Thursday, May 27, 2010


Among the many great things about RTP’s “Take Me Out” is that it’s got something for everyone. I’ll avoid making this gender specific but, for sports-lovers, you’ve got a play about baseball. How many plays are there about sports? You can probably count them on one hand. For people who like hunky men, there are a slew of them partially or totally naked onstage, sometimes for extended periods of time. You’ve got plenty of laughs, from nicely cerebral ones (“the world’s old, there’ve been a lot of people; I extrapolate.”) to wonderfully slapsticky ones (almost anything involving Jay Welch’s Jason). My absolutely favorite part, however, is that you’ve got a script that is wholly original, exceedingly clever, nuanced and rich. It makes me curious about Richard Greenberg’s other works – he’s written some 25 or so plays but I’m only vaguely familiar with them, many of them only getting short Broadway runs.

Most notable for the Richmond production is the simply fantastic cast that director Scott Wichmann pulled together, anchored by bravura performances by Matt Hackman and Ronnie Brown, with an electrifying assist by Jimmy Glidden and genial, heart-warming support provided by Kirk Morton. The set with working showers is impressive – nice work John Knapp! – but made me wonder how warm the water was. I hope the guys weren’t wet and freezing along with naked. This was my first visit to the new RTP space and it was also charming, about a million steps up from the Fielden’s space in terms of quality (though lacking actual steps, thank goodness). I love the little bar tables in the back of the house and the selection of goodies at the bar.

I could wax poetic about “Take Me Out” for a while but mostly I want to post something before the show closes. I would strongly encourage anyone who has not seen this to figure out a way to see it in the next couple of days. It’s a truly exceptional theater experience.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Style and BarksTales

My summer theater preview posted on the Style site today as did Ms. Burruss’s review of “A Doll’s House,” which closes this weekend so don’t dawdle if you’ve been wanting to check it out. Also this weekend, CAT’s “Kitchen Witches” opens and it looks like it’s going to be a hoot.

Theater has always been related to wish-fulfillment for me at some level, which may be why it means so much to me. As a confused teenager in high school, I wished I had a girlfriend and then had my first quasi-mature love affair during a production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” I was hoping for some entrĂ©e into life in Richmond after moving here knowing nobody in town almost 25 years ago and I found one – as well as the love of my life – during a production of “Quilters.” While his mother and I wondered what might calm my over-eager young son, he found theater and launched a new and exciting chapter in all of our lives.

But on another level, working in that strange intersection between theater and journalism has allowed me to realize one of those overwrought platitudes that is regularly asserted clumsily on TV and in the movies, that is, that sometimes you can make your wishes come true. It may be on a rather simple and banal level, but still, wishes are wishes. For instance, many years ago I thought it’d be cool to have a theater awards in Richmond. I pushed that little pebble down the hill and now, thanks to the work of scads of people, the planning for the 3rd annual awards is in motion.

And speaking of overwrought, this is all a rather insanely grandiose introduction to the simple thought that came to me yesterday which was: “I wish there was a quick way to pull up any or all of the BarksTales episodes on YouTube.” I’ve been enjoying these regular reports from the intrepid “sage of the stage,” David Janeski, and have often wanted to pull one up to check it out a second time. I now know that there is a way to get to the Barksdale “channel” on YouTube and scroll through everything they’ve posted. But I figured that out after compiling the following list of the episodes and their links. Maybe someone else out there will find this useful as well.

Episode 8: Sound of Music Opening Night
SOM Interviews
SOM Night of Premiere
Episode 7: Scene Shop
Episode 6: Fairy Tale Ball
Episode 5: Costume Shop
Episode 4: Is He Dead?
Episode 3: Butterflies Are Free
Episode 2: Hugs and Kisses
Episode 1

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Righting A Wrong

Call me an idiot (you wouldn’t be the first), but for months, my theatre reviewing colleague Joan Tupponce has been posting her reviews on her own blogspot/website and I have neglected to link to them. And that’s just wrong. So here are a couple of links to her most recent reviews:
"The Sound of Music" and "A Doll’s House."

