Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Suggestions Please

As I am perpetually a step or two (or more) behind the curve, I have just this week started to enjoy the wonderfulness that is (are?) podcasts. We have a clunky old first generation iPod that we got along with our first Mac almost 5 years ago. A co-worker of mine has an iPod shuffle and this old thing looks like a Goliath next to her David. The display is fading and it weighs like a whole 8 ounces (compared to the shuffle that I believe is functionally weightless) but it works and so I’ve been tuning into some groovy podcasts at the gym.

I’d love any suggestions anyone might have for theater-related podcasts. I’ve listened to one from that featured an interview with Bill C. Davis. You all might remember him from “Austin’s Bridge” – a show that had its world re-premiere at the Firehouse last summer – and from a sit-down I had with him back before the show opened. He was an interesting interview in the podcast, though I was a little puzzled by his comments about critics (imagine that!)

Anyway, besides that, I’ve listened to a few AP on Broadway interviews but they seem to be of the sort like “Oh, I’m doing this play and it’s simply FAB-ulous.” I noticed that Playbill Radio does podcasts; has anyone ever listened to these? Are they any good? Any and all suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How Theater Failed America

Not that long ago, my old pal Rick St. Peter posted an article (you have to scroll down a bit) by monologist Mike Daisey subtitled “How Theatre Failed America” that led to a fair amount of discussion on this here blog (and BTW, no I don’t get a kick-back from Rick every time I mention him in this space. Though it’s a good idea. Whattaya say, Rick?)

Anyway, Daisey has turned the article into a monologue that he is currently performing in New York. The piece seems to have been generally well-received and perhaps there will be even more discussion – of the wide-ranging, national kind – like there was on this blog. It may not rival the national conversation we are reportedly having on race currently (right?) but it could be interesting nonetheless. I guess we’ll see.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fully Committed

My lovely wife and I were having a conversation about whether or not I could really be objective in my perspective on a show that had one of our children in it. She thought I could – she’s known me to be somewhat brutally honest in my appraisal of performances by people who I feel deep affection for. Like for instance, her. She almost had me convinced until the curtain went down on opening night of “Peter Pan” by which point I was absolutely convinced that I could not. The reasons for this are not necessarily what you might think.

It’s not that I immediately believe everything my son did was awesome in the show (or even necessarily “adorable,” as Ms. Lewis characterized him in the T-D). Here are the two strikes against my objectivity: 1) if anything, my tendency is toward being overly critical of his performance. I noticed the times he fidgeted with his costume, the times he nearly missed a cue, the times when he seemed to lose focus. Of course, the reason I noticed all of these things is: 2) when he was on stage, my attention was about 90% on him and 10% on everything else going on. This kind of detracts from my ability to fully judge a show, mostly because there are at least a dozen nuances (i.e., lines of dialogue, significant plot points, intermissions, etc.) that I missed the first time through the show.

One thing you notice in a big ensemble show like Pan is an aspect of acting that separates the good from the great. From what I’ve seen over the years, many child actors, no matter how adorable they are, have moments on stage when they break character. Most of the time it’s a subtle thing – a glance into the audience, a moment when they don’t react to something on stage, a relatively flat line reading. What these small miscues make me appreciate, though, are the performances of actors who, even in small roles, are fully committed to the action on stage.

As an example, an actress named Ali Thibodeau plays Tiger Lily, the leader of the Indians, in “Peter Pan” (she was last seen at Swift Creek Mill as one of the March girls in “Little Women.”) There is not a moment that she’s on stage that she doesn’t exude Tiger Lily; she completely embraces her Tiger Lily-ness and any residual Ali-ness disappears behind her faux native regalia. Furthermore, when Tiger Lily dances, she doesn’t just go through the motions, she swings her arms, swaggers and struts, bringing the whole force of an Indian warrior’s personality to bear. The impressive thing is that Ali is a teenager – still a high school student – and her commitment to a character shows a remarkable maturity. If you happen to see Pan, I urge you to spend a moment during one of the big group scenes scanning the Indians or the pirates and notice how well the supporting players stay in character. It’s something I’ve done with big cast shows like “Les Mis” on Broadway and I’ve been surprised sometimes at what I’ve seen.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Big Weekend

It has been another big theater weekend in Richmond as the Firehouse opened their Theatre Cabaret show of 4 short pieces under the direction of Scott Wichmann (does that man ever stop working?), HATTheatre opened "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" starring several great folks including the lovely Janine Serresseque whose blog I love, and last but not least for me and my family, "Peter Pan" at Theatre IV. So tire yourself out during these beautiful days but then see a nice, relaxing show at night! Sound like a plan?

