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We Need More “Angels in America”

Review by Spenser Smith of Angels in America: NKU Theatre

Angels in America, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tony Kushner, first premiered 25 years ago, yet the current production on stage at NKU reminds us how much of our journey remains.

The story of the play exists during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Prior (Jacob Miller) has just found his first lesion and his partner Louis (Matthew Nassida) is in denial from the start. Louis meets Joe Pitt (Sam Johnson) during one of his many breakdowns in the bathroom at work. Joe is a Salt Lake City Mormon living with his pill-popping wife Harper (Grace Wesson) and they have some demons of their own. Joe is offered the opportunity to work in Washington by big-time attorney Roy Cohn (Alex Slade). Roy is in the middle of a little financial mishap and might need Joe on his side. Prior eventually winds up in the hospital, against his will, but finds comfort in Belize (Isaiah Reaves) who brings along a soothing (and smelly) cream to help heal his wounds.

I am loathe to give away any more of the story, as I believe the beauty comes with experiencing all the trials and tribulations in real time. It’s a shame this story had to have been written from true events but the students on stage in this production should be most proud. It is clear how much time was spent on each individual character and their relationship to others. It’s so rare to see a production that has such a laser-focus on the text. The words are so important. Our words are so important. Congratulations to Michael Hatton and his incredible cast on a story well told.

The technical elements were equally top notch. Set (Ron Shaw) and sound (Terry Powell) elements complimented one another beautifully. The non-specific scenic elements and musical underscoring lent themselves to the idea of universality. Love and loss can be experienced by anyone, anywhere and somehow we are all connected. The ideas behind the choices were wonderful, albeit some scene changes seemed very labored on opening night. Lighting Designer Larry Csernik blends all the different universes and relationships together with beautiful colors and effects.

If this production is not yet on your list of “things to see” in the next ten days, you should call the NKU Box Office at 859-572-5464 and reserve your tickets now.

*On opening night, the roles of Rabbi Chemelwitz/Henry/Hannah Pitt/Ethel Rosenberg were played by NKU professor Corrie Danieley. At all future performances those roles will be played by Ella Rivera,” as stated in the program.

Angels in America continues at the Corbett Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through February 24.

For tickets, call 859-572-5464 or visit theatre.NKU.edu.

Bursts of Narrative: A Review of CCM Acting’s “Love and Information”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Love and Information: CCM Acting

Channel surf your way through your cable options and you will hear bursts of narrative, chunks of stories that sometimes reach a conclusion, but most likely end up:

interrupted

disjointed

or

incomplete.

CCM Acting’s latest main stage production, Love and Information, by Caryl Churchill, takes these bursts of narrative and turns it into a fascinating caravan of theatrical wonder.

Divided into seven sections containing up to ten plays a piece, Churchill’s scope ranges widely:

We get to see teenage girls arguing over who knows more about their teen heartthrob,

time-traveling jazzercisers,

a man who ponders over the reality of irrational numbers,

a woman who uses her dream of blackberries, butterflies, and ballet to justify having an affair with her coworker,

. . .and so much more.

Director Brant Russell curates these plays through careful pacing.

He wisely provides time in between each play for the audience to absorb and comprehend what has happened in one play before going onto the next one.

He also has the names of each play in surtitles, as well as the section number as the piece progresses from one section to another.

This pacing allows the audience to digest and see patterns amongst the plays.

The seven set of plays called “Depression” would have been hard to see as one unit if it was not for the fact that they are labeled as such as they appear within each section.

Russell also provides strong direction to his actors, a cast which numbers twenty-eight, meaning that all the actors get to shine as they present a multifaceted view of the world.

I had seen this show done with a much smaller cast and the larger cast helps flesh out the scope of the world.

Also helpful is the set.

Scenic Designer Matthew D. Hamel created an antiseptic, but powerful set which is divided into four boxes separated by neon lighting that flashes on and off between sections.

Added to this playing area are three areas in front of these sections for a more intimate experience.

Actors come on and off during the blackouts between plays as minimal set pieces are added or taken off stage.

