Thursday, August 30, 2012


Thank you to the readers who have pointed out typos in the list of RTCC award nominees. Somewhere along the line "Ridge" got left out of "Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas." And the spelling of designer Kate Parthemos reflected the incorrect spelling that was in the program for "Picasso at the Lapin Agile." Thanks again!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How the Sausage is Made

Every year we’ve done the RTCC awards – hard to believe this’ll be the 5th time – I’ve received several questions about how we come up with our selections, both for nominees and then the eventual award recipients. Sometimes these questions are posed out of what seems like genuine curiosity, other times they’re posed more pointedly, usually with the prefix, “How could you not nominate…” Every year, I concede – when I don’t preemptively assert – that the process is not perfect. But every year, I think it gets better.

The nomination process is relatively simple. Each critic submits a list of three recommended nominees in each category. The 5 performances, productions or designers that get the most mentions are our nominees.

Of course, it really isn’t quite that simple. Many times, a critic can’t limit him/herself to only 3 choices; more rarely, a critic only has 1 or 2 choices they consider worthy in a certain category. Also, when the tallies are completed, often there are numerous choices that are tied with an equal number of mentions. I remember one year going into a meeting with 14 possible nominees being considered in one category. In situations like that, debate ensues. Often, a passionate argument by a single critic can swing a decision but most often, it is the consensus among many or all of us that determines the final decision. In some cases, discussion does not convince anyone to change their preferences. We sometimes will defer a decision if we can to allow people to ruminate further but that doesn’t always result in any changes either. This kind of circumstance has resulted in times in the past when we’ve had more than 5 nominees for a category.

There are inherent problems with the process that we’ve done our best to address. One is that not every critic sees every single show. We’ve dealt with this both pro-actively and reactively. Pro-active: if any of us critics sees a show that we think has particularly award-worthy stuff in it, we make a point to communicate that to the others in the circle so we can all do our best to see it. Reactive: we all respect each other’s opinion so that we accept each other’s evaluation of productions we didn’t see, at least to the extent that if someone makes a passionate argument with specific and pertinent information, we give it significant credence.

Also, the number of members in the Circle has grown to the extent that virtually every professional production in town is seen by at least 2 of its members allowing almost every production to be debated over and not just advocated for or against by a single member.

I’ve also heard the assertion that productions that play earlier in the season are at a disadvantage over those that open later. This is something that is said about any awards process: there are reasons why a slew of Broadway shows tend to open in April. We have tried to deal with that to some extent by having a mid-season review meeting (usually around February) where we consider the season so far and make a preliminary list of possible contenders for award nominations. This list is a starting point for the final nomination process ensuring that significant fall shows are not just dim memories come summertime.

Having said all of that, the final process is always bittersweet for me. I love it that many artists in town will get a boost of recognition from being nominated. I’m also a little torn up inside when some show or performance that I particularly enjoyed and maybe even advocated for with my colleagues ends up 6th or 7th or 8th on the list. This year was a rough one for plays in particular where at least a dozen deserving people did not show up among the final nominees. I look at just one play – “August: Osage County” – where 4 performances were nominated but at least 3 others were under consideration. Rest assured that it was not the only play where excellent work did not make it on our nomination list.

I’m sure people are frustrated, saddened or angered by that and I’m sorry for that. But I continue to see the awards as a celebration of ALL of the great work done in town. Whether it is recognized specifically or acknowledged generally, I think incredible things happen on Richmond-area stages and, that in many ways, the work here just keeps getting better. I hope you’ll join me on October 14th to celebrate it all.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 RTCC Award Nominees

For Immediate Release

Theater awards to celebrate Children and the Arts
5th annual “Artsies” brings local celebs to the November Theatre on October 14

Richmond, VA – Echoing the theme of this year’s Minds Wide Open celebration, the Fifth Annual Richmond Theatre Critics Circle (RTCC) Awards will celebrate “Children and the Arts” with a special performance by students from the School for the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC) and special recognition of SPARC’s founder, Jeri Culter-Voltz. The RTCC event – also known as “the Artsies” – will recognize excellence in locally produced professional theater during the 2011-12 season at a black-tie awards gala to be held at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 14 at the newly refurbished November Theatre downtown.

