Saturday, October 31, 2009

This is how I'm not

New reviews from Susan Haubenstock for Firehouse's "This is How it Goes" and John Porter for CAT's "I'm Not Rappaport." I was at the opening of "TiHiG" along with 2/3 of the Richmond Critics Circle and will be weighing in on it in a few days. Stay tuned...

40 Acres review

Mary Burruss's review of Sycamore Rouge's "40 Acres and a P.O.W" hit the interwebs today (actually yesterday...when did it get to be 1 am?). Read all about it (it's not exactly a rave...)

Lottery Game

I’m happy to see that Mr. Miller “un-scrubbed” the Barksdale Buzz. I have no inside information on what prompted either the original cleansing or the restoration.

I’m happy because I have been mulling over responding to his “new ideas” post since he put it up last weekend. The truth is that I don’t know nearly enough about the administrative business of theater to know what it would take to make Richmond theater work better or draw bigger audiences or solidify its shaky financial ground. I have some ideas but I really have no basis for thinking they would really do any good.

For me, what these ideas amount to is a version of the lottery game. Do you ever play that? You think, what would I do if I won the lottery? What if I really could expend my energy doing just what I purely enjoyed or what I thought was worthwhile without any concern about whether it made money or furthered my career?

I have a kind of theater-world version of that game that I run through in my head. If I could use all of my time just to try to make Richmond theater more successful, what would I do? Here are some of the things I think about:

--> It’s my perception that there is a lot more that the state could be doing to foster a more positive environment for the performing arts. I’d find out in what ways exactly is Virginia less supportive of the arts than other states, I’d research appropriate mechanisms for changing that situation, and then lobby my hardest to implement some changes.

--> I’d walk into some enterprising high school or college with both a strong theater program and a strong media arts program and propose a joint project to produce a weekly theater-focused podcast. I’d bring theater artists in and interview them in front of a theater class, let them ask questions too, record it all and throw it out on the internet. I’d also try to get WRIR to broadcast it.

--> I’d try to organize theater-focused excursions / trips, like Barksdale/Theatre IV’s annual overseas trips only local. Summertime would be great to do a “Shakespeare in Virginia” tour – hit shows in Williamsburg, Richmond and Staunton, maybe even extend it to DC. How about a historic theaters tour that does Hanover Tavern, Lime Kiln and then the Barter in Abingdon?

--> I’d try to organize a series similar to Acts of Faith but with a topic that would really get some attention: the Civil War. Some people are convinced we’re still fighting it, that race is still as big an issue as its ever been. Bring it front and center and put it on stage. Shows like “This is How it Goes” or “Topdog / Underdog” would fit nicely; I’d hope to be able to find others. Doing it in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, would attract national media, I’d bet you.

--> If I had a space like Hanover Tavern or Willow Lawn at my disposal, I’d have pre-show dinner parties. It’d be like dinner theater only I’d merge in a “Coffee and Conversations” aspect, have the director or actors or designers there and open the floor for questions. I love the C & C’s but the audience is limited by their midday time.

--> I would make a push for “stunt casting.” I’d work with a company that has a role in a show that could possibly go to someone who wasn’t necessarily a theater vet and pull any and all strings to recruit someone famous or semi-famous. Doug Wilder? Rob Ukrop? Melissa Chase? Jason Mraz? Elliot Yamin? Lisa Shaffner? The media loves famous people and, love it or hate it, stunt casting draws audiences.

--> I’d work with theater companies and the administrators of some key public spaces to get permission to perform “teaser” scenes from their productions in prominent places where people meet or are mingling, such as James River Plaza downtown at lunchtime or Short Pump Mall or the Shops at Stony Point, or the middle of University of Richmond’s or VCU’s campus in the fall, etc.

--> I’d organize a Richmond Theatre showcase in the fall and invite every theater company in town to perform a scene from their fall show. DC does something like this at the Kennedy Center and it seems pretty nifty.

--> I’d petition the Arts Council or RAPT or someone to fund a person whose job would be "Richmond theater advocate" and do all of the things above and more. That person could also work with different companies to coordinate their schedules so everyone’s best shows aren’t all appearing in the same 3 week period in September and October.

As I said, I have no idea whether any of these kinds of things would actually do any good. But they seem like they’d be kinda fun just the same.

After looking over this list, it occurs to me that (not to counteract Mr. Miller), what Richmond needs is not necessarily more good ideas, but more people willing to make the good ideas happen. I’m not really sure where those people would come from.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Enchanted

It’s a little late to write anything about Barksdale’s “Boleros for the Disenchanted,” but I feel I have at least a little something interesting to add even though the show closed many days ago. The afternoon after I saw “Boleros” last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Herrera, a new professor at University of Richmond who is currently teaching a class called “Latinos on Stage.” She had brought her class to see an early performance of the show and it was great to get to talk to someone so knowledgeable and articulate so soon after seeing the show.

Dr. Herrera expressed a sense of surprise and delight that a Richmond company had launched a project aimed specifically at the Hispanic audience. She had many interesting things to say about the show itself. Like me, she loved playwright Jose Rivera’s poetic style and admired Bruce Miller’s staging of the play. She found the story compelling and felt the dance at intermission established a special kind of intimacy between audience members.

We talked some about how refreshing it was to see a story of a couple’s life together unfold without bells or whistles or gimmicks; it was just a very realistic story told very well. I mentioned a fear I felt during the show that it was going to take a turn into magic realism, not an uncommon feature among Latin American literature. I thought the realism itself was pretty magical, if not always the most pretty or easy to accept.