Perhaps my only quibble with the production came with the excessive use of wigs and facial hair.

In order to create the illusion the audience was seeing literally dozens of actors, Hair and Makeup Designer Rin Schwob created different looks for each actor in each play.

I felt a bit distracted by this move, since part of me started playing the guessing game as to which actor was under what wig and/or beard.

Since the actors were not listed in the individual pieces, here is a list of some of the outstanding pieces within the show, in order of appearance.

Secret

Depression

Fan

Irrational

Schizophrenic

Dream

Wedding Video

Dance

Table

Tables

Semaphore

Rash

Birdsong

Sign Language

Chinese Poetry

Manic

Facts

Kudos to all the actors who appeared in these pieces.

This play is not for everyone.  The audience needs stamina because the play runs one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission, which can be overwhelming.

I began feeling narrative fatigue after an hour of continuous narrative.

My brain can handle just so much dramatic channel surfing without wanting to tuning out.

But for the adventurous theatre goer braced with this knowledge, this play is one that will delight, wonder, and amaze.

Love and Information runs February 7-11, 2018 in the Patricia Corbett Theatre.

For more information concerning CCM Acting, visit their website: http://CCM.uc.edu/theatre/drama/productions/current.html

 

 

TMI ;) Too Much Information? — Not at the CCM Production

As I walked into the Patricia Corbett Theatre(PCT) at CCM for preview night of Love and Information I thought I screwed up their electronics system.

There’s a reason you have to turn off your cellphone when you board an airplane.  It interferes with the communications system for the pilots to the control tower and other airplanes. It even happens sometimes when you’re at church – you’ll hear a “beep-beep-beep” or some static-like noise issuing from the speakers because of an electronic signal that’s picked up by a wireless microphone from your text message.

As I entered PCT, this exact “noise” occurred as I walked past their sound control and I was checking my Facebook. I sat down embarrassed that I may have messed up their sound system. I turned my phone off.

It wasn’t my fault. I can honestly say that!

Sound designer Edward Mineishi cleverly worked some magic into a “soundtrack” underscore for the show! This preshow “noise” caught many off guard. But we realized, once the production began, that it was a dizzying premise to get us in the mind-frame of what was to come. It was unnerving to say the least and I thought to myself midway through the show, “I’m so sick of the noise of technology.”

That’s it for spoilers. Because too much information is what is wrong with society right now. And, director Brant Russell has made this production a perfect statement for TMI.

Love and Information is a collection of 57 short, episodic vignettes in which playwright Caryl Churchill uses a series of interaction between mostly unnamed characters to explore knowledge, meaning and how we make sense of information in our lives. While this there isn’t one specific story it’s telling, the script does have several narratives that add up to something larger that reveals how we live and what it means to be human in our society right now.

Most of these scenes are dialogues between two characters, with the exception of a series of one-line scenes titled “Depression,” characters are not repeated from one scene to the next, meaning that the 28 actors are responsible for playing multiple roles.

And, that is the fun!

The presentation of fifty-seven episodes, some very funny and some very poignant, played out through 28 actors and many, many costume, hair and wig changes, is the most fascinating aspect of this production. I can’t begin to imagine what was going through director Brant Russel’s head as he was trying to make sense of all of this. And it does make sense, trust me! Once I got comfortable with the fact that there was no linear storyline, I settled in for a rollicking evening of watching some very, very talented actors and craftspeople at work. As a reviewer you try not to have “favorites.” But there are some of these students that I’ve watched grow through the years (senior Rupert Spraul, fresh off the boards from an amazing performance as Hamlet) and they and their performances in this production showcases their rich gallery of talent.  Each actor made each character come alive in unison to tell a story of the people and events on stage. (Remember they changed 57 scenes!) You’ll see the familiar CCM faces in tour-de-force performances that make you appreciate and love them even more.

