Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My Spin on Spinning

My published thoughts on “Spinning into Butter” should be available tomorrow but the following is a little preview. (UPDATE! Here's the review online. Also check out MaryB's piece on Chris Burnside's work in support of the children of Ghana.) One of the things that I think theater delivers regularly in a way that movies and television only bother with occasionally is deeply provocative, highly literate, wonderfully entertaining works that can inspire at least a night’s worth of conversation, and a week’s worth of thought. “Butter” is one of those plays. The script has been in circulation for many years but I’ve always missed out on seeing a production. I’m glad that the Firehouse production was my introduction because it was well rendered and fleshed out with some fabulous performances.

And sure, the lead actors are great and all, but I’d like to start out at a possibly unexpected place: Tony Santiago and Matt Polson both deliver fine performances in their somewhat small roles as two very different college students. You usually hope and expect the leads are going to be great but what can really raise a production from good to superb are the supporting players. As Nuyorican student, Patrick, Santiago expertly captures the many moods of his character as he transitions from hopeful to frustrated to outraged. And through it all, his character is consistent and well-grounded – I had a pretty clear sense of who he was in the first scene and each succeeding scene built on that foundation. Truly a great job by a young actor.

Polson has starred in several noticeable roles before – I’ll always remember his hilarious Gaston in Theatre IV’s “Beauty and the Beast.” But he distinguishes himself in “Butter” in just the few scenes he’s in. Most impressive to me was that, when his character discovers an unexpected conviction in himself near the end, he seems just as surprised as we are. It’s a nice turn and Polson pulls it off well.

The characters played by Melissa Johnston Price and Robert Albertia are both a bit cartoonish – they seem more “types” than actual people. But if there are any two actors who can infuse these types with some real humanity, Price and Albertia are the ones. Price does imperious as good as anyone and Albertia’s grandfatherly throw-back has a pretty convincing nasty streak. But where they really shine is in communicating decades worth of a “complicated” relationship between the characters in just a few lines. As portrayed at the Firehouse, these two characters made me think that “Butter” could have been adapted into an excellent television series where we get small pieces of their back-story as it progresses. Are you listening Rebecca Gilman?

Of course, the big two players are Fred Iacovo and Katie McCall as Ross and Sarah. I’ll be honest: for me, McCall is one of those actresses who could do a night reading the phone book and I’d be enraptured. In this production, she completely and thoroughly embodies her character and her honesty is heart-rending. In the abstract, it’s hard to work up much sympathy for a guilt-ridden, closet racist but it’s impossible not to empathize with this character given the depth and feeling McCall projects in her performance. Her performance defies that simple characterization, makes it real and multi-faceted and complicated.

Fred was probably the most entertaining character for me. His character’s naivety in love is a bit ridiculous and contemptible but the hope and will to try that goes along with it proves honorable and praise-worthy in the end. Fred never tries to make Ross too despicable nor does he try to make him too likable. It’s a pleasure to watch a performance that is a bit like a mystery – it keep you guessing and it’s impossible to truly figure it out. Great fun.

The only performance I had a bit of a hard time with was Steve Moore’s as the security guard, Mr. Myers. In my opinion, Moore doesn’t do anything bad, per se, but in contrast to Fred’s character, I couldn’t get a handle on Mr. Myers and I found it frustrating rather than entertaining. If anything, this is a character I wanted to be more of a “type.” This character is a little like one of Shakespeare’s fools – the little guy who is more insightful than any of the smarties in the room. I don’t know exactly what I would have preferred by I guess I can imagine either a mild-mannered bear like Michael Clarke Duncan in this role or a kindly, wise old soul like Ian McKellen (OK, maybe not quite that old).

I had been given some advanced notice that the set was good and it was indeed pretty impressive. Ed Slipek did a great job – an amazingly thorough job – in assembling all the appropriate details that would make up a Dean’s office in a northeastern liberal arts college. Some of my favorite parts were the faux hardwood floor, the abstract and cubist art – intellectual but not too threatening, and the scene out the window. It was a fine set that starts to put Firehouse in the same league as some of the finely-honed beauties that Tom Width puts together down at the Mill.

Mostly, this is a bracingly intelligent play that grapples with real issues in an honest way. I had some quibbles with some aspects of the script and in my post-midnight grumpiness as I was working on wrapping up my review, I might have highlighted those with more vigor that I would have in the light of day. And it’s hard to ignore that, for a play that explores race, it’s also primarily about white folks and their difficulties. But it’s a rare treat to find a show that engages both the mind and the heart so effectively. Thanks Firehouse and director Morrie Piersol for such a great production!

