LUCKY ME: A Comedy Exploring the Joys of Being Flawed

LUCKY ME: Finding Joy in the Cracks and Flaws

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: April 6-21, 2018

Ticket Prices: $23 Adults; $18 RVATA Members; $13 Students

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

Hilarious – but with substance. That is pretty much all you need to know about Robert Caisley’s Lucky Me, but I’ll elaborate a bit anyway.

I would be remiss not to mention the stellar cast. First and foremost, there is Amy Berlin as Sara Fine. Sara isn’t just having a bad day; she’s had a couple of bad decades. When we meet Sara, she’s coming home from the hospital on crutches with her foot in a boot. She fell off the roof. Oh, and it’s New Year’s Eve. Berlin is so well-suited to this role you might think it had been written with her in mind. Cautious, caring, sarcastic, and complex, this is a big, multi-layered role that gradually reveals Sara to be much more than what we see on the surface.

Accompanying Sara is Tom, her new neighbor who kindly rescued her from the bushes and took her to the hospital. Tom is played by Matt Hackman who achieves a heretofore unknown balance of persistence and incredulity. Who knew there would ever be a need for such a balance? A new single male neighbor and a single woman always suggests the opportunity for romance, but these two have so much baggage – or backstory, as Yuri would say. Tom initially appears painfully awkward, but we soon learn that all of Caisley’s characters have more quirks and cracks than seems humanly possible, and that’s what keeps the laughs rolling in waves.

Bill Blair stumbles about – or more precisely hobbles, lifting the left foot as if climbing the stairs or approaching a curb with each step – blindly because his character, Leo, who is Sara’s father, is blind and apparently in the early stages of dementia as well. But the wily Leo has, as Tom so rightfully points out, selective memory loss, and conveniently calls Tom by the name Brad – but telling you why would require a spoiler alert and I think this show is worth seeing for yourself, so that I won’t reveal it here.  Leo’s blindness seems to be selective also, as he navigates the apartment, its step leading to the bathroom and bedrooms, and its kitchen with ease and he conveniently “smells” when Tom is wearing his TSA uniform.

And then there’s Yuri, the buildings landlord who always seems to be hungry and makes most of his entrances from Sara’s bathroom. Todd Schall-Vess, who appears only in the second half, plays Yuri. Sara and her dad live in a second-floor, two-bedroom apartment in Denver, Colorado. That’s important – at least the second-floor part is – because Sara is perpetually plagued by a leaky roof. No matter where she places her fish bowl, the leak will appear over the fish bowl, upset the pH of the water, and kill her fish. Sara also has a light bulb problem. Even when she buys the new squiggly fluorescent kind that are supposed to last for thousands of hours, her light bulbs always burn out. She spent $4700 on light bulbs in one year. Her cat disappeared. The kid across the street keeps breaking her window with a hockey puck and a variety of balls representing different sports. It’s no wonder Yuri feels entitled to help himself to a snack or two. And there’s more. At one point Yuri tries to warn Tom against getting too involved, using a word that probably translates from the Ukrainian as unlucky or cursed, followed by spitting twice in the air.

This quartet works so well together that it must have made director Billy Christopher Maupin’s job that much easier. I liked Eric Kinder’s extremely colorful set, with its fairly spacious living room, narrow kitchen, and detailed hallway leading to the rear of the apartment. Buddy Bishop also did a great job with the sound design, keeping it interesting but subtle. Theo DoBois designed the costumes, and Gracie Carleton the lights. I was slightly disturbed by the stagehands whose frequent appearances seemed too long or too frequent or both – maybe it was because it was so obvious. During one set change, Berlin remained on stage and the audience applauded after the stage hands left; I wasn’t sure if they were applauding the close of the scene or the stagehands.

Lucky Me isn’t an entirely light and fluffy comedy. There are some questions about what is meant by Leo’s wife being gone and how exactly did Leo lose his sight and who was Brad and what happened to him? Some of these questions are answered satisfactorily, but others are not. This helps this quartet seem more human, so that we laugh with them – not just at them.