“Jeri’s legacy lives on in the exceptional talent of these kids,” says David Timberline, a theatre critic for Style Weekly magazine and chair of the “Artsies” gala. “With their appearance, plus the usual exciting performances by Best Musical nominees, it’s clear that this event just gets better and better.” Master of Ceremonies for the event will be WRIC news anchor Juan Conde.

“I’m particularly excited about the wide range of presenters for this year’s gala,” says Timberline. “Everybody from VMFA director Alex Nyerges to Nutzy the Squirrel will present awards.” Timberline’s son, R. Cooper Timberline, a former SPARC student who will be appearing as young Clark Kent in next year’s Superman reboot, “Man of Steel,” will also be a presenter.

Two special awards have already been announced in addition to Cutler-Voltz’s recognition as recipient of this year’s Liz Marks Memorial Award for Ongoing Contribution to Richmond Area Theater (Cutler-Voltz died in 1998). Kevin Inouye will receive an award for Outstanding Achievement in Fight Choreography for his work on Richmond Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and director Tom Width from Swift Creek Mill Theatre will be recognized for Outstanding Achievement in Stage Magic for a career of inventive integration of magic into his productions.

Gala attendees will be allowed to vote on a “People’s Choice” award for Best Production of the Year, their votes entering them in a drawing for a prize package including a night at the luxury bed-and-breakfast Maury Place on Monument, dinner at the Franklin Inn, tickets to a show at Richmond Triangle Players, and two sessions at Massages by Kiara.

All proceeds from the awards ceremony will go to the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund established to help those in the Richmond theatre community who fall on hard of times due to illness, injury, or extenuating circumstances. In addition to Timberline, members of the RTCC are Rich Griset (Style Weekly magazine), Susan Haubenstock (Richmond Times-Dispatch), Liz Jewett (, Julinda Lewis (Richmond Times-Dispatch), Matthew Miller ( Times-Dispatch), John Porter (WCVE-FM), and Joan Tupponce (One Woman’s View). Jen Maciulewicz ( has been added as a provisional member.

Formal attire is encouraged for the awards ceremony, which is open to the public. Tickets for the event are $15 and can be purchased from the Virginia Repertory box office by calling 282-2620.

This year’s nominations are listed below.

Best Musical
Dessa Rose, Richmond CenterStage / Firehouse Theatre Project
The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!), Richmond Triangle Players
My Fair Lady, Virginia Repertory Theatre
The Rocky Horror Show, Firehouse Theatre Project
Spring Awakening, Virginia Repertory Theatre

Best Direction - Musical
Chase Kniffen, Seussical the Musical (Virginia Repertory Theatre)
Chase Kniffen, Spring Awakening
Bruce Miller, My Fair Lady
Steve Perigard, A Year with Frog and Toad (Virginia Repertory Theatre)
Jase Smith, The Rocky Horror Show

Best Actor - Musical
Oliver Houser, Spring Awakening
Joe Inscoe, My Fair Lady
John Mincks, Spring Awakening
Fernando Rivadeneira, Musical of Musicals
Terence Sullivan, The Rocky Horror Show

Best Actress - Musical
Stacey Cabaj, My Fair Lady
Desiree Roots Centeio, Dessa Rose
Jacquie O'Connor, Musical of Musicals
Ali Thibodeau, Spring Awakening
Debra Wagoner, Always...Patsy Cline (Virginia Repertory Theatre)

Best Supporting Actor - Musical
Nick Aliff, The Rocky Horror Show
Richard Chan, Spring Awakening
Ben Houghton, My Fair Lady
Jason Marks, My Fair Lady
Durron Tyre, Dessa Rose

