hoc and betrays itself as self-aware and contrived. The gay love interest, Terence, wanders through the performance with seemingly nothing to do except the highly predictable moment of what I’ll call, “mirror holding” (i.e. “You don’t love me. You love yourself.” That’s not a direct quote of the melodrama, but it’s close). In this critic’s opinion, you could cut that character entirely and the story would not suffer. The script is further waylaid by the ghost/spectre/portrait of Marian Anderson. Her lines are usually sung, though not always. The reasoning behind forsaking your own device like that and breaking the mystique of the haunting voice is unmotivated and unjustified. Laurie Williamson has a beautiful voice, but seems particularly awkward in those moments when she speaks the lines instead of singing them.

Throughout the performance, a veritable grab-bag of directorial choices are splashed across the stage. Benjamin paints a room by wrapping long swathes of red fabric around and between the telephone poles. Terence’s sketch material consists of torn pieces of leftover fabric. Mother and son reenact a dramatic opera scene while it plays on the upstage fabric behind them. Records are played by scooping air into one’s hands and then opening them again. Gifts are similarly taken into hands clasped and then “melted” into one’s heart, and so on. Again, all of this might work if it were unified and sustained by the text.

I have previously seen Theroun Patterson’s (Benjamin) work one other time, and enjoyed it immensely. In Bel Canto, however, Theroun appears to be older than his mother, played by Minka Wiltz. Benjamin has an over-eager earnestness at some times and an experience level at others that seem to contradict the character’s given age. Ms. Wiltz’s best moments come when she plays the blind father of Terence, a side character that displays a reality exceeding that of most all the other characters in this play. The exception…Vinnie Burrows is an absolute delight as Barbara Scarlatti. She captures the passion for the voice with the good-natured pride of a master. Josie Bergin-Lawson makes the best of a rather flat, one-dimensional and highly predictable character. Ms. Williamson as the Marian Anderson ghost/spectre/portrait has a lovely voice, but strikes an awkward chord when the other-worldly character decides to speak instead of sing. She also would benefit from a reduction in her blocking since she never seems comfortable walking and climbing stairs in those dresses and shoes. You can tell when you and your fellow audience members are focused entirely on whether or not she’s about to take a tumble, which steals some of the character’s thunder as it were.

See this play for the fantastic performance of Ms. Burrows, the good efforts all around of director and players, and decide for yourself whether Bel Canto is a finished work, or if perhaps the playwright’s voice could benefit from a few months’ worth of Scarlatti’s instruction.

Ragtime: In Concert, by Book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Single threat
Monday, August 4, 2003
4.0
My first foray into Onstage Atlanta, and the world of musicals done on the cheap as concerts, coincided with each other for OSA’s “Ragtime”.

The set for “Ragtime: the concert” was limited. Two rows of plain black chairs lined the raised upstage platforms from which ramps led down either side of the stage to the lower level. Two keyboards faced each other center stage. The backdrop suggested a few model skyscrapers scattered around a Statue of Liberty that didn’t quite do the Lady justice. The lighting scheme, as another reviewer may have mentioned, had some sizeable holes, or the performers were not always good at finding the light…or both.

The singing was very good for the most part, with particular nods to Eric Cantania and Jerrica Knight. I would like to see what they can do in some other full production. Most everyone had a moment in (or near) the light, and the larger chorus numbers were robust. The men’s performance of “What a Game” was a lively piece. I occasionally had problems hearing the solos, especially when performers were dipping into their lower registers. The acoustics of the space didn’t seem to help them. As for the orchestra, I particularly enjoyed the playing of Tara Mitchell on the violin.

Besides the money saved on sets and costumes, another benefit of doing musicals in concert without the dancing and with few, if any, textual blocks is that the performers can be cast solely on their ability to sing. But there is the obvious downside of losing two-thirds of the overall spectacle. The blocking was well done and the movement added a little life to the scenes. Still, there were times it felt a bit like watching Disneyworld’s Hall of Presidents, as this one or that one came to life for a song and then switched off again. The textual portions of the evening were awkward and tended toward the melodramatic, but they were brief. A longer musical interlude, “Gettin’ Ready Rag”, should be trimmed or cut for this kind of production. It’s meant to highlight the orchestra and score a large dance number, but doesn’t make a good stand alone piece, especially with such a small orchestra. As the number went on, I started to feel uncomfortable for the seated performers who valiantly tried to round out the music with whoops, hollers, and leg slapping.

I had never seen “Ragtime”, so I don’t know the story. One could tell that some of the characters (like the Grandfather) and major plot information (what makes Mother dislike Father so much) must exist in the book rather than in the lyrics. I didn’t particularly care much for the lyrics, and the score doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of variety, which may result from the limited musical language (ragtime) or may be a pitfall of the limited orchestra. Musicals in concert may not be “my thing”, but several of the solos and most of the larger chorus numbers made for an enjoyable evening.

The Tale of Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare
Cymbeline: Reloaded
Friday, July 11, 2003
0.0
I am nearly at a loss to describe my experience at the preview performance of "The Tale of Cymbeline". Having only read the play and never seen it staged, I was excited at this opportunity. That excitement was tempered with a mild dose of anxiety, as others have expressed, having already been disappointed by the other two shows this summer and being aware of GSF's penchant for runaway design/conceptualization.