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 http://www.daryllmorganstudios.com

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Bill Blair, Amy Berlin, Matt Hackman, and Todd Schall-Vess in “Lucky Me”
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Amy Berlin (as Sara) and Matt Hackman (as Tom)
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Amy Berlin and Matt Hackman
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Matt Hackman and Amy Berlin
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ROMEO AND JULIET: When Society Fails its Youth

ROMEO AND JULIET: Young Love and Old Problems

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced By: Quill Theatre

At: The Leslie Cheek Theater at the VMFA, 200 N. Boulevard, RVA 23220

Performances: April 6-22, 2018

Ticket Prices: $35 Adults; $30 VMFA Members; $25 RVATA Members; $20 Students

Info: (804) 340-0115/340-1405 or quilltheatre.org or http://reservations.vmfa.museum/state/Info.aspx?EventID=128

Millions of students read Shakespeare every year, and Romeo and Juliet is one of the more popular plays. Most people are probably familiar with the name, and many probably think they know the story. But Romeo and Juliet was meant to be seen, not just read, and this Quill Theatre production makes Romeo and Juliet accessible to today’s audience. It’s not that the language has been changed, but rather that director James Ricks and his very solid cast reveal the basic humanity of the work: the artistry; the layers; the love; the senseless feud; the disconnect between parents and children; grief; and the consequences of not listening to one another – at any age and in any language.

Nate Ritsema, in his first show with Quill Theatre, is a young and earnest Romeo, full of energy and enthusiasm. He is well cast for the part, having made his professional debut in 2016 with the Virginia Shakespeare Festival production of Romeo and Juliet. Liz Earnest, recently seen in the tense drama I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard, at TheatreLAB is hardly recognizable as the same person as Juliet. Earnest’s Juliet is unmistakably a teenager. Her mother and nurse make a point of emphasizing near the top of the first act that she is just weeks away from her fourteenth birthday, and her impatient response to her mother’ bidding, her naivete about love, and her lightning quick changes of emotion further attest to her youth. It’s interesting, on some level, that Earnest’s last two roles are as a daughter seeking the approval of a strong and capricious father figure; the outcomes are vastly different.

Matt Shofner is hilarious and more than a little over the top as Romeo’s close friend Mercutio. Of course, he gets killed off in the first half, and no one quite fills his shoes for the remainder of the play. Other humorous moments are provided by Melissa Johnston Price as Juliet’s nurse. Price momentarily steals the show in her big scene with Juliet and her mother as she runs on at the mouth, barely stopping to catch her breath, and starting in again every time Lady Capulet thinks she has found an opening to talk to Juliet. Price’s counterpart is Bo Wilson, making his acting debut with Quill Theatre, where he has more often been credited as writer or director. Wilson was delightful as Friar Lawrence, who unwittingly initiates much of the trouble by marrying Romeo and Juliet against their feuding families’ wishes.

Seen in terms of today’s news, Romeo and Juliet has bullying and gang violence (i.e., the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues), sexual harassment (Lord Capulet’s treatment of his daughter Juliet and his wife Lady Capulet), suicide (both Romeo and Juliet ), drug abuse if you count poison as a drug), and child marriage (Juliet’s marriage to the also-teenaged Romeo, and her father’s plan to marry her off to the obviously adult Paris, played by Axle Burtness). I’m sure there are some other hot topics in there but that’s plenty to start a discussion or two or three. Lady Capulet (Irene Kuykendall) is elegant and obviously oppressed, while Lord Capulet (Colt Neidhardt) comes across as something of a despot not deserving of our sympathy. Other than the lead characters of Romeo and Juliet and the supporting characters of Nurse and Friar Lawrence – and Mercutio – most of the other characters seem intentionally underdeveloped. The reason may be found in the title of the play. It is noteworthy that I attended a preview – prior to opening night – and found few if any of the quirks and rough edges that often mark an opening night. Actors, lights, sounds, fight scenes, all ran remarkably smoothly and aided in the audience’s suspension of belief and overall enjoyment.

Fight choreographer Aaron Orensky had plenty to keep him busy, as the play opens with a brawl and there is swordplay throughout. Costume designer Cora Delbridge created some brilliant designs and some that seemed rather predictable; I think the goal was to strike a balance between traditional and contemporary. If so, some costumes achieved this more than others. Some open sleeves, for example, appeared stylish and elegant and others just looked ripped and torn.  Reed West’s set has simple, clean lines – a balcony, some steps, a bier that serves as a bench, a bed, and a funeral slab – and is given more depth by Michael Jarett’s lighting. All-in-all I somehow enjoyed this production much more than I expected and relished the challenge of comparing traditional versus contemporary themes, thanks to Dr. Matteo Pangallo’s “dramaturge essay” that twice asked why we continue to read and perform Romeo and Juliet couched in terms of older generations that fail their youth and confronting the constraints of the past.