The Tomorrow File

When I was maybe 12 or 13, I read a book called “The Tomorrow File” by Laurence Sanders. Sanders was more famous for his somewhat tawdry crime thrillers – “The First Deadly Sin,” etc. – that predated the many similar series by authors like Jonathan Kellerman and Mary Higgins Clark that dot the bestseller lists these days. The novel is essentially science fiction in that it is set in what was then the near-future (sometime shortly after the year 2000) and supposes all sorts of fascinating things about the future – that men and women will be referred to as EMs and EFs (text acronyms perhaps?), that an addictive but not-harmful substance will have been included in almost all foodstuffs by some big corporation so that everyone in the world now craves it (caffeine? High-fructose corn syrup?), etc. etc. There were dozens of things like this that seemed completely plausible.

One point in the book – key to the plot but also not emphasized as revolutionary – was that in the future, men and women having relationships with people of the same sex would be as common and accepted as people having relationships with the opposite sex. Even to a kid raised in middle-America in a Catholic, very Republican household, this seemed to make sense to me. Still new to the universe of sexual dynamics – and probably not yet aware of what “queer” REALLY meant, I didn’t really see why this wouldn’t happen. Two humans, each with a heart and a soul and a mutual attraction, what exactly would be the harm if they happened to be the same sex and happened to fall in love with each other?

I thought about this book as I read Bruce Miller’s open letter to those who walked out of “The Little Dog Laughed.” If I were as good a person as Bruce, I might have been able to write the even-handed and rational response that he did. Unfortunately, personally, the whole thing infuriates me. It just kills me that – for instance – Virginians passed the imbecilic law relating to same-sex partnerships. It seems to be such a misdirection in terms of what government should be about or even be concerned about. My fury redoubles when I talk to several people I know who are true small-government Conservatives who think the law is stupid as well. If people both liberal and conservative saw it as stupid, how the hell did it pass? Do people really think homosexuality is just going to go away? It has been part of the human condition for thousands of years and ridiculous proscriptions against it have just caused heartache and pain. And still, gay folks keep on loving each other. People! Just deal with it!

But really, the fury about all that fades quickly for me. After the anger comes the curiosity. I wonder: did the people who walked out of the show think they were OK with homosexuality but then actually seeing two naked men embrace pushed them over the edge? Did they purposely disregard all of the warnings about the content? Are they dumb, oversensitive or in some way, striving to get somewhere and yet not quite there yet?

In the end, this ongoing discomfort or contempt or whatever regarding homosexuality just makes me tired. Thirty years ago, “The Tomorrow File” saw this as being no big deal by now. So why is it still such a big deal? When I wrote my review about the show, I didn’t even really want to play it up as being a “controversial” play. It doesn’t seem controversial to me. It seems like a fairly real story – if exaggerated for comic effect – about relatively real issues (given of course that it’s about Hollywood…) To me, two men struggling with the possibility that they might be falling in love and the contingent professional fallout seems more relevant in today’s America than some story about a mythical, iconic America – like a strong, heterosexual couple working a small farm or something – that I think barely exists anymore.

Anyway, I ramble in part because I am exhausted from these last couple of days before the “Peter Pan” opening last night. It all went off quite well and I’ll have some more thoughts on that after a good long nap.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Peter Pan has more moving parts than any other production I’ve ever been tangentially connected to. In college, I pulled cable for some concerts with elaborate sets and fancy lighting but that was all for a band of 4 to 6 people. Pan has monster sets, cables for flying effects, scads of costumes and all for a cast of something like 58 (ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but between the Lost Boys, the Indians, and the Pirates – there are a lot of bodies wandering around backstage at the Empire).

I remember having the thought when the Mill did “Joseph” recently that some part of a director’s job with a production like this is the role of traffic cop. They just gotta keep people moving and hopefully in purposeful and aesthetically pleasing ways. With Pan, I’ve had more of the sense of director as architect on the scene of a large building project. He or she has got to have the big picture design in their mind and they work with a big crew to get that sucker built.

With Pan, director Steve Perigard has quite an amazing crew working with him. I haven’t seen or met all of them but I’ve been impressed with choreographer Leslie Owens-Harrington and production manager Ginnie Willard. These are the unsung heroes of a production like this, bringing order to chaos and, particularly with Ginnie, making sure the 597 things add up that make up one big show.

Rehearsals are now going late into the night, some folks seem to be getting tense, others are just exhausted. It’s enough to make one wonder why anyone does this for a living or, with many of them, for fun. I expect when the curtain falls at the end of the opening night performance tomorrow, I’ll get a glimpse of at least one of the reasons.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nice Doggie

My review of “The Little Dog Laughed” shows up in Style this week. As you can read, I liked it. My wife liked it a bunch too. The number of laugh-out-loud moments were almost too numerous to count.

