Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hanukkah Harried

Phew! Life just seemed to get overwhelming there for a while right after Thanksgiving. Team Timberline went out west to meet up with the 2 stragglers currently travelling with the Rockettes and all spent the holiday together in Salt Lake City. Brief recap: Beautiful city, picturesque snow, bitter cold (my Cleveland-raised bones were delighted!) and general good times getting briefly integrated into the road show circus that Radio City is putting on.

There are all sorts of intriguing aspects of the big touring experience that I could expound on but Holly’s doing that (very sporadically) on her blog so I won’t delve into it here. I will say that one of the best nights I spent there was playing Texas Hold ‘em with several members of the company, including both the actor that plays Santa Claus and the “back-up Santa” in the cast. If you think they could access any of that “Sees you when you’re sleeping” magic to help their poker game, well, not so much: Santa was the first one knocked out of the game.

Anyway since then, for me it’s been keeping up with the year-end crunch at work, grading papers and exams at school, and trying to put on some semblance of a Hanukkah celebration over the past week for my family. It’s been quite a whirlwind and therefore it’s been a long time since blogging has bubbled up to the top of my priority list.

But last week I had a few reviews in Style (links at the bottom of this post), specifically reviews of the two Christmas oriented musicals in town, and that seems worthy of some commentary. I’ve had several conversations about both of these shows since they opened and I’ve also read with great interest the review of “White Christmas” and Emily Cole’s spirited rebuttal (it's so nice to see that someone out there is still blogging...).

Now, I don’t want to get into rebutting a rebuttal or anything; everyone is entitled to their opinion and, as far as I'm concerned, encouraged to express it. But I guess I will say that I understand where the reviewer, Ms. Jewitt, was coming from in terms of her review. Both “White Christmas” and “Wondrettes” are great shows in their own way: fun and entertaining and each using the medium of live theater to bring something special to Richmond-area audiences. I wouldn’t want to lessen the importance of that. But still…

This may just be where I’m coming from but one of the things I like most about theater – about any art form, really – is its ability to capture something that’s real, possibly even universal, and convey that to an audience. That’s why, of all of the shows I’ve been to over the past month, the staged reading of “Phoenix” was my favorite. It was a two-hander, just two people talking, but it was also intelligent and funny and complicated and thought-provoking. And even though the production was just two actors obviously reading, my emotions got tweaked, I cared about the characters and I was thoroughly engrossed. These may not have been ‘real’ people, so to speak, but the tension and attraction and aggravation and everything that passed between them on stage felt real.

As much as I enjoyed “White Christmas,” the dye was cast as soon as the two leading men meet the two leading women. You know who is going to end up together and that takes most of the tension out of it. The central complication involving misunderstanding based on an overheard phone call feels really old and tired to me. Relationships don’t work that way. Or when they do, they aren’t real relationships. Even in a big-fun, razzle-dazzle musical one character can ask another character an actual question in order to clarify their relationship rather than throwing it away based on hearsay. And if the relationships don’t feel real, I simply don’t care as much about the story. And if I don’t care about the story, then I may still be entertained, but the show is not going to have an emotional impact. And it’s that emotional impact that keeps me remembering certain shows days, weeks, or months after the curtain has come down.

With “Wonderettes,” my review hints at a little bit of annoyance that a show set in 1968 has characters in it who mostly act like it’s still the 1950s. I watched a snippet of “Hairspray” the other day, a show set in 1962, that has that great song “Welcome to the 60s.” Even in middle America (or for Hairspray, Baltimore), there was change going on during those years. Significant, fundamental change. But “Wonderettes” is set in some world apart from that, a major reason that it didn’t feel real to me. And while there were some definite heart-tugging moments, I’m also a little tired of characters working out major life issues in front of an audience during a 90 minute performance. I know this has become a staple of many musicals – particularly the juke-box kind – and that it has been done pretty effectively at times. But usually it doesn’t feel even remotely real to me. So while I enjoyed the hell out of the songs during “Wonderettes” and I left the theater smiling, I really couldn’t have cared less about the characters. So it will not be a show that I remember next month or next year.

I guess some people might call me a Grinch for this kind of attitude. “Why can’t people just go to the theater and be entertained and have that be enough?” you might say. And I can understand that attitude, too. There are plenty of times that I’m not looking for much more than a fun two hours when I enter the theater (usually it’s a movie theater in that case but still…) And certainly, the holidays are a time when people are looking for a good time, something celebratory, spectacular and maybe even a little cheesy. But personally, I’m also looking for something that affirms something deeper, that reminds me of the connection between people – the real and powerful and personal connection between people. A show doesn’t have to go to the heart of darkness (or in search of Private Ryan) to evoke that. But there is a reason that “A Christmas Carol” is such a perennial holiday fave. Scrooge has to go to a dark place before he is reminded of and embraces his humanity. I don’t think looking for – hoping for and in some ways, expecting – that kind of depth and a modicum of that kind of transformation in a holiday show makes someone Grinch-like.

People are bolstered and enlightened by all sorts of things and there are certainly hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people who got great big doses of cheer, warmth and inspiration from this year’s Christmas musicals. But for me I’m finding it kind of ironic that, in this season full of evocation of things snowy and sleigh-bound, the blazingly sunny streets of “Phoenix” – not even minimally crafted, just wholly imagined on a blank stage – will persist in my memory as the clearest example of the spirit of the holidays.

Here are some links to all sorts of reviews (I heard Mr. Porter’s take on “The Winter’s Tale” on the radio but he hasn’t posted it on his site. When he does, I’ll post a link).

Christmas Carol for 2 Actors in the T-D

The Winter’s Tale in the T-D

White Christmas in Style

Winter Wondrettes in Style

The Velveteen Rabbit in Style

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Just have time for links

Lots of news and reviews out there.

In honor of the first night of Hanukkah: there was a story last week on the theater schedule at the JCC.

More recently there have been reviews of:

Style also ran previews of:

If you've been following -- or are vaguely interested -- in the tales and travails of the Broadway production of "Turn Off the Dark," there are stories on:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wow, what a wild wonderful winterly white weekend

I was nearly knocked-out by the one-two punch of Christmas cheer this past weekend, thanks to openings of Barksdale’s “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” and Swift Creek Mill’s “The Winter Wonderettes.” The links above will take you to the two T-D reviews, both productions fairly well received by Ms. Haubenstock.

As I’ve been summing up my thoughts about each, I really wish I could write a combo review since the two productions have such interesting similarities and contrasts. Both have scads of familiar songs but one has a cast of dozens (or so it seems) versus the other’s cast of 4. Both are set in the mid-20th century (“WW” is supposed to be set in 1968 but is full of sentiments from a decade earlier) but one production is full of glitz, glamour and technical dazzle while the other garner’s much of its appeal from its low-tech, homespun charm. Both productions make the most of the strengths in the shows’ scripts and both are also somewhat hampered by their books’ weaknesses.

It’ll probably be 2 weeks before my reviews show up in print so I’ll give a little preview by saying, while I thought each production had its issues (mostly script related), I ended up thoroughly entertained by them both. To sum up: If you want to be dazzled and enchanted and leave the theater with stars in your eyes, “White Christmas” fits the bill. If you want to be charmed and amused and leave the theater with warmth in your heart, check out “Winter Wonderettes.” But really, for the full range of holiday-oriented emotions and entertainment, I’d suggest seeing them both.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Comfort and Joy

Ms. Haubenstock's review of RTP's latest was in the T-D yesterday. What tickles me most about this production is the thought of Ford Flannagan -- who has done such an amazing job with the character of Peter Pan in the past -- playing a holiday fairy. It's kind of like Peter playing Tinkerbell, yes? You just know that's gonna be a hoot.

After "C & J" on Wednesday, the hits keep rolling this weekend with Barksdale's "White Christmas" and the Mill's "Winter Wonderettes." See them now before holiday madness really begins!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Counting Down

I’d feel bad about not blogging more but hardly anyone seems to be blogging anymore these days (well, except for Andrew Hamm, but that’s all football stuff and even he's slacked off the past couple of weeks...) I’m starting to wonder whether blogging will eventually go the way of MySpace – something that lingers in the background but that people don’t pay much attention to anymore. Perhaps it’s already there?

Anyway, it occurs to me that there is a lot of counting down going on these days. Thanks to the continual movement of holiday-related retail hype, the countdown to Christmas has already started. More immediately, the countdown to the latest Harry Potter movie is reaching a fever pitch. Personally, I’m counting down to Thanksgiving when I’ll get to see the 1/3 of my family that’s been roaming the country for the past almost-5 weeks.

In stage world, there’s anticipation building for the mini-flood of shows that will start opening this weekend in Richmond -- as per the story in the T-D this past weekend on "White Christmas." But on the national/New York scene, there is an increasing focus on the imminent opening of the Spiderman musical. There were stories about the not-in-any-way surprising delay in the opening a while back and lately the pictures of the costumes and sets that have been released has generated additional press.

I’m still highly ambivalent about this whole endeavor. I love the Spiderman mythology, enjoyed the first two movies (and even the third a little), and am a long-time fan of U2. But I’m just not that excited about seeing all of this adapted for the stage. Sure, it all looks extravagant and all. But will I end up caring about any of these characters? Will the songs be memorable or just pomp-rock in support of spectacle? I will read the first reviews with great curiosity.

Friday, November 12, 2010


The first play of AART's season, "Home," opened last night. I don't know if this is going to be the way AART's productions work in general but this one is only playing for the weekend. So you won't be able to dawdle if you want to catch it!

