Saturday, September 29, 2007

Broadway Bits

Many things to talk about but not much time. So there's always national news to fill the space: I’ve seen a few articles hyping Claire Danes in Pygmalion; always interesting to read the mainstream media’s take on a big name actress working on the stage. Also, USA Today has a fall Broadway preview today, with a big piece on “Young Frankestein.”

Some related thoughts: A friend who saw Stoppard’s “Rock-n-Roll” in London said it is moderately dreadful and I saw a production of “The Grinch” last year, which was fine but when it comes down to it, not as good as the original ½ cartoon. And I really enjoyed Mel Brooks when I was an adolescent but I don’t know that the basics of his humor have gone anywhere since. I didn’t see “The Producers” but also don’t feel like I missed anything much. I love the movie “Young Frankenstein” but I have no burning desire to see a stage version. So I’m still waiting for the new, exciting, original play for this fall, i.e., this year’s “Doubt” or “Spring Awakening.”

And finally, something that has me both scared and just a touch excited is this item on Bono teaming up with Julie Taymor to produce a stage version of “Spiderman.” It could be an interesting experiment. Or it could be like Jim Steinman’s long-gestating desire to stage a musical version of “Batman”: a sketchy idea that never really gets filled in.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Go JB!

Congratulations to Ms. Steinberg for being named one of Richmond's Top 40 Under 40! Well deserved! And here's a few more exclamation points to add to the ones in the article!!!

Also, here's how I condensed my thoughts about Mr. Marmalade in print. Check it out.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bon Chance and other stuff

Robin Harris-Jones (see, the hyphen DOES get included sometimes…) recounts her side of the story of us running into each other last week. What a sucky day! Sorry, Robin, that you were having such a rough time of it but rest assured that, even in yoga clothes and sans make-up, you looked lovely.

My side of the story is not quite as eventful but I do have to say that Robin did not catch me at my finest, being as I was a little crazed because my daughter made me PROMISE absolutely to mail her letter THAT DAY without fail and the only chance I had to do that was on my lunch break where I also fit in a small little jaunt from downtown to University of Richmond to attend my History of Modern East Asia graduate school class. And who was it SO important to get this letter in the mail to? Zac Efron, of course… Oy.

But back to Robin: I actually see theater people around town quite frequently – Frank Creasy at “The Camel” a couple of months ago, Cynde Liffick jogging down Monument Ave., Jennifer Frank at Ukrop’s, Stephanie Dray at that great bread place on Cary Street last year, etc… But while I know who these people are, they usually don’t really know me. They may know my name but even people I’ve interviewed, I have often just talked to them on the phone. Most of the time, I don’t say anything to any of these folks. It’s not like it’s a paparazzi situation or anything, but generally I feel I should just leave people to their own devices unless there is a compelling reason not to. I’m also kind of shy so what I just said is really just a big rationalization…

Anyway, the main reasons I approached Ms. Harris-Jones were that a) she did look like she might be in some distress and, well, what guy with half-a-brain and any sense of chivalry just walks past a lovely young woman in distress? And b) while I have seen Robin on stage many times, I have never met her and I know from her blog that she is leaving Richmond very soon. So it was perhaps my last opportunity – albeit a relatively awkward and brief one – to wish her well on her journey to the Big Apple.

Anyone who has seen – or worked with – Robin at Theatre IV or Barksdale or most recently at the Firehouse knows that she is a greatly talented actress and singer. Please join me in wishing her the best of luck in her adventure northward. And Robin, just one suggestion before you go: you might carry an extra set of keys with you once you get up there, just in case!

