Monday, September 29, 2008

Passing Grades

It was another full weekend, theater-wise, and I had a fine time taking in Henley Street’s “Richard III” and Barksdale’s “The Clean House.” My lovely wife was recovering from a similar kind of crud that had knocked me on my butt earlier in the week so she missed out on the fun. I struggled on without her, however, and had the opportunity to chat with a bunch of folks at both of the shows. It was nice to see a few Richmond Shakespeare actors out supporting Henley Street in their Bard bid. Iambic pentameter really can bring the world together.

It was also great to see a house full to overflowing at Henley Street and a Sunday matinee that looked at least ¾ full at the Barksdale. Bigger audiences = we all win.

As for my fellow critics, Susan liked Scott in “Richard,” but found some elements of the production problematic. Julinda had some positive adjectives for “House” – amusing, poignant – but had some equivocating ones as well, like “illogical.” Not to give too much away before my own adjectives are published but my thoughts coincided to a fairly uncanny degree with my T-D compatriots. More on that later in the week.

One last item: if you pick up the October issue of Richmond Magazine, there's a blurb about the RTCC awards tucked in there. Thanks to Harry K over at the mag for a little ink -- it's appreciated!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Two More and a Tease

Other productions -- both near and far -- that are on my personal radar: "Amazing Tales of Structures" opened at the Carpentar Science Theatre last weekend. I'll be bringing my wee ones to that sometime in the next couple of weeks because being an architecture lover comes with the package of being a Richmond resident, IMHO. Also, "Equus" is open on Broadway and the reviews are coming in. What I hear about Mr. Radcliffe's performance has mostly been good.

And here's the tease: Style's 40 Under 40 issue comes out in a couple of weeks. Looks for two local theater faves among the listing!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Events

Beyond the professional shows currently gracing stages, there are some college productions opening / running these days as well. If I had nothing but time (and two less jobs and independent wealth would help too) I’d see a lot more college productions because, while they can be a little rough around the edges at times, they also can be fresh, surprising, and provide all sorts of unexpected pleasures.

Theatre VCU’s season kicks off with “Raisin in the Sun” tonight and I thought I saw something interesting listed for Randolph Macon in the T-D this morning, but can’t find it on their stupid website. Also, U of R does their New Faces event at the Modlin Center. The price is right (free! Though tickets are required) and I’m particularly curious to see what the scheduled one-act “Drugs are Bad” might be like. Echoes of “Reefer Madness” perhaps?

Finally, be sure and wish BC Maupin a Happy Birthday if you see him today!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


So where the hell have I been, both of you might be wondering. I’d say that I’ve been to hell and back but it’s really not been quite that dramatic. This past weekend was dominated by a whirlwind trip to New York for a wedding. The biggest annoyance about it was not even the 14 hours spent driving there and back, or that I got a nasty cold while there forcing me to spend most of Monday unconscious but mostly the fact that there were absolutely NO SHOWS involved in the adventure. Ugh! We did spend some high-quality time with some great relations though and Long Island in the Fall, well, there are worse places to be.

Somewhere along the lines, I missed Susan’s review of “Driving Miss Daisy,” which I guess I’m going to have to add to my “must-see” list for the fall, based on the good things I’ve been hearing.

I did catch Mary B’s round-up of “Eurydice” and “Four Queens” in Style today, though. Ms. Burruss’s review fulfilled my curiosity a bit about the new RTP venue – not altogether flattering – and filled in some interesting staging details about the Firehouse show. I’m grinning in anticipation of seeing Larry Cook’s performance – not to mention Joe’s – well, and Laine’s too – etc. etc. And hey, thanks to the Firehouse Flash, I was alerted to the John Porter review of the show on WCVE, another rave, of course.