Something I never do

After the opening night performance of “Love Kills” at the Firehouse a couple of weeks ago, I was heading out to my car in the Lowe’s parking lot. When I got to my car, I noticed a little clutch of three middle-aged women standing a couple of cars down from me. They were engaged in earnest conversation. Not intense conversation exactly, they just seemed like they were trying to figure something out.

I eavesdropped just a little, enough to realize that they were talking about “Love Kills.” I also heard enough to know that they were trying to parse some very specific issues. I was intrigued to hear such consideration given to theatrical issues so I hesitantly wandered over toward them and insinuated myself into their conversation.

Normally, I don’t like to discuss a show after it’s over with anyone but good friends or family. The whole “critic” thing tends to make casual acquaintances or strangers focus a little too intently on what I’m saying. It also tends to reduce the range of their commentary to extremes, most often “wasn’t that great!” but also sometimes “oh my, wasn’t that awful! Didn’t you hate it?” My friends and family don’t really seem to give a rip whether I’m a critic or not so they expound at will without undo concern about what I might say or hear.

So it was with some reluctance that I started to chat with these nice women in the middle of the Lowe’s parking lot. But I was glad I did because it turned into the kind of conversation that reminds me that audiences should be respected. Sure, some patrons doze off or show bad theater manners or react more to the pageantry of a show instead of its substance. But there are still plenty of theatergoers who care about theater, think about theater with some depth, and expect/demand a certain level of competence from the companies whose shows they frequent. In other words, they aren’t going to believe anyone who says the plate of hamburger they are being presented with is actually prime rib.

As the three women talked, I realized that between them they had seen several shows that had opened over the past several months (“Shipwrecked!,” “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming,” “Rent,” “Virginia Woolf”), they were familiar with each different theater company and even with several specific actors (in particular, Mr. Aliff who they thought was excellent in “Rent”). And they were struggling with “Love Kills” in many of the same ways that I was. In general, they did not like the songs. They had trouble with a couple of the performances (they found fault with Ms. Orelove in ways that I did not). And they were both intrigued and annoyed with the plotline, finding themselves alternately fascinated and bored. Though I listened much more than I spoke, I offered that it might have something to do with the subplot involving the sheriff and his wife.

Now don’t get me wrong: I understand the line of thought that some kind of supplement to the basic story of Charlie and Caril Ann is needed to turn their story into a complete musical. But in my opinion, the Merle and Gertrude subplot is too slight a story and it is given way too much focus. Charlie and Caril Ann are killers, cold-blooded killers that even murdered a child. The modest tribulations of two married folks do not in any way match or ‘balance’ the story of the homicidal teenagers. In fact, given that it is almost impossible to provide an appropriate counterpoint to the killers’ story, I would have suggested that whatever story was used to provide ballast to the main plotline be as minimal as possible (if you’ve seen the movie, consider the role that Robert Downey, Jr. plays in “Natural Born Killers.”)

Of course, I’m not the playwright and Mr. Jarrow made the choices he made. Still, for me, the Merle and Gertrude subplot trivializes the main plotline rather than enhances it.

Beyond “Love Will Never Die,” I didn’t find many of the songs particularly enchanting or compelling. Some of them were plagued with simplistic and reductive “even though we’re locked away / we’ll be OK” rhymes. Perhaps more of a problem, many of them seemed to lack a strong melody because there were times even Aliff and Orelove, who are both clearly accomplished singers, seemed to have trouble finding it.

I thought “The Funny Thing” was clever and Mr. Aliff’s delivery was fantastic. Aliff and Orelove singing together on songs like “Two Movies” was great to listen to – I really enjoyed both of their voices separately and the way they blended – but honestly, I would have rather watched them act more. Each of the scenes between the two of them – in the movie theater, in the motel room, after Charlie’s first murder, even in the jail – crackled with energy. By the end of the show, my annoyance with the songs grew because of the way they distracted from such gripping scenes between these two talented actors.

I won’t go too deeply into the problems I had with the production but I will expand on one of the concerns I mentioned in my review. My comment on the production’s lighting is also a reflection of some frustration. In general, I thought David McLain’s lighting design was fantastic – a real stand-out. But the jail cell walls were a functional problem, at least in the performance I saw. At least three times a cell “door” did not open when someone walked through it. The sound effect that signaled the door closing was also sporadic. In fact, it’s hard for me to remember exactly but I believe once I heard the sound effect even though the door never actually opened and closed making me wonder if it actually was supposed to be tied to the lighting cue. This is a small detail, I know, but it’s an essential one. When I am doing my best to suspend my disbelief and then a character essentially walks through a wall, it substantially undercuts the effort.

But I’ll also say again, as I did in my review, that all of this did not diminish for me the incredible job Aliff did in his role and, to a slightly lesser extent, Ms. Orelove. There was an edge of adolescent petulance in Orelove’s Caril Ann that I thought was good (and understandable since the real Caril Ann was 13) but at times pushed just a tiny bit too far. Having said that, I truly loved the scene when Caril Ann becomes the strong one and comforts Charlie in their motel room. I think nudity on stage can be a distraction but in this case, I thought it was neither gratuitous nor distracting, and entirely appropriate given the nature of the scene. In fact, it might have ruined the scene for me if they got in the bath in their underwear or somehow had bathing suits or something under their clothes.

As for Mrs. Jones-Clark (I didn’t think Kim hyphenated but that’s how it was listed in the program) and Mr. Gard, I don’t know what they could have done to redeem a subplot that I already had problems with. Whatever that was, they didn’t do it. It may not be fair to them but I really just wanted their scenes to end so we could get back to Charlie and Caril Ann.

Which brings me back to my three new friends in the Lowe’s parking lot. They talked some about the morbid fascination of the story and concluded that, despite their negative reactions to some parts of the show, it was still compelling enough to keep them interested all the way to the end. One of them wondered whether they would have liked the show more if there had been a scene depicting an actual killing. They were almost embarrassed, I think, to conclude that they might have. I don’t know if I agree but I do think that the killing of Caril Ann’s parents in particular is given short shrift here. There are inklings of some psychological break in Caril Ann due to their killing – her line where she asks if they’ll be at her trial. This is fertile dramatic ground and I don’t think “Love Kills” plows into it nearly deep enough.

After I had finished writing my review, I read some of the background material that the Firehouse links to from their website. I was surprised and disconcerted to read that, in real life, Caril Ann ran to the police when they were first arrested crying out that Charlie had forced her all along. So the musical takes one specific detail of the real story, contradicts it and makes it one of the main thrusts of its fictionalized plotline. I’m sure this isn’t unusual with adaptations but in this case, I think it’s unfortunate. Knowing the truth just deflates my opinion of this show a little bit more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Love Kills

There is lots I want to say about this review in this week's Style but I have no time to get into it. Perhaps by Friday I can get a chance to put some more thoughts down. In the meantime, feel free to chime in with alternate or supporting views.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Feast and Famine

Well, yesterday was election day. I hope you voted. It’s the most basic act in a free society so everyone should take advantage of it. Just like everyone should take advantage of great theater…(how’s that for an awkward segue?)

First, the reviews: Links have been all over Facebook but, in case you still haven’t seen them, reviews of Cadence’s “Oleanna” and Firehouse’s “Love Kills” were in the T-D over the weekend.

Last week, I attended opening night of “Love Kills” at the Firehouse and next-to-closing night of Richmond Shakespeare’s “Arcadia.” My review of the former was possibly going to be in this week’s Style but as it turned out, it wasn’t (there is a nice feature by Rich Griset on the Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre company though). I won’t preempt my own review but I can offer some brief comments: I had a hard time with the script, the score, and some aspects of the production.

The true story of Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate has been the inspiration for compelling and disturbing films like Natural Born Killers and Wild At Heart (two of my favorite movies). Unfortunately, Kyle Jarrow’s adaptation pits Charlie and Caril Ann’s story against a subplot (an entirely fictional one) involving the arresting sheriff and his wife. I found this subplot distracting and sometimes downright annoying.

Having said that, Nick Aliff delivers an amazing performance as Charlie and Emma Orelove is also excellent as Caril Ann. Their scenes together were golden. I think I would have enjoyed a play that focused exclusively on them much better. I’ll explain some more of my issues with the show after my review comes out, as well as lavish more praise on Mr. Aliff and Ms. Orelove.

In the meantime, let me gush a little about “Arcadia,” because, even though I didn’t expect to, I really enjoyed this show. In my humble opinion, the key to this show is getting wrapped up in the central mysteries and I, for one, was totally taken in by them. I wanted to know who the hermit was, I wanted to know if Byron actually killed Chater, I wanted to know what ultimately happened to Thomasina and Septimus. I empathized with Hannah and even with the obnoxious Bernard because they were so passionate in their own ways about discovering the answers to those mysteries and they pulled me anxiously through the more densely packed clumps of scientific falderal.

Sure, this is a play filled with big ideas and complicated concepts but to me it was like an overly lavish feast. Sometimes it’s too much but, boy, it’s nice to have something so sumptuous to wade through rather than the anemic ideas behind much so much of modern theater (exhibit a: jukebox musicals). There were times I was overwhelmed, but still, those times passed quickly and were balanced nicely. And the action always managed to circle back to the central mysteries.