The T-D has had all sorts of reviews lately, with Zanna, Don’t; The Member of the Wedding; and The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail all opening last week. Busy busy busy! I won’t get a chance to check out MOW until this weekend. But I would suggest you pick up this week’s Style. There should be a special little piece honoring a member of the Richmond theater community. Intrigued?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lateness

I promised Morrie I'd post this over the weekend but then it got lost in the madness. Sorry Morrie. Hope it's not too late:

The Firehouse Theatre Project has an immediate need for an non-Equity actor for the upcoming production of Spinning Into Butter by Rebecca Gilman. The part is Burton Strauss, the Dean of Humanities of a small liberal arts college in New England. The character is 45-65, "old school" and professorial in manner. This is a paying role. The show opens 10/25 and runs Thurs., Fri., Sat., through 11/17 with matinees on 11/4 and 11/11. Rehearsals begin immediately. Interested actors should call Morrie Piersol at 804-359-2003.

Also, Mary's review of "Urinetown" is in this week's Style in case you wondered whether that was ever go to show up. I particularly like the review's subheading; I expect that's the Arts editor Brandon Reynolds' work. He's a clever guy; he's the only editor who has ever changed stuff I've written that I ended up liking better afterwards. The review is laudatory of course!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Roles Reversed and MySpace

I had a nice chat with Lisa Kotula the other day, talking about blogging, MySpace, online social networking, etc., as relates to Richmond theater. It was weird to be interviewed since I am used to being the one doing the interview. I hope I said some moderately relevant stuff.

After talking to Lisa, I started thinking that maybe journalists make good interview subjects because they anticipate questions or they understand how reporters have to build a story from an interview. But then later that day I interviewed a former editor from the New York Times and he was not a good interview at all. He spent a lot of time saying stuff that was neither very quotable nor frankly very interesting. So that blows that theory.

Another thing I thought about after talking to Lisa is the fact that I don't usually list the MySpace pages of theater folks, like in the "No People Like Show People" section over there on the left. I've come across a few of them -- just found the one Brett Ambler has in connection with his band Captain Slicktalk the other day, in fact. There are a couple reasons I don't list them: one is that the MySpace domain is blocked for access at my work which isn't a huge problem because I could surf MySpace at home, but it's just annoying enough to make me avoid it. The other reason is because I think of MySpace pages a little different (though I probably shouldn't). When it first came out, MySpace was really more for personal networking between friends and relatives. Now, of course, a MySpace page is part of some bands' business plans, etc., but I'm still stuck thinking that if people have their own space, maybe I should respect that and shouldn't reveal it to the whole world.

But I'm a flexible guy. What does anyone else think? Is my thinking about MySpace terribly outdated and reinforced by general fuddy-duddy-ness? Should I list the MySpaces for local theater folks that I know about? Do you care? Do you already have enough sites that you're surfing anyway and you don't need any more? Let me know.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sweet Stuff to Spread

There are some shows that you love when you watch them and then afterwards you wonder what was so great. Then there are some shows that don’t seem to work quite right when you are in the theater but then come together in your head after you leave and you can’t stop thinking about them. With “Mr. Marmalade” I’ve had a weird variant of this kind of post-show experience. I’m finding that I like the play as written – and as I remember it – less than I did at first. But my appreciation of how well it was staged has increased.

What I find frustrating about the writing was that I can’t quite make the ideas behind the scenes come together in a way that makes sense. Some of the scenes are just a little too surreal to dovetail with reality, but is that done to show how a four-year old perceives the world? The correlations with “real world” adulthood are a little too matchy-matchy with the dynamics of real grown-ups if this is really supposed to be a four-year old perspective. And what about the real adults in the show? They’re just a bit too clueless to be “real” adults so is the playwright attempting some level of social commentary? And if so, what exactly is he saying? I propose some possibilities in my review for Style (not to be published until next Wed. – sorry). During the show, I just let the narrative flow over me. When I try to connect the dots afterward, it just makes my head hurt.

