Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Halloween

Sorry gang; I'm a little overwhelmed with pre-Halloween madness at Camp RVAT so don't have much time to post. It was interesting to note that a whole bunch of productions ended their runs this past weekend. So there's a little bit of a calm before the storm right now as the Firehouse and Sycamore Rogue open shows this weekend and "Plaid" begins previews. Enjoy a breather while you can.

And, in case you missed it, the T-D came out against the marriage amendment. Will wonders ever cease?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Steel Magnolias

For some reason, I’ve noticed a flurry of national coverage of the Broadway scene today. Both Entertainment Weekly and USA Today (here, here and here) have big sections devoted to theater – relative, that is, to their usual coverage which is pretty limited. Don’t understand the timing but it makes for interesting reading just the same.

Living Word puts on Richmond's second production of “Steel Magnolias” this year, this one distinguished by its African-American cast. I won’t be seeing this production but Style is planning on covering it. Another possible reviewer is taking a shot at this production. Stay tuned for the results!

If you didn’t see it back during the winter, here’s an article written by Living Word founder Derome Scott Smith. Makes for an interesting read.

Speaking of reviews, I would have expected a review of “The Importance of Being Earnest” to show up in the T-D today, but didn’t see it. I did see the review of “Aida,” which didn’t say anything that made me want to see this traveling show.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Importance of Being Earnest

My favorite production of “Earnest” was my first, mostly because it involved the recognition and appreciation of an amazing new talent. This was back in 1999, I think, at a winery way out toward Lake Anne somewhere that used to do outdoor summer production under a tent. Early during that summer, they had done Checkhov’s “The Seagull,” and Erin Thomas was luminous and delicate as Nina. Then they did “Earnest” and I don’t even remember what character Ms. Thomas played (I want to say Lady Bracknell, but that doesn’t seem right) but she was saucy and tart and incredibly funny. Those two roles back-to-back convinced me that she had a singular ability and she’s continued to do great things in town ever since. Lately, her big roles have tended toward the wide-eyed and innocent: Joan of Arc, Pocahontas. I hope she gets another saucy role like the one she had in “Earnest” to highlight the breadth of her talent.

The production that opened at CAT last night has Una Harrison as Lady Bracknell which could be something of a hoot (complete cast and crew listed here). I hope the production is good because I recommended it to my boss (sight unseen – not always a good idea!) and I don’t want to get fired…

I’m enjoying reading the responses/perspectives generated by the reviews I posted, particularly “Caesar.” I am heartened by the impression I’m getting that there are discerning theater patrons out there who think about productions in a critical way. I really believe it is possible to put out “constructive criticism;” the people posting (so far…) have certainly demonstrated that. It’s disheartening for me sometimes when audiences seem impressed by the simple mechanics (i.e., “how do you remember all of those line?”) and don’t think harder about whether an actor, designer or director did his/her job well.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Young and Old

According to the news, Angela Lansbury is heading back to Broadway in a show called “Deuce.” Perhaps the folks at Bifocals should put their name in the queue now for a shot at those rights.

And, the folks at Disney’s High School Musical will be doing a concert tour in a few weeks. I love this show, in part, because my kids love it (even the 6 year old can sing “Get Your Head in the Game”) but also because, in an almost subconscious way, it shines a national spotlight on the importance of theater programs in high school. Sure, it’s all Disney-fied and everything, but will it make more talented kids think about trying out for their OWN high school musicals? Undoubtedly.

Speaking of Disney, if I remember right, Aida opens tonight at the Landmark. Someone tell me if it’s good. The bad buzz it generated on Broadway will keep me far away across town from this show.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Chance encounters

I'm constantly reminded what a small town Richmond is. Like tonight, if you attended the first debate on the Marshall/Newman Amendment at U of R, you would have been able to chat with Jeff Shapiro, political columnist with the Times-Dispatch, whose lovely wife used to work for Theatre IV. You also might have had a chance to rub shoulders with former Vice Presidential candidate, Senator John Edwards. (At least that's what I thought at first. Actually, it was state senator John Edwards at the debate. Oops, my bad!)

