Monday, February 28, 2011


The Oscars are sometimes called the gay Super Bowl so in honor of last night's telecast you may want to go over to GayRVA and check out the review of "BFG" and what I think is a review of "Last Days of Judas Iscariot." The latter is kinda short and not written by the usual Mr. Miller so I don't know if he'll be weighing in as well. The T-D has not, as far as I can tell.

I've got much to say about this past weekend but I'm going under the knife in about an hour so it'll have to wait. What a lovely day for surgery, n'est pas?

Friday, February 25, 2011


As a pop culture junkie, I’ve been reading Entertainment Weekly as a wonderful guilty pleasure for years now. But it was only this week that I realized that the magazine’s website does a regular “This Week in Stage” column. This week’s column starts out with “Spiderman,” of course, but also goes gives a few quick hits on other happenings. It’s not, but it’s not bad for a quick review. Also, EW has a regular online “channel” for their theater coverage that you can get to here.

Speaking of the wall-crawler of the Great White Way, I enjoyed this review of the production in this week’s New Yorker. The concept of “musical of human sacrifice,” however, seems like just another flavor of things dreamt up in everything from “The Hunger Games” to “The Lottery” to Nascar. Are people going to Spiderman expecting / hoping to see an accident? Of course they are.

I’m eagerly anticipating the kind of theatrical whiplash one finds during the Acts of Faith festival in my theater patronage this weekend. I’ll enjoy the generally respectful, if rocked out, staging of things Christian and revelatory at “Godspell” after taking in the irreverent, imaginative musings on things Christian and punitive in “Last Days of Judas Iscariot.” While I don’t expect my belief system to be altered in any significant way, I do expect it’ll be an affirmation of the value of this festival: big issues make good theater.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Now you see ‘em, now you don’t

No, the title isn’t referring to what regular readers may think it’s referring to. Don’t know the whole story, am not expecting to find it out either.

Just as the air is full of anticipation early in January as a flock of new productions is getting set to fly, there is a wee bit of sadness in the air as a bunch of productions are now finishing up. Kudos to those long-running nuns out in Hanover – what an impressive ride it’s been for them. I’m happy that I’m squeezing in a visit to St. Mary’s to see “Godspell;” it would’ve seemed like a sin to miss it.

I hope and expect to see “The BFG” at least once more before it closes. There are a few truly delightful things worth highlighting about this show. First off, this is a show where the direction (by Chase Kniffen) is clearly and enjoyably evident. The affectations of everyone in the Queen’s court, particularly the hilarious interplay between the Queen and her maid, seem a clear translation of a director’s vision. Then there are the eye-popping technical elements – the fabulous giant heads, the luminous lighting, and the impressive rotating set. Even someone who didn’t like the story would have to be a little awed by the stagecraft.

Finally, there are the performances. David Bridgewater makes an absolutely wopsy giant, fleshing out an extreme character who could too easily be turned into a cartoon by a lesser actor. Susan Sanford reaffirms why Richmond is so lucky to have her back with her highly entertaining turn as the Queen. And little Ms. Wilson is just wonderful as Sophie. To see someone so little command the stage so effortlessly is quite amazing.

There are some real challenges to staging a show like BFG. One is competing with the source material because the book is really great. Convincingly evoking giant country – a landscape vividly described in the book – is a real challenge on stage as is projecting any real sense of gigantism. The mangled giant dialogue is also easy to lose track of if you aren’t familiar with it.

But IMHO the Theatre IV production does as good a job as can be expected surmounting these challenges and more than pays them back with the scenes in the Queen’s court that are my favorite. If you go to the show, try and go on a weekend where you can see Sarah Grady’s incredible costumes during the meet-n-greet. As extreme as they may seem on stage, they are even more so when seen up close in the Empire lobby.

One day until “Judas” and then a little hiatus until shows start opening again in mid-to-late March. So go see ‘em while you can!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Racism, God and Giants

It always surprises me what gets people’s dander up. But even more surprising is when the response to an angry tirade is well-mannered, articulate and effective. The esteemed Mr. Miller provides a model for such a response in his latest blog post where he takes on an expatriate Richmond actor and his accusations of racism. There’s just a wee undercurrent of something like sarcasm in Mr. Miller’s post but, for the most part (and IMHO), it provides more than sufficient rebuttal to any charges leveled against his company.

I know there are people in town who look at Theatre IV as something like the evil empire simply because they are the biggest company in town. But in terms of diversity of programming and hiring, I think they do pretty darn well. Maybe they could do better but I think there are probably a half-dozen other organizations I’d target for their lack of diversity before I’d take aim at Theatre IV.