But given that, I have much more respect for Rusty Wilson and his crew for putting together such an entertaining production. One scene that I remember fondly every time I think of it – probably because I’m just weird – is the “Mr. Marmalade with the leaf-blower” scene. It’s great that you get just snatches of the story – which sounds like a doozy – in between the obnoxious blasts of sounds. It’s an almost “anti-theatrical” scene and I loved it simply for that. I also appreciate Laine Satterfield’s performance more in retrospect. During the show, she seemed to me like the eye at the center of the storm as all the rest of the characters swirled around her. Thinking about it now, I realize that a more appropriate metaphor is that she is the show’s anchor. Her consistency in a role that could be more all of the place (after all, the character is four, an age when even normal children can seem schizophrenic) is what keeps the show on track.

Tony Foley and Erin Thomas are very good in their various roles, the only problem being that all of the characters are pretty odious (even the house plants) so it’s harder to appreciate the performances. One thing to note though is the great transition Erin makes from the mom to the babysitter. It’s one of those actor things that’s just fun to watch as she so clearly defines the two characters, with speech, posture, affect, etc.

I didn’t have time to go on in my Style review about Andrew Boothby’s performance, which is really pretty excellent. In the T-D’s review, Ms. Haubenstock seems to denigrate the fact that some of the characters are “types.” Well, in the case of Mr. Marmalade, I think that’s kind of the point. And one thing I think Boothby does particularly well in the show is capture all the aspects of the different “types” he plays. He really made me believe he was a harried exec and then alternately abusive addict and then alternately a repentant 12-stepper in recovery. Even though they are “just types,” it takes a skilled actor to fully inhabit each one in turn and make it live and breath.

I loved Larry as Larry; it’s virtually impossible for me not to like Larry at this point. He’s just one of those actors that brings a spark to whatever he does. The way he (or maybe this was Rusty’s direction as well) captures the weird rhythms of children at play was great. But, having said that, I think there were times when Larry’s performance moved ever so subtly from “the way children act” to “the way adults portray children when acting.” There were just a few times when I asked myself, would a five-year really do something like that? And my answer to myself was No, I don’t think so. Part of that is undoubtedly the writing and maybe even some direction. Still…

As I will say in my review, and I’ll reiterate here, the real revelation for me in this show is Mr. Maupin’s performance. His character is definitely a “type,” the low-self-esteem, abused, gay assistant. But Mr. Maupin is so earnest and sincere in his performance – the spot-on a capella singing being the cherry on top – that he totally transcends the stereotype. My second favorite scene in the show (after the leaf-blower scene) is Billy’s last moments on stage as the play ends. It’s a sweet little coda to a sometimes frantic and overwrought play. It’s also a scene where the quality of Mr. Wilson’s direction I think really shines through. So often, I don’t really know how to praise a director because the best ones are responsible for everything but then their influence is hard to pin down in terms of how things unfold for the audience; they’re the magic, invisible hand pulling all the strings. Rusty really did an excellent job rendering a coherent and convincing staging of this play. Good job, Firehouse folks!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday

Wow – what I difference a few days make. Since Monday, a new plan has emerged for the missus and I to visit NYC in November. I found a hotel in Manhattan (perhaps the only one that is not a certified flea bag) that isn’t charging more than $300 a night for a room. And as that came together, I scored seats for ‘Spring Awakening’ and a new London transplant called ‘Jump,’ that sounds like a hoot. I had a fine time enjoying Marmalade last night and will write more about that after I manage to get my many and varied thoughts condensed into a review. And the weather is cooling off meaning Fall is just around the corner. Ahhhhh!!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Upcoming

So of course the day after I idly wonder about what shows would be good to see on Broadway, I come across two Playbill sites, one that shows upcoming Broadway shows, the other showing Off-Broadway shows. You gotta love the Internet! Now I have all sorts of shows to dream about seeing...