One aspect of the show that I missed totally that Dr. Herrera enlightened me on: she was distracted by the non-uniformity of the accents. Some of the accents she experienced as Caribbean sounding, others more French. I think this points to the specific challenges of staging a play like this. I didn’t notice a dialect coach in the program and am wondering if one was used. Calling Amanda Durst!

In terms of performances, both Dr. Herrera and I were enchanted by the young Eusebio, Luis Vega. He’s a good-looking hunk who expertly projected good-natured, smart and sensitive. Carmen Zilles was extrememly charming as the young Flora, though a couple of times I thought her line readings of Rivera’s sometimes florid language were a little flat. What truly blew me away though was her brief interlude of song in the second act (as the nurse, Eve). I haven’t heard such a sweet, pure voice in a long time; the fact that she only sang such a short snippet was a first-rate tease. I would travel a good distance to see/hear her in a musical if she plays in one close by (Mr. Miller, can you bring her back maybe for a staging of a Hispanic musical next season? Please?)

So, sorry for the late assessment, but all-in-all, a great production in my opinion and an exceptional first step in what I hope will be many more of these kinds of audience-broadening experiments.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A scrubbing?

As I did my morning survey of local media, I skimmed the Barksdale Buzz and did a double-take. I couldn’t find any content on the site having to do with the RTCC awards or recent statements about the state of Richmond theater or anything (it seems to me) that could be considered somewhat controversial. I don’t want to assume too much based on one morning’s perusal, but I’m wondering whether the Buzz has been scrubbed and why.

In terms of content that IS there: Style has Mary Burruss’s preview on “Bootleg Shakespeare” in this week’s issue. I hear they’re expecting a sell-out so buy a ticket soon if you want to check out what is sure to be an entertaining experiment. (Correction: Bootleg is free (thanks Anon) and no reservations. So I guess you should get there early!)

UPDATE: I had meant to mention this originally (the addled mind wanders...) but the Firehouse has a new blog going and seems to be adding content regularly (so far). The blazing red color is a little daunting but it's still definitely worth checking out, particularly in anticipation of "This is How it Goes" opening tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Treading water

I’ve been doing much more reading than writing in the past week, preparing for the end of the semester and the flurry of personal productivity I’m hoping I can muster. In the midst of all of the recent health issues that have plagued the Richmond community, I was sad to hear that Sir Lloyd Webber was recently diagnosed with cancer.

As I consider whether a trip to NYC is in my immediate future, I was delighted to hear that tickets for “A Little Night Music” starring Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones were now on sale. The luscious CZJ was a crush of mine even before the movie version of “Chicago” came out.

Speaking of luscious, is it common knowledge that Alia Bisharat will be starring in “Bus Stop” at Hanover Tavern? Nobody tells me anything… And can it be true that this beautiful and personable local theater vet is only 21 years old?

I’ve been reading the reviews of “Oleanna” on Broadway which has put in mind to remember the amazing production that we saw here in Richmond in 1995 starring Rick Brandt and (RTCC presenter) Jeanne Boisineau. From what I’m reading, it seems like the Brandt / Boisineau duo could have outdone Stiles / Pullman…

Monday, October 26, 2009

Weekend news

Ms. Haubenstock's review of CAT's "I'm Not Rappaport" was in Sunday's paper. My lovely wife and I managed to squeak in a viewing of "Boleros for the Disenchanted," though on separate nights. Divide and conquer, indeed. More thoughts on that in a day or two.

It was closing weekend for several shows and we've entered sort of a mini-lull before the next barrage of shows that open right before Thanksgiving. Of course, these days, even a lull time is hardly empty, with Henley Street presenting "Bootleg Shakespeare" on Oct. 30th (in association with the Barksdale) and the provocative "This is How it Goes" opening at Firehouse on Thursday. It's also an opportunity to catch shows you might have missed at the Mill, Hanover Tavern, Sycamore Rouge or CAT.

After this weekend (according to my schedule), there are two weekends free of openings, not counting "Avenue Q'"s quick run in town. I'm thinking ahead and planning my holiday shopping for those weekends 'cause I know things'll be crazy busy after that!

I'm also mulling over Mr. Miller's "new ideas" post at the Barksdale Blog and will probably not be able to refrain from saying something about that soon. A post that ends with a plea for people to buy tickets is not one that can be easily overlooked, IMHO.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dartsies?

That prolific blogger, Mr. Miller, posted his Fartsies – further action required etc. etc. – list the day after the RTCC awards on Sunday. I expect that post was brewing for quite a long time, maybe since the nominees were first announced. I understand the frustration that I think underlies his post – with so many great efforts in local theater, for an awards show to apparently overlook some of your favorites seems unfortunate at best, a crime at worst. There was a fair amount of that kind of grumbling when the nominee list first came out and my only surprise is that there isn’t more of this kind of “we was robbed” kind of reaction now.

I will state unequivocally that I am very proud of the list of nominees that the RTCC put together and even prouder of the ultimate choices made to receive the illustrious (?) engraved hockey puck. In the two years we’ve gone through this process, the strange alchemy that results in consensus has produced honorees that I think are thoroughly deserving of special recognition. There are inherent problems with anything labeled “Best” and with these kinds of award shows in general. I expect I’ll blog about that at a later date. Whether the people and productions that were given Artsies on Sunday were truly “the Best” of last season – there’s simply no objective way to determine that. Still, each of the Artsie winners so impressed the collective RTCC panel that he/she/it was put at the top of a very competitive list. That’s something they should all be proud of, I think.

