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Suspense Runs the Show in Falcon Theatre’s Dial M For Murder

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Dial M For Murder: Falcon Theatre

The fate of a woman’s life rests on the location of a latch key.

This crucial plot point comes from Falcon Theatre‘s latest offering Dial M for Murder. While this script dates from the early 1950s, there is more than enough suspense to satisfy modern audiences. The play is set in London and revolves around former tennis player Tony Wendis (Phineas Clark) plotting to kill his heiress wife Margot (Annie Grove), who has been having an on-again off-again affair with the American television crime writer Mark Halliday (Carter Bratton).

Director Bed Raanan captures the spirit of this bygone time, where voices are seldom raised (unless to make a toast with brandy) and passions lie smoldering underneath the civility displayed by each character. Raanan is able to get subtle nuances out of his characters, making them three-dimensional and believable. For a drawing room play with little direct action, Raanan keeps what action is shown by building on events in a way that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.

Kudos to Phineas Clark, who plays the part of Tony. Clark plays the perfect dapper gentleman whose psychopathic tendencies get hidden under his charming demeanor. This role could easily come off as a caricature, but Clark is believable as Tony. The audience gets a sense of the man through the different roles Tony plays as a jilted lover, conniving murderer, “loving” husband, and concerned citizen wanting to help the police any way that he can.

Clark is matched by the strong performances given by Annie Grove (Margot) and Carter Bratton (Max) as the romantically-interested pair. Grove shows a full range of emotion, from delight to hysteria to desperation. Bratton also plays a strong role as her love interest, alternating between love and despair.

Also providing a stand-out performance was Derek Snow as Inspector Hubbard. Snow played the Inspector with a reserved detachment, coupled with a driving enthusiasm to get to the bottom of the case. At times insistent and probing, Snow plays Inspector Hubbard perfectly with the right amount of subtlety and dedication. It was a delight to see Snow’s Inspector grill Tony and the other characters.

My only complaint with this show came with the costuming for Tony. For a man who is supposed to be so dapper and well-dressed, it was odd that Clark’s suit coat did not properly fit him at the start of the show and that he was wearing an ill-fitting cravat at the end of the play. The character of Tony seems to be one of sartorial elegance, so I hope these minor things get corrected by the end of the run of the show.

In closing, if you want a suspenseful good time, then Falcon Theatre’s Dial M for Murder is your ticket. Dial M for Murder runs from weekends from November 4-19, 2016. For ticket information, go to www.falcontheatre.net.

 

Falcon’s Dial M For Murder Is a Mystery with Class

Review by Ken Stern of Dial M for Murder: Falcon Theatre

Are the well-to-do most apt toward criminal behavior? Whether Wall Street heists or murdering their wives, is it just that the rich have more to gain? Or is it that we tend toward stories of the upper crust doing wrong because they are so suave and look so good? The cast and crew certainly prove that class shows in Dial M for Murder, at Newport’s Falcon Theatre, playing through November 19th.

Lights come up on a stylish couple kissing in a well appointed London living room. Margot (Annie Grove, attractive in one beautiful outfit after another) is married to Tony, but still has feelings for Max (Carter Bratton, channeling Robert Cummings with his square jawed good looks and Brylcreemed hair), just in from New York. While the story makes clear that she is committed to her husband, Tony (Phineas Clark), life is complex. Tony, now retired from pro tennis, isn’t happy with Margot, probably more so because he married her for money than his discovery of her affair with Max, a TV mystery writer. Tony’s obsession with a letter Margot transferred from handbag to handbag could be the death of her as he plots the perfect murder. Grove offers a Margot with a full range of feelings. Clark’s Tony is equally strong as the scheming, dissembling, quick thinking, and almost completely thorough conniving husband. Ben Raanan gets credit for directing the cast through the well-paced drama.