Closer to home, I'm looking forward to seeing Mr. Marmalade tomorrow night. It sounds like it may be a little over the top but not by any means boring. So that's a good thing. Plus it's got Andy Boothby in it who has a very mystical and long-standing connection to my family (come over and visit your son any time, Andy!) as well as a bunch of other good folks. Bring on the suicidal youngsters!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Corrections, News and Notes

I got a very nice note from Larry Gard who tells me I've been listing his program incorrectly. It's the Carpenter Science Theatre Company not "that theater company in the Science Museum" or whatever I used to call it…

Ms. Jones tells me (or told me a month or so ago) that Talent Link has moved up to Richmond from Norfolk. You thesps looking to get represented, check 'em out.

I've been a little down these days -- had been planning a Fall trip to Broadway and it’s not looking like it’s going to work out. It’s harder to leave four kids behind then you would think, particularly since my strategy (“leave ‘em 50 bucks and the phone number for Papa John’s…”) was summarily shot down by my beloved. I can take some solace in the fact that the latest big musicals have been receiving either downright nasty reviews (“Grease” in the NYTimes and EW) or at best mixed (“Xanadu,” liked by the NYTimes, by EW not so much). Of course, “Grease” can take some solace that even in the first post-back-to-school week it’s still drawing some pretty good box office. “Xanadu” – not so much.

So what would I even want to see on Broadway? Well, I still haven’t seen Spring Awakening or Drowsy Chaperone and there’s that Kevin Kline/Jennifer Garner “Cyrano” thing starting next month. But I always like to see an edgier, buzz-worthy off-Broadway joint to balance out the big splashy stuff. But besides “Iphigenia 2.0” which closes in a couple of weeks, “Scarcity” closing mid-October, or the new production of “The Misanthrope” (new production but old play) what’s out there? Anybody heard anything about “33 to Nothing?” Oh, and can anyone babysit for 4 charming (mostly) children for a weekend sometime in October or November?

If you want to daydream about Broadway like me, you can check out this photo gallery in Entertainment Weekly showing big screen stars and their recent appearances on stage.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

U-town and Angelika

So the funny thing is that I had started writing down my thoughts about Urinetown on Monday and was kind of stumped. I wanted to talk about Angela Shipley, who has now officially joined the list of my favorite actresses in town, but had reached an impasse. I had two things in particular I wanted to say:

First off, while watching Urinetown, I had no idea who she was until I read the program at intermission. What was great about that? Well, I just saw her a couple of months ago in Austin’s Bridge, a stand-out performance in a show I ended up not particularly liking, and yet I didn’t recognize her as Hope Cladwell. Her Donna in “Bridge” was earthy and warm and genuine while Hope is na├»ve and flighty and coquettish. The characters are so different, I never would have imagined them played by the same actress. And yet Angela embodied them both completely and beautifully.

Secondly, I like that she doesn’t overplay Hope, who is a character who could be simply ridiculous (Brett Ambler also does a great job of not overdoing it with Bobby). But even though she doesn’t go too broad, she does bring some great comic business to the stage. I particularly liked her seemingly guileless ripping open of Bobby’s shirt, to just listen to his heart (hmmm…sure…) And of course the "dancing while tied up" scene is impressive. Finally, because she doesn’t overplay the farcical Hope, her turnaround at the end fits just fine and anchors the stirring, almost bittersweet conclusion.

But I didn’t post these thoughts earlier in the week because in general, if you’re listing things, three is the way to go. Two just doesn’t cut it. Lock, stock and barrel; blood, sweat, and tears; etc. etc. Threes just work better. I thought about pointing out that in the program she thanks Tom and Paul for taking a chance on a “newbie.” Ha! Clearly, after “Bridge” and “U-town,” (not to mention Agamemnon’s Daughters at Sycamore Rouge), she is no longer a novice so that piece of modesty was endearing. But that tidbit didn’t seem compelling enough to round out the three.

But now, thanks to her comment on “Worst Ever,” I know that she reads this blog. THAT is certainly an indication that not only is she a superior actress but also an Internet surfer with refined tastes, giving me a third thing to praise her for!

