Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Just the Links, Ma’am

My day just went haywire so I’m going to just have the chance to post the links related to what I planned to talk about, instead of actually talking about them. Feel free to talk among yourselves.

My profile of Matthew Mitchell is in this week’s Style.

Two not-so-positive reviews of “Scorched Earth” have come out recently, Mr. Griset’s in Style and Ms. Jewett’s on I found Ms. Jewett’s “Critical Thinking” post interesting and, for me at least, very relatable.

The Broadway production of “Streetcar” starring near-local star Blair Underwood didn’t get any love from the NYTimes.

Any local actors/dancers looking for far-flung opportunities, Royal Carribean is holding auditions in Williamsburg. FYI.

Finally, an interesting piece in the NYTimes this past weekend about the Tonys and why there are so many Broadway openings happening this month.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An 8? Seriously?

There was only one flaw in Henley Street’s “The Liar” that I scampered downtown to see in the midst of Sunday’s drippy afternoon. And that was when David Clark’s Cliton, as part of his not being able to tell a lie, classified the more overtly sensual of the maidservant twins, Isabelle, as an 8. Mr. Ricks made a major casting mistake in selecting Stacie Reardon Hall for this part. Even when trying to button up her loveliness in the guise of the more persnickety Sabine, Mrs. Hall easily surpasses an 8 on any objective scale.

Except for that one misstep, ‘The Liar’ was everything the rave reviews of the production had promised, and more. A show recited almost entirely in rhyming couplets was never tiresome and used the very artifice of that construct to great comic ends. Given the penchant for mistaken identity plotlines to stretch the bounds of common sense, this one was actually relatively believable (in the scope of such things), hinging as it did on one simple assumption and goosed into madness by the title character’s well-established compulsion to never settle for a simple fib when an outrageous lie was possible.

The performances were uniformly excellent. I pretty much expected great things from the leads: I became a devoted Matthew Mitchell fan with “Kimberly Akimbo,” I thought David Clark was phenomenal in last season’s “Judas Iscariot,” and I was introduced to rising star Irene Kuykendall with Sycamore Rouge’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” But what a treat when later in the play an otherwise low-key Tyler Weaver steps a bit more forward as Philliste and matches the skills of the topliners. The show was also my introduction to Olivia Luna who played Lucrece with attractive wit and grace early and with mounting outrage later on.

The wordplay and quippiness of the script were consistently delightful, enhanced by performers like Mitchell who used body language – some subtle, lots not so subtle – to punch up the jokes. The humor ran the gamut from salacious double entendres to insidery theater jokes to scatological barbs to crazy circular ramblings to groan-worthy stretching of rhymes (“my-valve”?) to some gags that almost bordered on sophistication.

Henley Street did a great service to the script with its staging at CenterStage. Margarette Joyner’s costumes were sumptuous, Seamus Bourne’s set was appropriately stately, and Andrew Bonniwell’s lights were nicely done, particularly as they subtly shifted in intensity during certain key scenes. Mr. Ricks’ attention to detail is impressive; as John Porter also mentioned, I loved hearing songs like Bowie’s “Changes” interpreted by string quartet during intermission.

Given all of that, the one moment that stretched my suspension of disbelief was easily forgotten. There are only 2 more chances to see this great production so I’d strongly suggest making room for it in the coming weekend. In fact, a double-header of “Always...Patsy Cline” and “The Liar” would be a great way to celebrate the closing weekend for both productions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


This week is Style’s Music issue, which I urge you to check out. Just like non-theater people are always surprised when I talk about how much theater is happening in Richmond, I am always kind of amazed when I get a glimpse of how much music there is to enjoy here in our little burg.

There are, of course, a lot of cross-currents between the theatrical and musical worlds here in town. Three artists who I know mostly as stage actresses will be again bringing their “Three Divas” act to the stage at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen next week. If you got a taste of their fabulousness at the RTCC awards last October, imagine how great a whole evening of them will be. (Also, if you haven’t seen it, don’t miss your last opportunities to see Debra in “Always...Patsy Cline,” closing this weekend.)

These aren’t the only local actors who regularly make waves as singers. One of Richmond’s favorite sons, Jason Mraz, has been popping up in national media lately promoting his new album and tour. Facebook was abuzz a few days ago when word got out that Zak Resnick, who last year got a smidge of airtime on American Idol, was cast in Mama Mia on Broadway (read this amusing story from Christine Walters related to Mr. Resnick). I’ve also enjoyed seeing Richmond stage vet, Angie Atkinson (formerly Shipley), start to gain some recognition as a singer while plying the club scene in NYC (see some of her videos here).

