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Cincinnati Shakespeare Tackles a Modern Masterpiece with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

Review by Doug Iden of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Maggie Lou Rader as Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

“Maggie the Cat” is sharpening her claws as Tennessee Williams’s classic American drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opens at the Cincinnati Shakespeare theater.  The Pulitzer Prize winning play tells the story of the moral decay, the dissolution and greed of an affluent Southern Mississippi family in the mid-1950’s when the family realizes that the patriarch is dying of cancer and has not prepared a will to disseminate the vast estate.  There are many intricate and interrelated themes which unfurl like a flag as the play progresses.  Even though this is not a Shakespeare play, there are many Shakespearean themes including social mores, sexual desires, intergenerational communications (or lack thereof), the prospect of imminent death, and an often-repeated word mendacity, defined by the characters as “lies and liars”.

The play opens in the bedroom of Brick Pollitt (Grant Niezgodski) and his wife, Maggie (Maggie Lou Rader) who are preparing for the 65th birthday of Brick’s father, Big Daddy, portrayed bombastically by Jim Hopkins.  Immediately, we see that all is not well between Brick and Maggie.  Brick has broken his leg trying to recapture his storied youth as a star football player by trying to leap hurdles while drunk.  They are childless and Maggie is trying to seduce her husband who clearly is not interested in her and takes refuge in a bottle.  Niezgodski is initially taciturn as Maggie rails about her treatment at the hands of Brick’s brother Gooper (Justin McCombs) and his wife Mae (Kelly Mengelkoch) and the feeling that the couple are colluding to steal the estate when Big Daddy dies.  However, as the act progresses, Brick becomes increasingly agitated when Maggie mentions his relationship with an old football teammate, Skipper, who committed suicide years before.  Brick’s friendship with Skipper becomes an ongoing question throughout the play until it finally explodes in a father-to-son discussion with Big Daddy.  How deep and how sexual was Brick’s involvement with Skipper?  The whole family assumes that it was immoral but Brick angrily rejects the notion.  Big Daddy accuses Brick of being disgusted with himself which is a contributing factor in his increasing alcoholism.  Brick, literally and figuratively, uses a crutch throughout the play as his impotency in life and in bed manifests itself.

In the third act (yes there are three acts with two intermissions), we see the web of deceit tightening on the entire family.  Gooper has called a family meeting (sans Big Daddy) to announce that the cancer diagnosis showed malignancy.  The family, including doctor, had lied to Big Daddy.  Gooper has developed a succession plan and is trying to convince Big Mamma (Amy Warner) to agree.

The acting in this show is superb with outstanding direction by Michael Evan Haney.  Niezgodski as Brick functions mostly as a somewhat bemused observer but becomes highly agitated when confronted with his relationship with Skipper and through the emotionally charged confrontation with Big Daddy.  The actor gets a lot of exercise lugging a plaster cast around the stage.  Rader (Maggie) moves seamlessly between seductress, sycophant with Big Daddy and outraged victim of Gooper and Mae’s sarcastic condescension.  Jim Hopkin is titanic and volcanic in his interpretation of Big Daddy.  Hopkins is a big man, replete with a bushy white beard, who intimidates and belittles everyone in the household except Brick. Brick is the only person whom Big Daddy likes and we see the softer side of the character in the man-to-man discussion with Brick.   Warner, as Big Momma, transitions from a cowered wife to a position of strength as she begins to assume the mantle of matriarch in the wake of her husband’s impending death.  Justin McCombs (whom we are used to seeing in comedic roles) is almost unrecognizable as Gooper who smarmily tries to steal the estate while still trying to gain the respect of his father.  Mengelkoch (Mae) is deliciously devious as she tries to drive a wedge between Maggie, Brick and Big Daddy.  Other characters serve small but significant dramatic roles.

The single set, which is Brick and Maggie’s bedroom, is an interesting mix of elegant affluence with some old-fashioned upholstery and a somewhat garish (for Big Daddy) chandelier which Big Mamma bought during a European spending spree.  Scenic Designer Shannon Moore states in an article in the playbill that the big question was: why does all the action take place in the bedroom?  Her answer was that this explained the lack of privacy in the family with no secrets because of constant eavesdropping.  The lighting adds to the scene with rear-screen projection which shows the passage of time.