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Urinetown" : Getting Better With Age

What a fabulous show Satruday night!!! Yes- the Sox were great but I am so glad I was in Colonial Heights rather than Colorado because "Urinetown" was even better the second time around! Yes, people, I loved this production of this show so much I went to see it again-(and happily paid for my ticket) what better endorsement is that? This show is FLAWLESS. The cast is all fantastic, every single member of the cast that is- there are no slackers here. And Although Angie is just as perfect as Hope as she was the first time I saw it some other performances (eventhough excellent closer to opening) have, like a fine wine, gotten better with time. Mike and Deborah are both over the top fabulous and that cute guy who plays Bobby Strong is even better too (I don't know what I did with my program and am horrible with names- please forgive me).
The short of it is: There are only four more days to catch this gem of a show. Theater does not get better than this anywhere gang so pick up those cell phones and pound out those emails. Treat yourselves and everyone you know to some fun, fresh, fantastic theater and make the treck out to Swift Creek to see Urinetown.

See you at the theater,
Mary "does-anyone-else-need-an-insuline-shot-but-I-do-truly-lovelovelove-this-show" Burruss

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Like Buttah

I’m in recovery from a whirlwind of a weekend that started with going to “Spinning Like Butter” on Thursday night. The play was excellent. It’s one of those occasions where I’m really happy to have this blog because, after a good night’s sleep, I’d like to write out my thoughts in much greater length than I could in my review. But what really made the night special was being able to attend the show with my lovely wifester. We don’t get many date nights and to see a really intelligent, thought-provoking, nicely rendered drama and then be able to dissect it afterwards with someone who has a long-standing interest in theater, a sharp wit and an incisive intellect made a good show even better. I guess even bad theater can be made better when you’re with someone you love. But good theater is amazing!

Then it was off to Nelson County south of Charlottesville to visit with a whole gaggle of old friends. It’s really beautiful up there – just starting to get into peak “leaf-peeping” season, a little later this year I guess because the cold nights have only just started to kick in. We were right up the road from a relatively new theater, the Earl Hamner, that is currently doing a show about Edgar Allen Poe. There’s also a brand new brew-pub that just opened this past weekend called the Blue Mountain, in addition to the dozen or so wineries in the area. How’s that for a nice weekend getaway?

Until I get my thoughts together on “Butter,” below is a deeper, wiser thought to ruminate on. I’ve been trying to figure out how it fits in with my role as a critic. Haven’t quite got anywhere yet.

If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you can only see what is wrong and how ugly it is, then it is you yourself that needs repair.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Happy Friday everyone!
Last night was a big night.
Big Congratulations to Firehouse theater and company for the opening night of "Spinning Into Butter". Dave, I look forward to your review. I do not get to see it before the last performance on the 17th- bummer. I will be reviewing "Lessons Before Dying" which should be an uplifting way to spend a Friday evening- just kidding- I am looking forward to this show as well and promise to share. Getting back to last night...Tech lost and I am sad. BC is BU's rival school and I got my Masters at Tech so I was rooting hard for the Hoakies. But my darling Sox won which I watched partly from my perch at Emilio's following the ART CHEERLEADERS' big debut performance at the VMFA College Night. It was great watching the games though(with the exception of the smoke). I had the Hoakies on TV on the left and the mighty Boston RedSox(who won AGAIN!!!!!) on the right while enjoying the sounds of the band. It was really fun to be performing again (AC's debut) after such a long time and feeling that rush of nerves then euphoria. Live performance is like a drug in that respect- at least for me.

Have good shows tonight everyone!


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Some Style love

I hope you all will take the time to check out Style's 25th anniversary issue. I don't usually hawk the wares of my part-time employer so blatantly but this is really a special issue, with a lot of fun stuff in it (you can check it out online here but that's not the same on holding it in your hand). I like the Headlines of the Future piece the best.

Also, the current issue has Mary B's review on Richard II at Richmond Shakespeare (love that pic of Jen Meharg -- grrrr!). And while I'm at it, big fat congrats to Grant and the RichShakes crew for the Teresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts, announced in the latest Richmond Magazine, well deserved for their many years of great work. You are a cherished aspect of the local community -- keep it up, guys.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Degree or not Degree, that is the question

I am a technical moron (in addition to being wretched at spelling). I have just learned how to read the responses to the blogs and I just read the responses to "Acting 101" blog. Thank goodness we never stop learning. Anyway- I found it quite fun to see the different reactions and learn some things about blogging like: 1) People that respond as "anonymous" took some of the comments personally which I find hilariously ironic considering I used broad statements to avoid placing any one actor in the awkward position of personal criticism and that the respondant would not identify themselves. 2) At least one person wanted me to give specific examples which I think would be mean spirited. I like to give names when praising people but do not wish to publicly denounce anyone personally on that particular issue. 3) Many responses that were anonymous chose to attack me personally rather than address the issue- not fair considering I don't know who you are- at least I have the integrity put my name on my opinions whether they are agreeable or not. 3) Blogging is a place where we can all express and converse - it is really cool.

