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THE CAKE: A Slice of Life

THE CAKE: A Ripped-From-the-Headlines Play

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Richmond Triangle Players – An Acts of Faith production

At: The Robert B Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230

Performances: February 12 – March 7,  2020

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

Stepping into Della’s North Carolina bakery shop is like stepping back in time. In an opening monologue, Della sings the praises of real butter and sugar and tells us that cake made from a box is like Scotch tape dipped in Splenda®.

Della has a lot going on in her life right now. She’s living her dream of being a contestant on The Great American Baking Show when along comes Jen, her goddaughter, who announces her impending wedding and she wants Della, her late mother’s best friend, to bake her wedding cake. Della and her husband Tim, a plumber, are stunned to find that Jen plans to marry another woman – a black woman journalist. That step back in time is multi-faceted; it is physical, geographical, social, and political.

The strong cast compellingly engages in difficult discussions about topics that are emotionally laden, faith testing, and politically controversial. Terri Moore as Della, Nicole Morris-Anastasi as Jen, Zakiyyah Jackson as Jen’s partner Macy, and Gordon Bass as Della’s husband Tim are all more than up to the task. The audience is skillfully exposed to the different points of view and nuances of each character.

And this is where Terri Moore – who recently delighted audiences as Patsy Cline’s number one fan, Louise Seger, at Hanover Tavern – pulled out all the stops. Della convincingly struggled to balance her Christian faith with her love for Jen – even searching the scriptures to see if she really understood the word of God.

In turning to her husband Tim to talk through her dilemma, Della uncovered her own marital discontent and in the second half of the one-act play (running nearly two hours with no intermission) she touchingly, hilariously, yet unsuccessfully tried to spice things up by seducing Tim. The failed seduction involved soft lights, mood music, and whipped cream. Tim later countered in a hilarious scene that will forever make you look differently at mashed potatoes.

Jen breezed into her childhood town with unresolved issues surrounding her life as a gay woman and her need to earn the approval of her late mother. Significant discussions about difficult topics that are both emotionally charged and faith-challenging occur between Della and Tim and between Jen and Macy. Macy is confident and pragmatic; she’s not really interested in anyone else’s opinion, and the most difficult thing for the audience to accept may be how Macy and the self-deprecating Jen ever fell in love with each other, much less sustain a viable relationship.

The thing is that we are able to empathize with both Della and Jen. I credit this to the combined creative ability and social intelligence of Moore, director Dawn A.  Westbrook, and playwright Bekah Brunstetter (who is also a writer for the hit television show This Is Us). The Cake provides a template for how we might all deal with the difficult topics: gender; race; marriage and more. The cast of four is excellent, with Moore and Jackson’s characters standing out as more fully developed. The Cake is a charming play, made even more delightful thanks to Terri Moore.

I think I was enamored of this play because we see Della, Jen, Macy, and Tim as people, not as issues. Westbrook’s direction is gentle, and the humor flows freely and easily shares the stage with the serious topics, keeping the audience engaged.

This slice of life play is based loosely on the true story of a Colorado baker whose refusal to bake a wedding cake for two gay men went all the way to the Supreme Court. (The Court ruled in favor of the baker, based on his religious beliefs.)

David Allan Ballas designed an inviting bake shop that cleverly converts to two bedrooms with the aid of two murphy-style beds hidden behind the shop’s shelving. The Robert B. Moss Theatre lobby has also been decorated with a variety of tempting-looking cakes and sweets. Sheamus Coleman’s sound design includes very appropriate background music, while Michael Jarett’s lighting and Sheila Russ’ costumes supported the overall look and theme and Donna Coghill’s dialect coaching helped the North Carolina accent roll gently off the tongues of Della, Jen, and Tim.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: John MacLellan

TheCake_031
Terri Moore is Della, a well-known Southern bakery owner who is faced with a dilemma that will change her life in “The Cake,” a new comedy by Bekah Brunstetter (“This is Us”), directed by Dawn A. Westbrook. Playing at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through March 7.
TheCake_337
Nicole Morris-Anastasi (left) and Zakiyyah Jackson as Jen and Macy, a couple in a bit of a crisis running up to their wedding in “The Cake,” a new play by Bekah Brunstetter (“This is Us”), directed by Dawn A. Westbrook. Playing at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through March 7

 

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: In Rest and Sleep (a dance about love, loss, reflection, revenge & unlimited chances)

STARR FOSTER DANCE: In Rest and Sleep

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: TheatreLAB The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: February 13-15: Thursday & Friday @7:30pm; Saturday @3:00pm, 5:00pm & 7:30pm

Ticket Prices: $15; $25 on Friday (includes post-performance reception)

Info: (804) 304-1523, https://m.bpt.me/event/4497856

Starrene Foster’s new work, In Rest and Sleep, begins with a bit of audience participation. It would be impossible to describe my experience without giving it away, so *SPOILER ALERT*: If you plan to see it, and want to be surprised, skip the italicized paragraph.

 

*SPOILER ALERT*

The audience is held in the lobby and bar area until it is time to enter the performing space. Latecomers will not be seated. As we prepared to enter the space, we were each given a white calla lily – a symbol of holiness and purity, but also of death and resurrection; it is a popular Easter flower. This made me think of a funeral, a feeling that was reinforced as we processed through a black curtain to the sounds of somber music. Once inside the space, we observed three dancers laying face up on the floor and a fourth sitting on a tree stump in solemn contemplation. We were instructed to toss our flowers on the dancers.

*END OF SPOILER ALERT *

 

In Rest and Sleep is described as a dance about love, loss, and reflection. It is also described, in different settings, as a dance about revenge or a dance about unlimited chances. It is all of that, and more. After the show – which runs about 40 minutes, with no intermission – my theater companion asked what I thought it meant, and my response was, whatever you needed it to mean. This is the kind of work that, after the applause, leave the audience momentarily silent, speechless, mute and alone in the midst of a crowd.

I have, on more than one occasion, remarked to Foster that I found her work dark – not just emotionally, but physically, due to the subdued lighting she and her lighting designers prefer. Yet even though In Rest and Sleep may be thought of as a dark topic, the lighting, while subdued, is not very dark at all. In fact, there are moments when Michael Jarett illuminates the space with bright flashes, like shards of enlightenment. The set, designed by Foster and Brad Lebahn, consists of two rectangles of artificial grass and a tree stump. At the beginning and again later, one dancer sits quietly on the stump carefully observing the other dancers.

The combination of stillness that feels like waiting is juxtaposed with violent reaching, grabbing pulling, dragging, and writhing. There are supportive lifts and gentle touches, but there are also kicks and shoves and intertwining phrases of movement that create a perceptible level of anxiety, of unease.

Two distinct moments in time stood out for me, capturing my attention and stirring my emotions. In a duet, one dancer stood off to the side with her right arm extended, fingers trembling in a repetitive pattern while her partner, some distance away, explored the other side of the space until the two eventually tumbled together. While this interaction was unfolding, a third dancer sat on the tree stump watching intently, and the fourth lay curled at her feet on a patch of grass – resting, or asleep. I saw myself in the dancer with the outstretched arm – reaching, disconnected – as well as in the dancer who sat intently observing, waiting for her season to become involved. Others may have connected with the dancer who was moving through space, or with the sleeping figure.

The other moment that caused me to hold my breath occurred when the four dancers ran, one after the other, to a patch of grass, dropped, rolled to center stage, got up, and repeated the pattern several times! The movement was mesmerizing, but the energy emitted was like a volcano erupting. It was over all too soon.

In Rest and Sleep,  a premiere by Starrene Foster, has only five performances this weekend, and while the audience is seated on three sides of the space, there is limited seating. Everyone is up close to the action – and the resting. On Thursday and Saturday at 3:00pm the performers are Fran Beaumont, Caitlin Cunningham, Shelby Gratz Paez, and Mattie Rogers. On Friday and on Saturday at 5:00pm and 7:30pm the cast is Kylie Hester, Erick Hooten, Anna Lebahn, and Mattie Rogers.

The RVA theater community has an Acts of Faith festival – if dance were included, In Rest and Sleep would be a prime candidate for Acts of Faith, along with the accompanying talk-back opportunities for the audience to discuss works with the cast and creative team.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Starr Foster Dance by Douglas Hayes. NOTE: Production photos were not yet available at the time of posting.

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BLOOMSDAY: An Irish-Time-Travel Love Story

BLOOMSDAY: Time Shifting & Love

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: CAT Theatre, 419 No. Wilkinson Rd., RVA 23227

Performances: February 7-22, 2020

Ticket Prices: $25 Adults; $20 RVATA Members; $15 Students

Info: (804) 804-262-9760 or cat@cattheatre.com

I was not familiar with Steven Dietz’ play, Bloomsday. Published in 2017, the four-person play is  set in Dublin, Ireland and shifts between the present and 35 years earlier. The four actors play two characters – the present-day Cait and Robert and their younger embodiments, Caithleen and Robbie. Robert also acts as narrator.

Bloomsday is a tale of love, regrets, and “what ifs.” Robbie, a young American tourist on the rebound from a breakup, joins a walking tour of James Joyce’s Dublin – following the path of Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. The tour guide, an attractive young Irish woman named Caithleen, has a group of 12 tourists ready to explore the streets of James Joyce’s novel as seen through the eyes of Leopold Bloom, but she needs another person so the tour group will not have 13 people (including herself). Robbie joins the group, then selfishly encourages the other tourists to abandon the tour (there are several pubs along the route) so he can have Caithleen all to himself – taking numerous pictures of her.

The two spend one day together. Robbie returns to Seattle where he obsesses over Caithleen until finally, 35 years later, he returns. What follows is a surreal tale in which it is sometimes impossible to tell what really happened and what is just a memory. Cait and young Cathleen, Robert and young Robbie all interact with one another, sometimes sharing the same space – which means time has warped so that the characters come face-to-face with their older/younger selves.

It’s an interesting device that forces the audience to work to keep up with these parallel universes. At one point Mike Fletcher (Robert) and Jordan Stroud (Robbie) are dressed alike. But Robbie’s messy hair and untucked shirt earn him a reprimand from his older self. The first encounter between Caithleen (Lydia MacFarlane Watt) and Cait (Martha Kelly) in Act 1 confirms for the audience, that time is, in fact, malleable in this play.

Mike Fletcher is the dominant figure. After all, his character Robert is both narrator and the one who travels back to Ireland. The interaction between Fletcher and Jordan Stroud, who plays his younger self, is interesting. It has the tension and contentiousness of a father-son relationship. I never got quite as strong an impression from Martha Kelley’s character. The mature Cait seems to have succumbed to the same unnamed mental illness that plagued her mother. Cait seems more contemplative and rational than the others, but I never got a real sense of who she was.

Lydia MacFarlane Watt was well cast as Caithleen, alternating between self-assured  confidence, self-righteous indignation, and anxious introspection. Alison Eichler has dressed Caithleen in sensible shoes, a tulip shaped skirt, white shirt and print sweater, with a large leather bag across her shoulder. The look – along with Watt’s attitude) is perfect. Eichler also created a wonderful costume with a flamboyant feather festooned had for Cait, in honor of Bloomsday – a celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses that takes place on June 16 and includes dressing up in period clothing.

Mike Fletcher and Joe Bly designed the set – a row of shop fronts, including a chemist, a pub, and a café – pasting yellowed book pages on the walls, floor, and steps. (I got up close to check to see if the pages were from James Joyce’s Ulysses but none of them were. Jimmy Mello created the sound design, which included some appropriate ambient sounds, while Jason Lucas’ lighting attempted – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – to emphasize the shifting.

While I found Bloomsday to be a hidden gem of a play, there were some areas that seemed to drag; the show runs only about 90 minutes with one intermission but I there is very little action and after a while the lilting rhythm of Irish accents (mostly good ones, that are easy to understand used by all but Robbie who is American). Mello and his cast made good use of the space, using the aisles as well as the stage. But it is the tenderness and unanswered or unanswerable questions that make this play special. An Acts of Faith Festival offering, Sunday’s nearly sold-out matinee was followed by the first of two audience talkbacks -the second will be Sunday, February 16.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios

 

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DADDY LONG LEGS: A Period Gem

DADDY LONG LEGS: Life, Longing & Love at the Turn of the 20th Century

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Colonial Heights, VA 23834

Performances: January 25 – February 22, 2020

Ticket Prices: $40 Theater only; $35 Seniors, Military & Students; $18 Dinner

Info: (804) 748-5203 or swiftcreekmill.com

Daddy Long Legs is a sweetly unconventional musical and love story, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon (Jane Eyre) and book by John Caird (Jane Eyre, Les Misérables). As a musical Daddy Long Legs is unusual in that it has only two characters and the songs are not catchy show tunes but rather poignant ballads, solos that carry the narrative, and harmonious duets that allow the two characters to interact. Further, for most of the two-act play the story is moved forward through the epistolary device of alternately having Jerusha read from letters she writes to her benefactor, “Mr. Smith,” and “Mr. Smith” reading the letters in the privacy of his posh centerstage study.

Rachel Marrs (who recently appeared in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Bright Star at the Mill) plays Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home. Jerusha is skilled at writing essays and catches the attention of one of the asylum’s trustees, Jervis Pendleton. Under the pseudonym of Mr. John Smith, Jervis, makes Jerusha an offer she can’t refuse; he offers to send her to college for four years, room, board, and a monthly allowance, on the condition that she write him a monthly letter providing details of her progress. Jervis is played by Matt Polson (Sweeney Todd/TheatreLAB, River Ditty/VARep). He is given the nickname Daddy Long Legs, the name of the 1912 novel on which this 2009 musical is based, because his elongated shadow, that Jerusha sees outside the window of the orphanage, reminds her of a spider.

Marrs’ voice is sweet and nuanced. Over the course of the four years of the play we not only hear her development in words both spoken and sung, but we see it visually in Maura Lynch Cravey’s lovely period appropriate costumes that range from a simple work pinafore to neat skirts with high necked white blouses to sleek business suits with ruffled blouses. Jerusha’s hairstyles also reflect the passage of time. Marrs is vulnerable yet fiery, making some ahead-of-the-times statements in support of women’s rights and offering an unconventional, fresh perspective on everything from life to love to literature.

Polson’s character is a tougher nut to crack. He’s the lead character and the play bears his name. But he is jealous and manipulative and deceitful. While he means well, after all, it isn’t everyday someone sends a stranger to college, all expenses paid, no strings attached. But Jervis is led to examine his own character and motives mid-way through the second act in the song “Charity,” where he questions the effects of charity on the giver and the recipient. Symbolically, Cravey has Polson strapped into an unforgiving three-piece suit – the vest of which looks more like a straight jacket than any suit I’ve ever seen. Jervis is harder to like than Jerusha, adding depth to the character and tension to the play.

The music and lyrics are sometimes gentle, sometimes warm and fuzzy, and sometimes soaring. The three-piece orchestra, under the musical direction of Paul Deiss, is partially hidden behind a scrim stage right (the audience’s left), so their presence is palpable but not intrusive. Artistic director Tom Width has invited guest director Steve Perigard to delicately guide this duo through their passionate yet halting journey. Guest designer Mercedes Schaum has designed a delightfully satisfying period set, with Jervis’s study commanding centerstage. There’s a sturdy desk, well-stocked bookcases, a solid classic typewriter, a classic candlestick telephone, and a beautifully ornate desk chair with what appears to be a woven wicker back. Other areas, from the orphanage to Jerusha’s dorm room, a rural mountain and the farm where Jerusha spends summers with her college roommates, are defined by a few large trunks, a small table and chairs, and one multi-purpose piece of storage furniture that holds props and Jerusha’s ballgown and provides a place to sit or stand as the action requires. Joe Doran’s mostly subtle lighting enhances the early 20th century ambience with soft illumination and welcoming shadows.

There were a few minutes, mostly in the first act, that seemed to drag a bit, but Marrs and Polson made these moments tolerable. (I think the slow moments were due to the script, rather than Marrs, Polson, or director Perigard.) Polson also manages to avoid the very real possibility of coming across as a predator – after all, he’s a wealthy man with a lot of money and Jerusha lives during an era when women did not have the right to vote and some considered a college education wasted on a woman. Yet these two manage to all in love because of her intellect and wit, rather than in spite of it. This along makes Daddy Long Legs remarkable. With its multi-dimensional characters, pleasant music, beautiful vocals, and visual appeal, Daddy Long Legs is quite a delightful evening. Even my most frequent theater companion, Albert, who rarely has much to say about the many shows we see together, enthusiastically declared Daddy Long Legs one of the best and most enjoyable shows he’s ever seen at The Mill.

BTW: I was curious, and you might be, too. The name Jerusha is a Hebrew name that means “her husband’s possession.”

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Robyn O’Neill Photography

 

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ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD: A Play That Balances the Philosophical and the Mundane

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD: “Actors Are the Opposite of People”

Performances: January 26 – February 16, 2020

Ticket Prices: $35 Adults; $30 Seniors; $25 RVATA; $20 Students (with ID)

Info: (804) 340-1405 or quilltheatre.org

The night before attending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a well-meaning acquaintance winkingly advised me to be prepared to spend three hours in the theater. A visiting family member from out of town warily declined to accompany me. Quill artistic director James Ricks has wanted to present Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead since he was in high school. He, like many others, are intrigued by the word play and the Calvinist philosophy and theology with its perspective on human mortality.

From hearing the comments of others, it would seem to be a play one either loves or hates. But my own experience was somewhere in the middle. I enjoyed the wordplay, I appreciated the humor – both the slapstick, physical kind and the deeper, more thoughtful kind, but I also, like my aforementioned acquaintance, felt that perhaps some sort of warning or preparation – not spoilers but at least a nod to the nature of this work – needs to be given to potential attendees who are not familiar with the play.

Two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet interact in a setting redolent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The puns and jokes and wordplay are a non-stop delight, and that along with the delightful interaction between Tyler Stevens (Rosencrantz) and Adam Turck (Guildenstern) makes the three hours (with two short intermissions) pass more quickly than one might expect. But make no mistake; it’s all about the words and the ideas. Jane Raine’s simple set consists of a thrust stage, three beams (two vertical, one horizontal), three steps across the upstage area, a few wooden boxes and barrels in the third act, and some hanging lights. When Rosencrantz wants to give Guildenstern his full attention, he plops down on the floor/ground.

Visually, Anna Bialkowski offers some period and some fanciful costumes, but director James Ricks has kept the attention on playwright Tom Stoppard’s words and uses movement as kinetic accents to deliver the message.

The play begins with a long, and eventually monotonous (or mesmerizing, depending on your personal perspective) coin toss game in which the coins land heads up more than 90 times in a row. Stoppard makes liberal use of Shakespeare, inserting vaguely familiar lines like, “When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.” This just makes the listener feel all the more at sea when the characters say things like, “The toenails, on the other hand, never grow at all,” or when Rosencrantz screams “Fire” and then derides the audience because no one reacted, “they’d all burn to death in their shoes!”

“There’s so much to do just in the text itself,” Turck, a self-described existentialist, remarked at the Sunday afternoon talkback, during which he described his character, Guildenstern, as “an agent of chaos.” Stevens  evaluated Rosencrantz as being a little easier, less daunting. Director Ricks summarized the work as a young man’s irreverence leading to a new life form, but Joe Pabst, the lead Player of the Tragedians, interjected a bit of pragmatism into the discussion noting that much of what has led to dissertations being written and dissected on this play was “just Stoppard being a dick.”

Like all Acts of Faith productions, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead has at least one or two talkbacks scheduled. I think this is one in which a talkback is very helpful, since the play itself is not self-explanatory, nor was it meant to be.

In addition to Stevens, Turck, and Pabst, the cast includes Liam Storm as Alfred, a much-put upon Tragedian, Joel White as a moody Hamlet, Mia Richards as Ophelia (a victim of domestic abuse, but that’s a whole other story), Travis Williams as Claudius, Donna Marie Miller as Gertrude, and Bill Blair as Polonius. Cedar Curran, Joel Kimling, and Josh Mullins complete the cast as unnamed members of the touring band of Tragedians.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is not a play you just walk in on cold. While not required, it helps to have at least some familiarity with Hamlet and Waiting for Godot. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a play that comes with prerequisites; one needs to prepare for it in advance:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Brief Notes

Calvinism: a branch of Protestantism established by John Calvin, it develops the doctrines of Luther, and emphasizes justification by faith, predestination, and the Grace of God

Existentialism: a philosophical theory that emphasizes the importance of the individual as a free and responsible, thinking, feeling human being capable of making choices

Theatre of the Absurd: dramatic works by European and American writers in the 1950s and 1960s that share elements of existential philosophy, such as human hopelessness; often include lots of word play and little or nothing happens to change the lives of the characters

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Production photos were not available at the time of publication.

 

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STUPID KID: It’s Not What You Think

STUPID KID: An Unwelcome Homecoming

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: January 23 – February 16, 2020

Ticket Prices: $35 General Admission; $25 Military & RVATA; $15 Students

Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org

I often choose not to learn too much about a new play prior to seeing it. I want to enter the space unbiased; I like to be surprised. Well, no amount of preparation would have fully prepared me for Sharr White’s Stupid Kid. The two-act play, making it’s east coast debut at The Firehouse Theatre, is populated with strong characters, filled with twists and turns, and offers a surprise ending that leaves as many questions unanswered as it resolves. Kudos to the cast and director Alison Devereaux for a physically demanding performance that made us laugh, gasp, cheer, and even boo.

