Friday, April 29, 2011

It was 20 years ago today

This is not a post about the Beatles or Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Twenty years ago yesterday my lovely wife and I got married. As I’ve probably mentioned in this space a dozen or so times, my wife and I first met while we were both involved (she was onstage, I was backstage) in a production of “Quilters” at Theatre IV some 25 years ago. This year, history (and Swift Creek Mill’s season) conspired to allow us to revisit the show that brought us together so many moons ago. We brought our 4 kids along with us so they could see what we had been yammering on about for so long.

I believe the whole clan was pretty much entranced by the experience. In my memories of the songs and the stories, I forget sometimes what a great historical piece “Quilters” is and that the show is built upon a solid “girl power” backbone. I was glad for my girls to see that (though you never know how much that sinks in). One of the central metaphors in the show really hits home with me now that I’m older: basically, that life will throw many things at you but it’s how you put those things together that defines you. As the matriarch Sarah says (paraphrased): “The piecin’ is your business.”

The Mill’s production is truly top-notch with a cast of very talented actresses. I can’t offer a true review. I think I could if I had to, it just wouldn’t be easy. So ingrained is this show in my memory that I have to work really hard to put out of my mind the specific line readings and blocking and choices that were made in the production I saw and heard dozens and dozens of times. And last night wasn’t about work so I let those memories come forward to enrich and confuse the performance I was seeing. I was listening intently to Jackie Jones say her lines, but I couldn’t help hearing the echo of Chris Bass Randolph. Ms. Jones was sweet and warm and motherly in places where Ms. Randolph was gruff and stern and commanding. Both actresses were great in their own way, making the choices that worked best for them.

I had those kinds of feelings through the whole night: Audra Honaker’s sneaky schoolboy with a snake was very funny and made me think back to Dawn Westbrook’s similarly mischievous scamp. Emily Cole’s “I never married” monologue is a heartbreaker and she delivered it expertly in what might have been my favorite moment of the show. And it reminded me how Jody Strickler never failed to break my heart as well in the same scene. T’arah Craig’s “Green, Green, Green” was sweet and clear and made me remember how night after night I was entranced by a similarly lovely young actress named Holly singing that song.

So again, I can’t offer a true critical review because I spent the night just soaking it all in. I can say that Tom Width’s set was exceptional, rustic and utilitarian with cool little cutouts for the different quilt patterns. And Paul Deiss did a fine job as both musical director and in the key (and underappreciated) job of sound effects guy. Sometimes it is the subtle sounds that are essential in setting the atmosphere for this show.

The voices of this cast really come together beautifully, making a song like the already gorgeous “Never Grow Old” absolutely ache with tenderness and intensity. I could have listened to them sing that one song all night. It was great to have the opportunity to see two actresses I don’t remember seeing before: Brittany Simmons who has a knock-out voice and delivered an emotional punch early on in her “Little Babes That Sleep All Night” scene and Katy Burke who has a great comic flair – I loved her as Lavinia Hall.

As I mentioned above, Ms. Cole’s performance – not just in the “Never Grow Old” scene but throughout the show – may have been my favorite of the night. But I can’t wrap up without gushing a little about Ali Thibodeau who shows tremendous range in this show. From the flirtatious Pru to the caring “prairie nightingale” to the studly cowboy dreamed up during “Quiltin’ and Dreamin’” Ms. Thibodeau imbued each of her characterizations with a specific, organic energy that felt exactly right for each scene.

As my family and I were driving to the Mill last night, we caught sight of a beautiful rainbow and we watched it as it grew in intensity during the nearly half-hour trip down 95. As I rolled along with my great family heading out on what proved to be a very entertaining evening, it was a striking reminder to me of how lucky I am. A production of “Quilters” was a key event – perhaps the essential element – that set me on the path to where I am today. Last night I was reminded that, beyond being just a pivotal life experience for me, it’s a pretty darn good show.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And the links...