Best Supporting Actress - Musical
Christie Jackson, Spring Awakening
Lauren Leinhaas-Cook, My Fair Lady
Terri Moore, Always...Patsy Cline
Susan Sanford, Seussical
Susan Sanford, Spring Awakening

Best Musical Direction
Sandy Dacus, Spring Awakening
Paul Deiss, A Year with Frog and Toad
Kim Fox, Musical of Musicals
Leilani Giles, The Rocky Horror Show
Ben Houghton, My Fair Lady

Best Choreography
Starrene Foster, Spring Awakening
Maggie Marlin, The Rocky Horror Show
Leslie Owens-Harrington, My Fair Lady

Best Play
August: Osage County, Cadence Theatre / Virginia Repertory Theatre
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Firehouse Theatre Project
Kimberly Akimbo, Cadence Theatre / Virginia Repertory Theatre
The Liar, Henley Street Theatre
The Tragedy of Macbeth, Richmond Shakespeare

Best Direction – Play
Anna Johnson, Kimberly Akimbo
Steve Perigard, Scorched Earth (Virginia Repertory Theatre)
Jan Powell, Macbeth
Rusty Wilson, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Keri Wormald, August: Osage County

Best Actor – Play
Ryan Bechard, Macbeth
KeiLyn Jones, Yellowman (Henley Street Theatre)
Matthew Mitchell, The Liar
Chris O'Neill, Next Fall (Richmond Triangle Players)
Alan Sader, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Best Actress – Play
Katrinah Carol Lewis, You Don't Know Me (Firehouse Theatre Project)
Melissa Johnston Price, August: Osage County
Laine Satterfield, Cat on Hot Tin Roof
Zoe V. Speas, Macbeth
Irene Ziegler, Kimberly Akimbo

Best Supporting Actor – Play
Richard Koch, Kimberly Akimbo
Andrew Mitakides, Macbeth
Matthew Mitchell, Kimberly Akimbo
Matthew Mitchell, Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music (Virginia Rep)
Adrian Rieder, In the Next Room or the vibrator play (Cadence Theatre / Virginia Rep)

Best Supporting Actress – Play
Lorri Lindberg, Suddenly, Last Summer (Richmond Triangle Players)
Katie McCall, August: Osage County
Carolyn Meade, August: Osage County
Jill Bari Steinberg, Kimberly Akimbo
Jody Smith Strickler, August: Osage County

The Ernie McClintock Best Ensemble Award
God of Carnage, Virginia Repertory Theatre
The Liar, Henley Street Theatre
The Musical of Musicals, Richmond Triangle Players
Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Sycamore Rouge
Stupid Kids, Richmond Triangle Players

Best Locally-Developed New Work
Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, Virginia Repertory Theatre
Brew, Stage B Theatre Company
Joe Jackson's Night & Day, Richmond Triangle Players
Scorched Earth, Virginia Repertory Theatre
Trojans, TheatreLAB

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design
Maura Lynch Cravey, Blithe Spirit (Swift Creek Mill Theatre)
Sue Griffin, My Fair Lady
Kate Parthemos, Picasso at the Lapin Agile
Terry Snyder, A Year with Frog and Toad
Holly Sullivan, The Rocky Horror Show

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design
Andrew Bonniwell, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Joe Doran & Andrew Bonniwell, Lord of the Flies (Henley Street)
Joe Doran, The 39 Steps (Swift Creek Mill Theatre)
Lynne Hartman, Spring Awakening
Michael Jarrett, Musical of Musicals

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design
Brian Barker, In the Next Room
Brian Barker, Spring Awakening
Phil Hayes, August: Osage County
Terrie Powers, Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music
Mercedes Schaum, A Year with Frog and Toad

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design
Buddy Bishop, Home Fires (Chamberlayne Actors Theatre)
Paul Deiss, The 39 Steps
Paul Deiss, It's A Wonderful Life (Swift Creek Mill Theatre)
James Ricks, Lord of the Flies
Jesse Senechal, Kimberly Akimbo

