Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Noir It Are

My review of RTP's "Pulp" is in this week's Style (on newstands this afternoon) but is already available online. Gotta love that Internet (when you have it; ours at home keeps fritzing out, dammit!) If for nothing else, check out the print edition because RTP provided a pretty hot picture from the show (especially if you are a Holly Lucas fan which I know at least one of you is!)

As I mentioned below, my take on this production was different from Ms. Haubenstock's at the T-D in ways that I find interesting. Susan and I have divergent thoughts about many things, I'm sure, but I've found over the years that, not infrequently, we have similar impressions of many productions, even if we don't highlight the same elements. Given that, I'm wondering if this is the kind of production that can come across very differently from night to night -- more so than even the average live theater production.

For instance, Ms. H liked the lights; I thought the spotlight effects missed their mark (both physically and dramatically) almost as often as they hit, which I found distracting. Susan had issues with Ms. Mullins' performance as Terry; I thought she was spot-on, only faltering in the interaction with Ms. Rule's Vivian, something I attribute as much to a curious casting choice as Mullins' work. (Don't get me wrong: I think the world of Ms. Rule, but in my mind, Vivian has to be a bit more va-va-voom to get Terry as hot-n-bothered as she does.)

I thought the timing of the banter was pretty good -- probably just a bit more practiced since opening night. And the songs were disappointing to me but only because with the vocal chops the actresses seem to have, they could have been showstopping. As it was (at my performance at least), the music was nearly inaudible, at least two of the songs were only a minute or two long, and the actresses seemed to be virtually performing a cappella -- a pretty tall order.

Both Ms. H and I seemed to like Ms. Lucas, who Susan vividly describes as "luscious." I, too, thought she was pretty fantastic, though I could not openly leer at her because her boyfriend happened to be sitting in front of me at the show I attended. I look forward to whatever production she lands in next. And the costumes were definitely worthy of particular attention; Susan mentions Bing's red pumps but, in fact, all of the ladies shoes were pretty eye-popping.

I'm sorry I didn't have space to say more about the performances of Renee Coates and Amy Henderson. They both did good jobs but both at times seemed a little awkward, either in their roles or just on stage. With only 300 words, attenuated praise is hard to parce.

One last thing to mention about my night at "Pulp:" I also found myself sitting behind Roy Proctor (okay, technically, I moved over behind him so I could talk to him without shouting across the theater). He seemed in fine spirits, though I did not have a chance to ask him his thoughts on the production afterwards. See: theater critics don't stop being fans just because they stop being critics. I'm thinking that, after I stop writing reviews (which may turn out to be sooner rather than later), I may end up seeing just as many or even more shows.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that I should add that I have no investment in anyone thinking my impression of the show is any more "right" than Ms. H's. If I haven't said it enough before, I find Susan an astute and insightful critic. I guess what I'm trying to get at based on our very different reviews of "Pulp" is how variable live theater can be, on both the giving and receiving end of the performance equation. Nuf said?

Monday, March 30, 2009

American Idiot

Hello there, neglected blog fans. Rather than give my usual wimpy excuses for not posting lately, I have a bonified real reason I've been a stranger. Last Thursday my laptop got infected with something particularly nasty that has been giving all sorts of headaches to the hardware specialist at my work. So I've been begging, borrowing and stealing access to computers over the past several days and have had to pretty much refrain from recreational computer use.

I also got mildly hammered on Saturday and in the wee hours posted something fairly stupid on Facebook which has also incented me to leave the Internet alone for now. Unlike when I was an adolescent, when I do something idiotic, I try to avoid the enablers of my idiocy for at least a little while.

But hey, speaking of idiocy, the news today is that the folks behind "Spring Awakening" are thinking of turning Green Day's "American Idiot" into a musical. Good news: they've got some killer songs to start out with. Bad news: character of alienated young man in the Bush era seems a bit "5 minutes ago" to me. Anyway, best of luck to them. Another musical that appeals to the under-30 set would be welcome.

Here in town, there were two openings this past week, with "Pulp" reviewed last week in the T-D and the area's second "Altar Boyz" showing up at the Mill. I haven't seen a review yet of the latter show, maybe it'll show up soon.

(UPDATE: The idiocy continues! As several folks have pointed out, "Altar Boyz" doesn't open until next weekend. Duh. Perhaps I came back to this Internet thing too soon...)

I took in "Pulp" on Friday and, maybe as a testament to the wonder that is live theater, had almost the exact opposite reaction to some things that Ms. Haubenstock did. Same show, different nights -- who knows how things are going to come across? More details on this when my review shows up...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beat it to Pulp

Triangle Players opens “Pulp” tonight. I won’t be there for the opening but will catch it this weekend. Ever since “Secretaries” knocked my proverbial socks off so many years ago, I’ve always looked forward to the RTP “all-girl” shows. I’m hoping this one lives up to previous years’ offerings.