Best Local Actor

Best Local Actress

Best Local Theatre Company

Best Local Comedy Group

A short piece that I wrote using a story from fellow critic, John Porter.

And finally, a little toot of my own horn.

It’s Huge

I know, “that’s what she said.” (Farewell, Mr. Carell! “The Office” won’t be the same without you.) But if you’ve checked out the Style rack at your local retailer, you’ll notice that this week’s edition is massive because it’s the “Best Of Richmond” issue, sure to be an instigator of quite a lot of conjecture and speculation and time spent randomly combing through the various categories.

Last time I checked, there weren’t links to individual stories on the Style website but I’ll do you this service, loyal reader. All the theater-related stuff is pretty much consolidated on page 33, with some performance-related items spilling over on to page 35. Many congratulations to the companies, actors and actresses listed.

I wasn’t surprised by the list of actors, a nice trio of accomplished pros, all of whom have a mix of recent appearances and well-received past roles (though I can’t remember the last thing I saw Mr. Joy in – “The Wire” perhaps?) The actresses, however, surprised me across the board. I have no dispute with the list – each of the four listed has done truly exceptional work. Mostly, I’m curious what performances stuck in people’s memories enough to make them vote. Was it her recent portrayal of Juliet that put Ms. White on the list? With Ms. Satterfield’s relatively-recent splashy role in “Virginia Woolf,” I might have expected her to place higher. I also would have thought Kelly Kennedy would make the list given her current appearance in “Circle Mirror Transformation” and her well-reviewed turns in “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming” and “On Golden Pond” over the past year.

The top two actresses are truly excellent choices but, again, I wonder what performances inspired people’s votes. Ms. Honaker was out of town for a spell but has come roaring back with “Dog Sees God” and the current “Quilters.” Is that what inspired votes or was it memories of older shows like “Urinetown” or “tick, tick…Boom!” Ms. Price is a fantastic actress (one of my favorite Queen Gertrude’s ever) and more than deserving of recognition. But did enough people see “Facing East” to put her tied for first? Or is it her indelible portrayal in “The Goat” that still lingers for theater fans?

Of course, it occurs to me that perhaps I’m selling people short to think it’s one or two or even three performances that got them to vote for somebody. Maybe more people than I realize actually have a sense of the entire bodies of work of different local actors. If that’s true, I think companies should be doing even more to highlight certain actors in their marketing materials. Because clearly there are folks out there that are paying attention.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Star Connections

“Regrets…I’ve had a few…but then again…” OK, enough singing to myself. And besides, this post is about at least one regret that I’ll mention. This past Saturday, my lovely wife and son took a leave of absence from our family time together to spend some time with members of another Richmond family. And by spend time with, I mean watch the eldest son of the family command the new Liberty University stage as the lead character in “The Phantom of the Opera.”

If you’ve seen any number of productions by the Theater Company at Fort Lee or CYT or even Theatre IV’s “Peter Pan,” you know the T. Davis Mercer is a significant talent. But according to my wife, he’s only improved since heading off to school. And she also reports that both the Christine (Rachel Day) and the Carlotta (Erica Mini) of the production were exceptional. That’s not surprising given Ms. Day’s reverse lineage – her little sister starred in Theatre IV’s “Annie” just a couple of years ago.

I had the opportunity to go see this show (video snippet available here) but I decided to spend my afternoon hanging out in the sun, getting a not insignificant amount of sunburn and eating and drinking too much. In retrospect, I should have gone to see the show. For one thing, the still-fairly new Liberty University stage is apparently a gorgeous $7 million facility. Also, I’d be able to go into more detail about what was so good about Mr. Mercer’s performance (moral: don’t send a civilian to do a critic’s job). And finally, I’d be able to check off “Phantom” on my life “must see” list (yes, that burden continues…).