From the start we know something isn’t quite right – there are secrets and things are not what they appear to be. When Chick Ford (Adam Valentine) arrives home a day early after being in prison for 14 years, his parents are not pleased. His father Eddie, played by Andrew Firda, pretends not to know him and his mother Jeanette or Gigi (Boomie Pedersen) greets him with an expletive. Well, most of her comments are bookended by expletives, so it may not be entirely personal.

The plot thickens when we learn that Chick was sentenced to life for murder, that his parents lives were shattered by the fallout, and his father has become disabled with back pain and has become dependent on painkillers. The details come slowly with the aid and sometimes despite the active interference of nosy neighbor Franny Hawker (Jeannie Goodyear) and Gigi’s brother Mike (Arik Cullen).

This may be the world’s most dysfunctional family, but White’s characters are mostly familiar, believable, and multi-dimensional. Eddie and Gigi seem to be constantly bickering but scattered among the expletives are pet names and hints of true concern and genuine love. Whenever Chick tries to talk about the crime he confessed to, he gets shut down, and no one believes there is any possibility he could be innocent – despite the fact he was released based on new DNA evidence. Uncle Mike is the story’s obvious villain. Vain, narcissistic, and sadistic, he was once the sheriff of the small unnamed Colorado town where the story takes place – and rather than trying to hide evidence of his prior and current corruption, he rubs everyone’s nose in it. I can’t say much more without giving away important and juicy plot elements.

So many of the cast members stand out. Both Boomie Pederson and Andrew Firda seem to land strong, often quirky, and interesting roles. Pedersen gives a satisfying and delightful performance in Stupid Kid, projecting sarcasm when needed but switching to a well-hidden tenderness that makes Gigi seem more authentic. Andrew Firda spends much of the play in a bathrobe and socks, bent over with back pain, yet still manages to display the strength and humanity of Eddie; Eddie has real problems, but there is something solid and dependable underneath it all. Firda never allows Eddie to become a figure of pity.

Adam Valentine portrays Chick as a young man whose life has been controlled by others – his parents, the prison system, his Uncle Mike – but has somehow managed to hold onto a sense of self. And then there’s Arik Cullen, who played Uncle Mike as a straight up bad guy with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Some in the audience booed when he came out for his bow. Let’s not forget about Uncle Mike’s young ward, Hazel, played by Lorin Hope Turner.

A casebook study of child abuse, sex trafficking, domestic abuse, and more, Hazel’s mistreatment at the hands of Uncle Mike culminates in a shocking display featuring the show’s most violent and physically challenging scene. Jeannie Goodyear, as the nosy neighbor Franny watched all this, often with a bag of chips or some other snack at hand, as if it was a soap opera. Goodyear added a sense of the absurd and was a perfect counterpoint to the melodrama unfolding around her, even reporting the latest news concerning the town’s outrage over Chick’s early release.

There’s so much going on in Stupid Kid, but one thing is for sure; these people may lack what we think of as formal education, but they are certainly not stupid. There is much worthy of discussion, making this an appropriate choice as an Acts of Faith offering.

Alan Williamson designed an appropriately drab set that reflects the financial and emotional status of the Ford family. There is a large patch of duct tape on the living room chair and an impressive complete set change during intermission, from interior to exterior.  If anything, the outside of the house looks a little less shabby than the inside. Emily Laurelle Tappan designed the costumes to look like discount sticker day specials from the local thrift store.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Bill Sigafoos

 

 

 

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HARRIET TUBMAN AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: Captivating Children’s Theatre

HARRIET TUBMAN AND THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: “It’s Like History Class, With Music”

This production is part of the 2020 Acts of Faith theater season.

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis, in collaboration with Kingston Marley Holmes (age 11) and Emmitt Christian Holmes (age 5)

At: Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn; 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, RVA 23230

Performances: January 24 – March 1, 2020

Ticket Prices: $21; contact the theater for discounted group rates or to apply for a free Community Tickets Grant for nonprofit organizations.

Info: (804) 282-2620 or virginiarep.org

Virginia Rep opened its 2019-2020 Children’s Theatre season with a magical musical, Tuck Everlasting, based on Natalie Babbitt’s children’s novel about a family that finds immortality in the waters of a remote spring in the New Hampshire countryside and the grieving young girl who befriends them. The second production of the season is Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, a spirit-filled production with book and lyrics by Douglas Jones (who was in the audience opening night), music by Ron Barnett, direction by Katrinah Carol Lewis, and an energetic, tightly-knit ensemble of six who made the hour-long production speed by. “It felt like just ten minutes!” was Kingston’s estimate.

The content of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad seems to be targeted primarily towards the older kids, say ages 9 and up, but even Emmitt was alert and committed – especially when he realized the audience was encouraged to snap, clap, and sing along. For parents, teachers, scout leaders, and other adult types, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad is enjoyable, entertaining, and informative. The author, Jones, and director, Lewis, do not talk down to the younger audience members, and at the same time they avoid the trap of some children’s shows of including double entendre’d jokes and language designed to appeal to the adults. Well done.

I described the production as “spirit-filled,” and I intentionally meant that in two ways. The production includes several well-known African-American spirituals, including “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “ Go Down Moses,” “Wade in the Water,” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Most include or encourage audience participation, and the text weaves in detailed but uncomplicated explanations of the hidden meanings of the words of these songs. The program, which doubles as a poster, includes a QR code that links to a 2-page PDF resource on Spirituals.

There is also a lovely 6-page PDF study guide with a brief bio of Harriet Tubman, a glossary of terms, critical thinking questions and conversation starters, interesting facts, activities, and a page about theater cues. You can find and print the guide here: https://va-rep.org/tour/guides.html

In a second sense, the program was spirit-filled with the ensemble’s acting and energy. Marjie Southerland (whose most recent local credit seems to be as Angela in the workshop productions of Warm, at The Firehouse Theatre last August) has the title role of Harriet Tubman while Elisabeth Ashby, Dan Cimo, Dorothy Dee-D. Miller, Gregory Morton, and Durron Marquis Tyre take on all the other roles: Tubman’s father, brothers, abolitionists, book publisher, passengers on the underground railroad. Southerland holds down the lead with confidence and sometimes a little well-placed humor, but this is truly an ensemble effort with everyone carrying their weight as well as a tune.

And finally, the program was spirit-filled through the words and memories of Harriet Tubman. And that is why, in spite of the lively music, and Emily Hake Massie’s simple, rustic, and serviceable set design, and Anthony Smith’s foot-tapping musical direction, and Sara Grady’s attractive period costumes (Kingston was particularly taken with Durron Tyre’s top hat) I found my eyes leaking from time to time. Tubman’s own words, spoken by Southerland, read from the text of Sarah H. Bradford’s biography about her, and resurrected in song, maintain the power to change the world, one life at a time. That is something the youngest audience members might not yet understand, but it was, for me, the singular purpose of this work, and in that it succeeded.

As far as the target audience was concerned, Emmitt declared Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, “Good! It was awesome because of the actors.” And Kingston said, “It was like history class but fun, with music!” Walking to my car afterwards, Kingston and Emmitt debated the pros and cons of live theater versus television and movies. Live theater, Kingston concluded, “is more captivating.”

Mic Drop

#####

 

Check the Virginia Rep website for additional information on:

Sensory Friendly Performances suitable for patrons with Autism and other sensory or social disabilities. For these performances, changes will be made in lighting, sound, seating arrangements, and length of performance to create a more welcoming environment. A Sensory Friendly performance will be offered at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 22. See the website for more details: http://va-rep.org/sensory_friendly.html

Audio Described Performances in collaboration with Virginia Voice, in which actions, expressions and gestures are described during gaps between dialogue throughout the performance for patrons with low vision or blindness. Patrons are also invited to participate in a tactile tour before the performance. An Audio Described performance will be offered at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 26, 2020. Refer to the website for more details: https://va-rep.org/access_for_the_blind.html

Virginia Rep also offers a free Community Tickets Grant for nonprofit organizations who have a demonstrated need for complimentary tickets;  groups must fill out a short application that can be found at: bit.ly/CommunityTix

Performance Schedule

Evening performances at 7:00 p.m. on select Fridays, check the website for dates

Matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday

Matinee performances at 10:30 a.m. on select Saturdays, check the website for dates

#####

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Photos were not yet available at the time of this publication.

Featured

THE GLASS MENAGERIE: A Memory Play

THE GLASS MENAGERIE: A Fragile Classic

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

5th Wall Theatre

At: TheatreLAB The Basement, 300 E. Broad St. RVA 23219

Performances: January 17 – February 8, 2020

Ticket Prices: $32 General Admission; $20 RVATA Cardholders; $20 Students

Info: (804) 359-2003 or 5thwalltheatre.org

5th Wall Theatre’s production of The Glass Menagerie, is a tender rendering of the Tennessee Williams classic, described as a “memory play” about a dysfunctional family. Told by a narrator who is also one of the four actors in this five-character play, the story of an aging southern belle and her attempts to marry off her shy and mentally fragile daughter and to direct her restless son into adulthood holds both universal truths and uniquely American appeal. Keep reading for a few more comments on this perspective.

I don’t recall reading The Glass Menagerie in high school (many decades ago) but I do remember seeing the 2013 production by the Sycamore Rouge Theatre (a great loss to Petersburg and the Richmond theater community). Where kb saine took the unusual route of having two men play the role of the narrator and the younger Tom Wingfield, Carol Piersol chose the more traditional route of using a single actor. Matt Bloch, who played both the older Tom, who is the author narrator and the younger Tom, was the gentleman caller in that earlier production. And I do believe I saw Dean Knight, who shared the role of Tom Wingfield in that earlier production with Deejay Gray (who is now the artistic director of TheatreLAB The Basement) sitting unobtrusively in the audience at The Basement watching the show. But enough small world reminiscing – the memory play was not meant to remind me of previous productions.

Morrie Piersol’s direction made Williams’ characters seem very believable, and even slightly humorous – and that’s no small feat when you’ve got a mother (Lian-Marie Holmes) who vacillates between longing for the past (i.e., the “Old South” of debutantes and gentleman callers being served lemonade by vast numbers of servants) and screeching at her adult children to make something of themselves and save them all from destitution. But this was the 1940s and today I’m sure someone would recommend therapy and perhaps a prescription for her. Lian-Marie Holmes, who I first remember seeing in 5th Wall’s recent production of Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods is once again playing someone’s mother, but this role is meatier and juicier and has more dimension. And Holmes, who appears to be quite petite in stature, has an enormous presence that commands the stage, even when she is speaking quietly.

Louise Keeton, in the role of the daughter, Laura, seems to try to physically transform herself in the opposite direction. You see, Laura, if she could, would not just make herself appear smaller, but would try to disappear entirely. Lost in her own world of glass animal figurines and scratchy Victrola recordings left by the father who abandoned them (the fifth character who appears as a gigantic portrait on one wall of the family’s shabby apartment), Laura nearly succeeds in disappearing. Her mother refuses to acknowledge her physical or mental challenges – a limp resulting from a childhood illness and low self-esteem resulting in part from overestimating the impact of the limp. Laura walks with her head down, avoids eye contact, speaks softly, and seems to shrink before our very eyes. The sadness on her face is heart-breaking.

Matt Bloch navigates a delicate balancing act: Tom is a poet, stuck in a monotonous warehouse job; he’s a single guy saddled with the responsibility of caring for a family; he’s been raised as a southern gentleman, but longs for adventure; he bears both the burden and the legacy of his father who is euphemistically described as a telephone man who “fell in love with long distance.” I think Piersol has guided Bloch well; his character could so easily go over the edge and seem selfish and uncaring or wimpy and brow-beaten, but there is clearly humanity in all the members of this family.

In the second act, we get to meet Jim O’Connor, the Gentleman Caller, played by Cooper Sved. Sved is lively and energetic and the only one who seems to really see Laura. But I just didn’t find him trustworthy. Perhaps it was because Tom made such a point of telling us about Jim’s public speaking classes, maybe that made him seem, perhaps, just a bit fake. Or maybe it was the way he brought Laura out of her shell, only to drop the bomb that he was already engaged to someone else. Was he, really? Or was this part of his smooth-talking persona? Good acting, Sved – you made me not like you (no small feat after Girlfriend, Huck and Tom, and Atlantis).

I said I would address those universal truths. So, The Glass Menagerie speaks longingly of the “Old South,” and Amanda is a card-carrying member of the DAR. who speaks warmly, if somewhat vaguely, of a youth filled with servants and “planters” and sons of planters, and acres of land and – well, you get the picture. So why doesn’t that bother me? Because those questions have already been addressed by the Howard University Players who performed the play as early as 1947 and even further by the legendary actress Ruby Dee, who played Amanda in 1989.  Dee replaced membership in the DAR with membership in DST sorority and updated the play’s historical perspective on several fronts.

Back to the present. . .

Tennessee Dixon designed the set and projections. The set, quite shabby throughout the first act – I was particularly repulsed by the bare mattress or cushion of the sofa – got spruced up for the Gentleman Caller in the second act with cushions and curtains, a tablecloth, a new lamp, and a cover for that awful sofa! The projections, which are part of the script, include pictures such as blue roses when Laura’s high school nickname is explained, as well as words and phrases, some from songs or poems, some taken from the character’s own words. I found the pictorial projections pretty, interesting, and helpful, but some of the verbal ones were distracting. I wanted to translate the French and when the words appeared before the characters spoke them, I temporarily lost the flow of the dialogue. Ryan Dygert’s sound design was mostly subtle and soothing, a panacea for Laura’s internal stress and Michael Jarett’s lighting was dark and moody. I’m not sure if the candlelight counts as lighting or direction or both, but when Laura blew out that final candle, we were sure this story had no happy ending. But, as promised in 5th Wall’s mission, it does provide us insight into the human condition.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

 

Featured

LATIN BALLET: Legend of the Poinsettia 2020

‘THE LATIN BALLET OF VIRGINIA: LEGEND OF THE POINSETTIA 2020

A Dance Review and Seasonal Observations by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road, Glen Allen, VA, 23192

Performance Were: January 9-12, 2020

Ticket Prices: $10 – $20

Info: (804) 356-3876 or http://www.latinballet.com

The Legend of the Poinsettia is, for many, a local holiday tradition, much as The Nutcracker ballet has become in communities across the USA. This year I attended a Thursday morning production. Because it is designed for school field trips, the program has been truncated and lasts only one hour. I am familiar with the full-length two-act version and was impressed that the field trip edition is seamless, and if you didn’t know what was omitted, it didn’t feel as if anything was missing.

I noted that the indomitable Miss Frances Wessells, who normally dances the role of Abuelita, the grandmother, was absent. I understand that she is saving her appearance for the final performance on Sunday at 3:00pm, and at age 100 (yes, she officially became a centenarian last August!), she can choose to dance whenever and wherever she wants!

There was no soloist, singing “Ave Maria” as well as several other selections. Also, the life-sized nativity, where the Virgin Mary usually takes up residence for most of the second act, remained empty.

Other differences were not cast related. This year’s production has done away with the traditional, and sometimes bulky, set and replaced it with stunningly beautiful projections of background scenes, buildings, window boxes, the night sky, whatever is needed to enhance and promote the storyline. The program doesn’t list a credit for the projections, but Antonio hidalgo Paz is credited for lighting design and technical direction with Steve Kohler as technical assistant.

Dominion Energy sponsored the program as well as some of the schools present. But while the weather was sunny in Richmond and Glen Allen, some schools from Fredericksburg were forced to cancel due to snowy conditions just a little father north of the Glen Allen venue. Those present ooh’d and ahh’d when the curtain went up, and again when the company’s men – Jay Williams, Nicolas Betancourt Sotolongo, and Glen Lewis, performed flips and handsprings across the stage. But this is Latin Ballet, and I felt that the young attendees’ responses were subdued – either because this was their first time attending the theater experience or because their teachers and chaperones had cautioned them to be on their best behavior. And they were – on their best behavior, that is.

At the end, company member Jay Williams invited audience members onstage for a mini-hiphop class, which offered many aspiring performers the opportunity to show off their best moves. The young audience members seemed to enjoy meeting the cast, taking pictures, and getting autographs nearly as much as the performance itself.

            The Legend of the Poinsettia tells the story of Little Maria (with Sydney Smith and Kaia Davis-Martin, who performed on Thursday morning, alternating in the role).  After the sudden death of her mother, who was teaching her how to weave a colorful blanket, Maria finds herself in need of a gift to present to the Baby Jesus on Epiphany Day on January 6. Epiphany or Three King’s Day (Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos) celebrates the 12th day of Christmas and the legend of the three Wise Men bringing gifts to the Christ Child. This provides a great excuse for those who did not take down their Christmas trees on January 1 to just say you were waiting to celebrate Epiphany.

The narration, given in English and Spanish, also emphasizes that this is also the story of “the true spirit of giving.” Not only is there entertainment and a moral, but there is also history, as the program explains how the poinsettia came to be a symbol of Christmas after Joel Roberts Poinsett, first ambassador from the US to Mexico in 1825, imported clippings and cultivated the plants that came to bear

As I have written previously, The Legend of the Poinsettia is a family-friendly, multi-cultural, multi-generational festival featuring dances, music, and colorful costumes from Columbia, Mexico, and Spain. There are cultural offerings from Mexico (the origin of the legend and of the poinsettia plant), Colombia (King’s birthplace, which also celebrates the nine nights before Christmas with las novenas including songs, prayers, and nativity scenes), Venezuela (the home of the gaitas or festive songs that blend the Spanish and African cultures), the Dominican Republic (home of the bachata, a mixture of Cuban bolero and son), Puerto Rico (home of the Christmas parrandas or musical festivities) and Spain (home of flamenco and the Christmas novenas). A blend of solemn candle lighting and prayers with festive singing and dancing is the common thread that ties together the many cultures and traditions, concluding with the miracle of the poinsettia plant, represented by dancers in red and green. The Spirit of the Poinsettia, floating around the perimeter of the stage in a voluminous read gown from which individual poinsettia “plants” emerge, may remind some of the Mother Ginger figure in The Nutcracker who hides a dozen small children under her huge gown.

Tickets are still available for a weekend of family-friendly shows

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Photos from Latin Ballet website; photos of Jay Williams working with the children by Julinda.

 

 

Featured

21st ANNUAL YES! DANCE FESTIVAL: Presented by K Dance

K DANCE PRESENTS: 21st Annual Yes! Dance Festival

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St, RVA 23220

Performances: December 20 & 21, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 general; $15 for RVATA & Students

Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org

This isn’t the first time K Dance has presented the Yes! Dance Festival at the Firehouse Theatre, but it is the first time as the venue’s resident dance company.

This year, the 21st annual Yes! Dance Festival presented a compact and somewhat mysterious collection of works by four companies – not including Kaye Weinstein Gary’s own K Dance – from across the USA. The festival is a great chance for those who don’t have the time or money to travel the nation to sample what’s happening in other parts of the country. Some of the artists are nationally and internationally known, with credits including Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch list.

Catherine Messina (Atlanta, GA) performed her solo, “gamesetmatch,” which did not appear to have anything to do with tennis. Messina entered from the aisle, coming down the steep steps from the tech booth, and walked onto the stage where she sat and removed her boots and socks. Then she danced for a brief interlude, sinewy, winding phrases, interspersed with intense moments of silence in which she stared at the audience. Then, quite matter of factly, she sat, put her socks and boots on, and exited the same way she came. In a blog for Dance Canvas, Messina wrote that her work “centers around the intersection of strangers [sic] lives” and while she was not speaking specifically of this solo, “gamesetmatch” is steeped in a certain randomness that challenges the viewer to choose to engage or remain aloof. https://dancecanvas.wordpress.com/2019/12/19/catherinemessina/

Li Chiao-Ping Dance (Madison, WI) presented two works, the premiere of “here n o w here” and “moi non plus.” The first, a duet performed by Alfonso Cervera and piper Morgan Hayes, included the narrative by the dancers, variations of “barely there, bodily here.” The dancers dressed themselves from a scattered collection of clothes placed on the floor (matching gray sweaters and plaid leggings), moved through a compelling selection of intertwining movement phrases that bore the kiss of contact improvisation. Soloist Lauren Johns, dressed in a cutaway white dress with bustier top moved through “moi non plus” with an air of mystery mixed with boldness; I wondered later if the work was a direct response to the song and later the erotic film that share the same title. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Je_t%27aime…_moi_non_plus

slowdanger (Pittsburgh, PA) is the creative partnership of anna thompson and taylor knight. They performed their duet, “memory 6,” in layers of clothes topped wit ski masks. Their look and sometimes sustained movement reminded me of the noh drama-inspired works of Eiko and Koma, The two slowly built up to a level of transcendence and just when it seemed we were about to be lifted to another plane with them, thompson broke the spell with a single loud clap, and the duo removed their ski masks are returned to earth. The company’s website describes “memory 6” as the seventh installment of a series, in which, “while traversing a purgatory of their own fragmented memories, two bodies combine to build a new form through movement and sound.” http://www.slowdangerslowdanger.com/memory-6.html

MamLuft & Co. Dance (Cincinnati, OH) also presented two works. “You Are Mine!,” choreographed b Hannah Williamson, proved to be darkly dramatic. It was performed by 4 women and 1 male dancer, all dressed in black. One commandeered a throne-like, high-backed chair, and seemed alternately to be in charge and to be the object of the other’s attention. Susan Honer’s “Solos for Woman,” dancer Claire Dieringer shed layers of black to reveal a rainbow striped unitard. The company normally specializes in evening-length dance theater works and their works often examine socially relevant subject matter such as shifts of power, aging, and memory loss. https://www.mamluftcodance.org/about

K Dance closed the program with “Leaf on the Wind,” a dance based on Cynthia Uhrich and Jen Tuder’s five-minute play of the same name, directed by Jacqueline Jones and choreographed by Kaye Weinstein Gary. Two green leaves (Jessica Rawls and Andrew Etheredge) shared a tree with an orange leaf (Gary). A fourth character, a Garden Gnome (Courtney Hans) seemed to have a bit more to do than in the original script as she subtly rotated on a stool in a downstage corner, indicating, I assume, the passage of time (although she moved counterclock-wise). The play started off humorously enough, but it soon became evident that Green Leaf 1 (Rawls) was a bit of a bully bend on discriminating against the Orange Leaf, while her branch-mate, Green Leaf 2 (Etheridge) was intent on keeping the peace. As the work progressed from humor to melodrama, the play evolved into choreography that reflected and eventually resolved the conflict.

