Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Time after time

Here's another list: Time magazine's top ten Plays and Musicals for the year. "Billy Elliot" is on top of this one just like many others. Kudos to NoVA's Signature Theatre for mention of "The Visitor." And I didn't see it but from what I've heard second-hand, "The Little Mermaid" is a bit of a shocker here. I guess you just never can tell what a critic is going to like...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wrapping Up

If you are spending this week suffering from store-aversion in this post-holiday period, you might not see the year-end issue of Style, which is too bad. Still, you can catch my year-end wrap up of the theater scene, now posted on the Style site. The ambition of this piece may not be obvious to some so let me tell you what I was shooting for. I basically wanted to touch on the Cultural Census, give an overview of the year's highs and lows, highlight some specifically notable productions and performances, and deliver at least a vaguely interesting piece for the general reader. I had 600 words to do this. You can be the judge on whether I was successful or not in even scratching the surface of what this last year in theater involved.

I just spent a large part of the morning thinking uncharitable post-holiday thoughts -- don't you love family gatherings? -- so in an attempt to lighten my mood I'd like to rave for just a moment about a production I just barely mentioned. It's a little late for this rave but getting through the season alive has been the only truly attainable goal I've been able to achieve lately.

I took my youngest to "A Christmas Carol for Two Actors," a nimble and innovative piece of stagecraft brought to vivid life by Molly Hood and Grant Mudge. Grant makes this piece tremendously personal and vibrant, not stodgy or rote like you might expect after all of these years. He punches up the moments of silly humor and his interaction with the audience is refreshing. Both he and Ms. Hood inhabit a great many characters effortlessly, Ms. Hood in particular making some quick-silver changes from characters as variant as Jacob Marley's ghost to the young boy who fetches the Christmas goose for the reformed Scrooge.

I know it's too late for anyone to go catch this show but I am hopeful that they do it again next year. Paring Dickens down to the essentials really brings out the timeless messages at the story's core. I can't believe I missed the first dozen or so years Richmond Shakespeare has done this production but you can rest assured that I'll make a point to see it from now on!

Friday, December 26, 2008

A List and a Loss

Welcome to the other side of Christmas! I hope you all made it here with sanity intact and that Santa Claus was good to everyone.

I finally caught up on the back issues of some of my favorite magazines and came across this list of the Best and Worst of Broadway in 2008 from Entertainment Weekly. Hm, maybe the NY Times has a similar list??? Anyway, I’ll go look for that but in the meantime, I’d be curious as to what folks think of this list. I hadn’t even heard of a couple of the shows listed.

Also, the news came out yesterday that Harold Pinter had died. I have never been a huge fan of his work but certainly do appreciate it and the enormous impact his style has had. Here’s a link to a nicely insightful appreciation of one of theater’s giants.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Accidents

So for those who weren’t at the reading of “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge” on Monday – and a surprising number of people were there – the script by Christopher Durang is hilarious, spinning “A Christmas Carol” into a post-modern froth of cynicism and theatrical self-reference while also managing to spoof a couple of other holiday favorites. To me the most hilarious moment of the night was when the play veered into “It’s a Wonderful Life” territory and who should emerge as George Bailey but Scott Wichmann. The immediacy of having an actor currently playing George Bailey in another production wander into the reading was just too perfect.

To make a more general point – obvious I’m sure to the theater vets out there – it’s these kinds of happy accidents that put live theater in a class by itself. Another example from “Mrs. Bob Cratchit”: there are two Cratchit children who are referred to at first as Child 1 and Child 2 (one of them eventually earns a name). One of these characters was originally supposed to be played by Eric Evans – a talented stage vet though only a teenager who would have been great in the role. As it happened, however, Eric wasn’t able to make the reading and the lovely Ali Thibodeau stepped in.

The great thing about this substitution – besides the fact that Ali is consistently a delight on stage – was that Child 2 is repeatedly mistaken for a girl and he often has to remind everyone that he’s a he. So as it turned out, there was an actress playing a boy being mistaken for a girl peevishly insisting that she was a he. I don’t know the specifics about how Ali was chosen as the replacement but, in my opinion, it was a small slice of casting genius that added another layer of absurdity to the already whacky goings-on. And another happy accident not foreseen at inception that helped make the reading a hoot.

I hope all you theater lovin’ folks out there are safely ensconced in a warm home somewhere enjoying the run-up to Christmas – or the ongoing rush of Hanuakkah – or the upcoming festivities of Kwanzaa – with a hot beverage and a good friend or family member around or two (instead of stuck at work like me). Happiest of holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

And there it is

Update: my review of "Scientology Pageant" is now online. FYI.


Over the weekend, Ms. Haubenstock's charitable (in my opinion) review of the Firehouse's "Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant" was published in the T-D. I'm hoping mine shows up on the Style website any minute now.

I'm still in recovery mode after a whirlwind weekend wherein I saw 4 plays, including a double-header yesterday with Swift Creek Mill's "Drifty" play and the staged reading of "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge." I'm processing all of that while trying to focus on a year-end wrap up -- the lyric "How do you measure a year?" has gone through my head more than once this morning...

So while I'm at it, I'll ask you: How would YOU measure this past year?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mrs. Cratchit

Two gentlemen -- Scott Wichmann and Richard Koch-- are currently burning up local stages in two different shows where they play something like a gazillion characters a piece ("This Wonderful Life" and "A Tuna Christmas" respectively). Where can you see these two fabulous actors plus a stellar supporting cast that includes Robert Albertia, Jacqueline Jones, Katherine Louis, Tom McGranahan, Jacqueline O'Connor, Maggie Roop, Jeanie Rule, Michael Thibodeau, and (ahem) Cooper Timberline?

Only at the staged reading of "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge" at the Firehouse on Monday night. Details are at the Firehouse website. I'll be there. To borrow a phrase from public radio, won't you join me?

(Note: the show starts a bit earlier than most -- 7:30. Just warnin' ya!)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Conversation

I’ve started to wonder whether the utility of blogs has been overcome by the ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. They’re starting to seem almost quaint in this change-a-minute culture.

But one thing I continue to enjoy in the blogosphere is the second-hand kind of conversation that can go on between people on different sites who are interested in the same topics. I was happy to see Mr. Miller from Barksdale / Theatre IV chime in on the Barksdale blog about the Richmond Cultural Census. As always, Bruce writes eloquently, succinctly, and with incredible insight. And what I most appreciate about Bruce is that he saw the opportunity encapsulated in the survey, regardless of its flaws. As I said a couple of posts ago, “I think [the Census] can be used to help organize thinking about bolstering local theater.” It seems to me that Bruce has done exactly that, establishing a play-reading series, looking at possible educational opportunities and introducing an “Entertainment Stimulus Package.” I can only hope others follow Bruce’s lead in exploring new opportunities pointed to by the survey.

I wanted to also continue the conversation on a couple of the points Bruce brings up. I wasn’t aware that other arts organizations had distributed the survey to their supporters. That fact does indeed throw a different light on the self-selection aspect of the survey. To me, self-selection by itself is not enough of a reason to disqualify results, everything else being equal (that is, self-selection doesn’t necessarily conflate with a preference for one art form over another). However, the situation Bruce describes does seem like it would result in an under-representation of people with an abiding interest in theater.

I understand Bruce’s point about ticket sales. However, while it’s impressive that "theatre outsold all other performing arts disciplines—combined,” there are issues involved with success in the arts that have little or nothing to do with ticket sales – the income from which sometimes only represents 50% or less of an arts organizations funding from what I understand. My point about comparative perceived vitality was that regardless of whether people attend an arts event – any event, including gallery openings which are usually free – it seemed to me that the survey was saying that people perceived theater as less vital to the community than other art forms.

There are a couple of anecdotal situations that I think back this up, both positively and negatively. (The following are based almost entirely on my impressions so feel free to dispute them if you wish.) When TheatreVirginia died, the overwhelming majority of Richmonders did not know what that meant to the local community. Frankly, I’m involved in the community and I didn’t fully grasp the significance. However, if the Virginia Museum was on the verge of collapse or Richmond Ballet, it is my impression that there would be an outcry across the general population as well as from highly-committed entrenched communities of supporters.

On the positive side, my impression (based on living on northside for many years) is that one of the reasons that Chamberlayne Actors Theatre continues to plug along despite a lack of regular or widespread media coverage (mea culpa) is that it has a small legion of supporters who have come to perceive CAT as singular in importance for the health and prestige of the northside community. It is this kind of commitment and perception of “vital need” that I’d love to see across the Richmond community as whole related to theater as a whole.

Here’s just one example of what I think would be emblematic of this kind of commitment. Media wonks talk about “appointment television” – that is, shows that have such a committed following that people carve out a place in their schedule every week for this show. For a huge number of Richmonders, “The Nutcracker” is “appointment dance,” that is, they go to it every year almost without fail.

The only thing that I think comes close in the local theater world is Theatre IV’s Christmas show. I regularly speak to people who have gone and continue to go to Theatre IV’s Christmas show – regardless of what it is – every year. Swift Creek Mill’s annual “Drifty” show is similar. It may be an impossible dream, but wouldn’t it be great if more Richmonders considered more local productions as “must see” entertainment?

