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The 28th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, KY, generated a number of fine offerings. The most buzz surrounded After Ashley, a searing black comedy by Gina Gionfriddo.
rena Stage's contribution to the "Greek Invasion" during this season of the classics in Washington, D.C., is the world premiere of an intriguing Agamemnon and His Daughters. Kenneth Cavender provides a colloquial and intelligible adaptation of six plays by Euripides, Aischylos, and Sophokles (the program utilizes the Greek spellings) into a marathon three hours of theater.
A special congratulations to book writers Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan and song scribes David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger for maintaining John Waters' raunchiness in the musical, Cry-Baby. Add to that Rob Ashford's highly suggestive choreography and Mark Brokaw's blatant direction. Baltimore, the year is 1954. Black and white TV, Bill Haley and the Comets, Eisenhower, "I Love Lucy", B-47s, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Eddie Fisher, The Chords and The Cordettes were all a part of the scene. It was a time when the kids got their first polio vaccine.
Bootstraps Comedy Theater has reprised The Boxer by Bootstraps' co-artistic director, Matt Lyle. The Boxer was the hit of this summer's Festival of Independent Theaters at the BathHouse Cultural Center. This time around, it ran November 15-December 2, 2007 at the Rosewood Center for Family Arts with the original cast.
Having seen the original Broadway production, I must admit that Agnes of God lacked, on this viewing, the impact it once had. I'd like to think that's because the suspense wasn't there for me, whereas the play's mystery is gripping as a first experience. Many in the audience with me obviously had just that. I wish I'd been able to share it, but the answers to the mystery seemed just too obvious this time. I refer to how, in a contemplative order of nuns, young, unworldly Sister Agnes became pregnant -- and is she guilty of killing her baby?
The most luminous production at the Utah Shakespearean Festival this season is Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!, a gentle family portrait dramatically different from the tragic depictions he usually penned. Although O'Neill calls the play "a comedy of recollection," wish fulfillment describes it more accurately. This is the family O'Neill would like to have had rather than his dysfunctional real one (indelibly chronicled later in Long Day's Journey Into Night).
When you consider that the opera, Aida, was written-to-order for the Cairo Opera House, the narrative liberties taken by Elton John, Tim Rice etc. seem less heinous. Flag-crossed lovers make good, hankie-wringing drama anytime, with extra resonance for American audiences added by the interracial aspect. (Radames is Egyptian, Aida is Nubian -- tribes that would appear virtually identical to us, were the former not played by an Anglo-European actor and the latter by an African-American actress). But the political situation in the Red Sea district circa 1400 B.C.
Disney's Aida is a visually stunning show, and this road production looks almost the same as the Broadway original. The sun-drenched oranges, reds and pinks and the sparkling stars in the dark night sky are beautiful and exotic. If only Elton John's score had as much luster. John clearly is trying to expand his range. "Easy as Life" is a worthy dramatic monologue, "The Gods Love Nubia" is a stirring anthem, and "Like Father Like Son" is a dramatic argument that advances the plot while rousing us. But most of the rest is conventional rock.
The theme of romance in a time of war is hardly new, but this sparkling production of Aida nonetheless captures our interest with its soulful tale of an enslaved African princess and her Egyptian lover. As the show opens, the two neighboring territories, Egypt and Nubia, are at war. This brings together the victorious Egyptian captain, Radames, and one of the captured Nubians, Aida. Her outspoken manner piques Radames' curiosity, and soon this interest turns to forbidden passion.
Either by association or direct composition, the legendary composer/pianist/entertainer Fats Waller (1904-1943) was famed for "Spreadin' Rhythm Around." 25 years ago, a sizzling, if small-scaled, revue called "Ain't Misbehavin'" proved a winning homage to the great Waller.
Dallas Theater Center opened the Fats Waller Musical Show, Ain't Misbehavin', on April 13, 2004, following five days of previews. There's no plot line, just two hours of rousing music associated with Waller. The most recognizable songs include: "Two Sleepy People," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "It's a Sin To Tell a Lie," "Honeysuckle Rose," and the title song. The performers are first-rate, especially Dallas regular, Liz Mikel, who commands attention just by walking onto a stage. Her interpretation of "Squeeze Me" was interrupted several times by applause.