I am reeling a bit due to the back-to-back finales of two of my favorite TV shows (“Lost” and “24). So I haven’t had my wits about me to write about RTP’s “Take Me Out” which I saw last Thursday and which was, to put it succinctly, incredibly awesome. It also occurred to me that I haven’t written anything review-like about “The Sound of Music.” Hopefully, I will gather a few wits today and have something on one or the other of these tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oh, and also...

Was the Idina Menzel / Lea Michelle duet on "I Dreamed a Dream" on "Glee" last night just about the biggest musical theater geek-gasm ever? I'd say it was.

And anyone who doubts that you can build anticipation for a production with effective marketing art need look no further than the Firehouse posters for "Rent." Remaking the iconic "Rent" poster with the local cast's images is genius. I only wish I could find a copy of the image online somewhere so I could link you to it...

Grand Night to Take Me Out

This week’s Style has a review of RTP’s “Take Me Out” by Ms. Burruss. My schedule over the next couple of weeks will probably only permit me to see one show that’s currently showing and it’s looking like it’s going to be this one. As is always the case, too many shows, not enough babysitters…

There was also an online-only review of “A Grand Night for Singing” posted last week by Rich Griset, a tart pan of the Mill’s revue. I have not seen the show so I really can’t argue the merits of the review as far as describing the quality of the production. However, in terms of its journalistic merit, I greatly appreciate the specificity of the review. My biggest criticism of critics is when they make blanket criticisms without specific examples. You may not like what Mr. Griset has to say but he does an excellent job of backing up his assertions. I will say that I shy away from words like “atrocious” in my own reviews but, then again, I don’t shy away from superlatives when praising something so I can’t really fault someone from using them in criticism.

More fascinating to me than the review, however, is the response to it in the comments. If people take issue with a review, I would expect them to respond directly to the points the critic makes. Was the lighting all over the place or not? What about the set design – does the crown molding make sense or not? Was the choreography compelling or not? Saying “I've read book reports by high schoolers that were better written” is just name-calling.

But this comment in particular jumps out to me: “The other reviewers used by Style are friends and even family members of people who work in local theatre and their reviews show an avoidance of saying anything truly critical, with some rare exceptions. We need less cheerleaders and more Frank Riches.” Hmmm… I guess I resemble that remark…

It’s another iteration of what happens when a negative review gets published: many people rush to defend the object of the criticism and/or attack the critic. At the same time, a smaller subset are (sometimes secretly) thankful that somebody put in print what they’ve murmured to their closest friends, convinced that “tough love” is the what a critic is supposed to dole out. And the world continues to turn…

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


There are scads of reviews to link to today. Ms. Haubenstock’s rave on “The Sound of Music” is old news now, having come out Sunday, but Ms. Lewis’s measured take on “Crowns” is hot of the press. Over at WCVE, Mr. Porter has held forth recently on “A Doll’s House” as well as “Sound of Music.”

Up north, Sarah Ruhl’s latest, “Passion Play” opened recently and seems to be promising. Garnering less positive notices has been “The Kid,” the musical adaptation of Dan Savage’s book about two gay men adopting. I really had/have high hopes for this one because I’m a huge fan of Savage’s writing. But I guess you never know what’s going to happen when you go from page to stage.

News about upcoming seasons here in Richmond keeps coming in. I’m excited and surprised that Barksdale might be able to land “God of Carnage” this soon. If it comes together, that may rival “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on my highly anticipated shows list. Also, I hear it first-hand from Ms. kb saine down at Sycamore Rouge that their summer production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is going to be something special. Want a hint? Google “Battersea: A Hidden Treasure” for a clue.

Friday, May 14, 2010


So this weekend the Barksdale opens two big shows – “Crowns” in partnership with AART and “The Sound of Music” in partnership with itself, i.e., Theatre IV. Both of these should draw some big crowds. At least, I hope they do.