However, that still doesn’t alleviate the impulse that Bruce exercised on Monday. And even as involved as I was in the RTCC selections, I feel that impulse, too. So you can consider the following the Dartsies, perhaps? Dave’s Alternate Richmond Theatre Spectacular Individual Efforts? Hmmm… Not as compelling as the Fartsies; I may have to work on it…

Bruce started his post talking about Lighting Designer Lynne Hartman, whose work I adore. In my opinion, some of the best stuff she did last season was for “Endless Forms Most Wonderful” at the Science Museum. For this small-scale show tucked into the other – and much more limited -- Carpenter Theater, her lighting design often did double-duty as pseudo-set design, establishing locations like a church or the forests that Charles Darwin wandered through. It was incredible and unfortunately largely unseen by even the most attentive theater lover.

And while we’re talking tech, I thought Theatre IV’s “Sideways Stories” might have been the most dazzling show of the season on a purely technical basis. But herein lies one of those problems: exceptional work in support of a not-quite-exceptional show can be problematic and tends to lose out in the final tally. Bruce mentioned Ford Flannagan’s work in “Normal.” I think Ford did fine work but personally I thought his character was an ineffectual dud and the show ultimately a bit muddled. I advocated for Dave Amadee whose portrayal I enjoyed a great deal but again, in that particular show, it was unfortunately a little easier for people to overlook him.

Other performances I think lost out simply because of the sheer numbers of worthy choices. I thought Rochelle Turnage in AART’s “From the Mississippi Delta” was exceptional but there were so many incredible leading actresses in a play last season, she also ended up off the final list. And of the women who were nominated, any of them could have received the award, maybe in an alternate universe, should have received the award. In this category, in particular, I think the way it worked out was that Robin Arthur was phenomenal, impressive, surprising and delightful while everyone else was simply phenomenal and delightful.

But where things really get crowded is when you start taking in the supporting performances. One of the things that was so great about “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is that the excellent supporting cast was so deep. Three of its supporting actors received nominations but Carolyn Meade easily could have snagged one as well. And as far as plays go, Terry Gau was wonderful in Henley Street’s “Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead,” Matt Hackman did great work in “All My Sons,” and any number of folks in “Hamlet” or “Henry V” could have received nods (my personal favorites being Timothy Saukiavicus in “Hamlet” and Sarah Johnson Cole in “Henry V.”)

There also were situations that almost deserved their own categories. What do you call the musical embellishment Andrew Hamm gave Richmond Shakespeare shows like “A Midsummer’s Night Dream?” Can you even nominate someone for Musical Director of a Shakespeare production? Then there was Philip Brown creating the character of Henry over several different Richmond Shakespeare productions, an amazing feat of depth, consistency, daring, and of course, hunkiness. Between “This Wonderful Life” and “Fully Committed,” Scott Wichmann deserved some kind of recognition for just the sheer number of characters he played last season, not to mention the nimble and fully-realized portrayals he delivered (though perhaps my favorite Scott moment was a crossover – his George Bailey from “TWL” showing up in the staged reading of “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge”).

As for the shows at Hanover Tavern, what can I say? I expected there would be advocates for “A Sanders Family Christmas” (a production I didn’t see) among the critic’s circle; and surely “Mona’s Arrangements” was a significant and noteworthy event in the season. Maybe among this particular circle, people were more tickled by the antic silliness of Firehouse’s “Trailer Park” than they were moved by heartfelt Americana of “Sanders?” You won’t ever hear me proclaim that the way we go about this is perfect; I do apologize though for the perceived injustice that results from it.

And already, just a couple of months into this season, I’ve started my own speculation about next year’s awards, a speculation that points to the positive aspect of the awards, in my mind. Because, while right now I’d be happy to give an award of some kind to Maggie Marlin (for instance) for her stunning turn in “Boy’s Life,” I’m also waiting in anticipation for the next great performance that will supplant hers on the top of my personal nominee list.

Breaking news!

...not really, but the Times-Dispatch did run an article about the RTCC awards today. Definitely a case of better late than never, as far as I'm concerned. Thanks to Angela for coming to the event and for her fine reportage!

Here and There

All I know about CAT's "I'm Not Rappaport" is that Jennifer Frank is directing. That's certainly a good sign and I expect she's put together a great production. But I wish more companies would list the people in their casts on their website (I particularly like Firehouse's practice of listing the entire cast and technical crew on their site). Most Richmonders may not know a specific actor, director or designer but then again, they might. Who knows if people who had second thoughts about seeing "Boy's Life" at the Firehouse were swayed because they recognized Maggie Marlin's name from "Thoroughly Modern Millie" or Landon Nagel from "Children of a Lesser God?" Just a thought...

One place where it seems like it is all about name recognition sometimes is Broadway. I've read a couple of things about "After Miss Julie," famously starring Sienna Miller who is on Broadway at the same time as ex-beau Jude Law appears in "Hamlet." Some folks have liked it, some have not. Regardless of the mixed reviews, I'm very intrigued by this play because I can imagine a number of Richmond companies -- and a bunch of lead actresses and actors -- who could do a smashing job with this show. I'd love for someone to try...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Other People’s Writing

Joe Inscoe has written what I consider an extremely insightful and articulate comment in response to Bruce Miller’s recent post on “Shining City.” It’s an interesting piece of perspective from someone who’s played many places, has many years of experience, and who is a thoughtful, intelligent guy in addition to being a great actor. Worth checking out.

Speaking of insight, I was recently directed to Angela Lehman’s blog, The People’s Snob, specifically to check out her response to the conversation recently here and at the Barksdale Buzz about critics and their role in the artistic process.

I love everything about Angela’s post. In particular, I found two exceptional nuggets near the end:

1) “Of those 240,000 people, several thousand of them have never even heard of your organization/group/company.”