Romeo and Juliet runs for just over two and one half hours, with one intermission, through April 22 with a preview on April 5 and opening night on April 6, Fridays and Saturdays @7:30pm, Sundays @1:30pm. Sunday performances will be followed by a talk with the cast and director.

 

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: Quill Theatre

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AN OAK TREE: The Physical Substance of a Thing

AN OAK TREE: in which nothing is what it appears to be

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: April 4-14, 2018 (8 performances only)

Ticket Prices: $25 General; $10 Students/Military/RVATA

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

 

Every playwright, director, artistic director thinks their work is unique. In the case of Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree I can quite honestly say this is not like any play you’ve ever seen before.

Landon Nagel plays the role of the Hypnotist each night, but the other actor, the Father, is played by a guest actor who has not seen the script before the show. These guest actors, as they are called, will include Aaron Anderson, Brandon Carter, Audra Honaker, Boomie Pedersen, Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Alan Sader, Foster Solomon, and Tyler Stevens. I went on Wednesday, the preview night, and Audra Honaker had the honor of being the first of the guest actors. For those who are curious how the show might differ with different cast members, the Firehouse is offering an Acorn to Oak Upgrade: for $20 you can come to as many of the performances as you like. I assume the guest actors are forbidden from reading reviews – so if any of you happened to get this far: STOP HERE! Do not read this until April 15!

Without giving away any secrets to legitimate, paying audience members, An Oak Tree does, in fact, have a plot. The Father lost his daughter who was killed after getting hit by a car while walking to her piano lesson. The Hypnotist was the driver of the car. Both men have been affected by the accident. The Father has transferred his love and grief for his daughter onto an oak tree at the side of the road near the accident scene, while the Hypnotist has lost his powers of suggestion. The Father has come to the Hypnotist’s stage show to find answers. After that, things become, well, confusing. Everything that happens, everything that is said is scripted, yet nothing is what it seems to be.

Landon Nagel, who at the beginning of the play describes himself perfectly – 6’2”, thick brown hair – is perfectly cast for the role of Hypnotist. I could not tell whether his frequent verbal stumblings and reversals were scripted or opening-night jitters. Given the Hypnotist’s state of mind, I’ll opt for the former and find out later. Like a true hypnotist, Nagel draws his audience in, and at the end, we’re not quite sure of what we have seen and heard.

Honaker appeared quite confident in her unrehearsed role and even said afterwards that she loved the freedom of not having to over-rehearse. Honaker provided several moments of humor in this otherwise dark play. Nagel feeds her lines, some of which we can hear, and some delivered through an earpiece so that only she can hear. When he asks for volunteers from the audience, Honaker is assigned all the roles, and when the Hypnotist introduces the faux volunteers, Honaker uses a different voice and body language for each. Later, as the Father, after being hypnotized into believing she is naked, she climbs over a piano stool and slips behind the raised stage. Nagel and Honaker worked well together.

About those volunteers: Nagel makes an announcement at the beginning of the play that when he asks for volunteers, the “real” audience is not to respond. On Wednesday night, one audience member either did not hear or choose not to follow those directions and proceeded to behave as if this was a show with audience participation. I did check to see if this was scripted and confirmed that he was, indeed, an actual heckler. Did I mention he was wearing a hat. . .?

The title, An Oak Tree, is taken from Michael Craig-Martin’s conceptual art work of the same name. Created in 1973, Craig-Martin’s work consists of a glass of water on a glass shelf, and an accompanying text. The text, in the form of a Q&A or interview, includes the statements: “I have changed the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree. I didn’t change its appearance. The actual oak tree is physically present, but in the form of a glass of water.”

In the play, the father has changed the physical substance of his daughter into a tree, and the hypnotist has adopted Craig-Martin’s philosophy that the artist speaks to a receptive audience. An Oak Tree is directed by Mark J. Lerman. Tennessee Dixon is the production designer, and Todd Labelle designed the lights. Robbie Kinter’s sound design, which included some original music, was especially effective, subtly creating the perfect hypnotic atmosphere. The technology was seamless. Honaker received a lot of her direction through an earpiece, and Nagel had handle a hand-held mic (which, to my surprise, was not annoying), and tap a foot pedal to switch from talking to the audience to speaking into Honaker’s earpiece.

An Oak Tree is not your usual play; it is, after all, based on a conceptual work of art. What did I think of it? I didn’t know what to expect, and it’s not what I expected. To take a cue from the director, Lerman, “That’s all I have to say….Still need more? Then it’s time to watch the play.” An Oak Tree runs just over an hour, with no intermission.