A couple of things predispose me to liking a show like this. I’ve spent much of the past five years doing graduate school research so the excitement of historical clue-finding and conjecture that Hannah and Bernard go through was something I could totally relate to. Also, just like Shakespeare gives the illusion that people in Elizabethan England all spoke in iambic pentameter, Stoppard makes Englishmen and women in the early 19th and late 20th century seem much more erudite and clever than they ever were. I like this illusion. It’s a kind of hyper-intellectualism that I find entertaining.

So that’s the script, what about the performances? Well, I really think you need to talk in twosomes because some of the best parts of the production were the sparkling chemical reactions between Jen Meharg’s Hannah and Andrian Rieder’s Bernard, for instance; and Jonathan Conyers’ Septimus and Alex Wiles’ Thomasina. I was particularly enchanted by Wiles’ performance, showing an astounding amount of maturity in someone so young. Again, I’ve got some predisposition here, having two teenage daughters of my own. The last scene between Septimus and Thomasina may have been arguably more heartbreaking for me than other patrons, feeling the full weight of what a loss of someone so smart, enchanting, and vital would be like.

There were also many other great portrayals delivered by this talented cast, among them Julie Phillips as Lady Croom, Liz Blake White as Chloe Coverly, and the young Nathan Johnson as Augustus “Gus” Croom. And ultimately, the show was a great triumph for director Foster Solomon, a successful (again, in my opinion) and entertaining staging of a very challenging work.

But as much as I gush, I do not think the script or the production are/were quite flawless. The one scene where Valentine Coverly explains his mathematical ideas to Hannah is deathly boring, to the point that I doubt even Olivier could have made it sing (nice try by Andrew Ballard, though). I was confused about Hannah’s apparent aversion to emotional entanglement. Is she just too intellectual or is there more back story there? Of course, Ms. Meharg is entrancing even when she’s being emotionally remote so that didn’t ultimately detract from my enjoyment. However, I found David White’s Chater frustrating and distracting. That character really seemed to belong in a different play.

And finally, as much as I enjoyed it, I can see where some people would truly despise “Arcadia.” Not to speak for her, but I expect my wife would not enjoy it in the least. And, given that she’s demonstrably smarter than me, it’s not because she couldn’t parse the concepts. She would just need a more compelling reason to care about any of it. Maybe the teenage girl involved would hook her in, but maybe not for 3 hours.

According to the Wikipedia entry on “Arcadia,” one review called it “…too clever by about two-and-three quarters. One comes away instructed with more than one can usefully wish to know.” That may be along the lines of the perspective of people like the G.B. Pshaw that commented on the Style review. However, for me, as I’ve said, “Arcadia” was like a lavish banquet, most of which I found completely delicious. My only regret is that I didn’t see the show earlier in the run so that I could have come back and supped from that feast one more time before it closed down.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Swimming, Driving, Evening, Reuniting, Playing

You step away from the blog for a couple of days and all sorts of things start popping. First off, Mr. Porter weighed in on CAT’s “Dixie Swim Club” with a rather unfavorable assessment.

Also, Mr. Mudge of Richmond Shakespeare put forth an endorsement of “Arcadia” that is worth considering (and fast, since the show closes this weekend).

Further afield, “Driving Miss Daisy” opened on Broadway with one of the more intriguing mixes of conditionally positive reviews to downright pans.

For Stephen Sondheim fanatics (and lovers of musical theater of all stripes), a DVD version of an old TV presentation scored by Sondheim, “Evening Primrose” recently came out and has garnered a fair amount of coverage.

And, as an unlikely tie-in, “Primrose” features Charmian Carr, Leisl in the cast of the movie “The Sound of Music,” a cast that Oprah Winfrey recently brought together on her TV show – and that I somehow forgot to program on the DVR. Anyway, if you missed the reunion as well (or even if you watched it), you may be interested in reading about the reunion or finding out what the cast is doing now. Personally, I’ll be trying to hit up friends who were more adept with their DVRs...

Big weekend in town with Henley Street’s Bootleg production of “Titus Andronicus,” certain to be a hoot playing at the Barksdale, and Cadence opening “Oleanna” at the Richmond Triangle Players space. Clearly Richmond-area theater companies know how to play well with each other!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Well now I HAVE to get out to see it

I pulled up Mr. Griset’s review of “Arcadia” in this week’s Style, just expecting to grab the URL to link to. Little did I know there was a maelstrom of comments brewing. Nothing like a pan to get people’s dander up.

As I’ve mentioned at least a half-dozen times here before, I’m a big fan of Rick St. Peter’s work; productions he directed here before running off to Kentucky were among the best I’ve seen in Richmond. In the past he has been quick to call out sloppy or wrong-headed criticism (particularly when posted anonymously). And while I can understand his defense of Stoppard’s play, I take issue with some of his comments. First off, the quote of Stoppard’s he cites may be clever in its own way but I find it sorely lacking in truth, and in my experience, exactly wrong. I am regularly chastised for doing my job well -- that is, presenting valid concerns and criticisms about a play -- and very often no one seems to notice when I do my job badly -- that is, when I give a lackluster or subpar production a pass.

As for hating to be criticized, I don’t love it but I regularly solicit input simply by having this blog. The papers that print reviews – both Style and the T-D – allow people to comment online or write letters to the editor (that are often printed), thereby openly inviting criticism. I can’t speak for any other critic but, personally, I appreciate constructive criticism. But whether any critic loves or hates counter-criticism, they get it. And, if they want to continue to do the job, they have to learn to deal with it.

What I have a hard time with is people whose criticism is of the very act of criticism. Critics are paid to offer their insight – however flawed you may think that is – on a work of art. Criticizing a critic for doing his or her job is like yelling at a mail carrier for delivering the mail.

Having said that, I understand that people get annoyed and upset at the way a critic does his or her job – you don’t want your mailman scattering your letters all over the yard, for instance. That’s the kind of counter-criticism I welcome. Was I vague in what I wrote? Was I confusing? Did I miss something about the production that was obvious to you?

What I find bitterly ironic (to reuse a phrase I had reason to employ recently) is people whose criticism turns personal. “That critic is a fool!” “This critic must be angry at somebody.” “Joe Critic is just a frustrated actor who can’t get cast in town.” That is the level on which many people respond to critics. For all most people know, Mr. Griset could be a Nobel Prize winner with a Ph.D. in theater pedagogy, and yet they would question his credentials versus responding to his words. As I’ve also said before, if my criticism was on that level – for instance, “Joe Smith’s direction of this play shows that he obviously has delusions of grandeur and his narcissism gets in the way of any valid artistic statement he’s trying to make here” – I would be fired. Or I should be fired because that's criticizing the artist, not the art, and that's not my job.

I have not seen “Arcadia” so I can’t speak to the substance of Mr. Griset’s review. If I was just criticizing the writing, I might say that it’s a little laundry-listy for me. Still, he makes some refreshingly blunt observations that should be refuted on their merits. Mr. Griset does seem to be reflecting the attitudes of at least one patron, as noted by a commenter, and I know Ms. Haubenstock’s review of the play also indicated some issues.

Finally, I appreciate the endorsement of one of the commenters – it’s nice to have a fan, even if only one! However, as many folks associated with theater know, both my wife and son have been active in local theater making my personal connections in the scene pretty direct. I’ve tried my best to remain objective but certainly the argument exists that I am compromised just as much as or more than the unnamed female reviewer.

I may or may not be able to actually make it out to see “Arcadia” before it closes. But one positive side effect of this negative review – and the comments it elicited – is that I’m more motivated than ever to try and fit it in. That way, I can judge the work for myself, which I encourage everyone else to do as well.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Js Have It

I’ve fallen into a bit of a bad habit, one that I expect plagues many theater fans but that is a bit inexcusable in a part-time critic. A production will open, I’ll tuck away the thought in my mind that I really should see that show, and then, by the time I untuck that thought it’s too late.

Or, in the case of “The Foreigner,” almost too late. I was able to finagle my schedule to catch the second-to-last show of the Swift Creek Mill show this past weekend and I was glad that I did. I was struck first by the warmth of Tom Width’s set – the sturdiness of all that wood hardly made the set look like a set at all. In a theatrical era often dominated by minimalist sets that force a lot of mind-construction, it was nice to see a set where the construction was all there on the stage.

I can’t really provide a full-fledged review but my quick take was that I was particularly impressed by the work of the “J”s in the cast. Jay Welch, whose great work in “Take Me Out” last season was often overlooked because of how many other phenomenal talents were on stage, was pitch-perfect as Ellard. With a role that would be easy to make too big, he put in a “Goldilocks” kind of performance: not too big, not too small, but just right. James Rees was also excellent as Froggy and Jonathan Hardison balanced the various aspects of his wily, smarmy, and dastardly Reverend David with much skill.

I don’t want to short-change the rest of the cast. Seeing Richard Koch and Bill Brock face off at various times in the show – both chewing the scenery in their own ways – was a real treat. My appreciation of Mr. Koch’s portrayal – an incredibly entertaining as it was – may have suffered a little because I absolutely adored him in the last two shows I saw him in: Henley Street’s “A Servant of Two Masters” and the Mill’s “Greetings.” The women in the cast were solid but I think the play gives them a little less to work with. Having said that, I did appreciate the subtle dawning of awareness that Sarah Legere communicates as Catherine in the last scene. Very fine work there.

It seemed that several theater folks were also sneaking out to catch “The Foreigner” before it’s close because a number of actors were attendance on Friday, as well as recent Top 40 Under 40 recipient, artistic director James Ricks. I hope they all enjoyed the show as much as I did.