School took a huge chunk out of my free time this week but hopefully, after today, I’ll be back in the saddle posting-wise. There’s still so much to say about “R&G are Dead” and I’ve been thinking about inviting a guest reviewer on the blog to sate the appetite of certain fans. More details to come…

Monday, March 23, 2009

Odds and (Week)Ends

Frequent poster “eraserhead” sent me a link to an advice column posting that might be of interest to some thespians out there. I know that about 15-20 years ago, I was in the same boat, a theater widower like many others out there. I like the advice given but I would add the suggestion: pick up a hobby or start making new friends. If you’ve got time to kill and no one to kill it with, get busy. (Clearly, I’ll never be an advice columnist.)

USA Today has a couple of raves in today’s edition, one on Gods of Carnage and one on Blithe Spirit. Curious that Christine Ebersole comes in for the only knocks.

I went to ComedySportz on Friday and had a wonderfully entertaining time. More details in a day or two but in the meantime, don’t hesitate in making reservations for their few upcoming shows. The place was packed and I expect will continue to be until the final whistle sounds.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fear and fun

Forgot to post link to Ms. Lewis's review of "Mindgame" in the T-D yesterday. Hearing nothing but good stuff about this production...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Last Chances

My lovely wife and I divided and conquered last night, each seeing plays that are closing this weekend. She saw Barksdale’s “Children of a Lesser God,” which she loved. Though she had accolades for each of the actors, she took particular notice of the direction of the production. To paraphrase what she said to me, I think it’s a play where overly busy direction could potentially muck things up. Mr. Miller does a fine job of realizing a clear, straightforward vision.

I went to “Rabbit Hole” at the Firehouse which, let’s be honest, is kind of a hard play to watch. But there is some great work going on in this production and, particularly if you are an actor, this is the kind of production you really should take in. I enjoyed the work of the supporting players especially. Marta Rainer is bracingly human as Izzy, flawed and funny but completely organic in the play’s challenging scenes. Similarly, Jacob Pennington does a wonderful job as a high school senior; like Ms. Rainer and Linda Beringer who plays Nat, he is just startlingly real here. He is geeky without being pathetic and his long scene with Jennifer Massey’s Becca could have gone on forever as far as I’m concerned.

I had a harder time with Massey and Ben Baker as Howie. I concede that these are incredibly hard roles to play. There is some tension written into the play in that, though you empathize with these characters, neither of them is particularly empathetic. I guess I would have liked to see a little more positive chemistry between them in the midst of the obvious prickliness that is predominant throughout the play. But, having said that, both of these actors had some great moments. The reaction Baker’s Howie has to a mistake by Becca early on is epic and provides a great window into his character. And Massey does wonders with her navigation of the transitions Becca makes in the second act.

All in all, it was a very solid production with many fantastic moments that I would certainly recommend, with the caveat that the underlying subject matter – the death of a child – might be a deal-killer for some folks.

USA Today had an interesting review of the new “West Side Story” on Broadway that complains about the lyrics in Spanish. Hm. I saw the picture of the gorgeous Josefina Scaglione that intrigued me enough to read through this profile that was in the Wall Street Journal back in January. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of Ms. Scaglione in the years to come.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Whoop, there it is

Just checked the Style site and my review of Henley Street's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" showed up. Headlines are not really my forte but, every once in a while, I like what I come up with and this story is one of those cases. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mindgame, etc.

I’m not familiar with the show “Mindgame” that Chamberlayne Actors Theatre will open tonight but I have been enjoying the marketing for it. I’ve received a couple of postcards touting the production, both very spooky / freaky, which I immediately showed my eldest daughter (who is suddenly enamored of scary movies) and each time she exclaimed, “That’s a play?”

On CAT's website, you can see a gallery of fairly gruesome posters plus a video preview (so I’m told – I can’t see video at work so I’m going on faith for this one). The threat / promise of ramped-up violence / scariness has spurred interest in the production, at least at my house.

And Bill Brock made for a pretty aggressive Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Sycamore Rouge last year so I expect he can do good serial killer. Just take Stanley, remove humanity and add an extra dose of testosterone, right?

(UPDATE: OK, so I just checked out the video trailer and it looks like Bill ain't playing the killer. Or maybe he is? Anyway, guess I shouldn't cast aspersions before I see the show, right?)