Margot’s and Tony’s English accents pull us into the story, as does the 1950s setting (great liquor cart; set and lighting design by Ted Weil) and the equally stylish costumes, well-designed by Beth Joos (Max starts out in a double breasted suit and Margot’s red dress recalls Grace Kelly’s in the 1954 Hitchcock thriller.) This is a well-presented, as well as a well-made, play.

Playwright Frederick Knott tantalizes us with the story, the conversations and interactions from the opening kiss onward. Each simple prop, repeated handled, will have its role: handbag, key, letter, scissors, and one more item the audience will have to watch for near the end. You will have to see for yourself, watching carefully for clues as switches are made in the objects handled by Tony, Margot, Max, and the Inspector.

Knott’s beguilingly teasing technique is for Tony to narrate the plot before it unfolds. Tony’s foil is primarily poor old classmate Lesgate (Mike Hall, with a great mustache and a bit of a befuddled manner, as befits a not successful con from their Cambridge days). The story as told and the plot as acted out fit like a well-tailored glove.

Tony’s scheme proceeds although perhaps not exactly as he had hoped. And the word-play teases: can one commit “the perfect murder?” The professional writer Max knows “in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don’t.” Watch, as wonderfully, Tony’s perfectly constructed plot smack up against the vagaries of humans being themselves, not following a script of which they are unaware, acting unpredictably.

As always with an English murder, there must be a police inspector. Derek Snow, also impeccably dressed, enters as Inspector Hubbard. His calm presence is also a simple one. The audience’s role, for this play, is to watch the action attentively while listening carefully. In the end, the only tricks are up the sleeve of Inspector Hubbard. Knott gives him one of the most memorable lines of the play, telling Max: “They talk about flat-footed policemen. May the saints protect us from the gifted amateur.”

Dial M for Murder plays Thursday through Saturdays, closing November 19th. For more information visit http://falcontheater.net or call 513-479-6783Call: 513-479-6783 for tickets.

 

Calling All Mystery Buffs to Falcon’s Dial M for Murder

Review by Laurel Humes of Dial M for Murder: Falcon Theatre

Falcon Theatre does a fine job with Dial M for Murder, the 1950s-era British murder mystery onstage through November 19 at the Newport theater.

If you are new to the play or the subsequent Alfred Hitchcock movie, there is a killing and a mystery to untangle. But this is a very British, very civilized murder. No blood or gore. All the characters – con man, playboy, police – wear ties and speak perfect King’s English. And they speak it a lot, so be prepared to listen well.

In Dial M for Murder, retired tennis star Tony Wendice has a seemingly foolproof plan for the murder of his wealthy wife, Margot. He wants her money, but there is also a revenge motive: she’s had an affair with Max Halliday, who – important to the plot – is an American crime fiction writer.

The murder plan is, of course, not foolproof. And that is when the fun begins, with multiple twists and turns. The audience knows whodunit; the pleasure is finding out if the villain gets away with it.

Falcon’s version of the play opens – as the movie did – with Margot and Max in a passionate kiss. But we learn it’s for old time’s sake, because Margot broke off their affair a year earlier, when Tony vowed to be a better husband. Tony doesn’t know about the affair (or does he?), and now the husband and lover are meeting for the first time.

Annie Grove is a beautiful, blond Margot (Grace Kelly had the movie role). Grove plays Margot with the polish and grace of a wealthy socialite, and adds a wide-eyed naiveté that takes everything at face value.

With an easy style, Grove carries off the elegant outfits costume designer Beth Joos has created for her. They are all perfect 1950s, down to the ever-present gloves. The men’s costumes, too, are period – when was the last time you saw an ascot?

Carter Bratton is a handsome Max, balancing his discomfort at meeting his lover’s husband with her need to hide their former relationship, even though he is clearly still in love with her.

Phineas Clark plays Tony with smooth, ultra-confident mannerisms that cover up his conniving murder plan. In an outstanding scene, Clark almost gleefully lays out a blackmail plot to force con man Lesgate (Mike Hall) to do his bidding. Hall does a wonderful job with the role, squirming in the realization he has no choice.