A signature of Gary’s Dance Festivals is the Re-Cap that features dancers from all the companies in a brief finale. The works seemed to feature a common thread of some sort of conflict or confrontation, although there was no specified theme. All of this took place in the space of ninety minutes, which was just the right amount of dance in just the right amount of time. For those who did not get to opening night, there are performances at 3pm and 8pm Saturday, and the Saturday evening performance will be followed by a talk with the performers.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson & The Firehouse Web Page

 

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RICHMOND BALLET: Why Do We Love “The Nutcracker”?

RICHMOND BALLET: The Nutcracker – a Holiday Classic

Reflections on a Ballet by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts | Carpenter Theatre | 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219

Performances: December 13-23, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25-$125

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

Why is The Nutcracker a holiday tradition – what do nutcrackers have to do with Christmas? According to German folklore, nutcrackers bring good luck and protection to your family and home. It represents power and strength, guarding your family against danger and baring its teeth to ward off evil spirits while serving as a messenger of goodwill.

The Nutcracker character originated with Prussian author E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story, The Nutcracker and The King of Mice. In the story, the Stahlbaum family has an annual Christmas party and their children, Marie, Fritz, and their sister Louise, receive gifts from their godfather, Drosselmeyer, a clockmaker with a talent for making mechanical toys. The story, filled with

about the triumph of good over evil. In 1844 French author Alexander Dumas père, adapted Hoffman’s story, changing Marie’s name to Clara. The family became the Silberhauses. This was the version that became a ballet, created in 1892 by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa (French) and Lev Ivanov (Russian). The Petipa and Ivanov choreography became the model for many of our contemporary productions.

The Richmond Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker was conceived by the company’s Artistic Director, Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell with artistic direction and choreography by Winslett and scenery and props by Caldwell. (The magical tree was designed by Alain Vaës and the lush costumes are by David Heuvel.) This year marks Winslett’s 40th production of the holiday classic for Richmond Ballet. From time to time, she makes changes and refreshes the ballet, which keeps it as interesting for the dancers as it is for the audiences.

The Richmond Ballet Nutcracker is a beautifully mounted production that appeals to both children and adults. There is, of course, dancing. While the “star” of the show is Clara, danced on Wednesday by McKenzie Fisher, who shares the coveted role with Kyla Williams, there is plenty of dancing by the adult company members.  There is a lovely duet for the Snow Queen and King (Melissa Frain and Ira White) and later Lauren Archer and Trevor Davis, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, danced the “Grand Pas de Deux.” After spending the fall semester teaching dance history, it was hard not to think of the changing roles of men and women in ballet from the Classical period (of which The Nutcracker is a prime example) to the Romantic period (when women became more prominent). I was torn between watching Davis spin Archer with mechanical precision – almost as if she were one of Drosselmeyer’s inventions — and gasping in awe as she ran and leaped, landing precariously and gloriously atop his shoulder. Repeatedly.

This ballet is also filled with character dancing, from the halting waltz by the grandparents (Susan Massey and Marcelo Outeiro) to the mouse battle with Anthony Oates as the Mouse King. The second act has something for everyone, dancing flowers and angels, and specialty dances (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese,  Russian, and more. Izabella Tokev and Fernando Sabino were mesmerizing as the Snake and Her Charmer, and the Russian dancers, Patrick Lennon and Logan O’Neil with Matthew Frain as their Dancing Bear is always a favorite. The Trépak, based on a traditional Ukranian folk dance has the men jumping in the air, then spinning on the floor like break dancers, while the bear adds a touch of humor, wearing red shoes to accent his furry costume, and moon walking off the stage while blowing kisses to the audience.

But wait, there’s more. The costumes are stunning, providing a visual delight, along with the huge, colorful set and props like the magical Swan Sleigh that glides across the stage carrying Clara and her Little Prince (Nicholas Blankenship).

And, finally, there is Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. It is familiar from the opening notes through the Finale and is probably the first classical music many children are ever exposed to. There are magical melodies associated with each scene that evoke memories of previous productions and prompt associations with idealized visions of Christmases past, present, and yet to come. The icing on the cake in this kingdom of sweets is that the music is played live, by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Erin Freeman and a 30+ member Snow Choir, directed by Lisa Fusco.

The Nutcracker wraps young and old in a warm, familiar fantasy. It means Christmas and traditions and family, and a complete letting go of the stresses of everyday life for two hours of joy.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Richmond Ballet Facebook Page

 

Alvin Ailey
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GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST: Bifocals Senior Theatre

GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST: Bifocals Turns a Lens on A Christmas Carol

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: CAT Theatre, 419 No. Wilkinson Rd., RVA 23227

Performances: December 16, 2019

Ticket Prices: $10

Info: (703) 501-6811 or cat@cattheatre.com

I’ve been aware of the Bifocals Senior Theatre for quite some time, but this was the first time I actually got to see them in action. The company of seniors (55+) for seniors regularly tours to area senior centers, but they present two performances (one matinee and one evening on the same day) of each show at the CAT Theatre on No. Wilkinson Road.

The current show, Great Caesar’s Ghost, the first of four touring events for the season, is a humorous take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Here, a woman business owner who has a reputation of being hard to get along with gets a visit from the ghost of Julius Caesar who shows her the error of her ways. The pared-down plot doesn’t bother to take her on a journey to the past, present, and future, but the result is the same.

Anne Kight Lloyd plays the lead role of Patricia Watson with an appropriately hard-nosed edginess – perhaps slightly influenced by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Peter Holleran is Caesar’s Ghost – in sandals, a toga, golden arm bands and a laurel wreath headband. In contrast to Lloyd, his character is more along the lines of, let’s say, Steve Martin – over-the-top and played for laughs.

Donna Toliver-Walker and Rob Stuebner fill all the supporting roles; each play three characters, often communicating with the formidable Ms. Watson via phone – the kind with curly cords!

Running under an hour with no intermission and including a holiday sing-along at the end, Great Caesar’s Ghost is an amusing divertissement. The production’s sparse set, consisting of a desk with a laptop and telephone, a door frame, and a pedestal that does double duty as a telephone stand as well as a concierge desk, along with the minimal lighting make this production easy to transport and I imagine it would probably be a welcome addition to a senior center’s programming.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: CAT Theatre Facebook page

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THE WILD WOMEN OF WINEDALE: A New Jones, Hope, Wooten Women’s Comedy

THE WILD WOMEN OF WINEDALE: A New Jones Hope Wooten Comedy

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: CAT Theatre, 419 No. Wilkinson Rd., RVA 23227

Performances: December 6-21, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 Adults; $20 RVATA Members; $15 Students

Info: (804) 804-262-9760 or cat@cattheatre.com

Another comedy by the team who brought us The Dixie Swim Club, The Savannah Sipping Society, Always a Bridesmaid, Doublewide, Texas, and more, The Wild Women of Winedale premiered in Jonesborough, Tennessee in October 2018. Like other plays by the trio, Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, The Wild Women of Winedale is set in the present and takes as its subject the life defining events of a group of mature women. It takes place over two months in the late spring (so no, it isn’t a holiday play) in the apparently fictitious town of Winedale, VA, not far from Richmond. One sister, Fanny Wild Cantrelle, played by Rebekah Spence, works for The Museum of Virginia (and that is not a typo).

Fanny’s sister, Willa Wild (Pamela Bradley) is a nurse, and the two are caring for their elderly beloved aunt who is on her deathbed when the already burdened household is descended upon by their sister-in-law Johnnie Faye Wild (Annie Zannetti) who is affectionately known as “Jef.”  In the all-female cast, Audrey Sparrow and Kathy Northrop Parker play all the supporting roles – primarily a series of women who are being interviewed by Fanny for a video project on life-defining moments in the lives of women. One interview, which I call the mother monologue, was particularly heartfelt. Widowhood, divorce, the loss of jobs, job stress, and the death of their beloved aunt anchor these women. Secrets and old rivalries are revealed and provide fuel for hijinks and hilarity as these mid-50 to 60 year old women struggle to find new meaning in life.

Directed by Amy Berlin, the laughs come non-stop and the timing is excellent – in the first act. I was beginning to think this was one of my favorite Jones, Hope, Wooten shows, but then, suddenly, the second act seemed to lose the momentum and flair that won me over in Act 1. Still, Joe Bly’s homey cluttered living room set was nicely done – and kudos to the production team members who had to clean up after Fanny’s feverish de-cluttering epiphany. Greg Sparrow’s sound design was also a key element, with rainstorms and dripping water from a roof with multiple leaks, and there was also a very appropriate soundtrack that fit perfectly with characters’ utterances.

The Wild Women of Winedale is entertaining, sweet, and funny; the laughs come easily and frequently. It seemed to lag a bit in Act 2, but fans of the Jones, Hope, Wooten catalog of comedy should find it satisfying.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios

 

 

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CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: 43rd Annual “Nutcracker”

THE CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: The Nutcracker

Observations on the Nutcracker, 43rd Annual Production by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Atlee High School Theatre, 9414 Atlee Station Rd., Mechanicsville, VA 23116

Performances: December 14, 15, 20-21, 2019

Ticket Prices: $12-24

Info: (804) 798-0945 or http://concertballet.com/ or concertballetofvirginia@yahoo.com

I’ve seen many of the Concert Ballet of Virginia galas, and even the pared-down excerpts of The Nutcracker, but this is the first time I’ve seen their full-length version of the holiday classic.

Synopsis: The Silberhaus’ host their annual Christmas party, attended by their children Clara and Fritz and an assortment of family and friends. Clara receives a pair of dancing slipper and her brother received a sword and a mechanical rat – which he and his friends promptly put to use terrorizing the girls. A family friend, the mysterious Drosselmeyer, arrived late and gives Clara a Nutcracker that has magical powers. When all the guests have gone home, Clara comes to retrieve her Nutcracker, but it comes to life and takes Clara on a Christmas adventure filled with soldiers and horses, battling mice, a Snow Queen, a Sugar Plum Fairy, a Cavalier, and other fantastic characters.

The familiar score by Tchaikovsky and traditional choreography after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov as conceived by the late deVeaux Riddick captured and held the attention of the audience made up predominantly of families with young children. The story of Clara and her mischievous little brother Fritz is filled with humorous scenes that a young audience can relate to, and the magic of the mildly menacing family friend, Drosselmeyer, keeps the story interesting.

The variety of the “Divertissements” in Act II (Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian, and Mother Ginger – here called Mother GingGong – along with acrobatic clowns and waltzing flowers) allows for a display of diverse genres and the multiple abilities of this community dance company (all unsalaried), “operating within the framework of a professional dance company.”

The scenery, by artistic director Scott Boyer and costumes (by a full team consisting of Erline Eason, Cecil Carter, Jill Driskill, Patricia Morris, Kay Allen, Mary Beth Rhyne,  Ann Reid, Corinne Abernathy, Kim Gangloff, and Tracey Latham) were a beautiful treat for the eyes. They even engineered snow falling gently on the Snowflakes corps de ballet scene.

The Nutcracker is often a young dancer’s – or audience member’s – first exposure to ballet, and this production, while lacking in virtuoso technique and clarity and definition of line, is a visual and musical treat that just might stimulate the interest of new young dancers and future balletomanes.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Concert Ballet of Virginia Facebook page

Concert Ballet NutcrackerConcert Ballet Nutcracker2

 

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IN LOVE WE TRUST: A life’s story of love found, love lost, thru songs that make us smile

[NOTE: This post has been annotated. It may clarify some confusion, or further offend some readers. The former is preferable.]

IN LOVE WE TRUST: It’s Not a Play; It’s a Party

A Theater-Party Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: HATTheatre, 1124 Westbriar Dr., RVA (Tuckahoe) 23238

Performances: December 6-14, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 Adults; $20 Seniors; $15 Youth/Students with ID/Groups, & RVA On Stage cardholders; Reservations Required – No tickets at the door

Info: (804) 343-6364 or hattheatre.org

In Love We Trust, conceptualized and musically directed by Anthony Williams, is HATTheatre’s response to the daily stresses of the season. “It’s not a play. It’s not a traditional musical. It’s a party!” That’s what the press release said.

“You came to my party!” Williams gushed as he entered the space, with the band on the floor, opposite the entrance door, and the audience seated cabaret style around the black box – including the raised platform usually used as the stage. [NOTE: Apparently “platform” is the wrong terminology to describe the main stage. Does everyone automatically know or assume that a stage is raised? Guess I won’t make that mistake again.]

The show consisted of about twenty pop songs, ranging from Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fanatasy” to Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Barbra Streisand’s “Stoney End.” There were familiar songs like Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brow Eyes Blue” and Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and less familiar songs such as Brian Hyland’s “Sealed with a Kiss.”

There was no script, but the songs were arranged in a way that reflected Williams’ life and loves. Williams, seated at the keyboard, was backed up by Jeremiah Martin on guitar (Forrest Link played guitar the first weekend) and percussionist Steve Raybould. Raybould joined in the patter and easy banter, while Martin, who appeared decades younger than most of the others, kept his attention strictly on his guitar. Casey Dillon, Andrew Etheredge, and Robyn O’Neill joined Williams to sing the vocals. This trio interacted with the audience, rotating around the space, and occasionally providing a nugget of history or love, or sometimes a completely nonsensical statement, as if testing to see if the audience was really paying attention.  [NOTE: Never mention anyone’s age. Or size. Or gender? Or looks? not even if I find it interesting. I must be getting too old to keep up with all the things that might be considered offensive.]

Two young men who sat near the door and directly in front of the band seemed to know all the words and appeared to be having more fun than everyone else. I said hello after the show and asked if the more vocal of the two might be a student of Vicki Scallion, and sure enough, he was!  [NOTE: I thought this comment illustrated that the show was engaging, and I personally was hoping to see the enthusiastic actor perform in the near future. Unfortunately, I was later informed that my comment was highly offensive to some readers. I cannot predict how people will react to things I say, but be assured my intent was not to single out anyone with the intent to offend. I often comment on the reactions of others in the audience – never mentioning any names (except when my 5- & 10-year old grandsons attend the Children’s Theatre with me and I include their perspectives because they are the target audience ) – so that my readers can have an understanding of how a performance affected others who were at the same performance and may have had a response different or more intense than my own.]

Deb Clinton, who is usually noted for her direction, was listed as the program’s Creative Consultant and there were no costumes or set design or lighting design, although there were some flashing Christmas lights at the beginning, and a string of Christmas lights marked off a dance-floor sized space in the ceiling.

The songfest, which ran just over an hour without intermission and included complimentary hot drinks (coffee, tea, cocoa, and cider) and desserts (e.g., cream puffs, cookies, chocolates) wasn’t a play or a musical, but it fell short of being a real party, as the audience remained seated and didn’t really mingle. The songs were lively, and the performers were relaxed but it seemed that they never really get go and gave it their all. It was as if were having a party but being careful not to disturb the neighbors because they are known for calling the local precinct to lodge noise complaints against anyone who appears to be having fun.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: there were no photos at the time of publication

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ALWAYS. . .PATSY CLINE: A “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round” of “Sweet Dreams” and “Faded Love”

ALWAYS. . .PATSY CLINE: Come on In (And Sit Right Down)

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Virginia Repertory Theatre at Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover Courthouse Road, Hanover, VA 23069

Performances: November 15, 2019 – January 5, 2020

Ticket Prices: $44

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

Always. . .Patsy Cline is a two-person show that pays homage to a legendary country music icon. Born in Winchester, VA, Cline died in a plane crash in 1963 while on the way home from performing a show in Missouri. She was only 30 years old at the time of her death, but she had been performing since the age of 14 and left a lasting impression as one of the first country music artists to cross over into the pop music world. Cline made other inroads in music history as a woman in country music, but that’s not the main point of Ted Swindley’s fact-based play, Always. . .Patsy Cline.

You don’t need to know anything about Cline or even be a fan of country music to enjoy this play filled with the music of Cline as sung by the more-than-capable Debra Wagoner. Wagoner’s excellent singing is perfectly balanced by the comedic narration of Terri More as Cline’s friend and number one fan, Louise Seger. This isn’t the first time either woman has played these roles, having performed the show at Hanover Tavern and Willow Lawn in 2012. Then as now, the seemingly effortless flow of the show – which is like a Cline concert interrupted by  Louise’s flashbacks – was directed by Joe Pabst.

A five-piece band, consisting of piano, bass, fiddle, drums, and guitar, remains onstage. Near the end of the first act Wagoner, as Cline, takes a break to introduce the band – giving them the stereotypical countrified names Jim Bob, Joe Bob, Jay Bob, Billy Bob, and of course, Bob who collectively make up – what else? – the Bodacious Bobcats. Jeff Lindquist, who plays guitar in the band, is also the show’s musical director.

Wagoner has several comedic moments and spends a lot of time looking incredulously at Moore, who’s comic shenanigans are epic. The phrase, “bless her heart,” was uttered at least once. Moore has some memorable moves, including her enthusiastically receive bump-and-grind walk and her miming of driving her character’s pink and black Pontiac, lovingly named Sexy Dude. Moore has great timing and flawlessly delivers her over-the-top lines. Cline’s friend raised fan-dom to new heights, spontaneously introducing herself to Cline and then portraying herself as Cline’s manager to get her a better rate at a club. She feeds her, chauffeurs her, listens to her, and incredulously connects woman-to-woman creating a friendship that lasted until Cline’s untimely death.

This is the story that Swindley has captured in a two-hour, two-act play – Louise’s loving memory of her friend, not just the star, but the woman, the mother, the wife. Along the way, Moore gets to sing a measure or two as well, as her character joins Cline on stage, hypes up the audience, leads the audience in a sing-along, and cajoles an audience member into dancing with her. Moore’s storytelling is so natural that we hang on her every word. She even chides the audience for not finishing her sentence after using a particular phrase repeatedly.

Derek Dumais’ sound design is impeccable. We can understand every word Wagoner croons. Special effects are used sparingly. Terrie Powers’ scenic design is understated. One side of the space is a honky tonk stage, the other holds a revolving platform that houses Louise’s kitchen, the audience’s area of the honky tonk, and an outer room of a radio station. But what I really loved were Wagoner’s dresses; she wore at least three beautiful, elegant dresses, and my daughter and I both gushed when, at one point, she fumbled around a bit and then thrust her hands into the pockets of her full-skirted dress.

You don’t have to love country music or know the music of Patsy Cline to enjoy this show. Wagoner demonstrated a range, in vocal ability and in genre, worthy of the woman she portrayed. With nearly 30 songs, there’s more than enough to please everyone at least some of the time. I especially enjoyed familiar tunes like “Back in Baby’s Arms,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” and “Bill Bailey.” She also sang traditional songs of faith like “Just a Closer Walk” and “How Great Thou Art,” and a lullaby for Louise’s young son. There were love songs, torch songs, ballads, and upbeat songs, including “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Stupid Cupid,” and “Crazy.”

Despite its somewhat sad ending – it’s not a spoiler to write that Cline dies at the end, because all who are familiar with her know this going in – Always. . .Patsy Cline (a phrase taken from the tag line of Cline’s letters to her friend) is a feel-good play, filled with good humor and even better music.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

 

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URINETOWN: Nobody Pees for Free!

URINETOWN: Power to the People

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: TheatreLab, The Basement, 300 E. Broad St, RVA 23219

Performances: September 12-28, 2019

Ticket Prices: $35 General Admission; $25 Seniors & Industry/RVATA; $10 Students and Teachers with ID

Info: (804) 506-3533 or TheatreLABrva.org

Last season TheatreLAB blew us away with their stellar production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Now, with their latest production, Urinetown, the Musical it seems fair to say that TheatreLAB is establishing itself as a small theater that successfully produces big musicals.

Of course, I’ve heard of  Urinetown. The musical, with music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis, debuted in 2001 at the New York International Fringe Festival before moving to off-Broadway and then onto Broadway. But this is the first time I’ve seen it.

Gutsy and irreverent, Urinetown, the Musical parodies musicals while commenting on corrupt corporations, big government, social oppression, problems with our legal system, ecology, economics, and more. As the narrators – Officer Lockstock (Bianca Bryan) and Little Sally (Kelsey Cordrey) – are quick to point out, Urinetown, the Musical tackles these tough subjects against a background of upbeat music and songs. At one point Bryan’s character, the tough-as-nails Officer Lockstock who is never successful at reigning in Cordrey’s character – a precocious little girl who appears to be an emancipated minor – informs the unnervingly perceptive Little Sally that the truth about Urinetown will be revealed in Act 2, with nice music and “everybody singing and things like that.” There’s also fun choreography by Nicole Morris-Anastasi – the latest in a number of local shows she’s choreographed that are worthy of note; it’s exciting watching an artist hone their craft.