I am regularly amazed by how often I come in contact with people – longtime Richmond residents – who have either never heard of Barksdale or Theatre IV or only have a vague idea that they do kid’s shows or something. Barksdale/Theatre IV is among the biggest arts organizations in the state and some people here don’t know it exists. And Firehouse, Triangle Players or Henley Street? Forget it.

2) “Richmonders, if you ever think you've gotten a bad review, you need to stay the heck out of New York City”

Amen, sister. When I received a fairly infuriated email in response to my review of “Normal” at Stage 1 last spring, I looked up the New York Times review of the show (I offer the following NOT to drag up any old, bad feelings but to provide material support to Ms. Lehman’s statement).

Here are the most negative phrases from my review (read the whole thing here if you like):

“...Stage 1’s enthralling and frustrating new musical, ‘Normal.’”

“…too much of the story concerns the tribulations of the clich├ęd Freeman parents, with two excellent actors constricted by characters that never seem to reach an epiphany.”

I end the review with what I thought was a moderately supportive statement:

“'Normal’ has had only one other production off-Broadway and, while not perfect, it is the kind of challenging new show not usually seen in Richmond. That alone makes it worthy of a look.”

Here are the most negative phrases from the New York Times review:

“[‘Normal’] is both awful and not much fun.”

“[T]his ill-conceived show is such a grueling misfire that it puts the audience in the painful position of hoping that poor Polly will either croak or eat a Ho-Ho so we can all go home.”

‘Nuff said?

Jack Parrish wake

I believe this information is making the rounds but just in case you hadn't heard: there will be an Actor's Wake for Jack Parrish at the Barksdale Theatre on Sunday Nov. 1 starting at 5pm. Dawn Westbrook-Boyd and Steve Moore will be hosting. Please come help us celebrate Jack's life and legacy.

Essie Simms update

Jackie has already commented on my last post to this effect but for those who don't read the comments, here the latest on Ms. Simms:

Essie Simms was transferred back to Westminster Canterbury Thursday afternoon. She continues to progress and is in good hands there.

Several folks have inquired about visiting. Although Essie would love visitors, we must hold off for now. Julie Fulcher will let us know when the coast is clear and also keep us abreast of Essie's progress.

In the meantime, cards would boost Essie's spirits. Her address is:

Essie Simms
c/o Westminster-Canterbury
Health Care Services-Room 9252
1600 Westbrook Avenue
Richmond, VA 23237

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Catching up

Never had a chance to link to the T-D review of Sycamore Rouge’s latest, “40 Acres and a P.O.W.” Sorry for the delay.

Sunday’s paper also had a profile of Aaron Anderson, who was gracious enough to present our special recognitions at the RTCC awards on Sunday. He seems like a pretty amazing guy and was certainly delightful to work with on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An appreciation

As I write this, it’s about 24 hours exactly since we called a wrap on the 2009 Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards. I’ve spent most of today enjoying the company of dear old friends of mine who live in Thailand who chose this weekend of all weekends to drop into Richmond. But throughout today, my interaction with them was interrupted by pleasant flashes of memory from last night. There were so many wonderful things to smile about, if not outright guffaw about, that it made for a completely delightful day. In my mind, at least.

One of the things that was amazing to me was that, after months of planning, so many aspects of the night came together in the very last days, if not last minutes before the event. Dr. Anderson’s onstage mayhem with Joe and Jeff: they choreographed it little more than two hours before they did it. My little bit with John at the start of the evening was John’s idea literally as I was getting ready to walk out on stage. These, and many more elements of the evening, came together so well (IMHO) because of the great talent and supportiveness of more people than I even know to thank. But I’d like to give some shout-outs to at least a few people, in thanks and recognition. Many apologies to any and all deserving people I inadvertently leave out.

I have to start at the end. Long after everyone had left the Empire, the last person hanging out there was Matthew Landwehr, still cheerful, still as friendly and engaging as he was some 6 hours plus before when, coincidentally, he was the first person I saw when I arrived at the Empire. He is truly a jack of all trades and helped tie up many ends that were still loose as 7pm approached.

Bruce Rennie also worked his butt off making the transition from Ugly Ducking to RTCC awards. And yet still managed to look pretty damn dapper. Derek Dumais provided uncredited technical assistance in the setup process. And my lovely daughter Bryce gave up most of her Sunday after a busy homecoming weekend to round out the tech crew, never complaining, eager to help out. Someone musta raised her right.

Bryan Harris and the band were exceptional, prompt, ready to go, and willing to adjust to all sorts of last minute curves. My only regret is that they didn’t get to do “Easy Street.” Mr. Phipps, very sorry you couldn’t be there and I hope you are feeling better soon!

Virgil Hazelett was about the most professional “Most Powerful Man in Richmond” I could ever imagine. He was the first or second presenter there for rehearsal. Of course, he may have just been eager to stand next to Audra for a while.

And Ms. Honaker: she presented awards, she won an award, she performed, and of course, she rocked an absolutely amazing dress. And you should have seen her celebrate in support of friends when they won awards. Very nice.

Of course, many people were doing double duty last night. Each person from the tick..tick..Boom! cast performed twice, Brett adding his voice to the stunning “I Believe” performance that had me a little choked up by the end. And the irrepressible Mr. Tyre not only performed twice but had to get dolled up in two totally different ways. I think the results were well worth the effort.

All of the presenters were incredibly game for it all. I so admired all of them – including Mayor Jones – for being willing to stray into territory that was undoubtedly far out of their comfort zone in support of the evening. It was hilarious good fun listening to Melissa Chase and Harry Kollatz run lines. Ms. Chase may be the most cheerful, friendly and approachable person I’ve ever met, with Sabrina Squire perhaps a close second.

And Debra Wagoner, with her voice still in recovery, had to shoulder the additional stress of my not sending her the patter that had been scripted for her until Sunday afternoon. D’oh! But the consummate professional that she is – and supported by the spectacular Jenn Meharg, also rocking a stunning dress – she knocked her presentation out of the park.

And speaking of that patter: I cannot thank Bo Wilson enough. If he had only written the actress jokes – perfectly delivered by Jason Marks – he would have more than earned considerable kudos for the evening. He had so many clever concepts that grew into great, snappy little bits. The man has a mad imagination and I am so grateful he was willing to apply it in support of our little show.

All of those who received awards were so gracious. All of the nominees who did not receive awards were also so gracious. They are all winners in my book.
It was a show that wouldn’t have flowed nearly as smoothly without Amy Wight Kube, who brings a welcome and exceptional detail-orientation to such a far-flung, diffuse endeavor. If there was an “i” to be dotted or “t” to be crossed, you can bet Amy was the one who did it, and I am so lucky she came on board for this ride.

The other members of the Critics Circle – what a great gang to work with. What I admire about them all is that they all really care about this business we are in. You have no idea the wrestling we did to come up with the list of nominees and then the additional rounds of votes and discussion and pleadings and analysis we went through to reach our list of winners. And though each of us may have come out of it with a selection or two we might have wished had gone the other way, everyone rallied behind the process and the event as being bigger than any of us individually. As was said last night pretty eloquently, the night was really about something more than choosing who would get an award. We were really celebrating us all, everyone who works in theater here in the Richmond area, everyone who loves and supports theater here.

And last, but far from least, Aaron Gilchrist. Who knew? He was indeed the consummate host. I knew he was a charming guy. I knew he was a smart journalist. But I had no idea he was so quick-witted, comfortable on stage, imaginative and charismatic. I think he gained a legion of new fans last night, and rightly so.

And OK, one more ‘last:’ that fight thing with Joe, Jeff and Aaron. Wasn’t that cool? Those guys were great.

Oh, and I just realized I have to add one more ‘last:’ epic amounts of thanks to my lovely wife and awesome family; they are the ultimate support crew. Holly recorded the voice-over intros around midnight on Saturday, Sage recruited pals from school to be award “lackeys,” my lovely neice Kiera was a deligent and tireless backstage worker, Cooper stuffed himself into a monkey suit and even little Mason stayed up way past his bedtime, all as part of making the evening work.

Thanks to everyone who came; I hope you had a good time. And I hope I see you all at the awards again next year!

Monday, October 19, 2009

And the Artsie Award goes to...

Thanks to everyone for last night -- what a great time (more commentary to come)! Below is a list of people/shows that received awards. I had heard that the T-D was going to publish a list but haven't heard whether it did. I know that Aaron (poor early-waking Aaron!) mentioned the awards on the news this morning, though. Yay!

Congratulations to all -- people who received awards, nominees, presenters and to the whole community!

Best Musical
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Direction - Musical
Patti D'Beck
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Actor - Musical
Zak Resnick
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Actress - Musical
Audra Honaker
"tick, tick…Boom!"
Stage 1 Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actor - Musical
Timothy Ford
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Supporting Actress - Musical
Ali Thibodeau
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Musical Direction
Paul Deiss
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Choreography
Patti D'Beck
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Play
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Direction - Play
Rusty Wilson
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Actor - Play
Joe Inscoe
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Actress - Play
Robin Arthur
The Clean House
Barksdale Theatre

Best Ensemble Acting
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Richmond Shakespeare

Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Play
Larry Cook
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Play
Marta Rainer
Rabbit Hole
Firehouse Theatre Project

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design
Joe Doran
Altar Boyz
Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design
Sue Griffin
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design
Ron Keller
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design
Bryan Harris
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Outstanding Achievement in Hair / Makeup Design
Sue Griffin
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Dialect Direction
Amanda Durst
Multiple Productions

Outstanding Achievement in Fight Choreography
Vanessa Passini
Henry V
Richmond Shakespeare

Liz Marks Memorial Award for Ongoing Contribution to Richmond Area Theater
Wamer "Buddy" Callahan
Dr. Louis "Lou" Rubin

Friday, October 16, 2009

A request for help

I received a note from Bill Blair who is coordinating communication and support for Jack Parrish's widow, Kathy. With Jack's passing, she is suddenly faced with many expenses, specifically related to his funeral. Bill has been working with people at Barkdsale and the Virginia Museum to raise money to help her out. Here is the key information from his note:

"Those I haven't been able to reach are the local theatre folk and was hoping you could blog something asking those who can to send checks (and made out to) Christopher Dunn, 3014 Floyd Ave, Richmond, VA 23221. The sooner the better as I do not know what those funeral expenses will be but do know that Kathy does not have the money to pay them."

It's a horrible thing to be faced with such a great loss and then have to worry about finances at the same time. Please help if you can. Thanks.

As promised...

...Mondo Johnny has filled in the full story of his little health crisis on Monday. I'm very glad to have him back in good voice and on the mend.

What a weekend

Style recently posted a couple of additional reviews, worth checking out because I don’t think they’re making it into the print edition. Mary Burruss holds forth on “The New Century” and I give a capsule recap of “The Ugly Duckling.”

As if there isn’t enough to see and do this weekend, Sycamore Rouge opened their world premiere production of “40 Acres and a POW” last night, reportedly devoting a moment to the memory of Jack Parrish during intermission. They are some classy and thoughtful people down there at the Rouge.

