CHANTEUSE: A Survival Musical

A New One-Person Show That Explores the Question: What Does Survival Mean to You?

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Ave. RVA 23230

Performances: January 13 – 23, 2022

Ticket Prices: $10 – $40

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org.

Have you ever been to a production where you clapped at the end, not because of the content of what you had just experienced, but because you could think of no other way to acknowledge the artist’s performance? That’s what the audience collectively experienced on Thursday night after Alan Palmer uttered the final words of Chanteuse: A Survival Musical.

Palmer wrote the script and lyrics and stars in this moving one-person musical, set in Berlin in 1933. The music is by David Legg and for this limited Richmond run the inimitable Kim Fox performed the roles of musical director and conductor.

Walking into the space, the audience was immediately drawn into the scene. Small tables with lamps lit by flickering tea candles that suggested the intimacy of a Berlin club were distributed throughout the house. The stage itself was darkly lit, suggesting something ominous was about to happen. There was a mannequin with a dark gown or robe topped by a dark wig, and there were several set pieces covered in black fabric. The darkness, however, was not just a physical effect of the lighting, and stage properties, but there was also a palpable emotional element that lingered heavily, a portent of things to come.

The back wall was mostly brick but accented with a center arch that served as a projection screen and two sections of rough-hewn wooden pallet on either end. The horizontal slats of the pallet sections suggested some sort of confinement, while allowing a glimpse of the band stage left. That’s how I was able to see that the instrument that was churning out soul-tearing melodies was actually a bass, although Jonathan Wheelock magically and skillfully made it sound like a cello.

Palmer entered into this space and immediately captivated the audience with the horrific story of one queer man’s tale of life and survival in Nazi Germany, where being queer, a cross-dresser, Jewish, or mentally or cognitively challenged were sufficient cause for being detained, brutalized, and ultimately killed.

But all was not doom and gloom. The first half of the one-hour solo musical, performed without intermission, had several moments that allowed Palmer, an actor, dancer, and real-life Power Ranger (he played Corcus on The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series, 1993-1996) to dance, strut, change clothes, tease, titillate, and morph from a gay male performer to living life full-time as a female chanteuse in a supper club in Berlin.

A raid on Club Silhouette sends his life (do we ever really learn his name? he is telling his own story, so we never hear anyone call him by name) into a tailspin. Now, if you plan to see this show, you might want to skip the next paragraph, but since this is a limited run, by the time you read these words the show will likely have closed, therefore what follows is technically not a spoiler – I am alerting you out of courtesy so that you know that I am a civilized and cultured person. So…on that note…

The sudden death of his long-time landlord turns out to be a blessing in disguise. You see, they had become friends, and even looked somewhat alike, so it seemed like the best way to honor his friend’s memory (there are untold secrets involved) and simultaneously assure his own safety from the homophobic Nazi’s was to assume the identity of the late Frau Friederick. On the positive side, this transformation led him to find true love. Ironically, our protagonist transformed from a gay male into a woman in order to protect himself from the Nazi’s only to discover – too late – that Frau Friederick had been hiding the fact that she was Jewish.

Chanteuse begins in the decadence, freedom, and sometimes glamor of the Berlin club scene and ends, not with a bang but a whimper, in the soul-killing Sachsenhausen concentration camp – a labor camp for prisoners and training ground for SS officers that housed separate sections for political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet POWs, Poles, Jews, Homosexuals, and Freemasons. While there, he reunites, briefly with his partner, Yakob, to whom he was illegally yet lawfully married (using Frau Friederick’s ID). Is it any wonder this leads him to begin to pray in Hebrew? “Baruch ata Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, sh’hecheyanu, v’kiyemanu, V’higianu, lazman, hazeh.” (Praised are You, the Eternal One our God, Ruler of the Cosmos, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.)

And here we have the point of the plot. Survival. In this moment. And suddenly the past is united with the present and the future. A moment in time telescopes into another moment in time. Past becomes present, and we have to ask ourselves, what have we learned? Indeed, what have we done?

So you see, it was necessary to explain the applause. The applause was not for the experience we had all just shared. The applause was not for the message we were processing. The applause was for the messenger, and the brilliant and unpretentious way he delivered that harsh message.

Chanteuse: A Survival Musical is/was here in RVA for only eight performances, and Palmer has plans to open in London sometime later this year. I haven’t yet been to London, but I always keep my passport up-to-date. Now I know that flying off to London to see a show may not be realistic for most of us; my point is that this intelligently and beautifully produced musical needs to be seen.

Kudos to director Dorothy Danner for keeping Palmer’s pacing and blocking flowing organically and breathing a breath of life into these words that Palmer then exhaled over us all. David Legg’s music was dynamically connected to Palmer’s words, and Kim Fox’s musical direction guided us along the right paths of emotion.

Chanteuse: A Survival Musical

Created by and Starring Alan Palmer

Director – Dorothy Danner

Music – David Legg

Book and Lyrics – Alan Palmer

Lighting Design – Joe Doran

Audio Engineer – Brandon Duncan

Technical Direction – Vinnie Gonzalez

Production Stage Manager – Crimson Piazza

Musical Director and Conductor – Kim Fox

The Band – Kim Fox (Conductor and keyboards), Chris Sclafai (saxophone), Joe Lubman (percussion), Jonathan Wheelock (bass)

Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre in association with Palmer Productions

Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccines or recent PCR rest results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.

Photos: from Alan Palmer’s website and Google.com

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RICHMOND HOLIDAY TRADITION TURNS 20

THE LATIN BALLET OF VIRGINIA: The Legend of the Poinsettia Celebrates 20 Years

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performance Were: January 6-9, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20 Adults; $15 Students/Senior Citizens/Military; $10 Group Rates for 10 or more

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

The Latin Ballet of Virginia has been presenting The Legend of the Poinsettia for 20 years now, and I think we can officially declare this vibrant and colorful production a holiday tradition.

How long does it take for something to achieve the status of tradition? Merriam-Webster offers several definitions, including:

1a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior

1b : a belief or story. . . relating to the past. . .commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable

2 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction

3 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions

With a cast of past and current artists, Latin Ballet founder and Artistic Director Ana Ines King said the anniversary production of The Legend of the Poinsettia “is like going back to when we started.” Before King introduced this home-grown holiday classic to the Richmond community,  “few knew how Christmas was celebrated in Latin America,” said Marisol Cristina Betancourt  Sotolongo, a dancer and Education Program Assistant for the company. Sotolongo performed in the show’s debut at the Carpenter Center in January 2002. “I was four years old,” she recalls. “The Legend of the Poinsettia has become one of my favorite shows. It is kept fresh with new dancers, dances, and scenery.” The Poinsettia pays homage to King’s mother’s dance legacy in Columbia and honors the true spirit of giving through dance, music, and storytelling.