Finally, no disrespect to Jon Jory (or Bruce or Rick St. Peter) but the quote that “no theater that’s ever existed has attracted more than 2% of its potential audience” doesn't impress me. It may be true (it does, however, make me wonder about the theater of the ancient Greeks) but it seems like a defeatist statement of the highest order. One of my favorite quotes from Richard Bach’s “Illusions” (a book I reread every 3-4 years) is “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.” If 2% is the paradigm, how do we break out of it?

The urge to “put on a show” is one of the most basic and elemental creative urges of humanity. It seems to me that there should be ways to capitalize on that to make theater much more popular than it is. In my mind, the potential has barely begun to be tapped.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Throw

Seeing a uniquely talented actor like Scott Wichmann perform the near-entirety of “It’s a Wonderful Life” would be a theatrical value in itself. But as my critical colleagues have pointed out in their reviews, the real “value-add” with “This Wonderful Life” at the Barksdale is that the structure of the show includes commentary on the movie, thereby allowing not only re-enactment but celebration and just a little bit of sarcasm at the expense of the holiday classic. Some of the biggest laughs in the show come from these meta-moments, such as Scott’s non-explanation of “run on the bank” and I particularly enjoyed the wry asides about bottles marked “Poison” and bank inspectors visiting on Christmas Eve.

Not only does Scottie totally inhabit a great array of characters – what an awesome Jimmy Stewart! – but his significant technical skill enhances other aspects of the show, like his switching into “fast forward” – a particular favorite of my daughter. Mr. Wichmann never fails to impress, no matter what character he is portraying, but the specific physicality he brings to his one-man shows always strikes me.

One small moment in the show is when George and Mary throw rocks at the old house that would eventually become their house. The movement of “throwing like a girl” is fairly cliché and as such is easy to overdo, but Scott captures the femininity of Mary’s throw without exaggerating it. It’s similar to a clumsy versus a careful portrayal of a gay male character: almost any hack can do an extravagantly fey queen, but creating a real person who may just have a hint of swish is hard. Mary’s throw comes and goes in an instant but it’s emblematic of what an incredible job Scott does with this show.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Sorry to be so quiet here on the blog but I'm recovering from the semester at grad school by writing as little as possible and reading for pleasure -- instead of fact extraction -- for a change. It's been nice.

I saw Scottie do his amazing thing at the Barksdale on Sunday, which I'll talk about more after maybe one more day off of any serious writing. In the meantime, here's a couple of links: one to Mary B's review of "Best Christmas Pageant Ever" where she echoes the T-D's Ms. H somewhat in talking about the play's moral disconnect (I'll have to write a little something about that here someday soon) and another to Ms. H's very laudatory review of "A Christmas Carol for Two Actors" that Richmond Shakespeare is doing. I may just need to get me a dose of Scrooge this coming weekend...

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Saturday morning was rife with all sorts of news, none of it particularly cheery. First off was hearing of the passing of “Hutch” Hutchinson, one of those legends of local theater. His obituary was in Saturday’s paper with a nice memorial slideshow available online. I only met Hutch a few times and can only remember seeing him on stage once – his Experiential Company folded not long after I started writing reviews – but he was very cordial to me and seemed extremely committed to doing good theater. He was responsible for a production that has taken on somewhat legendary status in my memory, Experiential’s production of “The Seagull” with a luminous Erin Thomas and the sizzling Justin Dray. While he hadn’t made an appearance on stage in a while, he had a significant impact on local theater and he will be missed.

I also called about tickets for the Holiday Cabaret on Sunday at the Barksdale and found out that it had been canceled, a deep personal disappointment since tonight was going to be the only night I could see it. It seemed sickness as well as a sag in ticket sales scuttled the show for tonight, an unfortunate thing for all involved.

I noted also the announcement that Barksdale and Theatre IV were going to cut ticket prices. While this is troubling as another indication of the economic turmoil the country is in, there is an aspect of hope in this move. It would be my hope that more people will go to theater due to the lower ticket prices and that perhaps this will grow the audience base. A boy can hope.

So Saturday started the weekend out a little rocky. But I’m feeling better (if a little melancholy) about today. I had a nice time hanging out with old friends last night. It was great to see a big piece on Firehouse’s “Scientology” show in the paper today. And I’m heading off to “This Wonderful Life” in a couple of hours, looking for an infusion of holiday cheer.

I hope you are having a fine weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing – and that you find time to sneak out to a show!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sweet on Sanders

John P's audio review of "Sanders Family Christmas" is out on the WCVE website now and, for those with an aversion to streaming audio, Bruce has transcribed the review on the Barksdale blog. Still waiting for the "Best Christmas Pageant" review to show up on the T-D site...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Some reactions

My first reaction in my perusal of the Cultural Census was to think about the many things Richmond theater is doing right. One of the main ones is increasing participatory opportunities via programs like the Barksdale’s Coffee and Conversations series or the Acts of Faith talk-backs. I also think the theater community does a decent job of marketing itself within the community itself via Robyn O’Neill’s email list, Facebook, etc.

I also understand people’s reactions to the self-selection aspect of the survey and that any set of survey results can be used or skewed in different ways. But in the world of surveying, this number of respondents is pretty significant, regardless of where they come from. And while this kind of sampling may be less useful in gauging overall sentiment, there still is highly useful analysis that can be done in comparative analysis (theater vs. dance vs. museums, etc.). And from what I hear, there is so little comprehensive information-gathering done on the arts here that this information is going to be latched on to by many folks like a dog grabs a bone.

Finally, the surveying was done by a California firm that does this kind of thing for other cities and, from what I can tell, it has no vested interest in the results showing one thing or another. So when they make a point of saying “results point to a deficit of theatrical activity in Richmond” or that they have seen figures in other areas related to “vitality” that are more than 3 times higher than Richmond’s, I am more likely to take that information at face value than if it was a survey done by the Richmond Chamber, for instance.

Here are some of my concerns:

It is easy to pooh-pooh the less than 10% “vital activity” number for live theater. But what concerns me is that when you look at the detail breakdown (pg. 37), the number isn’t just “less than 10%” – the highest percentage for any theater related activity is just 7% and it goes down from there.

What really surprised me was then comparing that number to the “visiting art museums or galleries” number, which is 14%. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some galleries and museums – but in my mind there is no comparison in terms of the importance to the community. That the “vitality” percentage would be TWICE as high as the highest theater number is just shocking to me.

Also telling is that the attendance figures (pg. 14) between museums, galleries and performing arts venues were all nearly the same and yet there is still this discrepancy in the perceived “vitality.” So it seems to me this is saying that even if people attend theater as often as other arts activities, they don’t perceive it as vital to the community.

Finally, I think it is easy to get defensive on behalf of Richmond theater based on the findings of this report. I remember the many defensive reactions I heard earlier this year when Mary B and I did our “Arts Report Cards” on theater for Style. As understandable as that reaction may be, in this case, it serves no purpose. The survey, after all, isn’t going to try to defend itself; it is what it is.

While I don’t expect anyone to run around like Chicken Little saying that the sky is falling, what I would love to see is people in the theater community take these results to heart and try to tackle the problems they point to. How can we make Richmonders care more about theater? How can we raise the level of investment – emotional as well as financial – in theater? How can Richmond theater reach out to new audiences? What innovative methods can be employed to raise the profile of theater in town?

Even if the Cultural Census is misrepresentative in some ways – and I don’t think it is to any significant extent – I think it can be used to help organize thinking about bolstering local theater, which would be a good thing for all of us.

Other people's links

I read this review last night about two stage-to-screen adaptations that were just released. Tricky thing, going from live to the big screen. Makes me all the more grateful for the kick-ass production of "Doubt" we Richmonders were treated to last season.

Ms. Tupponce's review of "Wonderful Life" is out and she liked it too. I think we're reaching consensus on this one.

The wonderful Ms. Jones sent me a link to a Sean Pratt posting that talks up the value of critics. So I guess I'm not the only voice crying in the wilderness!

Finally, Mr. Jones has a new website out there. Read and enjoy and build up your anticipation for his Charles Darwin play that will premiere at the Science Museum in the spring!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Must Read

A review of “Inspecting Carol” showed up on the T-D website yesterday and the review of “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is in today’s paper. Which is all great.

But right now I’m more transfixed by something else I’m reading. A comprehensive survey of Richmond arts patrons was done earlier this year and the results have been published by the firm Wolf Brown as the Richmond Cultural Census and are available online.

Not to be too overbearing about this but every arts professional in town should read this report. Of particular interest are the sections on live theater – and the news is NOT good. Here are two significant quotes from the report:

“Attending live stage plays or musical theatre productions was cited as “a vital activity” by less than 10% of all respondents and another 44% said that they ‘enjoy it occasionally’, a significantly lower proportion than expected based on previous cultural census studies in other cities.”

“The real story here, however, is the low percentage of respondents who cite going to stage plays and musicals as vital activities. In other areas, we have seen these figures as high as 20% to 25% 'vital activity.'"

