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.

Monday, July 26, 2010

An “i” device is apparently becoming imperative

Big weekend for me: saw “On Golden Pond” and “Antony and Cleopatra” but unfortunately had to forgo “Standup vs. Improv” due to familial obligations. More on that in a second.

Richmond Shakespeare was doing ‘tweet from your seat’ night, which essentially encouraged people to have their cell phones or other digital devices out and to send their thoughts on the show to Twitter and Facebook during the action. Unfortunately, I’m a luddite without a smart phone type device (though I’ve made it known wherever I can that I covet an iPad…) and so could not take full advantage of the event. I did text some thoughts to my wife and such but it wasn’t the same. Which was OK because I enjoyed the tweet-free performance just fine, though I would have been curious, for instance, to know what the particularly lovely young lady in the front row tweeted when she got splashed during the Pompey party scene.

In other iNews, a REAL theater blogger acquaintance of mine (New York variety) dropped me a note about his new iPhone app that provides info on what’s available at the TKTS booth. Here’s a link to the application itself plus a link to a laudatory article in Entertainment Weekly. Just hearing about it made me want to run out and take the iPlunge. Maybe someday soon…

I’ll write more about “A&C” and “OGP” soon but in the meantime, did you catch the Thomas Silvestri editorial on the power of arts in the community? Good stuff. Also out there on the Internets are new reviews of “On Golden Pond” from John Porter and “Rent” by Joan Tupponce (link forthcoming...).

So one daughter saw “Inception” last weekend and loved it, immediately meaning that my second daughter was itching to check it out. Saturday night was the only window for such a thing so I had to kick my pal and colleague Mr. Porter to the curb and submit to the teenager. She didn’t exactly have to twist my arm to get me to go since “Inception” has turned into one of those curious phenomena that transcends just the narrow confines of cinema. Much the same as the popularity of “Avatar” turned into a discussion of how endemic 3D technology is going to become, the cycle of response to “Inception” has led to some conversation about our “everyone’s a critic” culture. Read this piece from an EW movie critic that ends up talking about what distinguishes a critic from a “fanboy” for more, if you are interested.

I would think that this is the kind of back-n-forth that only interests a critic like me, but apparently, given the number of comments, this is something that more than just a few people think about. It might also be assisted by the fact that the ending of “Inception” has so many people talking about the movie in general (here’s a piece on that, as well. Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie!”

Personally, I thought “Inception” was very entertaining, the visuals were stunning, the story was pretty preposterous (I found myself just shaking my head at different times) and that the last scene makes the whole movie seem better than it is. Regardless of my reaction to the specifics of the movie, I have a wider-ranging reaction that the movie’s popularity shows that people are still open to art that makes them think. As dumbed-down as our culture sometimes seems (“Jersey Shore” anyone?), it’s heartening to think there are still brains out there that want to be nourished and exercised.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How'd I miss this?

There's another great article about Jason on the T-D site today. While browsing that, I clicked the link to get Jason singing the "Mad Attorney General" song. A real hoot! Definitely check it out if you haven't before.


People leave town. Sometimes it’s for a little while, sometimes it’s forever. Shakespeare called parting “sweet sorrow.” That phrase only captures a slice of the experience. Depending on the circumstances, it can also be exhilarating, scary, frustrating, or matter-of-fact. The one thing that’s the same regardless of the circumstance is that someone is, or several someones are, left behind.

I’m preparing to be left behind (not in the biblical, salvation sort of way) as half my family heads out of town for a couple of weeks. When I’m not feeling my own little self-involved whirl of emotions about it, I’ve been thinking about the many others who are also leaving town. There are the very public exits – the contest-winning Jason Marks who will open his first New York gig next freaking Thursday! – and the more quiet and private ones (Eric Stallings took off for Chicago shortly after “The Who’s Tommy” closed back in the springtime).

But there are at least four other theater peeps who have recently or will soon hit the road. Neither member of the adorable couple of Ellie Atwood and Jonathan Perez was chosen as the Big Broadway Break winner but my understanding is that they’re still heading to the Big Apple to try their luck up there. Ellie and Jonathan lent their considerable talents to a number of great local productions.

In particular, their roles in Stage 1’s “Summer of ‘42” and Theatre IV’s “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” will live on fondly in my memory. Jonathan has a great propensity for creating slightly nerdy characters that are not caricatures and, thanks in part to his natural charm, remain compelling even if they are doing somewhat silly things on stage. Ellie is beautiful, of course, but also brought a nicely sassy attitude to her roles. I wish them the best of luck in their future forays both onstage and off.

Also, as most everyone has probably heard, both Brett Ambler and Audra Honaker will be leaving Richmond this fall (Brett to Colorado, Audra to Chicago, I believe). Whether either of them is planning to be away permanently or temporarily, I’m not certain but regardless the blow to the local theater scene will be substantial. These are two actors who have had a significant impact on Richmond both individually and as a couple (as they are currently playing in the Mill’s “Moon Over Buffalo.”) The Stage 1 production of “tick, tick..Boom!” may have been a highlight of the two working together but it was only one among many exceptional performances each turned in.