Speaking of bad habits, I’ve also been bad lately about getting links to reviews up in a timely manner. I can’t promise that I’ll get any better soon but here, only a couple of days late, is the Times-Dispatch review of “Dixie Swim Club.” I’ll be looking for something from Mr. Porter later in the week.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jay's photos

I realized right after posting the below that the link to Jay's great pictures is totally buried in all of my ramblings. Here is a link to two online photo albums of the RTCC awards, assembled by the extraordinary photographer, Jay Paul.

Onward and upward

What a night, huh? As I write this, it’s less than 96 hours since the 2010 RTCC awards wrapped up. The excitement and energy of the night was so penetrating that, in some ways, it feels like it just happened last night. But so much has been said and done since that night, in other ways it seems like it could have happened 96 days ago. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, for me nothing matches seeing so many people I love, like and admire all dressed up and celebrating together. These award nights are becoming among my favorite nights of the whole year.

I feel compelled to deal with some latent negativity so I can then move on to more positive stuff. I understand many people were upset and/or disappointed about some of the award selections this year. This has been the case every year but the difference this year was the ubiquity of social media allowed vociferous reactions to circulate almost immediately. I can only repeat what I’ve said every year: the process we critics go through to select nominees and final choices is not a perfect process. We take it seriously and we do the best that a group of considerate professionals can do but some of our choices surprised and frustrated some of you. Personally, I don’t think one person taking home the little hockey puck diminishes the achievement of anyone else. I can’t remember if I’ve used this analogy before but “Avenue Q” winning the Tony over “Wicked” did not make “Wicked” any less awesome.

One more thing I will say about the negative comments: I find some dark irony in them. Critics are often derided by theater professionals because of their perceived insensitivity. I have personally been lambasted by actors because of my lack of understanding of what goes into a production or what it takes to create a role on stage. But if I ever wrote something in a review that included the kind of non-specific criticism and name-calling directed at inappropriate targets that I read online or heard repeated secondhand in the wake of the awards Sunday night, I would lose my job. Period, end of statement. Journalists live and die by certain standards – as one of the presenters Sunday night, Chris Dovi, found out only too bitterly. The fact that some theater professionals feel free to wield criticism without any regard to the propriety of their comments demeans them personally and professionally. We are very lucky to live in a free country and to be free to say/write what we want. But as I have found during my many years writing professional criticism, words have power and careless statements have repercussions.

Moving on, I also received numerous positive comments about the evening, people who felt it was a continuation in the ongoing improvement in the awards presentation. The projections used during the evening were a fantastic addition – thank you Chase Kniffen for your hard work in putting them together. All of the performances were astounding, if you ask me, from Lauren’s curmudgeonly “Bah! Humbug” to the stage-filling cheerfulness of the Von Trapp children. I could hear Joy Newsome and Jaci Camden sing their duet from “Rent” over and over on repeat on my iPod and never get tired of it. Debra was a hoot and it was so much fun to watch her work the crowd. And what a testament to her versatility that she could then help deliver the wonderfully affecting “I Love You Song” from Putnam, featuring last-minute stand-in Matt Shofner and the always-amazing Aly Wepplo. All of the performances made me want to see the entire productions again. Big thanks to Brian Harris and his fantastic band for filling the night with beautiful music.

The increased accessibility of the bars seemed to be appreciated and in some ways helped the flow of the evening as people weren’t stuck in lines for so long. I think many people enjoyed the “green room” innovation, spearheaded by Event Chair Mary Burruss, where winners and performers were photographed before and after their appearances on stage. The result is a more complete photographic record of the evening than we’ve ever had before. Big thanks to Thomas Nowlin for manning the camera – he did a spectacular job.

On that note, people may be pleased to know that photographer extraordinaire Jay Paul documented the evening and his work is available online in a pair of photo albums (I'm a little confused by Snapfish, but I think you can get to them but clicking here). Check them out and enjoy looking at all of the beautiful people!

As in the past, most every presenter gamely played along with the shenanigans of the evening. Ms. Carreras and Madame were particularly impressive. Oh, if only you could read some of the jokes John Porter had originally scripted for Madame – some truly golden stuff!

Every person who came up to accept an award was entertaining or heart-warming in their own way. But perhaps my favorite was Willie Hinton who, besides looking particularly dapper, was so excited and thankful and gracious. And if you didn’t see “Black Nativity” you missed some truly incredible work from him.

All in all, there was much to be excited about and celebrate. Perhaps most important of all, once again all of you helped raised several thousand dollars for the Theatre Artists Fund, a truly worthy cause. That everyone had such a good time as part of supporting something so worthwhile is a true win-win situation.

Big plans are already percolating for next year so stay tuned. With your help and understanding and support, things can only get better. If you came to the awards, thanks a bunch and I hope you had fun. If you didn’t, believe me, you won’t want to miss it next year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's Just a Stage

As kind of a follow-up to yesterday's post, my lovely wife has initiated a blog to chronicle her life on the Radio City tour. I fully expect her readership to grow to many times mine in a matter of days.

In completely unrelated news, the lovely and talented Andrew Boothby has set up a profile on the Reality TV casting site, It looks like he's shooting for a history channel hosting gig. Vote early and often (good practice for Nov. 2!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Off they go

Well, it’s two days since the RTCC awards and, in some ways, I’m still in recovery. I haven’t processed it all yet because my focus has been diverted. Today, I put my lovely wife and eldest son on a plane to Myrtle Beach where Cooper will start rehearsing for his role in the national arena tour of Radio City Music Hall’s “Christmas Spectacular.” It’s been a day of many different emotions but chief among them is excitement about this new little adventure for our whole family.

I’ll write more about all of that soon as well as some kind of recap about the awards evening from my perspective. Many have chimed in with their perspectives via various forms of social media already but I’m letting my thoughts coalesce a little longer. In short, for those who had a great time (like I did), I’m very glad. For those who didn’t for one reason or another, I’m sorry. I will say this: plans are already afoot to build on the success of this year and make next year’s event something special.

There is a recap in today’s Style so you can check that out if you like. Also, the weekend sped by without me getting to acknowledge the opening of Richmond Shakespeare’s “Arcadia” – reviewed by Susan Haubenstock yesterday – and Sycamore Rouge’s “Concord, Virginia” – also reviewed by Ms. Haubenstock.

And because there is no respite as far as Richmond theater goes, don’t forget that "Dixie Swim Club" opens at CAT this weekend. Never a dull moment!

Monday, October 18, 2010

And the winners are...

Congrats to all of the winners and thanks to everyone who stepped up at the last minute to fill in the missing pieces (Melissa Chase, Matt Shofner, Durron Tyre, Dan Sherrier, Jessie Jennison, Bruce Rennie, and many more...). My appreciation also goes out to those who look at the big picture. Here's the list:

Best Musical
The Sound of Music (Barksdale / Theatre IV)

Best Direction (Musical)
Chase Kniffen, The Sound of Music (Barksdale / Theatre IV)

Best Actor (Musical)
Durron Tyre, Rent (Firehouse Theatre Project)

Best Actress (Musical)
Joy Newsome, Rent (Firehouse Theatre Project)

Best Supporting Actor (Musical)
Antonio Tillman, Rent (Firehouse Theatre Project)

Best Supporting Actress (Musical)
Susan Sanford, The Sound of Music (Barksdale / Theatre IV)

Best Musical Direction
Leilani Mork, Rent (Firehouse Theatre Project)

Best Choreography
Willie Hinton, Black Nativity (African American Repertory Theatre)

Best Play
Take Me Out (Richmond Triangle Players)

Best Direction – Play
Bo Wilson, Shining City (Henley Street Theatre)

Best Actor – Play
Joe Inscoe, Shining City (Henley Street Theatre)

Best Actress – Play
Kelly Kennedy, On Golden Pond (Barksdale)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Play
Jimmy Glidden, Take Me Out (Richmond Triangle Players)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Play
Carmen Zilles, Boleros for the Disenchanted (Barksdale)

Best Ensemble Acting
The Mystery of Irma Vep, Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Best Locally-Developed Work
Full Plate Collection (Independent)

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design
Rebecca Cairns, Servant of Two Masters (Henley Street)

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design
Lynne Hartman, The Sound of Music (Barksdale / Theatre IV)

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design
Betsy Muller, Is He Dead? (Barksdale)

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design
Derek Dumais, The Sound of Music (Barksdale / Theatre IV)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Advice for RTCC attendees!

Here is a reprint of a Facebook note from Tony Foley:

I thought I would try to give attendees of the 3rd Annual Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards a heads up on how the cash bar will work at the Empire Theatre so you can plan accordingly. This is a very popular event where we all get to mix and mingle with our fellow Theatre artists and patrons. No one really wants to spend a lot of time waiting in line so I hope these few tips can help everyone maximize their enjoyment of the evening.

The Bar will be open at 6pm for service. Prices are as follows : Sodas, snacks, and waters $1, Beer $4, Wine $5, Cocktails $5 or $7 for premium brands (Makers Mark Bourbon, Kettle One Vodka, Bacardi Rum, Bombay Gin). Basic mixers will be available, tonic, soda, cranberry, ginger ale, etc. However if you come up asking for a Sweet Old Fashioned or a Rusty Nail you will be disappointed, we're trying to keep it simple. I HIGHLY suggest that everyone bring SOME cash (preferably small bills) because that will get you served much quicker. If someone does need to use a credit card, I would suggest giving your card to the bartender and run a tab. The bartenders will be there after the event to close out all tabs. That will save you the time it takes to swipe your card 3 times for $4 each, etc.

