Friday, July 27, 2007

New Yorker dreams

Every once in a while, I hear about something or read about somebody and think, “Man, if I was a REAL writer (and didn’t already have a full-time job, and four kids, and grad school, and a part-time job, and…and…and), I would so totally write a big fat feature about this and try to sell it to the New Yorker.”

That’s what I think when I read Eliza Skinner’s exploits on her blog. Eliza is the little sister of Emily who recently got splashy reviews with “Witches of Eastwick” in DC. From what I can tell, Eliza could give a seminar on the struggle for survival as a New York City performer. She seems to have about a dozen venues for her talent. For instance:

-> She has a well-reviewed one-woman show called “Shameless” that opens in LA in August.
-> She plays drums and sings for a band called Stickerbook that recently played a concert in Central Park.
-> She’s half of a two-woman improv comedy/musical group called I Eat Pandas.
-> She is a regular cast member in the improvisational musical “Baby Wants Candy.”
-> She is the sole chick in yet another sketch comedy/improv group called Hammerkatz.
-> …and to top it all off, the recent short film she wrote and produced for the New York edition of the 48-Hour Film project won several awards in the competition.

And even with all of that, I believe she still holds down an office job to pay the bills.

I think that it’d be a great and fun challenge to capture the whirlwind of a life she must lead as well as highlight her prestigious talents. I’ve thought about pitching the story to Style but somehow think they might suspect it for an excuse to get a weekend in NYC on the company nickel. And I don’t know if Eliza would want some old theater geezer tromping around after her with a tape recorder and a notepad. Still, maybe someday…

You can keep track of Eliza’s many gigs and delight at her often wicked sense of humor at her website.

And one last link for fun: did you know that Aaron Sorkin of “The West Wing” and “A Few Good Men” fame has a new play in development? Casting and a schedule for it have just been announced. Worth a NYC trip? Maybe?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Many thoughts but mostly links

I’ve had many theater-related thoughts lately but haven’t really had time to post them. Until I get some time, I do have some links. First, to the Style reviews of “Odd Couple” and to “Henry IV, Part 1.” I am particularly proud of the headline for the Hal review. Headline writing is an art onto itself (so much so that the VA Press Association gives awards in headline writing) and capturing a whole article in just a few well-chosen words can be a challenge. ‘Hal-apalooza’ is probably the best one-word headline I’ve ever come up with. (OK, just sprained my arm patting myself on my back…)

Then a link to a quick story that announces the Cherry Jones will be playing a woman president in the TV show, ’24.’ I have been a ‘24’ fan since the first season and used to write online commentary about the show at one of the many fansites. But, as you can see in this post, I thought this last season stunk up the joint. I was all prepared to drop ‘24’ from my TV lineup but Ms. Jones, most famous recently for her great work in “Doubt,” coming to the show may just make me tune in again.

Finally, I read recently that Danny Hoch has a new show opening soon (here's a piece about it on This should peak the anticipation of anyone who saw Scott Wichmann set the stage ablaze with Hoch’s “Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop.” A film version of that show is apparently out on DVD that, unfortunately, does not feature Scott…

Friday, July 20, 2007

Happy Campy

According to Hilton Als in the New Yorker, the new production of “Xanadu” is a hoot. In additional campy theater news, “Hairspray” is currently getting an amazing 94% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes, made even more amazing by the fact that the “Cream of the Crop” reviews (those that appear in national or major market publications) are 100% positive.

Critical love doesn’t always sway the masses so I still fear that this flick may underperform at the box office (plus, everyone is going to be shut-in this weekend reading Harry Potter, right?) But this outpouring of raves (even Daniel Neman liked it, I think!) has had an impact on my apathy. I may have to sneak out and see it sometime over the next week or two…

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Richmond theater rules

Andrew Hamm had a recent post on his blog noting specifically the coolness of Scott Wichmann but also generally the unique nature of the theater community in this town. Theater people in Richmond are to a large extent incredibly friendly, accessible, and down-to-earth. If you want further proof of this, you can check out a comment Bruce Miller posted on this here blog not too long ago. It refers to a production out at Hanover Tavern last year that he directed.