I have to let this sink in a little bit since it contradicts many of my suppositions about theater in Richmond. I’ll probably have more cogent responses in a couple of days as these facts and figures rattle around my brain (and as I finally put to bed my graduate school paper). In the meantime, I’d be interested in what you all think out there in the blog-o-sphere.

Monday, December 08, 2008

You read it here first

Capitalizing on that whole Internet thing, Style has posted my review of "Inspecting Carol" and Mary B's take on "This Wonderful Life" online. I am particularly happy about this because, as far as I know, Ms. Haubenstock's review of "Carol" has not appeared yet so this should help dispel those vicious rumors that I simply copy and paste her reviews and change the adjectives for mine.

How DO these people do it?

My daughter’s rescheduled basketball game thwarted some of my theater viewing plans for the weekend so I don’t have a whole bevy of theater raves to report today. Perhaps the same thing happened to the Times-Dispatch, which I don’t believe published a single theater review this past weekend. At least, not one that I could find.

I did of course make it to opening night for “Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” which was great fun as usual. I was very proud of the T-lines in the cast, of course, and thought the whole production went off quite well. My favorite scene in the play is the short interlude that is just the Herdman kids talking about the Pageant. The young actors that make up the family have a great chemistry; it made me wish there were more scenes with just the 6 of them.

I had a great conversation with Andrew Boothby after the show about the various and sundry actors who have played Mr. and Mrs. Bradley over the years; made me think there should be a dueling Bradleys contest at some point.

Also, the young singers who solo for the Christmas carols in the production are quite amazing. Even when they’re exceptional singers, you don’t expect young teens and tweens to come off so flawlessly. Also, Jaime Kotula made for quite a cute manger animal (ß mention included by request. Yes, I can be bought…)

In other news, my attention was recently drawn to the upcoming staged reading of Midsummer Night’s Dream that Richmond Shakespeare is doing next Monday. It’s got a blockbuster cast and will also feature music by Andrew Hamm and (sigh) Liz Blake. I didn’t realize that Scott Wichmann is included in the cast, which is a bit amazing to me given his current one-man run with Barksdale’s “Wonderful Life” and the fact that he’s doing a reading of “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge” sometime in the next couple of weeks as well. How does that fella keep so many words straight in his head?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Carol, Pageant, Blind Date, Sanders, etc. etc.

So I am now officially overwhelmed by all of the holiday-related shows out there. I'm realizing that this is the last weekend I can catch "Widow's Blind Date" at the Firehouse and there's no matinee of "Sanders Family Christmas" this weekend so I'm feeling the squeeze of too many shows to see and not enough nights. It's an embarrassment of riches!

Though suffering from near-debilitating lack of sleep last night, I enjoyed opening night of "Inspecting Carol" at Sycamore Rouge last night. More on that next week. I had the good fortune to sit with Ms. Haubenstock from the T-D which was fun for me -- it's not often that we critics get a chance to just hang out socially. Unlike what some might think, we don't spend our weekends together in bars trying to top each other with the most creative or cutting critique of other bar patrons. Sorry to disappoint.

Hope to see some of you at the opening of “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” tonight. Those wacky Herdmans!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Robin's back!

As usual, the line-up for the Barksdale Cabaret starting Sunday the 14th is full of knock-out performers. But I just noticed today that Robin Harris-Jones is scheduled to appear. How cool! Welcome back, Robin!

Read this little item in an interview of Meryl Streep that I thought y'all'd be interested in: "Acting is very satisfying if you can manage to not have your feelings hurt when they don't like you. I haven't really had any breakthroughs in that area. It still hurts my feelings." Wow.

I'm looking forward to "Inspecting Carol" at Sycamore Rouge tonight. And mad amounts of theater this weekend -- woo hoo!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Holiday Round-up

I had forgotten about this piece: here's a round-up of holiday-oriented shows that I wrote up a while back. I did not, however, include the "Miracle on 34th Street" Radio Play -- but you can read about that in the comment for the post below.

Want to weigh in on your favorite show of the 2008 holidays? Feel free -- 'tis the season, after all!

Tech Week

It’s tech week for “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” meaning that there is a patina of outright insanity spread thinly over the usual craziness of the T-line household. That, plus recovering from Thanksgiving, getting ready for the holidays, and battling an incipient case of insomnia has kept me off the blogger these days. If nothing else, when I completely crack up, I’ll be sure and post here to that effect.

The good thing about others running about being in shows is that I might get to sneak out to see a couple. It seems that Scott Wichmann has hit another one out of the park, at least that is certainly Ms. Lewis’s opinion as per her review of “This Wonderful Life” at the Barksdale, so I’ll probably slip over there this weekend to check it out. And “Inspecting Carol” opens this weekend at Sycamore Rouge. It’s an intriguing sounding show and I’m really hoping to get down there to see how it works on stage. And the family-friendly “Sanders Family” out at the Tavern will have to be seen as well.

Congrats are in order for the recently engaged Ms. Steinberg and much thanks to the Marks / Honaker team for producing a singularly hilarious cooking video. I apologize in advance for any deliriousness that appears in this space in the next several days. I’m not in full control of my faculties.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting. Thanks for the complements and thanks for the challenges. Thanks for making theater in Richmond such a vital, evolving, distracting, complicated, entertaining, uplifting, confounding, ever-changing, and fascinating subject to blog about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Leonard Lopate

So the trip up I-95 is pretty odious the day before Thanksgiving but two things made it bearable today. One was the fact that traffic was really only truly horrible right outside Richmond and briefly around Fredericksburg. I made the normally 2 hour trip in about 3 hours. Not bad considering that a 5-6 hour trip has not been out of the question in the past.

The other thing was my lovely XM (and now Sirius as well I guess) radio. During part of the ride, I listened to this fascinating interview about regional theater featuring, among others, Paula Vogel. Of course, I'm biased here because there's a nice little bit in the middle about critics. But for all of the conversation, there are a lot of issues not really delved into, several of which Mike Daisey talks about in his response to the show.

I'm in holiday mode so I won't take the time to argue any of these points right now. Mostly, it's just a bit invigorating to hear theater talked about by intelligent grown-ups like it really matters. It's enough to give me hope.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


In his latest post over at the Barksdale Blog, Mr. Miller makes an interesting point about the economic impact of a good review in the Times-Dispatch. It’s something I’ve heard before though I’ve never seen it laid out in such specific dollar amount terms.

Given the impact a critic can have, you might expect that they get delusions of grandeur or somehow take advantage of their position. My perspective – which is unquestionably biased – based on my interaction with critics in general, and Ms. Haubenstock specifically, is that they take their responsibility very seriously and tend to be as generous in their opinion as possible while remaining honest. I think Richmond theater is well-served by Susan’s even-handed point of view, her modest disposition and her manifest love of theater.

What is a bit surprising to me is that in some quarters critics are still viewed as some kind of pariah – or at best maybe a necessary evil. I’ve personally received at least two screeds in the past several months that put forth that perspective and I’ve heard interviews with a couple playwrights (Bill Davis and none other than Edward Albee) that seemed to tow that line. There are certainly critics whose style or perspective consistently annoys me (ex.: initials of D.N.), but I’ve never questioned their utility, or in fact, their necessity. One of the reasons sites like are so popular is that people want to know what they’re spending their money on. People check Consumer Reports when they’re buying a toaster; you don’t think they want some insight before plunking down $30 for a show?

One of my detractors most eloquently stated recently, “what critics do is fart after eating a meal prepared by someone else.” Maybe it’s just gas, but clearly some folks value what we say (or at least what Susan says!).

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Deb Doubleheader

Both of my theatrical journeys this past weekend had more to do with my children than me. I took in SPARC’s “Really Rosie” playing at ComedySportz’s place and “Grease” at the Jewish Community Center, both of which closed this weekend. As it turns out, both were directed by Debra Clinton also so it was a testament to her talent that they both were impressive examples of what can be done with young actors. “Rosie” featured 7-10 year olds and they were pretty awesome.

What was particularly surprising was how much choreography they could absorb and perform (mostly) without a hitch. I get the sense that on some level, songs are easier to learn, there’s melody and meter and repetition to help you remember. But combining that with movement can be a challenge and Deb certainly kept these guys moving. If I had come to the show with expectations of a glorified school play, that choreography, its execution and the excellent work with the score done by musical director Jason Marks certainly blew those expectations away.

I only got to see probably the last 1/3 of “Grease” but my daughter and son report that the whole thing was excellent. Again, the choreography here was what grabbed my attention. It was a large cast and for them to all move with conviction and purpose through some pretty involved numbers was (again) impressive. In the scenes I saw, two actors I was not familiar with stuck out as rising star material: Daniel Pippert as Kenickie and Allison Gilman as Frenchy.

The production also benefited from two vets from professional productions: Eric Pastore (Roger) and Michael Thibodeau (Doody). And even though the cast was pretty uniformly good, the pros still stuck out for one main reason (IMHO): they remained engaged on stage at all times. Regardless of where they were or what else was happening, they were in the scene and focused.

Great work, Ms. Clinton. I think I might have to make a point to come see the next JCC production, “The Chosen,” which was one of my favorite books in high school.