This is a complex, multi-layered play which you would expect from an American masterpiece.  Overall, it is dark but there is considerable comedy sprinkled throughout as Williams spotlights the hypocrisy of the family and the social mores of an increasingly decadent South.  Also, please note, that there are many sexual references, some crude language and some nasty but unforgettable characters.

Overall, this has been an extraordinary season and this production is worthy of acclaim.  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof continues at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater through April 28.  The next production is the classic farce Noises Off.

 

Covedale Stages a Classic With Oklahoma!

Review by Doug Iden of Oklahoma!: Covedale Theatre

There’s a bright, golden haze on the Covedale as the beloved musical Oklahoma gallops onto the stage at Cincinnati Landmark Productions.  Based upon the play Green Grow the Lilacs, Oklahoma tells the simple story about two men who want to take a young woman to a box social. However, there is a lot more going on than that.

This is a landmark musical, the second one engineered by Oscar Hammerstein II.  Oklahoma and its predecessor Showboat created the integrated musical that we know today.  Both productions totally merged the music and lyrics seamlessly with the story, and both dealt with social issues not conventional with “musical comedies” of the day.  Despite the seemingly innocuous story line, Oklahoma deals with sexual obsession, attempted murder and pornography.  It also has the first true villain in musicals with the character of Jud Fry.  Additionally, this show wove dance into the plot as we see in the first act finale with dancers reenacting the plot in microcosm to the music of “Out of My Dreams”.

The opening overture features dancers doing snippets of longer dances they will perform during the longer versions of the songs.  This was an interesting touch that I had not seen before.  The play opens quietly with an older woman, Aunt Eller (played by Julia Hasl Miller) alone on the stage churning butter.  From offstage, we hear a man singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”.  The man, Curly McClain (Evan Koons) appears on stage and finishes the song.  He’s come, ostensibly, to invite Aunt Eller’s niece Laurey Williams (Jessica Kaiser) to the box social but Laurey is acting very standoffish.  It’s clear to the audience that they are in love with each other but the characters don’t seem to know that.  The verbal repartee continues as Curly tells Laurie that he has rented a “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” in which he plans to drive her.  She is momentarily mesmerized but, when Curly admits he just make it up, they revert to verbally sparring with each other.

Along comes our villain, Jud Fry (Mike Sherman) who talks Laurie into going to the affair with him.  Fry is a hired hand who, we find out later, has a lecherous obsession with Laurie which will lead to serious complications.

We also meet the comic relief couple (standard for musicals of the day) with Ado Annie (Heather Hale) and Will Parker (Logan Weinfurtner).  Will Parker has been competing in a rodeo and wins the $50 that Ado Annie’s father (Andrew Carnes played by Jamie Steele) insists he has before Will can marry his daughter.  Will celebrates by singing and dancing to the comic number “Everything’s Up to Date In Kansas City”.  While Will is gone, however, Ado Annie gets lonely and becomes aggressively flirtatious with the peddler Ali Hakim (Brandon Bentley).  We become aware of Ado Annie’s feelings with the humorous song “I Cain’t Say No”.  A second level of comedy ensues when Andrew Carnes threatens Hakim with a shotgun wedding.  The ongoing gag is that Hakim wants to woo the local girls while staying single.  He plays the part well.

A dramatic moment in the play is the mordantly dark song “Pore Jud is Dead” in which Curly tries to convince Jud to commit suicide.  Jud shows Curly his “dirty pictures” but is not taken in by Curly’s mock concern with his problem.  Curly leaves and then we hear a plaintive soliloquy “Lonely Room”.  The character of Fry is crucial to the success of the show.  If the audience doesn’t believe that Fry is inherently evil, the play doesn’t work.  It’s this character that elevates Oklahoma above the average musical.  Sherman as Fry projects the proper venal antipathy toward Curly and an unabashed obsession for Laurie.  He also has a good singing voice in his two songs.