My current personal obsession is The Civil Wars, and not just because they have a song on the Hunger Games soundtrack. I only saw them for the first time last night on Jimmy Kimmel and am kind of staggered by how powerful just two voices and a guitar can be.

And speaking of music, we’re coming into a bit of a local musical season, with Seussical opening next weekend, followed in quick succession by Dessa Rose and The Musical of Musicals. Seems like it’s going to be a tuneful spring.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I just put this together: both Firehouse's next production, "Dessa Rose," and the blockbuster superhero movie, "The Avengers," open on May 4th. Coincidental timing or canny counter-programming? You be the judge...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Cleaning

It’s spring cleaning time at my house. While I haven’t been scorching the earth exactly, it has been a pretty intense process. (This turn of phrase used solely to sneak in a link to the review of “Scorched Earth” from the T-D this weekend. With this much talent in the cast, how can you NOT see this production? And speaking of you-gotta-see-it productions, I keep hearing fabulous things about “The Liar,” the GayRVA review echoing sentiments repeated by patrons and critics alike since the show’s opening.)

One of the most entertaining moments of the seasonal purging process for me was to come across an old box of materials from when I started out as a reviewer. It was from back in the day when everything was actually printed and not done via internet and email. I ended up dumping a lot of stuff into the recycling but there were several items I couldn’t bear to get rid of. Among these are:

  • A program from the Theatre Gym production of “How I Learned to Drive” in 1998. It was the production where Jill Bari Steinberg first blew me away and where I first saw Gordon Bass do something besides act in a kid’s show. Cool artifacts from the program: Steven Koehler was the lighting designer before heading off to greener pastures and the stage manager was Wendy Gentile, back in her pre-Vandergrift days.

  • A program from “Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop,” the Scott Wichmann tour de force, with the cool skewed-perspective cover picture of a hoodie-wearing Scott. Marcel Marceau gets a shout out as part of the credits.

  • The simple one-page program from The Experiential Company’s production of “The Sea Gull,” the production that, in tandem with Experiential’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” introduced an amazing Erin Thomas to the local scene. The production was staged at the Windy River Winery at in Beaverdam. I loved going out to those shows.

  • A program from “Cry Out!” a one-man show developed by my old friend Jesse Rabinowitz for the Shard Live Performance Collective. I couldn’t help but think back to Shard when Stage B emerged recently. Two scrappy young companies, idealistic and innovative. Shard moved on and it’s seeming like Stage B has as well.

These are artifacts from what I still consider a golden age in local theater, mostly because I was being introduced to actors whose work I would continue to love for years. It’s impossible to forget first glimpses of stupendous talent like Steinberg’s, Wichmann’s and Thomas’s. Luckily, fresh and exciting new actors are always popping up, like the blossoming of Matthew Mitchell from an ensemble player to a certifiable star in shows like “The Liar.”

And seasoned actors can still deliver surprises; Steinberg’s was different kinds of stunning in “Judas Iscariot” last season and then in “Kimberly Akimbo” last winter. I also hear she’s making quite an impression in “Scorched Earth.” Spring cleaning has opened up space in my closets and my attic but hasn’t put a dent in the delightful bits of clutter in my memory.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


At least one person caught on to my ruse yesterday, that I was posting a version of The Liar’s Paradox. The first line of the post was a lie – “One of the lines in the following posts is a lie” – but simultaneously not a lie. Seemed like a fitting tribute to Henley Street’s latest production, which by the way received a rave from Style’s Rich Griset this week to match the one in the T-D.

There is also another preview of “Scorched Earth” in this week’s Style. You can’t hardly look anywhere (in Richmond print media, at least) without seeing something about this show. Which is a good thing since Barksdale is clearly rolling the dice with this one, it being a world premiere and all, not to mention a big, meaty drama with a big cast. I was always told in marketing that you had to get someone to see a mention of something new or unfamiliar at least 5 times for it to register in their memory. This piece in Style (or the one in the T-D or the one in Richmond magazine…) may be the mention that pushes the show out of the subconscious into their conscious, ticket-buying mind. I guess we’ll see.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


One of the statements in this blog post is a lie. Can you figure out which one?

* Henley Street’s latest production, “The Liar,” has received rave reviews so far.

* The RTCC website, which has been down recently, is back up and has a load of pictures from the 2011 awards event that you probably have not seen.

* As “Titanic 3D” was opening in theaters, a national tour of “Titanic: The Musical” was finalizing its cast.