The main lobby bar will offer fountain sodas, snacks, small bottled waters, beer, wine, and cocktails. They will be able to accept cash and credit cards. At the main bar there will be a place to order your drinks and a place to pay in hopes of streamlining service. In addition there will be two remote bars set up that can offer beer, wine, bottled waters & snacks. These stations will accept cash or you can start a tab to be closed out afterwards at the main lobby bar. However, there will not be a Credit Card machine at the remote stations for a one time sale. Guests WILL be able to take their drinks & snacks into the theatre with them, but PLEASE be careful not to spill. No one enjoys a Theatre with sticky floors.

I hope these RTCC Awards bar tips make your night more enjoyable. And speaking of tips, hook up your bartenders, they are part of your theatre community as well! Please drink responsibly.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I've spent much of the last 5 days or so battling a very pesky cold and have been concentrating on sleeping and cough medicine. Tonight was the first time I turned on my computer and tried in vain to catch up on email, Facebook, and the assorted current event (the Redskins won? In overtime?) It's been overwhelming enough to send me back under the covers.

A few things worth mentioning though: Style has kept up their sneaky habit of putting stories up online on days other than their usual publication date. So since last Wednesday, both a nice preview piece on the RTCC awards and a positive review of the Mill's "The Foreigner" appeared online. Be sure and check them out if you haven't seen them yet.

Also, the lovely Ms. Tupponce has posted a few reviews on her blog lately, her take on "Shipwrecked!" and a review of "The Foreigner" as well. Even more positivity in the air!

Look for more media buzz about the RTCC awards this week. I'll have to doublecheck the date but I believe Chase Kniffen and Mary Burruss will be on Virginia This Morning on Thursday and Tom Bowring will interview Mary on his "Zero Hour" radio show on Friday. Media sponsor WCVE will also start mentioning the event on air, or they may have already starting doing so, not really sure.

The RTCC awards will be a capper to a week of recognition. The Pollak awards are tomorrow and Style's Top 40 Under 40 comes out on Wednesday. 'Tis the season for back-patting, so it seems. May those recognized enjoy basking in the praise of their peers!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Style doubleplay

Here's to the beginning of the baseball playoffs! And also to this week's edition of Style which not only includes my review of "Shipwrecked!" (yes, it's still playing and no, you shouldn't miss it), but also a preview of the Theatre and Company production of "Fences" written by Ms. Burruss (the story that is, not the play).

I hear tell that the number of tickets sold for the RTCC awards event is nearing 300. That means the orchestra section is nearly sold-out. It also means you shouldn't delay in getting your tickets! It's only 11 days away!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Dan on the Mountain

I haven’t linked to nearly enough Herald-Progress reviews in the past. As a step toward remediating that oversite, here’s a link to Mr. Sherrier’s review of “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming” which came out last week.

Out standing in his field

Theatre IV’s “Ferdinand the Bull” was the big opening of this past weekend and so reviews of the show started popping up yesterday. One place you may not have looked for reviews before is, an online/email publication and marketing device that had a short but sweet review of “the Bull.”

The T-D review showed up in the Sunday edition and it, like the RichmondMom one, is positive. While it was nice to read that review, I also happen to know that Ms. Haubenstock recently bopped up to NYC and was scheduled to see “A Life in the Theatre” while there. I’d be interested to hear what her take on that new show was given that it’s still in previews and the big city reviews haven’t come out yet.

In an aggravated Monday morning aside, I’m annoyed today because my main portal to the larger entertainment world (Entertainment Weekly) surprised me with a nice piece on Patti Lupone and her new autobiography. The story also had a little sidebar about upcoming “big star” casting happening in NYC that was also fairly interesting. None of that is the annoying part though. This is: I can’t for the life of me find the story on the magazine’s website. What’s up with that? It’s bad enough that “stage” news and features don’t even warrant a main page link but to bury a published story so deeply (or not even post it, which I can’t imagine that would do) is fairly infuriating. Guess I won’t be pimping EW anymore…

Friday, October 01, 2010

Dropped lines and their reverberations

Tonight will be the third Friday in a row that I’ve been to a show in town, something that probably hasn’t happened for at least 5 years or so. I’m doing what I can to see all I can because, in less than 3 weeks, I believe the door to most extracurriculars will close for me for at least a few months (more on that soon).

If you scroll down and look to the left, you’ll see a new addition on the blog listing: the online musings of the lovely and talented Emily Cole. I stumbled upon her blog recently – and fortuitously given her most recent posting about opening night of “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.” Emily gives a compelling account of the panic she felt “going up” on her lines on opening night.

Ms. Cole should know that she is in good company. My understanding is that the inimitable Mr. Inscoe dropped a line or two during opening night of “Shipwrecked.” From my experience, there are 3 audience reactions to a dropped line or scene:

--> Don’t notice. That was the case for me at “Shipwrecked.” I only heard afterwards about anything missing from the performance. Whatever the line or lines that were dropped, they didn’t effect my enjoyment of the show.

--> Confusion. If there was anyone who did notice Ms. Cole’s slight miscue, I expect they were just a little confused. However, Ms. Cole, like the consummate professional she is, moved quickly and calmly past the moment of trepidation and brought her monologue home in a winning and amusing fashion. Any confusion was quickly forgotten.

--> Empathy and/or appreciation. Knowing a little something about the show, I noticed that Emily was mixing something up but my reaction was sympathy for her, knowing her mind was probably racing 1200 mph looking for the way out of her predicament. I was rooting for her in that moment, and when she recovered, I was relieved for her.

Which was a reminder to me that the single thing I hear from non-theater people that they find most amazing about actors is encompassed in the infamous question, “how do you remember all of those lines?” From my perspective (jaded by years now of seeing shows and hanging out with actors), remembering the lines is the bottom rung of the acting ladder, bringing levels of truth and meaning to those lines are the real challenge.

But still, given how many people are impressed by the memorization, most people are not fazed by the occasional drop. In fact, it reminds them that it’s live theater and that a certain level of wavering from the script is actually part of the charm and part of what makes the experience unique. And, if they are a nice emotionally healthy human, the situation actually makes them feel empathy for the actor, another human being temporarily struggling but then succeeding (assuming the actor doesn’t break down on stage).

In a kind of extreme case of that last scenario, I remember vividly a performance of “Children’s Letters to God” where my son was singing and lost a verse of the song. The dead air and the look on his face suddenly made him seem so small and alone I had to stifle the urge to run onstage and hug him. The empathetic response, coupled with a parent’s natural inclination to shelter their child from any and all discomfort (let alone terror), raised my blood pressure about as high as it has ever been.

He recovered, however, finished up the song, got plenty of laughs and applause and generally seemed blasé about it afterwards. It was one of those moments that I’ve been most proud of my little actor boy but also been most certain that there is some level of child endangerment involved in letting a son or daughter perform in a professional forum.

I’m sure he’s a stronger person for having gone through it. And based on her post, Ms. Cole also found something of value in the experience. So, all in all, while it’s certainly not something you want happening habitually, an occasional flub seems to have its benefits.

Midnight Oil

Another late night for me means I got to read Ms. Haubenstock's review of "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming" before I hit the hay. I really like Susie's reviews; they're comprehensive without being wordy. I might learn a thing or two from her (if I weren't too old to learn any new tricks...) Anyway, another rave for SOTMH!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Truth versus Illusion

I’m very happy to see that Mr. Porter over at his blog has offered a bit of commentary and analysis on the current slate of plays that have flooded Richmond (yes, that’s a subconscious rain reference…). His post is the kind of thing that I have hoped to write on this site and maybe sort of used to before I lost the ability to hold a single train of thought sometime in the last year. So, if you used to come here for that kind of thing, the erudite and experienced Mr. Porter may be picking up that mantle and I encourage you to check back with him often to see if he keeps it up.

John also has the first published review of “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming” that I’ve seen up on his site. It’s a rave, in case you were wondering.

As Mr. Porter alludes to in his commentary, the reviews of “The Beebo Brinker Chronicles” have not been as favorable as RTP might have hoped. However, it’s worth pointing out that the GayRVA reviewer had many good things to say. You’ve got another couple weekends to go out to RTP’s still-new theater and make up your mind for yourself. And to see Matt Hackman's bare backside.

I’d say you have one more weekend to catch “Virginia Woolf” but it looks like the folks at the Firehouse have another sell-out on their hands so if you haven't seen it, you are probably out of luck. Congrats to all concerned, particularly director Rusty Wilson who I know put a lot of heart and soul into the show.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bumped for Beebo

Mr. Griset's review of "The Beebo Brinker Chronicles" is in this week's Style. I haven't seen the print edition yet but I'm not seeing my review of "Shipwrecked!" online so maybe it'll be in next week. Oh well.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Theater and TV

Have you heard that the cast of “The Sound of Music” movie will be reunited on Oprah? That should be pretty cool. In fact, just seeing Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer together will be kind of amazing. Of course, if you want to hear some music from the show, you just have to go to the Critics awards on the 17th. Have I mentioned that tickets are for sale?

If you are one of the few “Fringe” fanatics out there (which I am), you may have been particularly tickled by an aspect of the season premiere last week. Set in an “alternative universe,” the show’s main character traveled around the entire episode in a taxi that had an ad for a “Broadway smash hit” called “Dogs.” It was a small detail, and maybe a little dated in its reference, but I chuckled just the same.