 

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

AN OAK TREE - Landon Nagel (photo by Bill Sigafoos)
Landon Nagel in “An Oak Tree”
1_AN OAK TREE - Landon Nagel (photo by Bill Sigafoos)
Landon Nagel in “An Oak Tree”

IMPETUS: A Collaboration of Dance and Art

RADAR Dance:  Impetus

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23223

Performances: March 24-25, 2018

Ticket Prices: $15 Adults; $10 Students

Info: radardance.com or radardance@gmail.com

Using the work of visual artists as inspiration, Richmond-based dance company RADAR presented Impetus, a spring concert of diverse works by choreographers Pam Gamlin, Laura Gorsuch, Elliott Hartz, Carli Mareneck, Kendall Neely, and Katherine Saffelle, [If this sounds vaguely familiar, another local choreographer, Starr Foster, recently presented an evening of works in collaboration with a series of photographs. For my review of Spitting Image, see RVArt Review, 01132018.]

The works on the Impetus program ranged from the whimsical to the intimate to the humorous. I became thoroughly immersed in the multi-layered Passages: Arising, Form, Transit, the program’s first offering, by Carli Mareneck, inspired by multiple paintings of various artists including O’Keefe and Van Gogh.  The first part struck me for it unity, rather than unison, as seven women moved together as an organic unit. Oddly enough, it was not until the second section, a quartet for four women with chairs, that I became aware of the music – a soulful composition by Canadian-born cellist and composer Zoë Keating. The third section, aptly titled “Transit,” if I can take the program at face value, is what I called the running section, in which the seven women were joined by a shirtless man.  The work builds naturally in layers to a very satisfying place that is more of a transition than a terminal conclusion.

One young audience member, 3 ½ year old Rowan, was quite concerned that dancer Elliott Hartz, his uncle, was shirtless.  As audience members go, he was very observant, and comported himself rather well given his age.

The impetus for Katherine Saffelle’s work, Her Muddled Mind, was Etam Cru’s mural Moonshine, part of the Richmond Mural Project. The painting shows a woman bathing in a jar filled with strawberry jam.  By the time I wrapped my mind around the mural and Saffelle’s duet, set to the music of Max Richter, it was over! The beautiful ending features a sudden lift and then the lights go out, and I almost wished the work would repeat so I could have time to properly contemplate. Oh yeah – it’s about societal pressures and expectations in a fast-paced world, so we’re probably not supposed to have time to think about it.

One of the most intriguing pieces on the program was Pam Gamlin’s Manipulating Time Among Mayhem. Set to the music of El Ten Eleven, Gamlin’s trio was not just inspired by Jere Williams’ sculpture, Satellite Lounge, but the dancers took turns wheeling the mobile piece through the space. Built on a lawn chair, the work includes a stove, a shopping cart, a vacuum cleaner, a bicycle, a dressmaker’s mannequin wearing a bra, a Dora the Explorer backpack, a clock, a rake, and more. Resembling an ancient peddler’s cart, the work brings up metaphoric images of baggage, burdens, never letting go of the past.  The three dancers, Megan Baker, Laura Gorsuch, and Kara Priddy, executed athletic-like movements, as if prepping for the Olympian task of carrying this monument through life.  I was, however, somewhat distracted by their black warm-up pants because the white piping framed their derrieres with the outline of a heart!

Kendall Neely offered the most amusing work on the program. Sorted, inspired by Alexander Pope’s Sound and Sense and set to music by Imogen Heap was “loosely inspired by” Pope’s poem. Beautifully adorned in red and black, the dancers start off with a well-regulated cadence and explores rhythm schemes and predictability.

The program also included Laura Gorsuch’s Agitation Manifests, a dance for four women and four lamps and a beautiful movement phrase that features a clapping sound produced by bringing a cupped hand to the opposite arm, and Elliott Hartz’ Current, another very brief work that explores simultaneity and connections.

The audience was encouraged to linger in a mini-gallery of the art works that inspired or in some cases was inspired by these dances. Six works, presented in about an hour and a half; unhurried, family-friendly, and visually stimulating offered a welcome weekend interlude and potentially provided the impetus for more people to partake of the local art offerings.