And in case you were wondering, I don’t talk all nice about Bruce Miller in my review just because he says nice things about me on my blog. For one thing, I don’t work that way. For another, Bruce knows I don’t work that way and I think (hope) he respects me for it (my review was also written before his latest insightful and healing missive, just FYI).

To be honest, I went into the show with a vague concern that I might have to say not-so-nice things about Mr. Miller. Bruce has been directing for a long, long time and has more theater knowledge in his left big toe than I have in my entire brain. Over the years, he’s done a great job with a wide variety of material. But I realize now that I have a lingering assumption that his strength is in broad comedy. Maybe it’s because of all of those traveling kid’s shows that have to fit fun, songs, and a message into an abbreviated running time.

Whatever the case, I worried that something zippy and contemporary might somehow be too much for Bruce. I now realize why my assumption was off. Whereas someone like Rick St. Peter can take something like “Taming of the Shrew” and make it seem zippy and contemporary, I think Bruce’s strength – apparent in “Little Dog” but in other shows as well – is in grounding the comedy (however broad) in well-drawn, fully-realized characters. What Bruce has, I think, is the confidence to be simple and the experience to be specific. There is enough fireworks going on in the dialogue of “Little Dog;” no extraneous directorial flourishes are required.

Other great things about “Little Dog:” I was really considering starting the review with praise for the lighting design I was so impressed by it. Lynne Hartmann’s lighting is usually top-notch (though I remember noticing some weirdnesses with “Member of the Wedding”) and I often can’t even fit one line about it into my reviews. You could say that I was impressed by the lighting “tricks” in Little Dog – the flashbulbs and the beautifully rendered mandala – but sometimes it’s the attention-getting moments that make you realize the strength of the whole pallet.

One last thing (though I could mention several) is Laine Satterfield’s performance. She was awesome. In the scope of the plot, her character is really little more than a device that helps sew things up; I could imagine the play working without her character at all. But she digs into Ellen with abandon and makes her lovable in her somewhat shallow, sad, gold-digging, searching, and highly insightful way. Based on Satterfield’s performance, I could see a spin-off of “Little Dog” that focuses just on Ellen.

More to say but no time to say it! I’ve got about a million things to say about “Peter Pan” too and only two days until opening night. Yikes! That’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

PS: Interesting that several Hollywood-oriented scripts invoke canines, don't you think? Anyone remember "Four Dogs and a Bone" at the Firehouse many years ago? Damn, that was a good show. Jeff Clevenger, Stephanie Kelly, etc. -- awesome.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blood and Squalor

So I’m behind the curve as usual, but I finally saw Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” on DVD and I’m very conflicted in my opinion of it. I love Johnny Depp in the title role and think he acquits himself nicely with his vocals. He can do tortured soul very well. Other things I liked:

--> the blood. I know this got some attention when the movie came out. I think the copious amounts of blood makes the horror of it all both more real and surreal.

--> The squalor. The bugs and filth and everything, particularly when we first see Mrs. Lovett’s shop. Together with the blood, I think the movie makes the intense nature of the story more visceral.

--> Laura Michelle Kelley (Lucy) and Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony) in smaller roles. Two gorgeous actors underutilized but still delightful. Alan Rickman was pretty delicious as the judge as well. (Tidbit: I saw LMK in the revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway and she was great in that too.)

Things I didn’t like:
--> I missed the ensemble numbers from the stage version. What is “Sweeney Todd” without the title song?

--> The final scene with Todd holding Lucy. The only spot where Tim Burton went too far with the blood.

--> Most critical problem: on stage, the tension when Todd finds Johanna in his shop is palpable. Sondheim has already taken your breath away with the scene when Todd dispenses with “the Beggar Woman” and now he seems on the brink of cutting your heart out. It’s one of the tensest moments in theater. In the movie, it came and went way too fast. The tension when Toby almost discovers Pirelli’s body is played much bigger in the movie.

Things I was really mixed about:
--> Helena Bonham Carter. Vocally, she wasn’t bad but not really good either. On the positive side, her age and look makes her dreams of a life with Sweeney much more palpable than when say Patti Lupone plays Mrs. Lovett. On the negative side, I think she kind of underplayed things – surprising from an actress who was one of the most frenetic Ophelias I’ve ever seen (in the Mel Gibson “Hamlet”). There wasn’t much of a motherly vibe with Toby – something I think adds an interesting element – and I didn’t get a whole lot of the somewhat vicious opportunism from her that inspires the decision to “creatively” dispose of the bodies. Of course, this could have been how she was directed.