I’m gearing up for another weekend of openings, and this time I’m actually seeing some of them. Luckily, Mary B also provided another in the long line of “Richard III” previews to get me warmed up for that one. Perhaps I’ll do some mopping or something to get ready for Barksdale’s “Clean House.” I'd do some studying up on how to write a good review of a Shakespeare play by reading Hilton Als' critique of the current production of "The Tempest," but that would just depress me, given that I'll have about one-fifth as many words to lay out my learned impressions.

Beyond the driving, sneezing, sleeping, reading, listening, gearing up, and potential mopping, I’ve been busy with two other “ing”s: tallying – RSVPs to the RTCCs, which have trailed off lately; come on people! – and ordering the awards themselves which just came in today. Here’s a picture:

Aren’t they beautiful?

Hope to see you at an opening this weekend!

Saturday, September 20, 2008


So the Fall season has exploded in this past week, overwhelming the little likes of me. Susie fawned over “Four Queens” in her Friday review but I didn’t answer my bigger question: what was Highwater like as a venue? As reviewers often have to do, she packed her insight into that issue in the word “comfortable” which is certainly better than “cramped” or “awkward” or “spare.” I guess it would be my job, given a more expansive realm for rambling, to fill in some details. But I haven’t made it down there yet so that’ll have to wait.

The show I’ve been hearing all sorts of buzz about has been "Eurydice," which Susie also liked. I personally can’t wait to see Joe Inscoe on stage again and the rest of the cast is pretty darn fab as well. Apparently, John Porter did a WCVE review of this show but there’s no audio clip of it that I could find on the “Idea Stations” site.

“Driving Miss Daisy” also opened this weekend and I haven’t heard word one about it yet. I hope Susie’s review will come out tomorrow. It’s great that Jim Bynum is back on stage for that production. We’ve missed you, Jim!

So many shows! Just another reason fall is my favorite season.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Balancing Act(ors)

There was a time (10 years ago? 20? 30?) when the proliferation of small-cast shows caused a small-scale hue and cry amongst theater devotees. Those who loved and pined for the shows with big ensembles – particularly musicals – saw the shrinkage of the typical cast to a couple or a handful of actors as another sign of the demise of ‘real’ theater and a concession to the crushing weight of economics over art. (This quote from the Wikipedia entry on musical theater: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Xanadu and …works like Avenue Q represent a trend towards presenting smaller-scale, small cast musicals that are able to show a good profit in a smaller house.”)

Others (perhaps more petulant observers) saw it as a dwindling of talent in the playwriting pool. Shakespeare wrote for casts of a dozen or two – were modern writers just not up to snuff? (Check out this interesting piece from the Guardian a couple of years ago that discusses production size.)

The big casts in some of the shows I’ve seen lately (Guys and Dolls, Side Show) and the fact that Richmond Shakespeare’s Hamlet this fall will be their biggest indoor cast yet has me thinking about this issue recently. But my thoughts generally have had more to do with balance. It seems to me that it can be hard in a town the size of Richmond to always find a cast where the talent is balanced. I remember a few productions this past season where the work of the leads or even of the majority of the company was excellent but where there were two or three actors in the ensemble – or sometimes just one – who clearly weren’t at the level of the rest of the cast. I came out of those productions wondering if I wouldn’t have liked it better if everyone in the cast was similarly skilled – even if that meant the leads would have been a bit less awesome (Note: while I wondered this, I didn't ultimately come to a conclusion. Would I really want less awesomeness on stage? Not really.)

I’m fairly certain every director simply wants the best actor for each role and so probably doesn’t (and functionally, can’t) go into a show wondering if they will need to make a choice about talent versus balance. But I expect they do have to make allowances for the differences in talent and experience and sometimes have to settle for the warm body they have versus the experienced thespian they’d prefer.

(P.S.: I write this with complete self-awareness that the only time I’ve ever appeared on stage was in a production of “Once Upon a Mattress” where I was one of those warm bodies trying really hard not to embarrass myself...and not succeeding.)