Urinetown, the Musical is set in an unspecific location in an unspecified time. What we do know is that there has been a drought for twenty years, water is scarce, and people are forced to use public bathrooms run by a private company that gouges its customers and exacts horrible penalties for those who cannot or will not pay. Our hero, Bobby Strong, played by Matt Shofner, finally snaps and decides enough is enough after his father is sent to Urinetown after refusing to pay to use the seedy Public Amenity #9 where Bobby is an assistant custodian. Bobby becomes the leader of a rebellion. Along the way he meets, falls in love with, and kidnaps the beautiful Hope Cladwell (Madison Hatfield), initially unaware that she is the daughter of the Caldwell B. Cladwell (Luke Schares), the CEO of the Urine Good Company that employs him and his frugal supervisor Penelope Pennywise (Michaela Nicole). Bobby, his father, and Little Sally find out what Urinetown really is, Penelope Pennywise reveals a startling secret, and much to Little Sally’s consternation, there is no happy ending.

But, there are laughs, and plenty of them, some good singing, and some excellent ensemble work from actors, some of whom do double duty as musicians. I truly enjoyed Matt Shofner as Bobby Strong; he was quirky and funny, knowing when to go over the top and when to focus on balancing compassion with rebellion. Bianca Bryan, in the role of Officer Lockstock (whose partner’s name is Officer Barrel) continues to build upon her repertoire of strong and often sinister characters. As a character who doubles as the play’s narrator, she gets to direct her penetrating gaze and frequent smirks directly at the audience. Kelsey Cordrey, Levi Meerovich, and other characters also get up close and familiar with the audience. One character even sits on the lap of an audience member during the opening scene.

Cordrey’s portrayal of Little Sally is one of my favorite parts of the show. She’s the smart little kid who knows more than most of the adults around her and won’t take no for an answer. Michaela Nicole was another favorite, and Maggie Bavolack, Anne Michelle Forbes, and Levi Meerovich gave strong supporting performances. Meerovich and Travis West (Officer Barrel) both played piano and Bavolack alternated playing the clarinet with playing the role of Bobby’s mother. Joe Lubman, the drummer, had no other character and remained in his orange prison jumpsuit, with a half mask reminiscent of Hannibal Lector.

Matt Polson directed. It’s his first time directing at TheatreLAB, but he directed Urinetown at Maggie Walker Governor’s School. Travis West, who played piano, was musical director, with musical supervision by Jason Marks. I’ve already credited the choreography to Nicole Morris-Anastasi; Kelsey Cordrey served as dance captain. Connor Potter’s scenic design is functional and basic – some steps up to an upper platform, some panels, a place to hang and store props on either side. Ruth Hedberg’s costumes (with the assistance of Autumn Foster) are appropriately tattered and scruffy while sound and lights by Joey Luck and Michael Jarrett respectively lived up to the level of excellence expected of these two – helping bring Polson’s vision to life while remaining unobtrusively in the background.

The device of having the narrators weave in and out of character and speak directly to the audience makes the audience co-conspirators in the shenanigans and prepares us to keep laughing even when we know there’s not going to be a happy ending. Urinetown, the Musical is a perfect choice for TheatreLAB’s seventh season, “Power and Privilege.” It’s funny and quirky and unapologetically honest.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

Urinetown Production Photo by Tom Topinka-8
Matt Shofner and Bianca Bryan
Urinetown Production Photo by Tom Topinka-4
Allison Paige Gilman and cast of Urinetown
Urinetown Production Photo by Tom Topinka-3
Matt Shofner and cast of Urinetown
Urinetown Production Photo by Tom Topinka-2
Michaela Nicole and Matt Shofner and cast of Urinetown
Urinetown Production Photo by Tom Topinka-1
Matt Shofner and cast of Urinetown

 

 

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THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD: Not Just Another WhoDunIt, But Was-It-Even-Done?

THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD: A Different Ending Every Night!

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Colonial Heights, VA 23834

Performances: November 16 – December 28, 2019

Ticket Prices: $40 Theater only; $35 Seniors, Military & Students; $18 Dinner

Info: (804) 748-5203 or swiftcreekmill.com

Swift Creek Mill Theatre opened the 2019-2020 season with Jeffrey Hatcher’s unconventional Sherlock Holmes mystery, Holmes and Watson (https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/09/21/holmes-and-watson-its-not-what-you-think/) and now they’re presenting another non-traditional mystery, Rupert Holmes’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is based on the unfinished last novel of Charles Dickens, who died of a stroke while working on the book. Hatcher, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics (now there’s an accomplishment you don’t see every day), infused Dickens’ story with humor by setting it as a play within a play, performed by the members of the Music Hall Royale, a Victorian music hall.

The cast – actual and fictitious – is rowdy and bawdy. They start out mingling in the audience, telling cheesy jokes, sitting next to audience members, and testing the waters with double entendre. The huge cast – nearly twenty – often spills over the edges of the relatively small stage, and director Tom Width, who clearly enjoys this unbridled parody, uses this to heighten the comic effect and interactive nature of the show.

There are some strong voices, particularly Michael Gray as the protagonist John Jasper, and Paige Reisenfeld as the romantic interest, Rosa Bud. Ian Page, an antagonist, uses a high-stepping walk and simmering facial expressions to great comic effect. The “Chairman”  or Master of Ceremonies, Richard Travis, is appropriately blundering and bombastic by turn and keeps things rolling along with the help of his gavel-wielding stagehand, Alvan Bolling, II.

The title role of Edwin Drood is played by Alice Nutting – a character who is a male impersonator (yes, that was a thing in Victorian theater) – who is in turn portrayed by actor Rachel Marrs.

Donna Marie Miller, in her first Swift Creek show, is also quite funny; her character even makes fun of her unidentifiable accent, and Jacqueline O’Connor was fascinating as her character, a drug-dealing prostitute, ranged from bawdy to tender when she reminisced about being leading lady Rosa Bud’s former nanny, then ended up being paired with the very amusing drunken sexton Michael McMullen in an engineered happy ending. They were paired by audience applause!

As Act 2 winds down – it actually sort of stumbles to a false end due to the death of its author – the audience is called on to vote for the murderer of Edwin Drood, who disappeared one night never to be seen or heard from, for some six months! The audience vote determines who sings the final two songs (not including the finale) and how the final scene ends.

In addition to directing, Tom Width also did the scenic design, a replica of a Victorian music hall stage embellished with lighting by Joe Doran, lively choreography by Alissa Pagnotti, and some lovely period costumes by Maura Lynch Cravey. Musical director Gabrielle Maes kept things moving along, but all too frequently the music was too loud, overpowering the vocals, to the point where an occasional word and even entire phrases got swallowed up. At least two people who were sitting behind me on the right hand side moved to empty center seats during intermission, hoping to balance the uneven sound. I didn’t get a chance to ask later if it had made a difference.

Ultimately, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is lite entertainment (yes, I meant to spell it that way); it amuses without pushing a message or focusing on a moral or worries about being politically correct or any of that. There’s a low-key holiday factor, with a Christmas tree downstage right, a few wreaths and an un-stressed mention of Christmas by one or more of the characters.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Robyn O’Neill Photography

 

 

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CINDERELLA: Not Your Childhood Bedtime Story

CINDERELLA: Rogers & Hammerstein’s Musical Comedy

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Marjorie Arenstein Stage

Performances: November 29, 2019 – January 5, 2020

Ticket Prices: $36-63

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

Don’t expect a traditional Cinderella from this production with music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrica by Oscar Hammerstein, II, and book by Douglas Carter Beane. Originally written for television, Cinderella aired live on CBS in 1957 with Julie Andrews in the title role. Beane wrote a new book for the 2013 Broadway adaptation that includes some plot twists and introduces new characters – adding hilarity as well as a new political and social slant that makes the plot more interesting for adults without sacrificing the wide-eyed fascination and delight of younger audience members.

SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know the details of the adaptation, STOP! Skip to the final two paragraphs, then read the rest after seeing the show.

In this version, Cinderella’s father has died, leaving her at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and stepsisters. Susan Sanford plays the role of Madame, the selfish and self-centered stepmother. She is, being Susan Sanford, deliciously droll and completely over the top. Madame is so committed to being mean that she has a mini-meltdown when Cinderella says something kind to her at the prince’s ball while playing a game called Ridicule (imagine a mix of musical chairs and Words Against Humanity).

Audra Honaker plays Charlotte, the less favored sister – and Madame takes every opportunity to make sure she knows it. Honaker plays the role with a gravelly voice and a crude attitude (imagine a young Rosie O’Donnell, before she fell out of favor) pulling up her ballgown, removing one shoe, and sitting on the palace steps in the female version of manspreading. She goes for the physical humor and hits the mark nearly every time.

Havy Nguyen plays the favored and more conventionally attractive sister, Gabrielle. Gabrielle is more refined, not as loud, and kinder. Surprisingly, Gabrielle is sympathetic to Cinderella’s plight, and the two form a sisterly bond, sharing secrets and commiserating over their common oppression by Madame’s heavy-handed control.

Gabrielle isn’t really interested in the prince, because she is in love with Jean-Michel, a new character, played by Durron Marquis Tyre. Jean-Michel is a social activist, holding court in the marketplace and shouting outside the palace gates, trying to get the attention of Prince Topher (Edward L. Simon) to convince him to help the poor and disenfranchised citizen who are being evicted and losing their homes and land. Tyre’s character is a rabble-rouser in the marketplace, but shy and somewhat tongue-tied around Gabrielle. For their first date, he plans to take her to a soup kitchen to feed the poor.

Speaking of the poor. . .Prominent among the town’s characters is Marie, a beggar woman who is described as crazy but harmless. Of course, she turns out to be Cinderella’s fairy godmother. Katrinah Carol Lewis brings glamour and a larger-than-life presence to this role. With her magic wand and the help of some theatrical smoke, she transforms Cinderella from rags to riches, a pumpkin into a carriage, some mice into horses, and a fox and a racoon into a coachman and footman. The most amazing bit of magic, however, is the transformation of Marie’s beggar’s rags into a gown worthy of a fairy godmother, and Cinderella’s ragged dress into a ballgown – twice! A magic wand, some theatrical smoke, a few twirls under the special lighting effects, and the transformations happen in seconds right before our eyes. It’s the magician’s quick dress change trick, and it never fails to amaze me. (There were occasionally a few hints when a hem shifted, revealing an under layer – but this still didn’t spoil the fun, just as when, about five minutes into the show, Prince Topher apparently fell short in tossing his rope to topple a giant, and we caught a stage hand crawling out to retrieve the errant lasso.) Unless I missed it, I didn’t see any credit given for magic or special effects.

No, I didn’t forget the leading lady and her Prince Charming – or rather, Prince Topher. (The Town Crier’s recitation of the Prince’s ten or twelve formal names is another amusing running joke.) Quynh-My Luu and Edward L. Simon are both new to Virginia Rep.  Luu makes a lovely Cinderella, with a strong voice and a likeable personality. She doesn’t overdo the kindness, maintaining a balance between humility and empowerment. Simon didn’t make as strong an impression as I thought a prince should. When we first meet him, he has just turned twenty-one and is in search of himself before taking the throne. Like Cinderella, both his parents have died, and he has been raised by Lord Chancellor Sebastian, who has also been running – and corrupting – the government while waiting for his young charge to come of age. Jay O. Millman is a somewhat stronger and more forceful presence than his prince, which seems unfortunate.

In this version, Cinderella doesn’t lose her shoe when rushing home from the ball, but deliberately leaves it on the palace steps a few days later, after attending a banquet the prince holds in order to lure her back to the palace. In both cases, Cinderella has a midnight curfew. She misses the first by a few minutes, leading to a humorous chase where the footman and coachman partially transform, revealing furry tails sticking out from their livery uniforms before they fully return to their furry four-footed selves.

Friday’s performance was before a full house, and there were many children of all ages present. From my vantage point in the last row of the orchestra, I was able to glance, from time to time, at some of the young people, who seemed to be thoroughly engaged. (The production starts at 7:00pm, rather than 8:00pm, and runs just under 90 minutes.) Some of the smaller ones sat on a parent’s lap or, if they had an aisle seat, hung over the armrest; VaRep might consider investing in a few booster seats for occasions like this.

During intermission, one friend mentioned that it took her some time to get used to an Asian Cinderella, as she was used to a Disney version with blonde hair and blue eyes. I didn’t hear anyone else say anything about the “color-blind” casting, with white, black, and Asian actors portraying fictitious characters, but then, I wasn’t focused on that aspect of the performance.

There are nearly 30 musical numbers in this two-act show. Among my favorites are “The Prince is Giving a Ball” in Act I and  the quartet by Ella/Cinderella, Charlotte, Gabrielle, and Madame in Act II. I also enjoyed Matthew Couvillon’s choreography, with strong roots in both ballet and social dancing. Brian Barker’s scenic design is surprisingly constrained: a stand of thick trunked trees and a full moon for the outdoor scenes, the edge of a cottage for Cinderella’s house, a few wagons and far stands for the town square, and a wide, elegant balcony and stairway for the palace. BJ Wilkinson’s lighting doesn’t hold back on glitz and glitter, and Anthony Smith is the musical director of a small orchestra with a big sound. (Thankfully, the orchestra is in the pit and there are no holes for the dancers to tiptoe cautiously around.) Laine Satterfield’s direction kept things moving along at a rapid clip; there were no lulls for the younger audience members to get bored or distracted, or to allow the adults to notice the passage of time. I didn’t do any research prior to the show, so I didn’t know how funny it was going to be. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a delightful family show that unapologetically includes a message about treating all people well without becoming too preachy or pedantic.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Photos not available at the time this review was written.

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INDIAN INK THEATRE COMPANY: Mrs. Krishnan is Throwing a Party!

INDIAN INK THEATRE COMPANY: You’re Invited to Mrs. Krishnan’s Party!

A Brief Preview of an Immersive Theatrical Experience by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Alice Jepson Theatre, Modlin Center for the Arts at University of Richmond, 453 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA 23173

Performance: January 25, 2020 at 7:30pm & January 26, 2020 at 3:00pm

Ticket Prices: $40 General Admission; $32 Subscribers; $20 Students / SOLD OUT!

Info: (804) 289-8980 or modlin.richmond.edu

One of the problems, well, actually, the only problem, actually, with the Modlin Center for the Arts – which is a lovely space for dance, which is what I usually see when I go there – is that their productions are usually scheduled for just one or two performances or one or two evenings. So, as much as I want to tell you about Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, which is coming in January, I am sorry to have to start off by informing you that both shows are already sold out! (I asked if there is any possibility of additional shows being added, and I am awaiting a response.)

The Indian Ink Theatre Company, based in New Zealand, was touring in Seattle, WA when I spoke with Kalyani Nagarajan who plays the role of Mrs. Krishnan in this two-handed comedy. Mrs. Krishnan’s Party was “in the works” for seven years and now tours the world attempting to bring happiness –  and Indian culture – to audiences of all ages, genders, and ethnicities.

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is a story about a “Mom and Pop” type store whose owner is looking to sell it. The story takes place in real time, “everything happens live” is the way Nagarajan explained it. There are two actors, Nagarajan and Justin Rogers. Nagarajan was very enthusiastic in describing the colorful nature of the play, not just in the costumes and set, but also in the culture, and even in the intergenerational characters: one is in her mid-50s, the other in his early 20’s. The “third character” is the audience.

As the story unfolds, secrets are revealed, and the audience becomes immersed in the action. Nagarajan was very specific in rejecting the word “interactive,” believing it might push some people away, but seemed comfortable with the idea of a cultural and theatrical immersion.  It’s about people going through familiar things. Set in the back room of Mrs. Krishnan’s store, the audience is invited to the party where they will “interact and talk with people you might never have talked with.” At the end of the show, Nagarajan wants the people dancing, singing, and laughing together. And eating! There is live cooking done onstage, and at the end the audience – excuse me, the invited guests – get to sample the meal. 

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party builds community, and the audience is urged to come ready to be surprised. “Come with an open heart,” Nagarajan urges, “and don’t eat too much dinner before-hand.”

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party, written by Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, combines acting, dancing, singing, music, cooking, and laughter. No two performances are the same. Even the ticketing for the show is varied. The Indian Ink Theatre Company’s website described five levels of tickets: (1) the Top Table or VIP seat at the table in the center of the room with first class treatment; (2) the Inner Circle, which is still close; (3) the Wall Flower, up high with a perfect view; (4) the Cheeky Seat, close but not too close; and (5) the Party Animal, which is no seat at all, but spot that allows you to move and dance. I hope to be able to report back detail if it’s as awesome as it sounds!

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Nimmy Santhosh & the Indian Ink Theatre Company website

 

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TIMES SQUARE ANGEL: Another Christmas Miracle

TIMES SQUARE ANGEL: A Hard-Boiled Holiday Fantasy

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Richmond Triangle Players

At: The Robert B Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230

Performances: November 13 – December 21, 2019.

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

In the Richmond Triangle Players’ annual tradition of presenting a non-traditional holiday play, Charles Busch’s Times Square Angel, first produced by RTP in 1998, is running through December 21. Busch himself recorded the voice of the unseen narrator, and while we’re talking about unseen actors, Susan Sanford is the voice of God.

There is little or nothing traditional about Times Square Angel. Set in New York in the 1940s – complete with projections of vintage video, Times Square Angel recalls and parodies such Christmas classics as A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. The two-act play, directed by Melissa Rayford, is hilarious, and there were several notable performances among a cast in which most played multiple roles. But overall, I was disappointed that this production did not seem to hit the highs or maintain its momentum.

Desiree Dabney and Mara Barrett played two irreverent and gossipy angels, and Dabney quickly won over the audience with her wide range of facial expressions and her sassy demeanor. Michael Hawke was luminous as Helen Sterhan, a former star who has fallen into an alcoholic stupor from which she may never escape. Jeff Clevenger also added some nicely timed comic moments as the owner or manager of Club Intime. Along with leading lady Wette Midler, known primarily as a local drag queen artist, Hawke’s and Midler’s characters wore the best of Alex Valentin’s costume designs, and Joel Furtick was responsible for the near flawless hair/wigs and makeup.

Irish O’Flanagan, the tough-as-nails, self-centered redheaded headliner of a second-rate club, is given a second chance at life, under the guidance of Albert a former magician and now a reluctant angel played by Jeffrey Cole. Wette Midler was strong and confident the role of Irish, the most prominent of the characters who appeared not to have been assigned on the basis of gender. For example, the newsboy Jimmy was played by Mara Barrett, and both Midler and Hawke played women.

Angel Albert guides Irish on a tour of her past, present, and future, learning along the way that he can stop time and perform other supernatural feats. Each scene is filled with clichés, one-liners, and campy wit. I laughed a lot, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Times Square Angel is a lot like a bowl of Jell-O that hasn’t been allowed to set long enough.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: John MacLellan

 

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Angel2
Richmond drag performer Wette Midler, stars as Irish O’Flanagan, a hard-boiled dame in need of a Christmas miracle, in Richmond Triangle Players production of Charles Busch’s play “Times Square Angel” running through Dec 21 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre in Scott’s Addition. Back row: Nora Ogunleye, Mara Barrett, Jeff Clevenger and Jonel Jones.Tickets at http://www.rtriangle.org. Photo by John MacLellan.
Angel3
Richmond drag performer Wette Midler, stars as Irish O’Flanagan, a hard-boiled dame in need of a Christmas miracle, along with Nora Ogunleye as her confidante Peona, in Richmond Triangle Players production of Charles Busch’s play “Times Square Angel” running through Dec 21 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre in Scott’s Addition. Tickets at http://www.rtriangle.org. Photo by John MacLellan. Thanks!
Angel1
Jeffrey Cole as Albert, an angel given one last chance to retain his place in heaven by intervening in the life of chanteuse Irish O’Flanagan, in Richmond Triangle Players production of Charles Busch’s play “Times Square Angel” running through Dec 21 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre in Scott’s Addition. Tickets at http://www.rtriangle.org. Photo by John MacLellan.

 

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LOMBARDI: Gentlemen, This Is A Football

LOMBARDI: Winning Isn’t Everything; It’s the Only Thing!

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: November 7 & 8 previews; opening November 9 – 23, 2019

Ticket Prices: $15-$35

Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org

 

“Gentlemen, this is a football.”

Vince Lombardi

Based on the book When Pride Still Mattered – A Life of Vince Lombardi (by David Maraniss), Eric Simonson’s two-act play, Lombardi is a living, breathing documentary. Set in 1965, when journalist Michael McCormick from Look Magazine is sent to write a story about the man many consider the greatest coach in football history, the fast-paced, sometimes gritty dialogue gives us a peek into the life of the man remembered as much for his pithy sayings as for his lasting impact on football.

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

— Vince Lombardi

(after UCLA Bruins football coach

Henry Russell “Red” Sanders, 1950, 1953)

McCormick, played by CJ Bergin, has a central role as the reporter who spends a week with Lombardi and his wife Marie in Green Bay, Wisconsin, not long after the Lombardi’s have moved to Wisconsin where Lombardi led the Green Bay Packers to five championships in seven years. (Do not be impressed – I know nothing about football – this is general knowledge, easily available to anyone.) Bergin’s character is dedicated and enthusiastic, even in the face of getting yelled at by Lombardi on the football field. He is also a multi-faceted character, as we see how his observations and interactions with the Lombardi’s help shape his own developing career. There is an easiness and familiarity about McCormick that make him a likeable character. In a slightly drunken scene in Act 2 he won my heart – and won over the players – by quoting stats from memory. He knew something – if not everything – about every player.