King is from Columbia as is guest artist Ginna Milena Pedraza, founder of Duncan Danza. Sotolongo’s family is Cuban. Guest artist Pedro Szalay, a co-founder of The Latin Ballet of Virginia and current Artistic Director of Southwest Virginia Ballet is from Venezuela. The dancers perform in authentic costumes from Manzanillo, Mérida, and Zacatecas, all in Mexico. The Legend of the Poinsettia encompasses the history of the poinsettia plant, the story of a little girl who discovers the true meaning of giving, and celebratory customs from Mexico, Columbia, Spain, the Dominican Republic (incorporating Cuban dance styles), and Venezuela.

In a beautiful duet, the dancers portraying Joseph and Mary perform a romantic dance that sheds new light on the famous couple’s relationship. Later, in a trio, the family featured in the story echo some of the movements from the duet.

Large ensembles of children, youth, and adults fill the stage with color and rhythm. They exude a high level of energy that often has the audience clapping along, and the one young man, with a mop of curly hair falling appealing over his forehead and glasses, promises to become a strong dancer and partner.

From pageantry to revelry, from the Three Kings clad in glittery finery to an abstract representation of the poinsettia, from Christmas songs – some performed live – to dynamic examples of folk dances (aguinaldos, gaitas, rumbas, and plenas), spiced with contemporary hip hop, capoeira, The Legend of the Poinsettia is engaging and joyous. Most of all, with its diverse cast and traditions, it is educational and inclusive. There is no need to worry about little ones not wanting to sit still – although one fleet-footed little audience member made a mad dash for the stage on Friday night; clapping, singing along, and call and response are the norm here. With children, youth, and adults sharing the stage, the movement is not always perfectly in sync, but it is always heart-warming.

PERFORMANCES

Performances January 6 – 9, 2022
The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen
2880 Mountain Road Glen Allen, VA 23060
Thursday, January 6 at 10:30am (Field Trips for schools)
Friday, January 7 at 10:30am (Field Trips for schools)
Friday, January 7 at 7:30pm
Saturday, January 8 at 3:00pm & 7:30pm
Sunday, January 9 at 3:00pm

Get a glimpse of The Legend of the Poinsettia here:

Note: Portions of this review were originally written for Richmond Magazine.

Photo Credits: Photos of past performances of The Legend of the Poinsettia from the LBV website

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BAREFOOT IN THE PARK

A Romantic Comedy

Corie: You wouldn’t even walk barefoot with me in

Washington Square Park!

Paul: It was 17 degrees!

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented By: Virginia Rep

At: Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover Courthouse  Road, Hanover, VA 23069

Performances: December 11, 2021 – January 9, 2022

Ticket Prices: $48. Prices are subject to change during the run. Discounted Group Rates and Rush Tickets are available.

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

First, let’s be clear: yes, it’s December, and SURPRISE! – Neil Simon’s BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is not a Christmas show. What it is, is a delightful romantic comedy that appears to be as much fun for the actors as it is for the audience.

The plot is a simple one: two newlyweds move into their first apartment after spending their honeymoon is an upscale New York City hotel. Their new home is a fifth floor walk up in a Manhattan brownstone. Let’s just say it’s a fixer-upper. There’s a kitchenette, a bathroom with no bathtub (but at least the bathroom is inside the apartment – those familiar with old New York apartments know what I’m talking about), and a bedroom so small that when you open the door it hits the double bed, which you have to climb over to reach the closet, which is leaking. Speaking of leaks, there is a hole in the skylight – you know, the window in the roof – and it’s February. The apartment quickly drives home this young couple’s differences: she’s impulsive and free-spirited and he is a conservative lawyer who is more compatible with his mother-in-law than her own daughter has ever been.

Rachel Rose Gilmour was perfectly cast as newlywed housewife Corie Bratter. (And yes, I’m using the terms that would have been used in 1968.) Her brightly colored wardrobe captures both the period and her character’s personality. Trevor Lawson demonstrates enviable restraint as the husband who is hit with one surprise after another: the rent is twice as much as Corie is willing to tell her mother they actually pay; Paul saw the third floor apartment prior to moving in, not realizing their apartment was on the fifth floor – not counting the outside stoop, and of course there is the matter of the tiny kitchen, the lack of a bathtub, and the miniscule size of the bedroom. To make matters worse, their furniture is delayed.

As compelling as Gilmour and Lawson are, it was Jill Williams, reprising her 2005 role as Corie’s mother, Ethel Banks, who stole the show. Williams reminds me – and I truly mean this as a compliment – of Carol Burnett. Her carriage, her facial expressions ( especially when commenting on her daughter’s apartment), her gestures, her delivery all work together to deliver pure, belly laughing comedy. I simply loved Jill Williams in this role. Opposite Williams was Joe Pabst, also reprising his role as the eccentric neighbor Victor (pronounced “Wicktor”) Velasco. How eccentric is he? I am glad you asked. Not only does he cavort about in a beret, a dressing gown, and slippers, he is a shameless flirt and moocher, and we first meet him when he knocks on the Bratters’ door so he can climb through their window to gain access to his attic apartment, But I won’t give it all away. Go see it to find out why, it’s well worth the trip.

Supporting roles include Quan Chau as the telephone repair man and Williams’ husband Eric Williams as a delivery man. Who’s old enough to remember when the telephone was connected to the wall and the phone number was alpha-numeric? The Bratter’s new phone number was El Dorado 5-8191.One further cast note – and I had to think about whether to mention this at all, but I think it is relevant. This cast of Barefoot in the Park is an example of color-blind casting. Yes, an Asian actor plays the telephone repair man, but even more significantly, the leading man is played by a person of color. It would have been quite unusual to see an interracial couple in New York in 1968, or a black male lawyer living in midtown Manhattan who was completely accepted by his white mother in law who lives in New Jersey. Yeah. All of that would have made this an entirely different type of play – and the word “comedy” would not have been part of it.

While much less elaborate than many period apartments that have been constructed on the Hanover Tavern stage, Terrie Powers’ set design quickly transformed from a hideous empty shell into a warm and inviting home with just a few pieces of furniture and some well-chosen decorations. Logistically, there were a couple of things that seemed a little off. The fourth wall apparently held a mirror, but sometimes the actors seemed to be looking through the wall. And the other was the existence of a wood-burning stove in the apartment which may not have been a housing code violation in 1968 but it would certainly have been unlikely for a landlord to allow a tenant to use it.

There is plenty of physical comedy in Barefoot in the Park, much of it stemming from the never-ending flights of stairs. Director Jan Guarino set a brisk pace, and the cast maintains the standard she set. There are falls (or near misses), an accident, a drunken scene, and missing clothes. There is the running joke of using the Bratter bedroom to access Victor’s apartment. Corie, Paul, and their visitors must navigate each time they enter or exit the building. After a wild night on the town – after Corie tricks her mother into going on a blind date with Victor – Paul ends up climbing the stairs with his MIL on his back. And since it’s February, we cannot really be surprised when a few snowflakes drift through the open skylight.