And just a note for theater company people who might be reading this: get pictures of upcoming productions (known as “art” in the publishing biz) to Style as soon as you have them. The completeness of a publishable package (that is, text from writer, art from production) speeds up the possibility of its eventual appearance. I probably should have been more clear with folks about this all along but these days, with the advent of instant availability via the interwebs, it is particularly pertinent. Just an FYI!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From the frivolous to the insane

First, I’d like to welcome the Night Light Collective’s blog to the Inter-Act section over there on the left. NLC consists of several folks active in local theater, including two key members of Henley Street’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” production: actress Kerry McGee and lighting designer Andrew Bonniwell.

And I’d just like to state for the record that after taking in “R&GrRIP” last week, I officially have a crush on Kerry McGee. She’s a hoot in the production – as is Emma Mason, though her part is a bit more dour – and those expressive eyes and that sunny smile are inescapably enchanting, in my humble opinion. If I was headed down the road toward inevitable execution, I can think of few preferable companions.

It wouldn’t be a complete month if I didn’t go off on some gay rights rant (those pesky homosexuals, they STILL want their rights!), and so I highlight here the firing of an Oklahoma teacher who assigned study of the play “The Laramie Project.” Imagine wanting to teach children about tolerance or, perhaps, promote the message that the unprovoked murder of another human being was outrageous and reprehensible! And, if the details of the story are correct, responding to student interest supportively. No wonder she was fired.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Feeling the Urge

I’ve got to hand it to Urge magazine (or URgE, if you want to capture the cute typographical motif they’re using): they’ve pretty consistently included interesting theater coverage in every issue. The latest has a big fat cover picture of d.l. Hopkins looking quite dapper, so that’s cool. Inside, the mag includes mentions of Henley Street’s "R&G are Dead” as well as a heads-up about the Mill’s upcoming “Blues in the Night.” And set designer / artist Greig Leach gets a nice article, too.

Most of the content can be found on their website, including a nice online page-through facsimile of the entire issue. Sure, it’s marketing-driven but still, gotta give props where props are due. Way to gO URgE!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oh and also…

In case you missed it, the T-D today had Ms. Lewis’s review of “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” plus a nice feature on Bo Wilson and Jan Guarino. So that’s good!


Last night, I checked out a venue I’d never been to before to watch the work of a company I’d never seen before. The gorgeous Cramer Theater at Steward School hosted the latest production from Christian Youth Theatre company. CYT has been around for a while and for all those years, their acronym has made me think of the song “PYT” by Michael Jackson every time I’ve heard it. That might not change going forward but something else certainly will: I won’t ever consider their work “just community theater.” Like the venue they used for this production, “Narnia” was sumptuous and impressive. It was a technical marvel, with gorgeous sets and top-notch lighting. And the costumes! The shaggy outfits of some of the furry characters, like the Beavers and particularly the regal lion Aslan, were stunning.

There was no shortage of talent either, in every sense of the word. First of all, there were 95 people in the cast. Yes, 95. That’s not a cast; it’s a small army. Also, pro stage vets -- like several of the Mercer children (Kaylin as the Unicorn, Davis as Peter Pevensie, and Makenzie as Mrs. Beaver) -- peppered the cast. While several of the youngsters showed promise, I enjoyed all of the Penvensie children especially, with Ashlyn Landrum in fine voice as Susan and Davis Harrison as Edmund showing some refined acting chops. The word on the street is that Sarah Day, who was adorable as Lucy, is going to be “Annie” in Theatre IV’s upcoming production. If so, they’ve got an accomplished talent leading that cast. With a little more material, the engaging Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (played by the aforementioned Ms. Mercer and Carson Burkett) could have the basis for their own standup comedy act. All in all, there were a surprising few weak links given the enormity of the cast and the youth of the actors.

The musical itself was a bit of a mixed bag. The adaptation of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” into a fairly streamlined show was impressive but the songs ranged from moving and dramatic to forgettable and downright silly. Still, particularly rendered with such technical opulence, it made for an entertaining and impressive evening overall.

Beyond the purely theatrical, I’m kind of intrigued at the assertion of “Narnia” so conclusively as a Christian work. The analysis of this aspect of C.S. Lewis’s series of books (all seven of which I read aloud to my wonderful daughter Bryce) has ramped up in recent years in the wake of the Narnia movies. If anyone is interested, this article from Salon provides a good introduction to this analysis (don’t give up before getting to the second page that includes this provocative statement: 'Whatever Lewis and his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien may have claimed about their work, it is not compatible with true Christian theology.') The author of this article (Laura Miller) went on to write a book I’ve read about and I have heard her interviewed a couple of times. Someday in my spare time I’d like to read her “The Magician’s Book” which is about the Narnia series but also about being both a reader and a writer. Maybe I'll get to it on my next cruise…in another 15 years…

Saturday, March 14, 2009

American Badass

Friday turned out to be a great day for gifts. First Jason at SPARC sent me some great pictures from SPARC’s production of “Really Rosie” last fall. Thanks, Jason – you’re da bomb!