“Football is like life – it requires perseverance,

self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication

 and respect for authority.”

– Vince Lombardi

Marie Lombardi, played by Linda S. Beringer, is undoubtedly the most likeable member of the cast. She is a mother figure to the players, soothing and smoothing over the raw and open sore left by Lombardi’s abrasiveness. She guides McCormick, steering him to the players who can provide the most insight. Sometimes she is gentle with McCormick, and sometimes she practices tough love, fueled, perhaps, by her close friendship with the couple’s liquor cabinet. (In real life, it seems, a miscarriage led to her heavy drinking.) My favorite Marie scene is when she backs the domineering Lombardi up against a wall and make it clear she isn’t taking any crap from him. It certainly doesn’t change him, or have any lasting impact, but he listens. The two seem to have a strong, loving relationship, and Marie clearly understands her husband and knows how to communicate with him like no one else.

“The most imperfect perfect man I ever met.”

– Michael McCormick

Surprisingly, I did not focus first on the title role, perhaps because this is a true ensemble production, under the skillful direction of Scott Wichmann (billed as Head Coach rather than Director). Wichmann and his actors give us a brisk pace and some well-placed and much appreciated comedic timing that almost obscured a few places where I thought the action was dragging and the play wasn’t advancing quite fast enough for me.

“If you can accept losing, you can’t win.”

– Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi is played by Ken Moretti (Broadway Bound, Free Man of Color, and Bill W. and Dr. Bob) in what is perhaps the most challenging role I’ve see him in, to date. Stern-faced, he rarely smiles, he yells a lot and speaks in a bombastic manner. At the same time, he clearly loves his wife and his players. In one scene, player Dave Robinson (played by Raymond Goode) explains to McCormick – over beers and a game of pool – that yelling at them is how Lombardi shows he cares. So, yelling at McCormick and kicking him off the field probably means he really likes him.

 

“People who work together will win,

whether it be against complex football defenses,

or the problems of modern society.”

– Vince Lombardi

Moretti’s portrayal of Lombardi also makes the volatile Lombardi a sympathetic figure as we watch him succumb to the symptoms of colon cancer – a disease he ignored because he was too busy making football legends. The rest of the cast includes Arik Cullen as player Paul Hornnung and Axle J. Burtness as player Jim Taylor. Cullen’s character is the one McCormick is steered to for information approved by Lombardi. Burtness’ character seems to be always in some sort of unspecified trouble, and McCormick’s unrelenting pursuit of an interview with the character Taylor is part of the reason he gets to feel the full wrath of the mercurial Lombardi directed straight at him.

 

“Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

– Vince Lombardi

Goode’s character has two major scenes. One, described above, is when he provides insight into Lombardi’s yelling. The other is when he tells how Lombardi demanded that all the team members be allowed to stay in the same hotel even when traveling in the south or areas where segregation was the norm. Dave Robinson, a black football player who is now in his late seventies, played for the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins. Lombardi was head coach of both teams.

“You don’t do things right once in a while.

You do things right all the time.”

– Vince Lombardi

Frank Foster designed the set – a clean and simple space dominated by two pairs of tall bookcases that do multiple duty as home, locker room, and other locales. Some tables and benches, moved by the cast members, define the scene changes. Bri Conley designed the lighting, Sheila Russ did the costume design, and Amanda Durst was vocal coach.

“Battles are won in the hearts of men.”

– Vince Lombardi

As I’ve already said, I’m not much of a football fan, but my partner, Albert is. Like many others in the audience – a full house for Saturday’s opening night – he came decked out in his football attire. In his case, it was a Redskins hoodie, and thanks to our front row seats, he got a momentary spotlight when McCormick pointed him out in the scene where he mentions Lombardi’s short tenure with the Redskins (1969, just prior to his death in 1970). Albert, who attends a lot of plays with me, was enamored of this production; it combined his newfound love of theater with his lifelong love of football (he played in high school and college). A mathematician, he likes facts and stats and that sort of thing. So, bottom line, Lombardi, which runs about 2 hours, with one intermission, is a play that appeals to people who like football, people who like biographies and documentaries, and to families. If you think you might want to attend, don’t hesitate; I heard that some shows are already selling out.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Bill Sigafoos

Lombardi 8_Axle J Burtness, Ken Moretti, Arik Cullen, photo by Bill Sigafoos
Axle Burtness, Ken Moretti, Arik Cullen
Lombardi 7_Axle J Burtness, Ken Moretti, CJ Bergin, Linda S Beringer, photo by Bill Sigafoos
Ale Burtnes, Ken Moretti, CJ Bergin, Linda S Beringer
Lombardi 4_Raymond Goode, Ken Moretti, photo by Bill Sigafoos
Raymond Goode and Ken Moretti
Lombardi 2_Arik Cullen, CJ Bergin, photo by Bill Sigafoos
Arik Cullen and CJ Bergin

 


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RICHMOND BALLET: GRACE IN THE RIVER CITY – A REVIVAL & A PREMIERE

RICHMOND BALLET STUDIO ONE: GRACE IN THE RIVER CITY

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, 407 E. Canal St., RVA 23219

Performances: November 5-10, 2019

Ticket Prices: $26-$46

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

chiaroscuro
noun
chiar·oscu·ro | \kē-ˌär-əˈskyu̇r-(ˌ)ō\

  1. pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color 
  2. a: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art

    b: the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character)

merriam-webster.com

The Richmond Ballet opened its 2019-2020 season (19/20 for short) with the theme “Grace in the River City.” The Studio One program, held at the company’s Canal Street studio, included Artistic Director Stoner Winslett’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” and Ma Cong’s “Chiaroscuro.”

“Ancient Airs and Dances,” set to three suites of 17th and 18th century Italian and French lute songs by Ottorino Respighi, was revived in honor of Winslett’s 40th anniversary with the Richmond Ballet. The work for four couples was Winslett’s first work for the professional company. Dressed alike, but in different colors (navy, purple, aubergine, wine) the four couples begin with a formal promenade, tracing figures on the floor. At the end of the introductory movement, they toss away their masks and begin to reveal their separate personalities.

First is Ira White and Eri Nishihara (purple). They appear to be the playful couple, moving lightly, teasing and skipping offstage. Next up, Abi Goldstein and Anthony Oates (aubergine) who present themselves as the romantic duo. They are more dramatic, and Goldstein is very strong, demonstrating a freedom of physicality as when she rolls across Oates’ back. When Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes (navy) dance, the woman’s skirt and man’s vest have been shed and the movements seem more contemporary and exploratory, less formal, and finally Melissa Frain and Marty Davis’ (wine) dance seems to be about reconciliation and commitment or longevity as they seem to linger in one another’s presence and movements. In the final section, the four couples gather in a folk dance and each couple briefly reprises their duet before ending in a rotating figure like a carousel, with the women held aloft, parts of a whole.

During her tenure at Richmond Ballet, Winslett has commissioned more than 75 works, by more than 35 choreographers (facts she revealed during her Tuesday evening Choreographer’s Club curtain talk). For Studio One, she brought back Ma Cong for his fifth new work in ten years.

“Chiaroscuro” is a collaborative work, with choreography by Ma Cong, Music by Ezio Bosso, costumes and set by Emma Kingsbury, lighting by Trod Burns, and photography by Sara Ferguson. The nine dancers – 4 women and 5 men – move through Bosso’s music illuminated by Burns’ lighting with Ferguson’s larger-than-life black and white images of themselves projected onto Kingsbury’s set. It might be a rock, or a cliff, but wait – what is that long, thin thing sticking up out of middle of it? “Nothing’s perfect,” was Kingsbury’s enigmatic response when questioned about it.

Images change subtly; where there were hands there is now a face; where there was a face, there are now two, no three! The costumes, in shades of black and gray, echo the chiaroscuro effect  – the contrast of light and dark, the constantly shifting light and the movement of human sculptures.  Hmmm, a Chinese choreographer; an Italian composer; an Australian designer; an American ballet company – was this, too, part of Cong’s vision, or was it serendipity?

The cast – Cody Beaton, Elena Bello, Melissa Frain and Eri Nishihara, Marty Davis, Trevor Davis, Fernando Sabino, Mate Szentes, and Ira White – seemed to enjoy performing this piece as much as the audience enjoyed watching it.

“Chiaroscuro” begins with Fernando Sabino (who has announced his retirement at the end of this season) o the floor. As he rises, his movements are strong, emotive, not all lightness and grade. As the other dancers enter, the women are lifted in swirling arcs, tracing figure eights in the air. When the men arc backwards, they turn their knees inward. This ballet is not technique as usual. A diagonal line turns inward and wraps around like a spiral segment of DNA. Dancers unite and separate. Elena Belo is lifted about a cluster of men and held aloft in a running pose. Three men intertwine, heads popping out and leaping through hoops made of arms like a game of whack-a-mole.

On the screen, a large white rose emerges; but the end of the dance it has wilted. On the stage, a white parasol weaves its way across the stage. I somehow felt the rose and the parasol were connected. Partnering in “Chiaroscuro” is intriguing. In one section the women shed their skirts, becoming de-sexualized. Dancers morph into oddly intriguing positions, finding new ways to connect. One may be held by an ankle, a toe, or back of the knee. Dancers’ arms and legs become hooks from which to suspend bodies and legs and thighs become step stools leading to higher dimensions.

Like previous works by Cong, “Chiaroscuro” encourages the viewer to explore new perspectives of human emotion, as he did with “Lift the Fallen,” a 2014 work in which he deals with the loss of his mother. But “Chiaroscuro” is even more immersive, more compelling. It is a beautiful work that elevates both the dancers and those watching them.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

 

Books available on Amazon.com; click on cover for link.

 

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13: THE SECOND TIME AROUND

13, THE MUSICAL: The Second Cast; A Second Look

An Addendum to Yesterday’s Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220

Performances: October 26 – November 17, 2019

Ticket Prices: Single tickets start at $42

Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org

Yesterday (October 25) I wrote about 13, The Musical after seeing the first cast. Today (October 26) I returned for the second opening night with a different cast – except for, I think, two actors.

The original view may be viewed at:

https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/10/26/13-what-could-possibly-go-wrong

When Cadence Theatre’s Artistic Director Anna Senechal Johnson announced that there would be two entire casts for 13, THE MUSICAL and that there would be two opening nights, I decided to attend both. The board with the actors’ headshots had to be changed, and there were two sets of programs printed. Preparation for this musical, more than 40 performers (actors and band members ranged in age from 12 to 17) required changing the headshot board and printing two sets of programs to accommodate the two casts – the Appleton and the Indiana (named for the town and state where our young leading man must move after his parents’ divorce). It must have felt like the theater company was preparing to give birth to twins.

For the first five minutes, I started to compare the performances of the two sets of  main characters, but about 10 minutes into the show I realized that the characters had taken over. While the chemistry was different, and different actors brought their own nuances, I can honestly say that the experiences were equivalent to seeing the same show twice with the same cast.

Physically, Brandon McKinney and Evan Dymon are quite different (in stature, facial structure, and more) but both portrayed lead character Evan with naivete, bravado, and compassion. Bridget Sindelar may have had a slight edge over Violet Craighead-Way as far as vocal range or power, but both made me root for Patrice and cheer her independence and self-identity.

The differences between Donathan Arnold and Cohen Steele are even more striking than the differences between McKinney and Dymon. Arnold is tall, slender, and black while Dymon looks farm-strong and he’s white.

I think Caroline Johnson portrayed a somewhat more prissy and less conceited Kendra than did Audrey Kate Taylor, while Jolie Smith and Anjali Sharma were equally strong as the mean girl. Both were able to maintain a sneer throughout a rigorous cheerleading routine, but Sharm’s tripping of best-friend-and-arch-enemy Kendra was perhaps a tiny bit more subtle than was Jodi Smith’s action for the same scene.

Ethan Dunne Stewart and Marcus Dowd, as Brett’s friends and hangers-on were a bit more outrageous, if possible, in their role as back up singers than were Owen Buckenmaier and Jake Barger, but both pairs of hangers-on were among my favorite characters.

Since much of the story line is sung, it is important that the lyrics can be clearly heard, and from my position (second row, right on Friday night and second row, front on Saturday) there where a few times that the vocals got lost for a moment or two and I never did understand the much repeated line of the finale.

My first impression remains the same: 13, THE MUSICAL: is a fun and energetic piece of theatre that is this wholly engrossing. Both casts of teens exude energy and professionalism; they make you care about what happens to Evan, Patrice, and Kendra (the bar mitzvah boy, his new friend, and the popular girl) and their friends. As if anticipating the audience reaction, the authors have the cast sing about their growth, their decisions, their triumphs and failures over the course of the school year

 

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Jay Paul

13, The Musical
Josh Chapman and Violet Craghead-Way
13, The Musical
Anjali Sharma
13, The Musical
Autumn Papczynski
13, The Musical
Evan Dymon, Brenna Duffy, and John Chapman
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13: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

13: A Teen-aged Musical

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220

Performances: October 26 – November 17, 2019

Ticket Prices: Single tickets start at $42

Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org

The musical 13 with its high-energy cast of teenagers starts off at a level 10 and pretty much stays there for the duration. The first – and so far only – Broadway musical to have a cast made up entirely of teenagers, the Richmond casts of 13 ranges in age from 12-17. Yes, casts. That was not a typo. Cadence Theatre’s Artistic Director, Anna Senechal Johnson, worked with two casts that will alternate throughout the run. I assumed this was because of the youthful ages of the cast, but in speaking with Johnson after Friday’s opening night program – a second opening night will be held on Saturday for the second cast – it seems that the dual casts are also a way to fulfill the company’s mission and “commitment to development and training for young actors all over Virginia.” Indeed, several of the young actors – and their parents or guardians – commute to Richmond for this show from as far as Northern Virginia and Maryland.

Written by Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish and Robert Horn (book), 13 chronicles several months in the life of Evan, played on Friday by Brandon McKinney. Evan is looking forward to his bar mitzvah, when he gets hit with not one but two major blows: first his parents divorce, then his mother informs him they are moving from New York City – the only hone he has ever known – to a Smalltown, USA, or Appleton, Indiana, to be precise.

Evan befriends Patrice (Bridget Sindelar) before finding out she is a social outcast, and in a heart-wrenching scene, he un-invites her to his party so that the popular kids will attend. Patrice is played by Bridget Sindelar, whom my daughter Soleil immediately recognized as Pinocchio from the VirginiaRep children’s show last season. [https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/03/31/pinocchio-bright-and-shining-son ]. Sindelar nails the character of Patrice, but more importantly, her singing is strong and here range impressive.

Evan’s action catches the attention of Patrice’s best friend, Archie (Ethan Phelps) – a classmate with an unnamed debilitating condition (muscular dystrophy, according to a synopsis of the script) that requires that he use crutches to walk. This makes him an object of ridicule to the popular kids, but that doesn’t stop him from plotting and planning to manifest his deepest fantasy. Archie has a crush on Kendra (Audrey Kate Taylor) and quickly enlists Evan to help jock-boy Brett (Donathan Arnold) secure a date with the ever-popular Kendra, with the ulterior motive of inserting himself in the role of leading man. The boys hatch a plan that at first seems successful – but if that were the case, the play would have ended here instead of continuing to its conclusion.

The lively music under the direction of Anthony Smith is played by a live band, most of whom are onstage in front of us but some of them are placed behind the audience. There is energetic choreography – 13 even included a tap dance – by Jasmine Mckenzie that is created and performed with a sense of ordered chaos that perfectly captures the teen-aged characters. A simple cinderblock set by Emily Hake Massie hides a few surprises that are revealed when doors swing out to create new spaces. Sarah Grady’s costumes are contemporary, with most of the cast – especially the ensemble – dressed in neutral shades like gray, but Evan sports a red plaid shirt, and other leading characters break out of the gray mold with bits of color.

Patrice/Sindelar is full of wisdom, but also has some of the funniest lines in the show. When introducing Evan/McKinney to the town of Appleton, she points out the highlights, like the Walmart and Dairy Queen, but also drops lines like, “The inbreeding takes up a lot of our time.”

Brett/Arnold is the cool, handsome quarterback, and is stereotypically vain and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. His buddies Eddie (Owen Buckenmaier) and Malcolm (Jake Barger) are loyal, hilarious sidekicks. When trying to help Brett prepare to ask Kendra (Audrey Kate Taylor), the prettiest girl in Dan Quail Middle School, they metamorphose into R&B backup singers. Although why the star quarterback and most popular boy on campus needs help getting a date is beyond me. Taylor plays her role with wide-eyed innocence and it’s irritating when she doesn’t seem to catch on to her friend’s betrayal.

Teen-agers can be some of the meanest people on earth, so it is no surprise that there is a Mean Girl in 13. Lucy (Jolie Smith) is supposed to be Kendra’s best friend, but she wants Brett for herself, and does everything she can to get Kendra out of the way: bullying; tripping her during cheerleader practice; giving conflicting advice about how to behave around a boy; and starting a vicious rumor. I suppose why 13 year old students are dating is irrelevant, but one scene hinges around Evan asking his mother to buy movie tickets to an R-rated movie for Evan and his popular friends. The sneer Smith wears whenever Kendra is around is so convincing I began to actively dislike Lucy.

Mia Meadows and Hannah Riggs share the lead in the closing song in a breakout surprise, after performing in the ensemble and the cheerleading squad for most of the play. Brenna Duffy stood in for Zoë Brown on Friday, taking over Zoë’s duties as Rabbi. Because of the huge size of the cast – when doubled – I will let the words of the press release fill in the missing notes:

Returning to the Cadence stage in the Appleton Cast are Violet Craghead-Way (Fun Home), Caroline Johnson (Appropriate), Grace Connell (Appropriate), and Sophia Bunnell (Violet). Returning in the Indiana Cast are Brandon McKinney (Fun Home; Caroline, or Change), Donathan Arnold (Caroline, or Change), and Alex Csaky (Fun Home). Making their Cadence debuts in the Appleton Cast are Evan Dymon, Josh Chapman, Cohen Steele, Anjali Sharma, Ethan Dunne Stewart, Marcus Dowd, Emma McClain, Autumn Papczynski, Molly Nugent, Sam Hurst, Raif Winn, Brenna Duffy, Gracie Farrell, and Lauren Brabrand. Debuting in the Indiana Cast are Bridget Sindelar, Ethan Phelps, Audrey Kate Taylor, Jolie Smith, Owen Buckenmaier, Jake Barger, Molly Rose Meredith, Mia Meadows, Bekah Blackburn, Sawyer Williams, Jack Hensley, Mia Krivanec, Zoë Brown, Madelyn Diradour, and Sarah Kathryn Makl. Performing with both casts will be Hannah Riggs and Christopher Stone. Mason Timberline will be joining the cast as the pianist/Master Conductor.

So, it appears I was led along this theatrical musical journey by the very capable Appleton cast. On Saturday I will go back to see how the Indiana cast conducts themselves along this same path, and I’ll report back to you.

13 is a lively, upbeat show tackles real-life teen-aged problems: popularity; peer pressure; bullying, and more. And every single one of the teens onstage has a cellphone in their pocket; they frequently take them out for a selfie or to record some controversy or other. There is even a one-page Study Guide included in the program that asks some interesting questions, such as “How has technology changed social expectations for adolescents?” and “What does the musical, 13, teach us about friendship and prioritizing personal relationships.

 Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Jay Paul

13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Brandon Mckinney. Photo by Jay Paul.
13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Photo by Jay Paul.
13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Brandon McKinney. and Bridget Sindelar.Photo by Jay Paul.
13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Audrey Kate Taylor and Donathan Arnold. Photo by Jay Paul.
13, The Musical
Cast of 13. Photo by Jay Paul.
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THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW: Do The Time Warp Again

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW: A Cult Classic

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Richmond Triangle Players

At: The Robert B Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230

Performances: October 17-26, 2019.

Ticket Prices: $10-40 | This show sold out completely at the beginning of its limited 2-week run

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

Full Disclosure: It’s hard for me to write about a show like Rocky Horror Show when I can clearly see the skill and craft, acknowledge the talent and heartfelt performances, appreciate the music and humor, but I know that this cult classic just isn’t for me.

So, first the good news: Michael Hawke, who has a long history with this show, and was, in fact The Narrator in the 2012 production at The Firehouse Theatre, has directed with unbound energy and an unerring sense of comedic timing. The plot, for Rocky Horror Show “virgins,” who have never seen the show (stage or movie version) is merely a vehicle to carry a variety of themes including gender fluidity, counterculture, and sexual liberation.

The plot revolves around a newly engaged young couple, Brad and Janet, played with touching innocence by Luke Newsome and Madeline Witmer, who get a flat tire while driving through a rainstorm to celebrate their engagement with Dr. Scott (Carlen Kernish), the science professor who introduced them. Seeking help, they find the castle of  Frank ‘N’ Furter, a transvestite scientist from Transylvania, who is hosting a party to celebrate his newest invention, a Frankenstein-ish creation named Rocky – a blond, tanned muscleman with half a brain, played with an adorable balance of humor, naivete, and monstrous posing by a buff Adam Turck, dressed only in padded golden booty-shorts –later reduced to a golden G-string – and gold boots.