As usual with Burton films, the art direction and costuming were awesome. But all and all, I’d give it around a B+. More convenient to see than the stage version, but less compelling in my humble opinion.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More Mattress and Miller

It may be a little indulgent but I’m going to link to my post about AART once again, mostly because Bruce Miller has chimed in with a positive and well-stated comment that I recommend you read if you haven’t (you’ll need to scroll down to get to it). I can’t really add much to the wise words Mr. Miller puts forth but he does touch on one thing that I haven’t said specifically in any of my other comments: I think it is a better thing for AART to be discussed rather than dismissed. I hope this kind of discussion benefits AART because, while I may not have said it explicitly before, it is my very sincere hope that the company succeeds. Thank you very much for your comments, Bruce.

Also, I’ve wanted to augment my review of “Once Upon A Mattress” for a week now. As I tried to convey in my review, the show is a good time, full of wackiness and well-staged at the Mill. If anyone sensed a little reticence in my review to be madly, wildly positive about the show, it’s because I had kind of forgotten just how silly the script is. Even beyond that, it has a couple of loose threads that kind of dangle obviously that I had never noticed before. The whole subplot with the Jester’s father seemed very extraneous to me – and that was a shame because Derek Phipps made for an excellent Jester. I also never quite understood why the King, the Minstrel and the Jester all had to team up to sneak Lady Larken out of the Kingdom. Wouldn’t it have been more incognito for her to do it herself?

Maybe that’s over-thinking it but I guess in my opinion it can be entertaining to go to a show that doesn’t really engage the intellect but it’d be nice if it at least made sense.

Even so, Tom Width gathered a great cast for the show, many of whom I didn’t have room to praise in the review. Matt Polson and Katrinah Carol Lewis made for a smashing couple as Sir Harry and Lady Larken. Any show that gives Ms. Lewis a chance to sing is a winner in my book. Durron Tyre makes for a very engaging Minstrel; I’d love to see another show like “Plaid” where Mr. Tyre is even more front and center. And of course, Liz Blake was wonderful as Princess #12. But I won’t gush about her too much because my crush for her was superceded by my crush on Amy Kaeberle who I’ve enjoyed in everything I’ve seen her in since she was in SPARC’s “Cats.”

My only major disappointment was in Brett Ambler as Prince Dauntless, but some of that may be the script and another part may be expectation. I’ve loved Brett is so many things – from “Suessical” to “Urinetown” – I was looking forward to being wow-ed again. Instead, I found his performance pleasant enough but not much more.

Of course, the show really zings when Joy Williams or Audra Honaker is on stage. And I concur with Ms. Haubenstock who I think said that it was a shame that Jason Marks didn’t sing since he’s got such a great voice. But he mugs it up wonderfully as King Sextimus.

Once last thing (and for those of you who don’t know the plot of “Mattress” and don’t want to know it – stop reading NOW). Are you still reading? OK, then: As I remember “Mattress,” isn’t there a moment at the end where they take all of the stuff out of the mattress and yet, she still can’t sleep? And then they take the pea out, and she’s finally comfortable? Did the Mill include that part? I don’t remember it. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

Yay Plus

The stars aligned in such a way this weekend that gave me almost exactly a 2 hour window of free time on Saturday afternoon and put me in the vicinity of University of Richmond. This gave me the opportunity to take in a series of one-act musicals that students were putting on as the “term papers” so to speak for their Broadway Musical Theatre Class. I went expecting rough. I went expecting off-key, stilted, awkward, and possibly embarrassing. Instead, I got 2 hours of far-from-polished but creative, surprising, and highly entertaining with a sprinkling of true inspiration.

All four one-acts were performed with only minimal sets and props; the focus seemed to be on the development of new material within the often limited stage musical format. The scripts were all derived from other sources in some way but each showed great originality. And though the performances were at times rough, there was also at least one break-out moment of hilarity or catharsis in each show. The cleverest script told the story AFTER “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” happily ever after. Among the revelations: Prince Charming is gay – explained in a riotous song that includes the only “rusty trombone” reference I’ve ever heard on stage anywhere – Snow White really lets herself go, and a few of the dwarves meet untimely demises.

The other shows were a stage version of the board game “Clue,” an adaptation of a Shel Silverstein poem called “The Perfect High,” and a musical staging of “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” I almost slapped my forehead at this last one – why hasn’t anyone done this? If they can make “Legally Blonde” into a musical, why not “MBFW”? This show also featured what I would consider the break-out performance of the whole afternoon – Jason Tseng’s side-splitting take on “the gay best friend” to marriage wrecker Julianne.

Of course, most people who read this won’t have seen the performances so it’s not really worth giving a full-blown critique of it all. But based on their work on Saturday, I’d be hoping to see more of some of the performers either on local stages or – who knows – even bigger venues outa town. Matt Plotzker made a handsome Grumpy in the “Dwarves Escape” and he also had a great voice and cowrote the script; Sarah Jackson uncorked a clear and controlled soprano anchoring a funny song where all of the female characters protest their innocence in “Clue,” Kathleen Wein was like a cross between Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon – blonde but smart with an all-American girl appeal AND an awesome voice.