Someone thought I did not have the qualifications to address an acting/directing issue later mentioning that some of the people I was addressing had degrees in theater. There are at least two problems with that line of thought. The first is that this person did not lay out what qualifications they felt were necessary for one to have in order to give acting advice. The second is that they implied that without a degree from a University one cannot be knowledgeable in a field. It is hopefully assumed that a critic has some level of competency in the area in which they are critiquing. Since acting is a huge part of live theater a theater critic should have some knowledge of what constitutes good acting or directing. It is true that it is not always clear if the director or an actor makes a choice in regards to performance but the actor usually gets credited with the result. I am assuming that this person does not know what my qualifications are for critiquing theater or bringing attention to an acting/directing issue since they said I am not qualified to do so. Hmmm. It is true that I do not hold a degree in theater but I did study acting, dance, movement and voice for twelve years in Richmond, Boston (theater major at BU) and DC. I have acted professionally in plays, industrials, television and film and have taught acting in Arlington, Va. I have produced several shows (locally the Byrd Theatre Christmas Shows, "Red Badge" for Randy Strawderman and "Austin's Bridge. With my husband and another business partner ran the largest theatrical scenery shop in the Washington area for five years with clients like Ford's Theater, The Washington National Opera Company, The Miss Universe Pageant, The MTV Awards, Fourth of July at the Capitol, etc. I am also licensed to teach theater arts in Virginia - so at least the State Board of Education thinks I am qualified to do something with my training for what that is worth. Some of my local acting instructors are still active or were once active in Richmond Theater ie: Una Harrison, Bruce Miller, Phil Whiteway, Al Flannagan (Ford's brother) and the late Kim Strong. Not least of all I have seen hundreds of shows all over the world. I go to New York about once a year but frequent theaters like Studio, Source and Woolly Mammoth in DC. I also try to go to as many shows as I can here in Richmond. So if one needs to have a degree to be considered knowledgeable or valid in theater/acting/directing/set design/etc please don't tell all those wonderful acting hopefuls who have signed up for classes at Firehouse, Comedy Sprotz, SPARC or Richmond Shakespeare that you do not consider their training valid because they are not getting theater degrees at University. As for me? Well you will make your own judgement.

Mary B.

PS. I also discovered the spell check today! Yippy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Some things won’t die

I have been mulling over how to rejoin this conversation that I thought had pretty much petered out after dozens of comments last week. But just today, this very pointed comment showed up that sure helped me focus my thoughts:

“Please give me a break. Not one actor who has kissed up to the critics here has ever gotten a bad review - even when they were universally agreed upon as bad. As for credibility, read some of the previous comments here. Dave makes it fairly clear in his remarks that if make nice here, you are set. As for his own son being in an upcoming production, how can he or Mary even consider reviewing said production?”

My, so many things to say! I’ll take the simplest point first: you are absolutely right, Anon, I will not be reviewing the upcoming “A Christmas Story,” would not even think about it. There have only been two other occasions where members of my family have appeared in a play that was even an option for me to review and of course I didn’t review those either (though I did turn one of those into one of my favorite pieces of my own writing. Can I link to it again? I think I can!)

I think it’s interesting that you think if people “make nice” here, I’ll give them a pass. I’ve been blogging for a little over a year but reviewing for almost ten. This blog frankly has very little impact on how I judge a play or a performance. I put it out to generate conversation about theater; my hope was that fans would come and comment. As it has developed, theater people frequent it much more than I would have expected. Which is great and what I hope it does is give people a chance to judge my performance as a critic, not necessarily to kiss up to me. But by all means, give it a shot (I’m partial to chocolate and micro-brews, by the way). But if you stink up the stage, I will still probably mention it in a review, your nice comments notwithstanding.

What is much more likely to have an impact on my reviews than this silly blog are the personal relationships I’ve been able to find and foster through this critic gig. I am lucky to know some incredibly talented people, I have a great deal of respect for them, and many of them I am honored to call friend. But has that made me water down my reviews? I don’t know: you could ask Bruce Miller, someone I admire and enjoy talking to regularly, but who I’ve also knocked occasionally – most recently I think for one of the Hanover Tavern productions. Or (a few years ago), Rick St Peter who I think is fabulously talented and who I still correspond with, but who did some relatively dreadful thing at the Firehouse (“Marisol” was it? Synge, I think you were in that one…) before he left town that I remember putting down pretty distinctly. I know I’ve chided Scottie at least once for a performance I considered “one-note” and Larry Cook, who I have loved in many things, made some choices that I questioned on these very virtual pages not too long ago. I’m sure I’ve pissed Grant Mudge off with a review or three of mine, though he is always cordial to me and I always enjoy talking to him. A fellow Style writer, Ed Slipek, has done some great set design work for the Firehouse and some, well, not so great, in my opinion, which I mentioned specifically in my Style review. Ironically, a production that I did not particularly like in very recent memory was “Austin’s Bridge” at the Firehouse, which was produced by new pal and blogmate, Mary B.

I will certainly own up to one thing that might confuse some people like Anon: I don’t usually write negative reviews. As I said above: if you stink up the stage, I will PROBABLY mention it. I approach theater as a fan, not as someone hired to pick it apart. When faced with limited space in print, I tend toward highlighting the positive versus harping on the negative. But I think the examples above are evidence that this is not universal.