In some local news, Barksdale officially announced over the weekend that the lead in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is going to be Jeff McCarthy who may be familiar to some folks from his regular stints in “Chicago.” But he’s got some geek cred for appearing on the best of the many Star Trek series, “Next Generation.” Plus, he’s got a connection to Richmond expatriate Emily Skinner for his appearance in the original cast of “Side Show.” So there are any number of reasons to be excited about that casting news.

Triangle Players also just announced their season for 2011-12 and it includes many intriguing entries, including Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer.” But the one that caught my attention first was “Stupid Kids” – and not just because it’s a phrase I regularly mutter under my breath. There are so many extremely talented teens in Richmond – a bunch who are going to be in SPARC’s summer production of “Ragtime” – that I would love to see a few of them step up to a truly mature acting challenge. It sounds like there will be plenty of those involved in this show and I hope whoever directs the show is willing to take a chance on a rising young talent.

PS: I almost forgot: the reading of "The Water Principle" at Firehouse tonight has a cast of very talented local stars. Check out Andrew Hamm's blog post (link over to the right) for details!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

After midnight

Happy Easter, y'all! Since it's a vacation weekend, I'm up late hanging out with family and happened to check for the T-D review of "Art," and sure enough it's up. Starting next weekend, this'll be another interesting situation where a show playing at Sycamore Rouge was staged somewhere else first. That's gotta be some kind of a record right, twice in one season? Anyway, can't wait to see the show once it gets to Petersburg.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Art First

The first review of "Art" came in yesterday, care of Matt Miller at GayRVA. Check it out!

Friday, April 22, 2011


I have really great memories involving “Waiting for Godot.” Decades ago when I was in college, my friends and I would get together and read from existential and absurdist plays just for entertainment. Beckett and Ionesco were our favorites. I remember us not being able to get through more than a few lines of “Godot” without cracking up. There may have been some chemical enhancement involved.

For that reason, I have been eager to see the current Henley Street production but the number of possible nights for me to see it dwindled quickly. So I was happy that the smart folks at Henley did an industry night on Tuesday. Even so, I could only manage to get there to catch the first act. I was very disappointed not to be able to see the whole thing, but I also felt that, barring a radical reinterpretation from Mr. Ricks, I wasn’t going to miss any surprise ending. I really hope no one associated with the production read any kind of affront into my early departure; my reasons for leaving had nothing to do with the quality of the show.

I enjoyed the first act but I also feel like time may have hardened my sensibilities just a bit against existentialism. Perhaps it’s having much more of a stake in the real world that makes getting into that existential space more difficult. Or maybe it’s the lack of chemical enhancement. But one thing I hope I will always appreciate is the ability of Beckett to look at even the most serious things with a skewed view, his healthy way of not taking it all (particularly himself) so damn seriously. After all, as Christine Walters recently told me, life should be fun, even the serious parts.

As my colleague Mr. Griset said, I can’t really think of a better production of the show. Bob Nelson and Bob Jones both seem like natural comedians and one great aspect of the production is the unique quality of each of their voices, which adds new and unusual comic notes to already wacky dialogue. And speaking of voice: Foster Solomon is a fantastic Pozzo, using both his size and his booming voice to bring a larger-than-life stature to that character. Jerome Weiss manages to be both heartbreaking and very funny as Lucky, also incorporating his stature – exceedingly lean and athletic into his characterization, and young Mr. Millman does a fine job in his short interlude on stage.

All of the elements are there for this production but I found myself growing a bit impatient with the course of the “action,” even during just one act. But this is Beckett and, to borrow a phrase from the show, there’s “nothing to be done” about the source material. It is brilliant and challenging and distinctive and sometimes just odd. Mr. Ricks mines it well and, particularly if you haven’t seen “Godot” before, it’s worth checking out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

USC, NEA and extreme giddiness

I found out yesterday that I am being given an all-expenses paid 11-day trip to Los Angeles in June. But that’s not all: while I’m out there, I’ll be able to see shows nearly every day, sometimes day and night, including events that are part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, the Radar LA Festival and the Asian American Theater Festival.

And possibly best of all, I’ll be accompanied by a couple dozen other theater geeks (or journalists, if you prefer) from all around the country, working together with them and learning from them as we meet with leading theater professionals from all around the world.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I’ve had the extreme good fortune to be offered a fellowship for the 2011 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California. It’s an insanely amazing program and, with the support of Style and my lovely wife and family, I applied this year and was accepted. My heart hasn’t stopped racing since I got the email last night.

This kind of total immersion experience just sounds like a dream to me. And less than 8 weeks from now, that dream is going to come true. The logistics both job-wise and family-wise will probably be complicated but, when I am able to push those aside, I just feel extremely giddy with delight at this incredible opportunity.

As soon as I am able to focus again, I’ll be able to talk about things like Henley Street’s “Waiting for Godot,” which both Mr. Porter and Mr. Griset reviewed recently and that I caught only the first act of last night. I’m also primed to dig into Barksdale’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” but in the meantime you can read Mr. Miller’s review at GayRVA.

But for now, my energies will mainly go into regulating my breathing and wiping this fool grin off my face.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Surprises

I saw Barksdale’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” on Sunday and will hold off on any commentary at least until Wednesday because I haven’t finished writing my review yet. One thing I’ll say: given that it was a Sunday afternoon performance (i.e., an audience even older than a typical one) and given that the show has a fair amount of silence in it, I had the opportunity to hear more unfiltered thoughts from my fellow theater patrons than any other performance I’d been to in a long time. All I want to know is: At what point in an adult’s aging process does the awareness that a theater is not one’s living room break down?

One particularly entertaining neighbor of mine seemed to lose interest in the show at various points and took to making comments about other people in the audience. Now I enjoy people watching as much as the next guy but I would think that when you pay money to attend a play the people you really want to be watching are in that brightly lit place in the middle, not the dimly lit seats over to the side. But maybe I’m just weird that way.

I was surprised to check the Times-Dispatch website this morning and see that the top two “Entertainment” highlights were theater-related items, one a review of the recently opened “Wonderland” (which is not getting much love it seems, based on another review I read over the weekend) and the other a recounting of Broadway stars at the Opera Awards. Could it be that people are getting bored of movie and TV coverage and are demanding more theater news? Regardless of the reason, all I can say is: more theater coverage please!

Of course, what I was looking for were links to the review of “Circle Mirror Transformation” that was published yesterday as well as a feature on the upcoming “Art” co-pro at the VA Museum, and then moving down to Sycamore Rouge. And apparently I was asleep at the wheel and missed “The Bluest Eye” review that showed up last week. People never tell me about these things anymore…

Someone did alert me to this article in American Theatre magazine about the different theater-oriented awards shows across the country. I think it’s fascinating the variations that you can find in different cities and to read a little about the genesis of each effort. It makes me feel a little more confident that our little “Artsies” effort isn’t as misguided as I might otherwise feel.

Another item I read about this weekend that I found interesting is a recap of the star-studded concert production of “Company” out in LA a couple of weeks ago. One Richmond-related tidbit: did you know that Tony Award-winning actress Katie Finneran has a relative (I think she’s an aunt) who lives here in town? You can imagine she is one proud aunt.

And finally, Stephen King and John Mellencamp are collaborating on a musical? The mix of popular horror-esque writer and Americana pop musician is surprisingly similar to the Clay McLeod Chapman / Bruce Hornsby team-up for “SCKBSTD” that opened at Virginia Stage a couple of months ago, dontcha think? Virginia: the place where theater trends are set, right?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Critics Matter

The recent elimination of Pia Toscano from “American Idol” was like pop culture catnip – it gave commentators far and wide (including me) the opportunity to postulate, conjecture, hypothesize and rant, which is kind of what we like to do. But I took notice of this article by the Entertainment Weekly movie critic, Owen Gleiberman because he seemed to be making a bigger point about the value of critics and criticism. This point of view is summed up in his conclusion: “[C]riticism, when it’s offered by people who know what they’re doing, isn’t evil. It’s a force that enriches, an aesthetic helping hand, a declaration of reality that helps the best artists prevail.”

I agree with the essential point of Mr. Gleiberman’s piece. After all, isn’t that the basis for so-called “constructive criticism?” Of course, a key phrase is “offered by people who know what they’re doing.” Hm. I expect there are few people who are willing to concede that most critics know what they’re doing. Heck, after a dozen years at it myself, I’m still figuring it out. Still, I will add the concept of “an aesthetic helping hand” to my pantheon of self-justifications just the same.

In a more practical and immediate sense, critics matter because of shows like “Circle Mirror Transformation” which is opening at the Barksdale this weekend. Personally, I have only the vaguest idea what this show is about. Such was the case with Barksdale’s last offering, “Legacy of Light,” and with any number of generically or obscurely titled shows this past season – “Home” at AART or “Something Intangible” at the Firehouse, even “Arcadia” by Richmond Shakespeare.

And how do people find out what a show is about? They read a review. Even more important, what will compell a person to overcome ignorance about a title or disinterest in a summary provided in marketing blurbs about a show? A positive review by a critic that a reader likes or trusts. It is in this simple function that I think critics matter most of all, particularly when it comes to theater. Movies spend as much to market the average movie as it costs to produce it, and can pretty near overwhelm the public with coersive and seductive messages. Most theater companies don’t have that option.

Nationally, news about the Tonys is starting to percolate, starting with the announcement of who is going to announce nominees on May 3rd. I’m glad Aniki Noni Rose will get a little notoriety from this – the song “Dig a Little Deeper” is in pretty regular rotation at Kids Place Live on XM Radio and her one little solo in that song (from the movie “Princess and the Frog”) is my favorite part.

But the bigger question is: who is going to host the show? I expect there’s no chance Neil Patrick Harris would do it again, though he was so awesome. Who do you think would be a good choice?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Mr. Porter has put out reviews on “Something Intangible” and “Devil Boys from Beyond” this week. I still haven’t seen anything on “The Bluest Eye” and am wondering whether any of the local media outlets will be reviewing this Barksdale/VCU co-pro.

Style has Rich Griset’s take on “Quilters” this week as well as my review of “Devil Boys.” I’m sure there are aspects of this review that people won’t like, and I don’t mean the “deliriously funny” characterization. I hope I made it clear that I enjoyed this production; however, as someone once said, “I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em” and there were a couple places where I thought this romp got a little too loose. Some people may argue that the word “sloppy” doesn’t really have a place when you’re dealing with a campy “out there” piece like “Devil Boys,” but I don’t agree. Sometimes precision is exactly what makes comedy work.

As most any reader of this will know, Steve Moore is comedy royalty in this town. He’s a very funny comic and he does some very good work in “Devil Boys.” The bit with the suitcase works well once but then it becomes a joke of diminishing returns as it continues. And it characterized for me moments during the show when it seemed the players either seemed to be working too hard or were being a bit indulgent.

As far as the “shouting” comment goes, I was a little hesitant to get into this territory. This kind of criticism was the basis a couple of years ago for one of the most hot-button posts that ever ran on this blog and resurfaced recently in a review of “The BFG.” Personally, I can’t think of a time in the past where I’ve been particularly disturbed by this during a performance. However, the material in “Devil Boys” is wonderfully extreme already; I didn’t think it needed any extra volume to get the point across. In fact, some of the funniest lines are almost asides, like the particularly devilish one about Rock Hudson delivered in a perfectly soft purr by Mr. Moore.

But putting those points aside, I found a lot to enjoy at “Devil Boys” and was impressed by the ability of director James Alexander Bond to excel with this kind of campy silliness just as he has with his Shakespearean efforts. As every review has pointed out, the costumes are fabulous. I think Cairns and Hoskins could have a nicely lucrative line of fetish wear if they were inclined toward that business. Thomas Cunningham extends his streak of indelible roles with Lucinda Marsh; he has become one of those actors in town that I can’t wait to see what he will do next. I loved Timothy Goad’s “I am not insane” speech that opens the show and starts things off on the right foot. Tommy Callan made a lovely Matty and was a worthy foe for Cunningham’s Lucinda.

I left the show appreciating most the lower-key performances that made for a great counterpoint to the more flamboyant ones: Ryan Bechard’s hang-dog, hen-pecked alky who has a great moment of personal revelation and Bill Brock’s frustrated but inventive editor. “Devil Boys” may not exactly be high art, but it was certainly fun.

Best of all, it was a show that wasn’t afraid to get a little raunchy. There’s not many companies in town that can do much reveling in the raunch, which is just one of many reasons it’s always a treat to go to a Triangle Players show.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Getting Your Hopes Up

The first "Godot" review is in. Haven't seen anything on "The Bluest Eye" yet. I'm curious to read more reactions to both of these productions.

I have a lot of admiration for people who do theater. One of the reasons I enjoy writing theater criticism is because I find the talents of those involved so fascinating, particularly those of the actors. And I’m not just talking about singing, dancing and performing in general, but the whole process, from training to auditioning to rehearsing to closing.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the emotional toll that a particular show closing had on me, a production I was only tangentially involved in. Lately, I’ve had a taste of one of the other ridiculously stressful processes that an actor goes through. My editors at Style nominated me for a Virginia Press Association award this year in the Critical Writing category. The process felt a lot like an audition. I knew that my work was being reviewed by a judge or panel of judges; that choosing my work to award could be based on all sorts of intangible factors that I couldn’t really control; and that, in the end, I’d have little real insight into why or why not I was chosen for an award.

As it turned out, I won a 3rd place recognition, which is fine. But there were many times in the past few weeks that, thinking about possibly winning the category, I had that “god, I hope I get it" feeling that must vex actors to no end. Frankly, I don’t know how they cope.

I’ve had some second-hand experience with this, too. Over the past year or two, my energetic eldest son has had dozens of auditions. He’s had a good deal of success and I can’t argue with that. But there have been a couple dozen or so movie or TV projects that he’s tried out for that, in my obviously biased eye, he seemed like he would have been perfect for. And I’ve indulged in thoughts of: imagine if he lands this one! And as the weeks went by with no follow-up from the casting folks, that little spark of hope faded. And, if I’m being honest, there were times that spark was pretty big and when it faded, it shrunk down to a bitter little pill.

Again, this was just my second-hand experience. I can’t imagine how actors themselves who do this regularly make it through it. There must be some complicated psychological coping mechanisms involved. If I personally had to go through the process more often, I think I would drink a lot more beer.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Pia, Paul and All

In case you haven’t picked up this week’s Style (which you should because it has a nice wrap-up of the VCU run to the Final Four), here’s a link to the piece I wrote on the resurrected ComedySportz company. Shows will start in their new location out by West Tower Cinemas the first weekend of May and my son is already bothering me to go out to one.

I’ve been vaguely following casting news about the movie adaptation of “Rock of Ages” but this item caught my eye because this is the role that was supposed to go to Constantine Moroulis who appeared on Broadway and, before that, on American Idol, of course. Which bring me to the pop culture tidbit that I am most focused on this morning: the elimination of Pia from American Idol last night.

I’m only moderately ashamed that I watch American Idol anymore. I started because my kids watched it and now they have moved on and I’m still stuck. I have two justifications: I DVR the show and only listen to the performances since the critiques are seriously lame and the other interviews and puff pieces that fill out the show are annoying and irrelevant. I also skip performances from people I find boring (Stefano, Scotty) meaning that I can watch a 2 hour episode of Idol in about 20 minutes.

My other justification is that so many Idol alums have gone on to Broadway that watching it seems like work-related research to me. Of course Broadway seems like a good place for these people to go because you have to actually be able to sing to perform on Broadway, a talent that seems to be lacking in many contemporary recording artists.

If you haven’t been watching Idol, Pia was one of the few contestants this year who was consistently excellent. Her song choice was a little stodgy and her personality a little plastic. But her voice was rock solid; she was one of the only performers that I always listened to while fast-forwarding through many others. And last night she left the show with 8 others still in contention, only 1 or 2 of whom have the vocal ability that she has. Randy used to be fond of saying “this is a singing competition” (maybe he still does; I’m just not listening) but it clearly is not anymore. An overwhelming number of the voters are teenage girls and they seem to be voting on the basis of cute, versus talent. That was clearly the case last season and Pia’s ouster confirms it for this season.

So, as disappointed as I am that I won’t be hearing her on the show anymore, now I can look forward to her showing up on stage in about 2 years. The question is what show will work best for her. I’ll be mulling that one over for the next few weeks.

Some people have said they think Paul on Idol looks like me, which maybe I can see but you’d have to put about 15-20 years on the guy to really see if there’s a resemblance. I haven’t really liked him as a singer until this past week, which was the first time he seemed to be singing significantly above a whisper.

Sorry to veer off into Idol country even though there’s plenty to talk about locally. “The Bluest Eye” opens at VCU this weekend, the next production in the burgeoning relationship between Barksdale and VCU. The last partnership, “Legacy of Light,” seemed to work darn well which bodes well for this one. For those who have been waiting since the Fall, “Godot” finally arrived at Henley Street last night. I’m eager to read/hear what people have to say about the production.

And if there’s a lesson to be learned from Idol, don’t stop going to productions just because you think the economy is on the mend and theater seems to be economically secure. You wouldn’t want your favorite company to go the way of Pia due to lack of support, now would you?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


The “Quilters” reviews started rolling in on Tuesday, again with the T-D and GayRVA leading the charge. Both Ms. Haubenstock and Mr. Miller clearly enjoyed the production. I’m planning to check out the show in a couple of weeks because, really, how can I not see a production of “Quilters” when it’s in town?

John Porter’s “Almost Maine” review is available both on his blog or, if you prefer to hear the dulcet tones of his lovely voice, you can stream it off of the WCVE site. This show closes this weekend so get out to see it while you can.

Grant Mudge of Richmond Shakespeare wrote an Op-Ed in this past weekend’s Times-Dispatch in anticipation of the opening of “Art” at the Virginia Museum. Check it out if you haven’t read it.

There are many cool things about this production being the one that re-opens the theater at the museum, the most obvious being the title and theme of the show. Director kb Saine also used to work for TheatreVirginia, if I remember correctly. Mr. Mudge uses his Op-Ed piece to talk a little bit more about the value of live theater. His sentiments are encapsulated in this passage:
You respond to a work of art with only your own senses, thoughts and emotion. In theater, the art responds back. Actors hear and are influenced by the audience. And they respond. It's vital that audiences know how much of every performance they see they are inextricably a part. This shared experience is the performing arts' chief recommending quality. The entire community, artists and audiences alike, experiences together.
I’m glad that Grant took the opportunity to put that kind of endorsement of live theater out in a piece that he could have devoted solely to promoting his own company or production. After reading this op-ed, it occurs to me that there are many other interesting topics that could be explored as part of the re-opening of the Museum Theater. There are very specific ones like the economic reasons that TheatreVA closed and how theater has changed in town since. And there are also more general theater-related issues involved: what is the state of regional theater? Do local audiences care about having an Equity theater in town? Should they?

The closing and re-opening of the theater begs more general entertainment-related questions too: the rise of social media and the explosion in the popularity of video games could be construed as indicating that people – particularly young people – want interactivity to be part of the entertainment experience. How can theater capitalize on that?

Of course, I don’t have much in the way of answers. But I’m always one to jump on the opportunity to ask the questions. If you have any answers, I’d be very interested to hear them. Also, in other Richmond Shakespeare-related news, they issued an Audition Turnout Challenge on their blog recently. If you've got a hankerin' for that iambic pentameter, their audition this weekend is the place to be.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Another links-a-palooza

This past weekend was chock full of action, from the VCU game and its aftermath to the Fairy Tale Ball at the Empire to “The Laramie Project: 10 Years later” down at Sycamore Rouge. RTP opened “Devil Boys from Beyond,” which was promptly hailed as a success by both the Times-Dispatch and GayRVA. Swift Creek Mill opened “Quilters” but I have yet to see a review. Did the T-D’s review get knocked by more incessant Charlie Sheen coverage, I wonder?

Mostly this weekend, I tried to catch up on sleep. But my lovely wife and I did manage to make it out to “Devil Boys” and my review will be forthcoming in a future Style, I expect / hope. In the meantime, I will echo the other reviews out there that praise the high camp of the production but, overall, I think I was less entranced by the proceedings than my critical compatriots. Details to come.’s review of “Something Intangible” hit the internets last week as well. As you may have noticed, the articulate and analytical reviewer Liz Jewett also maintains a blog that is linked to at the bottom of her reviews. Though she doesn’t focus on theater, it makes for some very interesting reading so I’ve put a link to it over there on the right. Check it out some time.

Online coverage really seems to be where it’s at these days. In addition to GayRVA’s quick posting of a “Devil Boys” review, they had a preview up of the show last week and were one of the only media outlets to report on Sycamore Rouge’s “Laramie: 10 years after” production. We slacker print folks just can’t keep up.

One last thing on “Spider-man:” after seeing the show, I had a great time going back and reading reviews by others. There’s a collection of links to the many reviews on the Ent Weekly site, as well as a link to a video collection of reviews. It seems that critics took the opportunity of such a colossally conflicted show to sharpen their pens to particularly pointed levels. My favorite line from any of the reviews is in the LA Times review by Charles McNulty, where he says “Nothing cures curiosity about "Spider-Man" quite like seeing it.” Indeed.

Speaking of nicely written reviews, in a review of “The Book of Mormon” last week, the critics summarizes the show in a way that also describes the exact antithesis of “Spider-man.” He says that the show’s creators “honor the traditions of great song-and-dance musical theater in all the best ways: Every detail of the production serves a purpose. Every character signifies. Every song is crafted with erudition about what a song is meant to do.” Perhaps the Spider-man producers should hire the team from “BOM?”

Friday, April 01, 2011

Oh My

I'm feeling totally disoriented today. Drove through the night to get back from NYC and am at work running on about 2 hours sleep. That doesn't explain why blogger keeps screwing up my posts -- won't put line feeds and returns in when I copy and paste text. Very frustrating. It also doesn't explain why on Wednesday I called "Something Intangible" by the name "Something to Ponder." Don't know where my head was at. Adding to the delirium are the scenes from "Spider-man: Turn off the dark" running through my head, alternating with the song "Loser Like Me" from "Glee" that I was playing on the CD during the drive home.

One reason I was playing the "Glee" songs (besides keeping me awake) was because there wasn't a single song from "Spider-man" that stuck in my head; most were significantly melody deprived. I had to fill the void with something. I'll have more to say about Spidey when I collect my thoughts but I'll give this quick capsule: The production had some of the most amazing aerial work I have ever seen and the many millions of dollars that went into the production are plain to see in the sets, lights, costumes, and general spectacle. There are about 3 scenes in the show that stick out as among the most awe-inspiring I've ever seen.

Having said that, the second act of the show is just dreadful. Weird things happen that are only vaguely explained, if at all, and the denouement is among the most disappointing ever. It certainly wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. But it was not great, and only better than good because of the eye-popping technology and design work. Off to take a nap...have a great weekend!