* New York theater is being overrun by sports-related shows.

* A new Richmond-area theater-related blog has emerged.

* Numerous famous people are planning unlikely new stage productions: David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads; Kevin Smith, director of “Clerks,” etc.; and Oscar winning actor Robert De Niro.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

More on Kids

I went to a really small high school; my graduating class was only 27 people. With such a small school, a lot of the dynamics that get talked about in all of the classic high school movies didn’t play out in the same way, or maybe without the same intensity, as they seem to in other schools. Of course, I also loved my high school for the most part after a pretty wretched middle school experience so maybe someone who went there and didn’t love it so much would have a different perspective.

Anyway, perhaps this background is one of the reasons I’m fascinated by high school stories. I’ve been a “Glee” fan since the beginning; I was still curious about the “High School Musical” series long after most adults had tired of it (if it registered for most adults at all...); and my remembered affection for “Breakfast Club” made me show the movie to my children a couple of years ago, before it was appropriate for any of them to see.

So I went into RTP’s “Stupid Kids” (my review's in Style this week) with a backlog of affection for the genre and, when the first vivid scene pulsed to life, I was pretty much hooked. Music was essential to setting the context and Jason Campbell picked out some exceptional songs to instantly transport me back to those weird and wonderful mid-80s. (I know that the script suggests certain songs for the “Music Video” interludes but I don’t know whether Mr. Campbell took all of the suggestions.)

The main thing that distinguishes this show from all of the other stories that mine the high school experience for its often easily-obtained pathos is the inclusion of two gay characters. As someone points out in the “Out and About” interview with the cast, when you list the high school cliche characters, the “gay kid” isn’t always included. And the two in this show are well-drawn and then vividly realized by Kerry McGee and Joe Winters. Among my few quibbles with the production are that both of these actors are too good-looking for me to really believe they are outcasts, regardless of sexual orientation. But that’s only a slight suspension of disbelief and one that is quickly forgotten as these two actors expertly portray their particular flavor of tortured relationship. Perhaps my only other quibble is that I think a character calling himself “Nietzche” and then worrying about the spelling is just kind of ridiculous (and why not “Neechuh” for the alternate pronunciation?)

Alexander Gerber didn’t initially impress me as Jim but, as he provides glimpses beyond Jim’s tough exterior to show his desire to fit in and the humiliation he allows to befall him, Gerber’s portrayal really soars. And Courtney McCotter’s Judy is fantastic. As someone who has more exposure to teenage girls than is probably healthy thanks to my two daughters, I think McCotter does a great job of capturing the maelstrom of emotions that someone who lives and breathes a particular social scene weathers.

Among the things I really appreciate about the show is the revelation that Kimberly makes in the second act that the objects of their affection are not really worth the depth of their feelings. While that’s particularly true regarding the characters in the show, isn’t that kind of the truth about just about every high school relationship? The stakes always seemed so high and only in retrospect do you realize that your behavior was pretty ridiculous. The use of “tribal” language also brilliantly brings shape to something that is usually a vague high school dynamic. There usually is a tribal energy at play, even if no one’s running through the woods in grass skirts or skewering each other with spears.

The wanton use of “bad language” was also refreshing but, if you come out of the show feeling a little barraged by all of the swearing, drug use and sex, the Mill is offering a counterpoint in “Church Basement Ladies” (reviewed in this week’s Style). I’d recommend using one as a salve for the other; see them both in a weekend and you’ll come out perfectly balanced!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Out and About

I only find out about anything long after others know about it. After I’d finished writing my review of “Stupid Kids,” I went out into the Interwebs to find out more about the show and quickly came across the “Out and About” video interview with the cast. I quickly found myself scrolling back through many of the interview host Eric Russell has done with previous show casts, including the recent productions “Next Fall” and “Lord of the Flies.” (You can subscribe to the series on YouTube here.)

Since my dream of a local theater podcast isn’t making itself come true, I found both solace and inspiration in these interviews, each of which was an enlightening introduction to the show. I particularly enjoyed the dynamics between the “Stupid Kids” cast, each member being very clearly a pretty darn smart kid.

As for my review of the show, it should be in this week’s Style (short preview: the 80s and high school are two of my favorite subjects so I think it was highly improbable I would dislike this show. But the RTP production exceeded my expectations). Until that comes out, you can read all of the recent T-D theater coverage, including Ms. Haubenstock’s review of “Kids,” her review of the Mill’s “Church Basement Ladies,” and a preview with some background on the upcoming “Scorched Earth” at Barksdale.