The first time I believe I spoke to Brett was during an interview for Barksdale’s “The Drawer Boy” back in 2005. The way he held his own amongst the prodigious talents of David Bridgewater and Joe Inscoe was impressive; it may still be my favorite of his performances (though his awesome musical turns in the Mill’s “Joseph” and Theatre IV’s “Seussical” can’t be overlooked). My favorite memory of him, however, will always be his inspired ad-lib to cover a missed voice-over cue in “Children’s Letters to God.” Sometimes a drummer who also happens to be a great actor is an unexpected godsend.

Audra seemed to be in virtually every show in town for a while there and was often most memorable when unleashing bundles of energy on stage (as per “There Goes the Bride” or “Once Upon a Mattress” out at the Mill or “I Ought to Be in Pictures” at the Tavern). She has a delightful facility for somewhat extreme characterizations (the driven champion speller in “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” or the ragamuffin girl in “Urinetown”) but she is also a treat in less flashy roles – her “nice girl” ensemble role in “Summer of ‘42” being the only example that comes immediately to mind. I’d always hoped to someday see her take a shot at sublimating her energetic tendencies in a role like Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man.”

Richmond will miss all of these folks but it’ll also be a kick to have an excuse to travel out of town to see them in some new production in some far-flung locale. Also, as the recent return of Susan Sanford and Foster Solomon proved, good people sometimes come back. In the meantime, I hope they find whatever it is they want to find out there in the big wide world. And I’ll look forward to the new young local actors who may be itching to step into their shoes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Three sentences

Rich Griset’s review of “Antony and Cleopatra” is in today’s Style. Also, I missed this article on the Sycamore Rouge “Midsummer” production last week. Nice background if you intend to attend.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Just a Click Away

Though I’ve been out of town intermittently over the past couple of weeks, I have been able to keep at least vaguely in touch with what’s going on stage-wise in Richmond thanks to the Internets. Facebook was alight with links to the Times-Dispatch review of Barksdale’s “On Golden Pond” on Sunday. Ms. Haubenstock also weighs in on Sycamore Rouge’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in today’s paper.

And like Fleetwood Mac famously wrote in song, we can’t stop thinking about tomorrow thanks in part to the Swift Creek Mill season preview that was also in the Sunday T-D. Thinking about future productions shouldn’t inhibit anyone from checking out “Moon Over Buffalo,” however, which plays there this weekend and next.

I’ll be unpacking today but hope to come back with something more cogent commentary-wise in the next day or two. A little more hopping up and down to get all of that lake water out of my ears might knock a moderately interesting idea into my head.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Melissa Rugieri at the Times-Dispatch wrote a nice piece about Jason and his Big Broadway Break win for today's paper. I'm glad to see the coverage and also to learn that Jason will be blogging about his NYC experience. I'll be reading with rapt attention!

The T-D also did a short preview on Sycamore Rouge's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Battersea. I heard there was intermittant rain through opening night's performance. Was that just a Facebook rumor? Did it still go on? I'm curious. I'm also making my plans to come see the show next weekend. It sounds like a beautiful location.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Yes, I'm shouting. If you haven't heard already, Jason Marks won the Staybridge Suites Big Broadway Break contest! Six months in a Times Square hotel plus $5,000 plus an interview with Seth Rudetsky and meetings with casting directors, etc. etc. It's an awesome opportunity and it couldn't have been given to a nicer guy. Congrats, Jason!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Double Moon

There's a double-shot of "Moon Over Buffalo" reviews out there in the world these past coupla days. This week's Style has Ms. Burruss's review and Mr. Porter's WCVE review has been posted on his blog. He also took a trip down the road to the Virginia Shakespeare Festival to see "As You Like It." If you want some assistance in figuring out whether it's worth it for you to take a similar trip, check out his review.

And don't forget "Pulp" runs through this weekend at RTP. You can check out the mocked up pulp novel cover showing Jeanie Rule leering at Christy Mullins and you'll have an idea of what you're in for.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Antony and Cleopatra

I had a vague idea about getting back in town in time to see the Sunday performance of "Antony and Cleopatra" but it didn't happen. May try again for next Sunday. In the meantime, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for reviews, like this one from Ms. Haubenstock that is in today's T-D.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Lots of Territory to Cover

Have you heard about this show currently playing in NYC called “The Grand Manner?” If not, here’s some interesting background on the show and its playwright. I mention it because the whole play is organized around a production of “Antony and Cleopatra,” which Richmond Shakespeare opens this weekend. Take advantage of the tiny break in the heat wave to go check it out.

I’ve been wondering whether I should just leave my review of “Rent” go without further commentary. It seems like I get into trouble when I try to be more forthcoming about my opinions about some shows if everything I say is not 100% positive. I guess that’s the nature of the business. But I should say that I probably thought longer and harder about this review than I have about any other one in a long time. Part of that had to do with timing. I usually write my reviews within 24 hours of having seen a show. But because of having to drive to Kentucky and back over the weekend, I didn’t sit down to write until Sunday, nearly three days after opening night. Luckily (or not, I guess, depending on your point of view), I had plenty of hours looking at the open road to try and figure out what didn’t sit right with me about the show.