For those who were checking out the pro theater this past weekend, the T-D’s featured Susan’s reviews of “Bite Me!” and “Sanders Family Christmas.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Without Delay

My forward-thinking editor at Style informed me on Friday that the general policy is going to be to make theater reviews available online as soon as they have been editted so folks don't have to wait until a Wednesday or two after a show opens to get Mary or my take on things. As such, you can now check out my review of "Bite Me!" and Mary's recap of "The Widow's Blind Date" at the Style website right at this very minute. And of course I strongly encourage you to do so!

Friday, November 21, 2008


I thought I was checking the WCVE site often enough but I missed the latest stories on "tick,tick.." "Shadow Play" and "Skin of our Teeth," the last of these includes interview with Joe Inscoe and audio from the show. Way cool!

Opening and Closing

So “Sanders Family Christmas” is opening tonight and I guess “A Tuna Christmas” is officially opening, not to mention “Bite Me!” continuing, which makes for a busy weekend on the local boards.

But just so people don’t forget other things they might have missed, the T-D has a piece on “Shadow Play” which wraps up at Theatre VCU and the final shows of “tick, tick…Boom!” are also this weekend.

I didn’t really get a chance to ramble about “Boom!” in part because there was little I could say beyond continuing to heap praise upon the production. Particularly with the perspective that this is the first fully produced show Stage 1 has put on, it’s quite an achievement. The technical reality of the theater space is a little breathtaking – the tiered seating, the rotating lighting instruments, the high-quality sound production. How many years was it before most local start-up companies get these kinds of things? Well, some still aren’t there.

But then there are the performances, which are exceptional. Durron did not get enough praise in the reviews because of the supporting nature of his character but his voice, his energy, and his organic portrayal of a marketing guy who has compromised but still has a soul is key to the show’s success. Audra – well, what more can I say? She is striking as a blonde – the shininess of the wig notwithstanding – and the speed with which she moves into her marketing maven and New Yawk agent personas remarkable, beyond the fact that she nails each of her characters. And I’ve had two women talk to me about how she looks in her black dress so I feel fairly secure in knowing that my reaction wasn’t simply a sexist one (BTW: looking for some male eye-candy – go see Elliot Lau in “Bite Me!”)

I’d say Brett continues to mature with his role as Jon but I frankly think one of his most mature performances was in “The Drawer Boy” three years ago. So I wasn’t at all surprised to see him manage the awkward narrate-as-you-act structure of the show with aplomb. As I think I’ve said before about him, he projects a very winning personality without seeming to try. I start to wonder whether he’d be awesome playing against type as a cold-hearted villain sometime.

As great as the production was, I didn’t gain any great love for the show itself. It’s a little “navel-gazey” with the subsidiary characters (both which are pretty intriguing in their own right) getting a bit of a short shrift in favor of the young man struggling to follow his dream. I didn’t understand the essential idea of “30/90” at first (he’s 30, it’s 1990, duh), “Green Green Dress” is clearly filler and I think “Come to Your Senses” is a bit of an awkward song that doesn’t pay off in the way that it’s supposed to (IMHO). I ended up feeling that if only you could plug “Seasons of Love” in at that point, just how powerful the show would be.

Still, it’s an impressive production and if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


One of my favorite things in last night's "Bite Me!" that Richmond Triangle Players is staging at the Gay Community Center was the costarring turn by Margie Mills. The last show she appeared in was Richmond Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and I kept thinking what a great mash-up these two productions would be. One's got a ghost, the other's got vampires, both have got a lotta killing -- fun for the whole family!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Famous People

For those of you who missed it, James (A.) Bond who has directed many a local Shakespearean show, delivered the top 10 list on Monday. Check it out on YouTube.

Also, add another theater-oriented rambler to the blog roll. The lovely Ms. Honaker has joined the ranks. I sense a bit of Donald Barthelme about the lovely Ms. H and look forward to more slices of life from her unique perspective.


I recently talked to Frank Rich as part of doing a story for Style. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some pretty interesting people as part of my Style gig, most of them very cool local folks, and some with a bit of national recognition like James Naughton, John Patrick Shanley, Israel Horovitz and Tamara Tunie. One of my first phone interviews ever was with Petula Clark and I made a bit of a botch of it. I talked to comedian/actor Stephen Wright once: worst interview ever. Dry monotonic wit: pretty fun. Take out the wit: not so fun.

While I have interviewed people I admired and people who I thought were wonderfully talented, I would have to say that Rich was the first “hero” of mine that I’ve talked to. And the interview was great, for one principle reason: it was an actual conversation. He really listened to my questions and gave well-considered answers. A couple of times, he asked me some questions and actually listened to my answers. His sometimes arch writing style does not translate into an overly wry or sarcastic interpersonal style. He is smart and engaged and tremendously human. He seems like the kind of guy who I would love to chat with over a beer or a glass of wine.

Interviewing Rich made me reflect on the past year. I can think of at least a couple interviews where it was hard for me to get a word in edgewise, where the subject of the interview seemed to view me simply as their mouthpiece, a vessel for getting the word about them (and everything they were doing) out to the wider world. I also had probably the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had, chatting with the delightfully humorous and inquisitive Michael Clem from “Eddie from Ohio.” What’s clear is that the quality of the interview has nothing to do with whether the interviewee is a nationally known big name “star” or the proverbial big fish in a small pond.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hot Tuna

So "A Tuna Christmas" DID open last weekend at the Mill and my confusion deepens. So it goes.

Here's Ms. H's review. I'm wondering who the dressers are. I remember Bruce giving a special shout-out on the Barksdale Blog to the dressers of "Greater Tuna" when it was out at the Tavern. Not to minimize the stars but it sounds like the dressers are key components behind this show working well or not.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Flying Blind

I’ve been out of town so I’m somewhat out of touch (more so than usual) but I did find Ms. H’s review of “Widow’s Blind Date.” Susan’s review peaks my interest in many ways, among the least relevant being, does Ed Slipek list himself as “Eddie” in the program? I’ve known Ed for years and never thought of him as “Eddie.” Is that his “street” name? “Blind Date” sounds intense so I feel I need to check it out somehow; the last time I missed an intense production at Firehouse it was “The Late Henry Moss,” something I rue to this day.

And maybe I’m just getting older and more confused (in addition to out of touch) but wasn’t “Tuna Christmas” supposed to open this weekend at the Mill? Did it? The opening date was announced as Nov. 13, which I expect meant there were previews last Thursday and Friday since they usually open shows on Saturdays. But then the Sunday T-D listed opening night as this weekend. I don’t know – either the Mill’s scheduling is confusing or I’m slowly sliding into the realm of needing someone to explain how to use the touch-screen voting machines…

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One small thing

Here's the link to the online review of Stage 1's "tick, tick...Boom!"

Just one small thing: my original version used the word "ingénue" not "youth" to describe the kinds of roles young actors often play. I think "youth" is not quite as accurate but maybe "ingénue" is a term less understood for the public at large, maybe? I think the change is a bit unfortunate: I really like the image of an "ingénue ghetto."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This just in

As you may have noticed, there wasn’t room in this week’s Style for a review of Stage 1’s “tick, tick…Boom!” To be honest, this wasn’t a totally bad thing because it allowed my thoughts about the production to simmer for a couple of days. In the meantime, Susan H and Joan T have weighed in, doing a fine job recapping this exciting production.

However, I just heard from my lovely editor at Style who is going to run my review online since it won’t show up in print until the Wed. before the last weekend of the run. I’ll be sure and post a link as soon as there is one.

I’ll write out some additional thoughts about the production soon but for now I will say this: I had a great time at the post-show reception. I’m not usually very comfortable at those kinds of things. But the intimate space of Stage1/Shuffles – plus the warm and welcoming presence of Joe Thibodeau behind the bar – made it feel homey. Oh, and I’ll say something else: Chase and Peggy have done an incredible job getting their company off to a great start. I was amazed at the performance space, particularly given that it was just a big room a few months ago. Seats on risers! Rotating lighting instruments! Wow!

So just as I’m starting to catch up a little with what’s going on in town, a whole bevy of plays opens and I’m way behind again. Tomorrow, there’s “Widow’s Blind Date” at Firehouse and then the Mill’s “Tuna Christmas” this weekend. Oy – there are simply not enough days in the week!

I went to Frank Rich’s talk on Monday and it was OK. He had many insightful perspectives but much of the material he covered in his talk didn’t necessarily seem new. The one thing I thought was most interesting was his tracing of the blurring between news and entertainment back to the miniseries “Roots,” which was fictionalized history that many people took for straight fact. I guess I was spoiled too because I had already interviewed him about his talk so I had heard a lot of the material directly from him already. (I’ve got a post rumbling around in my head regarding my interview with him – maybe later this week.)

I think he’s an awesome writer but not necessarily the most scintillating speaker. It made me wonder what people who consider me a decent writer would think of me as a public speaker. Hmmm… One thing I’d do is bring in more media – one older white guy alone on a stage just isn’t a striking visual. I wouldn’t go the PowerPoint route but still some slides woulda been nice. I don’t think I have to worry too much about this though as U of R isn’t beating down my door to get me to speak to 100s of people.