The production is somewhat mixed.  CLP newcomer Evan Koons had a nervous start with his singing but, by the love song, began to hit his stride.  He has a good voice but it took a while to manifest itself.  He did a good job, however, portraying the cocky, self-assured Curly.  You could believe that Laurie could love him but might be put off with his arrogance.  Jessica Kaiser as Laurie does hit the mark with a strong singing voice and good acting varying between a snarky repartee with Curly to sincere fear of Jud Fry.  Kaiser sings “Many a New Day” and “Out of My Dreams” well along with some fancy dancing and teams with Koons on the conditional love song “People Will Say We’re in Love”.

The comic duo of Ado Annie (Heather Hale) and Will Parker (Weinfurtner) are charming while singing the disingenuous song of fidelity “All ‘Er Nothin’”.  Hale has a good voice and Parker dances well.

Dancing is crucial to the show.  Agnes DeMille’s original choreography called for dancing integrated with the plot but also a style of “folk” dancing that would be used by the characters which, in Oklahoma, would be a form of square dancing.  Director/Choreographer Maggie Perrino has incorporated DeMille’s concept with a lot of square dancing style dancing.  But choreography is more than just dancing – it is also movement.  In this case, the movement is the way in which the cowboys stride on stage.  They shuffle like a man who spends a lot of time on a horse.  The entire male ensemble uses this shambling style of walking and dancing.  The dancing was a little mixed but I give Perrino credit for trying to incorporate as much of the dancing as possible in the show.  The entire ensemble, including many of the leads, were involved in the dancing.  The ensemble also had a good collective choral voice with a highlight being the rousing title song “Oklahoma”.   Despite a murderous attempt by Jud Fry, the show, predictably, has a happy ending.

Oklahoma is a good show which will get better as the run progresses.  Oklahoma continues at the Covedale theater through April 29.

Covedale’s “Oklahoma!” Is More than OK!

Review by Jack Crumley of Oklahoma!: Covedale Center for Performing Arts

Evan Koons and Jessica Kaiser in Covedale’s “Oklahoma!”

The Covedale Center for Performing Arts continues its tradition of playing the hits, closing out this season of shows with Oklahoma! In American musical history, 1943’s Oklahoma! is one of the first shows to ever incorporate song and dance numbers that are a part of the plot and even help move the plot along. It also marked the start of a long-running and successful collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Based on Lynn Riggs’ tepidly-received 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs, Oklahoma! was a huge Broadway hit and won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944.

Oklahoma! tells the story of farmers and cowboys settling the land in 1906. The dashing Curly McClain is trying to woo Laurey Williams. But Laurey isn’t just some girl who jumps at the first guy to come along, and she makes Curly work for her affection. As a part of that work, she agrees to go to the upcoming box social with Jud, the intimidating farmhand who works on Aunt Eller’s farm where Laurey lives. Curly and Jud butt heads which leads to tragedy. There’s also a secondary plot where the fun-loving Ado Annie has to choose between her longtime beau, Will Parker, and traveling salesman Ali Hakim, who’s not looking for Ms. Right as much as Ms. Right Now.

For a musical so classic, lots of praise goes to this cast for not letting the characters feel tired or played out. Evan Koons plays Curly with a charming bravado. He’s a man’s man who’s looking to win his ladylove, and all with a very strong singing voice from start to finish. Curly is playful, sweet, engaging, honest, and forthright when he needs to be. In contrast, Laurey Williams is no shrinking violet. She’s a woman who isn’t willing to settle, and Jessica Kaiser plays that strength with a grace that is pleasantly surprising, along with a beautiful voice of her own. Kaiser and Koons have solid chemistry, and should also be praised for learning all the extensive choreography that Oklahoma! requires.

Mike Sherman’s take on the villainous Jud Fry has a lot of subtlety. He starts out as a gruff man of few words, and slowly builds to a creeping menace that never goes over-the-top. On the other side, Julia Hasl Miller’s Aunt Eller is simultaneously comfortable and authoritative. Aunt Eller is a character who has to have a rapport with essentially every character on stage, and Hasl Miller has an ease about her that really works for the character.