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Again – and I cannot say this enough – one of the biggest problems with the Richmond dance community is that most performances run for only a single weekend and by the time many people hear of a performance, it’s gone! I make it a point to see as much of Richmond dance as I can, but this weekend was highly unusual.  I was performing in the ensemble of MK Abadoo’s Octavia’s Brood: Riding the Ox Home on Friday and Saturday at VCU’s Grace Street Theater, K Dance opened their annual program of Shorts at Richmond Triangle Players Thursday through Saturday, and RADAR presented its Spring concert at Dogtown Saturday and Sunday. At the same time, Richmond Ballet was concluding the March 20-25 run of it’s New Works Festival.

 

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:

Impetus photos by Gianna Grace Photography; photos of art work by Julinda D. Lewis

RADAR

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“Satellite Lounge” by Jere Williams
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“Moonshine” a mural by Etam Cru

RADAR Impetus Poster 2

RICHMOND BALLET: NEW WORKS – Sleeping Cats and Distant Figures Lose Melodies in 2Rooms

RICHMOND BALLET:  Studio Two New Works Festival 2018

An Extended Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: March 20-25, 2018

Ticket Prices: $22.50-$42.50

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

The Richmond Ballet first presented the New Works Festival in 2008 and the 2018 Festival is the sixth program offering new works by guest artists. Each of the four choreographers is given 25 hours to work with the company to set an original 10-minute work or portion of a larger work on the Richmond Ballet. This year, four extremely diverse choreographers created works that stretched the dancers with quirky new movement vocabularies and non-traditional choreography that challenges the audience to look at and think about ballet in new ways.

For Studio Two, four choreographers who have never created for Richmond Ballet were selected, and those who attended the Choreographer’s Club on Tuesday got to meet each of them. In order of their works on the program:

Tom Mattingly (freelance dancer, choreographer; Chicago, IL) was an apprentice with Richmond Ballet at age 17. Mattingly’s new work, Figure in the Distance is an earth-toned work set to music by Philip Glass (“Concerto for Violin and Organ”) against a backdrop of artist Taylor Am Moore’s original work, The Dancer. Deliberately ambiguous, I see it as a dance of opposition or perhaps duality would be a better word choice. There is opposition or duality in the use of the dancers’ arms and legs, in the choreography’s directional choices, and in the dynamics that shift swiftly from quick to sustained or waiting – and even in the dancers’ costumes. The women have long sleeves and short legs, the men have long legs and no sleeves.

There is even a duality in Moore’s painting, which could be figure in the distance or the pen – and energy – that drew it. There is a sense of striving and anticipation reflected in the slow deliberate walks that are graceful yet strong.

In the post-show talk, Mattingly indicated he likes a vague story line that doesn’t hit the audience over the head, but I suspect the work may be a bit autobiographical as well – a bit of a reflection of his ongoing transition from dancer to choreographer. He may be getting closer to seeing who that “figure in the distance” really is.

Bradley Shelver (born in South Africa; principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, NY) presented 2 Rooms, a work that depicts compartmentalized moments on segmented worlds. The first of two very quirky works on the program, 2 Rooms gives the audience options. There are alternative points of focus, provided by a set of moveable red panels that separate the space and the dancers. Dancers appear on either side of the panels, between the panels, and move around the panels. We see their feet moving below them, and they sometimes peak over the top.

Two memorable shapes are a wide-legged crab scrabble the dancers use to travel side-to-side and a waiting crouch that verges on a parody of a horror movie posture. There are also sudden falls and rolls, percussive gestures, tickling, an overly long kiss, and frantic shaking motions. There was one fall that appeared unplanned, when Elena Bello jumped onto her partner Matthew Frain, and an odd and awkward pause in the music that may or may not have been intentional. Nothing about 2 Rooms is predictable or ordinary.

Music is a big deal for Shelver, and 2 Rooms plays freely with the juxtaposition of “Ciaconna” (The Hilliard Ensemble, mixed with fragments of J.S. Bach) and “Adagio in G Minor” (R. Glazotto; Helmut Müller-Brühl/Cologne Chamber Orchestra) that complements the nuances of his quirky and fast-paced choreography. As much as I loved the quirkiness as a technique and an exercise, however, it did dominate the work, making the choreography seem somewhat unfinished. Given that this work was created in 25 hours, it would be interesting to see if a subsequent performance might have progressed to a different place in this compartmentalized world.

It’s probably just a coincidence that the first half of the program featured male choreographers, and the second half featured female choreographers.