Then I came home to the 2009 compilation of “Plays and Playwrights” (published by New York Theatre Experience) in the mail. The talented Richmond expatriate Chris Harcum sent me a copy because of the inclusion of his series of monologues, “American Badass” in the latest edition (Read an interview with Chris online). I’ve just cracked the book for the first time this morning but I can tell already that this entry in the Harcum canon is just as insightful and funny as Chris’s first work that I was lucky enough to catch some 10 years ago, “Some Kind of Pink Breakfast.”

I’m really happy for Chris; he deserves the recognition and, hopefully, being included in this compilation will open new doors for him. That he recognizes my positive reviews back in the old days as even the slightest positive influence on him is exceptionally generous. Some time this year, I’ve got to coordinate a trip to NYC with whatever next bit of inspiration Chris puts out.

The final gift (good things come in threes, right?) was the production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” at Henley Street that I took in at Pine Camp. My familiarity with the play was solely through the movie version and I was quite entertained by the production. More details will be available sometime later this week…my gift (hopefully) back to you all…

Friday, March 13, 2009


So last week, I spent a lot of time watching live music performances, which was pretty awesome. If you are not a Barenaked Ladies fan already, watching Ed Robertson perform solo would make you one. He was the most compelling performer of any of the ones I saw, because he had the fundamentals (great guitar player, very good singer, clever songwriter) plus he was engaging onstage, open to his audiences, generous in his praise of fellow musicians, and just generally seeming to have a great time. I watched him perform three times over three days and wasn’t bored even once. Indigo Girls, on the other hand – who I love by the way and have loved for decades now and will continue to love as long as they continue to produce smart acoustically-oriented folky music – well, after seeing them a second time in two days, I was about ready to move on.

Wonderful new talents that I was exposed during the week include David Ryan Harris, Vienna Teng, and Brandi Carlile. I guess Brandi has quite a following but I had never heard of her before. She’s got a huge voice and is a pretty kick-ass performer besides. The lovely Mrs. and I had the somewhat surreal experience of ending up in line to clear customs with Ed Robertson and his family on one side of us and Brandi Carlile and her entourage on the other. In a celebrity-obsessed world where you often wonder if strangers you pass by are “somebody,” being on a boat where everybody is “somebody” is a little mind-blowing.

Anyway, one of the things that I found interesting seeing all of these acts over several days was the appreciation of the musician “persona.” From what I’ve seen, musicians are not generally “actors,” unless they’re doing some kind of early Bowie or Kiss schtick. But there is definitely the development and/or projection of a persona, which generally seems to be an exaggerated or accentuated version of the performer him/herself. I saw this most distinctly with Lyle Lovett, a talented and extremely entertaining performer who has a certain low-key, homespun, almost absent-minded professorish persona onstage. There was also a woman named Mindy Smith who projected a somewhat ditsy, cute-as-a-button personality that I eventually found really annoying.

Many aspects of this fascinate me. I’m curious how self-conscious of a process the development of such a persona is. Does it just happen organically for most musicians? Do they seek input or does their management encourage them down one path or another? I also wonder how divergent these personas are from the performer's off-stage personalities. There is no way Ed Robertson, for instance, could be as open, engaging and funny all the time in person as he is on stage (and based on seeing him in line with his family, such is the case; a perfectly nice man but also not telling jokes to passersby…)

It also makes me reflect on aspects of life for higher-profile musicians. For instance, is one of the reasons Britney is so f-ed up in her life because she was (is) encouraged to develop this sultry, sex-kitten persona when in real life she’s something so completely different (like for instance the somewhat dimbulbish, small-town girl she seems in some interviews)? Does that kind of dramatic divergence help cause such dysfunction? Also, do musicians generally not have great success crossing over to movies and TV because they confuse projecting a persona with inhabiting a real character? What do you think?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Thanks to all for the positive feedback on the blog. I’m glad that those who’ve chimed in have expressed support for the blog format. I share Glenn’s sentiments: the Facebook chatter tends to be distracting to me. Thanks, Grant, for the tip on the automatic updating thingie. I’ll have to look into that. For a computer geek, I can be surprisingly clueless when it comes to certain technological marvels.