Barefoot in the Park addresses big themes like opposites attract, the importance of being yourself, and the power of love. But the comedy is what makes this spirit-lifting winner.

**********

FUN FACT: The average rent for a NYC apartment in 1970 was $102. The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in NYC in 2021 is $3,250 and is closer to $4,000 per month in the midtown neighborhood where Neil Simon’s play is set. Corrie and Paul are paying about $145 per month, but she insists on telling her mother they are paying only about $75.63.

FUN FACT: Corie and Paul spent their Honeymoon at the Plaza Hotel. In 1968 the Plaza cost $30 per night; current rates are about $850 per night.

FUN FACT: A Brownstone is a rowhouse, made of brick fronted with brownstone that was originally popular because of its natural look and low price, compared to other stone finishes. Found mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan, brownstone homes were originally single-family homes. Many were subdivided into apartments. Most existing brownstone homes are about 100 years old, and as they are no longer constructed the prices have gone up. When I graduated from high school in 1973 my grandmother sold the small Brooklyn brownstone where I grew up for $30,000. Now, 48 years later, it is currently assessed at $1,149,500.

**********

Barefoot in the Park

by Neil Simon

Directed by Jan Guarino

Cast

Corie Bratter ……..………… Rachel Rose Gilmour

Paul Bratter ………;;;;;……. Trevor Lawson

Ethel Banks …………….….… Joy Williams

Victor Velasco ………………. Joe Pabst

Telephone Repairman …. Quan Chau

Delivery Man ………….…….. Eric Williams

Ethel Banks understudy .. Terrie Powers

Creative Team

Scenic Design: Terrie Powers

Costume Design: Sue Griffin & Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design: Matt Landwehr

Sound Design: Jacob Mishler

Stage Management: Sam Shahinian

Run Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes including 2 intermissions

Note: At this time, no food or drink is allowed inside the theater

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

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THE NUTCRACKER: LIVE

TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF HOLIDAY CLASSIC

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 East Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: December 11-23, 2021

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets $25-$125

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

The Nutcracker
Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

with The Richmond Symphony,

Erin Freeman, Conductor

Production Conceived by Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell

Artistic Direction & Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Scenery & Prop Design by Charles Caldwell

Christmas Tree Design by Alain Vaës

Costume Design by David Heuvel

Lighting Design by Richard Moore

Associate Lighting Design by Jim French

It’s December 2021 and in three months we will mark a most unlikely anniversary – two full years of living with a global pandemic. After months of learning the differences between social distancing, quarantine, and isolation, live theater has settled into a new routine of live performances. First, there were limited-seating performances with virtual streaming options. The new standard is to allow fully-vaccinated people to attend live performances with few seating restrictions. Patrons must show proof of vaccination and remain masked. Oh, and in the larger venues, you can forget about visiting the bar; it’s closed until further notice. All of this takes some adjusting, but it’s worth it to be able to experience the singular joy of attending a live show.

The Richmond Ballet’s holiday standard, The Nutcracker, was not performed live last year due to the pandemic, but it’s back this year and opened on Saturday, with a few modifications that did nothing to diminish the excitement of joining young Clara on her journey to Confitenberg, the Land of Sweets. Small children and adults sat mesmerized from the moment the Richmond Symphony began the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky’s score until the elaborate curtain dropped after Clara woke up from her adventure.

This year’s production of The Nutcracker is special for two reasons: it is the first live production since the world shut down in March 2020, and this is the last year to see the familiar Nutcracker costumes and sets before they get a make-over for 2022. You can expect three acts and two intermissions (although you cannot take drinks or food to your seats), but I noticed that when the clock struck twelve times only six little mice appeared instead of twelve, and the most obvious change was the absence of Mother Ginger and the dozen little dancers that hide under her voluminous hoop skirt. And of course, with nine new members in this company this season, there are lots of new casting choices to experience.

Adhya Yaratha dances the coveted role of Clara, the recipient of the magical nutcracker doll. Yaratha, a student at The Steward School, was recently featured as a “Standout Spartan” in her school’s newsletter. She revealed that she has been dancing for 13 years and “for much of that time” dreamed of being cast as Clara. She danced with grace and confidence and made a delightful Clara.

Bladen Kidd held his own as Clara’s recalcitrant little brother, a band of boys on a series of humorously disruptive raids against the girls at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party. Carter Bush (RB Trainee) proved to be an attentive apprentice to his uncle, the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer (the recently retired Fernando Sabino returning as a guest) and a courteous Nutcracker Prince accompanying Clara on her adventures in the Kingdom of Sweets.

The predictability and tradition of The Nutcracker are part of its charm, and seemed especially important this year: they were signs of stability and normalcy. Whoever thought a magical growing Christmas tree and a swan sled could represent stability?

Sabrina Holland and Khaiyom Khojaev danced the “other” leading roles – you know, the adult ones – the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. They welcome Clara and her Prince to the Kingdom of Sweets and close Act Three with a grand pas de deux that epitomizes the lightness of the Romantic ballerina and the supportive role of the male dancer, with both attacking their technique with relish and flair.

All the favorite characters are there and there are plenty of roles for Richmond Ballet II, the Trainees, and the students of the School of the Richmond Ballet. The battle between the Mouse Army and the Regiment Soldiers features Jackson Calhoun (RB II) in the comedic role of the Mouse King. Principals Izabella Tokev and Joe Seaton deliver a picture perfect ice blue pas de deux as the Snow Queen and Snow King, attended by a corps of a dozen Snowflakes. Celeste Gaiera and Patrick Lennon, Marjorie Sherman and Jack Miller dance a Spanish jota with flair. Naomi Robinson and Ira White revive the sensual Snake and her Charmer, and Naomi Wilson dances the acrobatic role of Tea, accompanied by a group of Chinese dragon dancers.

Sarah Joan Smith and Colin Jacob (both first year company members) are the Shepherdess and Shepherd who shelter a half dozen little lambs who steal the show. They have masks added to their costumes this year which fit perfectly with their costumes. Paul Piner, Roland Jones, and Zacchaeus Page, all members of RB II, are the ever-popular Russian dancers with their very hip dancing bear (Piner), and Eri Nishihara dances the role of the bedazzled butterfly, surrounded by a dozen Candied Flowers.

The diverse and multi-generational cast is an apt reflection of the audience and represents the best of what this season represents. It’ so good to have The Nutcracker back onstage at The Carpenter Theatre this year; there is nothing like live theater to offer a magical escape from the everyday and mundane.

The Nutcracker Performance Schedule

Saturday, December 11th, 2021 @2:00pm and 7:00pm

Sunday, December 12th, 2021 @1:00pm and 4:30pm

Saturday, December 18th, 2021 @2:00pm and 7:00pm

Sunday, December 19th, 2021 @1:00pm and 4:30pm

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021 @7:00pm

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021 @2:00pm

COVID-19 Protocols: Upon entering the theatre, all audience members ages 12 and above are required to show printed or digital proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or of a professionally-administered negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance. Patrons ages 18 and above will also need to show a photo ID. All patrons ages 2 and above will continue to be required to wear masks.Please note: Proof of a negative COVID test is not required for children under the age of 12.