There it was...canvas fabric covering every inch of the stage. At first, I liked the effect of the set with its individually lighted, curtained entrances. Later, I will ponder how nightmarish it must've been to light the entire thing. There is also an odd pipe descending from the catwalk stage right that would seem to empty into a clear bowl containing red liquid, which sits atop a pedestal. The prologue is very nice, with each character introduced to the audience, occupying one of those entrances like toys in the little Christmas advent calendars. However, as the play progresses, the vast expanse of all that light-colored cloth wears on the eyes, sending them to that odd pipe wondering when some liquid will spill into the bowl elsewhere or forcing the eyes to wander elsewhere...

...like to the musician's area. Live music accompanies the performance, and is generated from a visible downstage left area just next to the audience. It all sounds interesting and seems like a good idea, until you realize that the music is almost always there and, quite often, distracting. Klimchak (sp?), the solo orchestra, is quite talented. His skill with the seemingly endless stream of non-traditional instruments and the mallet-operated sounding board is impressive. The playing of them is a performance unto itself. One instrument he played by swinging it above his head in a move reminiscent of a certain biblical giant slayer. At times, the sounds themselves invade the scene so completely, that one cannot help but look over to see how they are made. In the midst of one scene, characters from other scenes step out with long white tubes which they place in bowls and later pound with rubber mallets to create rhythmic beats. So, I often found myself watching the performance of the instruments and completely tuning out the activity onstage.

The characters are all suited in black, grey or other muted, dark, non-descript tones. The patriarchs were ankle length coats a la Neo or Morpheus. The costumer draws further attention to his or her work, perhaps unintentionally, in the particularly ridiculous trappings of the Italian invaders in Act Two. It's like "Rollerball" meets one of those low-budget futuristic movies like "Starship Troopers" or something (and the direction or choreography of the fights doesn't help), an odd assortment of baseball pads, ill-fitting helmets, feathers (?) etc. All in the requisite black of course. The soldiers are accompanied by a an old dream interpreter whose outrageous white wig and beard make him look like he belongs in "The Lion King" or worse..."Cats". So, I chuckle to myself and once again turn to watch the music corner, stealing a glance at that bowl on the pedestal again.

It was a preview, but virtually all of the actors seemed to be struggling—lines forgotten, words without meaning. Knezevich does not live up to the challenge of playing both Cloten and Posthumus, and it’s not a requirement of the script. The one physical action he gives Cloten, while at least an attempt at differentiation, finds its way into Posthumus as well. The Posthumus/Cloten monologues were prime time to zone out and check on that bowl again. “Are they even going to use that?” Rob Cleveland is a nice, funny fellow and I have enjoyed his performances in other houses, but he never seems comfortable with the language of classical text. Jupiter is just plain painful, but that’s not entirely his fault. The contraption they put him in seems to have been lifted directly from a remount of “The Wizard of Oz” and evokes a laugh at its appearance. Even Festival favorites like Carolyn Cook, Chris Kayser and Daniel May give wandering performances, which draws attention to...

...the direction is a train wreck. I’ve mentioned the odd chase scenes that left me asking, “Is this a farce now?” Watch the heavy hand present in the Italian spa when Iachimo returns to claim his winnings. Pray for more efficient blocking. Pray that the aforementioned hanging deer isn’t left to dangle through quite so many unrelated scenes. With the over-the-top performances of some, choices like the hanging deer, and oddly mixed costumes, you might well wonder if you’re watching a spoof of Shakespeare. I imagine Nancy Keystone heard a great many more laughs than she might have expected. Then again, maybe laughs were the goal, and I just didn’t get the concept (again). In any event, the net effect of so many of these moments was an ending devoid of any emotional investment in the story, and the feeling that actors are one-upping each other in their attempts to deliver the next punch line.

So, maybe this is all attributable to the text itself? It does play like an odd collage of Shakespeare snippets, maybe a bad “Best of” compendium. Maybe Shakespeare didn’t even write it. Maybe someone raided his dustbins for many years. I don’t know. However, I am hesitant to write it off outright and remain optimistic that in other hands, it could work.

PS...Here’s a note to the mountain exiles: A smallish deer old enough to have antlers would probably weigh at least 250 pounds. If it takes two people to carry the dead deer in, it should probably take at least two (not one) to lift it up off the ground by the haunches and hang it on a hook.

Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare
Tapping into Shakespeare?
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
1.0
I won't spend too much time on the mish-mosh of set design (pastels? ooooh...a versatile box? the Lion King tomb?) or the hodge-podge of costume design (tie-dye? white jackets vs. black jackets?). Two other reviewers have quite capably described my feelings on those two areas. Carolyn Cook is wonderful. She is very charming and seems at ease with the language. Chris Kayser does his thing as always. The playing of a villain devoid of subtlety and with absolutely no redeeming qualities never ceases to disappoint me. John Ammerman is the absolute savior of the show. Were it not for the promise of Dogberry's return, savoring vowels and spinning consonants, I probably would not have stayed for the second act.

Sure, there are blocking nightmares (Benedick's eavesdropping scene is funny at first and problematic at end), choreography that threatens to devolve into the Electric Slide at any moment, and "scene changes" that always seem to involve pushing a box around the stage. Even with all that, the one thing that grated its fingernails down the chalkboard of my spine throughout the entire show was the footplay. Ah...the oft unhappy marriage of German riding boot with wooden floor. The weight shifting, the clap of boot on floor with every line, the tapping of toes, the lifting of foot and stomping with every joke plagued the boys in white. As I am not versed in morse code and therefore missed the underlying significance of the noise, the incessant tapping nearly drove me insane. Walk softly and carry a big lexicon.

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