His honesty and openness about the challenges in putting up this production are refreshing, though I would say his self-recrimination about his direction of the piece is a bit harsh. But regardless, how cool is it that Mr. Miller – founder / writer / director / artistic director / possibly most prominent name in local theater – would put such comments out for public consumption? It’s certainly a testament to the impressiveness of Mr. Miller but also a further reflection (IMHO) of the unique nature of the stage scene here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Consolidated H4P1 rave

As I mention below, the latest Richmond Shakespeare production is good enough for 2 reviews. So it’s a perfect situation to put this silly blog to good use. Be sure and pick up Style next Wednesday to read my outpouring of adjectives in praise of the show. But until then, read below for some more specifics on what I liked.

Let’s start with the beginning (a very fine place to start, no?). Jack Parrish as Henry IV is riveting. Physically, emotionally, vocally, he is the most truly regal king I believe I have ever seen in a Shakespearean production. In writing my review, I kept searching for comparisons: “he’s as good as…” but frankly could not come up with anything that sufficed. His stature – tall, strong, commanding – married to that voice – gravelly but still dynamic – is unique and singularly appropriate for this Henry. I could totally see a son wanting to distance himself from such a father’s shadow, yet Jack also delivers the “come back to the fold” speech so earnestly, how could Hal not be inspired to better himself? The best thing I think Richmond Shakespeare could do is bring back Jack for Part 2. Promise me that and I’ll start working on my rave review right now to save time…

I really didn’t think things could get any better than that but then we meet Phil Brown as Hal. Brown is a looker, there’s no doubt about that, and how refreshing to see a director exploit that with Hal’s initial shirtless appearance. But there is obviously more to Mr. Brown and it’s clear from the first scene. Though he projects a casual insouciance and off-hand joie de vivre, there is some grit beneath that chin stubble and it comes to the fore in the occasional steely glance or thoughtful comment. It takes an accomplished actor to convincingly portray a lay-about like Hal is at the play’s beginning but then transform into the noble Prince Henry at the play’s end. Brown lays the groundwork early on and then follows through expertly in the final scenes. His grand testament to Hotspur before the final battle is captivating. That scene may be one of the best in literature in demonstrating the selflessness of inspired leadership and Brown nails it.

Oh, and Mr. Ricks as Hotspur is more than a worthy counterpoint to Brown. One of the aspects of this show that I enjoyed most was the way Ricks played out his emotions in his body language. The way he sometimes seemed to both fold his body in and lift it up when angered or frustrated; or his dramatic toss of the head – like an adolescent’s eye-roll writ large. I liked the early scene between Hotspur and King Henry where they clash over prisoners, where Ricks seems to be barely holding in his boiling temper and then finally lets it loose. If I had to find a metaphor for Ricks in this show I’d say he was like the Shakespearean version of the Tasmanian Devil – all swirling and tempestuous emotion. It was delightful to watch.

As Falstaff, Mr. Phillips did a fine job though I was just a little less impressed by him than the others. A good part of this has to do with the specific performance I saw. It was a first preview and Darryl was obviously still finding his way around some of his lines. In other plays, I’ve liked Falstaff to have a stealthy brilliance lying beneath all of the lies and bluster. But, maybe in part because of his problems with the lines, Phillips mostly projected buffoonery. He did this admirably well, though, and there were a few other audience members near me who obviously delighted in every word out of his mouth. And in the most unique moment of the night, director James Alexander Bond had to stop the play to replace the seat Phillips was sitting on that seemed on the verge of collapse. Staying in character, Phillips tossed off a couple very funny extemporaneous quips that brought the house down. It was exceptional thinking on his feet…or, I guess, his seat…

It was great to see Grant Mudge onstage again. Grant has a singular ability to make every word he speaks, no matter how densely “Shakespearean” the verse may be, absolutely clear to the contemporary listener. This was a particularly noteworthy feat in “Henry” as a couple of his characters spoke with thick accents. He also was a worthy playmate for Hal as Poins, matching the prince verse for verse in charisma and wit.

