Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I hope everyone is recovering from the hurricane OK. To those still without power: I feel your pain. At my house, we’ve been out since 3pm-ish Saturday and don’t have any prospects for being on until this weekend. Good opportunity for practicing those coping skills!

Last I heard, power was still out at Hanover Tavern so “Boeing Boeing” is still tentative for this weekend. I hope the show can go on – people need distractions!

I appreciate GayRVA posting our nominee list last week. GayRVA is going to be one of the media sponsors for the RTCC awards this year so check out their site for a great take on local news and culture.

Since local theater news is relatively scarce in these waning days of summer (restoration started at the Empire, Richmond Shakespeare moved their offices, um, what else?), I’ll blather on a bit more about the awards. One very exciting change this year is we are renaming the Best Ensemble award in honor of Ernie McClintock, the great director and local theater innovator.

It was very sad when Mr. McClintock passed away 8 years ago this week. He had initiated the Black Theatre Festival and his Jazz Actors Theatre was going strong. However, his legacy still lives on. One of his protégés recently starred in the TV series, “The Cape,” and a host of local theater professionals carry on his vision today. Several of them will be on hand at the Artsies to pay tribute to Ernie, including Carl Clay, the writer, producer, and filmmaker who founded New York’s Black Spectrum Theatre.

It’s fitting that this year’s slate of contenders for the Best Ensemble award is perhaps the most competitive ever. Each of the casts nominated was a true ensemble, each cast member shining in his or her own moments but also collaborating with and supporting cast mates to create a uniformly exceptional theater performance. I think Mr. McClintock would be proud. Personally, I can’t wait to see who is ultimately chosen to receive the award.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Stirring things up

The air is thick with anticipation as I write this. It’s Friday and Hurricane Irene is crawling her way up the east coast, the Richmonders I’ve talked to alternately scoffing at her imminent arrival or hunkering down for the apocalypse. In a theater-oriented sense, we are in that period of anticipation as rehearsals get intense in preparation for September openings. And, in a more specific RTCC-related sense, I’m excited because soon the Circle’s members will get together to decide the recipients of this year’s “Artsies.”

But this year critics won’t be the only ones casting votes. A new aspect of the evening’s festivities will be the People’s Choice award / raffle. Those attending will have the chance to vote for their favorite show of the year among the productions that were considered for RTCC awards (I’ll attach a list of those productions in a comment.) We thought this would be a way to gauge how different the critics’ choices are from the theater-going public…or at least the slice of that public that chooses to attend the awards. We also thought it’d be a fun twist to the night that would shake things up a little.

When you cast your vote, you will be entered into a raffle for a stunning piece from Carreras Jewelers. One vote will be picked at random and the person who cast it will receive the gorgeous necklace shown below. Rejena Carreras donated this star necklace in honor of all of the stars in our theater community. And, just in case you’re wondering, the pendant is 14 carat white gold, it is adorned with 15 differently shaped diamonds, and it is hanging from a white gold chain. It’s an understatement to say that it’s very pretty.

This is a fund-raising event though, so casting a vote (and entering the raffle) will cost $5. That way, not only do you get to state your opinion AND have a chance to win a beautiful piece of jewelry, you’ll also be benefitting your theater friends and colleagues by donating to the Theatre Artists Fund.

If you’ve attended in the past, you know the Artsies event is split into 3 acts with two intermissions. Voting will be allowed until the end of the 2nd intermission and then the winner will be announced during the evening’s final act.

I have no idea how well this will work or what the results might be. But I know that I’ll be casting at least a vote or two as one of the “People” in addition to the ones I’ll be casting as a critic in the hopes of adding another ‘star’ to my household…

Monday, August 15, 2011

And the nominees are…

This year, the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle has 8 members, our most ever. We had more complete coverage of this past season than any other so far. I can say this with a good deal of confidence because there has been frequent communication between Circle members where we have encouraged each other to see certain productions and take note of specific performances. Our awareness of the process we will be going through at summer’s end is now fairly persistent throughout the season.

Even so – and as I’ve said every year – our process is not perfect and we freely acknowledge that. However, we are diligent in our efforts and we do not take any of this lightly. I would challenge any other group of 8 individuals with widely different perspectives to come together with as much conscientious attention to their work as the members of this Circle.

There are many interesting nominations this year and, as always, a few situations that might have people scratching their heads at least or crying out in outrage at most. Let me state vehemently that it is not a list that denigrates anybody via exclusion. There were several categories where we started out with more than a dozen possibilities, each of which was as worthy of consideration as the final selections.

In my opinion, it was a very good season, one where Richmond theater audiences were the real winners. As a result, there are many categories where it is a true toss-up in terms of who ultimately will receive the award.