Photos Credits: Sarah Ferguson

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STRAIGHT WHITE MEN:

What the fuck are we gonna do about Straight White Men? – Kelsey Cordrey, Director

A Theater Review (kinda, I think) by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced by: The Conciliation Lab

At: The Basement, 300 E. Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: December 3-18, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $30 General Admission; $20 Senior/Industry (RVATA); $10 Student/Teacher (with valid ID)

Info: (804) 506-3533; 349-7616 or https://theconciliationlab.org/

NOTE: Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours of the performance must be shown at the box office.

Walking down the steep staircase to The Basement for opening night of STRAIGHT WHITE MEN we were greeted by blasting music (yes, that was CardiB’s “WAP”), flashing colored lights (the disco kind, not the Christmas tree kind), and a sign that told us to wait until the house opened in the least welcoming terms imaginable. A pre-show curtain talk by the People in Charge, Lucretia Marie and Malakai Lee, confirmed that STRAIGHT WHITE MEN makes no allowances for comfort zones. Just as Marie and Lee reached the end of their curtain speech, four straight white men (Adam Turck, Axle Burtness, Patrick Rooney, and Christopher Dunn) stumbled noisily into the theatre, setting themselves up for a humorous reversal of the CPT (colored people time) stereotype.

I think we can agree that STRAIGHT WHITE MEN is a strange title for a play produced by the Conciliation Lab – a company dedicated to social justice. Marie (a seasoned performer, activist, and anti-racism coach) and Lee (a student activist inside and outside of school at Henrico High School, Center for the Arts) making his professional debut in this show) both joke about this too, noting that neither of them is a straight white man, and one even remarked that a friend asked, “Did they see you?” before they hired you for the show. And anyway, why should we, much less the Conciliation Lab, be concerned about straight white men, with all the privilege they represent?

Having seen the VaRep production of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE the previous evening, I couldn’t help but make a comparison. Both are Christmas shows. Both center around a depressed straight white man whose crisis comes to a head on Christmas Eve. Both are about love and family relationships. Both are also directed by talented women. Given all these similarities, the two plays could not be more different. Where IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFEis a holiday classic, STRAIGHT WHITE MEN is a different style of theatre intended to be confrontational, to make the complacent feel uncomfortable and upset the expected and accepted order. (And as if literary confrontation was not enough, I was seated in the front row on the sold out opening night, barely three feet from the edge of the stage, a position I highly recommend for this production.)

Written in 2014, the opening of STRAIGHT WHITE MEN at the Helen Hayes Theatre in 2018, made history as the first play by an Asian American woman to be produced on Broadway. The author’s notes specify that the pre-show is to include loud rap music with sexually explicit lyrics performed by female rappers and that the Persons in Charge “should be played by gender-nonconforming performers (preferably of color).” The intent is to create the sense that the show is under the control of people who are NOT straight white men – a role reversal, if you will; a case of turn about is fair play, a sort of theatrical reparations, if you will. And while Marie and Lee seemed to be joking when they said audience members would be removed at the actors’ request, this, too, was in the author’s notes.

Kelsey Cordrey, in her solo directorial debut, kept everything moving at a rapid pace, marked by hilarity. The cast of four white men did her proud, keeping up the pace with an abundance of high impact physical activity while still allowing time to explore the psychological twists, turns, and nuances of this family.

The plot, you see, involves a family of three sons, two of whom (Drew, a writer and Jake, a successful but recently divorced banker) have returned home for Christmas where their widowed father, Ed, has recently been enjoying the company – and domestic skills – of his eldest son, Matt, an unemployed Harvard graduate. The problem is that in spite of the brothers’ good-natured rough-housing and reminiscing about childhood indiscretions, Matt is harboring and unsuccessfully hiding, some serious issues. It all comes out when he suddenly breaks down crying over Christmas Eve dinner.

Adam Turck is the caring insightful sibling, Drew. Axle Burtness plays Jake, the impatient sibling who wants to fix his older brother, regardless of what Matt actually wants. And Matt, played by Patrick Rooney, a newcomer to the Richmond stage, appears to be a caring, lovable man who, despite his Harvard education, seems barely able to articulate his own feelings. An Ed? Well, Ed is from another generation. He helps his neighbors, even when it isn’t convenient, like on Christmas Eve. Christopher Dunn’s character lovingly hangs Christmas stockings on the mantle, and gently pauses when he comes to the fifth – the one that belongs to his late wife – retuning it to the Person in Charge. Who can’t relate to the loneliness of an old widower celebrating his first Christmas without his beloved wife? And therein – herein? – lies the problem. Why should we, the audience, care about the feelings or problems of privileged straight white men?

It seems that every time there is a chance we might begin to sympathize with Matt or his family, a Person in Charge appears and adjusts the emotional thermostat. In addition to the scene with the Christmas stockings, one memorable intervention involves Marie and sharing shots with a frustrated brother at the kitchen counter after a family quarrel.

In her Director’s Note, Cordrey writes:

When all we seem to see on the news are Straight White Men murdering Black and Brown and queer and trans people, and sexually assaulting women – and always getting away with it – it is extremely difficult to find any compassion and care for the entire group as a construct. But what about the straight white men in our day to day lives? Our fathers, brothers, neighbors, friends?

Are you ready to consider the perspective of straight white men with empathy and compassion? To put yourself in their shoes – even if you are not one of them? Is it time for the privileged to re-examine and re-define their own personal identity? Can any of us make any progress, any real change, if they don’t? What will it take for everyone to treat others the way they want to be treated – and to do it without expecting to earn a badge of recognition for doing it? Does STRAIGHT WHITE MEN answer any of these questions? I’ll leave that up to you do decide.

Cordrey directed with her foot on the pedal and created the sound design as well. Michael Jarrett returned to the Basement to light his first show for the Conciliation Lab, with the excellence we have come to expect of him. Nia Safarr Banks brought her skills to the table as costume designer, complete with holiday pajamas and slippers. Chris Foote constructed the warmly lived-in midwestern den and kitchen designed by artistic director Deejay Gray. (My friend and I admired the large stainless steel refrigerator that I later found out is the actual refrigerator used by the Conciliation Lab staff.)

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN is not your traditional Christmas show, and it isn’t what you might expect from the Conciliation Lab – and those are just two good reasons to go see it. The cast of four white men  – that’s two more reasons. And Marie and Lee, who execute the author’s and director’s instructions and make you think it’s their own ideas, all while wearing matching light-up shades and coordinating neckties – well that’s at least another two good reasons that make this production of STRAIGHT WHITE MEN worth your time and money.