When the onstage band strikes up the first notes to Ain't Misbehavin', all one can do is echo the words of the press materials: "this joint is jumpin.'" A polished and well-cast production is drawing full houses to Milwaukee's Cabot Theatre, as well it should. This is the second time that Skylight Opera Theatre's has staged Ain't Misbehavin'. If the1994 show was anything like the current production, no wonder it busted the box office. This time, the show has a musical pedigree in the form of Neal Tate, whose work goes back to the days of Cab Calloway.
When you are fortunate enough to be a member of the audience (49 people) at the 6th @ Penn Theater, you usually become a part of the production. This is true, in part, because many entrances are made from, and some of the action takes place in, the audience area. This happens in Ajax, under the direction of Forrest Aylsworth.
You've got to wonder why CAST has been hiding its light under a bushel for two years. The professional acting school finally gave its first public performance, spotlighting 19 of teacher/director Ed Gilweit's students. After seeing the half dozen sketches of David Ives's All in the Timing, teacher must be proud. Starting off, David Randal and Beth Burney give a nearly A+ rendition of Sure Thing. Rapidfire pacing, faultless contouring of characters, and impeccable timing make this wild succession of variants on boy-meets-girl a scream.
Although playwright Arthur Miller is known for his masterpiece, Death of a Salesman, it is curious to note why his earlier work, All My Sons, isn't revived more often. To this reviewer's mind, it has all the elements that elevate Salesman to a higher artistic level. In its own way, it seems like a more difficult play to do well. However, one needn't have worried about the production that recently opened at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. From start to finish, the show is mesmerizing. That's to the credit of the talented cast and director Paul Barnes.
All Night Strut, featuring the music of the 1930s and 40s, is a lot of fun and a great way to introduce the younger generation to music you can come out singing. All Night Strut offers no plot or dialogue, just one song after the other. It's an ensemble piece, and the four very talented performers each get the opportunity for solos, duets, trios and quartets. Songwriters celebrated here include Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, George and Ira Gershwin and on and on.
The stage is bare, save for a nine-by-twelve-foot white screen. The house lights dim. We hear an ancient film projector grinding away. We see the film leader: five, four, three, two, and then the film title, "all wear bowlers," staring Earnest Matters (Geoff Sobelle) and Wyatt R. Levine (Trey Lyford). The two are dressed in black, wearing bowlers. They are in a bleak landscape walking and walking and walking, finally getting closer to us. The scratchy film, with occasional subtitles, grinds on.
Here again among the works of local writers is a novel posing as a play. If performed, it should be as chamber theater. A distinctive, poetic style proves both attraction and fooler.
Seeking to apply his fight choreography skills to a female combat drama, Tony Wright quickly discovered there were no existing scripts to suit his needs. So the actor/playwright, who directed last year's slumber party version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, cooked up his own futuristic sci-fi potboiler, Alpha, now playing at the SouthEnd Performing Arts Center.
The Downtown Cabaret bring a variety of shows to their stage, many of which are the tried and true musical comedy standards, others are distinctly off-beat. Always...Patsy Cline is certainly a departure, for instead of a cast of many, this true story of a famous country singer uses only two women, albeit backed by a six-piece orchestra.
If you like country music, this "Patsy Cline song revue" is for you. And if you like pop music but think you don't like "country," this revue may make you think again. After all, Cline was a pioneer crossover songstress. She nuked the "sub" in a subgenre, her songs surfing into traditionally country waves such as "Honky Tonk Merry Go Round" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" on to sophisticated ballads like "You Belong to Me" and "True Love." They're among two dozen numbers well paced and distinctively rendered by Kyle Ennis Turoff as Patsy Cline.
Thanks to tour de force performances by David Suchet and Michael Sheen and to a smooth, glowing production by Hall and designer William Dudley, Shaffer's take on the Salieri/Mozart conflict comes across with considerable power twenty years after first written and performed. It doesn't hurt that the production has come to L.A. after a long run in London, where performances were well honed and the script rewritten.
Mosaic Theater opens its fourth season in South Florida with a pitch-perfect production of Amadeus, Peter Shaffer's take on the torment wrought on composer Antonio Salieri by the arrival of crude upstart Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri alone recognizes the inspired talent of Mozart and the shallowness of his own work for the court of Austrian Emperor Joseph II. Having, as a teenager, promised God a life of virtue in return fame as a composer, Salieri feels mocked in his successful mediocrity: "God needed Mozart to let Himself into the world.