Is it harder to judge productions that involve friends and good acquaintances? Yes, without a doubt. What it does, though, is challenge me to be as specific and fair with my comments as possible. Because, not only is it likely that I may run into the object of my commentary at Ukrop’s or Smoothie King, it’s not unlikely that they’ll be over at my house for dinner or a holiday celebration some time.

This is not an unusual situation. Many reviewers are or have been connected to the world they review in some way or another. This includes some of the greats, people like Kenneth Tynan in theater or Roger Ebert (screenwriter) in film. The reality is that the people who are interested enough in an art form to write about it often and for frankly not much money often participate in the creation of that art form in some way. And even if you start out not very involved, you GET involved. I don’t just write reviews; like most other critics, I also write features, which means I regularly chat, meet and have lunch with people in the theater world. Even if a critic doesn’t start out knowing or liking anyone in the world they’re writing about, chances are they will make several good friends in the community before all is said and done. Does it make everything a little incestuous? Yeah, probably, but you know, life is like that, particularly in a town the size of Richmond. It makes it seem a little more like a family and my role in this particular family is to be the smart-ass little brother who delivers commentary on everybody. It’s not always been a happy little family but, for the most part, everyone I’ve dealt with understands that we each have our role to play.

I don’t consider this a negative. Sure, maybe some reviewers try to use their ironic distance to be funny or otherwise entertaining. Many of them fail. And I can’t help but think that some reviewers – movie critics in particular – might speak with a little more clarity if they were in danger of regularly running into George Lucas or Brad Pitt at the local Kroger.
OK, I’ve rambled off track here a bit but let me bring it back to Anon’s first and most perplexing comment. Performances that have been “universally agreed upon as bad?” Please point me to blog or chat room or coffee house where I can find out what the “universal” consensus is. I’d be really interested to know where such a consensus is developed and promulgated, just to know whether I’m consistent with the ‘in’ crowd or not.

Awesome Responses!!

The responses to my previous blog have been fantastic! Fantastic in the sense that I have learned so much about becoming a better writer and critic from the comments. Fantastic in the sense that -thanks to Dave's thoughtfulness- that such a wonderful discussion has ensued. It is wonderful to get the kind of feedback and intelligent input that you all have provided. It never occurred to me that anyone would ever read a review of anything and not know it was only the writer's opinion. It is truly helpful to hear that it is important to readers that the critic state that it is an opinion. I loved the comments from Joe Pabst about his favorite critic and how she stated at the end of each review that these were her opinions and encouraged people to see the show and make their own judgement. I will try this and see if the editors let it fly.

I do appologise if my blog sounded "preachy". That was not my intention. I do mean to say that in my opinion the yelling thing is a common problem and please think about it when you are building scenes and characters. It is a common problem not only in Richmond but everywhere. My intention was to offer some food for thought and so it has.

Now on to other stuff:
Congratulations to Billy Christopher Maupin and the success of 365! I am sorry I could not be there but I sent you good vibes anyway.

Can't wait to see "Lessons Before Dying" this Friday- look for a review in STYLE, "Urinetown" again this Saturday - it was so good the first time I am going to see it again and bring friends. Also look for my review of "Richard II" this Wed.

And YEAAAH! REDSOX!!! Something else to be happy about!

All the best,

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Love Fest

Big congratulations to Erin Thomas and Tony Foley who tied the knot this past weekend. I ran into Andy Boothby at Target today who gave me a sense of the event, saying that the bride was resplendent and the groom was bawling. Sounds like a true love fest. Mazel tov!

No love for the Tribe tonight; as I write this, it's the bottom of the 8th, bases are loaded and they're down 6-2. Looks like the Sox are going to pull it out; congrats to all you beantown fans... I'll be rooting for you in the series.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Theater is priceless

With the last two posts groaning under the weight of their succeeding comments, I figured it was time to put something – anything – else out. I want to circle back on some of the comments – particularly ones like Amy’s that ask pertinent questions back at me – but that’ll have to wait until I have more than 5 minutes to sit and write. In the meantime, here’s a quote I ran across yesterday. I’m always finding references to theater where I least expect it (last week’s Bionic Woman episode, for instance). This one is from this week’s Newsweek:

“These captains have known nothing but war and nonstop deployments. No amount of money can compensate me for missing my daughter’s first play.”

-- Brig. Gen. Mark O’Neill, on a new Army program offering bonuses of up to $35,000 to retain young officers in intelligence, aviation and other specialties. They usually make about $4,000 a month.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In case anyone’s interested…

This week’s Style has a story on the “365 days/365 plays” production that’ll be at the Barksdale next week. Thanks to Mr. Maupin for chatting with me about the project – sounds very cool.

I’ve been holding off saying anything about Mary B’s post below, mostly because it’s been a busy day at work (more on that later) but also I wanted to see what kinds of comments it would generate. And, oh my, what a load of comments! My first reaction is of course envy: none of MY posts ever generated this much response!