However, there are a whole slew of shows going on already (take a peek to the left for a list), and they certainly deserve your attention before they close up shop. I’ve heard many raves about Sycamore Rouge’s “The Crucible” and there are only a couple performances to go. Mr. Porter at WCVE recently raved about RTP’s “Take Me Out” and “Animal Farm” at the Mill seems like it might slip under people’s radar (and in case anyone’s wondering, I’m not the ‘Dave’ who commented on Ms. Haubenstock’s review. I don’t think Orwell’s book is a dreary topic – though I think a good adaptation of ‘1984’ might make for more theatrical fun.) And BTW, did “A Grand Night of Singing” at the Mill ever get a review? I never saw one.

(UPDATE: DUH! Of course, I saw one. As was pointed out to me -- thanks Joy! -- the link to the left pulls up the T-D review. So I saw it but it promptly fell out of my overcrowded brain. Sorry about that!)

Finally, thanks to Mr. Wichmann for alerting me to Aaron Sorkin’s article that wades into the whole Newsweek hubbub. It’s an interesting take. I see his point about the ridiculous celebrity-hungry culture – I tried to allude to it in my ramblings on this topic – but to me this is almost an argument that runs parallel to the original one. It’s also ironic to me that, if you go to the Entertainment section of Huffington Post where I found the Sorkin piece, the majority of the articles are all about salacious details regarding the personal lives of “stars.” It’s like a disease.

And in even more breaking news, the author of the original article has apparently accepted an invitation to hang out on the “Glee” set. Hmmm… I’m wondering what I could write to land me a similar invitation! I'm also wondering (i.e., hoping...) that this particular little drama has played itself out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Breaking News

Apparently, the creator of "Glee" has now weighed in on the Newsweek article, calling for a boycott of the magazine. Read about it here.

And another thing: my review of "Is He Dead?" is in this week's Style. Check it out!

UPDATE: There have been a slew of responses to the whole Newsweek dust-up but here's another one that I like. There are a bunch of good lines in this one but the key line to me is near the conclusion: 'Actors who come out aren’t “distracting” except to those who are invested, for emotional or ideological reasons, in remaining distracted by them.' I agree.

Traveling back, Looking forward

Thanks to links from Facebook friends, I had seen the response from Kristin Chenoweth to a fairly ridiculous piece about gay actors not being able to play straight convincingly that appeared in Newsweek recently. Well, the backlash continues in this “Traveling Back to the 1950s” piece in today’s online “Entertainment Weekly.” I like this piece because it repeats and reinforces a key point: whatever characterizes an actor’s off-screen or off-stage life does not, by default, determine how effective they are in a specific role. I have seen plenty of gay actors convincingly play straight. Also, going way beyond sexual identity, I have seen actors who seem to have no real affection for children in real life very effectively play caring mothers and fathers. I’ve seen actors who are extremely caring and nurturing human beings turn into very believable sociopaths on stage. And I’ve seen actors who were arguably mentally ill portraying reasonably normal people.

Another point hinted at but not fully explored in either piece (as far as I can remember) is that most audience members have little or no information about the private lives of most of the actors they see. And though there is a salacious interest in the private lives of celebs, it is only for the top 10% of the 10% of very successful actors that this is really even remotely an issue at all.

I think the focus on Jonathan Groff is particularly funny. I was familiar with Groff, I may have even seen him in “Spring Awakening” (will have to check with the wife on that one…) and yet, I had no idea he was gay. And it didn’t matter in the least in terms of my enjoyment of him on “Glee.” His highly-theatrical turn as Rachel’s rival-turned-boyfriend struck me as just that: highly-theatrical, perfectly matching Rachel’s similar vibe. To consider it “gay” is a homophobic reinforcement of the notion that boys who love singing / dancing / performing – instead of the culturally accepted sporting pursuits – must OF COURSE be gay.

My point, though, is that knowing whether or not he was gay, straight, a vegetarian, a pedophile, or an Episcopalian did not effect my perception of Mr. Groff’s performance. The key to me – and I expect to the huge majority of viewers – was whether he was convincing and engaging in the role. It’d be interesting to pose the question to the original article writer: does the fact that the actor who plays Artie is not actually disabled change the way you think about his performance? In the final analysis -- and putting it as charitably as I can -- I think the Newsweek article says much more about the writer than about the subject that he was writing about.