Where am I going with this? To circle back around to what I started with, I guess I’m saying that while I have always loved a stage full of people (favorite musicals: Godspell, Les Mis), I’ve come to appreciate the value of the smaller cast show. I think about attending a show like Firehouse’s “Eurydice” where everyone in the cast has the chops to be just incredible and feel more confident that I’m not going to be thrown out of my suspension of disbelief because of someone’s clumsy line readings.

I’d express a similar confidence about the production of “Four Queens in Hawaiian Shirts” that RTP is opening at Toad’s Place tomorrow night but I don’t know who is in the cast. I probably should and maybe I saw it listed somewhere, but now I forget. Can someone enlighten me? Please?

Monday, September 15, 2008

One Day Wonder

Ms. Lewis weighed in -- and quite favorably -- on "Yes, Virginia - Dance" in today's T-D. And the "Morpheus Quartet" piece will be able to be seen again on October 11th out at the Cultural Arts Center in Glen Allen (thanks for the heads-up, BC!).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Yes, Virginia

Somehow I got it in my head that there wasn’t any new theater opening until Eurydice next week, totally spacing on the theatrical component of “Yes, Virginia – Dance” this afternoon and tonight at Grace Street Theater near VCU.

Sure, my wife wrote about it in this month's Richmond Marquee, and sure, the production of “The Morpheus Quartet” marks the return to Richmond’s stages of the talented Sara Heifetz (not to mention the participation of several other incredible thespians). But as befits a person creeping ever more quickly toward the half-century mark, things fall off the edge of my brain easier than they used to.

So sorry about that “Yes, Virginia” folks. I hope the words that has gotten out via other media folks ends up generating some decent crowds for you. The event sounds, in the words of my wife, like it’ll be “an artistic experience like no other.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

Two Part Harmony, Part Two

Speaking of harmony, if you ever listen to the NPR radio show “Sound Check,” you may have heard about their songwriting contest. And you might have heard that the winning lyrics will be set to music by “Brooklyn-based” band One Ring Zero. And, if you’ve lived in Richmond for a while, you may remember that One Ring Zero actually was born at VCU with when cofounders Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp were going to school there. And this all ties into theater because ORZ really came to the forefront (OK, maybe just in my mind…) when they started accompanying Clay MacLoed Chapman’s Pumpkin Pie Show performances. So if you really want to bring this story full circle, you should submit some really good lyrics so a Richmond resident would WIN this contest. Go for it – what do you have to lose?

So furthermore on Side Show, here are a couple of things I really liked: during the Hilton sisters “coming out” number, Brett Ambler (as Buddy) was mouthing the words as the girls sang them. Similarly, when Violet’s wedding engagement is announced, Dustin Faltz (as Jake) was seething in the background. I think that kind of active engagement by players in the background really cements a good theatrical experience. (I can still remember being fairly aghast when the reverse has happened, like the second time I saw “Les Miz” on Broadway and there were several bit players whose attentions were clearly wandering in some scenes.)

Though I enjoyed Side Show overall, I had mixed feelings about several aspects. Dustin Faltz has a very, very distinctive voice and there were times I loved it and times I didn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many words to express that feeling in my review. Essentially, the times I didn’t love his voice, I wasn’t sure if he was actually off-key (which is what it sounded like) or if I was just reacting to the specific nature of his voice. Maybe it’s not a technical-enough criticism but it’s how I felt.

I was also a bit confused by the characters of Terry and Buddy, maybe because they are essentially confused characters faced with mixed feelings in a truly unique situation (I don’t think even Savage Love has had a question about wooing conjoined twins…). Michael Hawke did a great job with Terry, though I was hoping for something that felt more like love in his feelings for Daisy. Mostly, I was getting lust – mixed in with that confusion stuff. And I would have liked to see a little more nuance with Buddy, maybe something more nakedly ambitious. Brett is so darn likeable on stage without even trying; a little more of the dark side would have made his character more interesting, in my opinion. I guess I’m saying I wanted Buddy to be meaner and Terry to be nicer. Whether the results with both of these characters has more to do with the show, the portrayals or the direction is hard for me to say; I can only say how it came across to me.