Most of all, the whole thing was a testament to how much talent there is out there, how many great ideas there are to be exploited, and how many great gifts can be found in unexpected theatrical spaces all over this town.


There’s so much I’m itching to talk about; I may have to post three or four times this weekend. There’s more rattling around my brain to say about “Mattress” and “Little Dog” and I took in some great student one-acts at U of R today and then watched “Sweeney Todd” on DVD. But it’s also after midnight and I’m going to turn into a pumpkin so I’ll just throw these tidbits out that I picked up last week:

From what I’ve read, Patrick Stewart is getting pretty awesome reviews in the new “MacBeth.” And I saw two or three stories last week about Daniel Radcliffe and his upcoming stint in “Equus.” There’s been some discussion on ye ole blog about how big movie star names – or sometimes semi-famous reality show names – are used to sell a production. I’m not a huge fan of the practice. The only production I have specifically gone to see because it had a “name” in it was Natalie Portman in “The Diary of Anne Frank” and frankly (yuk yuk) she was pretty mediocre.

Having said that, I AM a big fan of whatever gets people to go see live theater and whatever keeps the medium alive and growing. If that means more “American Idols” working the Great White Way, so be it, I say. I’m happy and encouraged that major stars want to do Broadway, that they still see it as a vital place to perform and stretch as an artist and possibly to keep in touch with the people. I can’t imagine that Laura Linney HAS to do Les Liaisons Dangereuses for the paycheck -- her movie career seems to be going gangbusters. So she does her some Broadway and maybe energizes herself and possibly inspires a few more people to come see a show. Seems like a win-win to me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I only occasionally mention my work in grad school in this space because it has little to do with theater. Or at least that was the case until this semester. My general focus in school is the cultural interface between America and China, an area I’ve been fascinated with for many years. This semester my class was 19th century American history and we students were challenged to study original source material from the 1800s, you know, like a real historian.

As my classmates combed through census data and Civil War diaries and such, I came across a collection of 19th century American plays that featured Chinese characters (it’s called “The Chinese Other” by Dave Williams, if you are at all interested). It was astounding. Chinese immigrants first started arriving in America after the Gold Rush in 1849 – many were recruited by the railroads and Chinese laborers made up the majority of crews that built the western leg of the transcontinental railroad (remember seeing any Asian folks in that famous “Golden Spike” picture? No, me neither). Around 1870, many plays started being written about frontier life and they often depicted Chinese immigrants in the most demeaning and hateful ways. Many are portrayed as barely human.

I found some research that talked about these depictions but little of what I read said anything about how other minorities were depicted at the same time. That became the focus of my research. To use a classic higher education word, I wanted to “contextualize” the portrayal of the Chinese within the racial culture of the time. I put the final touches on the paper just last night and what I am concluding is, as backward and racist as the perception of the Chinese was as exhibited in these plays, it was no worse and in some ways better than that of Native Americans and African Americans. Indians were depicted as irredeemably savage and blacks were still characterized by the numerous stereotypes that had been established and reinforced by Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Just as an aside, Cabin is arguably the most popular play of all time, being adapted into several stage versions that played in various cities from 1852 through the end of the century and that toured nationwide. UCT was adapted into one of the first ‘full length’ – that is, 10-14 minutes long – silent movies made 1903).

Anyway, it’s amazing to me the extent to which issues of race continue to play out throughout our culture, on stage and off both nationwide and locally. Some of you may have heard about the recent incident of a representation of an African American found hung in effigy at University of Richmond. It seems significant that this effigy was found in one of the campus theaters. It’s reprehensible that this kind of behavior persists. The only positive I can see in the whole thing is the aggressive stance the University is taking on the situation, including holding a “teach in” yesterday to discuss the history and meaning of lynching in the United States. Some of the response has been organized by Chuck Mike who some of you may be familiar with. His theater program -- Theatre for Social Change -- has been doing some very interesting work and supporting many challenging productions, including the recent production of “The Meeting” that runs through this weekend.

If you want to read about how far we’ve come – or maybe not? – I’m happy to send my paper to anyone interested. It’s 35 pages of sometimes dense verbiage but for a student of theater, I think it’s pretty interesting reading. Let me know.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A two-fer

This week’s Style features Mary weighing in on RTP's "Say You Love Satan" as well as my take on the Mill's "Once Upon A Mattress." Enjoy!