Also, a few days after I posted something here about the possibility of running into someone at Ukrop's who I had written a bad review about, I happened to meet Jennie Brown from SPARC at the Carytown Ukrop's. Earlier this fall, I saw Cynde Liffick from Richmond Shakespeare jogging along Monument Avenue, probably only a week or so after seeing Thomas Nowlin (who was RS's "Othello") in the VCU Ukrop's. Last winter, I was pleasantly surprised bumping into Jill Bari Steinberg walking along in Carytown and one day last spring Grant Mudge was walking into Crossroads Coffee when I was walking out. A couple of summers ago, as my kids romped around the playground near the Carillon, I noticed Chris Evans and his lovely wife walking along in the park as well with their little one who I think was only 2 or 3 at the time.

But possibly the most interesting unexpected encounter I had was when I was visiting the offices of Media General probably 5-6 years ago. I was working for a consultant and had come to work on their computer system and walking toward the person's office I was supposed to meet, I happened to pass d.l.hopkins's office. I don't think I knew he was a computer geek like me until then.

Maybe some people feel claustrophobic in a town like this, where everybody seems to know everybody else. Personally, I think it's one of the many charms of Richmond, and one of the many reasons we have never been get ourselves to move away, though we've often thought of doing so.

Speaking of interesting encounters, if you are a big Garrison Keillor fan, he's going to be at the Barter Theater way down in Abingdon, VA, on Nov. 1. A drive down there might be a nice excuse to check out the tail-end of the changing leaves.

I've been enjoying the small bit of discussion that my "People Hate Critics" post seemed to generate; thank you all for your perspectives. I'll have to think up some additional juicy topics that might get some responses. Anyone else have any ideas?

Friday, October 20, 2006


Have you driven down Monument Ave. lately? It seems like all of a sudden, fall is here. The leaves have erupted into their annual cacophony of color and there’s a crunch underfoot when you walk along the sidewalks. The temperature is still all over the place but I’m loving those mornings that emerge with a bracing chill in the air. Fall is just a yummy time of year.

Speaking of beautiful sights, I caught a sneak peak of the upcoming premiere issue of “Richmond Marquee” (this job does have SOME perks) and it looks smashing. There are profiles of ubiquitous Lighting Designer Lynn Hartman and expatriate Rodney Hobbs, several other interesting articles plus listings of auditions and show openings through December. There’s a website up now too; check it out and be sure and subscribe. The price can’t be beat.

This weekend will see another production by a company that specializes in abbreviated Shakespeare, the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “Completely Hollywood (abridged)” at U of R’s Jepson Theater. Just as a head’s up for next week, there’ll be a dramatic staged reading of selections from “Nickel and Dimed” at Jepson; it’s a great book worth checking out if you have a chance.

Also, there’s been a fair amount of press about the ComedySportz anniversary. This leads me to a gray area I’m not sure whether I should cover on this blog or not. There’s been plenty of interplay between actors and improvisation in the past; Jeff Clevenger and Jennifer Frank come to mind. I’ve written about stand-up before. And some stuff that is actually theater – the Mystery Dinner Playhouse shows, for instance – really skews more toward improvisational, or at least interactional, comedy. I’ve got to think about this and, if I have a spare minute, maybe I’ll add those folks into the blog in some way.

In the meantime, there’s a new Mystery Dinner Playhouse show opening this weekend called “Fashion to Die For!” Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Two for the price of one

My reviews of Julius Caesar and Pocahontas are up on the Style Weekly site. Enjoy (and feel free to post rebuttals if you are so inclined!)

I heard news on Q94 (Q94!?!) this morning about the “Sweeney Todd” film that has Johnny Depp slated to play Sweeney. Director Tim Burton’s sweetie, Helena Bonham Carter will play Mrs. Lovett (as confirmed with this story on What killed me was that, in order to say something that her young hip audience might relate to, the DJ Melissa Chase said something to the effect that you’d recognize the music from Sweeney Todd because it’s been in Looney Tunes cartoons. Oy. Can our pop culture get any dumber?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Day late, Dollar short

Well, dang. I had meant to mention the Bifocals Theater show "Table for Two" this week at the Barksdale. But performances were Monday and tonight. I hope they went well. Just to get a jump on the next production: Bifocals will be doing "The Day Joe Montana Retired" on Nov. 27 & 28. I'll try to be more on the ball about blogging about that one.