Outstanding Achievement in Fight Choreography
Kevin Inouye, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Outstanding Achievement in Stage Magic
Tom Width (numerous productions)

Liz Marks Memorial Award for Ongoing Contribution to Richmond Area Theater
Jeri Cutler-Voltz

Thoughts and Prayers for Kathy

According to Facebook, Kathy Halenda, a Richmond favorite who was awarded a Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award last year for her amazing work in "White Christmas," was airlifted to a hospital in North Carolina yesterday. She is suffering from a brain aneurysm but is currently in stable condition (as of yesterday evening). Please keep Kathy in your thoughts and prayers today and in the days coming up. Later today, the nominees for this year's RTCC awards will be posted, something I will do as a celebration of the great theater community here in Richmond of which Kathy is a beloved member.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On

I’ve added a new blog to the roll over there on the right. I just discovered today that now-local fight choreographer Kevin Inouye, who did such amazing things in ‘Macbeth’ earlier this year, has a blog focusing on his specialty. You might check it out if that’s a corner of the theatrical world you are particularly interested in.

I’ve been mulling over Cadence Theatre’s “In the Next Room or the vibrator play” over the past week. One kudo to offer right off the bat is that I like a play that makes you ponder things and “In the Next Room” certainly does that. What I’ve been trying to get at is why I didn’t like the show as much as I think I should have. The production is beautiful: Elizabeth Weiss Hopper’s costumes are lovely (though I do see Mr. Miller’s point made in the T-D review that it’s a bit odd that they don’t change across multiple scenes) and the set by Brian Barker is another marvelous example of Cadence’s ability to squeeze the most out of the small Theatre Gym space. I won’t ruin anything for anybody who hasn’t seen it but there is a pretty spectacular technical surprise in the show that Rusty Wilson’s production pulls off beautifully.

The actors do a uniformly great job, with special mention demanded for Adrian Rieder as Leo who injects an invigorating bluster of energy to the second act and for Laine Satterfield who fully inhabits the mixed up bundle of emotions and impulses that make up Mrs. Daldry. Stephanie Hill and Lauren Leinhaas-Cook are both quietly powerful in their smaller roles, Leinhaas-Cook just downright devastating at the end. I liked both Larry Cook and Maura Burroughs as the couple at the center of the action – Cook resolute and endearingly confused while Burroughs is alternately focused and flighty – though I liked them better in their separate scenes than I did as a couple, one of those indefinable chemistry things perhaps. Andrew Boothby does his usual rock-steady job as the frustrated Mr. Daldry; I’d really wish someone would give him a lead, though; his more flamboyant work in “My Fair Lady” earlier this season provided just a hint of what he can do.

As far as the show goes, I have to admire Sarah Ruhl for going for some depth after a starting point that could have been just a series of vibrator-related jokes. But as charged (ha!) as the ending is between the Givings, it doesn’t quite bring the story home as well as I wish it could have. I didn’t have a clear idea of how the progress made in her relationship with her husband really addressed Mrs. Givings’ feelings of inadequacy and loneliness that are the focus of most of the play. The breakthrough seemed to me to be mostly a sexual one – that’s how it plays out, at least – but if that’s what it is, there are some dots that need to be connected to get to the emotional breakthrough. And given the subverted sexual context of the show, the breakthrough at the end isn’t quite sexual enough in my opinion, at least as far as Mrs. Givings goes. I find myself wondering if I would have left the show more satisfied (ha!) if the show had ended with Mrs. Givings in the throes of orgasm, signaling a different kind of breakthrough for the couple.