After seeing her turn as Inga in Covedale’s production of Young Frankenstein, it’s no surprise to see Heather Hale back on stage as the bubbly and flirty Ado Annie. Her facial expressions carry just as far as her operatic voice, and she’s fun to watch. Newcomer Logan Weinfurtner plays the cowboy Will Parker with a straightforward–at times doofy–earnestness that plays well with Hale’s goodtime Annie. Covedale regular Jamie Steele plays Annie’s father, the no-nonsense Andrew Carnes, who’s constantly struggling to keep his daughter on the straight and narrow. And then there’s Ali Hakim. I admit, I was slightly unsure about how this character would play. Watching the show with a modern eye, “ethnic” characters from classic shows can sometimes come off as “problematic” (if not downright insulting). But I took Brandon Bentley’s performance as a character playing a character. He’s a peddler who’s found sales success by pretending to be a ridiculous, exotic flirt from Persia. It’s a take that I thought really made the character (and all of his subsequent romantic entanglements) that much more interesting and funny.

In keeping with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original move to cast singers who can act, all of the songs in Oklahoma! come off great. From Curly belting out “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” to Will Parker’s “Kansas City” to Ali Hakim bemoaning his life in “It’s a Scandal! It’s an Outrage,” I don’t believe there was a sour note in the entire show. Koons’ Curly has a solid connection with Kaiser’s Laurey as they worry if “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and he’s able to nearly sell Jud on the benefits of his own demise in the darkly comic “Pore Jud is Daid.” Sherman then gets his own turn right after in the dramatic “Lonely Room.” Hale’s Annie effortlessly shows that she’s the girl who “Cain’t Say No,” and Steele as Carnes kicks off the second act with his pitch that “The Farmer and the Cowman” should be friends. Once again, kudos to Musical Director/Conductor Stephen Variames’ band, who all sound great (especially the trumpet), and never overpowered the singers.

I mentioned choreography earlier, and Maggie Perrino deserves credit for working double duty on this show as both director and choreographer. Oklahoma! is a musical that traditionally has dance moves like one would see at a square dance or a hoedown, but there’s also an elegant, extensive ballet that happens just before intermission. I imagine it was a lot for Perrino to lay out and for the cast to learn, but everything played great on stage Friday night.

Also on the technical side, Brett Bowling’s simple-looking barn set is surprisingly versatile, with small flats that roll out of the barn for small scenes like Jud’s smokehouse. Subtlety is a word I keep coming back to with this show, and that applies to Denny Reed’s lighting design. There were several little moments when the lights would dim to set a mood during a song, or the colors would change during a fight, and it all really added to the experience. As far as costumes go, Caren Brady’s design had several dresses that needed tear-away or snap-on skirts, and there were a lot of costume changes in this show. That’s especially true for the dream ballet. And again, subtlety: when Curly shows up in Laurey’s dream, he’s wearing a hat that’s much whiter (signifying his heroism) than he wears in the rest of the show.

Oklahoma! is one of my all-time favorite musicals, but I hadn’t seen it in awhile. I really enjoyed the Covedale production of it because of all the little things I noticed. What a great way to wrap up the 2017-2018 Marquee Season.

Oklahoma! plays Thursday through Sunday until April 29. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Taking Another Streetcar: A Review of Falcon Theatre’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of A Streetcar Named Desire: Falcon Theatre

They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at–Elysian Fields!  –Blanche Dubois

Blanche DuBois’s directions are not for getting onto the Cincinnati streetcar, but THE streetcar—A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams.  First produced in 1947, this standard of the American stage is currently being remounted by Falcon Theatre.

Streetcar explores what happens when fragile artistic Blanche DuBois (Tara Wiliams) comes to stay with her sister Stella (Ellie Margolis) and her aggressive working-class husband Stanley (Phineas Clark).  What follows is a game of cat and mouse between the preening Blanche and the physically dominant Stanley until the two collide in a climactic way on the night that Stella gives birth to her and Stanley’s first child.