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN by Young Jean Lee
Directed by Kelsey Cordrey
December 3-18 at The Basement

THE CAST
Drew …………….……………….. Adam Turck
Jake …….…………..…….……. Axle Burtness
Matt ………….……..…….…. Patrick Rooney
Ed …………………………. Christopher Dunn
Person in Charge #1 …… Lucretia Marie
Person in Charge #2 ………. Malakai Lee

THE TEAM
Direction: Kelsey Cordrey
Scenic Design: Deejay Gray
Lighting Design: Michael Jarett
Sound Design: Kelsey Cordrey
Costume Design: Nia Safarr Banks
Props Design: Margaret Dodson
Set Construction: Chris Foote
Production Stage Management: Crimson Piazza
Assistant Stage Management: Demarco Lumpkin
Associate Direction: Juliana Caycedo
Dramaturgy: Shinji Oh

THE SCHEDULE
* Friday, December 3 at 8pm – Preview
Saturday, December 4 at 8pm – Opening Night Tuesday, December 7 at 8pm
Thursday, December 9 at 8pm
Friday, December 10 at 8pm
Saturday, December 11 at 8pm
Sunday, December 12 at 3pm – Matinee
Tuesday, December 14 at 8pm
Thursday, December 16 at 8pm
Friday, December 17 at 8pm
Saturday, December 18 at 8pm – Closing Night
THE TICKETS
$30 – General Admission
$20 – Senior (65+) / Industry
$10 – Teachers & Students

NOTE: The Basement is a fully vaccinated venue. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (within 48 hours of the performance) are required upon entry. For the safety of our artists and audiences, masks must be worn while at the theatre. Thank you for helping to keep our community safe!
  The Basement is located at 300 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

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IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY

A Christmas Classic with a Gift

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

A Live Radio Play

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Arenstein Stage. 114 West Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: December 2, 2021 – January 2, 2022

Ticket Prices: $36-$56. Discounted group rates and rush tickets available.

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

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A Live Radio Play is a feel-good American holiday classic that unfolds on a stage designed to look like an art deco Christmas card. The set represents the stage and auditorium of Studio A at WBFR in Manhattan, New York on Christmas Eve 1946. An On Air sign adds authenticity, and Applause signs provide cues for the audience – so pay attention.

The house lights are on as the action starts, and we quickly find out that we, the VaRep audience, have been assigned roles as the live studio audience. The actors, playing multiple roles, greet us – some more warmly than others – as they arrive for their show. It seems that not everyone had been told they would be performing before a live studio audience.

The story, adapted by Joe Landry from Phillip Van Doren Stern’s story “The Greatest Gift,” (and the 1946 film starring James Steward and Donna Reed) is an Everyman morality play that borrows freely from “A Christmas Carol.” In IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, we meet George Bailey on Christmas Eve 1946, at the nadir of his life’s journey. After giving up his personal dreams for the sake of his family, his friends, and his town, he finds himself about to lose everything and, in the words of his arch enemy, Mr. Potter, he’s worth more dead than alive.

The holidays are a stressful time for many, and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE acknowledges this very real problem, but balances it with humor and the most unusual distraction found in any play. Some of the humor comes in the form of breaks to acknowledge the sponsors of the play within the play. There’s a commercial for Bremo hair cream and Duck’s Toilet Cake Soap, set to Christmas tunes and sung by the cast within the cast. As for the distraction, well, for me, the best part of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is watching the cast perform the role of the Foley artists who create the sound effects. There’s everything from footsteps and doors slamming shut to breaking glass, from doorbells ringing to thunderclaps.

The talented cast includes Kurt Benjamin Smith and Anna da Costa in the lead roles of Jake Laurents and Sally Applewhite, New York City actors who in turn play the roles of Bedford  Falls, NY residents George and Mary. Maggie Bavolack, Joshua Mullins, William Anderson, and Bo Wilson round out the cast playing the roles of actors Lana Sherwood, Harry Heywood, radio host Freddie Filmore, and actor Oliver Johnston. They, in turn, play all the citizen of Bedford Falls, NY, the small town where George Bailey’s guardian angel arrives on Christmas Eve to show him how much of an impact his life has had on so many.

I thought Smith and da Costa had good chemistry and da Costa was powerfully understated as Mary – especially as many of the other characters were so over the top. Anderson, for instance, was steady and unassuming as Freddie Filmore, the radio show host, but high-pitched, hysterical, and giggly as Uncle Billy Of course, given Uncle Billy’s proclivity for liquid fortification, this was completely in character. Maggie Bavolack looked gorgeous as Lana Sherwood and her Bedford Falls characters varied from loyal friend to va-va-voom girl, complete with a drum-roll to accompany her seductive strut. Bo Wilson sampled his various voices before the radio show cast metamorphosed into their Bedford Falls characters, but he seemed to relish the evil Mr. Potter more than any other.

Given the often quick pace of the show, and with six actors playing multiple characters who often spoken over one another, it was necessary to clearly distinguish between the various characters, and most of the time I was, indeed, able to keep up with who was who. At first I was concerned that the background music was too loud and intrusive, but this issue was short-lived. After the introductions, the background music faded into the background where it belonged.

The six actors shared three mic stands, and switched rapidly between them, but this was not necessarily an indication of a change of character, so IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE really keeps the viewer engaged and actively involved. This is a plus given that the show, which runs an hour and 45 minutes was performed without intermission. (Even though this is a family-friendly play, VaRep cautions prospective members that younger viewers may be challenged by the length of this production, given that there is no intermission.)

Mercedes Schaum’s scenic design was attractive and practical, allowing space for all the Foley equipment without overpowering the actors. Sue Griffins’ costumes were appropriate for the time, 1946, but Mary Hatch Bailey’s dress was especially fetching. Jacob Mishler gets the credit for the impressive sound design. Chelsea Burke’s direction kept things moving at a speedy pace, and maintained a comfortable balance between the extremes of comedy and tragedy. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a wonderful show that belongs in your canon of Christmas rituals.

NOTE: For my review of a similar show, A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, November 2018 – January 2019, click here: https://wordpress.com/post/jdldancesrva.com/724

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A Live Radio Play

Adapted by Joe Landry

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is based on the story, “The Greatest Gift” by Phillip Van Doren Stern from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, and Jo Swerling

DIRECTION

Chelsea Burke

CAST

Jake Laurents…………………………. Kurt Benjamin Smith

Sally Applewhite……………………………… Anna da Costa

Lana Sherwood……………………………. Maggie Bavolack

Harry Heywood………………………………. Joshua Mullins

Freddie Filmore……………………………William Anderson

Oliver Johnston………………………………………… Bo Wilson

Cover…………………………………………………. Nora Ogunleye

Cover………………………………………………… Alvan Bolling II

CREATIVE TEAM

Scenic Design………………………………… Mercedes Schaum

Costume Design ……………………….…………….…. Sue Griffin

Lighting Design ………….,…………………….….. BJ Wilkinson

Dialect Coach ………………………….………Karen Kopryanski

Sound Design ………………………………………… Jacob Mishler

Stage Management ………………………….…….. Justin Janke

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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

Virginia Rep COVID Guidelines

To provide the highest level of safety, all patrons are required to show proof of vaccination, or proof that they have received a negative COVID test by a professional technician within 48 hours of the performance date/time.