That’s a whole lot of intellectualizing about some of the deeper stuff but, perhaps more pointedly, I realize that on some level I had a hard time suspending disbelief as far as the categorical cluelessness about female sexual response dramatized in the play. Maybe that’s the way it was; it wouldn’t be the only historical reality that seems flabbergasting today. But part of the dissonance for me is that, if both men and women were so completely ignorant, it’s actually deeply sad to think of generations of women living under those kind of misperceptions, which particularly in retrospect, takes some of the hilarity out of the very-funny-in-the-moment “therapy sessions” the good doctor (and occasionally his nurse) administer.

Where I admire this show most – and the production as well – is in the secondary relationships. There are two very well-orchestrated and finely-attenuated reveals in the second act, both are bittersweet in their own way but also feel touching and real under Wilson’s direction. Ironically for a play that had great amounts of humor in it, it delighted me most when it made me sad. This may be the show in Cadence’s 2011-12 season that I enjoyed the least but that’s only because the company’s earlier offerings were in most all ways incredible. Regardless of any faults I perceived, “In the Next Room” is a beautifully staged, skillfully acted slice of Victorian life that will definitely make you laugh and, if you’re anything like me, leave you with some niggling little questions that will bounce around your head looking for an answer. Theater that makes you think as well as laugh? Not such a bad thing.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Critical Conversations

Last week was a fabulous rarity in my recent history: I saw three different productions in a single week. After “All Fall Down” at the Shop, “Joe Jackson’s Night and Day” at Triangle Players, I dragged a pal to “In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play” that Cadence opened on Friday. It’s hard to believe that, in the years before the number of kids in my house doubled from 2 to 4, I actually used to do that kind of thing fairly regularly. Dang, those were the days.

I’ll write up my thoughts on “Next Room” sometime soon (Mr. Miller voices a mixed opinion of the production in the T-D review from Sunday) but I’ve been pretty preoccupied with a couple of fascinating conversations I’ve been having. One is on Facebook about criticism in general and in Richmond specifically thanks to the posting of this article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. The other is an exchange I’ve had with Andrew Hamm about JJND that started in this space and continued over on Andrew’s blog.
I really relish these kinds of conversations. So often, criticism is a one-way street. I see a show and offer my opinion – either in print or on this blog – and that’s where the conversation ends. Sure, the occasional hot-button topic – texting! – will generate some back-n-forth but the kinds of issues that local theater professionals deal with every day don’t generate much interest, or at least don’t seem to. Or maybe theater professionals just want to talk to others in the biz about them and don’t really care to share their thoughts here. Understandable but disappointing to me.

So I’ve been eating up thoughts offered by Mr. Hamm, Adrian Rieder and ‘Rick Gray in these convos. And I hope to be able to contribute more myself soon. But others should feel free to join in. The more the merrier, yes?

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Night of Night and Day

It’s not unusual for me to leave a production I’ve enjoyed with a bit of a crush. That’s part of the joy of plays, movies, TV, even dance in my opinion: someone you see grabs your eye and something they do captures your heart. Even though I’m a straight guy, my crushes aren’t always young women: I left “All Fall Down” on Monday with a little crush on Matt Shofner, both times at “Spring Awakening” I was enamored with the couple of Wendla and Melchior as played by Ali Thibodeau and Oliver Houser.

I took in Joe Jackson’s Night and Day at Richmond Triangle Players last night and came away with a new infatuation with Rebecca Muhleman, one of five very talented singers that populate Andrew Hamm’s world premiere brainchild. Whether standing stridently at center stage or bopping around seemingly overcome with love of the music, Ms. Muhleman is an electric presence in this so-called concert musical. Her shock of white blond hair, dramatic eyes, and imposing physicality are complemented by an expressive voice that adds all sorts of nuance to familiar JJ songs like “Dear Mom” and especially “Breaking Us in Two.” Her energy bubbled up and overflowed at different times, making her the engine that powered the action through much of the show.