But perhaps most mystifying to me is why the specific production (“BFG”) prompted this kind of charge. Is it just because it opened in February? That seems pretty arbitrary to me.

Style's issue this week has a double-shot from Mr. Griset, with his reviews of "Once on this Island" and "Romeo & Juliet" both available online. Style also slipped another review in last week, posting this “Godspell” review online on Friday. Check it out if you haven’t – both the review and the show! “BFG” continues to garner some coverage, with this review at and this little featurette in Style.

If you need your appetite whetted for “Judas Iscariot” opening this weekend, check out this preview in the T-D. Though you can’t find the cast list online very easily, rest assured that some of the finest talent in town is going to be part of this production. It may get crowded on the RTP stage but, in this case (as it was with “Take Me Out” last season), this kind of crowd is a good thing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

digital divide

so i busted up my pinkie finger over the weekend which is annoying in all sorts of ways, among them being that capitalization is kind of a bitch. typing in general isn't really a party either because unless i'm careful the splint on my left hand hits extra keys on the keyboard. ex: here12 is what happens`1 when i'm not32 care1ful.

so i'm not going to write out all of my impressions of BFG (thank you caps lock) right now. but here's a link to ms. haubenstock's review. this afternoon i go to the orthopedic specialist so by tomorrow i'll either be able to type better or won't be able to type at all. updates to come!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nuts, bolts, etc.

With the Picasso exhibit opening at VMFA, I have been remembering a conversation I had a few years ago with an art curator in town. Until then, I really had no idea what he did. He was in the midst of hanging a contemporary art show and was talking about the challenges of lighting and position and location he was facing. As only a very casual visual arts patron, I thought you just slapped the stuff on the wall and were done with it. Hearing about this fellow’s long nights working with a somewhat temperamental artist on a very tight timeline gave me a whole new appreciation of that particular behind-the-scenes aspect of his job.

I wonder about the transfer coming up of “Jitney” from Pine Camp down to Sycamore Rouge and what the behind-the-scenes challenges are associated with that. Given that this was a move planned well in advance, I expect (hope) some consideration of what moving to a new space would entail. Twenty-five years ago I was a small and tangential part of a couple of moves of “Quilters” (yes, that one again…) from one venue to another and then to another space within the Empire. Each move required a little reworking of set and blocking and props and, as I remember it, the rustic set that perfectly filled up Shafer Street stage seemed a little lost and spread out on the main Empire stage.

One of my favorite productions of all time was “The Syringa Tree” which I saw in its original configuration on the Little Theatre stage in the Empire and always wondered how the staging on the Willow Lawn stage changed / enhanced / inhibited the show. As a reviewer, I often think it’d be cool to do a dual review of a show that’s moved – one venue versus another, one installation versus another, as it were. Of course, I’m lucky to get to any production in any space these days, let alone one production in two. Still, a boy can dream.

Speaking of more nuts and bolts matters, “The BFG”’s opening tonight has me appreciative (again) of the key role of stage manager in the smooth operation of any production. Wendy Vandergrift is stage-managing “BFG” and she is awesome. The energy, focus and good-humor she brings to the job makes everything (at least from the outside) seem like a party, even though I’m sure she’s just as tired and cranky as everyone else as the crush of tech week comes to a close. As a stage parent, no one is more important to me than the stage manager and yet, as a theater critic, I never mention the stage manager. (And probably never would – how can an audience member tell whether a show is well stage-managed?) That’s a weird little piece of cognitive dissonance I’m feeling right now.

There’s still lots of theater to see out there but make a space for “BFG” in your plans, if for nothing else to see the adorable Ellie Wilson (Gretel in “Sound of Music”) being, well, adorable again!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Facebook Frustration

I can’t access Facebook at work so I can’t include the links that I want to below. But if you are lucky enough to be able to get to Facebook, they should be easy enough to find.

First, Theatre IV’s next show, “The BFG (Big Friendly Giant)” is opening on Friday. This will mark the (possibly welcome) return of a certain pint-sized Timberline to the stage after his adventures out west. It also marks the (definitely welcome) return of David Janeski to the video production realm and he’s posted at least one (maybe more) behind-the-scenes video about the production on Facebook that is quite witty and entertaining, as they always are. I can’t find a link on the Theatre IV site but you can search FB for it.

Update: Here's a link to Theatre IV's page.