Oh, and I almost forgot: be sure and check out Mary B’s piece on the “Byrd Park Football League” that did make it into print today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


What was clear with Theatre VCU’s “Shadowplay” was that it was still a work in progress. In his curtain speech, David Leong essentially said as much. And as the evening unfolded, there were several moments that did not quite pop. However, the raw material is there for something pretty awesome.

As it turned out, the one scene in the production that I had seen during rehearsal was my favorite part of the show. The interaction between the “artist” and a large square that splits into multiple shapes and then reconfigures into different images was funny and clever and, particularly when the dancing started, very lively. My only complaint would be that it comes and goes too quickly.

Beyond that, I enjoyed moments where light and action were able to escape the screen at the back of the stage. One light on a long cable that gets used to project shadows was cool. As for onscreen action, the 3-D animation was pretty groovy.

Two long sections got on my nerves. First, a magician / audience interaction bit needs a pacing uptick and some focus to make it work. And even then, I was not 100% sure what the big trick was. The student handling the scene had a winning enough personality but to go on as long as it did, it would be nice to have a true showman and accomplished magician to engage the crowd (sorry, I don’t have the program or I’d mention names). Then, the life story of the guy & girl done in shadows was fine – and some of the animation interesting – but it seemed to go on and on. Compare that with the “Top Secret” adventure which also went on for a long time but had energy and action to keep you engaged.

The show seems like it could be a technician’s nightmare – a lot of coordination needed between light, music, projections and actors on either side of the big screen. There was a lot of dazzle but sometimes the timing was off just a beat, drawing attention to the underlying technical components and distracting from organic story that was unfolding.

Theatre VCU should be applauded for taking on something so ambitious and the show is worth seeing to appreciate the wacky things that can be done with light. And, considering it in a bigger picture context, Shadowplay is the kind of multimedia experience that could bring all sorts of different people into the theater. And that’s a good thing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Missed it

Somehow, I missed Ms. H's review of "tick...tick...Boom!" in the Sunday paper. Here's a link in case you missed it too!

And in the "better late than never" department, I missed Mr. Porter's review of "The Nerd" on the radio. It's hard to keep up with it all.

Other people’s words

I’m always kinda on the lookout for new places to look for news and commentary about theater. I recently happened upon The Stranger, an alt publication out of Seattle, and found a few somewhat audacious pieces on theater. First, there’s this overview of recent openings in the area that starts out with the assertion that 2006 was the year the American musical cracked open. Hmmm.

More eyebrow-raising is this “10 things theaters needs to do right now” piece that starts out with “Enough with the goddamned Shakespeare already.” My!

On the other side of the journalistic world, I picked up a Wall Street Journal last week (I hear there’s some financial turmoil or something going on) and found this interesting perspective on why there aren’t any conservative plays.

For an art form people seem to keep wanting to declare dead, theater still gets a fair amount of press.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


"Bad times, sad times
Now they're all yesterday's news
Since Annie kicked out the blues."

Many people have said many nice things to me since I started doing this blog. And some people, well, haven’t. In fact, a recent detractor wrote an extended criticism of my writing that included this wonderful bon mot (among others): “I find your blogs, your reviews and your articles no less ostentatious, egocentric and overblown than you find my work. I just don't have the public forum to say so and so your pride in your work (if you have any) can avoid being dented.”

The ironic thing is that in the weeks following the RTCC awards, I was seriously considering stopping the whole blog thing. My life is crazy busy enough, nobody pays me to do the damn thing and I wonder whether anyone really gives a shit what I have to say. I mean, really, why should they? The statement above was just one small piece of a long rant that was just about the last nail in the coffin.

But two things happened in the last week. One was that Derome Scott Smith used this blog to update everyone on his condition. I was relieved to hear of his improvement. But I was also glad to know that some people who had been concerned and didn’t really know where to go for more info were able to be reassured that he was recovering.

The other thing is I met an actual “fan.” I know there are at least a few “readers” out there who swing by here at least occasionally. But Annie Steingold professes to be an actual “fan” – a devotee, I guess, of my online ramblings. Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those before. She even says her sister is one as well. A pair of fans! This is even more peculiar to me given that they have their own quite hilarious blog and I, who can’t turn a funny phrase with a screwdriver, am a bit of a fan of theirs.

The situation with Derome made me realize that, regardless of my opinions and notwithstanding those who consider me a pompous ass for even supposing to have anything worth saying, this blog provides a service, a place for a smallish community of people to check in or ramble on as they see fit – or not. And so, fresh from Annie’s boost of my ego, I’ll keep throwing stuff out there for your perusal. I’ll work on keeping it from being too ostentatious, egocentric (oops!) and overblown, but I can’t make any promises.

I’ve got "Shadowplay" and "tick…tick…Boom!" to write about and I'll get to them ASAP. But I promised my fan a shout out first, so here it is, Annie. Nice meeting you and keep up the good work!

Friday, November 07, 2008


I am really looking forward to this weekend; anything that gets me away from my toxic workplace is extremely welcome (clarification for those who don’t know: Style is not my full-time gig and I never actually go into the offices there).

But there’s more to it than that. Earlier this week I was perusing the last New Yorker and feeling pangs of regret. There are so many intriguing productions opening or in previews. Sondheim’s “Road Show,” directed by John Doyle, is at the top of the list of my list of eagerly anticipated productions. Whether good or bad, it’s sure to be intriguing. But you also have Mamet’s “American Buffalo” with a somewhat zany cast of Cedric the Entertainer, Haley Joel Osment, and John Leguizamo. Peter Brook is directing “The Grand Inquisitor” and Ken Russell is making his Broadway debut directing “Mindgame” (with Keith Caradine, by the way). Campbell Scott is in “The Atheist” and Jeremy Piven is in “Speed The Plow.” And this list doesn’t even include relative long-runners I still haven’t seen (“South Pacific”) or relative new-comers that sound incredible (“Blasted,” “A Body of Water” with Christine Lahti!)

If I was in NYC right now, my head would be spinning just to figure out which of a dozen choices I should check out. But you know, “Billy Elliot”’s fight director is David Leong and I’m going to see “Shadowplay” tonight – a world premiere of a marvelous looking show – that he co-directed. And tomorrow I’m going to “tick…tick…Boom!” a local premiere by a brand spanking new theater company. And on Monday, I’m going to hear Frank Rich, cultural critic extraordinaire, speak at U of R.

So this weekend should be a nice wake-up call to remind me that Richmond ain’t exactly a cultural backwater. In fact, throw in “First Friday” tonight and it seems like we’re a pretty darn hopping town. So waiting on New York for some other weekend doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all. And my head spins enough during the week here; why should I want it to spin on the weekend too?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

From Derome Scott Smith

Derome posted this as a comment below but I wanted to bring it up to the main page:

"Hello everyone. As many of you know 2 weeks ago I suffered a stroke. Even now my wife is able to type this as I dictate to her. The good thing I only had a small stroke and I am expected to have a full recovery. Thank you for your support and your prayers. I have about 6 weeks of speech and OT (for fine motor skills).

Your support and continued help will help my family to get through this difficult time. You can send mail to 1918 Princess Anne Avenue Richmond, VA 23223 and email me at Currently the rest of the season is on for the exception of Fences. I'd like to thank my AART family for their support."

It's great to hear from you, Derome. I have received many inquiries as to your health and I am relieved and gratified to hear that you are recovering. Godspeed in your continuing improvement.


Today is all about heroes to me. I am still a little dazed and relieved about last night and the election of someone who is destined to be a hero to a generation of young people.

I also have to say that, with his gracious and coherent concession speech, the war hero John McCain restored much of the respect I had lost for him during the course of his rather reckless campaign.

Todays' Style has my interview with Frank Rich, certainly one of my heroes and someone whose intelligence and insight I have always respected. My delightful talk with him only reinforced my mad geek love for him.

You'll also find Mary B's story on Chase Kniffen and Stage 1 in this week's issue. Chase certainly has the drive and potential to be a local hero.

Finally, the arts lede in the issue is about VCU's "Shadowplay" that opens this weekend. There's no hero angle here really but if you want to see an amazing show, I'd suggest checking it out when you get a chance over the next few weeks.

(Note: Style's changed it's website so I'm not 100% sure that these links will work. I hope so!)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Vote (for Obama)

I don’t generally get into politics in this space. But tomorrow is the vote and everyone and their mother has weighed in, so I’ll put my two cents out there. Take it or leave it.

In general, I’m one of those voters who isn’t 100% happy with any candidate. I am mostly fiscally conservative and very socially liberal. I had a lot of respect for John McCain when he ran in 2000; I really believed he was a maverick then who might transcend the modus operandi of a typical politician. I don’t have that respect for him now.

There are scads of rumors about both candidates flying around and labels used by the campaigns without any analysis of what they even mean. But I don’t need to look at anything more than the way each man has run his campaign to make a decision. McCain has run an inept, cynical, and fear-mongoring campaign, exemplified by the pick of Sarah Palin. If the same kind of decision-making that went into choosing her as a running mate ends up determining the fate of this country, well, then God help us.

Obama, on the other hand, has built an incredible organization that is active and engaged and his message (though polluted with plenty of negativism particularly in these final weeks) has generally been one of hope, perseverance, and change. Even after all these weeks, I have no idea what McCain’s vision of America is. What I fear is that after 8 years of being led by an ideologically-bound, barely-literate cowboy, we’re facing the prospect of being led by my cranky, mean-spirited grandpa for 4 years.