And let’s NOT forget the behind-the-scenes folks.  I marveled at the mustaches, beards, necklaces, and wigs, wigs, wigs.  As we’re pulled from one set of lives to another, in mere minutes, it’s amazing to witness the swift and nimble changes that create new characters.  It’s like flipping TV channels and seeing new characters on new shows within minutes. Astonishing work!

The set design, by student Matthew D. Hammel, seems ripped straight from an Apple commercial with a little bit of George Lucas’s THX-1138 thrown in for good measure. It syncs perfectly with the soundtrack.

While it’s a 90-minute run time, there is a bit of a slowdown midway. It’s a chance to catch your breath and get comfortable in your seat again, before you’re whisked away to another moment.  It’s about moments. It’s about love. It’s about information and how much we rely on that information and in some cases it affects how we love, who love, and love ourselves.

For more information (no pun intended) visit the CCM Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/UCCollegeConservatoryofMusic/) or the box office website at http://CCM.uc.edu/boxoffice/mainstage/love-and-information.html, or call 513-556-4183 or online through the CCM e-Box Office at http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?orgid=47789&schedule=list.

You’ll love it!

Incline’s “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” Fashions a Great Ensemble

Review by Laurel Humes of Five Women: Incline Theatre

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress. You guessed it – they are bridesmaids.

The purple and pink dresses are truly awful in Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre’s production; what fun costume designer Caren Brady must have had creating them. The year is 1993, which somewhat excuses the puffed sleeves and floppy hats. The real purpose of the dresses is to provide a running joke throughout the play.

When we catch up with the bridesmaids, the wedding is over and the reception is underway at the home of the bride’s wealthy parents. The entire play is set in the bride’s younger sister’s bedroom, where the women come and go to take breaks from the festivities.

Introductions:

The sister, Meredith (played by Audrey MacNeil), who has lived in her older sister’s perfect shadow her entire life. Just graduated from college, she is at loose ends about what to do next. Her current talents seem to be senseless rebellion and complaining.

Trisha (Talia Noelle Zoll), a sophisticated, sardonic woman who tells the others she looked out at the congregation during the wedding and “thought I’d slept with half the men.”

Georgeanne (Erin Carr), unhappily married and still (incredibly) sexually involved with the cad who got her pregnant years ago.

Frances (Brianna Bernard), who pronounces her values at every opportunity: “I am a Christian, I do not drink.” Until the company she is keeping chips away at her stance.

Mindy (Merritt Beischel), aloof and sarcastically witty. She is a lesbian, but her partner is boycotting the wedding over not being invited to the rehearsal dinner.

The first and second acts of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress are like two different plays. In Act 1, the characters are shallow and self-absorbed, the dialogue all gossip about men and sex. I felt some anger at playwright Alan Ball for creating these caricatures of women, despite the funny lines.

But don’t leave this wedding reception too soon. Act 2 is the payoff.

That’s when the play delves deeper into these women’s pasts and personalities. We get more details of the traumas some have experienced, which leads to a greater understanding of their current behavior.

The themes in Act 2 are more serious – childhood sex abuse, fear of close relationships, society’s demand that women be beautiful. There is still humor: Beischel’s character Mindy does a funny Miss America take-off.

The only man in the show appears late in the second act. He is Tripp, played by Matt Krieg. He and Zoll’s Trisha have a long, well-acted scene that evolves from flirtation to the possibility of a one-night stand to the potential for a real relationship.

Tripp is in the play to remind us that not all men are like the ones who have damaged the women characters we’ve come to know.

There is fine acting by everyone in the Five Women cast, most of whom are making their debut at Incline Theater. The actresses skillfully show us their evolution during the play, the hurt and tears behind the masks of coping they’ve been forced to wear.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress continues through Feb. 11 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to

Falcon’s Masterfully Perfomed “Pillowman” Sure to Keep You Awake

Review by Laurel Humes of The Pillowman: Falcon Theatre

The acting is mesmerizing in Falcon Theatre’s current production of The Pillowman.

Bravo, because in less-skilled hands this dark, gruesome play would be even more difficult to watch.