There are many other things I could rave about – the great costumes get a mention in my Style review, Andrew Hamm’s incidental music bridging and augmenting many scenes was always excellent and appropriate, the lovely lilting Welsh ballad was beautifully delivered by the lovely Alex Buchanan (...but why no bio for her in the program???). I’ve always thought back wistfully to the early days of RSF, where their looser, zanier versions of shows like “Two Gentlemen of Verona” brought exciting new life to Shakespeare. But this production was easily among my favorite 2 or 3 ever done by the RSF folks. It was exceedingly witty, bracingly dramatic, and just a deeply satisfying theatrical experience.

Monday, July 16, 2007


It seems everywhere I look I'm seeing advertisements for "Hairspray." I have no major compulsion to see this flick but I'm an old fuddy-duddy. Are there folks out there chomping at the bit to see this? Even with all the hype, I have a sneaking suspicion this film is going to underperform at the box office. But I'd be happy to be proved wrong. What do you think?


No, I didn't see the Michael Moore documentary. I AM the sicko today -- home from work with a summer cold. And in case there was any doubt, let me assure you that summer colds suck. As if the heat doesn't leave you feeling weary enough, add in a head full of snot and your brain might as well be drenched in tequila for all the clarity available to you.

The only benefit of this is that it affords me the opportunity to ramble on blog-wise about life in general and Henry IV in particular. Before I succumbed to this viral villain, my lovely wife and I were able to sneak out last Friday and see the movie “You Kill Me,” which is a wonderful black comedy. If you are tired of explosions, animation or millions of dollars of CGI effects, check out this modest, sharply-acted, very funny movie.

At the movie, we ran into an old friend who used to write reviews and we lapsed into a little side-conversation about the perils of reviewing (not life-threatening usually, but soul-threatening). For instance, we shared the sentiment that, when you review some 150-200 movies a year like Daniel Neman, your ability to say anything new or interesting might indeed become severely limited. We also touched on something like the opposite problem: whereas Mr. Neman is pretty tiresome in his dismissal of 90% of movies as trash, it is also incredibly hard to find new ways to say “excellent” or to get the point across that a production is particularly noteworthy.

I wrote a pretty peppy little 300-word rave about Henry (which won’t appear in Style until 07/25 – sorry!) but, as I told our friend in the lobby of the Westhampton, what I really wanted to say was, “You know all of those other plays that I said were awesome? Forget all that, this one is REALLY awesome!”

Let’s start with the beginning (a very fine place to start, no?). Jack Parrish as Henry IV is riveting. Physically, emotionally, vocally, he is the most truly regal king I believe I have ever seen in a Shakespearean production. In writing my review, I kept searching for comparisons: “he’s as good as…” but frankly could not come up with anything that sufficed. His stature – tall, strong, commanding – married to that voice – gravelly but still dynamic – is unique and singularly appropriate for this Henry. I could totally see a son wanting to distance himself from such a father’s shadow, yet Jack also delivers the “come back to the fold” speech so earnestly, how could Hal not be inspired to better himself? The best thing I think Richmond Shakespeare could do is bring back Jack for Part 2. Promise me that and I’ll start working on my rave review right now to save time…

I really didn’t think things could get any better than that but then we meet Phil Brown as Hal. But I think I’ll have to ramble on about what amounts to my man-crush on Mr. Brown at a later date. I’m feeling the need for my third nap of the day creeping up on me.

But one last thing for today, I'm glad Ms. Haubenstock also found much to enjoy in Henry. My only disappointment would be the placement of the review in a not-so-prominent spot with a pretty low-impact headline. I guess that’s the way it goes there these days.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I had a giddy good time at the first preview of “Henry IV” at Agecroft last night. There’s enough swell stuff in this production for two reviews so, after I finish writing up my Style one, I’ll post my leftover thoughts here. But, if you want my quick first impression, here’s the lead sentence I’m mulling over right now:

“From the moment it begins, Richmond Shakespeare’s production of “Henry IV, Part 1” positively crackles with energy, wit, and hearty bravado.”