I also don’t know how any fiscal conservative can look at the country’s finances during the 6 years the Republicans controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government and state with a straight face that another Republican administration is going to mean a leaner, more fiscally-responsible government.

Finally, since this is a blog about the arts, I would refer to this piece in the LA Times about each candidate’s views on arts funding. Personally, I have about two dozen reasons for supporting Obama, but for an arts professional, I don’t think you need much more than this to determine your vote.

You may not give a rip about my opinion and that’s fine. You can post all of the flames you want in response to this endorsement; it’s still a free country. But in my mind, the smartest vote for a stronger, safer, and better America is a vote for Barack Obama.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More blog-ability

It's been around for a while but I just got around to checking out Stage 1's blog. You can go there to meet the cast for their upcoming "tick..tick..Boom!" and I expect / hope there will be more thoughts / content / tidbits in the coming weeks. FYI!

Fences not going up

I got a very nice message from the folks at AART last night and the company will not be mounting a production of "Fences" this fall. They plan to continue with their regular schedule next February with “African American Trailblazers.”

Not that you come to this space for tips on music but there are two local-ish bands that I’ve become very sweet on lately. The whole T-line clan has made it to two Mills Family Band shows in the past several months and I’d recommend checking them out if you can. They’re grounded in country/folk sounding stuff but the having a torchy lead singer in Allyson Mills and a hot sax/clarinet player named Samson Trinh that pushes them into a more jazz sound sometimes.

And just last weekend, I inadvertently heard a clip of a song by Trent Wagler and am totally hooked. He’s into “roots” music and does some old-timey standards but man, what a hot guitar player and fabulous harmonies in his work with mandolin player Jay Lapp. He plays mostly out in the western half of the state – he’s in Afton this weekend – but if he makes it over to this side of the mountains, I’ll do whatever I can to go see him.

Just some friendly suggestions for those of you with ears!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Virtual Ink

I missed's posting of the RTCC award winners last week and Joan T's brief recap. My favorite part: the comment from someone grousing that the "same people" are nominated for everything, wondering about anyone venturing beyond the Mill and Barksdale, calling it "typical Richmond."


Only the winners were listed; nominees were representative of a wide variety of companies and there were several winners from other companies. It was the first time we've done it so what does it mean that "the same people" were nominated? And if "typical Richmond" means an exciting new venture that brings a diverse community together to celebrate hard-working local professional artists, then I'm all for "typical Richmond!"

Sixteen Wounded

I meant to post something about this earlier but it snuck up on me. There’s a staged reading of “Sixteen Wounded” at the Modlin Center, a very intriguing sounding play directed by Donna Coghill with a good cast (Kim Neblett, Christianna Nelson, Adam Saunders, Walter Schoen, etc) and featuring a special appearance by NPR “Moment in Time” mainstay Dan Roberts. It’s about clashing personalities and cultures (Jewish and Palestinian, specifically) and should be fascinating. There are details on the Modlin website. Tonight’s the last night so check it out now!

I haven’t heard any updates on Derome. I hope he is doing well. Does anyone know whether AART will be going forward with “Fences?”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Behind Blue Eyes

Ms. Lewis’s review of CAT's “The Nerd” showed up on Saturday – you can read her thoughts here.

Thanks to a fortuitous scheduling situation and a truly wonderful mother-in-law, I was able to slip out to see “Hamlet” on Friday night and I was glad I did. This is a production that would have required me to find new reserves of professional detachment to write a publishable review about, though. And that is thanks primarily to Andrew Hamm’s rendition of “Behind Blue Eyes” during intermission. I have my own overwrought relationship with that song, an anthem for sensitive hormone-laden adolescent boys everywhere.

But besides the simple aesthetic enjoyment of Mr. Hamm’s performance, the song made me reflect on something I’ve never really appreciated in all of the half-dozen other times I’ve seen Hamlet. It’s a story of a relatively regular guy (as regular as a Prince can be) who is confronted by truly extraordinary circumstances. It’s not bad enough that his dad’s died suddenly and his uncle’s married his mom, but then a ghost has appeared to him (something that’d freak most anyone out regardless of the specific shape of the phantom) in the shape of his dead dad telling him he was murdered. Is it any wonder he goes a little wacky?

Jeff Cole’s performance enhances this “every man” aspect of Hamlet. Other Hamlets I’ve seen, both on stage and on screen (exs: Foster Solomon, David Bridgewater, Mel Gibson, etc.) have seemed somehow larger than life. But Mr. Cole is princely without being ostentatious and his extreme emotions don’t seem to emerge from an outsized personality but from a well-meaning, loving son being compelled to vengeance and acts sure to wreck his life. It is a nicely contained but still compelling portrayal.

And his relationship with his Ophelia is heartbreaking. Master of Play Grant Mudge adds an intriguing element to this relationship by having Hamlet deliver his “to be or not to be” soliloquy to Ophelia, adding a humanistic element to an essentially existential contemplation. This staging puts everything Hamlet has to lose in stark relief. These are not the musing of a navel-gazing royal; they’re the heartfelt measuring of life by a young man in love.

It doesn’t hurt that Liz Blake plays Ophelia with such a sweet devotion to her prince. My crush on Ms. Blake has been well-documented in this space so I won’t dwell on my impression of her talents except to point out that her duet with Mr. Hamm as part of the pre-show was simply lovely. Richmond Shakespeare’s growing tradition of adding pre-show and intermission entertainment is a great addition to their performance philosophy.

I have always had a quibble with Ophelia’s eventual descent. It just doesn’t quite seem organic to me. Sure she loved her dad but also seemed to have some issues with his pomposity. And sure she was falling for Hamlet but their courtship was still relatively young. With her brother also out of the picture, it does not surprise me that she becomes a bit unmoored. That she would respond with a full-out mental breakdown however, in my opinion diminishes a character who I wish could be as strong and admirable as the title character.

There are many other things I could and probably should say about this production – final fight scene was awesome; nothing against Catherine Bryne but Melissa Jones-Price remains my favorite onstage Gertrude – but mostly I’ve been processing my own personal reflections that the play prompted which I guess in itself is a testament to the power of the production. Still, I cannot let it go without mentioning Timothy Saukiavicus’s powerhouse performance as Claudius. He is convincingly regal but has the self-aggrandizing pomp of a true politician and the slimy edge of someone willing to kill his own brother. I’ll be hoping to see Mr. S. in more local productions in the future.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I’m sitting here waiting for the Times-Dispatch website’s search function to return anything in my search for “The Nerd” – it’s been 5 minutes – so I’m thinking that Mrs. H hasn’t reviewed it yet. As far as I can tell, it opened on Wednesday at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre.

In the meantime, I’ll try to write something coherent about Sycamore Rouge’s “Read.y for Right” which I’ve been hoping to do for the past couple of days. I apologize for the delay. A lot of talented and well-meaning people obviously put a lot of effort in putting the show together. The cast is strong, particularly the leads. The singing is awesome and the large projections that set each scene are impressive.

But I left the show feeling like I’d been back to my high school history class. I’m taking graduate school history classes now and the difference between them and the ones I endured 20 years ago is stark. What I’ve discovered, to my delight, is that history is messy and it’s populated with people who were not always pure of character, even when they did good, even incredible things. The most interesting history is like the most compelling theater, full of contradictions and complexity, nuance and discovery.

While “Read.y” may accurately depict the speeches and the statements to the press that were given during the Petersburg library protest, it doesn’t bring the event to life. As I mentioned in my review, I thought the most interesting moments were the brief interludes when there was doubt or indecision or actions that resembled how most people interact in confusing, highly tense situations in real life. But these moments were pretty overwhelmed by the proclamations and the speechifying.

And the dot notation in the title still confuses me. If it is meant to emphasize “read” because it’s partially set in a library, then it makes the first word both a verb and an adjective, which is confusing intellectually, and then it also makes it unclear whether the first syllable should be spoken with a long “e” or a short “e,” which is confusing phonetically. It also somehow seems incomplete – were the protesters “Ready for their Rights?” Or were they “Reading for Rights?” Somehow, it feels like a plural needs to be in there. Maybe I’m over-thinking it but you know people form an impression about a show based on many factors, and the first thing you hear about a show is usually its title. As the old adage goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression and personally, with “Read.y for Right,” my first impression was confused.

Virginia’s theater scene is going to give us all an interesting compare-and-contrast opportunity soon: Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk will be producing “Line in the Sand,” a new play about so-called “massive resistance” and Norfolk school desegregation at the end of February. It might be worth a ride down the road to see what they do with history.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Derome Scott Smith

I have received a couple of reports that Derome Scott Smith is in the hospital having suffered a stroke. I haven't heard many details yet but will be sure to post them when I do. Please hold him and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Update via Facebook from Cynde Liffick: "Last I heard from his stepdaughter at around 5pm- was that his speech was getting better and that he'll need to relearn how to use his right hand. Much better than what I heard hours before." FYI.


