Thursday, November 27, 2008


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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Leonard Lopate

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Deb Doubleheader

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Without Delay

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

Friday, November 21, 2008


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

Opening and Closing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008


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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Famous People

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hot Tuna

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Flying Blind

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One small thing

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This just in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Missed it

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

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

Other people’s words

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 09, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 07, 2008


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

From Derome Scott Smith

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 03, 2008

Vote (for Obama)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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