Does that mean I liked it? Oh my yes!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Screen to Stage

Man, I have been planning to write about Claire Danes being scheduled to appear in Pygmalion ever since it was announced on Monday but haven’t gotten around to it. Then today’s Weekend section in the T-D had an item on it so I’ve got to put in my two cents. There’s a certain type of B-list movie star that makes for an intriguing and exciting stage presence and I’ve been waiting for just the “must-see” opportunity to run up northward. One of the first Broadway shows I ever saw was Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” starring Frank Langella (who was hot at the time because of his sizzling portrayal in “Dracula”), Raul Julia, and Jill Clayburgh. It was an enchanting production, Langella and Julia in particular just lighting up the stage.

More recently, I was pretty disappointed with Natalie Portman in “Diary of Anne Frank.” It wasn’t a bad production but Natalie didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy and, frankly, my sweetheart Holly T. will always be the ultimate Anne in my eyes.

To really get my motor running, the level of star power – and acting prowess – has to be just right to make the trek worthwhile. Julia Roberts or Denzel Washington are too strong both onstage and at the box office. Why pay hundreds or thousands of dollars and battle unseemly crowds just to see Julia flash her pearly whites? Cynthia Nixon is about perfect and I’m not sure why I didn’t break the bank to run up and see her in “Rabbit Hole.” Someone like Anna Paquin, Ryan Gosling, Lili Taylor or Ed Norton would also get me pulling every last string to see them. I would have also said Christian Bale or Kirsten Dunst before they both hit it so big with their superhero franchises; if either of them were to chose to grace the Great White Way, I’d be afraid of being overrun by comics fan-boys and girls.

Claire Danes is definitely in the ballpark. She’s one of those sneaky actresses who are usually better than you think they are going to be (I’d put Paquin in that category as well). She was great in her small role in “The Hours” and I’ll always have a soft spot for her because of her work in “Romeo + Juliet” (now THAT’S filmmaking!) and the tragically overlooked big-screen, non-musical “Les Miserables” (yes, she was Cozette in a cast that included Liam Neeson, Gregory Rush and Uma Thurman!). The problem here is the vehicle. “Pygmalion"? Ho hum. How I wish she had picked something a little more scintillating for her Broadway debut.

So I don’t think I’ll be doing any calisthenics to make it up specifically to see Ms. Danes. In fact, if there’s any “name” star that I’d work up a sweat to go see now it’d be Kate Mulgrew in “Iphigenia 2.0” off-Broadway. Great actress (before, after, and during “Star Trek: Voyager”) and interesting vehicle. And luckily (?), "Voyager" never got popular enough to generate too many fan-boys...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Henley Street

A story about recent start up Henley Street Theatre Company is featured in this week's Style. It's always exciting when a new producer joins the fray. More options for theater lovers, more jobs for deserving actors, more intriguing productions for critics (i.e., me!) to analyze.

I must admit to a similar feeling as Mary Burruss when I first heard about this new company -- more fresh meat for the art-meets-business grinder. I hope Mr. Previtera has a clear head when it comes to the challenges he and his cohorts will face. "Edgy" theater sounds great to me, but I don't have to rely on it to pay my bills. I also feel a little trepidation when I hear someone talk about O'Neill and Miller as daring. "Daring" to me has been some of Yellow House's productions (e.g., set in two rooms in a Fan row house). Or how about some Ionesco or Beckett? When I went to the Humana Festival a few years ago and they had telephone booth theater -- that was cool. I've heard about taxi cab theater too. If that's not quite environmentally friendly anymore, how about rick-shaw theater? Maybe Henley should host a weekend of truly "out-there" experimental theater if they want to be daring.

Of course, some of the most daring -- and exciting -- productions I've ever seen have been one-person shows (Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop; Syringa Tree; I Am My Own Wife, etc.). These also happen to be great for a new theater on a budget. There's no dearth of folks around here who can make a one-person show soar (Scotty & JB for starters...) Just a thought...