I have many thoughts about the post and about the comments that it generated but mostly I’d like to stay above the fray, to the extent that such a thing is possible (though I will say that the “annoying love fest” characterization of this blog made me laugh out loud). I’d like to try to follow-up on something that her post made me ponder, something that might be best handled via a question to all you fervent comment-ers:

In the past, I have received flack – everything from a fair amount to a truckload – for even making what I considered a low-key, even-handed criticism of a production. One such piece of flack resulted in an email exchange that nearly ended one of the longest and best relationships I’ve had with someone in the theater community. Being married to someone who toiled on stage for years, I am always aware of the hours theater pros put in and their devotion to their craft and for that reason I shy away from the kind of “this SUCKS” criticism that I find in some writers’ work (and long-time readers of this annoying love fest will know to whom I am referring…).

However, my question is: how best is criticism communicated? How can I or Mary voice valid concerns about a production or a performance or a tendency we see in the local scene in a way that doesn’t get people up in arms? Is it just the nature of the beast – reviewers and reviewees just destined to despise each other underneath a veneer of civility? No matter how much a reviewer may love and support local theater (and I think both Mary and I fall into that category), we are not part of the local theater marketing department. How can we communicate honestly with our readers and also subtly (or not) try to get local theater companies to raise their games without stepping on toes? Discuss. (Or join the crowd and just add another comment on Mary’s post…)

Acting 101: The use of yelling on stage

This blog is for all actors, directors, wanna be actors and directors and anyone who is interested in improving their performances. I have been noticing some classic acting mistakes out there and would like to share so helpful tips to improve the oveall level of "the craft" in our fair city. I will choose a topic area every now and then and offer up the advice that my dear acting teacher at Boston University, Jack Axelrod, gave to his students. Todays topic as you may have guessed has to do with the use of yelling on stage. Good ol' Jack used to wisely tell use young actors and actresses (I believe in gender distinction) that real people do not always yell when they are angry, agitated or upset. In fact many people will not raise their voice in a public situation at all. Jack used to say that it is more fun to discover the richness of a character and share it with the audience than to make knee jerk assumptions that becuase they are angry or excited they should yell. So why is it on stage actors (now I will use this genetically) almost always choose to yell as a character? I have a theory on that and you may take it or leave it and that is fine- it is simply my opinion and only one explanation: 1. bad acting habit that has been allowed to flourish or 2. If you are in theater chances are that you grew up in a disfunctional family- this is nothing to be ashamed of as many the most interesting artists throughout history grew up in dysfunctinal families and one learns excellent coping and acting skills in this environment, but I digress- in dysfunctional families often times there is a lot of yelling and high volume conversation. We use our experience of the dysfunctional family in our thoughts about how to portray a character sometimes rather than really exploring that character and how they might react to something. I am not saying that there should be no yelling on stage ever. That is rediculous. Some people do yell - just not as many as portrayed as characters on Richmond area stages.

Jack used to say also that if a scene starts at the yelling phase it has nowhere to go. Imagine the energy of a scene has a scale from one to ten. If you begin at nine or ten you have nowhere to go. I could give you ample examples of this classic mistake but I will not embarrass anyone- just be mindful of this and think about it when rehersing and developing your work.

One other thing you all should know about the yelling on stage thing- audiences tune out the words if there is too much yelling therefore lots of good script may be lost due to too much volume. Jackie Kennedy Onasis knew that the best way to get someone to listen to you is to speak in a low voice. You might want to use this trick with your characters sometimes.

OK- now that that is off my chest.... Today is Arther Miller's Birthday- have fun celebrating it.

See you at the theater!

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Day Late

The typical distractions of life caused me to miss this little news item about the musical “Legally Blonde” appearing on MTV. It’s too bad since my daughters are fans of the movie(s) and would probably be interested in the stage version (and if I Tivo-ed it, maybe they would watch something besides ‘High School Musical II’ for the 8th time…).

Trawling through the MTV website, I found that it’s going to be re-broadcast on Friday at 11am (and probably other times as well but there’s only but so much trawling I can do…) I’ll have my Tivo set; if you’re not doing anything before lunch on Friday (and particularly if the rain that is forecasted rolls in – HA!), you might check it out as well.

Previews of the broadcast are available on the MTV website. Like, totally cool!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What's up.

Hey you guys! Good times last night at Penny Lane Pub for the post Rickie II champagne reception. Grant Mudge was beaming with pride over the cast and production- it could have been a toothpaste commercial with all the smiling going on in there. But of course the happiest person of all in the room was Scott Wickman(sp?) who was glowing over the Red Sox win yesterday ( we have that Red Sox love in common, me and Scott you know, its a Boston thing). There were the usual toasts to the director and cast but a special toast went out to Cynde Liffick, RS Ed Director to her belated birthday (day before yesterday). Happy Birthday, Cynde!