Mariana Oliveira (born in Brazil; Artistic Director of The Union Project Dance Company, Los Angeles, CA) created My Lost Melody around the theme of falling in love, but the title, the predominantly black color palette, and the focus on some of the lesser known songs of Édith Piaf are a big clue that this is not all about the lighter side of love. Oliveira, the only choreographer of the four who said she comes to a new project with the work fully formed – right down to the costumes and lighting – created My Lost Melody on twelve dancers, with flowing permutations of three groups of four that guide the viewers’ eye across the stage.

Control and direction seem important in Oliveira’s work. A duet for Abi Goldstein and mate Szentes (in their fourth and third years with Richmond Ballet, respectively), reminded me of Fred Astaire, but rather than Ginger Rogers, Goldstein’s role was given a humorous twist that completed her phrases with a frivolous fold-over rather than an elegant fanfare. One brief trio (in white) was performed to the sound of rain. The darkest of the four works, My Lost Melody was also the most dramatic, and the one that came closest to telling a story.

Francesca Harper (Artistic Director of The Francesca Harper Project, NY) explored the role of gender and specifically strong women in The World of Sleeping Cats, set to the music of hip hop violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain. The movement is infused with bold walks and, like the work of Shelver, more quirky and breathtakingly unexpected phrases, while the music is infused with bold drum-line beats and electronic sounds that suggest we are in new and uncharted territory.

This work also uses a black color palette, distinguished by hilariously ridiculous wired tutus. Elena Bello’s tutu is the first to come off – where it occupies an unceremonious position in the spotlight, center stage. A work for ten dancers – five couples, The World of Sleeping Cats is nontraditional but grounded in tradition. The dancers wear toe shoes, but the partnering doesn’t follow traditional gender assignments. Harper’s title is intriguing. Sleeping cats make you think of softness, but cats have claws. Sleeping cats may alert and spring into action at a moment’s notice.

One acquaintance who tried to get me to talk about the performance shared that she was excited about this piece because it addresses gender issues. A long-time Richmond Ballet supporter, William (Billy) Hancock (Campaign Director and Major Gifts), shared that the New Works Festival is his favorite Studio production because, to paraphrase his words, where else can you see all this original work in one place?

The choreographers themselves gushed about their experience with Richmond’s dancers, calling them brilliant and easy to collaborate with as well as passionate and dedicated.  While the company was excellent overall, special notice is due to dancers Elena Bello and Matthew Frain, Abi Goldstein and Mate Szentes, and Bello with Fernando Sabino who were featured in the new works. Lighting designer MK Stewart and costume designer Emily DeAngelis also earned well-earned kudos. For Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, the New Works Festival is not about competition, but about making The Richmond Ballet a safe place to be open and vulnerable – the best place to create a new ballet.

Keep in mind – these are not polished, full-fledged works. They are not meant to be finished and perfect. That is part of the appeal. All are different and challenging. All bring out the best in the dancers. All are worth seeing and talking about – but you can only do that if you go see them:

Tuesday, March 20th at 6:30pm (Choreographer’s Club) $65-$100
Wednesday, March 21st at 6:30pm
Thursday, March 22nd at 6:30pm
Friday, March 23rd at 6:30pm and 8:30pm (Club 407/Young Professionals) $35*
Saturday, March 24th at 6:30pm and 8:30pm
Sunday, March 25th at 2pm and 4pm

Club 407 For Young Professionals – Richmond Ballet is excited to offer discounted tickets, special events, and more through our new Club 407. Designed for a premiere group of ballet enthusiasts and novices alike under the age of 40, Club 407 provides exclusive experiences for Richmond’s young professionals. We invite you to become more involved with Richmond Ballet by attending performances, networking opportunities, and special behind the scenes access!

Studio Series – Club 407 tickets for our Studio Series shows include a pre-performance happy hour with food and drinks (cash bar) at Wong Gonzalez’s Beauty & Grace Room, a performance in the intimate Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, and a post-performance beer and wine reception with the dancers.

 

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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PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES: A “Pump Rock” Country Musical

PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES:  A “Pump Rock” Country Musical

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

A Collaboration of Richmond’s 5th Wall Theatre and Hampton’s American Theatre

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

Performances: March 10-31, 2018 [Note this show will be performed in Hampton, VA April 13-22]

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

Info: (804) 359-2003 or https://5thwallpumpboys.brownpapertickets.com/

 

Pump Boys and Dinettes is not your ordinary musical. Created by a performance group of no less than six, who are all credited with the music, book, and lyrics, one might expect this musical to be all over the place. One would be wrong. Don’t care for country music? Doesn’t matter; this isn’t the whiny, twangy, my-woman-is-gone-and-my-dog-is-dead kind of country music. Don’t care for musicals, you say? Go back and read my first sentence.