Patrons must show your vaccination card or a photo of the card on your phone, along with a valid photo ID, when you arrive for the performance. If you are unable to be vaccinated, you may provide proof of a Rapid COVID-19 antigen test taken within 48 hours of your performance. At home tests will not be accepted.

Please see the Virginia Rep Covid Safety FAQ for details.

In accordance with current city, state, and CDC guidance, face masks are REQUIRED at all times while you are in the building, regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated.

At this time, no food or drink is allowed in the theatre.

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SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS

“If You Say You Real Age Out Loud, Your Face Hears You”

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: The Illuminated Stage Theatre Company

At: The Perkinson Center for the Arts and Education, 11810 Centre Street, Chester VA 23831

Performances: November 19 – December 5, 2021

Ticket Prices: $35. $20 for students.

Theatre Company Info: (804) 452-7011 or http://www.illuminatedstage.org

Venue Info: (804) 748-5555 or info@perkinsoncenter.org.

A retired woman hires a private dance instructor to give her lessons in her St. Petersburg Beach, FL condo while her husband is away. But wait – she already knows all the steps, and her husband is mysteriously never around. The first meeting between the caustic gay male dance instructor and the cautious wife of a Southern Baptist minister starts off on the wrong foot but over the course of six weeks secrets and lies are revealed and an unlikely intergenerational relationship develops.

SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS is funny and heart-warming, filled with hope and enhanced by a magnificent view, and I absolutely love Kelly Kennedy and Travis West as Lily “the tight-arsed old biddy” Harrison and her dance instructor Michael “I’m not crazy, I’m Italian” Minetti.

Week One – The Swing

Michael and Lily stumble over the facades they put up to keep people away. His foul mouth and her constraint are two sides of the same coin.

Week Two – The Tango

Michael continues to make up elaborate background stories for each dance style, but none as elaborate as the stories he and Lily make up as background for their own lives. The value of those coins is measured in units of bitterness and regret.

Week Three – The Viennese Waltz

Lily dons a pretty pink dress and brings out a sacher torte. Michael calls her out, “You don’t really need an instructor for the waltz, do you?” “No,” she replies, “but I do need a partner.”

Week Four – The Foxtrot

When Michael sees Lily he exclaims, “Cuban heels! Your seductive slut!” and Lily retorts, “If you say your real age out loud, your face hears you.”

Week Five – The Cha-Cha

The two venture out to dance. Lily wears a pretty blue gown and Michael sports a shiny blue patterned blazer. When Lily says, “People are alone because they want to be or because other people think they should be,” she directs her words at Michael, but they apply equally to herself. The list of loss and loneliness grows as new seeds of hope are planted. The coin of the realm has undergone a transformation.

Week Six – Contemporary Dance

The Pony, the Jerk, the Twist, the Hitch Hike, and the Monkey are unusual vehicles of deliverance, but they seem to get the job done. Speaking of job done, the six lessons have come to an end, but wait, there’s more.

Week Ten – Bonus Lesson

Secrets revealed, lies uncovered and forgiven, and lessons learned. Oh, not just dance lessons, but lessons about love, forgiveness, friendship, age-ism, sex-ism, intolerance, loss, and acceptance. The dividends yielded are priceless.

I would not describe SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS as a musical and yet the dancing serves the same function as the songs and music in a musical. I would not describe SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS as a Christmas show and yet it is ideal for this season.

After having seen the Illuminated Stage production of Every Brilliant Thing in September (see my review here: https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/09/21/every-brilliant-thing/), it seems that this company has a definite heart for telling stories that inspire, heal, and meet real, often unspoken needs. SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS does all of that and more.

SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS is directed by company Artistic Director Julie Fulcher-Davis with clear intent and a palpable tension between the two characters that achieves a sometimes uneasy balance of irreverent humor and genuine compassion. The intersection of the script, actions, and feelings are as unlikely as the friendship between Michael and Lily – and yet, through the magic of theater, it works.

SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS

Written by Richard Alfieri

Cast:

Kelly Kennedy as Lily Harrison

Travis West as Michael Minetti

Creative Team:

Directed by Julie Fulcher-Davis

Stage Manager: Leanna Hicks

Lighting Designer: Andrew Bonniwell

Set Designer: Vinnie Gonzalez

Costume Designer: Elizabeth Weiss Hopper

Light Board Operator: Leanna Hicks

Sound Board Operator: Matt Nixon

Backstage Crew: Alice Hallock, Samantha Robinson, and Isabella Koontz

Technical Advisor: Jon Shelley

Photographer: Dave Jones

Run Time:

About 90 minutes, with one intermission

Performance schedule:

Fri, Sat @8:00PM Nov 19, 20, 26, 27 and Dec 3, 4

Sun, @3:00PM Nov 21, 28 and Dec 5

Tickets:

$35

$20 for students

Photos:

Dave Jones

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WINTER WONDERETTES

It’s The Annual Christmas Party & Santa is Missing!

At: The Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 U.S. Route 1, S. Chesterfield, VA 23834

Performances: November 20, 2021 – January 1, 2022

Ticket Prices: $49. $44 for seniors, students, military, and first responders.

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

The year is 1968 and it is the annual staff Christmas Party at Harper’s Hardware in Springfield USA. (Take your pick, there are 30-40 towns and cities named Springfield, depending on your source.)

The store has been decorated with gigantic gift boxes and the actors complete the decorating onstage, festooning a fireplace, adding a tree topper, and turning on the lights that extend throughout the theater, bringing the audience into the performing space. Did I say actors? I meant the Marvelous Wonderettes, the former Springfield High Song Leaders, created by Roger Bean in 1999 for a one-act musical in a black box theater in Milwaukee. The quartet of friends, Missy, Suzy, Betty Jean, and Cindy Lou, met with such popularity that the Marvelous Wonderettes gave birth to three sequels. WINTER WONDERETTES debuted in November 2003 and in 2008 the harmonizing of the girl group caught the attention and heart of Swift Creek Mill Artistic Director Tom Width at a performance at the Westside Arts Theatre in NYC.

Now, the four are decorating and harmonizing on the Swift Creek Mill Theatre stage that has been transformed by Width’s scenic design magic into a classic hardware store, the very same hardware store where Betty Jean has been employed since graduating from high school. The tree has been lit, the stage has been illuminated, Santa’s throne has been wheeled centerstage, and Santa’s entrance song has been sung, but where is Santa?

There is just enough of a plot to keep WINTER WONDERETTES from being a concert. We learn that Missy is newly married, while Betty Jean who has risen to a position in corporate sales has recently separated from her husband, Johnny. Suzy is pregnant and married to her high school sweetheart Ritchie who is allegedly running the lights for the program and Cindy Lou is the group’s designated bad girl (with a heart of gold).