Playwright Martin McDonagh deals in grim and violent themes, which more people know now through the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which he wrote and directed. He won the Golden Globe for best screenplay, and the film is nominated for several Academy Awards.

Falcon followers also will remember the Newport theatre’s excellent production of McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane just two years ago. It also was directed by Ed Cohen.

The Pillowman does not stray from McDonagh’s overarching message: the horrific things, emotional and physical, that we humans are capable of doing to one another.

The Pillowman is set in a totalitarian police state, place and time unspecified. Katurian, a short story writer, is being interrogated by two police detectives. His stories of child abuse and torture -– several of which we hear — mirror the recent deaths of possibly three children.

If Katurian could write about such ghastly acts, is it because he also performed them? The police are sure the answer is yes, and they are not above torturing their suspect to get a confession.

Katurian’s brother, Michal, also is brought in for questioning. Described only as “slow to get things,” he is apparently developmentally disabled, which makes him more cooperative under questioning.

That is all the plot that can be recounted without giving away the twists and turns that elicited some gasps from the audience; we didn’t see THAT coming. And, we will learn, each character has a reason for his actions.

Rory Sheridan as Katurian carries the show. He’s in every scene. He is both character and acts as narrator, when he retells his stories to us. That plot device by McDonagh is essential to our understanding.

Sheridan’s range is masterful. He is equally believable portraying fear at the hands of his interrogators, love and warmth toward his brother, and then anger and shock as events play out.

Michael A. Monks is the adoring brother, Michal. Monks confidently strides the fine line of portraying a mildly disabled man, never slipping into caricature. He is the center of the late first-act bombshell.

Joe Hornbaker is terrific as Tupolski, the big, genial “good cop” playing off Nathan Tubbs’ “bad cop.” Hornbaker doesn’t seem to act as much as be the character. His dialogue is embellished with gestures, facial expressions and even the naturalistic “ums” and “ahs” that pepper all our speech.

Physically smaller, Tubbs contrasts with Hornbaker in other ways. His character is menacing and violent; he is the first to reach for the torture tools. Tubbs shows his character’s arrogance from his first strides onstage and never lets up.

The Pillowman, first staged in London in 2003 and later on Broadway, won Best Play awards for McDonagh – rightfully so.

The Pillowman runs through Feb. 10 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.

Falcon’s “The Pillowman” Attests to the Power of Stories

Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Pillowman: Falcon Theatre

Once upon a time, in a theatre in Newport, Kentucky, there resided a theatre company who decided to produce a play that was a little bit peculiar. . .

            Now this may sound like a fairy tale, but in Falcon Theatre’s latest outing, stories framed like this appear as the centerpiece of Martin McDonaugh’s play The Pillowman. While this play sounds like a Disney family-friendly play, think again.  The stories contained within The Pillowman are dark, dark as if the Brothers Grimm went emo. The play is so dark that Falcon has the following warning label: “This plays contains graphically violent content.”

In a totalitarian state, fiction writer Katurian (Rory Sheridan) is brought before two police officers on a set of charges that both he and his brother Michal (Michael A. Monks) are accused of supposedly perpetrating. The charges are connected several of the 400 or so stories Katurian has written.  Without divulging too many spoilers, this Kafkaesque premise is played out under threats of torture and certain death by the police officers.

Rory Sheridan’s Katurian really shines when he is interacting with his brother Michal. There is a real chemistry seeing the two brother discuss their situation and it was delightful to watch.  However, Sheridan’s Katurian was not as convincing when he is trying to save his legacy in Act II (Spoiler alert:  You will know what I am talking about once you see the show).  The stakes did not feel high enough for him in those scenes, since they are literally dealing with his life and death. Sheridan is a very capable actor and hopefully this is one part of the play that he will grow into over the course of the production.

As already mentioned, Michael A. Monks’ depiction of Michal was delightful. Monks plays his role as the mentally challenged brother of Katurian with an understated innocence perfect for the part. While only appearing during an extended scene at the end of Act I, he was able to capture the nuances of his relationship with Katurian and his role in the crimes he is accused of in a way that felt authentic.

