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!