Switching topics, I’m always excited during this time of year when theater companies are announcing their seasons for the fall. So far, I am particularly intrigued and delighted by the choice of “Waiting for Godot” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” as the season openers for Henley Street and the Firehouse, respectively. These are both dream plays for actors providing choice tidbits for scenery-chewers to bite into. From what I’ve heard, Larry Cook and Laine Satterfield have already been cast in the Richard Burton / Elizabeth Taylor roles at Firehouse. That should be an exceptional treat. Larry won an RTCC award last year, and Laine was nominated for both the 2009 and 2008 awards.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Media Bonanza

This weekend, the Times-Dispatch featured both an enthusiastic rave about Henley Street's "A Doll's House" and a fine preview of "Sound of Music," focusing on the children starring in the production. It's quite a band of kids and they're working their tales off getting ready for opening night on Friday.

Also, sometime in the last week or so, the local edition of "Skirt!" appeared with a nice piece on the lovely, talented, and simply delightful Ali Thibodeau, who will be Liesl in "SOM." It's on the newstands but I couldn't find the article on their website. Perhaps it'll show up soon.

Media coverage abounds! And I am hopeful my review of "Is He Dead?" will appear in Style this week. I guess we'll see!

Friday, May 07, 2010

"Entertaining and Provocative"

Those two words pretty much encapsulate what I consider good theater. And, according to Ms. Haubenstock with the T-D, that's what you can expect from RTP's "Take Me Out." 'Nuff said, as far as I'm concerned. Any technical concerns notwithstanding, it sounds like this one's a Must See.

If you want to see Night Light Collective's stealth production of "Alice in Wonderland," you better act fast. According to what I read on Facebook, the first weekend of the run is sold out.

And speaking of entertaining and provocative, I finally got around to reading last Sunday's Washington Post and enjoyed this mildly snarky, but also well-articulated review of the state of Broadway. It makes me think that a similar overview of the state of local theater is due, especialy since announcements of next season's plans are coming fast and furious these days. Sounds like a pitch to an editor is in the offing...

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Dynamic Duo

There are scads of couples in town where both members are heavily involved in theater, couples that you can refer to just by first names: Joy & Eric, Debra & Joe, Robyn & Ginnie, etc., not to mention the recent knot-tiers Liz & David (congrats, Mr. and Mrs. White!) But this weekend it’s all about Jen & Scott. The gorgeous Jen Meharg peers out from the cover of this month’s Belle magazine as part of promoting Henley Street’s production of “A Doll’s House,” which is also previewed in this week’s Style. The Belle piece sports the byline of someone near and dear to my heart and I’ll link to it as soon as it’s available via the Style site.

Scott Wichmann is directing Richmond Triangle Players’ “Take Me Out,” a show that hasn’t received as much media attention but should benefit from great word of mouth, given the nubile young flesh that will be on display. This baseball-centric show seems like a truly original story and Scotty is the perfect guy to direct it. The show opens tonight and I’m anxious to see it (and not just for the nubile young flesh).

And if you happen to be in the downtown area for a show – taking in one of the last performances of Firehouse’s “Sex Drugs Rock & Roll” or either of the shows mentioned above, I’d recommend stopping into Tarrant’s on Broad Street for dinner, a drink or one of their amazing desserts. My beloved and I stopped in for a brief celebratory drink (19th anniversary!) last week and were delighted to see the always-charming Russell Rowland behind the bar. The black-n-tan he made me was delicious and the dessert we shared was pure decadence. (Clarification: Holly and I shared the dessert, not Russell and I. Grammar: oy!)

Congrats to Jen and Scott on what should be a very busy but very satisfying weekend!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The morning news

The Tony Award nominations are out. Have you seen them?

Mostly they make me sad, for two reasons. First, it’s an indication of how little I’ve been able to get to NYC that I haven’t seen any of the nominated productions. Sigh. Second, the several nominations of “Ragtime” is just another stab in the heart regarding the untimely demise of that production. Phooey. If you are similarly ignorant of most of these shows, you can read this commentary and be able to talk intelligently at cocktail parties when the Tonys come up (which they inevitably do, right?).

In local news, did you see this article about an original show performed at Freedom House? I didn’t until today, unfortunately. Anyone see it? Sounds interesting.