Police officers Tupolski (Joe Hornbaker) and Ariel (Nathan Tubbs), who integrate Katurian, offset each other nicely.  Hornbaker’s mercurial way of changing his mind is beautifully offset against the hard-edged single-minded Ariel.  Hornbaker plays Tupolski almost like Heath Ledger’s Joker—albeit without the menacing threat of the character. Similarly, Tubbs’ Ariel was a crazy hot-tempered officer who believes in torturing first and asking questions later, but without a menacing aura.

This lack of menace is where I had the most problems with this production. Director Ed Cohen needed to make these police officers more menacing. By defanging them, Cohen gains the ability to highlight the humanity behind these characters, a humanity that would get lost otherwise. However, without that menace, the threats the officers throw at Katurian feel hollow.  Katurian needs to feel like he is in danger every minute of the play and I did not feel that danger coming though during the interrogation as much as it needed to.

Scenic & Lighting Designer Ted Weil created a sparse set of nothing more than a table and chairs which does the job of conveying the stark nature of the interrogation room. In the background, towering above the table and chairs, are large monoliths containing the openings of those Katurian stories which figure prominently in the play.  This is a great reminder of the towering influence they have within the events of the play.

While The Pillowman strikes a few false notes, it is nevertheless worthwhile production.  It made me think about the power of stories and the ways that all writers strive for immortality—and the lengths they are willing to take to reach it.

The Pillowman runs through February 10, 2018, with performances running Thursdays through Saturdays.  For more information on tickets, visit the Falcon Theatre’s website http://falcontheater.net/current-season/pillowman/.

CSC’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” Still As Relevant as Ever

Review by Doug Iden of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Guess who’s coming to the Shakespeare Theater?  Based upon the groundbreaking 1967 movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the play tells the story of the interracial relationship between an esteemed black doctor and the white daughter of liberal parents.  The movie was the first to openly discuss racial relationships, show an interracial kiss and force liberal parents to face the potential hypocrisy of their lifelong beliefs.  On the one hand, the play seems dated but, unfortunately, the show is as germane as today’s headlines.

The entire play takes place in the elegant living/dining room of the Drayton’s home as they prepare for a special luncheon for a chief patron of Christina’s (Annie Fitzpatrick) art gallery.  Matt Drayton (Barry Mulholland), editor of a major liberal newspaper, is antsy to get to work but is reminded by Christina and Cook Tilly Banks (Burgess Byrd) to slow down the work load due to recent health restrictions.  Into the chaos, we are introduced to their daughter, Joanna (played by Caitlin McWethy) who surprises them with her black fiancé Dr. John Prentice (Darnell Pierre Benjamin).  At first, the parents assume that Joanna has a health problem but quickly realize that their daughter is in love with a black man.  Many awkward moments ensue as the Draytons grapple with their liberal racial views while dealing with their immediate reality.  Matt’s justification is that he foresees the difficulties of an interracial marriage but is privately shocked at what is happening. Adding to the tension is the open hostility which Tilly shows towards the doctor whom she assumes is “playing games” and not serious about the relationship.

Joanna, initially, appears to be very naïve, oblivious to the potential difficulties ahead.  McWethy imbues Joanna with the energy of young adult who is both in love and openingly awed by the doctor and his accomplishments.  Later, we discover that Joanna is fully aware of her situation and plans to persevere despite any opposition.

Moreover, there are some other revelations when we discover that Dr. Prentice has not notified his own parents of Joanna’s race and, to the surprise of everyone, Joanna has invited John’s parents to dinner.

The second act is explosive as John’s father, John Sr. (Ken Early) echoes Matt’s views by loudly objecting to the impending nuptials and demands that his son stop his entanglement.  Both sides square off in open hostility.  Friend Monsignor Ryan (Jim Hopkins) is the conscience of the piece as he tries to guide each side into reconciliation, despite spouting platitudes.

