Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Scene

When the lights went up during the intermission for Capital Stage's production of "The Scene," the audience was exhausted.

Director Stephanie Gularte's handling of Theresa Rebeck's fast-paced, high-intensity, sharply biting comedy comes out of the gate at top speed and never lets up.

For starters, Capital Stage newcomer Elena Wright plays Clea, a vapid young woman who is, like, from Ohio, you know, and who is just, like, so excited to be a part of the New York social scene. ("I mean, mind-blowing, right? It's just so surreal, the lights and the water, it's like, unbelievable.")

Clea first meets Charlie (Scott Coopwood) and Lewis (Ken Figeroid) on the balcony of a rooftop apartment on Manhattan's upper west side, where all three have come for a breath of fresh air, to escape the party-goers inside.

Wright is mesmerizing as she babbles on and on and on and on in Valley Girl-speak about her infatuation with this new life in the Big Apple, while Charlie and Lewis roll their eyes and laugh behind her back.

Charlie is a bitter, down-on-his-luck, angst-filled actor who has come to the party against his will, to talk with an old acquaintance about a possible part in a new TV sitcom. Tony Shalhoub played this role on Broadway, but it's difficult to picture anyone else in the role while watching Coopwood's powerful performance ... especially TV's "Monk."

Coopwood bestrides the stage like a Colossus, and dominates any scene in which he appears. He has his own huge chunks of dialogue, including one very funny description of his eventual meeting with his old nemesis, a director, who was "on his cell phone a full five minutes before he can even say hello ... while I sit there grinning like a schmuck, it's OK, man, I know you got to hang on this endless phone call 'cause you're so f*ing important; you're a completely essential piece of the whole mind-numbing motor that keeps capitalism itself running."

Christina Anselmo, another Capital Stage newcomer, plays Stella, Charlie's wife. She's a TV talk show talent booker who has been supporting her husband for a very long time, and their marriage has suffered as a result. She hates her job, and the spark is long gone from the marriage, although they still get along and enjoy a laugh at the thought of Charlie's meeting with Clea.

"She looks good in black and can't speak the English language. She'll do just fine in Manhattan."

Figeroid's Lewis is the perfect perennial third wheel to Charlie and Stella. We don't really know anything about his life, other than that he's been secretly in love with Stella for years, but wouldn't dream of moving in on his friend's wife.

As the play progresses, we realize that these are four very unlikable people: all living shallow lives and feeding off each other, depending on their own needs.

The affair between Charlie and Clea is inevitable, as the sparks fly and passions ignite. Charlie is emotionally needy; Clea will sleep with anyone if she thinks it'll do her some good. When it all comes to an inevitable abrupt halt, she gives no thought whatsoever to having heartlessly destroyed Charlie's life.

It goes on like that.

Jonathan Williams created a clever set that rotates on a huge turntable on the tiny stage, creating three different apartments more or less seamlessly.

Theater groups all over the country are struggling during these difficult economic times; audiences are carefully picking and choosing where their entertainment dollars will be spent. Capital Stage gives a lot of bang for the buck, and this new show is no exception.

The company's ticket prices are some of the most reasonable in the area for an equity house, and the productions always are of the highest caliber.

"The Scene" definitely is a winner, and well worth the price of a ticket.

Friday, January 23, 2009


The village of Kulyenchikov is lost in a magical spell that has left its residents simpletons in Neil Simon's odd fable, 'Fools,' which continues through Feb. 8 at the Woodland Opera House.

The play, directed by Rodger McDonald, is described as 'a comic fable based on the traditional Russian folk tale, 'The Village of Idiots.' '

I can't remember seeing another play that I hated so much in the first five minutes, and the thought of sitting through two entire acts was unpleasant. This wasn't the Neil Simon we know and love. The dumb jokes and repetitive slapstick comedy made me groan. (How many times is forgetting how to open a door funny?)

From the subdued audience response, I assumed other patrons were having the same reaction.

But something happened as the play progressed. I began to chuckle, and soon everyone around me was laughing as well, as we became accustomed to the plot line and grew to know the characters.

McDonald's direction - and the skilled actors, who respected their characters - made them not only believable, but lovable. They were completely immersed in their fantasy stupidity.

