SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: At the Edge of the Ocean

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: A Play Without Words

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

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

Performances: March 7-29 (with previews March 5 & 6), 2020

Ticket Prices: $37

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

It isn’t often that someone writes a play that requires the actors to take a vow of silence. But that is exactly what happens in Beth Wohl’s play, Small Mouth Sounds (premiered in 2015), when six people in search of themselves – or something or someone other than their themselves – arrive at an upstate New York center for a silent retreat. Small Mouth Sounds was inspired by the author’s own retreat experience.

Naturally, things do not unfold smoothly as each character reveals their special brand of quirkiness or unveils their personal demons. Judy and Joan are a couple – two middle-aged  women who are struggling to shoulder the burden of Judy’s cancer diagnosis. Alicia is a young woman who apparently just broke up with someone named Fred; she keeps dialing his number and is constantly distracted by her forbidden cell phone. She is perturbed to discover that she has been assigned a male roommate.

Ned and Rodney are two of the most interesting members of this unlikely collection of people. Ned has had an unimaginable string of bad luck: he fell off a mountain and broke his skull; his wife started sleeping with his younger brother; he started drinking and joined AA only to have his sponsor commit suicide, and his dog got run over by a car. That’s just a small sampling of all that he’s been through. Rodney is a passive aggressive yoga instructor who smugly and silently snubs everyone else, shows off his yoga skills, removes his wedding ring as soon as he arrives, and is the first to strip down for the clothing optional lakeside activities.

Oh yes, there is a bit of nudity – full frontal – and some “herbal tobacco” and Palo Santo wood gets burned onstage. This play is recommended for viewers 18 years and older. But, to get back to the cast, one of the greatest surprises comes in the final scene from the mild-mannered Jan.

This group of seekers comes under the care and watchful eye of a gruff-voiced guru, an unseen and nameless Teacher who coughs and sneezes into her microphone and appears o the verge of a breakdown. The audience never sees the Teacher, Marisa Guida, until she comes out to take her bow at the end. Guida is the only character allowed to speak throughout the play.

The marvelous cast consists of Lauren Leinhaas-Cook as Judy (the one with cancer); Jenny Hundley as her partner Joan (the bubbly one who always seems to have a small wrapped candy); Maura Mazurowski as Alicia (the young one with all the bags and baggage – and snacks); Jim Morgan as Ned (the one who has all the bad luck); Adam Valentine as Rodney (the passive-aggressive yoga instructor); and Larry Cook as Jan (the one whose secret I will not reveal here, but about whom I will post a nagging question at the end of this review). What makes them all so marvelous is that, except for a rather long monologue by Ned, and a brief but sharp exchange between Joan and Judy, we learn all we know about these characters through facial expressions, gestures, and a few grunts. In order to successfully carry off a play in which the main characters are all required to take a vow of silence, these actors had to act their butts off!

Running 70 minutes with no intermission, Small Mouth Sounds is set in a yurt-shaped structure with large open windows and chakra symbols painted on the walls. The only furniture is a few backless wooden stools (which Judy emphatically complains about) and some floor pillows. At night, the campers make do with their yoga mats as they fight mosquitos and shiver at the sounds of growling bears and other unknown animals. Actors enter down the center aisle, sometimes rather noisily, and the top of the set extends over the audience making us feel that we are inside the experience – or experiment, which I believe is the word used in the opening seconds – perhaps even in the position of the Teacher.

Joey Luck designed the sound – a variety of ambient sounds including insects and birds and a bear or two, assorted snorts and grunts, and a torrential rainstorm. Rusty Wilson, Irene Ziegler and the cast members contributed voice-overs and other vocals sounds. Sarah Grady’s costumes helped define the characters. This entire delightful production was directed by Laine Satterfield with a balance of structure and freedom that allowed humor to emerge quite naturally. The pacing was unhurried, yet never lagged, and the scenes perfectly captured the juxtaposition of the meditative environment with the characters’ personalities and problems. In her Director’s Note, Satterfield describes how, during their first week of rehearsal, the cast members lived key moments of their characters’ lives and even worked out timelines and bios.

Small Mouth Sounds runs through March 29 in the intimate Theatre Gym at the Virginia Rep Center on West Broad Street. A part of the Acts of Faith Theatre Festival, the play runs in tandem with a series of wellness workshops, Centered Stage, including topics such as meditation and feng shui. The series takes place after the shows on March 8, 12, 15, 19, 22, and 26.

 

**********

SPOILER ALERT

Now, for that question regarding Jan and his secret. . .Do not read this paragraph if you don’t want to know before you go. . .

So, in the final scene, it is revealed that Jan does not speak English. My question is, how was he able to read his information packet and follow the instructions of the Teacher? Hmm???

**********

 

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: Jason Collins

Small Mouth Sounds
Adam Valentine, Jenny Hundley , Lauren Leinhaas-Cook, Maura Mazurowski, Jim Morgan, Larry Cook. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
August Wilson's Fences
Marisa Guida. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
Small Mouth Sounds
Maura Mazurowski, Jim Morgan. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
Small Mouth Sounds
Adam Valentine, Jenny Hundley, Lauren Leinhaas-Cook. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
Small Mouth Sounds
Jim Morgan and Maura Mazurkowski. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.