Armed and Erroneous

Finally got a chance last night to catch up on the other blogs out there, and found that I’ve been taken to task – very gently and respectfully, mind you – for mistakenly insinuating that the giant arm seen late in the second act of “Into the Woods” was NOT manufactured specifically for the production. I should have known better. I’ve never known Theatre IV to skimp on props, starting back in the day of the first “Quilters” (yes, I’m bringing that up AGAIN) which featured timbers borrowed from an authentic country fence, re-assembled into an striking series of on-stage risers…not to mention that huge and beautiful hand-stitched quilt.

So mea culpa, Mr. Miller et al. Maybe I’ll try some innovative investigative techniques – like posing a simple question to a TIV staffer – before making such accusations in the future…

Finally - a title!

So much to say and so little time...

You probably saw the item in the T-D about Living Word changing it's name. I'm a little disappointed about this since their old name is so evocative. But "living word" does have a Biblical ring to it. Too bad in a way because to me it's a great general designation for theater -- taking words and bringing them to life on stage.

I'm still getting used to this whole new design with the T-D -- and not really sure I like it. The Sunday "Flair -- Life -- Travel -- All the important stuff in life" section in particular seems like a place they just dump all the random bits into, only using fewer of them. But I guess it's indicative of the newspaper biz. Anyway, I was nicely surprised getting back to town on Sunday and seeing the piece on Janet Leong. Many of you may know her as the ex-wife of David Leong, the chair of VCU's Theatre Dept. But she's an amazing masseuse and a cool person besides.

I was also totally surprised to see that there's a musical version of "Xanadu" opening on Broadway. Have I been asleep at the switch or what? I guess I have a better understanding of where John Lahr from the New Yorker was coming from. I really hope this is so totally campy bad that it's good. Otherwise, what's the point?

Also, I found out yesterday that my review of "Odd Couple" probably won't run until July 25th. Though I've done it before, I'm coming to realize it's bad form to post my reviews here before they show up in Style. So here's a few key sentiments from my review:

-- The key line: "An entertaining reminder of both the humanity and the hilarity of “The Odd Couple” is now playing at the Barksdale Theatre at Hanover Tavern. "

-- Scott and David are of course amazing. But Jennifer Franks and Jen Meharg are also fantastic in their one big scene. The dynamics of the scene with the Pigeon sisters are just great, David in particular making the whole scenario a belly-laugher as he tries to juggle Felix's reticence and the girls' randiness.

-- I think Jeff Clevenger is one of the most natural actors on stage I've ever seen. In everything I can remember seeing him in, he just inhabits the role, never too showy, impeccable timing. He's got it all.

With the cast that he has, Joe Pabst could hardly go wrong. And he certainly hasn't. It's a great production. More complete thoughts on it will be available at newstands near you in...about two weeks...Oy.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Blogger weirdness?!?

For some reason, I can't give my posts a title these days. Not sure what that means. For now, in case you haven't seen it, here's a link to my full review of "Into the Woods." More to come -- as soon as blogger lets me...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Darkness Falls

A lot of unsettled weather last week caused several show cancellations. Outdoor event “The Tempest” faired the worst as might be expected but even “Austin’s Bridge” got hit. It’s mentioned in Ms. Haubenstock’s review at the T-D but you can also check out Robin Harris Jones’s blog for a more complete account of the night.

Ms. H’s thoughts on “Bridge” seem very similar to the ramblings of another local critic that I’ve read. Hmmm…a case of brilliant minds thinking alike?

I’ve updated my links to the left – though they are still obviously incomplete and have a couple broken spots. But it finally occurred to me to add “Company of Fools” to the expatriates. Duh! Denise Simone, John Glen and others are still going strong out there in Idaho – John was the first Richmond director I ever met and had the opportunity to work for, certainly lucky for me. And they still regularly borrow local fave Debra Wagonner for their summer shows.

The T-D also weighed in on “The Odd Couple.” It’ll be a couple of days before I can gather my thoughts about that one. Stay tuned!