Director Nate Netzley sets Streetcar in contemporary times; there are discarded fast food containers littering the stage at the start of the show, as well as other hints within the stage that we are in the present day.  This move works well—except during the times when the set and contemporary staging come in conflict with the scripted dialogue. It produces a disconnect which pulled me out of the action several times.

Despite these small glitches, Netzley is able to get his actors to deliver strong performances.  Williams as Blanche DuBois was wonderful; she was able to capture the faded Southern belle perfectly so that her preening and flirting work for her character.  Williams’ Blanche could easily devolve into caricature, but she sells the performance from her first appearance.

Phineas Clark plays a domineering Stanley Kowalski.  Emphasizing his elements of smoldering rage and intense emotion, Clark wonderfully captures the repressed rage within the working class ethos embodied by Stanley’s character.  Clark is best when he is working off of Williams’s preening Blanche.  The climactic scene when Blanche loses her touch with reality and Stanley finally overpowers her displays the best that each actor brings to their respective roles.

Also strong was Stella (Ellie Margolis) and Mitch (Charlie Roetting). Usually these roles are forgettable, but each actor delivered strong performances that were surprising in their subtlety and nuance.  I got a chance to sit next to Margolis’ parents on the night when I went and learned about her background.  She is a talented actress who hopefully should go far.

Overall, this Streetcar stays on track, stops only to pick up passengers, and runs swiftly to its tragic conclusion.  The show runs two hours and thirty-five minutes, but feels much shorter because of the tightness of the pacing.

A Streetcar Named Desire runs until March 31, 2018, with performances running Thursdays through Saturdays.  For more information on tickets, visit the Falcon Theatre’s website http://falcontheater.net/current-season/streetcar/

Look on the Bright Side of Life at Incline’s “Spamalot”

Review by Laurel Humes of Spamalot: Incline Theatre

Just for laughs – a lot of them! – go see Spamalot at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.

The full name of the musical comedy is Monty Python’s Spamalot. That’s what you need to know about this mix of irreverent wit, silliness, sight gags, and fart jokes. It’s the Monty Python package.

Still, the show won three Tony awards for its 2005 Broadway run and ran nearly four years. Incline’s production does it full justice.

Spamalot is a parody of the King Arthur legend. King Arthur, armed with the sword Excalibur, seeks knights who will sit at his Roundtable and help him find the Holy Grail.

It could be a parody of the beloved musical Camelot, but Eric Idle (book, lyrics, music) set his sights on a broader sendup of Broadway musicals overall. “The Song That Goes Like This” starts as a lovely duet: “Once in every show, there comes a song like this/it starts off soft and low, and ends up with a kiss. A sentimental song that casts a magic spell/they all will hum along, we’ll overact like hell.” But the song ends in an argument about the musical key.

There also is a clever tableau of ensemble members each dressed to represent a Broadway show. It is fun to spot Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Book of Mormon and even Dear Evan Hansen.

In Spamalot, Camelot is a neon-lit Las Vegas with showgirls, God speaks directly to Arthur from a cloud, and coconuts banged together stand in for the sound of horse hooves. There is sometimes cringe-worthy satire of gays and Jews.

Matthew Wilson has directed a talented and energetic 16-member cast, nearly all playing multiple parts. The staging is brisk. The sight gags are well-executed. The voices, individual and ensemble, are splendid.

Rodger Pille as King Arthur holds the show together. At first the character appears to be the mature center, but even the idealistic Arthur doesn’t escape Spamalot’s satiric brush.  “Who’s the King?” Arthur shouts to a group of cheerleaders (don’t ask). “You are,” they shout back.

Pille and the engaging Aaron Whitehead, as Arthur’s sidekick Patsy, share two memorable numbers. Patsy advises Arthur to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” then is joined by an umbrella-twirling ensemble. Even funnier is Whitehead’s reaction to Arthur’s “I’m All Alone,” sung right next to Patsy.