Have also been a little frustrated looking into the Broadway possibilities. Got some last row orchestra seats for "A Chorus Line" -- pretty pathetic but what are you going to do. Looked into "Wicked" -- all sold out for the week before Xmas. Oh, that is unless you're willing to pop for the $300 a piece "premium tickets." Excuse me?!?! As if $125/per for "regular" seats isn't enough? It's certainly another reason to be thankful we have so much quality theater right here in town, shows that you can see without taking out a second mortgage...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Taking suggestions

It’s looking like Team T will be able to take a quick trip to NYC around Christmas time, so I’m taking suggestions on what show people think we should see. One night, the girls are probably going to go see “A Chorus Line” but on the second night, we’re hoping to sneak out just Holly and I to see something. I’m intrigued by this show “Spring Awakening” that caught a little buzz in its off-Broadway run and will be opening on Broadway on Nov. 17. But then there’re the shows that have been around for awhile like “The Drowsy Chaperone” or “Spamalot.” I’ve heard Martin Short’s one-man deal is hilarious and of course there’s 3 or 4 off-Broadway shows that sound interesting (“Jewtopia” in particular catches one’s eye), but are they worth spending the only free night in New York to see?

What would you see if you had one night in New York right now?

Were you there?

Man, what a great night on Sunday. A wonderful crowd of people cheered on a great slate of performers at the Commonwealth Coalition Benefit at the Barksdale. I was very proud of my girls who sang “Castle on a Cloud” very sweetly and with only the slightest shakiness at the beginning. It was a very special 45 seconds for me and I think they got a big charge out of it. It’s hard to pick out the highlights from the rest of the night since it was all amazing. Jacquie O and Derek Phipps did the “I Can Live With That” scene from “I Love You, You’re Perfect, etc/” that always makes me tear up. It’s so sweet and funny and they both do such a great job with their characters. I especially liked it that my widowed mom (who was there with another widowed friend) was able to see that scene.

Debra Wagoner was astounding as usual, the singer/songwriter Kim Alexander rocked the house, and modern dance troupe Amaranth was mesmerizing. Scott Wichmann’s scene from “I Am My Own Wife” was particularly poignant. And the boys singing “Were You There?” sounded great on a song that managed to be sweet, funny, and significant all at the same time. It was an enchanting evening and if the energy from that one night could be loosed upon the Commonwealth at large I’m sure it would have the power to convince the un- or misinformed people who still plan on voting in support of the asinine Marshall/Newman Amendment.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Keeping it positive

I could get all ticked off that the Times-Dispatch chose not to list the Commonwealth Coalition benefit in the Weekend section. I'd like to think it has nothing to do with politics and it's some administrative oversight kind of thing. Really, I would.

But I'm ignoring that because there's plenty of stuff to be positive about. For one thing, shows are being extended left and right: "I Am My Own Wife" got pushed out another weekend and "Sordid Lives" added performances. And just when I think I've got at least a vague handle on all of the theaters in town, I see that a group called the Reflections Repertory Company is doing "A Bench in the Sun" starting tonight (the T-D posted an announcement about them...hmmmm....). According to their website, they're doing "Agnes of God" next, which is one of those plays that, with the right people in it, can be just transcendent. And if you are interested in going to a theater that tends to program shows in a more faith-based way, I'd recommend the Jewish Family Theatre at the JCC. They did a great "Anne Frank" a while back and will be starting up with "Crossing Delancey" in a few weeks.