So enough preamble…The complete list of nominations is now posted on the RTCC website. Let the fun begin!

By the way, tickets to the event will be available for $15 by calling the Theatre IV box office (282-2620) starting at 10am today (Monday). If you are a nominee and you would like to sit in the area of the house set aside for nominees, please let the box office personnel know. (And a big fat thank you to the Theatre IV box office for its invaluable assistance.)

And be sure to check back here for details about the event as we get closer to the big date (Sunday, October 16th, 7pm – mark those calendars!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


So apparently, I can’t get my story straight. I was only going to post once this week but then had to correct myself yesterday. And now I feel obliged to point out that I’ve got a piece in this week’s Style about the upcoming production of “Amen Corner” by Tony Cosby’s Theatre & Co. Sounds like this one is selling out its short run pretty quickly so act fast if you want to check it out.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hearts Online

Yesterday I blithely said I wouldn't be attending any live theater in the weeks ahead. Well, call me a big fat liar. I was dim-wittedly forgetting that I'll be seeing the staged reading / singing of the new musical "Hearts Online" at the Firehouse this weekend. Written by Richmond writer and editor Rebecca Elizabeth Jones, the show is a classic romantic comedy brought distinctly into the contemporary world of online dating. It's a very promising script and score (by Paul Bartsch) and, thanks to director Billy Christopher Maupin, the cast for this staging is full of exceptional talents, headlined by the soon-to-be Eliza Doolittle Stacey Cabaj. How can you pass that up?

Monday, August 08, 2011

You Can’t Stop the Beat

I want to thank the Dogwood Dell production of “Hairspray” for many things. First off, for implanting in my head a whole slate of great tunes that have run like an internal soundtrack for me over the past couple of days. Earworms like these I can handle, particularly happy, up-tempo ones that make the turmoil in the economic world right now seem a little less agonizing.

Also, I’d like to thank this production for re-affirming the obvious: there is ample interest in live theater in this town. When I showed up at Dogwood Dell on Friday, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Granted I got there a little later than I probably should have (8:20ish) but the droves of people that scattered the hillside above the amphitheater and infiltrated the trees bordering house-right was unlike anything I’d ever seen at the Dell before. Clearly, the word had gotten out that this was a must-see production and Richmonders took advantage of a relatively cool night to swamp the outdoor venue. The crowd on Saturday was smaller (yes, I went twice), but showed their vigorous support by staying through a pretty persistent drizzle that ran through the middle third of the performance.

Finally, I want to thank “Hairspray” and director Leslie Owens-Harrington for introducing me to a whole new fleet of talented young performers. The dozens of teens that populated this cast took to Ms. Owens-Harrington’s lively choreography like fish to water and were consistently focused and first-rate in their performances. The major roles were all exceptional, everyone from little Imani Crosby as Little Inez to big gravelly-voiced Todd Schall-Vess as Edna Turnblad. I was surprised by the strong, clear vocals from supporting players like J.R. Booker as Seaweed Stubbs and Ashlyn Landrum as Penny Pingleton. But even more so, I was blown away by the performances from Glennis Crosby as Motormouth Maybelle – her “I Know Where I’ve Been” was a stunner – and of course, Kate Rancka as Tracy Turnblad. Ms. Rancka has a powerhouse voice and a sweet, sincere stage presence that anchored the whole enterprise. For a 17 year old to take on such a responsibility and succeed so completely is really impressive.

As “Hairspray” uncurled at the Dell, long-running “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” closed down at the Empire and “Monique” moved on to greener pastures at RTP. But obstinately, the Richmond theater world won’t stop producing shows, as RTP will open up their “Dirty Little Showtunes” revue on the 18th. Doesn’t anyone take a rest anymore?

“Hairspray” officially closed out the 2010-2011 season as far as I’m concerned and I’ll be taking a breather from seeing anything on stage for a few weeks, at least until the September surge of new shows begins with “Lend Me a Tenor” on Sept. 9th. Looking at my personal statistics, last season I saw 33 professional mainstage productions offered by Richmond-area theater companies. I saw an additional 21 out-of-town or local non-professional productions over the year. This may be the first year ever that I saw more than 1 show a week on average (helped immensely by the unique opportunity to see 8 shows over 10 days back in July). That makes it kind of a landmark for me.

Even in a season where I saw so much, I still rue the key shows I missed. Even in the face of the raves I read or heard, I couldn’t make it the Mill’s “Wait Until Dark” or the Henley / RichShakes co-pro of “The Winter’s Tale.” I’ve seen almost everything Scott Wichmann has been in here but “A Thousand Clowns” escaped me, as did “Romeo and Juliet” starring two of my favorite local actors as the leads. I really wanted to check out CAT’s “Bloody Murder” and several folks talked up “Honk!” to me. It’s all a testament to how much good stuff is going on around here that it’s nearly impossible to see it all.