Second, last night I stumbled upon the Best Dates series that Richmond Shakespeare has been doing as part of its promotion of “Romeo and Juliet” and it’s a lot of fun. Liz Blake White and Jeff Cole are cute as a pair of buttons and the captions to some of the pics are drolly hilarious. Again, I can’t offer a direct link but you can go to the Richmond Shakespeare site on FB and find it.

Update: Here's a link to Richmond Shakespeare's page.

Speaking of R&J, the RVANews review by Susan Howson showed up yesterday. It’s worth a read. And speaking of reviews, Style has Mr. Griset’s take on “Dog Sees God” in this week’s issue.

As I hope you’ve noticed, the links to other blogs and websites are starting to appear over on the right side of the page. I still haven’t rebuilt the links to individual actors, including the “expatriates” section. But I’ll give a quick shout-out to one ex-pat who has a new show that was recently reviewed on the NY Theatre site. As per usual, former Richmonder Chris Harcum is wowing audiences with his one-man bravura performances. Way to go Chris!

Have a happy “hump day” and look for my guaranteed-to-be-biased review of “BFG” coming this weekend!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Where Art Thou

When I was in high school, my friends complained about studying Shakespeare. Even today many people who I talk to who love theater in general have no great affection for Shakespeare. But to me, Shakespeare has always been a rich mix of investigative discovery (specifically around the language) and hard-core stage theatrics. The language holds so many weird and wonderful gifts that pop up at unexpected times.

The most famous passage from “Romeo and Juliet” – Juliet’s balcony scene that includes the line “Wherfore Art Thou Romeo?” as well as the “rose by any other word would smell as sweet” assertion – may be familiar to even the most casual theater lover but still has surprises. For instance, for many years I thought the first line was Juliet pining for Romeo and essentially asking “where are you, Romeo?” in fancy Elizabethan speak.

It wasn’t until well after my college years that I picked up an annotated Shakespeare that explained that “wherefore” in the specific context of that scene is asking “for what purpose are you Romeo?” Once I knew that, the whole scene makes a whole lot more sense. For you hardcore Bard fans out there, this is old news. What’s unfortunate (IMHO) is that I’m sure that there are scads of people that have let that line go past them for years without giving it a second thought. I’m sure of that because I was one of them.

Anyway, if you were wondering where the Times-Dispatch review of “R&J” was, it’s in today’s paper. As I was perusing the T-D online, I also saw this picture apparently taken from a rehearsal for “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” the show that will close out this flurry of openings next week.

The T-D also offers a feed from the Associate Press so at the bottom of the “R&J” review you’ll see links to various national theater stories, including this one that recaps the latest on Broadway’s Spiderman. If you’d rather say “Turn off the Noise” to “Turn off the Dark” and are sick of that story, perhaps you’d like to read about fanboy conversation that’s springing up around the new Spiderman movie, specifically the organic/mechanical web spinner debate. Not to get all pedantic or anything but sometimes its kind of amazing to me that, with democracy seeming to be catching fire across the Middle East, these are the things people talk about. Oh well, as my hero Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote, so it goes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Speaking of Envy…

Thanks to my anonymous pals out there who alerted me to the reviews of “Godspell” and “Romeo and Juliet” that are available online at some of the alternative media outlets in town (GayRVA and, respectively).

I really enjoyed reading both of these reviews. A well-written rave is always fun to read but I also have a tinge of envy with space that online writers have at their disposal. Not being constricted to a set number of words (me and Rich at Style) or column inches (the T-D reviewers) or minutes of airtime (WCVE folks) allows Ms. Jewett to write with enthusiasm and insight on “R&J” and for Mr. Mitchell to bring some historical / critical background to bear in his discussion of “Godspell.” They are lucky to have the space and we readers are lucky (IMHO) to have writers who care enough to use that space to enhance their reviews. Brava!

Keeping it fresh and friends

A couple of people have asked me about the new look for the blog. Two reasons for the change: I was really getting sick of looking at that old design. And also, I wanted to take advantage of all of the cute new widgets that the blogging programmers have come up with. I’m still figuring most of them out so some of the categories of listings that were on the old blog haven’t transferred over yet. But they will resurface as soon as I figure out how to incorporate them all. Honest.

One of the widgets is the “Followers” option. If you want to get notification when I post, it’s a handy little feature. I noticed that John Porter has more than 25 followers (oh, and his rave about “Legacy of Light” was posted recently). Do I have follower envy? Yes, I believe I do.