There are multiple story lines involving sexual exploration, gender, and aliens of the space variety. Hawke’s dynamic direction and the hilarious cast of characters keep the audience laughing. Oh, and because the movie version has become an interactive affair, bags of approved props were available for the audience to purchase, and there was a list of rules of engagement, aka etiquette. An RTP fun bag of props included such items as a newspaper, a rubber glove, a flashlight, a party hat, a playing card, and a small bag of confetti. The program included instructions on when to use, don, or throw each item. There was also an opportunity – which many took advantage of – to join in the show’s signature dance, “The Time Warp,” a sort of line dance with instructions for the steps included in the lyrics. Kate Belleman’s choreography was energetic and even included a spunky tap dance for Anne Michelle Forbes, who played the role of Frank ‘N’ Furter groupie Columbia.

The role of Frank ‘N’ Furter was reprised by Jim Morgan, who played the same role at Barksdale Theatre, now part of Virginia Rep. Morgan was fabulous, with flawless makeup, a corset and heels. Levi Meerovich was deliciously menacing – a perfect blend of horror and comedy – as his loyal servant turned arch nemesis, Riff Raff. The Phantoms were played – mostly danced – by Jet Davidson, Michaela Nicole, Havy Nguyen, and Achille Wangam, and the ensemble was completed by Jeffrey Cole as The Narrator, Kaitlyn Tate as the Usherette who introduced the show and Riff Raff’s sister Magenta, and Carlen Kernish who played the unfortunate Eddie who met an early demise as well as the paraplegic Dr. Scott.

The musical originally opened in 1973 in London where it played successfully for over seven years, and the film version, The Rocky Horror Picture Show,  premiered in 1975 and quickly became a midnight-show cult. The book, music, and lyrics are all by Richard O’Brien. The RTP production has musical direction by Kim Fox. The music was pumping, the voices were soaring, although sometimes I could not understand the lyrics because they were screaming or got lost in the music. But at least half the audience seemed to know all the words, so it didn’t matter and certainly didn’t seem to diminish anyone’s enjoyment. “Sweet Transvestite” and “I Can Make You a Man” were standouts led by Frank ‘N’ Furter, and “Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me,” led by Janet in the second act was outstanding, but “The Time Warp” seemed to be the audience’s hands-down favorite.

Sheila Russ’ costumes were campy and fun, and enhanced by Joel Furtick’s hair and make-up, while Frank Foster’s set was simple and utilitarian. Andrew Bonniwell did the lighting, and I received a message that while Joey Luck had originally been slated to do the sound design for ROCKY it was actually done by Artistic Director Lucian Restivo with Shane Barber as the live mixer for every performance.

So, what’s my problem with it? It’s a well-designed and well-executed musical – and I like musicals. It’s popular among fans and fun for “virgins,” but it just isn’t to my taste. I never saw the movie and do not have any plans to see it, but I did see the Firehouse production in 2012 and it still hasn’t grown on me. So, I hope I have been fair in describing what I consider an excellent production – except for those times when I found the lyrics muddled – and offer kudos to the performers for singing and dancing their hearts out, but I’ll never be a part of the fan club. I felt like something of an alien myself.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: John MacLellan

ROCKY_0404
Jim Morgan as Frank ‘N’ Furter (center) with Katlyn Tate and Levi Meerovich as Magenta and Riff Raff, along with Achille Wangam, Jet Davidson and Havy Nguyen in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show”, running at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through Oct 26. All performances are sold out. Photo by John MacLellan.
ROCKY_0293
Kaitlyn Tate and Levi Meerovich as Magenta and Riff Raff in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show”, running at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through Oct 26. All performances are sold out. Photo by John MacLellan
ROCKY_0160
Luke Newsome and Madeleine Witmer as Brad and Janet in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show”, running at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through Oct 26. All performances are sold out. Photo by John MacLellan.

 

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KARAR DANCE COMPANY PRESENTS: CIRCADIAN, an evening-length work

019 DOGTOWN PRESENTER’S SERIES: KARAR DANCE COMPANY

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: October 18-26, 2019

Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $15 Students

Info: (804) 230-8780 or dogtowndancetheatre.com

 

Circadian is a mesmerizing evening-length work for five dancers. The creative offspring of Kara Robertson, Artistic Director of Karar Dance Company, Circadian was inspired by a series of black and white photographs by Fan Ho (1931-2016), an award-winning Chinese photographer, film director, and actor who was known for his mastery of light and shadow. An image of his work entitled Approaching Shadow first caught Robertson’s attention some three years ago, and after much research, and some six months of intensive work with her company of dancers and collaborators, resulted in a 40-minute dance inspired by Fan Ho’s body of work captured in his book, Hong Kong Yesterday. [Hear the choreographer explain how her movement was inspired by the photographs: https://www.facebook.com/KARARDANCECOMPANY/videos/397277210947427/]

Fan Ho photo
Fan Ho image, Approaching Shadow

The first thing that strikes you about Circadian is the space; it is performed in the round, with two rows of seating on each side of the dance space. The second thing you might notice is the light; there are bright lights at each of the four corners of the dance space, and Weston Corey has designed numerous special effects, some quite subtle and some deliberately startling. This four-sided performance space with this moody, atmosphere-changing lighting, creates a world all its own that pulls and lulls the audience so that one loses track of time. A wooden lattice-work frame – the work of Crux Scenica – hangs above the dancers; I was so caught up in their motion and the mood of the lights that both surreptitiously and overtly direct our gaze, as well as by the sometimes hypnotic, sometimes dynamic original score by Ryan Davis that I didn’t notice it until near the end. It came as a total surprise that we had watched 40 minutes of uninterrupted dancing – and that the 5 dancers had been onstage moving for all that time.

Circadian begins with a simple walk. Dressed in simple but elegant two-piece black garments (kudos to designer Damion Bond) with wrap-around pants and cropped athletic tops that remind of yoga, meditation, and other healthy, healing practices, the five navigate the circumference of the space with measured and deliberate steps, articulating each action of the foot. Their arms are not yet engaged as they complete this counterclockwise procession with frequent interruptions of the precise cycle as one dancer then another breaks the formation by changing position, cutting across the space, widening or closing the gap between dancers, or moving into the center for a solo. These diversions only increase the mesmerizing power of the deliberate cycle.

Company dancers David Alexander Deegan, Caroline Echevarria, Amy Mulder, Amy Perkinson, and Haley Wall worked well as an ensemble, taking their cues from one another’s breathing or a fleeting glance, the briefest eye contact and seeming to move from a shared pool of energy. This synergy is most palpable and powerful when the music pauses, seeming to take a breath of its own so that the dancers and audience can experience the power and natural rhythm of silence.

 Gradually the patterns become more complex, the movements engage the arms and the entire body, often using a position from a Fan Ho photograph to initiate a movement phrase or transition from one section of the dance to another. The precision and focused intent of the walking is countered by softer shapes in the center, rounded spines and shoulders, a gentle firmness when they make contact that feels safe and secure yet daring at the same time.

There are spaces for the dancers and the music to breathe, only to continue as if the silence and stillness were natural parts of the cycle, of the circadian rhythm. They end on the floor, face down, as if taking a collective breath. I liked everything about Circadian and it is even more special to see such high caliber work from a small, young, local company. If time permits, I will see Circadian again, and choose a seat on a different side of the room to see if that substantially affects the viewer’s experience of the piece.

Karar Dance Company is a young organization; the company debuted in 2017 with a goal of becoming a collaborative conduit for artistic expression and a commitment to things homegrown. Kara Robertson as well of 4 of her 5 dancers – David Alexander Deegan, Amy Mulder, Amy Perkinson, and Haley Wall – are all graduates of the VCU Department of Dance and Choreography. Caroline Echevarria is also local – a native of Richmond and a graduate of Elon University’s department of Dance Performance & Choreography.

The presentation of Circadian was made possible by Dogtown Dance Theatre’s Presenter’s Series. Now in its fourth year, the Dogtown Presenter’s Series (DPS) annually places the spotlight on an independent artist or Richmond-based organization, producing a two-week series that provides the artist with all the major resources needed, including rehearsal space, technical production, marketing, public relations, and a stipend. The goal of the DPS is to introduce Richmond audiences to choreographers who reflect the rich cultural diversity of the city, and I hope more people in Richmond and the surrounding counties find or make the time to visit the Manchester neighborhood and support our local artists.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Michael Keeling – Karar rehearsal photos; Fan Ho – Approaching Shadow image

 

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TUCK EVERLASTING: Don’t Be Afraid of Being Truly Alive

TUCK EVERLASTING: It’s a Family Affair

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn; 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, RVA 23230

Performances: October 18-December 1, 2019

Ticket Prices: $21

Info: (804) 282-2620 or virginiarep.org

Virginia Rep opened is 2019-2020 Children’s Theatre season with a magical foray into the world of Tuck Everlasting. The musical, based on Natalie Babbitt’s children’s novel about a family that finds immortality in the waters of a remote spring in the New Hampshire countryside and the grieving young girl who befriends them, was performed on Broadway in 2016. Virginia Rep shared this co-world premiere of this Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) Edition with Nashville Children’s Theatre. (The Nashville premiere was actually in September 2018, so I don’t quite understand how that makes this a co-world premiere.) Pushing that question aside, Tuck Everlasting is a beautifully conceived play that thoughtfully poses serious questions about life choices while resonating with audiences of all ages. The story was new to me, as I had not read the book, had not seen previous productions of the play, and had not seen either the 1981 film by One Pass Media or the 2002 Disney film. Now, I cannot imagine how I missed out.

Unlike many Children’s Theater productions that seem geared towards the youngest audience members from around 4 to 10, Tuck Everlasting is a bit more sophisticated, and seems most appropriate for pre-teens through adults. This is also a production you can feel confident in attending without a child, although I recommend you bring along at least one.  Part of the joy of Tuck Everlasting is watching the faces of the young audience members. My minor cohort on opening night was Nicole, just two days from turning 11, the same age as our story’s protagonist. For most of the show, which runs about 75 minutes, with no intermission, Nicole sat wide-eyed, on the edge of her seat. Just what held her attention – and mine? I’m glad you asked.

Lucy Caudle, a ninth-grader at Maggie Walker Governors School who was recently seen as Alexa in the Virginia Rep production of Atlantis, took full ownership of the lead role as 11-year-old Winnie Foster. Winnie’s father died less than a year ago, and her conventional mother demands that she wear mourning clothes for a full year. But Winnie has gotten wind of an itinerant fair coming to their small New Hampshire town of Treegap, and she wants to go. Caudle genuinely captures the longing and frustration of her character in musical numbers like “Live Like This” and “Good Girl Winnie Foster,” but also in her face and posture. She frequently looks upward and outward into the future or stands with her weight on the balls of her feet, ready to sprint off on the next long-awaited adventure.

It is her need for adventure that sends her off into the nearby woods – woods owned by her family – where she meets Jesse Tuck, younger son of the mysterious and reclusive Tuck family. Taylor Witt, a DC-based actor new to the Virginia Rep stage, makes a charming Jesse, the free-spirited younger brother who exasperates both his older brother Miles and his parents Mae and Angus. Witt emanates non-stop energy and even on opening night seemed to strike just the right chemistry with Caudle.

Todd Patterson is Miles, the older brother who is the voice of reason, but with a dark secret. In a touching scene, Miles finally reveals the source of his deep-seated anger to Winnie. Patterson does a marvelous job balancing the layers of his character’s personality and the reveal is skillfully timed.

Casey Daniel Payne, also making her Virginia Rep debut, added a bit of humor as Mae Tuck. She had grown resigned to her fate and the years have taught her to take pleasure in the small things like not having to keep a clean house, because no one comes to visit. I took particular notice of Walter Riddle as Agnus, the head of the Tuck household. Having kept his family safely secluded for more than 80 years, Agnus appears unruffled by impending disaster and spends his free time fishing. Riddle appeared natural and easy in the role of the father figure, reluctantly dispensing words of wisdom to Winnie and treating Mae with respect and affection that seemed somewhat startling for the time period, the late nineteenth century. It seemed perfectly natural when, sitting back to back with their fishing rods in hand, Winnie leaned her head on Agnus’ shoulder. She was missing her father, and he was remembering what it was like to hold a real child.

Dan Cimo was both sinister and hilarious as the “Man in the Yellow Suit,” a carnival barker who had heard of the magical water that granted eternal life and hoped to become rich from bottling and selling it. One of the most memorable lines in the play was delivered by Winnie’s mother, who asked where one would find a suit in that color, and having found it, why would one buy it? Lisa Kotula played the role of Winnie’s mother with both firmness and compassion. Her role required her to wear Victorian widow’s weeds – a plain black dress – the entire play.

The cast was rounded out by Jon Cobb as the bumbling Constable and Harrison Gray as his deputy, Hugo.  Hugo also has a surprise to reveal in the final scenes. All were ably directed by Matt Polson, who kept the ensemble moving at a swift but manageable pace. The cast was also in charge of scene changes, which consisted mostly of moving a bench, a trunk, a gate, and numerous trees in a heavily forested but uncluttered set designed by Tennessee Dixon, enhanced by BJ Wilkinson’s lighting. The floor was painted with leaves, and larger leaves were projected onto them. A portion of a cottage façade and doorway was the most stable structure – or suggestion of a structure – and there was a grotto of trees surrounding a pile of rocks or boulders that sheltered the magical spring waters. Early on, Winnie pulled a small toad – her only friend at that time – from her pocket; later we saw a somewhat larger, animated toad (a hologram, perhaps?) projected onto the rocks. This toad plays an important part in Winnie’s decision on whether to drink the magical waters.

Set in a small New Hampshire town (it did seem odd that the Tuck family moved east, rather than westward) beginning August 1, 1893, Tuck Everlasting is clothed in period costumes, right down to the shoes, yet the story, the language, and the ideas remain relevant. Ruth Hedberg’s period costumes are whimsical, but she gives full reign to her creativity with the colorful costumes of the carnival people, including a strong man, a physic, clowns, and more. Mallory Keene’s choreography is not so much dance as rhythmic movement sequences organically incorporated into the actors’ actions and characterizations. All of the movement was guided by Jason Marks’ musical direction.

Tuck Everlasting was written by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, with music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen. The musical orchestrations are by John Clancy, with vocal arrangements by Chris Miller and ballet music arranged by David Chase. The musical selections were catchy and clearly delivered, from the different perspectives of longing, loss, and hopefulness of the opening “Live Like This,” sung by Winnie, Mae, Miles, Jesse, and the Man in the Yellow Suit to Winnie singing about how some days she wanted to “raise a little more than heaven,” to Hugo and the Constable’s pun-filled, “You Can’t Trust a Man in a Yellow Suit.” (Hugo accused the Man in the Yellow Suit of “fabricating” and the Constable interprets it as “fabric hating.”)

While all of this is going on, the audience, both young and old, is challenged with some real-life challenges: Don’t be afraid of death; it’s part of life. One path can lead to two different conclusions. Sometimes loving someone means letting them go. What are the positives and negatives of living forever? The one point my young cohort found confusing was the final scene, where we find out what Winnie decided to do with the double edged sword of eternal life – the vial of magical water that Jesse presses into her hand as a parting gift. The scene, and the entire play, offers an entry into discussing difficult and challenging topics with your children. Tuck Everlasting is a play that should be seen by families and discussed later.

NOTE: The Tuck family includes one black parent and one white parent, one white son and one black son. This is truly color blind casting, as the issue of race is never once mentioned.

Sensory Friendly Performances
Virginia Rep offers sensory friendly performances for children with autism and other
sensory or social disabilities. During these select performances, changes will be made in
lighting, sound, seating arrangements, and length of performance to create a more welcoming environment for this audience. A Sensory Friendly performance will be offered at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 16. Please see the website for more details:
http://va-rep.org/sensory_friendly.html

Audio Described Performances
In collaboration with Virginia Voice, Virginia Rep offers Audio Described
performances, in which actions, expressions and gestures are described during gaps between dialogue throughout the performance for patrons with low vision or blindness. In addition to live audio description during performances, patrons are also invited to participate in a tactile tour before the performance. An Audio Described performance will be offered at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 3. Please see the website for more details: https://va-rep.org/access_for_the_blind.html

Community Tickets Grant
Virginia Rep offers a free Community Tickets Grant for nonprofit organizations. Organizations who have a demonstrated need for complimentary tickets are encouraged to fill out the application found on the website: bit.ly/CommunityTix

Performance Schedule
Evening performances at 7:00 p.m. on select Fridays
Matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday
Matinee performances at 10:30 a.m. on select Saturdays

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

Tuck Everlasting
Walter RIddle (left) and Lucy Caudle (right). Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Tuck Everlasting
Taylor Witt (left) and Lucy Caudle (right). Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Tuck Everlasting
Lisa Kotula, Todd Patterson, Lucy Caudle, Jon Cobb, Harrison Gray, Taylor Witt, Walter Riddle and Casey Daniel Payne. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Tuck Everlasting
Taylor Witt, Casey Daniel Payne, Walter Riddle and Todd Patterson. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Tuck Everlasting
Lisa Kotula, Lucy Caudle and Dan Cimo. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

 

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BROKEN BONE BATHTUB: Therapeutic Theater Richmond Remount

BROKEN BONE BATHTUB: An Immersive Experience

A Few Notes and Observations by Julinda D. Lewis

A Firehouse Theatre Fringe Production

At: Secret site-specific bathtub locations; the address will be revealed upon purchasing a ticket*

Performances: October 16-20, 2019

Ticket Price: $25

Info: (804) 355-2001, firehousetheatre.org or https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4357334

We often say or hear that a particular performance is totally unlike any other. Well, Broken Bone Bathtub is truly unlike any theater I have ever experienced. Based on Siobhan O’Loughlin’s real-life experience of a traumatic bike accident that left her with a broken left hand, Broken Bone Bathtub takes place in a bathtub in someone’s home. Each performance is hosted in a different home (dates and neighborhoods are listed below; addresses are emailed after you purchase a ticket, and attendees are required to sign a waiver).

Siobhan (and I am breaking with convention here and using her first name, because I spent a little more than an hour with her as she sat, covered only with bubbles, in a bathtub – so I think we are now on a first name basis), interacts with the audience, so each performance will be quite different; even the timing will vary, based on the participants’ responses. After helping Siobhan shampoo her hair, I don’t even feel it would be responsible to call these sentences a review.

Broken Bone Bathtub is the most intimate piece of theater I have ever experienced. One Sunday afternoon this past March I attended David London’s production – part history, part storytelling, part séance – Humbug, the Great P.T. Barnum Séance at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design. The audience was limited to those who could fit around the custom-made séance table, with room for about 4 observers. In August, I attended Dante Piro’s one-man show, The Verge, in that same space. Piro’s play was limited to those who could fit around a conference table. Both of those shows – also produced by The Firehouse, under the artistic direction of Joel Bassin – were intimate, and performed before a limited audience. But both were performed in a public space – and both London and Piro kept their clothes on!

Make no mistake, Siobhan’s bathtub drama has form and structure, meaning and purpose. She recounts her bike accident in carefully segmented portions, interspersed with questions to the audience – the 6 or 7 people gathered in an average-sized bathroom, seated shoulder-to-shoulder, or knee-to-tub on stools of varying heights. Several helpers were enlisted to help her perform tasks one cannot do alone when one’s hand and wrist are encased in a plaster cast. Everyone participated in the dialog on Wednesday night, sharing personal experiences ranging from expressions of childhood jealousy to crying in public, from shared showers to the dimensions of personal space and the difficulty of asking for help when you really need it.

These are genuine topics, and participants offered authentic responses. One woman was brought to tears when a question – and her response – triggered a sensitive memory. There was lots of laughter and, from my vantage point, I could see Siobhan’s eyes welling up more than once. Broken Bone Bathtub is experimental theater, but it is also a healing experience, equal parts theater and therapy. First, the project was Siobhan’s personal journey to physical recovery. Second, it was a way for her to connect with others – who do you call on in time of need? And finally, it is a cathartic experience for the audience-participants who were surreptitiously encouraged to tap into their own feelings, fears, and personal experiences, in the guise of a theatrical performance. At the end, Siobhan concluded her story, weaving in bits and pieces of the shared experiences, including the names of the contributors. Make no mistake, Broken Bone Bathtub may be experimental theater, but it is not random; it is organized and smart. Broken Bone Bathtub is also warm, intimate, and ultimately it is a liberating experience that links the participants with an indelible bond of humanity.

 

*Note Performances and Locations for Broken Bone Bathtub:
Wed., Oct 16 @ 7pm, Richmond Fan District, NO PETS
Thurs., Oct 17 @ 7pm, Gum Spring/Goochland, YES PETS
Fri., Oct 18 @ 7pm + 9pm, Bonair, YES PETS
Sat., Oct 19 @ 7pm + 9pm, Glen Allen, NO PETS
Sun., Oct 20 @ 2pm + 4pm, Midlothian/River Downs, YES PETS

​Some of the locations have pets on the premises. Please be aware if you have allergies. If you are dangerously allergic to animals, we do not recommend purchasing tickets for those locations.

​Unfortunately, none of these venues are wheelchair accessible. If you live in Richmond and have any ideas about making the show happen in an accessible space, please reach out to hello@brokenbonebathtub.com.

By the Way: Siobhan is, indeed, naked in the bathtub, but keeps herself covered with a thick layer of bubbles. There were men and women present, and at no time was any part of the show sexual or suggestive. Broken Bone Bathtub is, in fact, quite suitable for audiences of all ages!