Things are hurtling full speed ahead toward Sunday’s RTCC awards. One thing to ponder: “Ugly Duckling,” which closes this weekend, features perhaps the most celebrated cast in terms of RTCC awards. The entire cast and the director are all RTCC nominees, one way or another. Director Jan Guarino is up for an acting award, but still, that’s just further testament to her versatility. Eric Pastore, Aly Wepplo, and Durron Tyre are all members of Best Ensemble nominees and Gordon Bass and Ali Thidodeau are each nominated individually. That’s some serious talent doing their best for the kids!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

He Will Be Missed

Bruce posted a fine testament to Jack Parrish on the Barksdale blog.

I will only add one thing: an actor asked me a couple of years ago for my thoughts about his performance. He was playing the character of a king. I told him he did a fine job but, for an actor to give a really great portrayal of a king, he must project regal power with every action. The audience must feel not like they are watching a performance but they are actually in the presense of royalty. More than any other actor I ever saw, Jack could project royalty, but not by sacrificing humanity. It was always thrilling to watch him. Rest in peace, Jack.

JP, JP and a load of links

I dropped by to see John Porter in the hospital yesterday. He was in very good spirits and holding up well against a steady stream of visitors. He was still in the Coronary Care Unit at Chippenham when I saw him but the word is that he’s been moved to a step-down room. He also may be going home today. If he is (and especially if he’s reading this), I hope he takes it easy and doesn’t push himself too hard too soon. Rest and recover, my friend.

I also heard some potentially disturbing news about Jack Parrish. If anyone has any details about him and how he’s doing, I’d appreciate a quick note. Thanks.

I wish I could write something nice and rambly but got lotsa work to do. So below is a bunch of links to recent stuff. Not included: a link to my review of “The Ugly Duckling.” It’s supposed to show up on the web soon but won’t make it to print, unfortunately.

I stopped by Style’s Top 40 Under 40 bash yesterday long enough to see possibly the world’s cutest couple – Chase Kniffen and Ali Thibodeau – all decked out for the event. Tracy Coogle from Theatre IV was also there and looking fine; congrats to both Tracy and Chase.

Couldn’t make Richmond Magazine’s Pollak prizes gala but my congratulations also go out to Ginnie Willard, Mike Gooding and Jennie and Larry Brown. ‘Tis the season to pat deserving people on the back. Come to the RTCC awards and see more of it!

Mary Burruss on "Much Ado about Nothing"

Mary Burruss on "Shining City"

RTCC awards, preview

Tracy Coogle in Top 40 Under 40

Chase Kniffen in Top 40 Under 40

Larry and Jennie Brown in Pollak Prizes

Michael Gooding in Pollak Prizes

Ginnie Willard in Pollak Prizes

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

JP, update

I've been in a little contact with the lovely Mrs. Porter who has posted an update on John on Facebook. He's supposed to be out of the Critical Care unit today and then, if all things go as planned, be sent home tomorrow. Yay! Thanks for all the support for John, I know he appreciates it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

John Porter

Please join me in sending thoughts and prayers out in support of John Porter -- performer, stand-up comic, and theater critic for WCVE Public Radio -- who apparently had a heart attack last night. My understanding is that he is okay but still in the hospital's Critical Care Unit (not sure what hospital). I'll provide more details as I get them.

Here's hoping for a continued stable and quick recovery for John, and thanks in advance for your support.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Gypsy

John Porter posted his review of “Shining City” a couple of days ago. I hear there’s a review from Joan Tupponce out there somewhere as well, but I can’t find it in electronic format. I’ll link to it when I do. Based on what I’m hearing (at least at lunch today… with two other critics…), this is not a show to miss.

I won’t be able to this weekend because I’ll be wandering out west for a production of “Gypsy” at Live Arts in Charlottesville. I’ve never seen a show there before and the stars converged to make this the perfect opportunity to do so. A more embarrassing confession: I’ve never seen a professional production of “Gypsy” before. I’ve seen at least one school production. And I’ve heard (many times) my wife sing a few of the songs with her best friend from high school. They harmonize somewhat astonishingly so this production is going to have a high bar to climb over to impress me.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

This much, that much, too much?

Let’s start out with what I absolutely loved about Richmond Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing:” TJ Simmons as Benedict and Sarah Johnson as Beatrice. The adjective that comes to my mind when thinking about both of their performances may seem a little odd, but it’s “crisp.” By that, I mean that their acting choices were communicated clearly and forcefully, without the meander that can creep in when wrestling with Shakespeare’s sometimes dense and circuitous language. They are both such winning actors as well, incredibly good-looking, and supremely at ease on stage (and, in Simmons’ case, offstage wandering around the crowd as well).

Their performances were both enhanced by their physicality. Simmons communicated so much with his posture, his hang-dog look when discussing love, his ramrod straight back when confronting Claudio. Johnson showed a propensity for physical comedy I hadn’t seen before, particularly in her eavesdropping scene. I kept trying to think of a big-screen actress that Johnson reminded me of and all I could conjure up was a composite: I think she marries the striking good looks of comic actresses like Amanda Bynes or Katherine Heigel with the physicality of someone like Carol Burnett. Quite a powerful combo if you ask me.

Other people I think are worth mentioning: though she doesn’t have a big part here, I think I’d enjoy Stacie Rearden Hall act in just about anything. She’s one of those performers who is just so incredibly ‘on’ whenever she’s on stage. I think Alana Smith may be another in that category, though her part was even smaller and that much harder to judge.

I grow increasingly impressed with David White, so fantastic but unfortunately largely overlooked in Sycamore Rouge’s “Night of January 16th” over the summer and convincingly princely here. Alan Sader was wonderful as Leonato; Ms. Haubenstock’s characterization of his portrayal as “warm and hearty” is spot on.

I was highly entertained by this production – and I was thrilled that my teenage daughter saw it with me. I think Grant Mudge has a unique ability for staging Shakespeare in a way that can be engaging for the young, or the young at heart. His stage tableau of “see no evil…” in the second act prince’s watch scene is emblematic of this ability.

Having said that, there were some aspects of the production I was a little disappointed with. While their individual performances were entrancing, I have to agree with Ms. Haubenstock that Simmons and Johnson did not seem as entralled with each other as they were with their individual emotional turmoil. Almost conversely, I thought Liz Blake and Jonathan Conyers made a smashing couple but neither of them made much of an impression on me individually. Perhaps the critic in me always pines for that impossibly perfect marriage of the solo and the pair performance…

And while others have raved about Bob Jones – and I had my share of guffaws thanks to him – I was a little tired of the schtick by about the third “call me an ass.” He was allowed to show more depth in “Henry V” and I liked him better for it. The production’s set was fairly plain. I liked the balconies and all but if the most prominent aspect of the set is going to be a big wall, the mostly blank expanse at the Gottwald paled in comparison to Agecroft or even the sanctuary at Second Pres.

Finally, while as I’ve said I generally enjoyed Mr. Mudge’s direction, there were some times that I thought the production teetered just on the edge of too antic. I guess I saw this most specifically when the darker elements of the play were introduced, primarily by the smoldering Billy Christopher Maupin as Don John, and they contrasted so starkly with the more playful scenes. It may be a bit of a lame criticism – “I loved the antic energy except for when it was too antic.” I recognize it’s a hard and fine balance to strike, but still, I can’t deny I was left wishing it had been better struck.

OK, I’ve rambled long enough and there is plenty I didn’t mention (Oh! The music – awesome! Makes the evening a great deal of fun.) Overall, a great effort and one that I’ve already recommended to several people. There is some tough competition from the folk festival this weekend. I hope it continues to draw well because it’s a production I think people should see – and a fine way to inaugurate the CenterStage space.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Two for Tuesday

My review of "Souvenir" hits the newspaper racks today and Mr. Porter's evaluation of "Much Ado About Nothing" hits the airwaves. My take on "Much Ado" will be here as soon as I can find a minute to write it.

Following up

Here are the details on Jay McCullough’s services. They will be held at Bliley's Central, 3801 Augusta, 23230. Visitation will be Wed, 10/7 from 6-8:00 PM. A celebration service will be held Thur, 10/8 at 2:00 PM.

Boy’s Life

Here’s what I loved about Maggie Marlin’s performance in “Boy’s Life:” it’s natural for an actor to want the audience to like her, or at least appreciate her, but in Marlin’s portrayal of Lisa there was no quarter given to audience appreciation. Just as Lisa simply wants to cut through the bullshit with Don, so does Marlin leave out all actorly flourishes in her dry, determined portrayal. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t tremendous energy in Marlin’s Lisa. By stripping her down, Marlin lies bare Lisa’s essential humanity, defined by her demand for honesty and reality in the midst of so much pandering and posturing. In someone else’s hands, Lisa could just be a ball-busting bitch. In Marlin’s, she’s the only tethered soul amongst many who are clearly adrift.

Like Jack, for instance, played with ingratiating flair by Joe Carlson. Carlson’s performance is in some way the opposite of Marlin’s, which is not to diminish it at all because frankly, I couldn’t take my eyes off him the entire play. Jack is a sort of uber-male and Carlson embraces the role with an amazing dexterity, his force of personality dominating each scene even when he wasn’t speaking. My only regret is that Howard Korder’s script only pits Lisa and Jack against each other for one brief moment. Of course, maybe there was some wisdom in this choice. As the no-nonsense angel and dastardly devil sitting opposite each other on Don’s shoulders, these two coming together could have been like a matter/antimatter convergence, obliterating everything else in close proximity. What a great line though from Lisa, something to the effect of "I think we know who we are." Particularly as delivered by Marlin, that line alone pretty much made up for the few indulgences and misteps I saw in Korder's script.

Focusing on Marlin and Carlson is not meant to diminish anything else or anyone else in the production; everyone did quite well. Amy Sproul was hilarious while also being totally believable, Landon Nagel was excellent as the torn Don, I would have enjoyed a whole show built around Lauren English’s character and her body-waxed boyfriend, London Ray was adorable, and Andrew Donnelly was a bit of a revelation as Phil. Alison Haracznak – someday I want to see her do a big fat leading role. Morrie Piersol seems to just keep getting better with his direction; I think he guided his cast ably away from many of the pitfalls in this material.

While overall I really enjoyed the show, I was reminded why I wasn’t wild about it when I first saw it many years ago. Back then, I had the impression that Korder thought all women were whack-jobs. Emerging feminist that I was, I had a hard time with that. But Marlin’s performance showed me just how strong and centered a character Lisa really is. And looking with a little more clarity at the men, well, they’re all pretty screwed up too. One of the pitfalls I think that exists in the show is the tendency for Korder to write ‘types’ rather than characters, though he’s not nearly as bad as countless other playwrites. Still, it is a pitfall that some of the actors came dangerously close to slipping into.

Anyway, I know it’s after the show has closed and no one really cares, but I had to put my rave out about Marlin and Carlson in particular. They blew me away. Another great season opener from the Firehouse.

Monday, October 05, 2009

So much

There’s so much to write about and so little time! But first I should link to the slew of reviews that have come out recently, from Ms. Haubenstock’s coverage of Henley Street’s “Shining City,” Triangle Players’ “The New Century” and Richmond Shakspeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing" to Ms. Lewis's take on Theatre IV's "The Ugly Duckling."