The residents of Kulyenchikov literally live in 'blissful ignorance.' They know they're stupid, and have become content with it. It would be nice, for example, even to remember one's name; the shepherdess 'Something-something Snetsky' (Jean Swearingen) knows her last name, but never can remember her first name(s).

Or where she left her sheep.

Of course, none of the villagers really care all that much.

The unwitting outsider to enter this world is Leon Tolchinsky (Ben Moroski), a teacher who has been hired by the town doctor to try teaching his daughter. As it happens, if one person in the town can be taught, the spell will be broken.

Unfortunately, the teacher has only one day to make the attempt; if he can't teach her, then he, too, will come under the town's curse. Many teachers have tried, and all have fled before the end of the 24 hours, to avoid becoming fresh victims of the curse.

Moroski is a lot of fun to watch. As something of a Jon Cryer/Jerry Lewis clone, Moroski is appropriately befuddled at the townspeople, and gradually learns to accept the effects of the curse and adapt to it. But he also falls under the spell of the beautiful Sophia (Angela Read) and decides to stay with her, no matter what.

He's prepared to give up his love of learning, and the pride in his body of knowledge, if that must happen.

But he's also determined to teach her something ... even if Sophia sees no value in learning. Why should she learn that one plus one equals two, if Leon already knows it and can tell her? And why would she need to know in the first place?

Read has a marvelous ethereal demeanor: beautiful but blank, while still engaging enough to win the heart of the idealistic teacher.

Angela's parents, Dr. Zubritsky (Bobby Granger) and his wife Lenya (Shanna Sperry), are delightful, as they try to help each other like any married couple. She loses her train of thought; he tries futilely to guess what she meant to say.

Justin Kelley is great as the villain, Gregor Yousekevitch, who is determined to wed the beautiful Sophia himself. Indeed, he proposes to her every day.

Jessica Neufeld plays Yenchna, a mute who knows a secret that will help Leon. Her charade is just great.

The cast also includes Dan Beard as the Magistrate, Alan Smuda as Slovitch, and Bridget Maguire as Mishkin, the postman who has a special delivery for Leon. It might change everything. Or not.

'Fools' is a surprise: one that grows on you, thanks to the talented cast. If you need a good laugh, this show is highly recommended.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Hello, Dolly

Matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levy is a woman who arranges things, like furniture and daffodils ... and lives.

In the Davis Musical Theatre Company production of "Hello, Dolly!" — the popular Jerry Herman/Michael Stewart musical, based on the book by Thornton Wilder — veteran actress Mary Young may have found one of her better roles as Dolly. Although the show's music doesn't always sit comfortably in Young's register, she gives Dolly energy and heart as she sets her cap for the curmudgeonly "half-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder (Steve Isaacson).

In the process, of course, she manages to pair up a few other couples as well.

Isaacson is a great Vandergelder, although his chauvinistic "It Takes a Woman" — which explains why he needs a woman in his life — makes one wonder why Dolly would be interested in the job in the first place! ("It takes a woman all powdered and pink/To joyously clean out the drain in the sink.")

Isaacson provides just the right amount of bluster, without being too bombastic.

Vandergelder's two clerks are played by David Holmes (Cornelius Hackl, the chief clerk) and Matthew Kohrt (Barnaby Tucker, his assistant). Both are excellent, particularly Holmes. The two men, who never have left Yonkers, decide to embark on an adventure in New York, while their boss is marching in the Fourteenth Street Association Parade.

The 33-year-old Cornelius vows not to come home again until he's kissed a girl.

"The girl" turns out to be Miss Irene Molloy (Emily Cannon-Brown), who runs a millenary shop with her clerk, Minnie Fay (Icarina Summers). These two, having become convinced that Cornelius and Barnaby are eccentric millionaires, spend the entire day with them.

The Big Apple also is being visited by artist Ambrose Kemper (Giorgio Selvaggio) and Vandergelder's niece, Ermengarde (Josephine Longo). These two want to marry, but do not have Vandergelder's permission, as he feels Ermengarde is too young and immature. (Dolly has promised to fix that little situation, as well.)

Longo doesn't have much to say, but she certainly whines and cries memorably.