That’s not to say she was the only shining star on the Triangle Players stage. All of the other singers – Augustin Correro, Keydron Dunn, Anne Carr Regan, Liz Blake White and Mr. Hamm himself – all had moments of star power in this production. I was most entertained by Dunn, particularly in his second act rant, “Cancer.” I was enthralled by White in the pensive “Why,” while also loving her great duets with Correro in “Real Men” and “Glamour and Pain.” Regan steps to the fore in “Love Got Lost,” a strong song that she infuses with passion.

It’s hard to know what exactly to call JJND – I guess concert musical makes sense, though the thread of something like a story here is not even as strong as other pretty loose concert musicals like “The Who’s Tommy” or Green Day’s “American Idiot.” I like the general premise – the “songwriter” played by Hamm seems to be imagining the characters in his songs, mostly people from the streets of New York, each with their specific quirks and vocations – White is a prostitute, Dunn a homeless guy, Correro an art student perhaps with maybe a night-time propensity for cross-dressing. As he writes their songs, he apparently wills them into being and we see their stories play out before us. Particularly with some of Jackson’s more compelling songs – faves like “Chinatown” or “Another World” – it’s easy to imagine the swirl of street life, the bustle of New York and the inherent drama of life there.

A few things hamper the show as conceptualized, in my opinion. One is that most of the characters aren’t give through-lines – Regan plays a NYC tourist but then reappears as a character otherwise undefined. You can kind of develop a full-fledged character for Correro but it’s not inherent in the material and it’s a bit of a drag to have to second-guess what the intention is. The other thing is that there isn’t really enough connective tissue to make the stories all work together. For instance, the songwriter and his relationship with his girlfriend (Muhleman) is encapsulated solely within “Breaking Us in Two,” a great song but not as complete as say Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” in terms of background, conflict and conclusion. I loved the scene but it didn’t make for a complete theatrical trajectory. The finale is ultimately a self-centered one: the songwriter finally gets his one problematic song to work – “Steppin Out” – which makes for a rousing conclusion but again, not quite a dramatically satisfying one in terms of incorporating any of the other stories.

Finally, there seems to be a certain urge toward completism that doesn’t necessarily serve the show. “T.V. Age” is a fine song and I loved the closed circuit broadcast accompaniment (could that coquettish little scamp be Annella Kaine???) but I didn’t see how it fit in this show with these characters. I understand the show spans two of Joe Jackson’s album but it’s somewhat arbitrary from a dramatic standpoint that all of the songs had to be included.

Still, if your expectations are set appropriately – a hot evening of cool songs performed by a kickin’ band – the performance is not lacking for anything. The addition of strings in the form of violin (played by Seamus Guy) and cello (Michael Knowles) is inspired and really raises the musicality to another level. I agree completely with John Porter that the percussion is often overwhelming and could stand to be scaled back, even though I loved the licks Adam Young was pulling on the drums and Jake Allard’s percussion – whether on congas or plastic drum – was energizing.

Probably most of all, Hamm’s perseverance in getting this world premiere up and running, then going the distance in delivering a thoroughly entertaining evening of music, deserves to be roundly applauded. The concept is inspired and the performances he and codirector Stacie Rearden Hall get out of their cast are fabulous. Richmond is lucky to have talented people like Hamm pushing the creative envelope, not to mention giving an old guy like me the chance to relive the joy of discovery of Joe Jackson’s stirring and sophisticated song-craft. Bravo, Andrew!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Speaking of new work…

It’s a truism that one of the great things about theater is that it is largely created right in front of you. Sure, there are costumes and sets and effects and such but the immediacy of all of the elements interacting in real time – no post-production to clean up the rough spots – is a special kind of magic.

That magic moves to a higher level when those interactions are in development, adding the spontaneity of something like improv to the stage alchemy. That’s what you find at an event like the staging of “All Fall Down” by TheatreLAB at the Shop. I took in the performance of this in-development musical last night and had a great time (there is one more showing tonight).