I will weigh in on everything I saw this weekend eventually, particularly the exceptional production of “Much Ado” that is gracing the Gottwald Theatre at CenterStage. But first, I just wanted to mention in passing that recently the American Theatre Wing podcasts started up again after a nine-month hiatus. I hadn’t made catching up on these a priority because, frankly, a lot of the interviews are a fairly plodding recounting of a guest’s career (“And so how do you get that opportunity? So what was it like to star in X?”) Two exceptions in my recent listening are the interesting chat with press agent Adrian Bryan-Brown – a generally delightful talk with glancing relevance to some of the conversation around the blogs here in Richmond and that includes the line, “I would never become friends with a critic” – and the fascinating conversation from last July with Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Michael Boyd, a really comprehensive view of his vision for one of the world’s most celebrated companies.

Update: In other podcast news, the first segment of This American Life this past weekend features the story of a woman who was obsessed with Broadway legend Moss Hart. Kind of a fun story.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A beautiful night, a wonderful man

Both the companies of Henley Street's "Shining City" and Richmond Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" dedicated their performances tonight to the memory of Jay McCullough. The rest of the Barksdale's "Souvenir" run will also be done in his honor. I received a couple messages, even a phone call, asking me to post something about his passing. I didn't know Jay well, but I know he was well-loved in the community. And I will remember his many great performances, the last one I saw being his turn as Senator Fipp in the Mill's exceptional "Urinetown."

Many wonderful and appropriate quotes have been circulating on Facebook. Bruce Miller's retelling of Jackie Jones's story is a fitting and touching tribute. Even the weather seemed to note Jay's passing, providing a clear night sporting a gorgeous moon and a light, cool breeze; the kind of evening that makes you cherish the brief moments we are all given on earth. All I would add is that my thoughts and prayers go out to Don and all of Jay's close friends who will miss him terribly.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Mayo is here!

Sometimes it’s funny what changes your mood. I was in a very dark place in the middle of this week. At one point, my mouse was poised over a button that said “Delete” with every intention of making this particular part of my life go blissfully away.

But today the mini-mayos came. Those of you who were at last year’s RTCC awards know that one of the sponsors, the C.F.Sauer Company, supplied some very cute little 3.5 ounce jars of mayonnaise for give-aways. I just got this year’s supply and, well, they’re really cute. As I unpacked them by the dozen from a huge, overpadded box (it's mayo -- were they afraid it would get bruised?), I couldn't help but smile. And that’s when the clouds began to lift.

It probably helps that I was at the IDR for “Ugly Duckling” last night, which appears to be silly good fun and stars a couple of my favorite people in the world, let alone favorite actors.

It also helped to spend some quality time with my eldest daughter yesterday who is turning into an incredible young woman. I may be a hack writer, my job may not make the world a better place and people I work with may think my theater critic hobby is the stupidest waste of time ever. But I’ve done a halfway decent job as a dad and really, that blows just about everything else out of the water.

I also did a little work on the RTCC event program today and I started imagining all of these people – many of them among the most engaging and smart people I know – together, dressed to the nines and having a good time. And while I have been sad that some of my favorite artists were not nominated this year, I thought about some of the people I know are going to be winners and how deserving they are of recognition of some kind, any kind. I thought about the smiles I hope these silly little awards might generate for them and it made me smile even wider.

Yesterday, I interviewed two more Top 40 Under 40 honorees who were incredibly inspiring and humble and talented and earnest and who are dedicated to doing amazing things with their lives. And they live right here, in our community. Sometimes I forget how incredible some of the people in this relatively small town are.

It also helps that it’s an absolutely gorgeous day.

And, if the stars align, I’m probably going to see three shows this weekend. And thinking about that reminds me that the reason I do this blog and write for Style is because I really do love theater. I don’t really give a crap whether anyone else thinks the way I chose to express my love of theater serves any purpose in the world. I’m not writing for those people. I’m writing, ultimately, for myself. For as long as I continue to do it (which will not be much longer), I plan to enjoy it.

And if you plan on commenting in such a way that rains on my parade, you can expect your comment to be deleted. Because it’s MY freaking blog and, yes, I set it up to encourage dialogue about Richmond theater. But I didn’t set it up to encourage people to bash critics, actors, designers, other commenters, or Richmond theater. And if people have the delusion that I set it up to somehow lord my opinion over the Richmond theater community, there’s no way I will change that opinion. But in a tiny attempt to be more clear, I’ve changed the name to “Dave’s Theater Blog” because that’s what it is. I don’t speak for the Richmond theater community or even all of the critics. If you have complaints, take them to someone who cares.

As Andrew so aptly suggested, if you want to start your own conversation with your own rules, go for it. It seems half the population is already doing so. Join the party! Send me the URL and I’ll link to it. But this is my blog, plain and simple.

If this post somehow pisses you off or reinforces whatever idea you have that I’m Richmond’s biggest jerk, I have a suggestion. There are a half-dozen awesome plays showing in Richmond this weekend – go see one of them. Maybe it’ll cheer you up too.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

New

Four shows opening this weekend, truly something for everyone. "Much Ado About Nothing" is Richmond Shakespeare's first offering in the new CenterStage space, "Shining City" is the first show under Henley Street's new Artistic Director, and RTP's "The New Century" -- well, it's got 'new' right there in the title. So I think 'new' -- and busy -- is the theme of this weekend. Not sure how "Ugly Duckling" at Theatre IV fits in with that theme exactly but I'll think on it.

Also, the first ad for the RTCC awards is in today's T-D. So that's kind of a new thing, too.