The knights Arthur assembles are all profoundly odd, read: hilarious. Brett Bowling is very funny as Sir Lancelot the Homicidally Brave, as is Kyle Taylor as timid Sir Robin, scared of everything.

Allison Bredestege is a standout as Lady of the Lake, who legend says gave Arthur Excalibur. It would be worth the ticket price just to hear her belt out the hilarious “Whatever Happened to My Part.”

Applause to costume designer Caren Brady. The sheer number of costumes is admirable, from knight’s mail to monks to showgirls to cheerleaders, and all done so well.

Monty Python’s Spamalot continues through April 8 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 www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

 

Incline’s “Spamalot” Proves that the Monty Python Revival Is Not Dead Yet

Review by Doug Iden of Spamalot: Incline Theatre

You’ll never view the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table quite the same way again as Monty Python’s Spamalot invaded the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.  The show is based upon a Monty Python movie which spoofs the King Arthur legend, the British class system and Broadway musicals.  It is an equal opportunity satire and not politically correct.  Predictably, there is a lot of British humor which sometimes befuddles American audiences.

The zaniness starts immediately as the Historian (Philip Stock) sets the scene for the show but the ensemble confuses England with Finland and sings the “Fisch Schlapping Song”.  It’s all hilariously downhill from there.

Next, we meet King Arthur (Rodger Pille) “galloping” in to the accompaniment of his trusty squire Patsy (Aaron Whitehead) slapping two coconut halves together to simulate the sound of the horse’s hooves.  This becomes an ongoing gag throughout the play.  Arthur is trying to recruit Knights to his cause but is having some difficulties.  Some of his recruits include Galahad (Jeremiah Plessinger), Lancelot (Brett Bowling who also designed the sets) and Robin (Kyle Taylor).  Many of the actors play multiple roles in the show and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish them but highlights include the three actors mentioned above.

On one recruiting sortie, they encounter several “dead” bodies being carted away because of the plague.  However, several of the ensemble object by singing the darkly comic “I Am Not Dead Yet” and then join Arthur’s merry band.

We are now introduced to the Lady of the Lake (Allison Bredestege) at a nightclub called Camelot along with high-kicking “Laker Girls” satirizing cheerleaders at athletic events.  Then, she and Galahad sing a scathing spoof of Broadway love duets with “The Song That Goes Like This” and this and this and this.  (You get the point.)  That song and the second act lament “Whatever Happened to my Part” are high points of the show with clever lyrics by Python regular Eric Idle.

With his band now intact, Arthur is ready for his Quest as the company joins for the inspirational, win-one-for-the-Gipper, song “Find Your Grail”.

In the second act, the Knights are lost and become separated.  To find their way, they must perform some challenges including the creation of a Broadway musical (1,000 years before one actually existed).  Enough of the plot which is paper thin but it does allow the insanity to continue.

Part of the fun is trying to identify all of the allusions to Broadway musicals.  In one scene, members of the ensemble are dressed as characters from various shows including Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Chorus Line, Cabaret, and Damn Yankees, all costumes designed by Caren Brady, and one of the production numbers is called “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (if you don’t have any Jews)”.

There are also a number of large production numbers (also spoofing musicals) choreographed by Kate Stark and led by dance captain Jules Shumate.  During the last several shows at the Incline, the dancing ability and complexity is improving.  Musical Director Dr. Brian Hoffman ably directs the band.

In addition to playing multiple characters, Brett Bowling has designed an interesting set which displays several different castles, a nightclub and a forest with the trademark movable set pieces.

But the technical highlights go to Caren Brady for the multi-varied costumes.  Only Arthur wears the same costume throughout the show while all the other actors have different costumes worn by their differing characters.  The fast-paced action is well directed by Matthew Wilson with many sight gags resulting from rapid movement on and off the stage by the actors.

I think that if you go to Spamalot you will Like-It-A-Lot and be prepared to Laugh-A-Lot.  Spamalot continues at the Incline through April 8. Tickets can be obtained at the Incline Theatre website, http://cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

Strong Performances Keep Falcon Theatre’s “Streetcar” On Track

Review by Laurel Humes of Streetcar Named Desire: Falcon Theatre

Tara Williams’ tour de force as Blanche is the highlight of Falcon Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

The other actors are strong, especially Ellie Margolis as sister Stella. But Blanche is the play’s most complex character, and Williams takes every advantage of that.