Pump Boys and Dinettes is the most fun I’ve had in the theater in recent weeks and that’s saying a lot, since the Richmond theater community has produced some excellent theater this year. The ensemble is dynamic; the entire cast sings, acts, and plays instruments (okay, that might be stretching it a bit, but keep reading). The musical numbers are high-powered, and there are even a couple of a capella numbers that feature some rather awesome harmonizing that even my untrained ear could recognize and appreciate. Then the Dinettes pick up wooden spoons and play percussion on pots. So that’s why the pots are out front instead of back in the kitchen. . .Oh, and then there is tap-dancing – in cowboy boots!

While there isn’t really a narrative in the traditional sense, we do get to meet some of the residents of Frog Level, North Carolina who work on Highway 57 at the Pump Boys service station and the nearby or attached Double Cup diner. The Pump Boys consist of Jim (John Mervini on rhythm guitar), L.M. (Mike Cefalo on keyboard, including a brief stint on an accordion), Jackson (Michael Bamford, lead guitar) and Eddie (Sean Powell on bass and harmonica). Not much work gets done at the service station, since the Pump Boys are all playing music a lot more than pumping gas. Indeed, when a customer calls to check on the status of his Winnebago, he is told it will be ready, maybe, next week. The customer is put on hold – on the ancient phone held together with duct tape – so the Pump Boys can give him a status update singing “Taking It Slow.”

Rachel Marrs (Rhetta Cupp) and Desiree Roots Centeio (Prudie Cupp), the sisters who run the diner, seem to somehow get more work done. The Dinettes serve coffee, moon pies, and slices of pecan pie to the audience at the beginning of the show and collecting tips in Act 2. “Tips” is the title of a sassy duet in Act 2, with the money collected going to the 5th Wall Development Fund. In addition to feeding the audience with art and food, Centeio sits on gentlemen’s laps and dances with an audience member (Friday night it was my fiancé Albert Ruffin) while singing “The Best Man” and the sisters escort a female audience member onstage, so Jackson/Bamford can serenade her in “Mona,” a song about his crush on a mall cashier.

“The Fisherman’s Prayer” is a beautifully harmonized number by the Pump Boys in Act 1, which also features a heat-warming ballad, “Mamaw,” sung by Jim/Mervini. Act 1 ends with The Dinettes and L.M. donning cowboy boots and Eddie donning tap shoes for “Drinkin’ Shoes.” Highlights of Act 2 include L.M.’s “T.N.D.P.W.A.M.” which stands for The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine, and the hilarious “Farmer’s Tan,” again featuring L.M. with the Dinettes. Everyone gets at least one featured number except Eddie, but he does get to do an awesome “duet” with his upright bass. While each cast members shines individually, Mervini, Marrs, and Centeio are standouts and Cefalo is a surprise when he emerges from behind his keyboard, it is the magnetism of the ensemble that makes Pump Boys and Dinettes a hit.

There are 19 musical numbers, plus a reprise of the opening “Highway 57” and a closing medley of the show’s “Greatest Hits.” Most are hard-pumping, foot-tapping, danceable numbers that keep a smile on your face from start to finish. The show runs about 100 minutes, with a fifteen-minute intermission, under the seamless direction of Richard M. Parison, Jr. with musical direction by Christian Storm Burk and choreography by Karen Getz (whose work I adored in VaRep’s Fiddler on the Roof in 2013).

I also admired Rich Mason’s scenic design – a simple but authentic looking little diner on the audience’s right, and a somewhat less detailed and extremely clean service station to the audience’s left. Most of the action takes place center to right, but there weren’t many people seated on the left side on Friday night. Michael Jarrett designed the lighting, which featured a few nicely mottled effects in Act 1, and Sue Griffin and Marcia Miller Hailey did the costumes. The Pump Girl’s waitress uniforms were adorably attractive.  Let’s not forget Amy Ariel, who assisted with the lighting, Roger Price who designed the sound, and Barry Green who designed the props – of which there are quite a few. And let’s not forget to thank 5th Wall’s Artistic Director Carol Piersol and The American Theatre’s Artistic Director Richard M. Parison for selecting this show to partner.

Pump Boys and Dinettes is beautifully showcased in the intimate space of TheatreLAB’s basement. Make it a point to find your way down the steep steps that lead to this marvelous space before they close.