I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve seen a lot more sensitivity in the press and in marketing about how Valentine’s Day isn’t such a great celebration for some folks. At least one site I’ve seen suggests we remember the importance of friends at Valentine’s Day as well as loading up our sweethearts with gifts. I think this is a great idea. In fact, I was going to relate it to some recently opened theater productions. Sure, “Romeo and Juliet” is more famous for the titular love story but isn’t the friendship between Romeo and Mercutio also a pivotal and near-equally heartbreaking aspect of the play?

There isn’t an exact female equivalent in "R&J" but in “West Side Story” I think one of the most affecting and in some ways disturbing scenes is when Anita, still freshly grieving over the death of Bernardo, goes to the diner to tell Tony what’s going on only to be taunted and nearly raped by Tony’s pals. That’s some kind of strong bond that makes Anita willing to do that for Maria (that her lie about Maria’s death in response to the abuse ultimately leads to Tony’s death just makes it all the more tragic).

If you are looking for something to do with a friend to celebrate Valentine’s Day, you could always rent a classic old MGM musical to watch and bond over. Here’s a pretty amazingly comprehensive review of the best of all those old musicals that I came across recently.

The struggles of “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark” have reached a new level of recognition in the cultural zeitgeist: if you happened to check out Saturday Night Live this past weekend, there was a moderately entertaining faux-commercial with a personal injury lawyer handling grievances from those injured by the production (he won awards all consisting of...wait for to see the show). I’m still wondering whether all of this attention is a good thing or a bad thing; there is, after all, no such thing as bad publicity right?

I haven’t seen reviews of “Godspell” and “R&J” yet; I guess other things (the Grammies?) pushed them off the pages of the T-D. If anyone sees them before me, please let me know. I mean, that’s what friends are for, right?

Friday, February 11, 2011


The run-up to the massive love-a-palooza that is Valentine’s Day started for me on Tuesday. First, there was the romance-centric episode of “Glee,” where the unlikely Puck-Lauren wooing allowed for performance of one of my favorite songs of all-time (“Fat Bottomed Girls”).

Then, of course, there was the “Celebrity Sonnets” reading that Richmond Shakespeare held that evening. The range of talent on display was impressive, from the schmoes who barely got their iambs to pentameterize (yours truly) to real pros like Jacquie O’Connor who showed what a real actor can do with 14 short little lines. It was great fun watching Deb Clinton, Alan Sader, Matt Hackman, and Emma Mason play out the various mixings and matchings of love, using the Bard’s complex verse as a vehicle. Frankly, Mr. Hackman and Ms. Mason could have been reading random Facebook statuses – the electricity between those attractive young actors is palpable.

One perspective that I came out of the experience with was the concept of an actor’s instrument and the importance of keeping it tuned and exercised. There is a whole litany of tools that I did not have at my disposal because I don’t act or perform on a regular basis. What was so clear from comparing amateurs to pros that night is that there are subtleties involving tone of voice, changes of expression, simple gestures, rhythm and pacing that you only master with practice (or some really amazing innate talent). Even though there were things that I wanted to communicate that I could discuss or contemplate intellectually, my instrument was not adequately tuned to actually get them across. I think I did OK but I was fascinated by the thought of what a real actor could do with my sonnet employing the skills that I don’t have.

On Wednesday, Ms. Jewett on gave a little love to “Legacy of Light” with her review. I found out that day that my review of the show won’t come out until Feb. 23. Since it’ll be a while, I’ll offer this capsule, which is not quite as admiring as Ms. Jewett’s: I found the historical half of the story very engaging, anchored by great performances by Tamara Johnson as Emilie, Larry Cook as Voltaire and a heart-breaking, delicate and beautiful Maggie Horan as Pauline. However, I never warmed to the contemporary story and found some aspects of it downright annoying (to paraphrase the show, “annoyingly annoying”). But Mr. Miller did a particularly fine job when the past and present story lines mixed and technically, the show was wonderful, Ms. Hartman’s lighting being a real stand-out. More detail in print in 10 days or so...

I read on Thursday that Stephen Colbert will appear in a production of “Company” later this year. I love both Colbert and Sondheim but I’m a little wary of what will happen when the two come together.

And finally, love will definitely be in the air on stages this weekend, with the openings of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Godspell,” two shows I happen to love. So whether you celebrate love that is carnal, romantic or spiritual this weekend, have a lovely time!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


I’ve spent as much of the past 5 days as possible studying the inside of my eyelids, trying to recover from a lingering illness. I’ve emerged relatively successfully, though I am fearful of the potential for addiction to Nyquil. Dang, that stuff makes you sleep hard.