In addition to Angela’s performance, there were many other great things to enjoy in “U-Town.” I thought Scott Melton was excellent as Officer Lockstock, lending the perfect amount of gravitas to the hilarious self-referential vignettes. The “Tell Her I Love Her” song got me laughing – not to Mr. Guffaw levels, but close – and showcased Audra’s abundant talent. Brandon Becker’s choreography was notable, peppered as it was with wonderful little dance jokes (Hey Brandon, going to be able to drop back to “just” singing and acting for the Plaid Xmas show?)

My friend (and perhaps yours too!) Jerry enjoyed the show a great deal, having hated the Broadway production he saw several years ago. Both the lovely mrs and I enjoyed the show a bunch as well. But there is sometimes a problem with a show as wink-wink, nudge-nudge self-aware as “U-town” is: the show asks you to care about people and their relationships and motivations, at least enough to pay attention during the show, but then also makes it clear in the attitude of the show that none of it is to be taken too seriously – it is after all only a musical. There’s a little bit of emotional dissonance there that diminishes the show a bit – at least that was how Mrs. T and I ended up feeling.

I’m not going to march out a parade of adjectives like Ms Haubenstock did in her review’s list of how transcendent everyone in the cast was. I do agree that everyone did a great job, though, and I hope the show is drawing some good crowds.

Another thought, not related to U-town at all: it was cool but a little confusing to see Erin Thomas and Laine Satterfield in the paper last week. The story connected to their picture was about the new Stony Point school partnership but Erin and Laine both had their SPARC shirts on and were not quoted or mentioned specifically in the article. I’m glad Laine, Erin and SPARC all got some exposure, I just wonder whether the editors thought very clearly about the picture and how it fit with the story.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Response

I meant to write a quick note but then got going and couldn't stop, so please check out my too long response to Mr Anonymous's comment on my "Arts 25" post. And throw in your own two cents as well while you're at it.

A Simple Piece of Cloth

I was wandering around University of Richmond on Wednesday and saw a flier about a free staged reading happening there. I wouldn't have given it a second look except that it has some really good people doing it, including Jodi Strickler Smith and Darryl Clark Phillips. Below are some details -- check it out if you want free access to new, interesting theater! I think the best shot for tickets would be to email Ms. Mullin or you could try to navigate the U of R phone system which I admit I am woefully ignorant of. And I PROMISE I'll be writing about Urinetown as soon as I can -- life just keeps getting in the way of good blogging...

A Simple Piece of Cloth by Jeffrey D. J. Kallenberg, tells the story of a family coping with cultural assimilation and the death of the patriarch in a comic but truthful manner. The story deals with the cultural, moral, and philosophical issues surrounding a family feud over the rightful heir to the recently deceased patriarch’s "prayer shawl from the old country."

Mr. Kallenberg teaches the James Joyce Seminar at Columbia University and runs his own business in Shreveport, Louisiana. He has done writing and "script doctoring" for various television and film production companies and is well-known throughout the New York City professional theatre community.

Each open-reading will be followed by a discussion with the cast and author. Friday, September 7 and Saturday, September 8 at 7:30PM.

From: Debbie Mullin Cost: Free but tickets required - call 8980

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Arts 25

I know some people think of me as “the voice of Style” when it comes to its theater coverage. But any of you who have worked for publications of any kind, large or small, know that the “voice” of a publication can be a tricky thing. In the worst cases, companies that buy ads dictate content, sometimes even writing it themselves, which makes a publication basically just a big marketing vehicle. In the best cases (for a writer, at least), an editor consults extensively with a writer about upcoming story possibilities, usually lets him/her determine what stories he/she is going to cover, and then runs the resulting stories with very little editing for content. In those cases, the publication's voice is pretty much the voice of the writer (at least on whatever particular beat that writer is covering).