 

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:

5th Wall Theatre

Pumpboys

Pump Boys_1
Michael Bamford, John Mervini, Rachel Marrs, and Desiree Roots Centeio

DAMES AT SEA: Making Waves at Swift Creek

DAMES AT SEA: Pint-sized Extravaganza

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: March 8-May 15, 2018

Ticket Prices: $38 Theater only; $55 Dinner & Theater

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

Dames at Sea, with book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise first opened Off-Off-Broadway in 1966 but is perhaps best known for its 1968 production which introduced a new actress named Bernadette Peters. Twenty-six years ago, Dames at Sea was produced at Swift Creek Mill and two of the 1992 cast members – Robyn O’Neill and Steve King – apparently enjoyed it so much they have returned for another run.

A parody of the 1930s-style musical extravaganza, Dames at Sea is dated and corny and probably the most fun you’ll have in a month. The first act is set in a down-trodden Broadway theater, and Act 2 is set on the deck of a naval ship. Sweet-faced and innocent Ruby (Anne Michelle Forbes) arrives on Broadway from a small town in Utah with a suitcase containing only a pair of ruby red tap shoes and by the end of the day she has been hired as a chorus girl, meets a guy, becomes a star, and gets married. I don’t know how many hours are in this day, but if they can bottle and sell days like this, I’m placing my order right now.

Part of the tremendous charm of this two-act show is that all the impact and energy of a Busby-Berkeley movie musical, including showgirls, props, dancers creating geometric floor patterns, lots of color and movement, are all accomplished with a cast of six. In addition to Forbes, who is a 2016 TheatreVCU graduate making her Swift Creek Mill debut, there is Nicole Morris-Anastasi as Joan, a wise-cracking chorus girl who befriends Ruby; Travis West as Ruby’s sailor boyfriend Dick; and Derrick Jaques as Dick’s friend Lucky, who also happens to be Joan’s on-again, off-again boyfriend.

Returnees Steve King in the dual roles of theater entrepreneur Hennesey and the naval officer Captain Courageous and Robyn O’Neill as the diva Mona Kent together generate some of the show’s most humorous moments with a touching number called “The Beguine” that recreates their youthful romance. King alternates between sweet, shy glances and lascivious ogling of O’Neill’s bosom. O’Neill may portray a star who is losing her luster, but it’s impossible to feel sorry for her character as she also acts as the protagonist, jealously trying to hang on to the ingenue role while maintaining leading lady status – a dangerous game that wreaks havoc on Ruby and Dick’s budding romance and nearly sidelines the entire show within the show.

In the spirit of a large-scale musical, everyone sings and everyone dances. O’Neill gets to strut her stuff in the opening number and to belt her heart out in “Wall Street” and “That Mister Man of Mine.” Forbes shines in her lovelorn ballad, “Raining in My Heart,” which is more touching than her big show-saving number, “Star Tar.” On Saturday, parts of “Choo Choo Honeymoon,” one of two big numbers for Morris-Anastasi, were unintelligible from my seat on the right side of the audience. I don’t know if the same was true for those further left, but this is something that is certainly easily fixed through technology, staging, or a combination of the two.

I was quite pleased to see – and hear – that Dames at Sea is one musical that takes its dancing seriously. The work is infused with tap dancing – and while it appeared to leave O’Neill a bit winded, Forbes, Morris-Anastasi, Jaques, and West came with the energy. What they may have lacked in technique (none would fare well, hypothetically speaking, in a contest with Savion Glover) they more than made up for this potential shortcoming with big attitudes and a facility for handling props (mops, umbrellas, and more). We have choreographer Alissa Pagnotti to thank for this enthusiastic, period-style tap choreography.

Tom Width directed with his usual innate joy – every play he directs seems to be his favorite – and did the scenic design as well. There was no magic in this script, but Width did manage to work in an avalanche of falling bricks and oversized wrecking ball in Act 1, and a couple of cannons blasting confetti at the finale. Leilani Fenick is the musical director, conducting an 8-piece orchestra hidden behind the set. Zachary Townsend designed the lighting, which includes a follow-spot intentionally designed to recreate the authenticity of the period, and Maura Lynch Cravey designed the costumes. I was particularly fond of Ruby and Joan’s tap shorts. (Yes, I did mean shorts, and not shoes.) Dames at Sea is a leave-your -worries-at-the-door and just enjoy yourself kind of musical.

 

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:

Swift Creek Mill Facebook page

 

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