Furthermore, the very nice responses from Mr. Hamm to my "People Hate Critics" rant lifted me out of the doldrums this afternoon. It seems that perhaps we CAN all get along! I really appreciate your further explanation of the moment I described in 'Julius Caesar,' Andrew, and your reassurance that I am not hated. (And nice job with Cassius, BTW, very excellent work!) I'm hoping that it comes across that I think pretty long and hard about saying negative things in a review. Sometimes it seems like there's no avoiding it but, as the song goes, I try to accentuate the positive. And, as I think I've said before, most of the time the on-stage mistakes bring out the real talents of theater pros. I am that much more impressed with them when they are able to work through the flubs and come out the other side with no one the wiser.

And Jacquie, I'm just not telling you when I'm going to see your shows anymore since I seem to be a jinx...

And last but not least, it's fall, it's going to get good and cold this weekend, I'm going to take a break from theater for a couple of days and maybe see a movie this weekend (since there's about three out now that I'm hankering for...), and I'm going to have the chance to share in the joy of people (very talented people) coming together on Sunday to support a good cause. For now, at least, I can't really complain.

Disappearing Act

Blogger seems to have misplace my blog today. Not sure what that's about. Maybe they REALLY hate critics!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Once more for the team

OK, one last plug for the Commonwealth Coalition benefit. Please come. It's this Sunday the 15th and it has a great slate of performers. If you haven't seen it, I've included the list below. And yes, if you look closely, there's a couple of Timberline girls tucked in there among all of the legitimate stars. Will I be nervous on Sunday? Oh my, yes.


Please Go To: To Pre-Register Your Donation And Reserve A Seat, OR Call (804)330-4566 For Reservations And Make Your Donation At The Theater.

Better late than never?

Here’s my review of “The Constant Wife,” for your consideration.

Also in the better late than never department: I’m sorry to have missed the Arts and Letters Live event on Monday. I’m planning on catching the broadcast on Thanksgiving. It’s pretty exciting to have (at least) two nationally recognized stars in our little town for the weekend (Hilarie Burton and Elliot Yamin, of course).

And I’ve fallen down on the job again, as “Frankenstein Lives!’ has been open a week at the Science Museum and I haven’t mentioned it. I have to admit to some puzzlement about the run of this show; I’m not quite sure why it is closing Oct. 29 just when the fever pitch about Halloween should be highest. Hope I can get the kiddies off to see this before then!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

People Hate Critics

People hate critics. I know I do. I hated them before I became one and the situation hasn't changed since. Daniel Neman bugs the crap out of me. I find his overuse of "we" in his reviews annoying as heck, as if either he's assuming that "we" share his perspective (which I usually don't) or he's using the royal we. Danny -- it's YOU that saw the flick, not we.

Anyway, I'm sure that there's people that are annoyed or angered or bored by my reviews (or my blog). Fine by me. Difference of opinion is what makes our democracy strong.

But for you non-critics out there, here's a window into the conundrums critics face. I saw Richmond Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" last Friday. Generally a very good production (but I'll save the specifics for when my review shows up in Style). I liked the performance of Jeff Schmidt as Mark Antony quite a lot. He's was doing a great job with the funeral speech ("Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears...") but then, at the very end of the scene, he totally went blank. Like, totally. It was the most complete full-stop flub I think I have ever seen on stage. There was nothing but dead air for a good few seconds. As I remember it, he eventually repeated one of the lines from earlier in the scene and then everyone just exited.

I'm not pointing this out to be mean. I think Mr. Schmidt is a fine actor; he had been doing well, performed nicely during the rest of the show, and overall did an admirable job. But as a critic, what do you do? Do you memorialize that momentary lapse in print in the spirit of giving an honest assessment of the production? Or do you gloss over it to be "nice?" Movie reviewers can be jerks in their assessments because they aren't usually going to see the person they wrote about at Ukrop's the following Friday. But how do you balance giving a hard-working actor the benefit of the doubt with keeping up a semblance of journalistic integrity?

Or how about this: "The True Story of Pocahontas" opened last week also. As Ms. Haubenstock pointed out in her review, the script has some serious problems. She didn't even mention what I thought were the most significant issues: Pocahontas's motivation for saving John Smith isn't explained, and a huge hunk of the show is told in the future tense, which was confusing to me, not to mention the kids of various ages I had along with me. But you also have to admire the fact that they tried to "keep it real" and not do something that totally made Pocahontas something that she wasn't. Do you reward intent? Or damn with faint praise by saying, "well, at least it wasn't something worse."