I’ll try to supplement my review with additional comments in the next day or two. In the meantime, if you have an opinion on my recent post on AART – and at least a few people do -- please feel free to join in the discussion.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

An actor thing

So opening night of “Little Dog Laughed” and something is going on with Susan Sanford’s voice. Either she has laryngitis or a cold or something. But I don’t hardly notice until my lovely wife points it out to me after the show. And being an actress herself and sensitive to that kind of thing, she expresses her admiration for Susan. “Did you hear how she was trying to find the place in her voice where she could project from?” she asks. I suddenly feel kind of stupid. “Um, no not really.”

But I do remember that moment early in this season of “American Idol” when ACTRESS Syesha Mercado is all freaking out because she is losing her voice and it’s “Hollywood week” where they’re merciless and she’s sure she’s going to get cut but then, laryngitis or no, she belts out some amazing song during her last performance and sails through into the final 12.

So I am reminded how real professionals learn to utilize their instrument, manage its performance to get the best results. And, after her brilliant performance, laryngitis notwithstanding, Susan Sanford becomes my new “American Idol.”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Night of a Thousand Stars

This morning had me wondering if the T-D has finally listened to all of the suggestions I’ve sent, emailed, tied on rocks and thrown through windows, etc. It started with a little teaser right on the front page, that sent me directly to a great piece on Andrew Hamm and his ever-growing body of good work with Richmond Shakespeare. Congrats, Mr. Hamm!

In a more-prominent-than-usual place in the Metro section you’ve got Ms. Haubenstock’s spot-on review of “The Little Dog Laughed” that includes one of the most deft turns of phrase I’ve read anywhere recently, her characterization of Susan Sanford’s character as a “feral godmother.” Snap!

Then there's an article about the dreamy Laura Linney, wherein I learned that she is 44 -- just like me! -- further reinforcing my delusion that there is some cosmic connection between her and I. Finally, there's even a travel piece about the map exhibit in Baltimore, tweaking my low-grade map obsession. I probably read more of the T-D this morning than I have in months -- and I haven't even gotten to the funnies yet!

Friday night at the Barksdale was amazing not just because of the opening of “The Little Dog Laughed,” but also because of the huge phalanx of local theater notables who were in the crowd. If I had any sense of fashion, I could write up a great red carpet round-up kind of thing – “Debra Wagonner looked smashing in Givenchy while Jan Guarino was understated but elegant in Ralph Lauren, etc. etc.” – but clearly I don’t. Most heartening for me was seeing Michael Gooding in the crowd as well as other RTP board members and directors. It was a great indication of inter-theater support and good will.

There are so many aspects of “Little Dog” that can be talked about that there may be two or three more posts about the show in the coming week. In the meantime, be sure and read the recap below from my blogmate Mary -- "who was sleek and stylish as usual in Dolche and Cabana" -- or something like that...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Oh What a Night!

I am still realing from last nights Richmond debut of "The Little Dog Laughed". Since I am not reviewing it for anyone I am free to share my thoughts with you:

Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway should be applauded for choosing this play. It is gutsy, funny and sure to be controversial in this conservative berg. It was everything theatre should be. Well produced. Well directed. Well acted. Very well written. Funny, smart, tender, poignient, exciting. It is the type of play that many of us hunger for in Richmond and can usually only find produced at the Firehouse Theatre or by Triangle Players.

Douglas Carter Beane (who is adorably boyish and mussed in person) adeptly provides a commentary on the manipulative nature or Hollywood on art, actors and the general public. He uses the case of the utter distruction of Truman Capote's "Breakfast At Tiffany's" from the brilliant novella to "safe" film as his running theme while telling the tale of a gay actor, his manipulative agent and the destruction of another work of art dealing with a gay theme. Although the story of the gay male lovers is the focal point, the female characters of the play really move the story along.

But Blah, Blah, Blah ...I linger too long on the plot. Why do you really need to see this play? It is incredibly well written! There is enough running theme, good characters and controversy to keep anyone happy.
Susan Sanford is AMAZING as the hardboiled yet studiously soft talent agent, Diane. She is the "Cat" fiddling the story and the characters into place. You can feel that this woman is a ring master and is really running this show from the first moment the audience is introduced to her- all glammed and standing on "the" red carpet delivering a brilliant monolog that sets the tone and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" relationship.

Eventhough there is not much chemistry between the two male actors, Matt Hackman and John Kenneth DeBoer, they both put in very fine performances. Hackman and DeBoer are new to the Barksdale stage and the fresh faces were a risk well taken. They were great at getting naked too- none of that awkward wierdness that can happen sometimes when actors take their clothes off and walk around on stage in the buff.
DeBoer was recently wonderful in "Visiting Mr. Green" by Richmond Triangle Players. He has that New York nice bad boy look about him reminiscent Frank Sinatra as Sky Masterson in the movie version of "Guys and Dolls". I overheard someone at intermission commenting on how cute his butt is as well. It just gets better and better doesn't it?