I wish Katrinah Lewis (as the Fortune Teller) had more to do during this show. She’s someone who really lights up the stage when she’s on it. And while we’re on the subject: I think Mr. Doran did his usual excellent job with the lighting design.

I could go on (and on and on…) but I’m sure that’s more than you ever wanted to know about how I felt about “Side Show” already. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blog: The Musical

USA Today has their Fall stage preview in today’s issue and it’s always interesting to see what the mainstream press picks up on in terms of theater. First off, like everything else in culture these days, it’s all about the celebrities! There’s also a feel good tale about young boys catching their first big break. But most disturbing to me is all of the “The Musical” suffixes out there. As you may have seen, “Menopause: The Musical” was recently in C’Ville. On Broadway this fall we’ll have “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” “Tale of Two Cities: The Musical,” and most scary of all, “Shrek: The Musical.”

Sure, you can’t judge just from the suffix (and from what I hear from the Steingold sisters, “Two Cities” is very “Les Miz”-like, which frankly works just fine for me), but still, I think we’re almost in a post-post ironic stage with the whole “The Musical” thing. “Springtime for Hitler” signaled the first wave decades ago. Now, with both “Batman: The Musical” and “Spiderman: The Musical” having been talked about, it seems that “Apocalypse Now: The Musical” or “Post-Nasal Drip: The Musical” wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. Will we ever get back to the day when a musical can just have a name – like “Spring Awakening” for instance – and not be weighted down by the suffix?

And speaking of all that, it’s not just the theater that’s into the whole recycling thing. Here’s a review of the new opera, “The Fly,” which is currently playing out in L.A. What I wanted to know is how did they avoid a headline like “Fly generated a buzz”?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Two Part Harmony, Part One

So that didn’t take long: my review of “Side Show” is in today’s Style (thanks Mr. Editor Man!) I'll ramble a bit more about the show below, though I may not have time right now to lay out every little thing I could say about this show. So this’ll probably only be the first installment. Just giving you fair warning...

To reiterate what I said in my review: Angie and Robyn are knock-outs and I loved them in this show. I had heard “I Will Never Leave You” before but I didn’t really, you know, hear it until Angie and Robyn belted it out. And as simple and – let’s face it, trite – as the lyrics are to “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” I was seriously choked up at the end of the second act (oops -- I meant, first act. Sorry.).

And this points to my essential conflict with the show: the clichés that it is filled with alternately make up its best and worst parts. These two big power ballads are awesome, but even their titles indicate how they resemble about a half-dozen other songs in the Broadway songbook. Add in “Overnight Sensation” and it’s a perfect trifecta of a musical’s typical song types: “pining for a lover who understands me” ballad, “on the way to success” ditty, “assertion of never-ending bond or friendship” climax. There’s an irony in this to me since the Mill’s premier last season (U-town) skewered these kinds of musical clichés.

For the sake of balance, I’ll mention one thing that I thought the show does quite well. There’s no getting away – particularly in a love story – from the prurient aspect of the life of conjoined twins. The whole “Tunnel of Love” setup was an excellent way to handle this, being both euphemistic in a way but clear enough to anyone over 12 years old. And Mr. Width did a great job staging this, I think, with each character involved isolated and coming to their own realization about how fundamentally their perceptions were changing. Nicely done.