Q: What would you do?

A: Avoid becoming a critic at all costs, perhaps?

PS: Style could still use someone else to write them reviews. If this entry isn't inspiration enough, I should tell you the pay isn't so great either...

Friday, October 06, 2006

The True Story of Pocahontas

I expected to sit down and ramble on about Pocahontas but then got distracted by this item on the Entertainment Weekly website. The intersection of two of my guilty pleasures – Broadway and American Idol – in one article! How could I resist. If you have the time, you should check out the profile on Constantine Maroulis that is linked to in the Village Voice . It’s a pretty revealing look at the lifestyle of the semi-famous.

I’m always a little bit wary about anything calling itself “The True Story…” of anything. History is a notoriously slippery subject. Pocahontas seems like a historical figure who by default is romanticized. I’ll be intrigued to see how Pete and Julie dealt with this impulse.

This show also makes me think about how the majority of actors I’ve known have at one time or another had a “street theater” type job, like a character at a theme park or dancing/playing in a theme park show or working as an interpreter at a historical park, etc., or even a dancing/singing waiter/waitress. My lovely wife spent some time portraying a Native American – evocative of Pocahontas though it may not have been her explicitly – while working at Busch Gardens many moons ago. While I’ve heard these jobs can be a huge pain, people have also told me they represented some of the best training they’ve ever had. Care to share YOUR experience?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Julius Caesar

My best friend told me today that his 11-year old daughter is memorizing Mark Antony’s speech from ‘Julius Caesar’ for school. Having a daughter that age as well, I can imagine the delivery. Picture someone who just wants to get through the speech as fast as possible and whose ambition is certainly not made of ANY stuff right now, to say nothing of sterner stuff. The result is significant theatrical dissonance, which could almost be funny if overdone, like in a Christopher Guest movie or such. I'm expecting the rendition in the Richmond Shakespeare production will be a bit more rousing.

Also, yesterday was a testament to never knowing where theater is going to pop up in your life. I was reading a book called “Women in Early Imperial China,” because, well, it’s a long story but I just was. And here’s what I came across: “Sociologists have long used role playing to create subtle models of society. According to one theory, individuals in society are akin to actors in a play. Sometimes we carry ourselves as if we were back stage, preparing for a public performance. Other times we are on stage, in view of others, playing out chosen social roles. As social actors, we choose the props, clothing, and makeup that will make our performance appear most believable…In real life as in the theater, the actor and audience influence each other. Actors manipulate the audience, and the audience’s reaction shapes an ongoing performance….To a large degree, we are the sum of the social roles we perform.”

OK, so that’s a lot of sociological theory, but if you followed that, imagine that one of your social roles is being an actor (as it very likely might be if you are reading this). Then, it’s kind of like role-playing within role-playing! And what if the character you are playing is an actor! That’s like sociology to the third power!

And even though this seems like the kind of conversation you have late at night in a college dorm room, I assure you I’m not stoned as I’m writing this…

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


First indignity (mine): After promising the folks at Sycamore Rouge that I would put their events on the blog, I totally let them down with their current show, The Complete Works of Wllm Shkspre, abridged, which has been running for a couple of weeks now. It’s showing tonight and next Sunday through Wednesday (10/8-11). I’m really sorry – I promise to do better in the future.

Second indignity (not mine): the Times-Dispatch review of David Sedaris’s appearance at the Landmark was tucked down below the obituaries in today’s paper. Jacquie O told me that the review of Swift Creek Mill’s “I Love You, etc.” was also placed in this ignominious location. Could the coverage of live performances BE any more invisible?