The musical with music and lyrics by Selda Sahin and book by Greg Turner concerns freshman college student, Ben (played by Matt Shofner), who is by most accounts a perfectly normal teen struggling with the transition into adulthood. But when he inexplicably jumps (falls?) from a 6th-story window (and survives), his emotionally-repressed family is thrown into a tizzy with no roadmap for navigating the aftermath.

I had many questions about show itself, about the choices made with the story and the directions of the characters. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the show’s talk-back to ask them. I think the basic idea of the show is intriguing but the trajectory of the story didn’t quite work for me. It reminded me of a show called “Normal” that Stage 1 did several years ago now that was about a family dealing with an anorexic teen. In my view, three things are needed in a show like this: Insight, anguish, and catharsis. In its current form, I don’t know that the show fully delivers on any of these. (I’m not meaning to be intentionally vague or overly critical but also don’t know how much critical feedback is appropriate for a show at this stage of development.)

But even in a still-rough form, I think the show offers some really nice songs and the production delivers some excellent performances. I was particularly impressed that Ms. Sahin successfully channels the emotions of some pretty divergent characters, particularly the older folks. I was on the verge of devolving into a puddle of tears during the “We Have a Boy” song, not helped at all by the fact that I was seeing the show with my youngest son. Ben’s confusion and longing are captured in several songs and the “There is no drama in my family” theme was a nice tune and very effective framing device.

Russell Rowland and Kim Jones Clark do great work in somewhat thankless roles as Ben’s parents, an Eisenhower era-type dad and a Donna Reed-like mom who aren’t equipped for emotionally processing what’s going on. They were both more entertaining – if sometimes too broad – as Ben’s college roommate and his girlfriend. Robyn O’Neill had a true crowd-pleasing role as Ben’s gramma, a little curmudgeonly but the most emotionally frank (and therefore, emotionally adept) member of the family. Her scene in the car with Ben near the show’s end was my favorite, funny and clear and honest.

As far as Shofner, well, he’s simply delightful and about a dozen other laudatory adjectives. His voice is unwavering strong and lovely and his performance was compelling and engaging. Part of the fun of the night was watching him perform the role but also at times discover the role while in the midst of it. With his slight frame, big eyes and expressive face, Shofner is one of those actors who compel you to watch him when he’s on stage. It really was a joy to see him work.

With “All Fall Down,” director Deejay Gray has pulled together something intriguing and entertaining in a surprisingly short amount of time. There was a solid crowd at the Shop last night and I’m sure the folks there would love a full house tonight. If you are a theater lover, there are few things as exciting as seeing new work emerge. Head down to Manchester tonight and you can watch this genesis continue.

Which is all a nice lead-in to another little RTCC award tidbit: for this year’s awards (happening exactly 2 months from today!), the Critics Circle has revived the “Best Home-Grown Work” category. With new shows ranging from big-budget, high-profile extravaganzas like “Scorched Earth” to little funky fun shows like “Brew” by Stage B, how could we not recognize all the exciting developments going on in town?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Raffle Package

The RTCC awards will be happening in just over two months (Sunday, Oct. 14 to be exact). Just like last year, we will be doing a raffle-based vote for the People’s Choice award. We may augment the prize package before the night of the event but, at the very least, you will have the chance to win:

 A night’s stay at the lovely luxury bed and breakfast, Maury Place, located on Monument Avenue.

 Dinner at the nearby Franklin Inn.

 Tickets for 4 to Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “Howard Crabtree’s Whoop Dee Doo!” – the RTP Altamont location essentially walking distance from the B&B.

 Gift certificates good for two massages by Massages by Kiara in Carytown.

The idea, if you haven’t picked up on it, is to enjoy a fantastic expense-free night on the town, get a good rubdown to relax you, enjoy a fulfilling meal, take in an entertaining show and then retire to a lovely B&B for a good night’s sleep, capping it off with a great home-made breakfast the next morning. This sounds awesome to me and I’ll be voting a good many times in an attempt to take this prize home!