During my travels about town today I stopped in at the Firehouse and chatted with Firehouse TD Tadd and got a peak at Ed Slipeck's set for "Spinning Into Butter" and let me tell you it is wonderful so far! One of the best sets -strike that- The Best set I've ever seen at Firehouse and it isn't even painted yet. Let's hope this is the beginning of a constant scenic upgrade for them which will enhance all those wonderful performances and make attending Firehouse productions that much more enjoyable. Nice work so far guys! But alas, I do not get to review "Spinning" as Dave "I get first pick" Timberline gets to. But I promise to come see it.

Tried to get a review of Theatre IV's "Stuart Little" out of my seven year old daughter who saw it with my mom this afternoon but no luck. All she said was that she didn't recognize anyone in the cast. So that must mean that Corey Davis is such a great actress that Elinor didn't recognize her from the "Austin's Bridge" cast.

Thoughts on Richard II later....

Mary B.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Oh yeah...

...my review of "The Member of the Wedding" is in this week's Style. I'd be interested in any feedback.

Good new / Bad News

As I mentioned last week, my son went to his first audition. And we found out a couple of days ago that, amazingly enough, the young buck got cast. He’ll be the little brother in the upcoming production of “A Christmas Story” at Theatre IV. It’s pretty exciting news but it also kicks off a swirl of emotions – the worries about potential logistical problems (DMV says there is no chance a 7 year-old would be given a provisionary license), the concerns that he’ll do OK (those critics can be tough!), and the fears about his swelled head growing to dangerous proportions. But mostly I’m pretty damn proud of him and looking forward to this exciting new chapter in the T-line relationship to the stage.

Proving that the principles of yin-yang maintain control in the universe, shortly after hearing about the boy and his new role, I also heard about the potential of a stagehand’s strike on Broadway. If this mucks with my upcoming trip to the Great White Way, I’m not going to be a happy camper. Maybe I could cross the picket line and be a scab worker; I’ve been a stagehand before! (I’ve also never been beaten up by a mob of striking stagehands before so I guess I need to think about potential consequences before I take any action.) Needless to say, I’ll be watching developments along this front pretty closely…

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Playwright Birthday

A special shout out to Brad Tuggle who directed "The Dumbwaiter" a few months back for his directoral debute here in town. Today is Harold Pinter's birthday. Have some cake.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

See some world class Shakespeaare

He y fellow theater lovers,

The Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC has a special travelers subscription that I wanted to mention. Travelers are able to see all 8 plays in the company's stellar seasons over three weekends with subscriber benefits. This is the premier Shakespeare company in the US and it is just up the road a piece in DC. They have hotel packages as well. Call 202-547-1122 and press option 6 to purchase or go to Shakespearetheatre.org for more details. Plays this season include: "The Taming of the Shrew", "Edward II", "Julius Ceasar"(which I saw there just after the Rodney King riots and that production was amazing) and "Antony and Cleopatra" . Check it out.



Hey all you theater lovers out there. Thanks for all of your support over the last few days. The Art Cheerleaders have gotten some great press - Sat. RTD and Mon. Commonwealth Times- and many congratulatory emails. We couldn't have done the bakesale without the help of Gallery 5, Jessica Fullbright and ZMullins Dance Company- you guys ROCK!
I do want to say that while the ACs were camped out in front of Gallery 5 on Friday night we saw some really strange theater on the balcony of the gallery. Call me an intellectual midget but I totally did not "get" what this theater company was trying to convey or the manner in which they were trying to convey it. There were some interesting puppets involved- a hippo type king of something and some cool fish headed creatures that milled out into the crowd but that, sadly, is where the cool part ended. I admit I did not see the entire performance and could not hear a word they were saying through a very poor sound system but it simply came off as a bunch of college kids who decided to put on some type of performance and call it theater. Good for them and their gumption but too bad for those of us who would like to see the professional level of theater rise in this town.

Ok- now I've got out- A special thanks to Jerry (TV Jerry) Williams for putting information about Animator, Bill Plympton coming to town on Nov. 9. details later.

I will be reviewing Richard II at Richmond Shakespeare this week so look for the upcoming review in STYLE.

See you at the theater!
Mary Burruss

Monday, October 08, 2007

First Look

Entertainment Weekly has a first photo from the new production of "The Little Mermaid" on Broadway. My question: could this be the first big Disney musical in recent years that tanks? I doubt it (too much built in audience) but it's going to take a lot of magic to translate all of that undersea adventure of the beloved movie to the stage.

If you are interested in Shakespearean theater and/or experimental theater, you might be want to pick up the latest New Yorker, which has a good (if a bit long) article on Elizabeth LeCompte of the Wooster Group who, after some 40 some odd years directing (often directing her former 'life-partner' Willem Dafoe), has taken on her first Shakespearean play with "Hamlet." The magazine's web site only has a brief summary -- you'll actually have to pick up the hard copy if you want the whole thing (or email me and maybe we could work something out...wink wink, nudge nudge). For particular interest to Andrew, Scott, and other baseball fans: the article begins at a New York Yankees games where LeCompte talks about Joe Torre and his particular directing skill. Hmmmm....

Saturday, October 06, 2007


So, the day after Mary B starts blogging on this site, she also ends up featured with her pals the Art Cheerleaders in a nice story in the T-D. A coincidence? I think not!