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Firehouse Theatre and Broken Bone Bathtub website

 

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AN AUDIENCE WITH THE QUEEN: Queen Latifah Hosts American Evolution’s Women’s Achieve Summit

This post was originally written for Richmond Magazine, but could not be run because the event was sold out – and the magazine doesn’t want to tease it’s readers. So, it’s not a dance or theater review or observation, but when given the opportunity to have an audience with the Queen, who can say no? Here’s my 5-minute one-on-one interview with the one and only Queen Latifah:

AN AUDIENCE WITH THE QUEEN: Latifah That Is

An Audience with the Queen by Julinda D. Lewis

Women’s Achieve Summit

At: The Greater Richmond Convention Center, 403 N 3rd Street, RVA 23219

Conference: October 15, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 Registration

Info: AmericanEvolution2019.com

This post was originally written for Richmond Magazine, but could not be run because the event was sold out – and the magazine doesn’t like to tease its readers. So, with a few adjustments, here’s my interview with the one and only Queen Latifah:

The Women’s Achieve Summit held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center October 15th commemorated the achievements of trailblazing women who have contributed to Virginia and American history. Award-winning performer, renowned actress, and groundbreaking female rapper Queen Latifah was selected as the Summit’s host.

The media was granted an audience with the Queen early Tuesday morning. I left my house in the pitch black dark – before sunrise, at 6:30am. At 7:30am, The Queen, born Dana Elaine Owens in Newark, NJ on March 18, 1970, swept regally into the room, face flawless, hair perfectly coifed. She is more beautiful in person that on screen. She was not up so early to perform or model, but rather to share with us the wisdom gained from 30 years as a public figure in the arts, business, and activism.

Latifah, who grew up in New Jersey, has family ties in Northern Virginia. “Having traced my roots to Virginia six generations, before America was America,” she said, “I know there’s strength in our lives, strength in our bloodlines, intelligence, and resilience, and power that we have yet to tap into on a continuous basis.” It is, perhaps, these deep family ties that anchor her strength and keep her focused on power, resilience, and self-identity. She credits her grandmothers, aunts and other strong family members and counts public figures like Patti LaBelle, Teena Marie, Dr. Betty Shabazz, and Gloria Steinem among those who contributed to making her the force that she is.

What do you see as the greatest challenges and achievements of women living here in Virginia, in the former capitol of the Confederacy, I asked her? Speaking of fighting an uphill battle for women to achieve power, she commented that, “those in power hold onto power, and greed knows no end. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of an addiction; people need some greed intervention.”

“Women locking arm in arm is one powerful way to do it in what has been a patriarchal society. Let a woman lead. We have led – we just don’t get the credit for it. We have to believe that it’s okay to use our power. Own it. We can do a lot more together than we can separately.”

In our brief five minutes together, she spoke of owning your power. “Use your voice. Own your voice. Believe in yourself. Speak on your own behalf,” she said. What would she like our young women to know? “Never lose your idealism. Don’t let this world tell you that you can’t do things. Don’t let the negativity that you see in the media infiltrate your positive thinking. It’s just the TV; turn it off!”

By the way, I opened our conversation by showing the Queen a photo of her with my mother, in New York, when Latifah was the host of CBS’s syndicated “The Queen Latifah Show” from 1999-2001. “That’s the original joint,” she remarked when she saw her former set, adding, “I haven’t seen myself in pink in a long time.”

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Julinda D. Lewis & the Lewis Family Photo Album

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CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: A Family-Friendly Affair

THE CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: Fall Repertory Gala

Observations on the Fall Repertory Gala by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Woman’s Club Auditorium, 211 East Franklin Street, RVA 23219

Performance: October 13, 2019

Ticket Prices: $4-$18

Info: (804) 798-0945 or http://concertballet.com/ or info@concertballet.org

The Concert Ballet of Virginia marked the start of its 43rd year of dance performances with its annual Fall Repertory Gala at The Woman’s Club on Sunday, October 13. The company operates “within the framework of a full-scale professional dance company” but is run by a “marvelous collection of unsalaried Virginians – dancers, choreographers, technicians, craft and stage people and volunteers.” The mission of CBV is to accept and promote those who are interested in performing, providing a professional company experience regardless of skill level.

The 2019 Fall Repertory Gala differed from previous galas in that the program, consisting of a half dozen works ranging from classical to contemporary, incorporated the Diane Hale dancers, including a work choreographed by their instructor, Lindsay Rhyne Hudson, a CBV alumni.

One thing CBV does very well is scenery and set design. The French Scenic Reproduction of a glamorous manor house and lawn for “Biedermeier Waltzes” was donated by Wilton House, but the décor for “The Hunt,” and the trio of purple arches and blue panels for “Litany” were designed by deVeaux Riddick, a creative team member and long-time Technical Director for Ballet Impromptu, the Richmond Ballet, and then Concert Ballet of Virginia until his passing September 7, 2019.

The quintet of dancers in Biedermeier Waltzes” appeared to be the least experienced, as demonstrated by the simplicity of their choreography, soft shoes (no pointe work), and several stumbles. The lighting – or the dancers’ placement – often left their faces unlit, which was a bit of a distraction. But things picked up with “The Hunt,” a lively number featuring dancers dressed in clever red hunting jackets and black riding boots. The dancers prancing in a circle and forming a Rockettes-style kick line drew applause from the audience.

Ilie Davis, the soloist for the slightly dark, introspective and contemporary styled “Dysmorphic,” demonstrated clean lines and an enticing ease on stage. The four women in “Litany wore long-sleeved aubergine-colored dresses reminiscent of Martha Graham. Their movements were also reminiscent of classic modern dance: sustained; low dynamic; and repetitive, ending in a reverent tableau vivant. “Full Moon and Empty Arms” similarly ended in a tableau, although the latter was a classical ballet, with four ballerinas wearing black classic tutus, and a lead dancer in an ivory tutu to match Scott Boyer who partnered all of them. These were apparently the more experienced or advanced dancers, as this piece included pointe work.

The Concert Ballet of Virginia is as much – or more – about the experience than the dance technique. It is a family-friendly affair, with hand-crafted items for sale in the lobby boutique and cabaret style tables where desserts, coffee, tea, wine, and lemonade are served.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Concert Ballet of Virginia webpage

Concert Ballet of VA

 

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LOST BOY FOUND IN WHOLE FOODS: “To understand metaphor, you must imagine”

LOST BOY FOUND IN WHOLE FOODS: When Helping Hurts

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: 5th Wall Theatre

At: TheatreLAB The Basement, 300 E. Broad St. RVA 23219

Performances: October 11 – November 2, 2019

Ticket Prices: $32 General Admission; $20 RVATA Cardholders; $15 Students

Info: (804) 359-2003 or 5thwalltheatre.org

Internal conflict in Sudan spanning the period 1987-2005 resulted in an estimated 2 million deaths. Tens of thousands of children were left orphaned. Many of the boys, some as young as six years, traveled hundreds of miles east to refugee camps in the bordering nations of Ethiopia and Kenya. Many settled in the Kakuma camp in Kenya. In 2001, about 3,600 of these boys were offered refuge and resettlement in major US cities, as part of a program established by the US government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Tammy Ryan’s 2012 play, Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, picks up in October 2004, where a former “Lost Boy” named Gabriel is working in the produce section of a Whole Foods store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There he encounters a customer named Christine; a middle-aged, middle class, recently divorced white woman. Christine ends up inviting Gabriel to live with her and her sixteen year old daughter, Alex. Ryan was awarded the Francesca Primus Prize by the American Theatre Critics Association in 2012 for this play which examines the impact of the intersection of these two lives.

Daniel Hurt, who majored in theater at John Tyler Community College, plays the lead role Gabriel in this ensemble cast. I’m not sure whether the script of the director, Keith Fitzgerald, calls for Gabriel’s transformation, but he starts out presenting as a upbeat, always smiling, hard-working young man, and shortly into the second act he has become a morose teenager – at least that’s the way Christine describes him to Segel Mohammed, the refugee aid worker enlisted to help locate Gabriel’s mother. Great pains are taken to point out that neither Christine nor Alex can truly understand Gabriel’s plight, but the transformation is, nevertheless, uneven, jagged, abrupt.

Lian-Marie Holmes, who brings New York and regional credits to her Richmond debut as Christine, plays the role with great earnestness and heart, but I always felt she was on the edge of a breakdown. Kristin Bauer, who plays the daughter, Alex, seemed to be the voice of reason and stability – despite being a bratty teenager with a chip on her shoulder because of her parents’ divorce and all the changes that had brought to her life. While Bauer’s character isn’t very likeable at the start, she is the one character that shows growth and development over the course of the two acts.

Tarneé Kendell Hudson brings strength and authority to her role as Segel Mohammed, but the contrast with the nervous Christine often results in unintended moments of humor. The cast also includes Joe Walton as a former Catholic Charities worker, Michael Dolan and Ashton Lee as Panther, the very large, very menacing Sudanese friend of Gabriel. We never do learn exactly how he earns his money, but his presence makes everyone uneasy.

Ryan tells a story that should be, could be touching, based on real-life events, but somehow it just doesn’t feel authentic. Panther’s monologue, that closes the first act, is unsettling, but doesn’t seem to have a point. Michael Dolan is presented as a helpful liaison with an annoyingly non-committal attitude. The characters seem raw and unfinished, their dialogue seems stilted or censored, and just doesn’t flow freely. I’m familiar with East African accents, but there were times when several of the actors – not just Hurt and Lee – could not be heard clearly, not even in the second row of the intimate space of TheatreLAB’s Basement, The play opens with Gabriel narrating and closes with a narration by Christine – an neither monologue seemed to fit with the genre.

And speaking of things that seem raw and unfinished, I was disappointed with TJ Spensieri’s set. The back wall was very flimsy, appearing to be made of butcher paper and duct tape. You could even see the red EXIT sign through the fabric panel. The furnishings of Christine and Alex’s home seemed to be too shabby and tired for a middle class home. And finally, the set was divided into four sections: a living room/kitchen (that oddly seemed to be where Christine stored her clothes, because she made several costume changes there); a park bench; an office; and a Whole Foods produce section, containing numerous boxes of bananas and papaya. There was a slight elevation for the park bench, but little or nothing was done to delineate the other areas, such as a change of color or texture.

Sadly, my first impression on seeing the set was that it looked like a high school drama class set. That said, I attended on the second night. Perhaps the ensemble will develop stronger chemistry or Fitzgerald will tweak the timing and interplay between the actors. Perhaps not. On Saturday evening, I just wasn’t moved – at least not in the right direction.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka & 5th Wall Theatre Facebook page

 

 

 

 

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ART OF MURDER: And Then There Were…

THE ART OF MURDER: Die Laughing

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: CAT Theatre, 419 No. Wilkinson Rd., RVA 23227

Performances: September 27 – October 12, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 Adults; $20 RVATA Members; $15 Students

Info: (804) 804-262-9760 or cat@cattheatre.com

About halfway into his second line, I wanted Jack Brooks dead. The man, played by Aaron Willoughby, is so obnoxious, narcissistic, and misogynistic, I could never develop any sympathy for him. And it only gets worse after the opening scene, where he emerges from his isolation tank and proceeds to strut around in his swim trunks and an open robe. I don’t know Willoughby, a teacher at the Center for Communications and Media Relations at Varina High School who is performing in his first CAT production, but I attribute Brook’s rotten demeanor to Willoughby’s acting abilities – and the script – and not to any personal shortcomings.

Joe DiPietro’s Art of Murder, a 2000 Edgar Award winner for Best Mystery Play, is a comedy murder mystery full of plot twists and turns and laugh-out-loud moments. The problem is that with the exception of Kate, the Brook’s Irish maid, none of DiPietro’s characters is likeable. And even Kate, played by Charlotte Topp with a warm-as-fresh-baked-bread Irish accent, seems to have something up her sleeve, too.

Jack Brooks is despicable, and his treatment of Kate and his wife Annie, played by Emily Turner, make him a likely candidate for murder. Turner’s character is complex, in turn angry, beleaguered, soft, and sharp. The winding path of the plot keeps her deliberately enigmatic. We don’t like to see women abused, but Annie. . .well, you have to meet her and decide for yourself what her story really is.

There is nothing subtle or enigmatic about the Brooks’ art dealer and friend, Vincent Cummings. Cummings is played with over-the-top flamboyance by D.C. Hopkins (not to be confused with dl Hopkins). Without giving away too much of the mystery, Cummings walks unwittingly into a set up, but he brings his own baggage, so I couldn’t muster up much sympathy for him, either.

All-in-all, Art of Murder is 100 minutes of comedic dysfunction, kept moving along at a fairly swift pace by director Zachary Owens. It’s just a matter of who gets murdered, and when, and by whom – we don’t really care why.

Art of Murder, set in a large country house in Connecticut (a murder mystery standard), on an autumn evening about 10 years ago, opens with Jack and Annie, a wildly famous celebrity artist and his less-celebrated artist wife, awaiting the arrival of their art dealer, Vincent. Jack has a grudge against Vincent, and he and Annie have summoned Vincent for dinner, where they are plotting to execute Vincent’s murder. Or are they? At one point Annie says to Vincent (yes, Vincent, not Jack) “I’ve never killed anyone before.” His response is “It’s always good to try new things.”

There’s – possibly – murder and suicide, red herrings and mis-direction, a gun filled with blanks (or are they?) and props that turn up in the wrong place, an escape from a locked box, a disembodied voice, and all manner of deceptions. Elizabeth Allmon’s set is a standard murder mystery genre room but lacks the elegance of a large country estate owned by a wealthy artist, and Sheila Russ’ costumes for Annie and Jack look more like they came from a thrift store than from a couture boutique, as their lifestyle demands. One prominent prop, Jack’s isolation tank, is a roughhewn black box, more reminiscent of a coffin than a sleek example of spa-inspired technology. Alan Armstrong gets to have fun with lighting, and Hunter Mass gets creative with the sound design. Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” plays before the show starts, and “Ave Maria” ushers in the intermission. Aaron Orensky’s fight choreography is graphic, but I found it visually dissonant and unconvincing that Jack could so easily manhandle Vincent, given that Hopkins is so much more solidly built than Willoughby.

Art of Murder raises many questions. Most of the plot questions are eventually answered, leaving questions like what was the playwright thinking, and are the over-the-top performances intentional, and are the outbursts of anger meant to move the plot along by layering levity with a shot of reality, or were they thinly disguised rants by the playwright? There are only four people in the cast, so the possibilities – who gets murdered and who does the murdering – are not endless, yet DiPietro still manages to throw in some head-scratching surprises.

It’s interesting that of the current fall productions – and this one is the opening of CAT Theatre’s 56th consecutive season of providing community theater in Richmond – there are three mysteries, including Holmes & Watson a contemporary Sherlock Holmes style mystery at Swift Creek Mill (https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/09/21/holmes-and-watson-its-not-what-you-think), and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder a comedic musical murder mystery at Virginia Rep (https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/10/03/a-gentlemans-guide-to-love-murder-whos-turn-to-die).

 

FYI:

D.C. Hopkins, a graduate of Christopher Newport University, has toured with Virginia Rep for their shows “I Have a Dream” and “The Jungle Book.”

dl Hopkins is an award winning actor, veteran poet, and former Artistic Director of the African American Repertory Theatre of Virginia who was aa founding member of Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theatre.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Ellie Wilder

 


 

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A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER: Who’s Turn to Die?

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER: A Musical Comedy Tour de Force!

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Marjorie Arenstein Stage

Performances: September 27 – October 20, 2019

Ticket Prices: $36-63

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder has a love triangle, dysfunctional family dynamics, people who marry for money over love, a leading man who is a serial killer, and Scott Wichmann playing 8 different characters.

Written by Robert L Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics), based on a novel by Rod Horniman, and directed and choreographed by Kikau Alvaro, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder is a delightful musical comedy in the hands of a dynamic and talented cast.

After an opening prologue by the ensemble, dressed in elegant mourning attire – a premonition of what is to follow – the audience meets Monty Navarro, sitting at a small desk on the eve of his sentencing for murder, writing his memoirs, including a full confession of how eight members of his family mysteriously died in less that a year. Alexander Sapp plays Navarro, the son of a recently deceased washerwoman who, it turns out, is related to the D’Ysquiths, a wealthy family who made their fortune in banking and finances. In fact, Monty is eighth in line to becoming the Earl of Highhurst, and Sapp seems to have as much fun playing Monty as the audience does watching him plot and plan his way to success, with time out to for romance. Never mind that his love interest, Sibella Hallward, decides to marry someone else. Grey Garrett’s portrayal of the vain and materialistic Sibella is spot on – a perfect balance of comedy and musical theater diva.

Debra Wagoner, as the mysterious Marietta Shingle, has a couple of surprises that are integral to the plot. She is supported by an ensemble that includes Georgia Rogers Farmer, Maxwell Porterfield, Daniel Pippert, Adrienne Eller, Lauren Leinhaus-Cook, Theodore Sapp, and Derrick Jaques.

 

No, I did not forget to mention Scott Wichmann. This is one of those awkward situations in which the most memorable character is not the leading man, but a supporting character – in this case eight supporting characters, all played by Wichmann. It’s not even fair to call Wichmann a supporting character, as he portrayed all the D’Ysquith heirs in line for the title Earl of Highhurst – including an inebriated cleric, a body-building lord mayor, and a country squire who is married but seems to prefer the companionship of men.

There’s Lady Hyacinth, whose interest in helping the poor and disadvantaged provides a perfect opening to send her off to her death in poverty stricken Egypt or serving the lepers in India. Surviving these dangerous missions, Monty sends her off to deepest, darkest Africa to work with a tribe of cannibals. (It’s 1909, and no one had yet been warned to be politically correct or culturally sensitive.) Lady Salome D’Ysquith Pumphrey is such a bad actress that when Monty replaces the blanks in her prop gun with real bullets and she shoots herself on stage, the audience applauds her death, perhaps not realizing she has really died. Both Lady Hyacinth and Lady Salome are played by Wichmann. Each character has a different voice, posture, and gait. The Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith, for example, has a distinctive, stylized teetering walk.

Each also has a distinct style of dressing, thanks to costume designer Sue Griffin. Visually, the production is also enhanced by Chris Raintree’s expansive set, characterized by multiple movable set components (ranging from Monty’s modest home to Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith’s mansion – an expansive mansion so grand that it offers tours to tourists.

Sandy Dacus’ music direction, along with Alvaro’s direction kept things moving along at a fair clip, although there were a few moments when I thought something should have been tightened up. The first act lasts nearly 90 minutes, with a total run time of about 2 ½ hours. For the most part, the musical selections do not cater to foot-tapping show tunes, but rather to sung narrative that advances the story line – when all the words are clear; sometimes they were not at Wednesday’s matinee.

The surprise ending brings about an unlikely alliance and opens the door to a sequel. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Marriage is delightful musical comedy, satisfyingly delivered by a death-defying cast.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Lauren Leinhaas-Cook, Adrienne Eller, Alexander Sapp, Grey Garrett and Scott Wichmann. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Adrienne Eller and Alexander Sapp. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Grey Garrett and Alexander Sapp. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Scott Wichmann. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

 

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RICHMOND BALLET: Contemporary Classics Ushers in New Season & Says Good-bye to Popular Ballerina

RICHMOND BALLET: Contemporary Classics

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts | Carpenter Theatre | 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219

Performances: September 27-29, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25-$125

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

I had forgotten how beautiful the ballet “Carmina Burana” is. Choreographed for the New York City Opera in 1959 by John Butler, the ballet is based on a collection of thirteenth century songs and poems discovered in a monastery in Bavaria. The songs were composed and arranged by Carl Orff in three highly dramatic sections – Spring, In the Tavern, and The Court of Love – that are intended to be performed by a collaborating team of orchestra, chorus, and dancers.

The Richmond Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Erin Freeman and a chorus of about 100 singers composed of members of the VCU Commonwealth Singers and the Richmond Symphony Chorus, divided into four groups on two levels of the theater provided what my daughter described as “surround sound.” Tenor Andrew Sauvageau, Baritone Jeffrey Grayson Gates, and Soprano Zarah Brock stood onstage and wore monastic black for their solos. At one point Brock held an impossibly long note.

The dancers moved through a range of human emotions using a stylized vocabulary of movement that seems to have been inspired by the figures on the Wheel of  Life or perhaps the characters illustrating a deck of tarot cards. The music is structured in three major sections, beginning and ending with the familiar “Fortune, Empress of the World,” for which the dancers don monastic black robes and rush about with determined steps and postures. But having seen all that occurred between the Prologue and the Finale, these same movements and garments have vastly different connotations at the end than at the beginning. [Link to “Fortune Empress of the World” – https://youtu.be/PG8U2vast6k]

In between we see two couples seemingly caught up in a web of sexual betrayal reminiscent of the story of Othello and first one man and then a group of women wearing costumes that bare – or use flesh-toned fabric to skillfully mimic baring – half their bodies and much more. Although the movement is not tied to any narrative it is easy to find familiar story lines.

While the four main dancers and corps of 6 couples were uniformly dynamic, this weekend’s performance hold special significance for 13-year company member Maggie Small who is retiring her pointe shoes after her final performance of “Carmina Burana.” Like the Wheel of Fortune that inspired this work, Small’s career has come full circle, as she closes her performing career with the ballet that marked the start of her professional career. [Here’s a link to a Richmond Times Dispatch article about Small’s career and retirement: https://www.richmond.com/entertainment/art/richmond-s-homegrown-ballerina-maggie-small-set-to-retire-with/article_e5c1067b-703f-5549-bb3a-c957fd177da3.html. And another from Style Magazine: https://rvamag.com/art/dancetheatre/with-contemporary-classics-richmond-ballet-says-goodbye-to-maggie-small.html.]