And of course, “Glee” also premiered last week, with another drop in from a well-known Broadway star, Cheyenne Jackson (looking like he’s going to be a season bad-guy as coach of Vocal Adrenaline). I enjoyed the premiere – particularly the self-parodying interview segments at the beginning. As far as performances go, I liked the contemporary numbers – especially the first version of “Billionaire” where I understood most of what was sung – way more than I liked Lea Michele’s “What I Did for Love.” Don’t get me wrong – I still love little Lea. But if the over-the-top emoting that characterizes that song was supposed to somehow touch my heart, well, it failed pretty completely.

The latest show at Hanover Tavern, “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming,” is perhaps as far removed from that ironic, pop culture saturated TV show as possible. But I was at opening night on Friday and it was very entertaining, featuring some great performances most notably from the understated Eric Williams and the endearing Billy Christopher Maupin. I’m not sure why there hasn’t been a review in the T-D yet. Mine should be in Style next week. Until then, you’ll just have to accept my capsule comment that it’s a show well-worth making the trip out to Hanover to see.

And I have to apologize to the great folks out at Sycamore Rouge for not even mentioning the 24 Hour Experience that happened this past weekend. It sounded like a great time and I wish I had been able to make it down there for it. Maybe next time?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The reviews keep coming

This week's Style has Mr. Griset's review of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and has one for "Shipwrecked!" I also picked up a Grid magazine today that had Bruce Miller's smiling face on it and an article about, among other things, "Ferdinand the Bull." That'll be another show added to the fray before you know it. How's a guy supposed to keep up?

Oh, and Grid was nice enough to post a listing of the RTCC nominees along with a great pic from last year of our beloved JB Steinberg at the podium with the Mayor. Gotta love Grid.

UPDATE! Here's another one, Mr. Porter on "Shipwrecked!"

YET ANOTHER UPDATE! Here's Mr. Porter on "The Foreigner."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When you're up late, might as well post

Ms. Haubenstock at the T-D has been busy, with two reviews showing up over the last two days. Yesterday, she weighed in on "The Foreigner" at Swift Creek Mill and today you'll find her take on Barksdale's "Shipwrecked!" in the pages of your local edition.

And if you want another perspective on "Beebo Brinker" at RTP, Mr. Porter's review is up on his site.

The openings just keep coming this week, with "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming" out at the Tavern this weekend. Gotta love a town with so much theater!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Just about to crash after a fine time at Barksdale's "Shipwrecked!" but happened to pull up Ms. Haubenstock's review of "The Beebo Brinker Chronicles" before logging off. Check it out!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Too Many “Cooks” Enhance the Broth

As usual, there are about a million theater-related things to talk about. Half of the time I get a second to write a blog post, I’m too overwhelmed to settle on one thing so I write nothing. The other half of the time, well, there really isn’t any other half. So let me just spew everything that’s on my mind (at least the theater-related stuff):

Among the openings this week are “The Foreigner” at Swift Creek Mill. Richard Koch is a treat in anything and everything and I expect he’ll be fantastic in this as well. Fresh face Jay Welch is also starring here. Mr. Welch was one of the many exceptional parts of “Take Me Out” last season and so also should enliven this production.

Speaking of RTCC nominee Koch and oft-nominated “Take Me Out,” have you reserved your seats for the awards yet? Don’t dawdle. Sure, the balcony seats at the Empire are great but they are further from the bar. Just saying…

And speaking of “Cook” – don’t let all of the other openings stop you from squeezing a visit in to see Larry (and Laine and Jonathan and Amy) amaze you in Firehouse’s “Virginia Woolf.” Were you one of those people annoyed because you couldn’t find a ticket to “Rent?” Don’t let it happen again!

I’ll be checking out “Shipwrecked!” tonight and have been enjoying the pictures from the show popping up on Facebook lately. Where’s that T-D review of “Beebo Brinker” at RTP though? Is there one in today’s paper? I haven’t seen one online.

What I have seen online is some positive notes on Jordin Sparks who recently started her run in “In the Heights.” They ask the question in this article about whether I’ll be running out to see the show because of Ms. Sparks. Personally, it wouldn’t take Ms. Sparks’ appearance to inspire me to see it again. I loved this show and if I’m lucky enough to have an excuse to get up to NYC again this year, I’ll see it again, with or without Sparks.

While perusing EW online, I found this review of “Chess” at the Signature. I don’t know that I’d like this show – saw a community theater production once and agree with the EW reviewer about the clunkiness of the whole conceit – but I’m fascinated that a regional theater like the Signature now warrants coverage in a national magazine. What would one of our Richmond theaters have to do to garner that same attention? Send a show to Broadway? Play host to a Broadway-bound workshop? Win a Regional Theatre Tony Award? Not sure what exactly it would take but would love to see it happen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mondo and Beebo

Mr. Porter added his rave to all of the others I've been hearing lately about Firehouse's "Virginia Woolf." I thought the Style review might come out today but I'm not seeing it online and haven't picked up the hard copy yet. We'll have to stay tuned for that one.

One thing that I think is interesting about Richmond actors is how often they are underestimated. There are a score or more folks who have been acting in town for years -- decades for some of them -- and you tend to forget how good they are because they have played so many supporting or ensemble roles where their skills are not necessarily front and center, or they often play relatively 2-dimensional characters in big musicals or something. But when they are thrust front and center and given something really meaty to dig into, they deliver the goods.

Having watched him for years in parts big and small, I am not surprised that Larry Cook is knocking it out of the park in "Virginia Woolf." This is an actor that is clearly still learning and growing even though he's been around the block a few times. Similarly, I was reminded how good Andy Boothby can be when I saw "On Golden Pond" last month. He only had one big scene but I thought he really made it count. Gordon Bass has played so many roles I expect his resume runs to 10 pages or so. But I heard people (ok, critics -- they still qualify as people right?) talking about him with renewed respect after "Fool for Love." I felt the same way after seeing him in "How I Learned To Drive" many years ago, something along the lines of "this kid's show regular can really act."

I guess I'm feeling a little extra affection for the somewhat older generation of male actors in town because a) they are doing such excellent work and b) because I'm so clearly becoming one of the "older generation" myself.

Anyway, to change the subject to something completely different: how about that cast for RTP's "Beebo Brinker Chronicles?" Emma Mason and Matt Hackman are one of the hunkiest acting couples in town right now (can we give them a cute moniker like "Emmatt?") and Heather Falks and Kerry McGee are pretty darn easy on the eyes as well. I'm sure the show will be compelling in all of the ways its supposed to be but, knowing only the basics of the plot, I'll mostly be going to ogle the cast (see, not only am I now an old man, I'm a dirty old man!) Opening night's tonight -- don't miss out!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Was it awesome?

So last night was opening of Firehouse's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" which has a simply spectacular cast and is directed by the inimitable Rusty Wilson. I've heard from one person who said it was amazing. I would expect nothing less.

The show kicks off a fall season that is literally littered with 'must-see' shows. Which is my way of saying Don't Hesitate! Two weeks from now you'll have 4-5 shows to pick from, not to mention the "24 Hour Experience" down at Sycamore Rouge, and you're going to be sad when you can't fit them all in. So make plans now!

UPDATE: Ms. Haubenstock has weighed in on "Woolf." Looks like a winner!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Fall Arts

Style’s Fall Arts issue is out. Check out the whole thing (of course) but you might be interested in the theater preview, specifically, and maybe the article on comedy that focuses on a couple local improv troupes.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Question and Explanation

I appreciate Bruce Miller’s take on this year's list of RTCC nominees. Previous years’ awards have generated their shares of quibbles and cries of outrage, much of it fairly vociferous. I’d rather read something well-composed and coherent like Bruce’s post than hear the nasty secondhand rantings of someone who feels slighted. Criticism of the awards has been overwhelmed – at least in my estimation – by the outpouring of thanks and appreciation at the good faith effort the RTCC has put into the process. As I said after the awards last year, my favorite choices do not always get nominated and my favorite nominees do not always win, so I understand the feeling of disappointment. But that disappointment fades quickly when confronted with the joy and celebration that permeates the night of the awards themselves. Sure, the hockey pucks are the excuse to get together but the party is what makes it worthwhile.

If you’ll forgive me some collective back-patting, I think the RTCC did a pretty good job this year. Numerous exceptional performances and productions are recognized and beyond that, the list is more inclusive than in previous years. Convening as a group of 8 this year, the RTCC spread 100 nominations out between 32 productions (by my count) versus 99 noms among 27 shows last year. It may not seem like it when you consider the large number of noms that some shows received – and the unfortunate shutout of others – but I do think we’re getting better at this.

Having said that, there are two issues that Bruce touches on that I think are worthy of some discussion. (Disclaimer: I am only one critic among the 8 that make up the RTCC so nothing I write here should be construed as the official word of the RTCC. It’s all just my personal thoughts, recollections, considerations…etc. etc.)

First, the “best versus best supporting” issue. The RTCC has had to make these kinds of calls in the past as well. When is a role supporting, when is it a lead? Sometimes it’s obvious. However, in shows like “Putnam” or “Rent,” there are judgment calls that have to be made. In general (and in my opinion), the RTCC has been guided by the desire to recognize as many performers as possible. For instance, 6 actors were nominated from “Putnam.” If all of their roles were to be considered “Supporting” (which for an ensemble show like “Putnam,” that is certainly a valid argument), not nearly as many performers would have been nominated. Ours is not a perfect system but one that is approached with generosity, not scientific precision.

As I understand it, other awards organizations accept “for your consideration” applications for nominations. In these cases, a network or a producer or a studio decides which roles are leading or supporting and then they submit their suggestions for nominations. There has been talk about asking theater companies to do that here in Richmond. There has been trepidation that companies that are already understaffed and overworked – or that really don’t give a rip what the RTCC nominates – wouldn’t put the time or effort into putting together a list. So then the RTCC might be left with a situation where a production was particularly outstanding – or an individual performer was particularly exceptional – but no application for nomination is received and so they are left out.

So I ask you, all half-dozen or so of my semi-loyal readers, what do you think? Should theaters be asked to submit a recommendation to the RTCC for productions / designers / actors to be considered for nomination in specific categories? That would allow for an easy answer to the question “why is xx being considered for lead when his/her performance was a supporting one?” And it would certainly make the RTCC’s job easier. Chime in and let me know.

Next up: an answer to the Joe Inscoe question. Joe gave an amazing performance in “On Golden Pond,” recognized as exceptional by everyone I talked to. I didn’t see him in “Shining City,” but the other RTCC critics also raved about his work in that show. The group has not shied away from nominating someone twice in the same category – see Kniffen, Direction; Barker, Set Design; Hartman, Lighting Design -- so why not two for Joe?

Well, coming up with a final list is usually a zero-sum game: nominating Joe a second time would have meant dropping someone else from a category we were already tying ourselves in knots trying to pare down. There were several exceptional performances we had already reluctantly trimmed from the list. And then who could have been dropped from among the eventual nominees: the electrifying Zukerman? The hilarious Koch? The dynamic duo of Hackman and Brown? The fresh new Bloch, shining in a challenging role? The previously-passed-over Cole who made an oft-played role real and vital again? As a group, I believe we felt we had already given up so much, we were not going to give up any more.

So Joe’s “OGP” performance was not recognized. But his exceptional work in other shows was. Again, it may not be perfect but it seemed like the right thing to do.

Finally, I hope no one is picking up a sense of defensiveness in what I’m writing because I am really not feeling defensive about any of this. Mostly, I feel like there are some things that people deserve at least some explanation for – as well as many other things that will remain the result of the mysterious alchemy that is the RTCC. Even more so, I hope that, whatever you feel about the names that will be listed in the program, you will come out to the awards and support the scene in general, and the Theatre Artists Fund specifically. If it’s anything like the past two years, it’ll be a heckuva party.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A little help

Please note that the initial listing of nominees had misspellings for Christina Billew and Leilani Mork. Sorry for the mistakes.

Also, the RTCC has no budget, time or man- (or woman-)power to contact all of the nominees to let them know they've been nominated. If there are people you know who are internet/facebook adverse or don't know about these awards or for whatever reason may not know they've been nominated, can you please contact them?

Many thanks.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nominees for the 2010 Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards

The nominees have been chosen!

As with previous years, this list is going to make some people happy, others sad, and many confused. There is plenty of time for more commentary on all of that sometime soon. I’d like to extend my congratulations to everyone listed below but also let everyone else know that there were some very hard choices made to assemble this list. And a couple of categories where deadlocks could simply not be broken, which is why you'll see 7 nominees in the Best Actor in a Play category. Even so, several worthy people and productions were left off.

The participation of Dan Sherrier from the Hanover Herald-Progress and Rich Griset from Style broadened the collective perspective the RTCC brought to the process. But that still doesn’t make it perfect. We continue to strive to improve and be as inclusive and representative as we can. There were some really exceptional productions this year. These awards continue to be a vehicle for recognizing those while at the same time celebrating the breadth and depth of the entire Richmond theater scene.

The awards gala will be at the Empire Theatre again this year, 7pm on Sunday, Oct. 17th. Tickets are now available for $15 on the Barksdale and Theatre IV websites. Hope to see everyone there!

And the nominees are...

Best Musical
Rent (Firehouse Theatre Project)
Scrooge in Rouge (Richmond Triangle Players)
The Sound of Music (Barksdale)
Souvenir (Barksdale)
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Barksdale)

(“The Sound of Music” is referred to as “SOM” hereafter, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” as “Putnam”)

Best Direction (Musical)
John Glenn, Souvenir
Chase Kniffen, A Christmas Carol
Chase Kniffen, SOM
Steve Perigard, Putnam
Shon Stacy, Scrooge in Rouge

Best Actor (Musical)
Ford Flanagan, Putnam
Joe Inscoe, A Christmas Carol
Jonathan Spivey, Souvenir
Eric Stallings, Putnam
Durron Tyre, Rent

Best Actress (Musical)
Stacey Cabaj, SOM
Lauren Leinhaas-Cook, Scrooge in Rouge
Joy Newsome, Rent
Debra Wagoner, Souvenir
Aly Wepplo, Putnam

Best Supporting Actor (Musical)
Steve Bochen, Scrooge in Rouge
Michael Hawke, SOM
David Janeski, A Christmas Carol
Matt Shofner, Putnam
Antonio Tillman, Rent

Best Supporting Actress (Musical)
Jaci Camden, Rent
Kara Harmon, SOM
Audra Honaker, Putnam
Susan Sanford, SOM
Debra Wagoner, Putnam

Best Musical Direction
Sandy Dacus, SOM
Deborah Lynch, Scrooge in Rouge
Jason Marks, A Christmas Carol
Leilani Mork, Rent
R.L. Rowsey, Souvenir

Best Choreography
Willie Hilton, Black Nativity
Ana Ines King, Boleros for the Disenchanted
Maggie Marlin, Rent

Best Play
Boleros for the Disenchanted (Barksdale Theatre)
Fool for Love (Cadence Theatre Company)
Take Me Out (Richmond Triangle Players)
Shining City (Henley Street Theatre Company)
Servant of Two Masters (Henley Street Theatre Company)

(“Boleros for the Disenchanted” is referred to as “Boleros” hereafter. “Servant of Two Masters” as “SOTM.”)

Best Direction – Play
Julie Fulcher-Davis, Facing East
Bruce Miller, Boleros
James Ricks, SOTM
Scott Wichmann, Take Me Out
Bo Wilson, Shining City

Best Actor – Play
Matthew Bloch, Butterflies are Free
Ronnie Brown, Take Me Out
Jeffrey Cole, The Crucible
Matt Hackman, Take Me Out
Joe Inscoe, Shining City
Richard Koch, SOTM
Robert Zukerman, Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll

Best Actress – Play
Patricia Duran, Boleros
Kelly Kennedy, On Golden Pond
Cynde Liffick, Elizabeth Rex
Jennie Meharg, A Doll's House
Melissa Johnston Price, Facing East

Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Play
Gordon Bass, Fool for Love
Larry Cook, Shining City
Jimmy Glidden, Take Me Out
Joe Pabst, Is He Dead?
Eric Williams, Bus Stop

Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Play
Christina Billew, SOTM
Jacqueline Jones, New Century
Maggie Marlin, Boy's Life
Jody Strickler, Greetings
Carmen Zilles, Boleros

Best Ensemble Acting
A Doll's House, Henley Street Theatre
The Crucible, Sycamore Rouge
Jar the Floor, Sycamore Rouge
Crowns, AART / Barksdale
The Mystery of Irma Vep, Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Best Locally-Developed Work
A Christmas Carol (Theatre IV)
Full Plate Collection (Independent)
Jack in the Beanstalk (Theatre IV)
Song of Mulan (Theatre IV)

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design
Lindy Bumgarner, The Crucible
Rebecca Cairns, SOTM
Rebecca Cairns & Ann Hoskins, Twelfth Night
Sarah Grady, SOM
Sue Griffin, Souvenir

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design
Brittany Diliberto, The Crucible
Joe Doran, Mystery of Irma Vep
Lynne Hartman, Boleros
Lynne Hartman, SOM
David McLain, Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design
Brian Barker, Boleros
Brian Barker, SOM
Eric Kinder, I'm Not Rappaport
Betsy Muller, Is He Dead?
Terrie and David Powers, On Golden Pond
Keith Saine, The Crucible

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design
Derek Dumais, SOM
Derek Dumais, Putnam
Julie Fulcher-Davis, Take Me Out
Steve Organ, Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll
Brett Zwerdling, SOTM

Liz Marks Memorial Award for Ongoing Contribution to Richmond Area Theater
Neil and Sara Belle November

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alternative to Debbie Downer?

I realized today that coming back after not posting for nearly 3 weeks with a post that was a little sour was not exactly the way to entertain readers. Sorry about that. It's the danger of posting on the Monday after your birthday. You have that after-Birthday letdown intensified by the Monday after work crushed-by-the-machinery-of-life feeling. Note to self: don't start composing ANYTHING on a Monday evening.

I'm also curious: is there a snappy alliterative name for someone who is the opposite of a Debbie Downer? Ulysses Upper? Howard Happy? Helga Hopeful? Octavius Optimist? Hmmm...

I hope both of my readers haven't been scared off by my downer attitude and/or my lack of posting for several weeks. Because there will be some fun news coming up before too long. The opening of "The Fantasticks" marks the end of what the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle is calling the 2009-2010 season. So that means nominations for RTCC awards are due soon. It takes a while for that magic to happen so I can't say exactly when but expect something before Labor Day.

Speaking of "The Fantasticks," here is a link to my review. This will be the last review from me for a while so it was nice to be able to write a nice one. My mom accompanied me to the show and exclaimed afterwards that she was glad I was her son because I brought her out to see little gems like this production, something she wouldn't even have heard of otherwise. Theatre: still bringing families together...

For me, the show put me on notice to make note to go see whatever dance or theater performance Taylor Daniels is in next. What a lithe and agile dancer he is!