Do you have any show from last season that you missed that you are kicking yourself about missing now?

Also, be sure and check back here next Monday for the official announcement / listing of the nominations for the 4th Annual RTCC awards. Exciting times!

Friday, August 05, 2011


I went to see this movie last night – “Crazy Stupid Love” – with a couple of friends. It is a very entertaining movie that is very smartly written. It subverts at least a couple romantic comedy tropes and, in fact, in the one scene that is the most obviously cliché, one of the characters says, “this is so cliché.” It also mixes a kind of standard romantic comedy trajectory with the intertwined plot line sensibilities of dramas like “Crash,” resulting in some great payoffs.

However, my friends and I agreed that, as much as we all enjoyed the movie, it had nothing whatsoever to do with how real people interact and carry on relationships. Almost every pairing in the movie was cut from some fairy tale Hollywood model of how people meet, fall into bed, fall in love, fall out of love, etc. It is full of gestures both big and small that only happen in the minds of screenwriters. As one of my friends said, “I remember going to movies hoping to find some message or insight that might be relevant in my life.” As many laughs as this movie provides – and eye-candy moments, thank you Mr. Gosling – it certainly doesn’t provide insight.

Another friend of mine recently used the word “whimsy” in an email. It occurred to me that it’s one of those words that I’ve used before never knowing exactly what it meant. I checked, which defines whimsy as “extravagant, fanciful, or excessively playful expression: a play with lots of whimsy.” It was an interesting coincidence because the person talking about whimsy was referring to a play, specifically “All’s Well that Ends with Monique.” Given that I also saw “Boeing Boeing” this week in addition to “Crazy Stupid Love,” I’ve pretty much overdosed on whimsy.

“Monique” has several things to recommend it: spirited performances, a very innovative set design, and some great uses of sound and music to support the action. Kristen Swanson totally commits to her self-obsessed character and director Donna Coghill has given her a talented supporting crew. I enjoyed each of Kimberly Jones Clark’s characterizations, Stephen Ryan playing a sock puppet was very funny, and it was a real treat to see BJ Kocen on stage again. I was wondering through the first act whether Mr. Kocen would sing in the show and, when he finally did, it was completely unexpected and delightful.

A lot of clever thinking went into each scene and there are several sharp lines delivered along the way. The way Monique kind of obliviously helps people she interacts with in their lives was a nimble conceit. Even so, my overall impression of the show was of a piece of work that still wasn’t clicking on all cylinders. Some bits didn’t cohere in the way that some Saturday Night Live skits never quite translate into feature films. The show seemed “writerly” to me at times, with characters’ reactions following a written rhythm not necessarily the organic rhythms between people on stage.

In that way, it contrasted with “Boeing Boeing,” which is clearly a work that has been honed over years of productions into a Rube Goldberg device of interactional madness. All the pieces of farce are juggled with precision in this production, directed by Bruce Miller, with potentially disastrous entries coinciding with perfectly timed exits, many doors slammed, and choice bon mots delivered along the way. The three “air hostesses” in the show (Maura Burroughs, Caylyn Temple, and Donna Marie Miller) are all sumptuous beauties that transcend their stereotypes, each with a special spark all her own. Ms. Lewis at the T-D likened Derek Phipps to vintage Jerry Lewis in his supporting role and that’s a spot-on characterization. And Susan Sanford is just so gloriously continental as the French maid, alternately deadpan, world-weary, and flabbergasted. In the midst of it all, Denis Riva holds his own as a man trying desperately to keep his life orderly as it starts to spin out of control.

My reaction to “Boeing” was similar to the one I had to “Crazy Stupid” – many laughs but operating in some alternate reality where people are more like cartoon characters than, you know, people. In the midst of such a whimsy-intensive week, my appreciation for the work did not exactly translate into a love of it.

But maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety. And maybe I’m just prejudicial in my preference for whimsy being kept to musicals where outrageous behavior is commonplace and expected (though two of the musicals I’ve enjoyed most lately – “Ragtime” and “Next to Normal” – were anything but whimsical). I certainly wouldn’t warn anyone away from any of the entertainments I enjoyed this week. I expect there are aspects of “Monique” that could translate into a more completely satisfying work. By all means, go to both “Boeing” and “Crazy Stupid” if you want a laugh-filled, occasionally ridiculous slice of romantic farce.

Personally, I’m in need of a little cleansing of my entertainment palette. Luckily, I came across this little piece to point to potential works of the decidedly unwhimsical kind. Also, at least “Hairspray” marries its silliness to social consciousness and some kick-ass songs so perhaps I’ll emerge next week better able to appreciate the more whimsical aspects of life (and theater).

