Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brain Dump

I have been away from this space for awhile, not physically but mentally and emotionally. I’ve seen several shows but my mind has been preoccupied by work and home life. The little spare brain space that I’ve had has been busy with the struggle between a) exploring options for leaving Virginia for somewhere where leaders are more concerned with people walking around trying to make a living versus fetuses, and b) figuring out how best to work toward rationality and equality right here. Leaving looks more attractive every day.

The productions I’ve seen have mostly been very good, though I still feel like there are just scads of things I’m missing. “August: Osage County” seems to be the show on everybody’s lips these days, making me especially happy that it’s been extended a week as it may take another week for me to get out to see it. With “Next Fall” and “Shakespeare & Galileo” now up and running, the slew of openings seems to have abated so I can catch up.

Some quick thoughts on what I’ve seen lately:

I was very happy with “Macbeth.” The last time RichShakes staged it, I was distinctly underwhelmed, the only stand-outs I remember being Laine Satterfield as the leader of a particularly bewitching coterie of witches. This recent production moved quickly (perhaps a little too quickly in places) with scenes that were consistently impactful. Ryan Bechard was a perfect choice for the underhanded but conflicted Scot. I was captivated by two actors I don’t remember seeing on stage before, Andrew Mitakides and Zoe Speas. In different ways, each of them was formidable both physically and emotionally on stage. Judging from their bios, they may not be seen locally again for some time so I was glad to get a chance to see them in action.

“Topdog / Underdog” was/is exceptional. The script can be a little puzzling at times and there is a lot of time spent repeating the same basic ‘3 card monte’ patter. I remember thinking the dressing-up-as-Lincoln bit was just bizarre in a previous production I saw. But I felt Ms. Saine minimized the surreal and zeroed in on the characters for this production. And, as I said in my review, she really chose well when casting. Ronnie Brown is simply an electric presence on stage, as anybody who saw him as the devil in “Judas Iscariot” last season can verify (Correction: Mr. Brown of course portrayed Pontius Pilate and masterfully. Vinnie Gonzalez was a delightfully evil devil. Oops!). Here he is both eager and street smart and deeply angry in ways that don’t really become apparent until the second act. Most remarkable here though is Delvin Young’s transition during the play, from downtrodden to triumphant. None of it was overplayed, making the conclusion especially devastating.

I enjoyed “Lion King” much more than I expected to. I appreciate Liz Jewett’s review of the production because, based on a previous production I saw, I expected to have a similar reaction. In the end, however, I couldn’t deny that the technical wizardry – plus some very strong performances – had truly transported me. I don’t usually go in for spectacle for spectacle’s sake but obviously I was taken in by it at the Landmark. The acoustics were pretty darn bad though, which was a little surprising because I thought they were pretty good for “Wicked.”

I had some problems with “Lord of the Flies.” The kids were mostly good, with Eric Evans getting a lot of deserved praise and Sean Wyland simply heart-breaking as Simon. I thought Connor Wilkerson didn’t get the attention he deserved, his innocence coming across plainly and naturally. But, in an effort to streamline the show, I think Josh Chenard cut out too much of the story and the results did not have much modulation. The energy on stage was often manic versus enthusiastic. In the end, I felt like I was shouted at for an hour and a half. But if I didn’t categorically love the results, I appreciated the boldness of the effort. The staging was very clever (if a little cramped) and Joe Doran’s lights were fantastic as usual.

I’ll be seeing a couple more shows this weekend, I hope, and continuing to be thankful for the thriving art scene here in Richmond. To paraphrase Monty Python, I’ll be trying to look on the bright side of life (and if that’s kicked off a little earworm for anyone, you’re welcome!)

UPDATE: Though I had it scheduled as opening last week, it looks like "Shakespeare and Galileo" is NOT open at this time. Sorry for any confusion!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Big One

Four professional mainstage shows open this weekend. A national tour rolled in on Wednesday. As part of the Acts of Faith festival, Jewish Family Theatre at the JCC raises the curtain on “Conversations with my Father.” Theatre VCU’s “The Elephant Man” finishes up on Sunday (U of R’s “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” came and went like the breeze last weekend). Five other mainstage shows are still running. How can you NOT see a show this weekend? I’m seeing two.

