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.

Not Me

I’m not the only opinion in this town, obviously, and so you might want to check out what Ms. Tupponce has to say about "Driving Miss Daisy" at and Mr. Porter at WCVE has weighed in on several productions lately; you can hear them by going here. Also, Entertainment Weekly (no they don’t pay me kickbacks) recently did their fall theater preview, which can be accessed along with all of their stage reviews (not so much liking “A Tale of Two Cities”) here.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Why the Hell Aren’t I Asleep Edition

Will I ever write more detailed analysis of “The Clean House?” Will it matter if I do? Are these just rhetorical questions?

Monday night is a reading of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” at the Barksdale. What would you rather do on a Monday night? You can Tivo “Heroes” – and then forget to watch it later and be a better person for it. It’s got some great folks in it and it’s directed by that electrifying young auteur Jase Smith. It’s one night only folks.

Tuesday is “Ragtime” at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen for the benefit of Stage 1 with a current Broadway star – Jerold Solomon – in it. A touch of Broadway right here in river city – can you really afford to miss that, either? And there’s dessert and champagne afterwards!

And next Saturday, there’s the Dance/Theater Conversations thing going on at the CACAGA as well. These many exciting events in one week, you’ve got to be thinking Richmond is getting more like New York every day, right?

I am excited that I will at least get to attend one of these three events. Batting over .300 -- can't really expect more than that at this point in the season.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sarah Rules!

I will get to expounding further on "The Clean House" (was Robin Arthur that amazing? Yes she was!) but until I can, here's a review of Sarah Ruhl's "Passion Play" currently at Yale Rep to tide you over.

And, as Lisa points out in the latest issue of Richmond Marquee, there are a lot of one night extravaganzas coming up that should not be missed. First there's "Dead Man's Cell Phone" on Oct. 6th at the Barksdale -- a staged reading of another of Ms. Ruhl's plays featuring scads of people from "House" as well as "Eurydice." And directed by Jase Smith of "Reefer Madness" fame.

Then there's the Stage 1 "Ragtime" benefit, the rehearsal tape from which is burning up the Internets. That'll be next Tuesday. And then not too far in the distance is the Equality Virginia benefit on Oct. 16th. (Update: Oops! The EV benefit is Tuesday, Oct. 14 -- reception 6:30, showtime 7:30. Sorry for the mistake.)

And of course there's that thing happening on the 19th but I'll just shut up about least for now.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ricks, Wichmann and Company

Back in 1999, The Washington Post talked about director Molly Smith’s production of Paula Vogel’s “Hot ‘n’ Throbbing” at the Arena Stage this way: “Smith has tricked up [the production] with a film-clip accompaniment that visually competes with and finally defeats the actors.” I wrote about the production for Style at the time (here’s a link to the review, though it doesn’t seem to want to work for me) and had kind of the same thought.

I couldn’t help but think of this production when I saw “Richard III” at Henley Street last Friday. One reason was just the visual effect: the Arena back in 1999 was adorned with video screens of various sizes just like Pine Camp. The difference with “Throbbing” was that, as I remember it, some of the filmed pieces played at the same time as action was happening on stage, which was very distracting.

As director James Ricks has staged “Richard,” the video clips are mostly discreet from the onstage action but there is competition just the same. The segments are brilliant with cameo performances by folks like Joe Pabst, Dawn Westbrook, Jacquie O’Connor, Thomas Nowlin, Bo Wilson, and more. I particularly liked the Press Conference clip as I thought it most seamlessly conflated the technology with the plot.

But, as I said in my review, I thought the smoothness and seamlessness of these video segments sets up a contrast with what happens after them and it’s not always a flattering one. The convincing settings in the video segments contrast with the completely bare stage set. The witty and well-rehearsed video performances contrast with a few onstage performances that I thought were a bit wooden or awkward.

In his director’s notes, Mr. Ricks makes some insightful comments about television’s “stimulating maneuverability.” I think the challenge in mixing video and theater involves effectively marrying the stimulating maneuverability of the one medium, with the stimulating immediacy of the other. For them to work in tandem, I think an audience member needs to be as impressed by what he/she sees on stage as they are by what’s on the screen. This was one of the reasons I was ambivalent about the staging of the many executions in shadow. If one of the strengths of live theater is seeing real people go through stuff before your eyes, this staging removed that element of immediacy from the production.

I love modern contextualization of Shakespeare: it can be delightful. I still have fond memories of some of the first productions at the Boulders that I saw done by (what was then) Encore! Theatre. The two guys in full “Baywatch” gear, complete with theme music, was one of my favorite moments (can’t quite remember what play it was in though…). And Mr. Ricks and his team pay attention to details: Eric Evans playing the DS was pretty priceless as was the inclusion of a cell phone in at least one scene. But this modernization somehow did not seem quite complete, and maybe lack of set was part of the problem. When you have queens, dukes, and lords going at each other (and talking about towers and such), it’s easiest to picture them in castle courtyards, not necessarily in boardrooms or at Starbucks.

There is no denying the power of Mr. Wichmann’s performance; he is stunning. His physical command of the character is impressive and he also does magnificent things with his voice. I could ramble on at length about what he does but I did so in my review. What I’ll add here is a note of concern or maybe a vague wish: I’d love to see Scott play a somewhat regular person and really make me believe his performance. I remember feeling that way about the characters he portrayed in “Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop.” Characters that are somehow bigger than life – King Richard, Nathan Detroit, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf – he has done amazing things with. But just playing a regular guy and making him believable and/or interesting – something actors like Steve Perigard and Duke Lafoon excel at – can be just as hard, sometimes even harder.

After Scott, Margarette Joyner obviously made the biggest impression on me. I have loved Melissa Johnston Price in many things but I found her Elizabeth a bit hysterical until her compelling final face-off with newly crowned king. Adam Mincks also did a fine job, but I would have liked to see more of his growing realization of Richard’s evil. It seemed more of a black-white thing once the nephews were killed. Rebecca Anne Muhleman was awesome as Anne and it’s a shame that her Anne is killed off relatively early. More Anne / Richard face-off would have been thrilling.

I don’t know if it was me, the play or the production, but I had never realized how Richard’s evil strategy seems to devolve into “just kill everyone in his way.” Maybe we’ll put that one on the Bard. But the clever schemer at the beginning of the play seems like little more than a ruthless thug by the end. Maybe that’s the point.

One last shout-out has to go to Frank Creasy who rocks a great wig during much of his stage time. It doesn’t quite match Scott’s performance as a “must see” aspect to compel people to see this production, but it’s pretty close!

Richard and Mathilde

My reviews of “Richard III” and “The Clean House” are in today’s Style. I’m hoping to get a chance to expound further on both of these before the day is out. But I’ve got to do something that looks like real work this morning…