Congrats on the great work, Mary B, and glad to have someone so involved in supporting the arts sharing her thoughts. Go team!

And just as an aside, Mary's opening remarks yesterday marked the 200th post on this site. I can't believe it's been more than 15 months since this conversation started. Thanks to all of you readers (Frank seems to think you all number more than a few but I'm still skeptical...) for making this experiment so interesting, entertaining, and occasionally challenging. I hope the next 200 posts are just as much fun...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hello There Richmond Theater Fans!!!

Hello There Richmond Theater Fans!

I am extremely excited to join Dave and this theater blog project. Theater in Richmond has a lot of potential but I am sure most of you will agree that theater on the whole is currently the poor stepchild of the local arts community. My mission is to build theater back up and ultimately to surpass its past glory and help theater resume its rightful place at the head of the arts pack. How to accomplish this? Well we simply have Deborah Wagoner wave her Glenda wand and poof..... No really- I cannot change the world but can only do what I can do:
1. Through the graces of that Texas dreamboat, Brandon Reynolds, the Arts and Culture Editor of STYLE weekly I promise to do my best and constructively review all plays that I am allowed with the intention of encouraging us all to raise the bar with each production. (Please know this is not easy to do in 300 words but I try)
2. Encourage as many theater related articles as possible for STYLE which I consider the "go to" place for arts information in Richmond.
3. Start a local theater club to help facilitate people making time to go to see local and regional theater. This theater club will also go to DC and maybe NYC to see stuff in order to get a little perspective on the theater world beyond the tri-cities. I am open to discussion about the best way to organize this club, get members, and how to choose plays to see.
4. Come play with my theater critic Idol, Dave, and create some more buzz about Richmond Theater.

So now you know a little about me and my hopes and dreams, if you like you can come meet me in person. Please come out to First Fridays tonight and visit me and some of the Art Cheerleaders at our bake sale in front of Gallery 5. We are having a bake sale to raise money to pay for our uniforms.

If you want to go to a show- my fellow Art Cheerleader, Billy Christopher Maupin is performing in "Mr. Marmelade" which I caught last Sunday. It is great! The script is hilarious - it is like a study in Freud and play therapy. I took my psychologist mom and she is still pondering it a week later. So you can go see "Mr. Marmelade" and then pop down to Gallery 5. The first person to visit The AC's tonight and mention to me that you read this blog today gets a ticket to see "Dancing in the Vineyard" this Sunday at 3:00pm- for details go read my article about the event at www.styleweekly.com.

Big thanks to Dave T.
Mary B.


I have never been that interested in being on stage. I ended up there once – hooked into the chorus of a high school “Once Upon a Mattress” production because my girlfriend was playing the princess. The director wisely placed me next to the girl who could sing the loudest to drown out my croaks. After that experience, I was more than happy to just toil around backstage, but I have remained pretty entranced by the people who have the guts and skill to perform.

But I have had a weird mix of feelings in respect to my children auditioning. My eldest daughter snagged one of the leads in Theatre IV’s production of “Hansel and Gretel” several years back, which I think she enjoyed, and she was the lead in her middle school production of “The Quiltmaker’s Gift.” But still, she never seemed really compelled to be on the stage. Happy when she was there, but not always thinking about trying to get back. Which was all fine with me: though I of course think she is enormously talented, I don’t think she was born to be on stage. An acting life doesn’t quite fit her temperament, at least in my opinion.

But I’m a little less laissez-faire about my son, mostly because I think he could be pretty good. And if you think this is JUST filial devotion talking, it’s also tempered with some cold, hard critical calculations. Chief among these is that he’s small for his age; he’s 7 years old but could easily play 4. He got kind of a stunt casting gig for Theatre IV many years ago. It didn’t require a lot of skill on his part, but it did inspire what I still consider one of my best pieces of writing (still findable in the dungeons of Style’s archives).

Anyway, I dropped him at Theatre IV for auditions earlier this week and ran into many familiar parents, hauling their next generation talents in for a shot at “Christmas Story” and “Peter Pan.” My boy might still be a little young and inexperienced for a role this time. And that’ll be fine. But if not today, I do hope he gets his shot someday because I think he would thrive in the theater. And as long as parents like me keep encouraging our kids to give an audition a shot, theater will continue to thrive. Because there will continue to be generations of kids who grow up wanting to encourage their children to do the same. Even if they never wanted to be on-stage themselves.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Another Voice

When I started this here blog I had some vague hope that it would be a place that theater-lovers of all stripes could visit and chime in with their thoughts, that it would truly grow into “A forum for the discussion of theater…” Generally, I think things have gone pretty well and I have been very pleasantly surprised when something I’ve thrown out there has gotten a response, favorable or not.

But it has still been mostly a one-way conversation, and sometimes I feel a little like a poser. I only see a fraction of the plays that get produced in town and, while I have my few theater pals, I don’t have anything resembling a network of sources or anything like that. Mostly, what I have is an abiding interest in and appreciation of theater and I find it fun to interact with others with similar interests, even if it is mostly in the virtual world.