Weeks like this remind me of the sad state of arts journalism. With all of this going on, I am just amazed that there isn’t a full-time staff person involved with any local media outlet who is wholly or even least partially dedicated to covering theater. While all of the live stage activity is a testament to the vibrancy of the local scene, the lack of dedicated coverage leaves a big hole in the consciousness of most local patrons. Richmonders may have been bombarded by “Lion King” ads in print and on TV but only those predisposed to looking for stage stuff will know about “August: Osage County.” Only those willing to look a little further afield will know about “Topdog/Underdog” at Sycamore Rouge. Volunteer journalists like me can’t get the word to the greater population and Facebook and Twitter can only do so much.

So it’s up to us, theater fans. Get the word out, tell your friends AND your enemies about everything that’s happening on Richmond stages. Put posters up at work. Use gatherings like Monday’s “Stand for Women’s Rights” action to talk to people about the great shows you’ve seen (in addition to protesting the heinous bills being considered by the hypocritical Virginia legislature).

There’s so much good stuff happening; it’d be a shame for people to miss it.

PS: If you haven't seen it, you may want to check out this item in Style about the change of leadership at AART. It's an online only item that didn't make it into print this week.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Fade Out

The explosion of theater continues and it’s hard to keep up. I hope people are picking up Style’s Mid-Season Arts issue that has my piece on the Minds Wide Open celebration. As it has for the Acts of Faith festival every year, the Richmond theater community has taken the opportunity afforded by a big, broad theme to bring some challenging work to local stages. Should be a fun few months.

The issue also has a preview on “The Lion King” production that lands here next week. Style is taking advantage of the long run of this show and assigning a reviewer (me) to it. I found plenty to be critical of the only other time I saw this show (traveling production in Virginia Beach many moons ago) and am wondering whether my memory will hold true or if I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Richmond Shakespeare’s Macbeth opens this weekend and the T-D had a nice preview of it yesterday. In case you missed the T-D review of “God of Carnage,” here’s a link.

Mr. Miller over at GayRVA has been weighing in on a number of shows lately; here are some links to reviews of Carnage, Always…Patsy Cline, and The 39 Steps. The last of these has prompted some passionate responses as such reviews are wont to do.

In the meantime, a particularly articulate rave about “Lord of the Flies” was posted by Ms. Jewett over at It’s a good thing that this show is running another couple of weekends so people have the chance to catch it.

I don’t know if this happened when I was out of town or if I’ve just been even more out of the loop than usual, but I heard that Derome Scott Smith has resigned from AART. I don’t know for sure but that might have some to do with the “Ain’t Misbehavin” opening being moved to end of next month. I hope all is well with Mr. Smith and wish him well in all his future endeavors.

I think I've mentioned Dan Savage in this column before but the sex-advice columnist continues to put out a great podcast that deserves mention in particular for his somewhat over-the-top recommendation for "Anything Goes" on Broadway. It's one of the more unexpected places to hear the ranting of a theater advocate. Tune in for the "Anything Goes" rave, stick around for the challenging and entertaining content that follows!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


My review of "The 39 Steps" is in this week's Style. There's another bit of news in this week's edition that seems to be drawing more attention, however. These are exciting times for all sorts of Timberlines, that's for sure, and I really appreciate all the support folks have been sending our way via Facebook.

My review of "Steps" was inspired at least in part by a comment made by my 8 year old son who went to see the show with me. He said, "that was a funny show but I didn't laugh one time." And that's kind of how I felt: there was a lot of amusing stuff happening but nothing that made me LOL, as it were. The bits I liked the best, as I mentioned in the review, were the fun and clever ways Mr. Width evoked cinematic scenes and the more intimate moments between Mr. Stackhouse and Ms. Strong; I really like the chemistry between those two.

I should say that I believe I may be in the minority as far as my less than ecstatic reaction goes. I spoke with a couple of colleagues last Sunday who were quite taken with the antics of Mr. King and Mr. Creasy. And maybe the dynamics were different on Saturday night, the true opening night, versus Friday night when I went to the show.

Regardless, it's certainly a fun show and I particularly appreciated the performance of Mr. Stackhouse. It's a show worth seeing for that alone, though I would probably also say it's worth seeing for Joe Doran's lighting design alone. The train scenes are just fabulous.

I wish I was in town for "Carnage" this weekend but will definitely catch it at my earliest opportunity. Maybe I can find someplace near where I am to see the movie version as a warm-up.