I am very proud of Hackman who, according to his program bio, is a relative newcomer to professional theatre. One would not have known.

Laine Satterfield is fabulous too! She fully fleshes out this already juicy character. Her nuances as the money-driven-looking-for-the-easy-life girl are perfect.

It just all seemed so good and fresh and exciting. Everyone should see this show and bring hundreds of friends. Because it is a production like this that proves top notch theater that can compete anywhere CAN be done here. (I'm not saying we don't have good theatre in Richmond but "The Little Dog Laughed" shows where the bar should be set all the time.) Theatre lovers must support this show to prove that we who live for excellent challenging theatre are here and will support it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Waiting Indeed

There’s an intriguing line in the New Yorker’s review of Japanese artist-entrepreneur Takashi Murakami’s show at the Brooklyn Museum. Critic Peter Schjeldahl says that with this show “New Yorkers” – and by extension, all Americans – “have a chance to absorb our new geo-spiritual fate, as provincials in a world of creative paradigms that no longer entreat our favor. That has to be good for us.” This encapsulation of the universal within the specific is just one of many reasons I love The New Yorker.

For some reason, this line made me think about “Waiting to be Invited,” the production by the African American Repertory Theatre that was reviewed in the T-D earlier this week. To make a full disclosure here, I’m pretty sure I have only seen two productions by this company, and that was back when it was still Living Word. But based on those productions and on everything I’ve heard from others since, there may be some creative paradigm at work with AART that I don’t understand. There are ways in which the “rules” of theater can be bent or even broken that are challenging and enlightening or even disturbing. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if theater just isn’t very good, well, then it just isn’t very good. I try to keep my outlook positive and think that they are working toward what may eventually blossom into something awesome. But my fear is that they just aren’t doing very good theater. Does anyone else have an alternative view?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hester and Satan

Hey Ya'll. Missed ya so much I've popped in with some news and some thoughts.

First the thoughts:
Dave, Love the idea of switching casts of "Mattress" and "Satan"!
You and I should get together on this since I saw "Satan" and you saw "Mattress". Surprisingly the shows may have more in common than one might immediately think. Domineering "women", effeminate men, good vs. evil issues and discussions about sex. OR there could just be a mash of the two shows together!!! I would definitely pay to see that! It could be called "Once Upon a Satan" or "Say You Love Mattresses".

Chris Hester is pulling off the showcase/marketing coup of the year on Thursday April 24th at the Henrico Theater. His one man Musical Showcase is titled "Stages: The Defining Phases of One Man's Life". Free. 8:00pm. Reception Immediately Following and you are all invited - for real.

Hope to see many of you Friday night at "Little Dog Laughed" opening and reception. I am not reviewing as it is Dave's turn but have been graciously included on the guest list.

Now here's something to chew on:
I hesitated (to the point of missing the event) purchasing tickets to the Fairy Tale Ball because I feel odd supporting one theatre company's fundraising event and not supporting them all. It is not that I do not wish to support them all but as a freelance writer/teacher I cannot afford tickets and babysitting for all of the events. It just seems uncool to attend say The Fireball and not go to anyone else's event. I don't want to seem as though I endorse one company over the other. On the flip side, I do support local theatre and want to show my support by "being there" for these fundraising events.

Bloggers- What are your thoughts? Am I being sensitive to others feelings or just exhibiting an overly self important attitude?

Another, more poignant, giveaway

I am a regular reader of Dan Savage's advice column, "Savage Love." In a town like Richmond, I'm always a little hesitant to even mention this column because it has the audacity to speak to people's kinky sexuality with compassion and deal with sexual issues bluntly and honestly. Mr. Savage is gay -- ribaldly, unrepentently, and gloriously gay -- and has a long-term boyfriend with whom he's adopted a son.

In this week's column, Mr. Savage offers two tickets to a show, kind of like I did a few days ago. The reason he makes this offer, however, is much more poignant and affecting than mine. If you are interested in two tickets to the tour of "The Drowsy Chaperone," you might want to check out his column. Or, even better, if you want to read a touching and wonderfully respectful "thank you" letter, check it out.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Style hits newsstands early this week (Tuesday instead of Wednesday) and, while I can’t link to the story yet, Mary’s thumbs-up for Richmond Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” is in this week’s issue (update: now I can link to it!). There’s a short blurb on “Greater Tuna” in the Calendar section as well.

Congratulations to Thespis’ Little Helper – more commonly known as BC – for claiming the tickets to the Emily Skinner / Alice Ripley concert Friday night. Drop us a line here at the blog and let us know how the show was, BC.

Theatre IV has posted pictures from the Fairy Tale Ball. While I was not among the attendees, three of the T-lines were and two appear in the pix. Well, shucks, ain’t they adorable?