Did everyone read up on the Wolf Brown Cultural Action Plan recommendations? (Summarized here. Is there a link to the full report? I couldn’t find it.) What do you all think? Ms. Biegelsen zeroed in on the racial issue, which I think is interesting.

In my quick review, the whole focus on “Coordinating the Cultural Sector” seems like a good one, but also a problematic one. “Coordination” seems like it will involve prioritization on some level and that opens the door to politics (opens it wider, I guess I should say, since this whole plan is bound to be politicized). If done well, coordination may maximize financial resources but it won’t necessarily lead to more financial resources. I like the idea of a cultural endowment but administration of such a thing is another problematic point. Of course, the Arts Council already administers the ArtsFund but I know next to nothing about that (besides it has a Flash-y little website).

I’m sure we’ll continue to hear more about this plan and its implementation. I’d like to remain as hopeful as possible about it all so I’m mostly adopting a wait-n-see attitude. In the meantime, I imagine folks involved with the Arts Council are both jazzed and maybe a bit terrified of being placed so distinctly in the center of this process.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Housekeeping and Casting News

I spent some downtime tonight doing site housekeeping, updating the Now Showing offerings, adding Matthew and Margaret Reeder to the expats section (thanks Stephen!), adding SPARC’s blog to the Inter-Act section (thanks Jason!), and correcting the listing for Rick St. Peter in Kentucky so it points to his theater blog instead of his MySpace page. If I could dust in the corners and change the sheets, it would almost look like a whole new blog.

And since I know that at least two of you all (looking at you, Annie and Elyse) are interested in the burgeoning career of the young Master Timberline, I am quite excited to report that we just found out tonight that the little stinker has been cast in pretty much the dream role for an 8 year old (except maybe Gavroche…): the title role in “Oliver!” as part of the Heritage Theatre Festival in C’Ville this summer. It’s cool for him, of course; it’s the first role that he wanted to do based on his knowledge of the show before even knowing that there was a specific production out there. As an extra bonus for me, I’m looking forward to getting familiar with a theater I’ve never been to before. So we’re all excited here at the T-line house tonight. How are you doing?

Let me just throw this out there

In catching up with things back here in the real world, it seems to me that activity in the blogosphere has contracted, not just in the past couple weeks but over the past several months. What do you all think?

I guess the bigger question I have is: are blogs dying? Does it make sense for me to even keep up this blog? A great deal of online interactivity seems to have migrated to the world of Facebook. Would it make more sense – or work better for people – if I just created / kept up a Facebook page (technically, ANOTHER page since there already is one) on Richmond theater?

Since you all are the “customers” as far as this blog goes, I’d be curious what would serve you better or just what your perspective is. Fire away!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mona's Rabbit

Here are Mary B's reviews of "Mona's" and "Rabbit" in this week's Style, providing even more reasons to go see them both.

Ahoy There

Ahoy there, me hearties! I hope both of you enjoyed a week-plus off from my ranting and randomness. I’ve got plenty to say about one of the most insanely satisfying vacations I’ve ever had. But since it’s theater that you come here for, below is a collection of all the reviews I’ve been catching up on and that you might be interested in as well.

Ms. Haubenstock had nice things to say about both “Rabbit Hole” and “Mona’s Arrangements.” John Porter's reviews of these two productions are also available at the Idea Stations site. I’ve got to figure out when I can sneak out to see these two, given that there are other “must sees” on the horizon (“R&GrRIP” and “Pulp” just to name two).

As just because I haven’t mentioned them, doesn’t mean I’m ignoring “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical” (at the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center) or “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” (Firehouse) (CORRECTION! LUtWS is at ComedySportz! Sorry!) and the other theater events going on around town. I just can’t keep up with it all!

While on vacation, I burned through quite a backlog of New Yorkers (the magazine, not people). Among the things I was able to catch up on were its take on “Guys and Dolls” (just a capsule available online) and a further exploration of Damon Runyon’s works, from which G&D springs. And, in contrast to the generally cheery take on the production that the New Yorker had, Entertainment Weekly had kind of a sour review.

EW did put out some interesting capsules on two other highly anticipating productions – “33 Variations” with Jane Fonda and “Distracted” with Cynthia Nixon – that are worth a look-see.

Finally, because mainstream pop culture can’t seem to talk about theater without poking fun at the reality-star / stage wannabe crossover, I’ve picked up a couple of mentions of Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks and their latest bounces on the boards.

Speaking of pop culture, I’m planning on going to “Watchmen” tonight. It was that or “The Reader” and, while as regular readers know I love me some Kate Winslet, if you’ve got one night for a true big-screen experience, I’m thinking “Watchmen” is the way to go. Call me shallow. What did you other fanboys think of "Watchmen?"