It's a busy morning at the mayo mill but I wanted to at least post links to the joint review of "Hamlet" and "Read.y for Right" and to the recap of the RTCC event, all in today's Style. Please note that my recap was written at 1am after the festivities and that I did not have all of the adjectives at my disposal that really could have done justice to the magical nature of the evening. And, um, the dog ate my original version. And uh, let's see, the sun was in my eyes. And...

Anyway, more on "Read.y" soon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Skip-a-Day Hangover

So why is it that yesterday I felt fine and chipper but this morning I woke up feeling like I could sleep another 14 hours? It’s like I’m a tortoise in a world full of hares today.

On the news front, Susan’s diplomatic review of Sycamore Rouge's “Read.y for Right” is in today’s Times-Dispatch. In the run-up to the weekend, I missed Joan T’s take on “The Clean House” that showed up on last Friday.

I was hoping to do some kind of recap of the RTCC Awards night but just the thought of it is overwhelming. The best I think I can manage is a grab-bag of different moments from the evening that perhaps I’ll spread out over the next several days because they keep coming back to me.

· Jase Smith did most of the on-the-ground organizing, some of which was going on right up to the last minute, and showed great skill and creativity in doing so. When I showed up at the Firehouse a little after 6pm, he was still in a sweatshirt and jeans. He was very calmly trying to figure out how to make a CD that had Ford Flannagan’s “Neverland” music on it work, with little luck. He ultimately had to rig something via patching something through a laptop or something. Personally, I would have been freaking out at that point but he simply got the job done. Way to go, Jase!

· The “Robert Palmer” girls – as John Porter so perceptively dubbed them – were my eldest daughter, Sage, and her two friends, Sarah Deutsch and Eva Pye Ravenal. They didn’t get a specific thanks or mention during the evening so I wanted to give them one here. John’s whole introduction was awesome and indicative of the performance of all of the presenters. None of them had anything scripted for them. One of the benefits of working with talented people was that they all stepped up to the plate and did great work.

· Steve Moore was a last-minute addition to the line-up for the evening and I’m so glad he was there to warm-up the crowd. That he zeroed in on my mom for his “Are you straight? How long have you known? Do you think it’s just a phase?” routine was particularly entertaining!

· Several times during the night, people came up to me and said very heartfelt things, many about the evening but some about other “water under the bridge” type issues. I really appreciate those sentiments and the sincerity with which they were expressed. In particular, it was an honor to finally meet Toney Cobb and chat with him for a few minutes. I’m glad he was nominated for an award and I’m looking forward to seeing him on stage again.

· Jill Bari Steinberg is my hero. Also without much preparation or scripting, she managed to be funny, engaging, flexible and still moved things along. We were so lucky she agreed to be hostess.

· Angie and Brett doing “Follow Your Heart” encapsulated everything that made “Urinetown” such an entertaining show. Ford Flannagan was impeccable doing “Neverland” and Kim Clarke was a hoot with her “Stuff.” Jason and Landon were so strong of voice and loose in their rapport it showed off the rambunctious good fun of “Guys and Dolls” perfectly. Those four performances were a beautiful representation of the width and breadth of talent in this town. Bravo!

More later…

Monday, October 20, 2008

In other news...

The magical world of theater marches on! Ms. H from the T-D chimed in on "Hamlet" this weekend, making me all the more anxious to see it. Well, that plus the fact that I actually met the enchanting Ms. Blake on Sunday (sigh...) and I'm told her Ophelia is quite smashing.

Celia Wren raved about "The Humpbacked Horse" which my little thespian son got to see though I did not. I'll try to elicit a more distinct review from him than "it was good" tomorrow.

For those who would like to donate to the Theatre Artists Fund, it's actually quite easy. Send a check to the Community Foundation, which administers the Fund, and indicate on the check's Note line that the donation is in support of RAPT's Theatre Artists Fund. It probably wouldn't hurt to include a little note to that effect as well. And send it to:

The Community Foundation
7501 Boulders View Drive, Suite 110
Richmond, VA 23225


And the awards go to...

Best Musical
Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Best Direction of a Musical
Tom Width
Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Best Actor in a Musical
Scott Wichmann
Guys & Dolls
Barksdale Theatre

Best Actress in a Musical
Audra Honaker
Once Upon A Mattress
Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical
Jason Marks
Guys & Dolls
Barksdale Theatre

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical
Debra Wagoner
Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Best Musical Direction
Sandy Dacus
Guys and Dolls
Barksdale Theatre

Best Choreography
Brandon Becker
Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Best Play
The Late Henry Moss
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Direction of a Play
Bruce Miller
The Little Dog Laughed
Barksdale Theatre

Best Actor in a Play
Justin Dray
The Late Henry Moss
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Actress in a Play
Irene Zeigler
Doubt: A Parable
Barksdale Theatre

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play
Stephen Ryan
Richard II
Richmond Shakespeare Company

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Play
Jennie Meharg
The Late Henry Moss
Firehouse Theatre Project

Notable Interactive Production
Richmond Improv Festival

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design
Joe Doran
Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design
Rebecca Cairns
As You Like It (indoor)
Richmond Shakespeare Company

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design
Ron Keller
Guys and Dolls
Barksdale Theatre

600+ Thanks

There are many thanks to be extended and many things to be said about last night but that will need to wait a day or so while everything sinks in. In the meantime, I wanted to put out there that the RTCC awards show raised at least $600 for the Theatre Artists Fund. There were many good reasons for last night's success but one of the most fulfulling things to me is that all the fun is being channelled back into support of the theater community. Good work, y'all!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Plus Two

I should also mention that "The Humpbacked Horse" will be playing at Theatre IV tonight and Sunday (Saratov Youth Theatre’s "Uncle's Dream" will be at U of R's Modlin Center on Saturday) and that the latest home-grown whodunit, the medievel "Who Killed the King?" is opening at Mystery Dinner Theatre tonight. Busy busy busy...

Are you ready?

I’m not sure what the asterisk is all about, but I’m heading down to “Read*y for Right” at Sycamore Rouge tonight to find out. They’ve got a full house for opening night, so that should be pretty exciting. So far I’ve only swept into Petersburg and then swept out again for the shows I’ve seen there; I’m looking forward to a calmer time during my life when I might be able to hang out for a while and take in the city’s charms.

But this weekend is certainly NOT one of those calmer times as final preparations are being made for the Critics Circle awards on Sunday. I will once again apologize to everyone who won’t be able to attend. We are already making plans for next year and a venue that will allow everyone (and their mother) to attend should they want to. So stay tuned for developments along those lines.

One thing we don’t have yet is a nickname for the awards. I’ve been kind of hoping something would arise but so far, nada. If you have any suggestions, feel free to post them.

Oh, and by the way, my daughter LOVED Richard III, though (because of her age) she was perhaps more tuned in to Eric Evans’ performance than the average adult theatergoer. That boy’s a cutie! We did have a wide-ranging discussion afterwards where she displayed some critical acumen. Hmmm…perhaps this critic thing will become a family business. Though, similar to many actors I’ve talked to about it, this isn’t exactly a profession I would wish on any child.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Family Affair

So my mom went to see Richard III the other day. She loved Scottie, of course, but then also raved about Melissa Johnston-Price, saying it seemed that she nearly ripped her heart out during the performance. She just loved her. She also really liked the video segments and said that she didn’t agree with my assessment of them in my review. So you can see, folks – I get it from all sides. Today, my daughter goes to see Richard as part of a school field trip. I look forward to her rebuttals to my review this evening…

Speaking of family matters, one of those lovely messed up family situations hits the Richmond Shakespeare stage tonight with “Hamlet” opening, Jeff Cole as the conflicted Dane and the lovely Liz Blake as his Ophelia. I won’t be able to check it out this weekend but will have to sneak it in somewhere. I’ve seen many a fine Hamlet over the years – David Bridgewater being among the best (who incidentally won a Pollock prize this year – congrats David!). That production ran in Theatre IV’s Little Theatre, was directed by Gary Hopper, and had Melissa Johnston-Price as Gertrude. So you see, everything is connected.

Another great Hamlet – in Richmond Shakespeare’s last iteration of the play – was Foster Solomon whose wife Susan Sanford will be in town for the RTCC awards this weekend. And, if I’m not mistaken, Scottie played the “First Clown” or gravedigger in that production. Even more connections! Richmond theater – just one big family!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Word Count

Last week's New Yorker arrived at my house yesterday and I was again struck with envy. Reading John Lahr's review of "The Seagull," I found myself thinking, "Oh the raves I could write if I had that kind of word count!" I also found myself wondering how the heck I was going to get up to New York to see this production.

"A Man for all Seasons" doesn't fair as well in this more recent review, but a show I hadn't heard of before, "Fifty Words" gains Lahr's favor. The title alone makes me curious -- what are the fifty words and what is their significance? Hmmmm....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Equality Now!

So you all have probably heard about the Equality Virginia benefit tonight already but I expect there are plenty of your friends who haven't. Let 'em know!

It's tonight at the Firehouse, reception starting around 6:30pm, performances starting around 7:30 p.m. Many of the folks that you've enjoyed in recent productions (Chris Hester, Debra Wagoner, etc.) are going to be there. You can call 643-4816 for tickets, details, etc.