The day after I saw the show someone asked me about the physical aspects of staging a story about twins. It’s true, Robyn and Angie don’t look much alike, even when outfitted the same. Their coloring is different, they’re different heights, some of their individual features are dramatically different. I can see where this will be a problem for some people and frankly I thought it was going to be one for me. In the end, I wasn’t bothered much at all by it. Two things helped me with this: pictures of the actual Hilton sisters show that they were visibly distinct in some ways and also the show sets them up as being strikingly different personalities so their different looks didn’t make me suspend my disbelief any less. Sure, it would have been an interesting plus if the leads were as similar looking as Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley but if that would have meant sacrificing some of the vocal and dramatic power of the two actresses chosen, well, I don’t think it would have been worth it.

I will say though that I kind of wish that we had never seen the twins separated except in the dream sequences. When the show starts with them sitting separately, it was kind of a “Huh?” moment for me.

Tomorrow (or maybe the next day) I’ll try to put out more on the supporting cast, technical elements, and other random stuff. But now – to bed!


“Side Show” is the predominant game in town until next Wednesday and, since I’m not talking about that show right now, I’ll go back and right a wrong from several weeks ago. I was lucky enough to catch “Shirley Valentine” during its closing weekend out at the Tavern and I didn’t really talk in depth about it. I won’t deliver a whole dissertation here but I will say I thought it was an awesome performance by Ms. Steinberg. What JB does so well is demonstrate in the early scenes that Shirley isn’t just any housewife; she’s a little spitfire whose flame has been dimmed by the years of domesticity and parenthood. By showing us that early, we can believe that she would go ahead and jettison her previous life for a new one as a way to recapture the spirit of that young rebel she once was.

One of my favorite scenes was when Shirley’s daughter moves back (very temporarily) with the expectation that Shirley will continue to be a domestic servant. The post-adolescent outrage the daughter expresses is precious and I can see extreme future versions of my own lovely daughters in the characterization. The show also has some great messages about the perceptions have about others: Shirley’s high school nemesis always wanted to be her back in the day, the overly-dramatic neighbor says she wouldn’t have the courage to do what Shirley does. It’s a nice reminder that we all look at the world from our own little box and we shouldn’t assume what others are seeing from inside theirs.

Though I thought JB did a flawless job, there was at least one thing that I didn’t love about the show. The talking to the wall conceit is a little contrived and makes some of Shirley’s lines awkward (though it does set up a nice joke with the Greek rock). I can’t remember exactly but I think someone had called the show dated; I didn’t have a problem with that. It may not be strictly contemporary but I also think Shirley’s situation still speaks to about a billion people who find themselves in a middle-aged morass wondering how the hell they got there.

I thought the set was great and the working stove and frier were pretty impressive. Not being an anglophile, I didn’t notice the small incongruities that have since been pointed out. The lighting had a few glitchy aspects but it was pointed out to me later that the lighting designer lit the show before the set was complete which couldn’t have been easy.

Overall, it was a great show and in particular, one that I was glad both my mom and my daughter got to see.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Positively Freaky

Well, the first rave for “Side Show” is in. Susan H’s largely positive take on the show was tucked in the back of today’s T-D’s first section. I like the word “mesmerizing” for the show, though I also have to say I agree with her reservations about the production.

And to the lovely Miss Hausfrauski’s comment about why I tease: it has been pointed out to me that if I give away too much about what I think right after I see a show that people have less reason to read what actually gets published in Richmond’s stalwart alternative weekly. Sorry if that keeps y’all hanging on.

Speaking of hanging on, I have been trying to round up email addresses for Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards nominees and have generally been pretty successful. I have preliminary RSVPs accounting for about 95 attendees. But there are several folks that I think I have valid email addresses for that I still haven’t heard from. Of a greater concern, there are several more that I don’t know how to get in touch with at all. Below is a list; if any of you faithful readers know how best to get in touch with these folks, can you ask them to write or call? I’m still at Thanks!