I am prompted by an email from Brandon Becker who ably choreographed “Once Upon A Mattress” to mention briefly how generous theater folks are in this town. The actors at the FTB were all essentially donating their time (though there were great fringe benefits I’m told!). The folks at Henley Street have organized a benefit preview performance of “The Seagull” on Thurs., May 8th to assist the ailing Liz marks.

And Brandon brought to my attention a benefit for the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School happening on April 26th. This gala will include volunteers performers from Richmond Shakespeare, Firehouse Theatre Project, Richmond Ballet, Barksdale Theatre, Amaranth Dance Company, Starr Foster Dance Company, and more (details here).

These are only three of the dozens of these kinds of benefits that happen each year where Richmond performers donate their time and talent unselfishly. Few Richmond-area performers are rich and yet they are among the most generous people I know.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Run and Fun

On Saturday, twenty-four thousand pals of mine and I ran up and down Monument Ave for a while. Wow – what an amazing turnout! What was truly impressive to me was how well-organized everything was. Starting with information packet pickup and ending with the distribution of food at the end of the race, things just ran like clockwork. I ran pretty well, too, my 50 minutes exactly time beating my expectations by a good 3 minutes or so. It’s not as impressive as Scott Wichmann’s recent feat but, hey, I’ll take it.

And speaking of well-organized, I dropped my son off at the Fairy Tale Ball at Theatre IV later on Saturday and man, talk about another well-organized event. Food and fun stuff was everywhere and, by all accounts I heard, a grand time was had by all.

I couldn’t make it to the Ball itself, as I had a date with a princess, a pea and 20 mattresses down at Swift Creek Mill. It was certainly a fun show but, until I gather my thoughts together more coherently, you’ll have to be content with Ms. Haubenstock’s review. It sounds like she had fun, too!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bali Ha'i

Another reason I WILL be going to New York this year: ‘South Pacific’ opened last night and, if the first-blush reviews can be believed, it looks like a spectacular production (for a more in-depth story with sound clips, check out the NPR story). Beyond reviving a monumental piece of Broadway history, I think this production is interesting because of the story’s tangential commentary on current events (that is, life during wartime) and its treatment of racial prejudice.

It also comes at a pretty fortuitous time for me as I’m currently finishing up a term paper for grad school on anti-Asian prejudice as depicted on stage. Thank you universe, Rogers and Hammerstein, and director Bartlett Sher for providing me with a great opening paragraph!

One last idle thought (but NOT an 'Idol' thought, though those seem to generate more controversy...): as I was driving into work today, I had a vague notion that it'd be pretty funny if the casts of RTP's "Say You Love Satan" and the Mill's "Once Upon a Mattress" got switched. I don't really know enough about "Satan" to know what the result would be, but my sense is that these are two shows that are pretty dramatically different in tone and content -- perfect for a mash-up!

Have a great weekend!

(Update! I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the opening of Gypsy recently as well. Here's a pretty long piece at CNN interviewing Patti Lupone and the New Yorker review of the show. John Lahr has been to every iteration of Gypsy on Broadway, all the way back to Ethel Merman -- can you imagine?)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The offers just get better

A while back I posed a multi-part trivia question and the person who gave me the correct answers ended up receiving a year’s subscription to American Theatre magazine. In an ongoing effort to make this blog a value-added aspect of your life, I’m offering yet another prize today.

I’ve got two tickets to the sold-out Emily Skinner / Alice Ripley concert at the Kennedy Center next Friday that I cannot use. If you are interested in these tickets, post a comment here saying you are interested and send me a separate email telling me where you would like the tickets sent. If you want to add any interesting facts about yourself or reasons why you are interested in the tickets, well that would be all the better.

If more than one person expresses an interest, I’ll figure out some thoroughly random way to pick someone (like have my 4-year old pick out the name he likes the best…or I guess I could resort to the more traditional hat method…we’ll see if it’s even necessary…).

Having missed seeing Ms. Skinner’s recent stint in “The Witches of Eastwick,” I’m very disappointed that I won’t be able to go to this concert. In fact, I think I’ve seen Ms. Ripley on stage more recently (in a production of “Les Miz” 10 years ago) than I’ve seen Emily, which is just a shame. But my disappointment can be someone else’s happiness. Let me know by the end of the day next Monday...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

HBO (How 'Bout Our) Ford

The lovely Ms. Harris-Jones, via her blog, alerted me to Mr. Ford Flanagan's recent appearance in HBO's "John Adams." Unfortunately, I don't have HBO so I didn't see it but now I'll have to be sure and check it out when it comes to DVD. Oh sure, I was a little envious that he was sharing near-kisses with the wonderful Christine Schneider every night in rehearsal for 'Peter Pan' -- but now I learn he might have actually met and conversed with Laura Linney?!? I am thoroughly green now.