For several years, I was living the best-case scenario due to the kind of working relationship I had with the editors at Style. It was a sweet deal but also a fair amount of work and I just didn’t have the time to cover everything that I really thought needed covering. So over time and as editors have changed, I now have something in between the best and the worst cases. I can generally determine what I’m going to cover and my stories are usually run without much editing for content. However, my communication with Style is very sporadic and I don’t really know what the magazine is planning. Many times I have been surprised when a theater-related story shows up in print.

This is all a lead-up to my comments on the current “Arts 25” issue of Style, which has many interesting pieces, several on theater folks, and one that I wrote (this one on d.l. Hopkins). I think Style picked out many good people to highlight and think they did a great job in covering Scott Wichmann, Carol Piersol, Grant Mudge, and Derome Smith. I’d also point out the piece on Patrick Farley, a friend of mine, a really nice guy, and a very talented architect (whose wife was in the production of “Company” at Dogwell Dell – so there IS a theater connection).

However, I must be honest and say that I had little input on this selection of influential people on the local cultural scene. I received notice about the issue the afternoon before the decisions were made on who to highlight. I was at work and couldn’t really respond. When I was able to compose an email about it later that night, I suggested several people, none of whom ultimately made it into the magazine. I mean no disrespect to those who were chosen but below is the short list of theater-related people I suggested. And I’m curious: who do YOU think belonged on the list, which was presented to me as “25 people influencing the arts right now.”

Chase Kniffen
Rusty Wilson
Lisa Kotula
Artisia Green / Rebekah Pierce: Founders of Arteka Theatrical Productions (are these guys still around?)
Brett Ambler / Audra Honaker
Scott Wichmann

Oh, and one last thing: my Fall theater preview also shows up in this latest issue. Check it out!

Worst Ever

Oh my, “Urinetown.” What a funny, crazy, self-referential place to visit! I’d like to comment more on the musical but unfortunately, my most resonant memory from this show will be the worst audience experience ever. I’ve had bad audience experiences before. In fact, just this summer at “Odd Couple” at Hanover Tavern I was sitting right behind an unfortunate man with oozing, open sores on his bald head, which wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t also been sitting next to the woman with the worst halitosis in the universe. I felt less oogy – and less aware of bodily fluids – sitting through the movie “Dawn of the Dead” than through that play.

But for “U-Town,” the nemesis was behind us. My wife, my friend Jerry, and I were sitting in the second row, stage right. A woman two rows behind us had the most annoying, loud, high-pitched and persistent laugh ever. This woman must very rarely leave the house because she seemed delighted about everything from electricity to humans walking upright. The flow of the first act was like this: actor enters scene (woman starts tittering), other actor sets up joke (loud laugh), first actor delivers joke (screeching cackle), scene continues (small aftershocks of laughter until tittering begins again, punctuated by “oh my”s and other sighs of almost orgasmic delight). At no point in the show was there ever no sound coming from this woman. So, at least one person was overjoyed with “Urinetown.” However, everyone around her was annoyed as hell.

So, being a grown up and since the house was not quite full, our party moves to stage left for the second act, far away from the cackling, squealing theatergoer from hell. We park ourselves third row up from the stage and are delighted when the sound of titters are just a faint simmer of sound from the other side of the theater. The second act gets rolling and suddenly directly behind us, we hear a deep-voiced, “HA HA HA!” Yes, the male counterpart of Ms Titterer is right behind us. His rhythm is more like this: actor enters, other actor sets up joke, first actor delivers joke (man hollers “HA HA HA HA HA”), scene continues (man continues yelping “HA HA HA HA HA” overwhelming all succeeding dialogue…)

We looked at each other in disbelief. Were we just cursed? After the second outburst from Mr. Guffaw, we got up unceremoniously and moved to the back of the house. We were able to enjoy the rest of the show in relative peace. And we certainly did enjoy it. More on that in my next post…

But I just want to say, I know things can be pretty tough for you guys on stage sometimes. But it’s not always a picnic for us folks out in the audience either. Just so you know…