The entire cast is excellent as they navigate the emotional roller coaster without appearing to be heavy-handed and still manage to make the play relevant in today’s world.  Kudos to McWethy, Byrd, Benjamin and Mulholland who masterly delivers a second act speech which shows thoughtfulness and sincerity without being preachy and maudlin.  Director D. Lynn Meyers has added life and relevance to an old chestnut.

Shannon Moore’s scenic design shows a quietly elegant household of an upper middle class house including a balcony replete with enough cacti to make a botanical garden happy.  Amanda McGee’s costumes also subtlety point toward prosperous and professional characters.

So, make an appointment for “dinner” at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company theater running through February 17.  Their next presentation is Othello starting March 2.

Amazing Ensemble in CSC’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” Will Move You to Laughter and Tears

Review by Liz Eichler of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Have you ever examined a cherished formal sepia-toned photograph of your grandparents or great-grandparents, and noticed the family resemblance? It could be the shape of the jaw, the crook of the nose, but unmistakably your people. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, now playing at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, is both a tintype and a very modern exploration of struggling with who we are and what we stand for, presented by an amazing ensemble of professional performers, leading us to laughter and tears.

This is a very strong show, but foremost is the facile direction of D. Lynn Meyers and the stellar group she’s assembled to almost flawlessly tell this complicated story. These performers reveal their inner thoughts with just a look, a reaction, with perfect timing, elevating this play to the highest standards, allowing you to empathize with both hearty laughs and tears. In case you missed the 1967 film upon which Todd Kreidler’s play is based, it is the story of a medical student, Joanna (Caitlin McWethy), who comes home from her residency, surprising her parents with a new beau, Dr. John Prentice (Darnell Pierre Benjamin), an older, internationally accomplished but black-skinned doctor. This is the 1960’s. Despite his liberal stance, Joanna’s father, Matt, (Barry Mulholland) a newspaper editor, is taken aback, not only with the surprise of her unannounced homecoming, but with the new relationship, who it is with, and their intention to marry in two weeks.

“Our daughter is exactly the way we brought her up to be,” says mother Mary (Annie Fitzpatrick), as she struggles to find her footing in the situation. This is a momentous day, one which hits many parents, when they realize the dreams and hopes they have for their child clash with the choices that grown child has made for themselves. Both Joanna’s and John’s parents (Ken Early and Thursday Farrar), feel assaulted, “Surprise was my retirement party—this is an ambush,” says John’s father as he objects to the marriage as well, feeling the complications will hamper John’s career. The couple expects the parents to pivot, as if it were just a surface issue, but it’s complicated, and the choices are fight, flight, or acceptance. The couple wants an answer today, but it takes time for a parent’s reality and foresight to be replaced by their child’s powerful dreams and wishes.

There’s also the black and white thing. Tillie (Burgess Byrd), the maid, has her own vocal opinions of the matter, interjecting them for comic relief. You will love Byrd’s performance, but may question the writing. Matt finds a sounding board with his friend, the white-haired philosophical Monsignor Ryan (Jim Hopkins), who ultimately relies on a Beatle’s quote, “We can work it out.” Mary, however, discovers her friend Hilary (hilariously played by Kelly Mengelkoch) has an unseemly reaction to the visitor.

The clothing (Amanda McGee) and hair are lovely and perfectly period. The story is set in a San Francisco home on a hill, with a lovely parlor. Some great details are evident with the props, from bags for the artwork, to the table setting. As CSC is getting used to its new space, and more room on stage, they now have to think about more about front porches, and proportions of wall, window, and trim.

Down the street from Cincinnati Shakespeare is another show, “SuperTrue” at Know Theatre, making its world premiere, also with a theme of “love outside your tribe.” CSC is mounting “Othello” shortly. There is a difference of about 60 years between the two plays currently in Cincinnati, and over 400 years between all three plays whose theme is interracial marriages. With all, it’s not the larger philosophical issues that are the problem, it is the everyday, mundane problems all couples share that are hardest to live through.  Mazel Tov. Welcome to marriage.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” runs through February 17. (“Othello” opens March 2.) www.cincyshakes.com