Inspector Hubbard (Derek Snow) doesn’t appear until the second act post-killing. Snow fills the stage with his strong presence and hints that he suspects more than he shows. Snow’s finest scene comes near the end, as he devises and executes his own foolproof plan to trap the villain.

Director Ben Raanan keeps a brisk pace throughout the show. Act One takes some time to build up momentum, time needed to introduce characters. But patience is rewarded when the plot starts to roll.

The director and cast together build up tension as they skillfully execute playwright Frederick Knott’s clever, twist-and-turn script. The result is a most enjoyable evening at the theater.

Dial M for Murder runs through Nov. 19 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783Call: 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.

 

Carnegie’s Love, Loss and What I Wore Dresses for Success

Review by Doug Iden of Love, Loss, and What I Wore: The Carnegie Theatre

Hats off to The Carnegie Theater’s production of Love, Loss and What I Wore which opened November 5. The show is a series of vignettes which use clothes as a metaphor for events in different women’s lives in a mostly comic, bittersweet manner. Like all sketch comedy, some of the scenes work well and some not so well but the batting average of Love, Loss is high enough to warrant a view.

The play is adapted from an Ilene Beckerman novel by the sister team of Nora and Delia Ephron. Nora Ephron is best known for writing the screenplays for romantic comedies including When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle and continues that legacy with this play.

There is one common thread in the play with the ongoing story of Gingy played by Marypat Carletti interwoven with a series of disparate stories told by the ensemble cast Mel Hatch Douglas, Nabachwa Ssensalo, Tess Talbot and Sarah Zaffiro. The ensemble cast plays a total of 27 different characters, each telling their individual stories and it is a credit to the actors and Director Abby Rowold that the audience is able to keep track of what is happening through voice inflection, posture and costuming. The ensemble cast is, collectively, very good but the actors are not associated with particular roles so it is difficult to rate individual performances. Several of the skits are real highlights including the “I Hate My Purse”, “Black” (in which they discuss their black dresses) and “Sisters” during which two siblings have a running commentary about the impending nuptials of their sister and “Heels” with the choice of pain or comfort. Some sketches were more serious with several concentrating on difficult relationships with parents, mothers-in-law and ex-husbands or boyfriends plus a young woman who successfully combats breast cancer showing poignancy without being maudlin.

And you cannot give the production “shirt” shrift either. The melding of set design/visual projection (Tyler Gabbard), costumes (Allison Lechlak), lighting (Andi Shultes) and sound (Troy Bausch) is extraordinary. The set is divided into a front and back section, separated by a gossamer curtain which, depending upon lighting, allows you to see the enormous collection of clothes and dressing tables behind the barrier or just the front part of the stage. Normally, the action takes place downstage but, occasionally, there is an interaction between characters in front and in back.

The curtain also functions as a screen onto which the titles of the scenes and movie segments augmenting the action are projected. There is also an inside joke when one character complains that there is no title for her skit. Some fashion designs are also projected as characters describe their clothes. In one particularly effective scene, Gingy is sketching her dream dress on a pad of paper while the image being projected shows the drawing taking place.

The clothes must have blown the costume budget for the next 5 years. There were a lot of allusions to real clothes designers, a few of whom I actually knew. (Personally, I am a fugitive from the lifetime most-wanted list of the fashion police.)

The sketches clearly are aimed at women although there is enough universality to please everyone. There were times, however, when three-quarters of the audience (the women) were laughing hysterically and the other quarter (the men) were saying: what? As I was leaving the theater though, I overheard several different groups of women discussing elements of the show and comparing them with their own real experiences. I’m sure that would have pleased the Ephron sisters.

Pumped up? All dressed up and nowhere to go? Saunter down to The Carnegie Theater and its production of Love, Loss and What I Wore continuing through November 20. Tickets are available at www.thecarnegie.com.

 

Carnegie’s ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ is More than Just a Girls’ Night Out

Review by Dan Maloney of Love, Loss, and What I Wore: The Carnegie

Ilene Beckerman’s 1995 memoir Love, Loss, and What I Wore tells the story of what her life was like before she had five children. As she explains, “They didn’t think I had a life before I was their mother. Sometimes, I even wondered.”

Adapted for the stage by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron, the play employs a series of monologues and ensemble pieces to stitch together the fabric of women’s lives – everything from the comically mundane to the momentous.

Director Abby Rowold assembles a fine cast of five, strong female performers to take us on this journey. Although each is very different, they come together in a way that is a joy to behold. Individually, these ladies are captivating performers – and they have to be given the amount of ground to cover. But for me, the show is at its best during the ensemble pieces – interludes about dressing like Madonna, having nothing to wear, or loving the color black. This is where Ms. Rowold’s direction shines.

The story we keep returning to is that of Gingy (Marypat Carletti), the only named character in the play. Ms. Carletti exhibits grace and fortitude in the role. More importantly, she got me thinking about the strong women in my life, and what they must have been like in their prime. Gingy’s Story is the through-line, but to say she is the only principle actor would be misleading. The four ensemble players (Mel Hatch Douglass, Nabachawa Ssensalo, Tess Talbot, and Sarah Zaffiro) share equal prominence, and all five women give impressive performances.

Ms. Hatch Douglass is a delight – kooky in the best possible way, yet still able to delve emotionally and connect on a personal level. Ms. Ssensalo deftly handles the more dramatic moments in the show. These could have easily been over-played. However, she speaks the truth plainly, without adornment or contrition, and the result is empowering. Ms. Talbot showcases a spunky attitude that plays exceptionally well, and she does a fantastic job of using the audience’s laughter to invite us into her character. Finally, Ms. Zaffiro comes across as the plucky kid-sister, humorously overwhelmed by the daunting world of womanhood.

While these women carry the day, in some ways, the show is a little over-produced. There are moments where the production elements take away from the storytelling, and more often than not, the transitions between scenes are awkward. Production concepts are forced onto the play, and the reality is these ladies are strong enough in their own right that they don’t the help.

As a thirty-something male, I think it’s safe to say I’m not the target audience for this play, and I’d be lying if I claimed to have understood every joke. I could have benefited from a pocket-translation book, particularly in regard to the fashion references. Still, the storytelling is compelling, and that’s more than enough for me to be able to enjoy myself. The difference is where I was smiling during these tales of love and woe, the women around me were bursting with laughter. And when I was laughing, those same women were doubled-over. In other words, this show is ideal for a girls’ night out; however, dutiful husbands might be surprised by how much they find themselves enjoying it too.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore plays at The Carnegie through November 20th. For tickets, call the box office at 859-957-1940 Tuesday-Friday 12:00-5 PM or visit www.thecarnegie.com.

Put on Your Sunday Clothes and Go See The Carnegie ’s ‘Love, Loss, and What I Wore’

Review by Jack Crumley of Love, Loss, and What I Wore: The Carnegie

November brings a run of Love, Loss, and What I Wore to The Carnegie Theatre, and if you’ve been
missing the writing of Nora Ephron in your life since 2009’s Julie & Julia, grab your sister, your
mother, aunt, grandma, and your best girlfriends and get them to Scott Blvd. before the 20th.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a series of monologues about growing up, dating, marrying,
divorcing, and the random quirks of everyday life that always lead to the best stories. All with a
focus on what we wear. Ephron and her sister, Delia, adapted the play from the 1995 book by
Ilene Beckerman. The through-line of the show is Gingy (played by Marypat Carletti), a woman
reflecting on her life and how those memories are shaped by the clothes she wore at the time.
That concept may sound a bit trifling, but just like hearing a song on the radio from when you
were sixteen that takes you right back to that moment in your life, or remembering grandma’s
house every time you smell apple pie, Gingy’s wardrobe gives her memories a specificity.

Alongside Carletti’s Gingy are four other women who come and go and are simply referred to as
“Ensemble.” Individually and at times together, they tell short stories about prom dresses, boots,
purses, the color BLACK, how every woman in a certain age range at one point wanted to be
Madonna, and more. Their stories are equal parts witty, candid, and touching.

All four women in the ensemble, Mel Hatch Douglas, Nabachwa Ssensalo, Tess Talbot, and
Sarah Zaffiro work very well together. There are times when they’ll all take turns saying the
same line, like “it doesn’t fit,” and each actress has her own way of delivering that dialogue.
Opening night had the women playing off the audience’s reaction at times, and it peaked during
the “Shoes” segment in the second act that had the audience roaring and Tess Talbot breaking,
briefly. I mean this as praise. It was a fun, honest moment in a fun, honest show.

Credit should be given to the director, Abby Rowold. Gingy and the Ensemble all have a sincere
naturalness to them in their movement and their delivery. It’s very difficult to tell if that’s from
Rowold giving precise direction, or her letting her cast move instinctively. Some of the more
theatrical moments of the show all have the right, funny punch to them; particularly the memory
of a certain, buxom relative.

Staging Love, Loss, and What I Wore at The Carnegie really maximizes the intimacy of the
relatively small space. These are women telling you their most embarrassing moments or
revealing how they really felt about their second husband. Putting this show on a large stage
would take away from the connection that builds between the cast and the audience. Also, the
set is designed as Gingy’s bedroom, with a semi-transparent curtain in the back that serves as a
border for a not-so-backstage dressing room for the Ensemble. There are also home movies
projected onto that curtain to help set the mood for certain stories, drawings of Gingy’s various
outfits through the years, and the story titles are projected on it as well. Rounding out this
multi-media production are songs that also augment the stories, particularly Doris Day’s “Que
Sera, Sera.”

The show is a bit bawdy at times with some cursing, but even during the indelicate moments,
you could hear people in the audience making those knowing chuckles as if to say “oh yeah,
I’ve been there.” The femininity of Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a major element, but that
really shouldn’t discourage men from seeing it alongside their wives or girlfriends or sisters. One
of the real strengths of the show is its relatability. And I say that as a 35-year-old man.
Love, Loss, and What I Wore plays at The Carnegie through November 20. Tickets are
available at www.thecarnegie.com.

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ at NKU Strikes a Dissonant Chord

Review by Spenser Smith of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: NKU

Set in a recording studio in the 1920’s over the course of an afternoon, a group of musicians and the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey record several songs. Much of the play takes the form of discussions and arguments among the four musicians, each of whom brings his own perspective to questions of prejudice and the problems facing African Americans in society.

Toledo (Carlos Matthews) is the piano-playing moderator of the evenings debates. He is level-headed, but definitely has something to say. Slow Drag (Kaleb King) is the aptly-named bass player that serves up a few zingers but is mostly along for the ride. Levee (Geoffrey Hill) is the hot-headed trumpet player that is confident his arrangements will make him the next name in the music industry. Troublesome for me, his antics are more center stage (literally) than Ma and her name is in the title. Cutler (Landon Horton) is the trombone player that places his trust in God. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see Landon on a local stage again. Irvin (Ben Cohen), Ma’s manager, knows “how to handle her” and he does a fine job delivering laughs throughout the show.

Ma Rainey (Brittany Hayes) shows up over an hour late to the recording and most fittingly, almost an hour into the show. We see her throughout the night in short, diva spurts and then go back to the conversations with the band members. I would have liked to see more of Ma, both literally and figuratively. Ma thinks she’s a star and Sturdyvant (James Dawson), the record producer, knows she is. I think those antics could have been better served if we had seen more vocal power from all involved. There is a trap in which actors can fall in the Stauss Theatre. A smaller space does not mean smaller voices. I had issues with diction and volume throughout the night. I also mean to say that this vocal variety would add to the intensity of the physically violent moments in the show. The same can be said for the songs. When the boys are practicing and when we (finally) get to recording, the music is too soft. It makes watching the actors mime playing their instruments much more difficult to believe.

Overall the show is filled with fine performances, directed by Daryl Harris. The unique set, by Kenton Brett, is something I haven’t seen in that space before but absolutely appropriate. I really loved the practical use of the space. Costumes, by Ronnie Chamberlain, are appropriate for the time period and it was a pleasure to see all those snazzy shoes! Fitting, since that item takes a main focus towards the end of the play.

As a native of the city and a member of three generations of Cleveland sports teams, I was disappointed to miss Game 2 of the World Series. Considering the outcome, it’s probably best I went to the theatre and I’m glad I did. Ma Rainey is enjoyable and thought-provoking. It made me really listen and I think that would do a lot of us serious good in these troubled times.

Ma Rainey continues at the Stauss Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through October 30.

CCM Shines With  ‘A Chorus Line’

Review by Teddy Gumbleton of  A Chorus LineCCM Musical Theatre

For their first mainstage show, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music’s Department of Musical Theatre is presenting A Chorus Line, the iconic musical featuring music and lyrics by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, and original direction and choreography by Michael Bennett. A Chorus Line tells the story of a group of dancers auditioning for a part in a musical. During the audition, the director, Zach, asks them to open up and slowly they reveal themselves as more than just nameless chorus members. When it opened in 1975, A Chorus Line was a massive hit, scoring 9 Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it went one to be one of the longest running shows in Broadway history.

In many ways, A Chorus Line is an ideal undertaking for a college conservatory. It is a classic musical, with a varied cast of characters, and important choreography. It is also produced fairly regularly, which would allow the skills they learn to directly translate to future productions. But, on the other hand, A Chorus Line can be a tricky artistic endeavor because the copyright of the piece requires that all productions recreate Michael Bennett’s original choreography and staging, limiting a production’s ability to provide a unique interpretation.

In spite of these limitations, a production of A Chorus Line can distinguish itself through impeccable execution of Bennett’s choreography and by fleshing out the details that bring the characters to life. The cast of 26 students does both of these very well, nailing the choreography with much aplomb and soaring in their rich, detailed character work. Some highlights include, but are not limited to, the tender affection Al (Paul Schwensen) shows towards his wife and Mark’s (Daniel Marhelko) green earnestness.

However, there are two moments worth singling out about all other. The first is when the tremendous trio of Sheila (Kyra Christopher), Bebe (Madelaine Vandenberg), and Maggie (Areo Keller) perform “At the Ballet”. This is when each of these dancers express why they fell in love with dance. It is the first point in the show when the characters begin to reveal themselves. Christopher, Vandenberg, and Keller brought exquisite depth to the song and wonderfully set the mood for the emotional journey ahead. The other high point belongs to Christopher Kelley’s Paul. Paul initially is a quiet and reserved character. Only after being pressed by the director does he share his complicated past in a heartbreaking monologue. Kelley’s delivery might be the most affecting I have seen; he is remarkably restrained, never giving into hysterics, which makes it all the more wrenching.

Director and Choreographer Diane Lala does a terrific job of faithfully recreating Bennett’s original production. She nails the nuance of his work and reminds the audience of the genius of the original. Also worth mentioning are Lindi-Joy Wilmot’s costumes. She evokes rich character detail and subtly infuses 1970’s fashion into each piece. Matthew D. Hamel’s spare sets and Jeremy Dominik’s rich lighting work wonderfully in tandem to shape the mood of the show.

Overall CCM’s lovely production will remind you why A Chorus Line is still regarded as great musical. A Chorus Line runs through October 30 in CCM’s Patricia Corbett Theater.