And in the better late than never department, here’s a link to my piece on Debra’s “The World on a String” and the Starlight Cabaret Series. If you haven’t gone yet, there’s a show this coming Saturday at 11pm – I expect that’s when Debra brings out Arlen’s more risqué material – plus two shows next week. Wouldn’t a trip to the Cabaret be a great end to a long Columbus Day weekend?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The International Scene

So Ashlee Simpson made her big theater debut in ‘Chicago’ last week. The guy who does “Talk Soup” had a wonderful line: whoever was singing her part from backstage did a great job. I haven’t read a true review of her performance yet and don’t really care enough to search too hard for one.

Closer to home, The Times They Are A-Changin' made its debut on Broadway last week as well. Also haven’t read anything from the NYC reviewers but the notices on the Chicago run certainly were positive. I’m hoping to make the yearly sojourn to NYC sometime early next year but am still undecided on whether this will be the big show to see or not.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Did anyone go see the Spalding Gray "Leftover Stories to Tell" show at the Firehouse? It's an interesting idea and a nice tribute and the last-minute (as far as I know) addition of Scott Wichmann to the cast almost propelled me to try and figure some way to get there. In the end, a nephew's birthday celebration won out for me.

You may not notice it but the reviews I'm writing for Style these days are more often around 400 words long versus 500 words in the past. It seems that everyone is cutting back some. Those missing 100 words mean that the review for "The Constant Wife" won't be mentioning some solid supporting performances (e.g., Jill Bari Steinberg, convincing as up-and-coming businesswoman friend to Constance; Andrew Boothby, a welcome dose of energy as socially awkward Mortimer) and some excellent technical work (Sue Griffin's costumes were divine -- where DID she find Bernard's Wimbleton shoes? Got to get me a pair of those!). One hundred words doesn't seem like much but three or four sentences is often the difference between getting a mention and not.

This "Wife" was also the kind of show that makes me wish I had the 1200 words or so that a NYTimes reviewer has. There's much that could be covered with this play -- in terms of the text and in terms of this particular production -- but not much that could be explored succinctly enough to fit into 400 words. Here's a few of the things that WON'T be in my published review:

-- This is a play that takes patience. The first act is a moderately funny drawing room comedy with most of the spunk coming from Mrs. and Martha Culver (great work by Kelly Kennedy and Jen Meharg in this production). Things really start rolling in the second act and but it was only in the third act that I felt fully engaged.

-- I really try not to be too politically-correct, but I was put off by the preponderant man-bashing. Men are called everything from wicked to weak to childish in this play. I don't think I would have minded so much if a) so much of the bashing hadn't happened in the first act which was relatively slow in comparison to the rest of the play, b) it was a little more clever and c) there was even a little less of it -- after the initial point was made (and remade), it just felt like piling on.

-- You come to appreciate the depth of Constance's insight and intelligence. She is truly a remarkable character. But after the show was over, I was struck by the 'what-if' scenario. What if Mortimer hadn't brought the whole situation to a head? Would things have continued on for her and John ad infinitum? The thought that Constance might simply have turned a blind eye for several more years makes her seem less noble.

-- There was something not quite clicking for me in the chemistry between John (Steve Perigard) and Mary-Louise (Laine Satterfield). I enjoyed each of their performances separately – particularly Steve’s growing apoplection in the third act – but there wasn’t much fire or verve or even a sense of sneakiness spurring their scenes together. The way I read the play, Mary-Louise is drawn to John because he’s a bit more dashing, sophisticated and intelligent than her somewhat blunt Mortimer and John is drawn to Mary-Louise because she’s a sweet young thing, a pleasant bauble that amuses him. I left the play not knowing why exactly they had ever been attracted to each other.

-- On some more positive notes, I could have gone on at length about the beautiful set, well-appointed down to the little trees visible through the living room window. And Larry Cook’s performance was a treat, particularly his restraint in the last scene where it would have been easy for more gloat to sneak in.

The only reason I haven’t mentioned Ms. Mamana is because I was able to sneak some praise of her into my 400 words. I thought she did a great job with a part that also required significant restraint. I’ll admit I was on the fence early on in the show but, by the end, I was duly impressed. It was probably the even-handed delivery of the “go to hell” line that won me over for good.

I hope I haven’t given away too much in this rambling bit of blogness. And I hope you check out my (much shorter) review when it shows up in print.