Although this fictionalized drama of 18th-Century Viennese court composer Salieri bringing down young genius Mozart seems a jealousy-inspired revenge tragedy, director Michael Edwards emphasizes its theme of a struggle with God. Music, as Salieri confesses, is "God's art," and He bestowed the most sublime gift of producing it on His darling Amadeus (whose name signifies "Beloved of God"). This, despite Salieri's prayers and difficulties in leading a virtuous life. This, despite the young Mozart's profane grossness and sexy silliness.
Jill Bloede and Shay Youngblood are attempting to breathe new life into a moribund tale. Mary Hoffman's original book could be read as a bedtime story in as little as 10 minutes. So concise is the flavorless text of Amazing Grace that sometimes it's downright hermetic, and Caroline Binch's original illustrations vividly recall the artwork of elementary reading primers -- not a beautiful recollection.
Interestingly, this production of American Buffalo is Geva Theatre Center's first staging of a Mamet play, although Geva has been performing American plays, particularly new ones, for several decades, and Buffalo is now a familiar modern classic. An almost perfect, tightly contained, three-character drama, the play is constantly amusing in Mamet's poetic simulation of working-class male speech and behavior while moving the three through deep-felt, basic aspirations into awful betrayal and defeat.
Donald Freed, a rare writer of political drama, returns to the subject of Richard Nixon, a character whose dark, twisted soul he unraveled in a previous one-man play, Secret Honor. This time around, Freed works on a larger canvas, one filled with portraits of such personages as J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Black Elk and Horatio Alger. The play takes place in Nixon's mind during the last 3 or 4 minutes of his life and is a reverie, a reflection, on America in the last century.
When American journalist Bill Buford set out to explore the roots of the violent behavior exhibited by British soccer fans, he never thought his report would contradict all the common theories regarding working-class hostility and economic disenfranchisement.
American Ambassador to England Harry Douglas (gleaming-eyed Don Walker) wants to use his weekend country home to rendevous with sexy neighbor Marian (sophisticated Alison Dietz) while his wife Lois (Jenny Aldrich, so lovely you wonder why her hubbie would stray) visits a spa. Little does amorous Harry know, when he solicits butler Perkins (Ron Halvorsen, veddy proper) to be "the soul of discretion," that Perkins has just made the same promise to Debbie Douglas.
David Hare's Amy's View contains much more than her statement, "You have to give love without any conditions at all. Just give it. And one day you will be rewarded. One day you will get it back." The play is about conflict. Resolutions are rare, as are harmonies.
David Hare writes such good dialogue that he virtually dares his detractors not to appreciate his mostly disappointingly crafted plays. Amy's View is a case in point: annoyingly obvious in the point of view of its supposedly two-sided debates and typically depressing in its story of decline -- decline of the theater, decline of the economy, decline of the arts and appreciation of art, decline of the family, and, of course, decline of the British Empire. But it plays well and, despite having four acts, never tires.
The always adventurous BNTC took on a difficult challenge with this play, if only because its theme -- the impossibility of faithfulness in male/female relationships -- cuts against the American party line, which treats infidelity as a cardinal sin. Arthur Schnitzler, an assimilated Austrian Jew writing in the 1920s about the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, rejects such a notion. In his view, infidelity is the norm, monogamy an illusion, which means men and women can't help but betray each other.
The 1995 premiere production of And Neither Have I Wings To Fly by the then-debuting Seanachai Theater Company was the sort of serendipitous treasure one happens on unawares. But Ann Noble's poignant tale of two Irish sisters in 1950 seeking their individual freedom and happiness after the loss of their mother is now just another script, relying for its fulfillment on the expertise of its interpreters.
When playwright James Still read Eva Geiringer Schloss' book, "Eva's Story: A Survivor's Tale," about her experiences during the Holocaust, he was moved to construct a play from its contents.
For its final drama of the 1900s, Southern Oregon University presents Tony Kushner's acclaimed play, Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. The play, its production and its realization lift the Department of Theater Arts to a new level of achievement, integrity and artistic courage. It will draw controversy here in this small Oregon city, more than in many of the metropolitan and international locations where Angels has been presented and gained praise.
Stage II of Venice Little Theater is known for its gutsy attempts to stage contemporary, even controversial plays, and for winning national community theater awards doing so. The Angels of Lemnos, for instance, requires a Greek chorus (however truncated in size and message), complete with masks (here worn on the backs of actors' hoods when they have to go swiftly to "normal" conversation). The set must permit multi-levels of action indoors and outdoors, weaving between past and present before a close-up audience in a rather small black box, arranged in proscenium-like format.