Which is all a long introduction to this very happy announcement: I have asked Mary Burruss if she would like to contribute to the conversation and she has agreed to do so. Sometime in the next few days or weeks or so, you’ll start to see posts from her show up here in addition to mine. You probably have seen Mary’s byline in Style and some of you may know her from her producing role this past summer with “Austin’s Bridge” at the Firehouse. Mary clearly also has an abiding interest in theater and I think she has proven herself to be a fair-minded critic and an entertaining writer.

I am very excited that we’ll have Mary’s voice added to the conversation. I am also hoping that, once she starts contributing, she’ll tell two or three friends about this blog thereby doubling or tripling its readership!

Welcome aboard, Mary!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Not Theater

So Style has two theater reviews in this weeks issue! But I didn’t write either one, Ms. Burruss talks up “Zanna, Don’t” and “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail” instead.

That’s not to say I’m not all over Style this week. The China-America Festival of Film and Culture opens this week and I wrote two pieces that talk it up. One is on the Toppings, a couple that has covered China as journalists for more than half a century, and the other is an interview with a Chinese television producer. For those with an abiding interest in (and, in some cases, fear of) China, I’d recommend checking out the festival’s offerings to enhance your sense of the country’s fascinating culture.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Members Only

When I talked to Lisa at Richmond Marquee a couple of weeks ago she said that I liked to “stir the pot” as it were. Maybe the following is one of those times when I do so…or not. You never know with these things.

Anyway, I wrote up my review on “The Member of the Wedding” last night. When it shows up in Style next week you’ll notice that, while I generally enjoyed it, I also left the theater after the show with a nagging sense of wanting more. There were a few reasons for this. If you are familiar with Carson McCullers’ book, you know that there’s an interesting subplot involving a soldier that Frankie meets and later agrees to meet in a bar. It’s a highly charged subplot and I wondered why it was left on the cutting room floor when McCullers adapted her story for the stage. Just too racy for the general public?

Also, I had a feeling similar to one I had at “Austin’s Bridge” a few months ago. In that play, the most intriguing character to me was the resident facility’s “bad girl;” her story seemed much more interesting than many of the other ones that the play focused on.

In “Wedding,” I found myself fascinated by the African-American characters. It wasn’t that Frankie and her family were boring exactly, but the trio of Berenice, T.T., and Honey had the makings for a true pot-boiling plot. How did Berenice lose her eye?! Does T.T. know about her first true love and how does he feel about it? Why does Honey have such a chip on his shoulder? What exactly happens to him in prison and who is responsible? Not to be flippant about it but these seemed like much more compelling questions than ‘will Frankie make a new friend?’

There’s a question about race mixed up in all this, but it’s not a simple one. This was a play written decades ago so it doesn’t surprise me that the focus is on Frankie. And while there are many plays out there that feature African-American characters prominently, from what I’ve seen, they can be as “black-centric” in the same way that other plays are “white-centric.” I guess what frustrated me about “Wedding” is that it had many of the elements of a true multi-racial theater experience – Berenice is after all the main character – and with a little more of tilt toward the black characters, it could have really gotten there. Instead, the only real transition explored is Frankie’s (even John Henry’s heartbreaking transition is tossed off in last act comment). Couldn’t we have seen Berenice go through a transition? Sure, she is someplace different at the end of the play but we don’t see a whole lot about why or what exactly is happening for her.

Obviously, none of this is the fault of Barksdale’s production, which was top-notch within the limitations of the script. I particularly liked Brian Barker’s set design, which seemed to capture almost an entire house and its neighborhood within a three-quarter thrust stage’s limitations.

So that’s at least some of what I thought. What do you think?

No need to wait

I have to once again express my appreciation and respect for Bruce Miller who took the time to comment on behalf of Chase Kniffen (scroll to the bottom). I don’t know who “anonymous” is, but he/she has given us all quite an opportunity to toot Chase’s horn. So thanks, Mr./Mrs. Anonymous.

Speaking of tooting horns, yours truly is mentioned in the latest Richmond Marquee, now available at theaters near you. And hey, isn’t it about time you thought about subscribing?

If you haven’t read it already, JB has a great recounting of her 40 under 40 night. Style did something right for a change! (OK, maybe not for a change, but they did do something especially right.)

I’m trying to organize my thoughts about “The Member of the Wedding” and will try to post something soon. I’m also trying to figure out how I’m going to manage to see “Stuart Little” and “Richard II” in the next couple of weeks. Anyone know somebody who does clones?

Ran into Justin Dray out at the Village Shopping Center today and wondered what was the last thing I saw him in onstage. I had to go all the way back to “Volume of Smoke” in 2005, which ironically enough, just opened at Theatre VCU this past weekend. I hope to see him in something else again soon.

And just because “Wedding” left me feeling a little sad and sentimental, here’s a little inspirational pick-me-up courtesy of my rabbi:

How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment to start to improve the world.