I have this vision that before my last child graduates high school Virginia will finally see the light on issues around gay rights and equality. I know people on the left ("whacked out lefties" as the T-D likes to call them) and on the right ("get the government out of our lives" libertarian-leaning conservatives) who agree on these issues. All we need to do is convert the molten mass in the middle. Keep that process moving forward and attend this benefit! It's sure to be a good time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Don’t Forget

So just because a show opened several weeks ago, don’t forget that it’s still running. Have you seen “Side Show” yet? Well, it’s still out there and time’s running out! We lucked out with “Driving Miss Daisy” – it’s been extended to Nov. 2nd. That’s still no reason to sit on your hands – make plans now!

Personally, I grabbed my chance to see “Eurydice” before it closed on Saturday and I’m glad I did. It was the kind of experience I’ve had before that, in my opinion, highlights the incredible challenge facing playwrights these days. Basically, I enjoyed all of the performances immensely but the play itself, not so much. It was funny in parts, charming in others, confusing in places, and sometimes just a little too self-consciously poetic. If I was reviewing it, I wouldn’t have been quite as harsh as this slam from summer of 2007. I would have expressed similar reactions, though, and the adjective “artsy-fartsy” that Heilpern uses has a certain resonance for me. To paraphrase something I heard someone say about the play, “it’s the kind of play that makes me feel stupid, like everything means something that I’m supposed to get but I don’t.”

Having said that, I thought Joe Inscoe was transcendent, as he so often is. Maybe it was his fatherly affection that hit me so hard, but more likely, I think it is the precision of his performance. I think there is intention in everything he does and yet he never looks like he’s working at it. I could have even watched him make and dismantle that house of string another time or two.

Laine Satterfield was a luminous and sympathetic Eurydice. She was sweet, but not sickly so. I have to say I enjoy her more in a more complicated role, like Diane in “Little Dog Laughed,” where the innocence she projects betrays more involved things going on underneath. But she was great as the conflicted Eurydice and, within the confines of the script, made her character compelling. Larry Cook was a hoot in his dual roles: he seemed to be having a ball. Chris Hester had probably the most thankless part as Orpheus but he had a winning determination and visible affection for his doomed lover. The “stones” were all grand and I particularly enjoyed seen Lauren Leinhaas-Cook onstage again.

The production with all of its water elements was indeed ambitious and I’m sure posed a number of challenges that the Firehouse technical team handled with aplomb. Kudos to Rusty Wilson for bringing together such a great team and a wonderful cast.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Today: USA Today

One link just leads to another... Somebody sent me to the USA Today site for a story on Stephen Sondheim. I got to cruising and found out that Oliver Platt is going to play the role on Broadway that Scott Wichmann OWNS in this town and that there are interesting new shows opening featuring both young folks and old folks.

Lesson: Cruising is a dangerous -- though informative -- thing.

UPDATE: Did you know that Julie Taymor is directing a film version of "The Tempest?" I didn't until just a few minutes ago. Helen Mirren as Prospera! Genius.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

An Uplifting Work of Staggering Brilliance

Spouses are wonderful things. If you don’t have one, I heartily suggest you go out and get one.

I say this because last week my lovely wife was talking about the concert version of “Ragtime” and about making plans to go and, mired as I often am in the daunting logistics and responsibilities that fill my blessed life to overflowing, I expressed vague discontent about wanting to try to fit it in. Well, she was planning to go whether I was going or not, and she encouraged me to get over myself and get my ass out there.

OH. MY. GOD. The production that the enterprising young Artistic Director at Stage 1, Chase Kniffen, put together (along with legions of helpers, including his managing director Peggy Thibodeau) was breathtaking. If this is the kind of work we can expect from Stage 1, well, there is no doubt that this newest theater company will have a big impact on the local scene.

The articulate Mr. Miller at the Barksdale Blog has already done a great job of talking about the event, placing it in context and describing the vibe. I’ll just add a few of my favorite moments / aspects:

Ø What a great subdued feeling there was as the performers came on stage. Who could have known what awesomeness was about to be unleashed?

Ø Richard Koch’s Russian accent was just one reason I loved his performance. Richard is so good at being a vibrant comic character, it was a treat to see him portray such depth and humanity with his Tateh.

Ø Debra Wagoner’s sweetness and empathy was as clear as her mighty voice. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeve; can an actress wear hers on her vocal chords? If so, that would be Debra whose compelling performance centered the whole production.

Ø Jerold Solomon and Desiree Roots Centeio delivered the killer song of the night with “Wheels of a Dream” and I was sure the house was going to leap into a standing ovation right after it was over. But as affecting to me as hearing those two fabulously accomplished singers was to watch people like Robyn O’Neill and Jan Guarino watching the performance with absolutely rapt wonder and admiration. Here are two veterans of literally dozens of shows who have seen – and have been responsible for – hundreds of magic moments on stage, but it was clear that they were as blown away as the rest of us. Do I tear up just at the memory? Oh, yes I do. (And PS to Jerold: please come back to Richmond again. Please! It was great to see you and experience your big, bold voice once again.)

Ø Katrinah Lewis as “Sarah’s Friend” – though uncredited – was also an emotional knockout. Her unrestrained delivery of “Til We Reach That Day” rocked the house and seemed to rock her down to her toes as well. I could have watched her do that song over and over again.

Ø There was much comic relief to be found in “What a Game,” just one of the great songs that highlighted a truly incredible ensemble. To see the likes of Audra Honaker, Alia Bisharat, Cathy Motley-Fitch, Jackie Jones, Billy Christopher Maupin, Dustin Faltz, Maggie Roop, Ali Thibodaeu, and many many more – all of them headliners in their own right – singing backup was just one barometer of the strength of the crew that Chase put together.

When the show ended, I was weighed down with an alternately sleepy and grumpy 4-year old so I didn’t get to give my congratulations to many people face-to-face. But the whole Ragtime crew – including musical director Sherri Matthews – deserves a thunderous thanks and congratulations for this accomplishment. I now look forward to “tick…tick…Boom!” with feverish anticipation!


It’s going to take a few more hours for me to fully integrate the staggering, inspiring, poetic, and powerful evening that was the “Ragtime” concert last night. Oh my, was it incredible.

So while I comb my thesaurus for more adjectives, please check out the review of “Driving Miss Daisy” in today’s Style from Mary B.

And of course, many big fat congratulations for Jase Smith and Scott Wichmann who are among those recognized in the “Top 40 under 40” cover story. I’ll augment my 200 word pieces on each of those talented gentlemen down the road a piece as well.

Monday, October 06, 2008

House Raising

As I write this, somewhere up the street from me people are getting ready to go on stage and perform “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.” I wish I could be there because, based on “The Clean House” and what I’ve heard about “Eurydice,” I’m sure it’s going to be a fascinating staged reading.

I’ve already been given some guff about my review about “The Clean House” and how I threw the adjectives “cliché” and “cloying” in there without anything to back them up. I’ll address them first just to get it out of the way. The main element of the show that I think is cliché is that the two white women are uptight and high-strung, while the two Latin women are more unrestrained and emotional. It’s not a big deal and would hardly be worth mentioning if the white women weren’t uptight nearly to the point of distraction.

And the one main aspect of the show that I’d call cloying – with a dose of silly mixed in – would be that the fervency of Charles’s ardor for Ana drives him to head to Alaska. Again, not a big deal and it makes for a nice women-only final scene with Ana, but still moderately distracting for me. I’d also say that the non-translated Spanish / Portuguese has the unfortunate effect of alienating / distancing some theatergoers, based on what I heard some people say around me at the matinee I attended. It didn’t bother me too much because I saw it as an opportunity to concentrate on the telling of the joke, for instance, rather than the substance of it.

OK, so that’s about all of the negatives that I can scrape up – and really, I’m stretching here – for what is otherwise a truly enchanting production. Bianca Bryan is fabulous as Matilde, particularly in the later scenes as the emotional waters get muddied with her working for Ana. Given the restrictions of her role (see note on uptightness), Kelly Kennedy does a fine job as Lane and John Moon is eager and energetic in his exuberant interpretation of Charles.

But the two performances I found myself most surprised and delighted by were Jan Guarino as Virginia and Robin Arthur as Ana. I haven’t seen either actress play a role like the ones they do in this show and the challenge brings out the best of them both. The character of Virginia is a bit extreme (are there really people who clean just for fun?) but Jan makes her human and, perhaps more important, sympathetic. Robin is just wonderfully grounded as Ana, not earthy-crunchy in her spirituality, just centered and calm. Robin makes her someone you could really imagine someone falling in love with at first sight.

My favorite scenes in the show had touches of magical realism, the best for me being the apples from the balcony, particularly the looks from Lane / Kelley as she watches them bounce through her living room – what fun. And the flashbacks / fantasy sequences with John and Robin were all beautifully staged.

I expect there are people who won’t be quite as enamored with “Clean House” as I was. There is plenty of humor in the show but it is rarely uproariously funny. There aren’t exactly extremes of emotional highs and lows though there are certainly fireworks. And overall, the story is bittersweet. Oh, but it is a sweet bittersweetness – I left the theater feeling fully satisfied.