I was able to drag myself out of bed to take part in the wonderful evening that was Richmond Shakespeare's "Celebrity Sonnets" as part of its Second Tuesdays readers theater series. I'll write more on that soon. Anyway, I’ve got much to catch up on so here are scads of links:

This week’s Style is a definite picker-upper because it’s the mid-season Arts issue. Theatre-related articles in this one include Mary Burruss’s piece on “Romeo and Juliet” and my piece on Sycamore Rouge and upcoming co-productions. I’d also strongly recommend my colleague Rich Griset’s well-researched explication of the recent Virginia Opera kerfuffle.

The T-D has reviewed "Legacy of Light," "Dog Sees God" and "Jitney." Of these three, I’ve only seen “Legacy” so far and will put my two cents out there about it soon.

Mr. Porter has posted his review of “Once on this Island.” Raves all around for this one so far.

Also, one of the newer critics on the local scene – and the newest official member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle – is Liz Jewett who has been penning articles for lately. In case you missed them, here are links to her preview of “The Color Purple” and her review of “This Beautiful City.” I’ll be trying to link to her more often as I find her stuff.

The hits continue as “Romeo and Juliet” and “Godspell” open this weekend. Phew! Hardly enough time to take a breath around here!

Oh also, I snuck into rehearsal for Theatre IV’s upcoming “The BFG (Big Friendly Giant)” last night and saw the set that’s under construction. It looks like it’s going to be pretty cool. Watch for that one opening just around the corner…

Oh, and of course, the theater world has been abuzz about the reviews of the Spiderman musical hitting the papers even though the show hasn’t officially opened yet. You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that most critics have hated it. Here’s a link to a nice summary of the reviews. I especially like the cited recommendation from New York magazine’s reviewer that the show never open and just continue to be retooled forever. Intriguing idea…

UPDATE: Here's another summary that includes a link to the producers' response to the critical drubbing the show is receiving...

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Triple Play

There are three plays opening this weekend and they may be among the most curiosity-spurring shows of the young year, each for a different reason. How does Bert Royal bring the Peanuts gang into their teenage years for “Dog Sees God?” How will Sycamore Rouge and AART blend together for “Jitney?” And what the heck is “Legacy of Light” even about?

I am cautiously hopeful about each of these productions. As the father of two teenagers, I’m kind of sick of shows that treat adolescents as joke fodder and little else (one of my very few beefs with “This Beautiful City”). Teenagers may be maddening, confused and even ridiculous but they are also struggling with one of the toughest transitions that people have to make. Based on what little I know about it, I can see the potential for “Dog Sees God” to be a two-hour long joke at teenagers’ expense. But I’m hopeful Mr. Maupin will encourage more shades and nuance in his production.

Preliminary reports I’ve heard (from biased sources, granted) suggest that “Jitney” is going to be great. This is a very eloquent play in its own street-wise way, and if the right actors are guided well, it can have the snap and pop of a great jazz performance. But it’s also thin on plot and relatively lengthy so the potential for drag is definitely there. My hope is that the influence of Sycamore Rouge – which has done an exceptional job at staging classics like “Streetcar” and “The Crucible” – will be seen in an AART production that hits all of the right notes.

I think “Legacy of Light” faces some of the same challenges Richmond Shakespeare’s “Arcadia” did last year. It’s a show with two plotlines set in different centuries and apparently employs some rich language. It’s female-centric and deals with real and relatively complicated issues. But I expect, like “Arcadia,” it is also funny and engaging. It seems like “Arcadia” found its audience; I’m hopeful audiences will be able to get over the vagueness and unfamiliarity of the title and give “Legacy” a fair shot as well.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

An interim post

I’ve been trying to keep to a schedule of Mon-Wed-Fri blog posts but had to break that pattern today. I just found out yesterday that my review of “The Fiddler’s House” won’t be appearing in print but Style has posted it online. You can check it out here.

I’m not sure what else to say about this production. I went in really wanting to like it. I’ve heard great things about CAT’s productions over the past year or two. But the basic plotline of “Fiddler’s” was not only derivative of “Driving Miss Daisy,” which I highlight in my review, but of a half-dozen sitcom scenarios dating back at least as far as “All in the Family.” And the journey the characters take involves huge cultural and interpersonal shifts and the cast, as stalwart as they were, did not convince me that those shifts had taken place.

I remained intrigued by CAT’s “all Richmond premieres” season and will look forward to their next show – “Almost Maine” directed by Amy Berlin – in March. It’s a show that sounds like a real actors’ challenge, based on what I’ve heard, and should dovetail nicely with the sense of spring fever that we’ll hopefully be enjoying by that time.