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

One Thousand

According to the blogspot counter, this will be the 1,000th entry I’ve posted on this blog. Wow. That’s a lot of words thrown out into cyberspace over more than 5 years. I haven’t written all of them – Ms. Burruss had a short but lively tenure as a co-blogger and I’ve opened up the space to another commentator or two along the way. Regardless, it’s a lot of verbiage devoted to a fairly narrow subject: an art form that seems somewhat anachronistic in this world full of whiz bang virtual entertainments, in a town that, though beloved by many, still struggles to emerge from second (or third) tier status in the national scene. To some extent, I write this blog in defiance of those preconceptions and perhaps you read it for the same reason.

More important than the words I’ve written are the ones you have contributed to this enterprise. The comments I’ve received over the years – both posted on this site and delivered in person – generally reflect an intelligence and thoughtfulness about theater, theater criticism, the larger theater world, and the place of theater in society. Your responses have challenged me, entertained me, and sometimes enraged me. Whatever their subject or their tone, I’ve always welcomed them. Not because they mean I’ve said anything particularly astute or compelling but because they are proof that there are people out there who share my interest in and excitement for theater. And hopefully, the people who comment are also encouraging others to go see shows and to support the artists who work in this community.

I’m taking the opportunity of this 1,000th post to let you all in some things coming up. I’m planning to post something this Friday (to talk about “Monique” and “Boeing Boeing”) and then starting next Monday, I’m only going to post once a week. You’ll want to check out those weekly posts in the months ahead because the RTCC awards are coming up and the nominations will be announced here on August 15th. I’ll be filling in details about the annual gala event in the weeks ahead, as well as blathering on about the upcoming fall theater season. It’s shaping up to be an intriguing one.

As the post counter trips over into quadruple digits, let me thank everyone out there who reads this blog and, more importantly, who plays an active role in the local theater scene. The theater community here overflows with incredibly creative, dynamic, hard-working and just plain nice people. And while it’s my job to point out where I think a particular effort has come up short or when I think a choice has in some way been misguided, most of the time I am impressed by the level of effort, commitment, and artistry that local theater folks apply to their endeavors. The results are often exhilarating. As the summertime trudges on to a sweaty finish, I look forward to the gifts another theater season will offer with eager anticipation.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Two Gents

I was able to sneak in to see the last performance of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” this past weekend and clearly the theater-going gods were smiling on me. The temperature came down to the low 80s, I think, and there was even a light breeze. All in all, a perfect night for some outdoor theater.

I’ve mentioned that I saw “Two Gents” a dozen years or so ago, when Grant Mudge started the show with a Baywatch themed scene. It was a clever way to shore up what is one of the Bard’s shakiest plays. Director Molly Hood works a similar ploy by ostensibly setting the show in the 1950s. This strategy does provide some benefit but Ms. Hood’s best decision was the staging of Turio (Tood Patterson) and Proteus (Thomas L. Cunningham) serenading Sylvia (Laura Rikard). The scene becomes a near-perfect mix of sublime (Patterson’s velvet smooth vocals) and silly (Cunningham’s accompaniment).

The production also deserves a great deal of credit for its very briskness. To run through 5 acts of Shakespeare – with the addition of some entertaining dance bits at the beginning and the end – in just over 2 hours including intermission has to be some kind of record. It moved quickly enough to keep the 7 year old accompanying me awake, which is saying quite a lot.

But while Hood provides some great distractions, they can’t quite hide the fundamental issues with this play. Most absurd to me is the denouement when everybody’s motivations and sentiments seem to turn on a dime, allowing for the requisite happy ending. Yes, Valentine (David Janosik) embodies a near-saintly level of forgiveness and understanding about Proteus’s transgressions, but could anyone really turn the other cheek that quickly? And wouldn’t Julia (Laurel Maughan) deliver maybe a good knee to Proteus’s groin first before taking him back so magnanimously?

The cast provided some good performances but only a few really great ones, in my humble opinion. Austin Graham Seay was amusing as Speed and he has an agile physicality that serves him well. I’ll look forward to seeing him in “R&J” at Theatre VCU this coming fall. The laugh-winner award clearly goes to Jonathan Conyers who commits totally and effectively to his wacky role as sad-sack Launce. He certainly deserves props for appearing with an adorable dog on stage and not getting ignored completely.

And some sort of special award should go to Michael Brown for giving the most entertaining and original curtain speech I’ve ever heard. Could every theater employ him to do something similar for every production?

The final impression I left the show with was of a director trying valiantly to overcome some fairly endemic defects in the show. The effort produced some highly original moments and resulted in an entertaining summertime trifle. There are worse things.