Friday, July 08, 2011

Last night

Last night was the opening of Richmond Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” When I saw this company do this show about a dozen years ago, the “two gentlemen” first came on stage wearing bathing suits to the sounds of the “Baywatch” theme. It was an irreverent and innovative way to make the Bard vital and new and it immediately engendered an affection for Mr. Mudge and his company that has never worn off, regardless of the ups and downs since. Their “Lear” was such a powerful production; I’m curious to see if they can pull off a true one-two punch this summer.

And speaking of “Lear,” did you read the blog-review Monique wrote about the production? It’s good for a laugh and, as such, I’ve added a link to Ms. Monique’s site to keep it in sight for future droll hilarity.

I didn’t spend last night at the Shakespeare opening. Instead, I answered the very kind request of a camp teacher at St. Catherine’s to watch the final production offered by their summer theater program. She thought they’d get a kick out of a “professional” review and I was happy to give them one. Since writing it took up any time I would have had to blog (I know, you’re heartbroken….ha!), I’ve included it below. Happy weekend!

Alice in Not-So-Wonderful Land

It stands to reason that a modern day Alice wouldn’t be traipsing around an English garden but rather dosing off in the midst of middle school detention. That’s only one of many amusing updates that playwright Don Zolidis has packed into “Alice’s Adventures with Poorly Cooked Cafeteria Seafood,” his highly entertaining script which received an energetic staging as part of St. Catherine’s Brilliant Summer camp program.

Unlike Lewis Carroll’s absurdist lampoon of all things British, Zolidis takes aim at a more specific contemporary target – the cult of excellence that drives American education – and his subversive lunacy sounds just right coming out of the mouths of these young performers.

Molly Berger headlines the show as the hapless Alice, constantly denigrated for not excelling in her scholarly pursuits the way her pushy, nerdy little brother Waldo (Tim Webb) does. Landing in detention after daring to stand up to the comically abusive biology teacher, Mrs. Snodgrass (Abigail DeLuca), Alice wanders through a low-rent looking glass (callouts to the lack of a production budget provide several laughs) to meet an array of wild and fairly mean creatures.

Some of these oddballs are simply entertaining: a Griffin (Maddie Ownby) and a Ninja Turtle (Anna Woodworth) provide nice Abbott-and-Costello-like banter. Others have a sly message hidden in their rhetoric, like Jeri Newman’s Catepillar, satisfied in her slackerhood and not at all eager to blossom into a butterfly. At least a couple of the creatures she meets seem determined to get in her way, the in-your-face March Hare (Sarah Wells) and the not-so-secretly violent Cheshire Cat (Rebecca Houck).

In her search for the elusive White Rabbit (Megan Deibel), Alice is offered a modicum of assistance by a cheeky Mouse (Isoke Wright). She eventually finds the Mad Hater (also Tim Webb) who points her to the Red Queen (also DeLuca) who, in turn, threatens her with execution. Only when Alice asserts her self-worth despite her mediocrity does she defeat the Queen and return to her other reality with a renewed sense of empowerment.

All of the St. Catherine’s actors give wholehearted performances and maintain their composure (for the most part) in the midst of the madness. Berger is a winning narrator and sympathetic protagonist, wearing her wide-eyed frustration well. As the villain of the piece (in both of her guises), DeLuca snips and snaps at those around her convincingly. The March Hare doesn’t get much stage time, but Wells makes the most of it, infusing the bunny with a quick wit and contrary attitude.

Wright plays a spry and cheerful Mouse and Newman is delightfully laid-back as the Catepillar. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Deibel who showed good range in portraying both the determined White Rabbit and the clearly-playing-favorites Mother. Woodworth’s forgetful Ninja Turtle prompted many laughs, and her concerned refrain of “The Children!” was a great counterpoint during the Mad Hater’s rampage. And Houck gets a nicely sinister gleam in her eye as the Cheshire Cat explains her proclivity toward mayhem.

Two performances stuck out to me for completely different reasons. Webb’s over-the-top rants as Waldo were funny and surprising but also a bit much. At least that’s what I thought until he really let loose as the Mad Hater and then it was downright disturbing in a way that lifted the production above youngsters playing at theater into a realm of social commentary of the most eye-opening kind. On the complete other end of the spectrum was Maddie Ownby’s pitch-perfect off-hand energy as the Griffin. Her performance showed how, in a production full of extreme weirdness, the simple and straightforward can work exceptionally well.

I attended this production of “Alice” expecting a bunch of kids struggling with their lines and stumbling across the stage. Instead, I was treated to a wry and wonderful evening of laughs and insubordination. Many thanks to director Tony Scarsella (and fellow theater teacher Christina Bellew) for lifting both my spirits and my hopes for the next generation of young thespians.


Maddie said...

I appreciate the review you gave for "Alice's Adventures with Poorly Cooked Cafeteria Seafood". We worked very hard on it.

Actually, in the script it was spelled: 'Gryphon', just so you know.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Maddie- That was my bad. We didn't have a program so I sent a quick list late last night... all typos are on me. Thanks again Dave- the kids were thrilled to have a review!!!!- Christina

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks so much for writing this! We all were very impressed and happy when we read it. Thank you for making it positive! I'm very glad u enjoyed the show!
~Molly Berger (Alice)