Jan Isaacson is perfectly cast as Ernestina Money, a girl in a buttercup-colored dress and the pink slippers, who is hired by Dolly to annoy Vandergelder and set him up for eventual conquest.

Most of Act II takes place at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, "the fanciest place in New York." The choreography for its waiters always has been one of the most memorable parts of "Hello Dolly," and this production is no exception.

The waiters here — David Dickson, Nick Jackson, Monica Justice, Andrew Lampin and Adam Sartain — do a credible job in "Waiter's Gallop," also this production might better dub it "Waiter's Canter." Even so, the scene energetically sets up the moment everyone waits for: the arrival of Dolly herself, singing the title song.

Sartain deserves to be singled out as the ensemble member who looks the most comfortable on stage.

Rand Martin has directed and choreographed an enjoyable production, and one with lots of entertaining moments. The dance "Elegance," for Cornelius, Barnaby, Irene and Minnie, is particularly delightful.

John Ewing is credited with scenic design; his work is rather mundane in Act I, but he saves the good stuff for the Harmonia Gardens, in Act II.

Minor problems plagued the opening night performance, with missed lighting cues and overlapping dialogue in spots, but these should work themselves out with time.


Many things can be praised about the Acme Theatre Company's production of "Macbeth," which continues through Friday at the Veterans' Memorial Theater.

Unfortunately, the ticketing system is not one of them. Customers were lined up out to the street prior to Saturday evening's performance, causing the curtain to be held at least 15 minutes. A separate line for "will call" might cut the congestion a bit.

Once inside the theater, though, I found little about which to complain.

Patrons are seated on the stage, rather than in the audience; this significantly reduces the number of seats, and thus results in a sold-out house and a more intimate setting for the play.

The stark set design is by John Ramos, based on a concept by Hannah May and Danielle Wogulis. It's a simple gray set, with painted darker gray tree branches on the floor, and matching blocks that are moved around to indicate various settings. A pipe ladder arrangement hangs on either side of the stage; this is used by the three witches, who remain on stage throughout most of the play.

The total effect is perfect, and well complemented by Hope Raymond's costume design, also in a gray theme. The red accents for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth — down to Lady Macbeth's ruby slippers — are a perfect indicator of the bloody story to follow.

(It's fairly safe to say that none of the characters in this Shakespeare tragedy "lives happily ever after.")

Kate McFarland's dramatic lighting design adds much to the atmosphere.

Director Emily Henderson guides a first-rate cast, starting with John Ramos, who is outstanding in the title role. He's strong and takes command of the stage, yet his descent into madness — as his power-hungry killing spree begins to weigh heavily on his soul — is quite effective.

His relationship with his wife (Delany Pelz) is passionate and believable. Pelz's diminutive stature and sweet face might cause one to doubt her ability to portray the cold-hearted Lady Macbeth, but this character can be as heartlessly cruel toward her enemies as she can be lustily passionate with her husband.

In a gender-bending switch from the traditional, the three witches are played by Geoffrey Albrecht, Torin Lusebrink and David Conard. These "witches" are more evil sprites, dressed all in gray, with flowing capes and body painting to match the set. Lusebrink added something to make his tongue and lips ruby red, which makes the lizard-like movements of the former that much more evil.

It's a different look at the witches, and sometimes goes a bit overboard, but it's definitely unique and memorable. (A little more dry ice in the witches' pot is recommended.)

Others in the cast are equally memorable. Sean Olivares is quite good as Banquo, although his later return as Mentieth is a bit disconcerting, since nothing is done to change his appearance following his "death."

Likewise, a bit of a different look would help Alex Kravitz's dual roles of Duncan and the Porter.

Kate McFarland is a noble Macduff, and Vivian Breckenridge is strong and self-assured as she strides the stage as Malcolm. Hope Raymond is a beautiful Lady Macduff, very earnest in her expressions of concern for her husband and child.

David Chandler is listed as fight choreographer, and the play does feature some excellent sword fighting. Unfortunately, older children in the audience found it funny, and their giggling distracted the rest of us from the actual plot. But the cast gets high marks not only for the execution of the sword fighting, but also for the application of blood streaks on bodies while on stage, unobserved by the audience.

Acme has another winner with its production of this Shakespeare classic.

But do allow plenty of time to get through the ticket line, even if your tickets are confirmed.