These roles have been brilliantly cast with Anne Michelle Forbes and her outrageously contagious giggle as Suzy, Georgi Hicks as Missy, Rachel Marrs as Cindy Lou, and Alanna Wilson as Betty Jean. Maura Lynch Cravey has dressed them in matching dresses, in red, green, purple, and blue, with a festive ruffle around the neck and a satiny ribbon tied at the waist. These are topped off with 1960’s hairstyles that are puffy but stop short of the extreme bouffant or mile high beehive.

The songs are as classic as the hairstyles, from Act One’s “Rockin’ Christmas Medley” (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bell Rock,”) traditional songs (“O Tannenbaum,” “Santa Clause is     Comin’ to Town) and Betty Jean’s heartfelt “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day” to the “Bells Medley” and “Santa Baby” in Act Two. And then there’s Suzy’s stunning tap-dance turn as “Suzy Snowflake.”

WINTER WONDERETTES is a traditional, feel-good Christmas musical comedy, but it would not be complete without a few twists and turns. When Betty Jean runs off in search of the missing Santa/Mr. Harper, she returns with a stack of envelopes. After passing them out to the staff – many of whom are audience members – everyone is devastated to find the envelopes contain pink slips instead of the expected Christmas bonus checks. The audience is also included in a game of Find the Elf and Missy’s new husband is also selected from the audience.

Oh, and lest I forget. Is it just me, or do the Santa dolls the four women hold at the top of the show look like Tom Width?

With some 25 songs and a lively, unseen band under the direction of Paul Deiss, WINTER WONDERETTES moves along at a lively pace that doesn’t even seem like an hour and forty-five minutes. This show doesn’t make you work, doesn’t make you weigh options or ethics, it’s just pure, delightful, musical entertainment that hits the holiday spot – with a few snowflakes thrown in for good measure.

WINTER WONDERETTES

Written and Created by Roger Bean

Word Arrangements by Roger Bean & Brian Baker

Musical Arrangements by Brian Baker

Cast:

Georgi Hicks as Missy

Anne-Michelle Forbes as Suzy

Alanna Wilson as Betty Jean

Rachel Marrs as Cindy Lou

Direction and Design Team:

Directed by Tom Width

Musical Direction by Paul Deiss

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Scenic Design by Tom Width

“Suzy Snowflake” choreography by Alissa Pagnotti

Technical Direction by Liz Allmon

Orchestra:

Keyboard: Paul Deiss

Drums: James Oyan

Reeds: Sheri Oyan

Bass: Greg DeBruyn

Guitar: Sam Kindle

Run Time:

100 minutes, one intermission

Performance schedule:

Thu, Fri, Sat @8:00PM Nov 20, 26, 27,

Dec 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 30, Jan 1

Sat, Sun, Wed @2:30PM Nov 27, Dec 1, 12, 15, 22, Jan 1

Tickets:

$49

$44 for seniors, students, military, and first responders.

Rush – $25 Theatre Only tickets and $15 Student Theatre Only tickets, based on availability one hour prior to any show.

Photos: Robyn O’Neill

LEFT: Anne Michelle Forbes and Georgi Hicks

RIGHT: Rachel Marrs (purple), Georgi Hicks (red), Alanna Wilson (green), and Anne Michelle Forbes (blue)

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A CHRISTMAS KADDISH

A World Premiere Holiday Play

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, RVA 23230

Performances: November 17 – December 18, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $10 – $40.

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org. Richmond Triangle Theater has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccine or recent negative PCR test results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.

For more years than I can remember, the Christmas season has been heralded by the return of The Nutcracker ballet and a unique holiday-themed play by Richmond Triangle Players. This year’s RTP Christmas production took a new twist with the world premiere of a new musical conceived, created, and directed by the creative team of Levi Meerovich, Nora Ogunleye, and RTP Artistic Director Lucian Restivo.

To make the twist even twistier (I know, convoluted would be a better word choice, but, you know, candy canes and all), one half of a queer couple wakes up in a hospital on Christmas day, having spent four days in a coma. Instead of contemplating presents, Jay and Leigh are contemplating matters of life and death and come to blows when Jay considers signing a DNR.

Taking a page from A Christmas Carol, Jay has flashbacks to previous Christmases – a Groundhog Day style reunion with their parents, the first meeting with Leigh – each preceded by a staticky segue partially unintelligible (or partially intelligible, if you prefer) voices from an ambiguously unidentifiable entity.

To assist with the otherworldly visitations, there is a long runway style ramp where the center aisle would normally be located. This is where Claire Bronchick (Jay) begins the show and the site of several entrances and other-worldly encounters.

The cast, a dynamic quartet consisting of Emily Berry (Leigh), Bronchick (Jay), Amber Marie Martinez (Dr. Martinez), and Eddie Webster (Rabbi Aaron Edelstein) is energetic and have ear-pleasing voices that partner well with Levi Meerovich’s music and lyrics. Indeed, during their first encounter, Leigh jumps up and admonishes Jay, in their characteristically snarky voice and aggressive attitude, not to sneak up on strangers and start harmonizing with them.

There is obvious love between Jay and Leigh, more powerfully demonstrated when Leigh sings, “I Will Care For You” while Jay sleeps that in any spoken words. But Jay’s unnamed illness – some sort of cancer, it seems – is like an intrusive third party in their relationship. Jay easily balances talk of DNR forms with jokes that slide easily off the tongue, much to Leigh’s chagrin. They are both, it seems, grieving Jay’s imminent departure, but in diametrically opposed ways. When Jay wails, “When you’re dying on Christmas, Christmas doesn’t seem so great,” there is a hint of humor, but when Leigh screeches, “you want to un-alive yourself,” it feels desperate. There is a lot of door slamming, and I hope the set can hold up to the trauma for the duration of the run.

Leigh rebuffs all attempts to help, brazenly insulting Dr. Martinez and ordering Rabbi Edelstein to get out of the room. And that brings up another question. What, exactly, is the deal with the spiritual elements of A Christmas Kaddish? There’s more than just the obvious Judeo-Christian background and conflicts, by the Christmas decorations that adorn Leigh’s large private hospital room and the persistence of Rabbi Edelstein, who so graciously persists in the face of Leigh’s escalating anger. There’s a third spiritual element, but I don’t want to spoil the fun, so after you see the show, comment here on this blog, and let us know what it was.

The cast’s voices and Meerovich’s music and lyrics are supported by an unseen musical quartet: Kim Fox, Mike Goldberg, Joy Lubman, and Bea Kelly. Nia Safaar Banks designed the costumes, and there were some interesting nuances for Leigh (lots of fishnet and cutouts), and a particularly interesting mini dress ensemble for Jay during one of their time-traveling encounters, but it was the costumes and hair (designed by Luke Newsome) for the extra, largely unnamed characters including Jay’s parents and the Rabbi’s deceased daughter, that really demonstrated creativity. Sometimes it was the costume, sometimes it was the total transformation of the character that was most captivating.

There are many moving parts to A Christmas Kaddish, and the production had a lot of wonderful moments even on opening night, but for me, some of these moments didn’t hit the target. I suspect that I might come away with a different overall feeling if I saw this same show later in the run, when the cast and all the elements have had a chance to bond more and develop that distinctive character that distinguishes each show and each cast. Looking at the extensive and talented creative team, I wonder if the individual contributions of each has yet to meld into a cohesive unit – maybe it just isn’t done yet. For now, it was a pleasant night of live theater in one of the most comfortable venues in the region, but I suspect – and hope – that the production will grow and become better than simply good. After all, this is the annual RTP Christmas Show, and Rabbi Edelstein has prayed really hard for it.

A CHRISTMAS KADDISH

Conceived by Lucian Restivo, Levi Meerovich, and Nora Ogunleye

Book by Nora Ogunleye and Levi Meerovich

CAST:

Leigh – Emily Berry

Jay – Claire Bronchick

Dr. Martinez – Amber Marie Martinez

Rabbi Aaron Edelstein – Eddie Webster

CREATIVE TEAM:

Directed by Lucian Restivo and Nora Ogunleye

Music and Lyrics by Levi Meerovich

Scenic Design by Lucian Restivo

Costume Design by Nia Safaar Banks

Lighting Design by Austin Harber

Sound Design by Share Barber

Hair and Make Up design by Luke Newsome

Properties Design by Tim Moehring

Assistant State Manager: Nathan Ramos

Production Stage Manager: Lauren Langston

Orchestra Prepared and Conducted by Kim Fox

Musical Director: Levi Meerovich

Photos:

UPDATED TO INCLUDE Photos by John MacLellan

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MOVING MONOLOGUES

KDance Shorts, Eighth Edition

A Dance-Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: KDance, the Resident Dance Company at The Firehouse Theatre

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

Performances: November 7-9, 2021

Ticket Prices: $25

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

After eight years of presenting the annual Shorts program, Kaye Weinstein Gary still has new tricks up her sleeve. This year’s program, MOVING MONOLOGUES, was a collaboration between Gary (choreographer, director, performer), Adam Turck (actor), and Irene Ziegler (playwright). While previous Shorts programs have been marked by innovative storytelling combined with movement, this is the first time the stories were all connected.

What a treat it was to reconnect with Kitty, the potty-mouthed fourth-grader introduced by Gary in her most recent YES! Dance Festival (April 2021, https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/05/01/k-dance/). Here, Ziegler has written additional monologues that introduce Kitty’s mother, grandmother, and dad, all of whom are embodied by Gary and Turck, after a brief introductory warm-up set to Erik Satie’s Piano Works #7, Nocturne II. The “Prologue” also introduces the program’s main prop: a pair of crystal clear “ghost” chairs that magically reflect and refract the light and create stunning visual effects.

“Thank you, sensei, for showing me the way.”

-Kitty

“Kitty” has been enhanced to point to connections with the new monologues. Against a background of Ana Roxanne’s non-melodic, ambient soundscape (it sounds like what your mind would sound like if you could record the sound), Kitty moves through postures of dejection and defiance – until she discovers the “superpower” of her imagination. “I have a superpower. Holy shit!” Oh, I did mention she’s been sent to her room because of her vocabulary, didn’t I? Dressed in purple leggings and white coverall shorts, Gary delightfully embodies the spirit of the fourth-grader.

But it just keeps getting better. Next up is Adam Turck as Kitty’s dad, Rodney. Dressed in shorts and carrying a gym bag, Turck, drops the bag just as the beat drops, and it’s MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit. Turck, a real-life certified personal trainer, moves through the paces of a man-twerk, slaps himself on the butt, and begins to record a hilariously awkward online dating profile.

“The best you can hope for is to find someone

whose baggage doesn’t clash with yours.”

-Rodney

After a bit of shadow play with a fabric veil, we get to meet Martha, Rodney’s mother. It isn’t clear whether she is in the early stages of dementia, or just lonely. When she receives a package from an unseen delivery man (a potential fourth character for a potential sequel) she drags out their interaction as long as possible. “Can you see me?” Martha asks. “I thought I was made of vapor.” Martha smells like loneliness and goes on eBay at night to order hope. Oh, and that package? It contained the cremated remains of her late husband.

The final monologue in this iteration of Moving Monologues has Rodney talking to his dad’s ashes and returning to the lake house where he spent time with his family when his father was alive, and his mother didn’t feel invisible. Is it just coincidence that the current occupant of the house is named Manny – the same as the delivery guy? The door has been left open to continue this series, much like a serial novel in words and movement.

Ziegler’s script make no direct mention of the pandemic, but Martha’s need to know that she exists feels very much like post-traumatic pandemic syndrome (I don’t know if that’s a real thing or not, but there is such a thing as Pandemic-related PTSD). It’s actually quite remarkable to watch Gary transform from the hopefulness of Kitty to the giddy despair of Martha. She does both so well, adapting her posture and movement dynamics to the character. The words and the movements are measured out teasingly, revealing just enough to keep the narrative flowing, but not enough to answer all our questions. A post-show discussion revealed just how much latitude there was for personal interpretation.

There were so many layers in this short piece, and multiple perspectives played out simultaneously – the same story told by different characters who are all connected. There was a through line, but the sections were not necessarily linear or chronological. In fact, I would be curious to see what would happen if these same five scenes were performed in a different order.

As for the cast, Gary is a dancer who is extremely comfortable with speaking and acting, and it was great to see Turck, an actor, moving with such abandon. MOVING MONOLOGUES is not fully dance and not fully theater but a hybrid niche that Gary claims as her own. While the piece could be performed by a cast of four (Kitty, Martha, Rodney, and Manny – or the Ghost Chair), I think it’s highly effective and serves the multi-layered effect to have it performed by just two. It was such a delight to see and hear these stories on stage, in person. Sometimes less really is more.

MOVING MONOLOGUES

Written by: Irene Ziegler

Cast:

Kaye Weinstein Gary

Adam Turk

Production Team:

K Dance Artistic Director: Kaye Weinstein Gary

Lighting Designer/Scenic Consultation: Matthew Landwehr

Assistant Lighting Designer: Casey Walsted

Production Stage Manager: Ginnie Willard

Assistant Stage Manager: Jason Wineberger

Sound Designer/Production Manager: Todd Labelle

Sound Operator: Emily Vial

Webmaster/Social Media: Emily Gerber

Graphic Artist: Douglas Fuchs

Run Time:

About 45 minutes with no intermission

Performance schedule:

Sunday, November 7 @3:00PM

Monday & Tuesday, November 8 & 9 @7:30PM

​”Everyone who enters Firehouse must be fully vaccinated and wear a face mask.”

Tickets:

$25

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