The basic plot of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is certainly well known. The sisters were raised in a prosperous and supposedly genteel family in small-town Mississippi. Stella escaped to New Orleans and now is married to the rough and rowdy Stanley. Blanche arrives at their tiny apartment penniless, having lost the family estate.

Blanche is a study in contrasts. She is demanding, but truly needy. She is appalled at Stanley’s behavior, but attracted to him. She insults her sister, but loves her.

Williams’ special talent in Streetcar is letting us see Blanche’s vulnerability, what is beneath and behind the arrogance. She has suffered, through the deaths of her parents, then loneliness, then her turn to tawdry romances to feel loved. Blanche is adept at lying to herself and others, revealed in this poignant line: “I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth.”

Stanley matches Blanche in every argument, every insult. He goes further, afraid he has been cheated out of his wife’s family money, and then digging behind Blanche’s lies.

Phineas Clark’s Stanley can be charismatic and sexy, so it’s easy to see why Stella is attracted to him. But he’s crude and violent, the worst of which is manifested in a compelling and even shocking scene with Blanche late in the play.

So Stella is caught in the middle, expending considerable energy trying to placate her sister and her husband to keep the peace. But Ellie Margolis’ portrayal of Stella has spunk and vitality. We see her as a fully-realized person, not just as a go-between.

I continue to be amazed at the full and detailed sets Falcon manages to mount on its very small stage. This one, designed by Theron Wineinger, is a complete kitchen and bedroom, with all the space and furniture well used by the cast. My only quibble is that it all looks fresh and new, not the shabbiness that we hear Blanche criticize.

The furnishings, props and costumes also make the time period uncertain. Is it the late 1940’s, when there were “bobby-socked students,” as Blanche says? Or is it as contemporary as the Home Depot-looking cabinets?

Directed by Nate Netzley, this is an overall fine production of a 70-year-old theater icon that still resonates today.

A Streetcar Named Desire continues through March 31 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.

“Kill Move Paradise”: The Clouds Part, and then the Pain Comes

Review by Liz Eichler of “Kill Move Paradise”: Know Theatre

The language of Kevin Ijames’ powerful avant garde “Kill Move Paradise,” playing now through March 24 at Know Theatre, is multi-layered with poetry, songs, cries, and questions. As those layers move and shift like the clouds, then comes light, understanding, rain, anger, pain, and empathy of being an African American male in 21st century America.

The show’s fours characters enter the space individually, and take some time to discover where they are, in a kind of limbo, slowly understanding that they are recently dead.

Darnell Pierre Benjamin (Isa), has been there the longest, and was given a list of names which keeps getting longer every time he looks at it. Landon E. Horton (Grif), enters next, followed by Elliot Young (Daz), and then exploding onto the stage is Crystian Wiltshire (Tiny) bringing the biggest punch and huge amount of energy of a pre-teen boy.

The characters incredulously ask if they are in a “Twilight Zone” episode.  They also ask “Do I scare you?” Tiny makes it very clear, that as a preteen he was playing with friends and got shot, for using an obviously fake gun. The play is not about gun violence, or gun rights, but about the lives of the people whose dreams are “deferred,” permanently.

The production, directed by the mulit-talented Piper Davis, starts slow, has a few sparks of passion, then fully ignites by the time Tiny comes on stage. It takes some time for each of the characters to process their current state, and they watch and comment and prod us, watching their process, as there is no “fourth wall.” The four performers are a powerful ensemble, as they go through the stages before they finally see the light.

Scenic and lighting designer Andrew J. Hungerford has enveloped the characters in a heavenly blue and white space, , where they run, climb, crawl, and dance. Ijame’s play premiered at Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre this spring. “Kill Move Paradise” runs through March 24.  Get tickets at https://knowtheatre.com/season-20/kmp/ or by calling 513-300-KNOW.