 

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THE REVOLUTIONISTS: Find the Heart, Not the Art (Marianne Angelle)

THE REVOLUTIONISTS: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Gil Scott-Heron)

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 27 – March 21, 2020

Ticket Prices: $30 Regular Admission; $20 Seniors & Industry/RVATA; $10 Students and Teachers with ID

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

Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists, first produced in 2015, may be the only comedy that begins and ends with an execution. The Revolutionists is a play about a woman writing a play during the French Revolution. It is hysterically funny, and it is real. Three of the four characters are historical (not hysterical) figures:

Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) was a French playwright and political activist. She was executed by guillotine for seditious behavior and attempting to reinstate the monarchy – based on the “evidence” found in the contents of an unfinished play about former Queen of France Marie Antoinette.

Women have the right to mount the scaffold;

they should likewise have the right to mount the rostrum.

-Olympe de Gouges played by Maggie Roop

Charlotte Corday (1768-1793) was a political activist who was executed by guillotine for the assassination of Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat, a leader of the Reign of Terror. She stabbed him in his bath.

I killed one man to save 100,000.

-Charlotte Corday played by Lydia Hynes

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was convicted of treason and executed by guillotine.

No one understands my ills, nor the terror that fills my breast,

who does not know the heart of a mother.

– Marie Antoinette, played by Maggie Bavolack

Marianne Angelle is a composite of the free black women revolutionaries of the island nation of Saint Domingue (now Haiti). The island was rich in sugar, coffee, and cotton with a population of 500,000 slaves, 32,000 white people, and 28,000 free black people. In August 1791 the Saint Domingue revolutionaries started the first successful slave revolt in history.

You can’t be a hero if you’re too scared to show up!

– Marianne Angelle played by Katrinah Carol Lewis

For two hours (including one ten-minute intermission), these four women gather in Olympe’s Parisian office to talk philosophy and plan how to change the world. The Revolutionists is a smart, fast-paced, bold tragi-comedy. It is a play that embraces a love of words and language, and Chelsea Burke’s thoughtfully irreverent and well-timed direction dares the audience to come along for the ride and keep up. Dasia Gregg’s understated set (some framed wall sections, a tiny desk and a few seats that are removed after the first act) has the audience seated in the four corners of the intimate space. Some audience members were sitting just a foot or two away from the performers when they sat on a chair on chaise lounge.

It wasn’t until the end of this riotous yet serious discourse that we realized we were not ordinary participants, but extras cast in the role of audience members. It was something like going along for a ride in your friend’s new car, only to find out later that the car was stolen, and you were the designated getaway driver for the crime they planned to commit.

The Revolutionists boasts a dynamic cast with Maggie Roop as Olympe de Gouges, full of fiery talk but coming up short when it’s time to take real action. Lydia Hynes portrays Charlotte Corday with youthful energy and commitment – and she’s loud (and that’s not a criticism, but a comment from her mentors, Olympe and Marianne). Maggie Bavolack is very pink and fluffy (especially her hair and bosom) and is hysterically funny as Marie Antoinette. But she also expresses an unexpected warmth and compassion that develops as she spends time with Marianne and Olympe.

And then there’s Katrinah Carol Lewis as the free-black freedom fighter Marianne. Marianne is the character we learn the most about, from her family to her political and womanist philosophies and Lewis takes full ownership of this character and the show, from the moment she strides into Olympe’s office, assesses the situation, and applies her sense of righteous indignation tempered with wisdom beyond her years.

In fact, all the woman exhibit knowledge beyond their years – or at least beyond their time period – as their dialogue and declarations are interspersed with contemporary language and well-seasoned with swear words.

The production team includes period costumes by Ruth Hedberg (some attractive, some serviceable, some versatile, and some for fun), sound design by Kelsey Cordrey (filled with crowd sounds, heavy breathing, ticking clocks, gunshots and other ambient sounds), and dramatic lighting by Michael Jarrett that goes black to tastefully yet ominously indicate that the guillotine has dropped.

The Revolutionists, a part of the Acts of Faith Festival, runs through March 21. To paraphrase Marianne, “You can’t be a participant if you’re too scared to show up.” Don’t be that person.

 

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

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

 

 

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THE CAKE: A Slice of Life

New Show March 7 at 2 pm! Most Other Performances Almost SOLD OUT!  Tickets on Sale at 10 am Monday, February 24!

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Richmond Triangle Players – An Acts of Faith production

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

Performances: February 12 – March 7,  2020

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Photo Credits: John MacLellan

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

 

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STUPID KID: It’s Not What You Think

STUPID KID: An Unwelcome Homecoming

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: January 23 – February 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credits: Bill Sigafoos

 

 

 

GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST: Bifocals Senior Theatre

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: December 16, 2019

Ticket Prices: $10

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Photo Credits: CAT Theatre Facebook page

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

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: December 6-21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios

 

 

Whistlin Women
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Alvin Ailey
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Apple Watch
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URINETOWN: Nobody Pees for Free!

URINETOWN: Power to the People

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: September 12-28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

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

 

 

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

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: November 16 – December 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credits: Robyn O’Neill Photography

 

 

Alvin Ailey
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CINDERELLA: Not Your Childhood Bedtime Story

CINDERELLA: Rogers & Hammerstein’s Musical Comedy

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Marjorie Arenstein Stage

Performances: November 29, 2019 – January 5, 2020

Ticket Prices: $36-63

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinderella.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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