More fun preview info on the Artsies to come…

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


Like millions of people around the globe, I’ve been relatively transfixed by the drama of the Olympics. In addition to the inherent excitement of the competitions, there are the tangential dramas that erupt that turn sporting events into a sort of international theater. I watched the American women’s soccer team beat Canada, and while elated and amazed at the literally last-minute victory after more than 2 hours of play, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for the Canadians who really seemed to get a raw deal. And then the up-and-down drama of Aly Raisman’s balance beam event, barely losing out for the bronze, then the hurried enquiry, the score change and the tie that wasn’t really a tie that resulted in her getting the medal. And this just days after she finished 4th after a similar tie. It makes you a bit breathless.

I’ve been sucked into Olympic fervor largely because I’ve got kids lying around the house who are between camps and spend big chunks of these hot days watching the competitions. As much as I’ve enjoyed getting caught up in their pastime, I was trying to kick them all out of the house yesterday (ok, facilitate their departure) so I could run downtown and catch the last performance of “Trojans.” Alas, they couldn’t get it together before 10 o’clock and I missed the home-grown work that I’ve heard many encouraging things about. Any impromptu critics out there who saw the show willing to weigh in with their thoughts?

The entertainment world was abuzz on Monday with the news of Marvin Hamlisch’s death. What a shame to lose such a talent before he even turned 70. But while the folks at Ghost Light After Party have asked for people to honor Mr. Hamlisch at their next soiree, I hope someone steps up to give at least a quick shout out to a lesser-known talent the theater world also lost on Monday. Mark O’Donnell, best known for co-writing “Hairspray,” died at the age of only 58. I have a particular affection for Mr. O’Donnell because he grew up in Cleveland, just like I did which probably made him uniquely appropriate to tell a tale set in a working-class city like Baltimore. Even though he didn’t write the songs, it would be heartwarming to hear someone belt out “Good Morning Baltimore” in his honor.

I’ve got to start teasing the RTCC awards, so I’ll start with this: though I understand that there are issues with the way it is administered, the People’s Choice award will be back again this year. Which I think is exciting for many reasons, but a big one being that we’ve assembled a prize package to raffle off this year (instead of just one prize), one that I think is pretty cool. More details tomorrow!

Friday, August 03, 2012


In the natural world, seeds planted in the spring time come to fruition for harvest in the fall. In the Richmond theater world, the timing seems shifted a bit: the dog-days of August are when all sorts of intriguing new projects seem to bear fruit.

TheatreLab had the world premiere of their production, “Trojans” earlier this week and it sounds like it’s a perfect pairing with the other production running at the Firehouse right now, “The Rocky Horror Show.” How can you not be intrigued by a show that seems to referring to both ancient Greeks and modern-day contraception? Only two more performances, next Monday and Tuesday.

Even as I write this, the ambitious youngsters at Full Circle Theatre Company are poised to open “From Up Here,” a family drama being given a vital staging by this group of SPARC graduates. FCTC has been very successful at grabbing some good press, with this article in the T-D and a stint on Virginia This Morning. I’ve been hearing about this production for a while and can’t wait to see what has come from all of the hard work that’s gone into it.

And finally, it’s only a week from the opening of “Joe Jackson’s Night and Day,” the world premiere musical montage being developed by Andrew Hamm. In a rare diversion outside his usual all-reviews slate, John Porter recently interviewed the Mr. Hamm and his right-hand woman on the project, Stacie Reardon Hall, for his blog. I’m a long-time fan of Joe Jackson (back to the “Look Sharp!” days) and will be very interested to see how Mr. Hamm has molded Jackson’s songs into a coherent story.

In case you missed it, two of the cast members from “Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music” showed up on Virginia This Morning as well this past week, and Style’s Rich Griset posted a very laudatory review in this week’s Style.

I know I’ve been a little scattergun on ye ole blog lately but that should change soon. I’ve got all sorts of fun things related to the RTCC awards to talk about in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!