Also, I realize I haven't said anything detailed about "On Golden Pond" which closes this weekend. A more expansive post about that show has been percolating in my head for weeks. I'm hoping I might be able to download that on to virtual paper this week. We'll see...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I am one year older as of last weekend. This blog is filled with old information. The summer (and its heat) is getting old. The plays that are out there right now are old: "Fantasticks" is 50 years old and OGP is not only 30 years old but also mostly about old people. Oy.

I'm hoping the start of school and concurrent focus on the young and educatable will knock me out of this oldness funk. In the meantime, I guess one could think about the young lovers of "The Fantasticks" and find energy in their summer love. For more on the topic, check out John Porter's review of the Cadence Theatre Production and/or Susan Haubenstock's review. My review should be in this week's Style so I'll have a link to that soon. (A new link!)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Style times three

Style did that thing last week where they slip an online review out there at the end of the week. I didn’t notice Rich Griset’s critique of “Company of Angels” until today. In the print edition this week, you should be able to find reviews of Barksdale’s “On Golden Pond,” also by Griset, and a preview of this weekend’s “As You Like It” by Theatre in Battery Park. Three theater pieces in a week is a pretty nice profusion from Style and a timely response to all of the stage activity this summer. We’ll see if that carries over into the Fall…

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Jason Mark’s appearance on Seth Rudetsky’s Chatterbox is now available online. This is a link to the entire show – Jason doesn’t show up until about 13:30. But it’s worth checking out another version of “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent that starts the show. As good as Joy Newsome’s and Jaci Camdem’s? I’ll let you be the judge.

I love the “builds character” quip. Way to go, Jason! And if you want to follow Jason's New York adventures, be sure to check out his blog (soon to be added to the left-hand side of this blog).

Who could possibly keep up?

Clearly, Richmond did not get the memo that summer is supposed to be “down time” on the stage scene. Or perhaps theater companies have finally realized that a lot of the people that spend $10+ on movie tickets during the summer really just want to get out of the heat and would just as readily pay that (or a few dollars more) to see a play? Hm. Not sure about all of the motivations but there continues to be too much theater around here for me to keep up with even a fraction of it. “Midsummer” at Sycamore Rouge is ending up passing me by. “Pippin” at Dogwood Dell looks great and that’ll also fall by the wayside for me. And these are the free shows! Oy. Just because I can’t go doesn’t mean you shouldn’t so grab a lawn chair and get out there before it gets too late. I’m just glad I slipped in to “On Golden Pond” last weekend because it’s looking like it’ll be going the way of “Rent” and selling out a lot of the rest of its shows.

Opening this weekend, “As You Like It” will be the first offering from Theatre at Battery Park, also a free show and also with a great looking cast. I have hopes of getting out to my former stomping grounds on northside to take this one in…and hopes that temperatures might moderate from the forecasted upper 90s so that it’s not such a steamy evening.

While family obligations prevented me from trucking down 95 to Sycamore Rouge last weekend, they dovetailed perfectly with me going to see the workshop production of Julie Fulcher’s “Company of Angels.” One way or another I was NOT going to miss this show; I’m still kicking myself for letting one of the big events of last season – Bo Wilson’s home-grown musical “Mona’s Arrangements” – pass me by. One of the most exciting parts of this production has little to do with the show itself. As RTP’s Artistic Director John Knapp writes in the program, “RTP [is entering] a new realm in nurturing, through workshops, world premiere plays and musicals in what we promise to be an ongoing series.” Along with the Firehouse’s Festival of New Plays, this adds fuel to the growing fire of theatrical innovation and discovery in Richmond.

Of course, there’s also plenty to be excited about as far as “Company of Angels” goes. Ms. Fulcher has crafted some great songs in support of a fresh and innovative plotline. And, as the show’s director, she’s brought some great performances to the stage. This is a show that offers unexpected gifts almost constantly. Terri Moore and Scott Melton are a hoot from the very beginning and provide a solid foundation of vocal talent and comedic hijinks. They engage in a hilarious battle with Diva and her Divanettes, led by a big voice with an even bigger attitude, Chloe Williams, and supported by the energetic Andrew Etheridge, Georgi Hicks, and Leah Hicks. The Hicks girls are cute as a button with Leah in particular lighting up the stage with her animated expressions. Mr./Ms. Etheridge is just not-subtle enough in his/her pursuit of fellow angel, James.

I also loved the antic Jason Campbell as Robert (not Bob or Bobby!) But just when you think it’s all fun and games, Robyn O’Neill and Tyler Houchins (as Toby and Joey) are as honest and poignant as all get-out in their tear-jerking second-act scenes. Not every aspect of this show thrilled me but the vast majority of it did. And among the most subtle yet still delightful things was how Toby’s relationship with a female partner was kept in the background, it’s exact nature needing neither to be explicit nor hidden.

All in all, it is a very polished effort for a “workshop” and I will be intrigued and hopeful about its prospects for the future. Congrats to Julie and her whole crew!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Did you hear it?

Casa Timberline was power-free most of the night last night so I was not able to tune into Jason Marks' debut in NYC. But there were Timberlines in attendance who said he was awesome. Way to go, Jason! I'm looking forward to getting more details today.

The storm/power outage also scuttled my plans to head to Sycamore Rouge's "Midsummer" last night so I'll have to try again this weekend. Only 2 more performances!

Update! As people have commented, "Midsummer" actually runs through next weekend too. Since I can't see it next weekend, only two more chances for me to see it (yes, again, the critic thinking the world revolves around him...) Sorry for the confusion.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A to Z

Congrats to the folks at the Firehouse who have sold out the rest of the run of their summer production of “Rent.” I’m glad I got to see it when I did or else I’d be crying in my beer now.

When I first starting writing reviews I invested in a handy little reference book called “Shakespeare A to Z” that has information on all aspects of Shakespeare, historical background, biographical context and fairly detailed analyses of his plays. After attending “Antony and Cleopatra” on Sunday, I pulled it off the shelf and saw that it calls the tragedy “one of Shakespeare’s most complex and rewarding plays.” While I have found the book to be very useful, I only half agree with this assertion.

Based on the Richmond Shakespeare production of “A&C,” which is the only production of the play that I’ve seen, the work is complex but also often crosses the line over into downright confusing. Without the summary in the playbill, there would be no way to follow some aspects of the action. As just one example, after intermission two relatively major characters (Pompey and Lepidus) essentially disappear. I believe there is some reference to their deaths but, still, I found their absence pretty jarring (particularly given Nolan Carey’s fine work as Pompey). The shifts in time and place throughout the play – not to mention the attitudes and affections between the characters – are often surprisingly abrupt.

As far as rewarding, I agree to the extent that, when you are faced with a challenge and you overcome it, it feels rewarding when you are done. But not everyone wants to face a challenge when they go out for a night of theater. I appreciate the challenge that this play represents – the complicated counterpoints between public and private, West and East, sexual and political, comedy and tragedy, love and power. But I have to agree with a couple of my critical colleagues when they’ve pointed out ways that the production falls short of making the process a thorough delight. But I also disagree with some of the points made, both positive and negative.

Mr. Griset of Style pointed out that the play presents pretty unique staging demands – numerous locales in different countries, not to mention a naval battle and some final dramatic action at Cleopatra’s monument. Tucking the monument back into a corner of the stage removed from the audience did seem an odd choice. It seemed to throw off the dynamics of the whole scene.

In some ways, this dovetails with Ms. Haubenstock’s mention of the off-kilter goofiness of some of the scenes. In general, I believe director Bob Jones played up the comic elements of Cleopatra’s character. This was most jarring to me in the run up to her death and the introduction of the “rural fellow.” I understand that there might be elements of comedy in this scene but it’s undeniably tragic as well. In my mind, comedy in this context should be pretty dark not necessarily slapstick.

I also have to agree with Ms. H when she points out the costuming. There were some nice elements – Octavian’s striking red gown was one and the Roman robes flowed grandly. But the soldiers’ outfits in particular were either ill-fitting (they all seemed too small to me) or just ill-considered. The Cairns/Hoskins duo has been able to evoke grandeur in the past but fell short here. Nice work on the lights, though a lighting designer wasn’t listed in the program.

Unlike Mr. G or Ms. H, I had issues with Zach Brown’s Enobarbus. While his smoldering stare was impressive, I didn’t believe him as an expert soldier and right-hand man. He did fine work with his regretful laments near the play’s end, though.

I also thought David Bridgewater and Shirley Kagan had a good amount of sexual zing between them. However, I go back to feeling like Kagan ended up being undercut by the emphasis on comedy in her scenes. There is some ironyin this: an actress playing one of her servants, Sarah Jamillah Johnson, proved that comedy could be sexy in her portrayal of Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing” earlier in the RichShake’s season (both she and fellow handmaiden Bonnie Morrison are delightful). Kagan has a bigger challenge here – she has to be sexy, funny, dynamic, and domineering. It’s a role that I don’t think many actresses could really conquer and she doesn’t seem to get much help in the effort from her director.

What is pretty undeniable is the strength of Bridgewater’s portrayal of Antony, which is certainly to be expected given his long and impressive body of previous work. He brings formidable physicality to his performance and has a strong growling voice that lends energy to his later scenes. Still, it is the chill in his delivery of simple lines like “I have thee” when he embraces Caesar or the naked emotion of “He makes me angry” that is the most bracing.

In the end, I was glad to have seen “A&C” though it may not represent RichShakes’ best work. Even when their shows aren’t stellar, they always have at least a few elements that I find myself remembering with appreciation later on.