There is no question that the performances were fantastic. I’ve already gushed a little about Durron Tyre’s powerhouse version of “I’ll Cover You” and Jaci Camden and Joy Newsome on “Take Me or Leave Me.” I also need to give credit to a couple of fresh faces in the cast that I hadn’t seen before – Terence Sullivan as Roger and Nadia Harika as Mimi. Though costumed a little oddly, Sullivan brings an appropriate amount of angst to his portrayal. Narika is adorable and, in the end, heartbreaking in her inability to break free either from drugs or Benny. My only complaint would be that she is maybe too adorable – I had a little bit of a hard time believing in her as an exotic dancer. But both Sullivan’s and Narika’s voices are grand and they have a distinct and compelling on-stage chemistry (see post below on Chemistry for background).

In fact, that esoteric quality of chemistry is found in abundance here. All of the couples have it and it’s ultimately what makes the show work. One of the most delightful aspects of the production is the somewhat antagonistic / somewhat empathetic chemistry between Nick Aliff’s Mark and Joy Newsome’s JoAnn. Their “Tango Maureen” was a first-act highlight for me.

Other random positivities: I loved Jaci Camden’s rendition of the performance art protest, with a mixture of defiance and absurdity and outrage and that little moment of self-reassurance when the reverb works, etc. Joy Newsome excels in her conflicted role, providing many great laughs – but also revealing a honest-to-goodness soul struggling with her love for Maureen. It took me a minute to warm up to Antonio Tillman as Angel but, when I did, I fell hard for him/her. The Tom Collins/Angel relationship really is the anchor of this show, at least in this production.

So as I was trying to figure out the aspects of the show that didn’t work for me, I reflected on some of the comments my companion for the night made. She had never seen the show before and, as I talked to her, I realized she was very confused about what was happening during much of the show. And when I thought of things in that light, I realized some of the challenges in staging “Rent” that I probably hadn’t thought about before. It’s essentially a one-set show that has to evoke many locations. There are so many ways to make this kind of thing work and not many of them were employed here. The lighting can help a lot with this -- I still remember fondly the Science Museum show about Charles Darwin where Lynn Hartman’s lights transformed a staid study full of books into a wild South American jungle. Instead, here the lights were generally too-dark with occasional flashes of brightness that I think were supposed to enhance the drama but ended up just adding confusion (IMHO).

It’s also a pretty big show that can feel pretty cramped on such a little stage. There are a lot of transitions in the show from one location to another and large influxes and outfluxes of cast members. I know this kind of thing is a challenge to stage but I didn’t notice a whole lot of order or logic in it. The sound engineering ended up being frustrating – for much of the show it was amazing: crystal clear voices with volume pumped high enough to stand clear of the band, some of the best sound I’ve heard in Richmond. But then there were interludes of feedback – always like nails on a chalkboard – and a couple key songs that got fuzzy in parts so that I missed lyrics.

A couple of random questions having nothing to do with the actual performance: no bios in the program? Maybe this was an environmental concern but I missed them. No song list in the program? Can’t think of an excuse for that one. And why does the Firehouse have “JoAnn” but on Broadway and everywhere else the character is “Joanne”?

In the end, what I ultimately came back to was the power of the source material – particularly the music – and the excellent voices employed to bring it to life. As I hope the review communicated, though it had its rough spots, this was a production worth experiencing. I have recommended it to friends who haven’t seen the show before and, when my wife goes to check it out, I may tag along again just to hear the songs and to allow Durron and Antonio to rip my heart out again.

Finally, for something completely different, you should consider checking out “Pulp” at Richmond Triangle Players, opening this weekend. This show was a lot of fun even when it was struggling along in the makeshift space at the Gay Community Center the last time RTP staged it. I expect it’ll be a lot spiffier in their new space.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Irene and Review

My review of "Rent" is in today's Style. I'll be augmenting it soon, hopefully tomorrow. Also, don't miss this piece on the lovely and talented Irene Ziegler, the talented actress whose career as a writer just keeps gaining more and more acclaim.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

New Additions / New Voices

I finally have added blogs from Mr. Cole and Theatre in Battery Park to the navigation thingie there to the left. I've also put in Cadence Theatre Company's website link. Sorry for the delay. By the way, have you seen the casts for TBP and Cadence's upcoming shows? Very nice! It's great to see some of my favorite VCU folks (Kimberly Exum who was such a great Roxie in their "Chicago" and the lovely Lauren Hafner from "Tommy") in action. And "The Fantasticks" has some very fine folks as well.

There are a couple of closings this weekend but no pro opening that I know of. It's a chance to sneak out and enjoy SPARC's "Festival of New Works" performances (Friday and Saturday), if you are so inclined. It's a chance to see what the future of theater might include. Also, you're sure to see something you've never seen before.