Joe Doran
Katherine Louis
Maura Lynch Cravey
Rebecca Cairns

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who responded! I think I have some way to get to everyone now.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


This weekend I spent two evenings out with my best date, my lovely bride. Our first First Friday was a learning experience. The stormy weather had us hemming and hawing a bit about even going so we set out later than was probably optimal. Our friends the First Friday veterans had said they usually went to the galleries on Main Street first so we went there and frankly were a little disappointed. The Reynolds had that cool piece “Splatter” that was on Style’s Fall Arts cover and a pretty impressive and huge thing with mirrors (shown inside in the same Style issue). But the whole experience was kind of like a cliché representation of an art opening: lots of self-consciously hiply-casual people milling about checking out each other a lot more than they were looking at the art. Many of the subsequent galleries we went to were pretty much the same, only less crowded and less fabulous than the Reynolds. And don’t get me started on the prices. I like abstract art, I like challenging art, but you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to pay $40,000 for something that looks like an ugly, lumpy piece of rock. It’s a good thing I’m not an art critic.

Having said that, I did buy a colorful, clever (and reasonably priced) piece at the Artemis called “Leaning Lovers” by a Colorado artist named Julia Watkins who calls her style “energism.” I guess I’m one of those fuddy-duddys who still likes my art at least a little bit ‘pretty.’

We didn’t get down to where the real action was on Broad Street until about 10pm (after the horror of parking) and my beloved was getting a little sleepy. But what a different scene! There was so much going on with the bands and the street theater and the installations in allies and projected down the street. The place was buzzing with energy PLUS you could go into a place like the joint across from Theatre IV (where Zoo Valdes was laid out for the night) and actually imagine buying one of the pieces because they were less than $200 instead of more than $20K. Call me a socialist, but I think art should be for everyone. We also ran into a few theater folks that were fun to talk to and avoided some (but not all) of the art-scene folks that we knew and would have been better off avoiding. I heard people say at least twice that the event had a very New York vibe, which I agree with except that if this kind of thing was in NYC I think it would have been both four times more crowded and four times more expensive.

Over all, it was a good introduction to the FF scene and will help us focus our efforts in the future for maximum fun. And in the more even-handed light of morning, I was asking myself: does every “scene” seem as pretentious and self-obsessed from the outside? Is that the way theater folks seem to “outsiders” when they gather in packs? My, I hope not.

Saturday was our second date night in a row and we took in “Side Show” at the Mill, which I am still processing as the musical phrase “Look at the Freaks!” echoes in my head. As delightful as many aspects of the show were, the best part for me was being able to deconstruct it with someone at least as knowledgeable about theater and certainly as passionate about it. I guess I’m lucky because even when I go to a show by myself, I get to work out my thoughts about it in my reviews afterword. But it’s much more fun doing it with another person (I’m working really hard to avoid a vulgar analogy here so I’ll just move on…)

I’ll have more thoughts about “Side Show” in a few days and I expect to have a lot to say. The 300 words or so that make it into print will really just be scratching the surface this time.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


…as in fall-ing out of the habit of blogging. Sometimes it happens (particularly as the school schedules -- including my own -- really get into swing). But don’t you worry both of you readers out there, I’m still hard-wired into the stage scene, yes indeedy. How else could I have written such an insightful little diddy about the upcoming season? Just by reviewing the season schedules published by the different companies, you say? Well, perhaps, yes, perhaps.

Of course, the T-D had a more comprehensive preview of “Side Show” last Sunday and Joan at did a piece on Richard III – am I the only one in the RTCC who hasn’t written about R3? It seems I might be. We’ll have to do something to change that. Anyway, I’m not bitter because I’m going to my first First Friday tomorrow so my hipness is about to sky-rocket!

For now, at least Style also did a little Street Talky number about RTP and its move, which I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else in print yet (though it's been blogged about for weeks). So that’s something.

And finally (for now, I’ll be back – promise!), here’s a little piece of wisdom that arrived in my in-box a couple of days ago courtesy of my favorite rabbi. Something to ponder when not worrying about how well the Fall productions are going to sell…

Real success is not on the stage, but off the stage as a human being, and how you get along with your fellow men.