Small’s long-time partner, Fernando Sabino, will retire in the spring, and it looks as if Ira White, now in his fifth year with the company, is ready to step up and into Sabino’s shoes. White, who like Small, came up from the company’s Minds in Motion program (for fourth graders) and the trainee program before joining the company, has shown tremendous growth and maturity as a dancer over the past two years, and shows promise of contributing a high level of professionalism as well as charisma to the current season.

The Contemporary Classics program marks the start of the Richmond Ballet’s new season and opens with the stunningly beautiful Theme and Variations by George Balanchine. Set to the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major, Op. 55,” “Theme and Variations” is a grand ballet, traditionally styled with white tutus, a series of pas de deux by the lead couple, and a grand procession or polonaise for all the dancers to show off their technique and gorgeous lines. As I watched the dancers move through the intricate patterns, I thought this is one ballet I’d prefer to see from the balcony, which affords a bird’s eye view of the design. My daughter, who arrived a little late after hunting for parking, did get a chance to see “Theme and Variations” from the balcony and confirmed my suspicions. She said the experience of seeing the ballet from above was the silver lining to arriving late.

“Theme and Variations” was staged by Jerri Kumery with Sabrina Holland and Anthony Oates dancing the lead roles. “Carmina Burana” was staged by Malcolm Burn featuring partners Cody Beaton and Ira White and Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino. The Balanchine classic was first performed in 1947 while the Butler opus premiered in 1959, yet both remain fresh and engaging to today’s audiences. The final performance of this short run will take place Sunday afternoon, September 29, at 2:00pm. The season continues with Studio One performances November 5-10, featuring Artistic Director Stoner Winslett’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” and a World Premiere by popular choreographer Ma Cong.

Here’s an excerpt of Maggie Small’s bio, from the Contemporary Classics program: Maggie Small, a native of Richmond, Virginia, began dancing at the School of Richmond Ballet. She completed the trainee, apprentice, and Minds in Motion programs before joining the company. In 2012 she was featured on the cover of Dance Magazine as Richmond’s “Homegrown Ballerina.”

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

 

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CAMILLE A. BROWN & DANCERS: More Than Art

CAMILLE A. BROWN & DANCERS: Celebrating Black Identity in the Arts

Reflections on a Performance Art Experience by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Alice Jepson Theatre, Modlin Center for the Arts at University of Richmond, 453 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA 23173

Performance: September 27, 2019 at 7:30pm

Ticket Prices: $40 General Admission; $32 Subscribers; $20 Students

Info: (804) 289-8980 or modlin.richmond.edu

When Camille A. Brown & Dancers (CABD) comes to town (from NYC) it’s worth rearranging your schedule to make sure you see them. It’s been five years since Richmond was last graced by CABD and the dynamic company’s recent visit to the River City culminated in one-night of performances at the Modlin Center for the Arts. One night is not enough.

The program consisted of a trilogy of CABD’s work on black identity: Act I of the evening-length work “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” (2012); an excerpt of  “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” (2105); and excerpts of  “ink” (2017). “Mr. TOL E RAncE” was performed in its entirety when the company performed at VCU’s Grace Street Theater in 2014, and if memory serves correctly, it has changed and evolved since then. (A link to my review of that 2014 performance is attached, below.)

“Mr. TOL E RAncE” is a complete theatrical event all on its own. In the beginning, CABD highjacks the usual pre-show housekeeping message, using the performers’ voices to remind people to turn off their cell phones and pointing out the locations of the exit doors. Animation by Isabela Dos Santos provides a humorous and historic homage to black entertainers and artists from the early days of minstrelsy to recent television shows featuring black actors – mostly sit coms. There a projection of a red theater curtain as animated figures with over-sized heads of the likenesses of Dave Chapelle, Moms Mabley, Flip Wilson, Amos and Andy, Whoopie Goldberg, Sherman Helmsley, Richard Pryor, and many more usher the audience into the world CABD has created for us.

And what a world it is, full of color, and rhythm, resonating with sound and movement and history. The piece moves in the vocabulary of minstrelsy, tap, soft shoe, jazz, even children’s games. We catch glimpses of JJ Walker and the Carlton Dance. On at least two occasions the dancers break out into song, jamming to the themes of “The Jeffersons” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” And in case you had forgotten – or never knew – there was also “Living Single,” “The Cosby Show” and more before “Black-ish” or “Insecure” ever hit the small screen. Mr. TOLE E RAnCE is both commentary on the stereotypes of minstrelsy and a celebration of the resilience of black artists.

“BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play,” performed by Catherine Foster and Camille A. Brown, is a celebration of Black Girl Magic, filled with hand-clapping games, rhythmic sassiness, double dutch, stepping, and tap. And there are distinct, if fleeting, glimpses into the African roots of it all.

Finally, “Ink” began with a similar perspective of Black Boy Joy, as two of the men from the company performed a duet that carried us from the carefree days of childhood to the complexities of discovering you are a Black man in America. The rapid interplay of rhythm in collaboration with live musicians brings new life to old rituals and moves into the Afro-futurism of superheroes with superpowers. The exercising of superpowers, we realize with a jolt, is the normative operating mode for black people in America.

Brown and her dancers – most of whom are also choreographers and many of whom are conversant in visual and spoken arts as well – are not just dancers. They are actors. They are musicians. They are consummate artists whose work is not just a reflection of their lives, but whose work is a mirror that reveals our own lives. Artistically, Brown’s work most reminds me of the work of Dianne McIntyre and her former group, Sounds in Motion. (If you are not familiar with the work of this phenomenal artist, then look her up!) The music is such an integral part of the work, with Kwinton Gray remaining onstage the entire evening, playing the piano that sometimes provides a resting place – or a hiding place – for the dancers.  There is no separating the movement, the music, the word, the costumes, the lighting, the animation. This work is restorative. It is refreshing. It is healing. It is exhausting. It is art.

———-

Here’s a link to my review of Camille A. Brown & Dancers in Richmond in 2014:

https://www.richmond.com/entertainment/dance-review-dancers-more-than-entertaining/article_3f67e7bf-dc15-5b77-a408-110f7cde5f3c.html

 

Here’s a link to my preview and interview of Camille A. Brown for the company’s 2019 Richmond program:

https://richmondmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/stage-screen/camille-a-brown-and-dancers-modlin-center/

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Christopher Duggan, Whitney Brown, Modlin Center for the Arts website

 

 

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: HERE and Now

STARR FOSTER DANCE: New Works

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performances: September 20-22, Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3:00pm

Ticket Prices: $20; $15 for students

Info: (804) 304-1523, https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4331425

Starr Foster Dance presented six works, including two premieres and one Richmond premiere. A highlight of the program was a purposeful and compelling new work, HERE, part of the company’s domestic violence initiative.

Piercing lighting design by Michael Jarrett and dramatic music by Eighth Blackbird (“Doublespeak”) and Snowflake, Wolf Sebastian & Spinning Merkaba (“Orc March”) guides the movement and the narrative from the mundane to the explosive. In the beginning, dancers remove their button down shirts. In retrospect, what started off as innocently as Mr. Rogers removing his jacket and exchanging it for a sweater is much more ominous. In the context of domestic violence, it becomes the passing along of a generational curse, normalizing the abnormal. The almost hypnotic intersecting chains of movement phrases become the links that bind victims of domestic violence like vines that start off gently winding around a trellis and eventually chokes all other growth and pulls down the entire wall. The piece ends in a brilliant, explosive outburst.

HERE, the dance, and HERE, the project, were created by Foster and company under the mentorship of domestic violence survivor Lisette Johnson to share information and resources. As part of the project, Foster’s company has initiated a program to collect gas, grocery, and cell phone gift card to distribute through the YWCA. For more information on HERE, visit Starr Foster Dance https://www.starrfosterdance.org/heredetail and for information about domestic violence, visit Lisette Johnson’s website http://shamelesssurvivors.com/.

A second premiere, Land Shadows, is set to apprehensive music by Teho Teardo (“Wake Up the Bear” and “A Bit About Ghosts” ). Foster’s musical choices are original, intricate, and have deep psychological impact. Land Shadows, a work eight dancers, is an intriguing interplay of balance, weight, and dynamics in a three-dimensional setting made of shafts and cones of light, enhanced by a bit of smoke. The dancers’ lime green and teal tanks and matching briefs are unobtrusive yet attractive and add a surprising touch of color to this world of shadows.

I’ve often remarked how dark many of Foster’s works are – both in content and visually, but this show seemed brighter than many in the past. Ironically, this was true even of  At Your Darkest, a duet performed on Saturday by Caitlin Cunningham and Fran Beaumont (and by Cunningham and Erick Hooten on Friday and Sunday). The two dancers begin in separate shafts of line, move into a shared space in the middle of the work, and end up entwined and rolling downstage. Helping to lighten the darkness of this Richmond premiere was Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Stop Falling in Love with You” and Anne Muller’s “Walzer fur Robert.”

The program also included Saltwater Bones, a beautiful solo performed by Erick Hooten against a backdrop of ripping water (film by Douglas Hayes and original music score composed and performed by Joey Luck). Hooten, who is topless, manipulates yards and yards of white fabric in a diaphanous white skirt. The skirt is both costume and prop, and creates fascinating images: a cloud, a comforter, a wedding dress, an entrapment, and more.

Saltwater Bones was part of Foster’s January 2018 program at TheatreLAB The Basement, Spitting Image, a collaborative series of eight dances inspired by the works of eight photographers.  On that program, however, Saltwater Bones was performed by Heather Rhea O’Connor, and I wrote:

The second half of the program began with what turned out to be one of my personal favorites of the evening, a voluminous skirt solo, Saltwater Bones, inspired by the underwater photography of Cristina Peters. O’Connor’s white skirt, designed and constructed by Foster, performed doubly duty as costume and prop. Sometimes it billowed out gracefully, other times it appeared to entrap her. At the end, I found myself releasing the breath I did not realize I had been holding.

I think I found it even more beautiful and more powerful when performed by Hooten. (See my full review of that program here: https://jdldancesrva.com/2018/01/13/spitting-image-a-collaboration-of-dance-and-photography-featuring-choreography-by-starr-foster.)

The program was rounded out with the mysterious ripples of movement in Stray and the rituals of Falling to Earth. All choreography is by Starrene Foster, with lighting by Michael Jarett. This season the company of dancers consists of Fran Beaumont, Anna Branch, Caitlin Cunningham, Kylie Hester, Kierstin Kratzer, Shelby Gratz, Erick Hooten, Cristina Peters, and Mattie Rogers.

If you’re reading this Saturday night or Sunday morning, there is one more chance to see this fulfilling program, Sunday afternoon at 3:00pm.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Starr Foster Dance by Starr Foster and Douglas Hayes.

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HOLMES AND WATSON: It’s Not What You Think

HOLMES AND WATSON: To Tell the Truth

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Colonial Heights, VA 23834

Performances: September 14 – October 12, 2019

Ticket Prices: $40 Theater only; $58.95 Dinner & Theater; $10-$20 rush tickets available depending on availability

Info: (804) 748-5203 or swiftcreekmill.com

They got me. They got me good!

Jeffrey Hatcher’s Holmes and Watson is not your traditional Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes mystery. Published in 2018, this fast-paced one-act mystery takes place after the death of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls. Mysteriously, the bodies of Holmes and his arch nemesis Moriarty were never found. So. . .

On a remote island off the coast of Scotland in 1894, Dr. Watson is summoned to identify which of three mysterious men all claiming to be Sherlock Holmes is the real sleuth. And that, my friends, is about all I can tell you without giving away the plot and spoiling the fun. This is, after all, a mystery, and it is chock full of clues and red herrings, misdirection and rabbit holes. Fakes, frauds, telegrams, and mad men, oh my!

Running under 90 minutes, and performed without intermission, returning guest director John Moon keeps the pace fast with a tight-knit ensemble and there is nearly as much laughter as mystery. Joe Pabst is Watson, Richard Koch plays Dr. Evans, and there are three Holmes characters. Daniel Moore is Holmes #1, a somewhat menacing figure with a tendency to violent outbursts. Axel Burtness is Holmes #2, who wears a crazed look to match his straight jacket. And Jonathan Hardison is Holmes #3, who is deaf and mute. The cast is rounded out by Irene Kuykendall as the Matron and Travis Williams as the Orderly. But no one and nothing is what it appears to be.

There were some scenes where I questioned the behavior of an actor, but the final scene revealed all and explained what might otherwise appear to be lapses or omissions. Ahh, hindsight.

Joe Doran’s lighting adds depth and drama to Tom Width’s relatively simple and minimalist set – a former fortress turned lighthouse turned asylum, it is appropriately dark and shadowy. Maura Lynch Cravey’s costumes add a bit of color and visual appeal, and there are several gun shots and loud noises.

Holmes and Watson is quite an enjoyable evening and keeps the audience engaged. There is enough mystery to please a true Sherlock Holmes or mystery fan, but you don’t have to know a lot about Sherlock Holmes to appreciate the puzzle. I actually enjoyed having the wool pulled over my eyes because it was done so cleverly.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Robyn O’Neill

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Richard Koch, Irene Kuykendall, and Joe Pabst
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Daniel Moore, Axel Burtness, and Johnathan Hardison

 

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CHRISTINE WYATT: Affirmative Reactions

PROVOCATIONS PERFORMANCE: Christine Wyatt | Affirmative Reactions

Observations on a Performance Art Experience by Julinda D. Lewis

At: ICA (Institute for Contemporary Art), 601 W. Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: September 20 & 21, 2019 at 4:00pm

Ticket Prices: FREE

Info: (804) 828-2823 or ica@vcu.edu

Stepping off the spacious and artistically designed elevator at the ICA into the soaring space of the third floor True Farr Luck Gallery on Friday afternoon was a transformative experience. The open airy space is filled with Rashid Johnson’s installation – a modern yet historically and culturally evocative structure ironically titled Monument. Constructed of steel, it is simultaneously modern architecture and ancient temple. It invites the viewer/participant to sit in quiet contemplation or to walk around and through its structure and absorb the rhythms of long-forgotten memories.

Both calming and energizing, it is provocative, and on this occasion, the space was being activated by an Africanist dance ensemble led by choreographer Christine Wyatt. A libation was poured, and  ancestors acknowledged. Some of the participant/observers joined in, others were shy or unfamiliar with the custom. Six dancers and three musicians – although these are both artificial and arbitrary labels, as the musicians move through the space and the dancers sing and speak – then began to move around Johnson’s structure, first walking in silence, gradually adding gentle movements that hinted of ritual and blood memories.

One woman activated our heartstrings, pulling a bow across her violin. Soon, the space was activated with childhood stories of constructing and playing Chinese jump-rope, the soul-stirring strains of spirituals, and the wordless and universal communication of scat. At one point, the energy rose, the dancers moved faster, slicing through space and time. Some of us rose from our seats to follow their movement while others remained seated in quiet contemplation, as wave after wave of movement was birthed. Both responses were correct and necessary. At one point, the dancing women removed their royal blue dashiki-patterned caftans, stripped down to white tank tops and black leggings. They built a pyramid – that echoed the Johnson’s structure – only to collapse in laughter. The gathered in a circle on a rug – sharing a moment of unity, sharing this time of contemplation and collaboration. Their final act was to gather quietly in the center of the space and just. . .breathe.

Provocations offers a new/old way of experiencing art. It is not visual art or sculpture or music or dance. All the elements, sight, sound, movement – even smell, as I was taken back in time by the aroma of Florida water from the libation – united to create a life-affirming experience. “Affirmative Reactions” is a much-needed reminder to breathe, to take time to remember who and where we come from, to recognize and honor our ancestors and each other. It connects the past, the present, and the future.

It is a liberating experience and if you have the time and ability to get to the ICA on Saturday, please go. “Affirmative Reactions” starts promptly at 4:00pm and runs for about 30 minutes.

ADDENDUM: The cast of “Affirmative Reactions” includes Amena Durant, Lani Corey, MiKayla Young, Mary Manzari, Christina Collins, Jaylin Brown, Kenneka Cook, Reyna Pannell, and Christine Wyatt.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Julinda D. Lewis & additional photos courtesy Christine Wyatt

 

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ADMISSIONS: What is Fair?

ADMISSIONS: Power & Privilege

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: TheatreLab, The Basement, 300 E. Broad St, RVA 23219

Performances: September 12-28, 2019

Ticket Prices: $30 general admission; $20 seniors & industry/RVATA; $10 students and teachers with ID

Info: (804) 506-3533 or theatrelabrva.org

How ironic that Joshua Harmon’s award-winning play, Admissions, opened at TheatreLAB the Basement just two days after actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to serve 14 days in prison, community service, and $30,000 in fines for her part in a huge college admissions scandal. Huffman and several other well-to-do parents bought inflated test scores and falsified their children’s athletic talents in order to secure admission into the “best” schools. The family in Admissions didn’t go quite that far to secure an Ivy League admission for their son, Charlie, but the extremes they did resort to were entirely out of alignment with their purported liberal-leaning philosophy and cast a shadow on the integrity of their way of life.

Donna Marie Miller plays Sherri Rosen-Mason, the admissions officer of a private prep school in New Hampshire where her husband Bill, played by David Clark, is headmaster and her son Charlie (Tyler Stevens) is a student. Sherri has made it her life’s mission to bring diversity to the campus – even when it stirs up tension with long-term administrators like Roberta (Jacqueline Jones). Her husband brings her flowers and wine to celebrate reaching 20% minority enrollment after years of efforts to diversify.

When Charlie, a senior, finds his plans to attend Yale are dashed, while his best friend, who is biracial and can “check the boxes” is accepted, he goes on a ferocious tirade, pitting white privilege against affirmative action. This is one of those monologues that is at once a remarkable, challenging accomplishment for a talented young actor, such as Stevens, while at the same time it is such an ugly, entitled, intolerant tirade that it keeps the audience glued to the edges of their seats. At the end, Charlie’s dad scornfully spews out, “Well! Looks like we successfully raised a Republican!”

Charlie’s deferred admission status raises the question, What is fair? And it seems the answer depends on who you are. Director Deejay Gray warned the audience at the start of the show to be prepared to be made uncomfortable and encouraged discussion with those seated nearby.

It wasn’t that long ago that Miller was playing the reluctant administrator of an animal shelter in Animal Control [https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/07/07/animal-control-the-second-world-premiere]¸ and this role invites comparison. In Animal Control  Miller portrayed a uniformed bureaucrat who reluctantly assumed a position that was thrust upon her. In Admissions it is almost the opposite; when we first meet Sherri, she is self-assured and righteous. As the play goes on, she exposes the cracks in her chic, pant-suited demeanor. At one point Miller’s character resorts to a reversal of that bastion of inclusion and tolerance when she utters the defensive sentence, “Some of my bet friends are white men.”

As the father, Clark seems to be a voice of reason until it comes to the possibility of his own son attending a community college. (Sorry, but nothing nice is said in support of community college in this play.) Stevens gives a high-spirited performance as Charlie, and I especially enjoyed the counterpoint to his fiery monologue, when he presents his mother with an alternative plan for college. In this proposal, playwright Harmon has brilliantly allowed Charlie to be innovative, sensitive, and rebellious all at the same time.

Supporting characters enhance the story, providing social and historical context as well as several delightfully amusing moments. Sara Collazo plays Sherri’s friend and neighbor Ginnie Peters, mother of the biracial best friend, Perry, who is never seen, while Jacqueline Jones takes on the role of Roberta, the stalwart administrator who appears to have come along with the school as a package deal. Ginnie points out the hypocrisy of caring more about how it looks for the school to have an acceptable number of minority students than actually caring about the students; a “star” student that Sherri had expected to make a generous donation had confessed to Ginnie that he was miserable and neglected while attending Hillcrest.

Roberta is an undercover racist who couches her racism under the smoke screen of “I don’t see color.” Wearing stylish red eyeglass frames, Jones milks a scene in which she leaves Sherri’s office after a less than successful review of her work on the school’s admission book, taking her sweet time as she exaggeratedly puts on her scarf, buttons her coat, deliberately positions her hat and snaps on her gloves before flouncing out of the office.

Ruth Hedberg is the costumer and has selected appropriate contemporary outfits for the play, set in rural New Hampshire during the 2015-2016 academic year. Connor Scudders set is attractive and built to withstand quite a bit of door slamming. One thing I found innovative was the way he built two rooms parallel to one another, with Sherri’s office occupying the downstage third of the stage and her kitchen taking up the rear two thirds or so. The variation in colors and textures and Michael Jarett’s subtle lighting cleverly drew our eyes to the appropriate space without distraction. Kelsey Cordrey’s sound design included several dance-able and very urban sounding song selections, some of which I would have been quite surprised to hear in rural New Hampshire.

Deejay Gray’s direction so thoroughly engaged his cast and audience that when intermission came, roughly half-way through this two-hour journey, I was shocked that forty-five minutes had passed so quickly. The intermission, by the way, was Gray’s idea, as it was not written into the script. Roberta’s insolent attitude, however, was delightfully scripted by the author in great detail.

Admissions couldn’t be timelier. Deejay Gray could not have engineered the national news to be any more relevant than the latest headlines. The theater provides a safe space to talk about uncomfortable topics. Unfortunately, as at least one audience member commented after Saturday night’s show, the people who most need to talk about this, and with whom we’d most like to share this, probably don’t come to the theater.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka