SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER:

THE PLAY THAT USHERED IN A NEW WAVE OF HUMOR

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Quill Theatre’s Richmond Shakespeare Festival

At: Agecroft Hall & Gardens, 4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, VA 23221

Performances: July 7-31, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20-$33

Info: (804) 353-4241 or quilltheatre.org

Dating back to 1773, She Stoops to Conquer has long been considered one of the most popular English-language comedies. Interestingly, it was a major theatrical success by a relatively unknown playwright – Oliver Goldsmith – and the play that set Director James Ricks, then a middle school student, ablaze with a passion for live theater. It is also credited with being the source of the phrase, “ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”

The plot is a familiar one – two affluent families, the Hardcastles and the Marlows, arrange to introduce their children, Kate and Charles, with an end goal of marriage. But Kate’s spoiled, immature older half-brother Tony Lumpkin sees this as an excellent opportunity to wreak havoc of monumental proportions. Tony likes to hang out with the masses at the local pub – at one point Mr. Hardcastle say of him, disparagingly, “the only school he’ll ever go to is the ale house.” And that is precisely where he is when he intercepts his sister’s would-be suitor and his traveling companion – at the local pub – as they search for the remotely-located country home of the Hardcastle family. Tony convinces Charles that the Hardcastle estate is an inn. There ensues a “comedy of errors,” and one fascinating result is that young Charles Marlow, who has been described as educated and shy, imperiously treats his unsuspecting hosts as servants, displaying a side Kate was not expecting. Kate, however, has her own agenda, and disguises herself as a barmaid to further explore the character of her would-be suitor.

Like any good sitcom, there are subplots and counter-plots to the main theme. These include a secret love-affair between Kate’s cousin Constance and young Marlow’s friend George Hastings, Mrs. Marlow’s attempts to hide an inheritance, and Tony’s attempts to avoid an arranged marriage of his own. This simplified synopsis does not do justice to the live production. She Stoops to Conquer is neither trite nor stereotypical. Supporting characters are as interesting as leading characters – establishing a sort of social equality that was far ahead of its time.

Debra Wagoner was delightful in the role of Mrs. Hardcastle, the master (or mistress) of much of the seemingly unintended humor. In one of the latter scenes, she gets her comeuppance when her own son (Josh Mullins as Tony Lumpkin) tricks her into thinking she is lost in the wilderness. Mark Persinger as her husband, proved to be a stark contrast to Wagoner’s character and brought his own unique style of humor. Hardcastle, you see, is decidedly old-fashioned, stuck in the past and despises anything modern, while his wife (a social climber) and daughter (a sensible young woman with a mind of her own) yearn for modern fashions and are attracted by the lure of the city. Wagoner proved to be a capable antagonist, while Katy Feldhahn (Kate) was more than capable of conquering.

Josh Mullins, as Mrs. Hardcastle’s spoiled son, happily wreaked havoc at every turn. Calie Bain as Kate and Tony’s cousin (and Tony’s reluctant intended) Constance Neville was solid and dependable in a somewhat predictable and unremarkable role while Ian Page played his role close to the edge and over the top as the socially challenged Young Marlow.

That being said, She Stoops to Conquer was a delightful summer divertissement, comedically ahead of its time, pleasant and fairly well-paced, with direction by James Ricks. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but I would certainly give it a second chance in the future.

NOTE: Unfortunately, this summer’s Shakespeare Festival took the brunt of the summer storms. Both productions at Agecroft Hall were plagued by cancellations due to weather, and, alas, the closing production of She Stoops to Conquer was no exception.

She Stoops to Conquer

By Oliver Goldsmith

Directed by James Ricks

Cast

Mrs. Hardcastle……………  Debra Wagoner

Mr. Hardcastle ……………   Mark Persinger

Tony Lumpkin ……………   Josh Mullins

Kate Hardcastle ..…………   Katy Feldhahn

Constance Neville…………   Calie Bain

Young Marlow….…………   Ian Page

George Hastings.…………    William Cardozo

Sir Charles/Landlord ……  John Cauthen

Pimple/Betty ………………..   Els Dusek

Diggory/Fellow ..…………    Alex Chapman

Roger/Jeremy .……….……    Audrey Sparrow

Production Team

Director:  James Ricks

Stage Manager: Nata Moriconi

Costume Designer: Cora Delbridge

Lighting Designer: Andrew Bonniwell

Props Designer: Emily Hicks

Music Director: Jason Marks

Choreographer: Nicole Morris-Anastasi

Dialect Coach: Harrison Runion

Assistant Stage Manager: Hope Jewell

Stage Construction: Kevin Johnson

Production Manager: James  Ricks

Run Time: About 2 ½ hours with one intermission

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

———-

Photo Credits: David Parrish Photography

BOOTYCANDY:

It Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced by: TheatreLAB

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

Performances: June 9-18, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $10 Teachers & Students

Info: (804) 349-7616 or https://tlab-internet.choicecrm.net/templates/TLAB/#/events

Robert O’Hara’s BOOTYCANDY is a “semi-biographical subversive comedy” performed as a series of non-linear vignettes. The central character is Sutter and the central premise is Sutter’s journey growing up black and gay. It is hilarious, it is touching, it is relatable across genders, generations, and sexual orientations, and it is an exemplar of contemporary Africanist story-telling. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite shows of the season – and I see my fair share of shows.

Todd Patterson shines in the lead role as Sutter. The five actors are identified only as Actor One, Actor Two, etc., and all but Patterson take on a number of different roles in Sutter’s life. Patterson dances between each scene – indeed, his “grandmother” and other relatives request that he “do that step Michael Jackson liked to do.” The playwright, O’Hara, has specified that Jackson’s music be used throughout, and the music of Michael Jackson, Prince, and perhaps a few others energizes the space from the moment you walk through The Basement doors.

Patterson strips for us, and dances with a manic energy that reflects his character’s inner landscape. But as much as I was impressed by Patterson’s performance, this is truly an ensemble production – starting with the symbiotic directing team of Deejay Gray and Katrinah Carol Lewis. I’ve seen each of these actors in several productions, and this one cast them each in a new light and presented them with new challenges.

Dylan Jones and Zakiyyah Jackson hold down most of the female roles in Sutter’s life. Both play his mother, at different ages, as well as aunties, friends, a sister, and church ladies. In one scene they portray a quartet of women gossiping on the telephone, highlighted by rapid costume changes but my favorite is their second act “non-committal ceremony,” a nasty same-sex divorce officiated by a Zen-like Cashwell. This scene is the embodiment of the adage, “same sex, same problems!”

Durron Marquis Tyre transforms into several characters, but my favorites are the right reverend who comes out in a sermon delivered to his outraged congregation. Instead of coming out of the closet, he emerges from behind his pulpit to reveal fishnet stockings, blinged out silver slingback heels, a wig, and finally a clingy little red dress and matching lipstick. This is where Jones and Jackson begin their magic as they subtly change from gossip-mongers to staunch supporters.

In the second act, Tyre portrays Sutter’s grandmother who offers him comfort in a time of need as she slyly extracts some cash to tuck into her bosom and a delivery of forbidden soul food. For a moment, I thought Tyre had been speaking with my own late grandmother to develop this character because his mannerisms and speech brought back memories directly from my own past. And that is part of the beauty of this play: it is relatable. In a post-show talkback the day I saw it, everyone who spoke found some point of connection. The scene where Sutter realizes he is under stress is a turning point – he stops the show, has a verbal interaction with the Stage Manager, Crimson Piazza, and the tone and tenor of the play shifts. This is , undoubtedly, one of the author’s genuine auto-biographical moments. Its poignancy highlights the humorous aspects of the previous scenes, and reminds us that often laughter is the only things that helps us make it through the tough or uncertain times.

And of course I cannot forget Dixon Cashwell – the only white guy in the cast. He plays several characters, but my favorites are his portrayal of a clueless conference facilitator for the scene that closes the first act. Cashwell’s character strolls obliviously into a minefield of micro-aggressions that elicit yelps of incredulity from the cast as well as at least one audience member. In other scenes, Cashwell becomes a gay-curious male sharing an uncomfortable relationship with his brother-in-law, and has a spellbinding turn as an intoxicated man at a lonely bus stop at 3:00 AM who amazingly talks himself out of being mugged.

There are a number of little things that make BOOTYCANDY as close to perfect as it can possibly get. The subject of the women’s telephone scene is the name one young mother has chosen for her baby girl: Genitalia! It is a spoof of the unique names and exotic naming conventions of Black American families and a nod to the sort of urban legends many of us educators have passed down through the decades: the little boy named Shi-Thead, the little girls named Vagina, Clitoris, and Female (pronounced Fah-MA-ley), or the twins named Orangejello and Lemonjello (pronounced a-RON-zhello and le-MON-zhello).

By the time you read this, BOOTYCANDY may have ended its all-too-brief run, but just in case, consider this a SPOILER ALERT: BOOTYCANDY does not refer to a sexually attractive booty or a hot gay guy. Quite innocently – and oddly – it is the word the young Sutter’s mother uses to refer to his penis, and an excellent advertisement for teaching children the real words for their body parts.

I haven’t laughed so hard or so often I the theater in recent memory. In the words of one viewer, BOOTYCANDY is no entry-level theater, meaning it is not linear or predictable, and there is no happily-ever-after fairytale conclusion. In the mind of this reviewer, that is what makes it so special.

THE CAST

Actor One ………………………….        Dylan Jones

Actor Two ……………………….…        Todd Patterson

Actor Three …………..…………..       Zakiyyah Jackson

Actor Four ………………………….       Durron Marquis Tyre

Actor Five ………………………….       Dixon Cashwell

THE TEAM

Direction: Deejay Gray & Katrinah Carol Lewis

Scenic Design: Deejay Gray

Projection Design: Dasia Gregg

Lighting Design: Michael Jarett

Costume Design: Nia Safarr Banks

Sound Design: Kelsey Cordrey

Properties Design: Kathy O’Kane Kreutzer

Production Stage Management: Crimson Piazza

THE SCHEDULE

Thursday, June 9 at 7:30 [Preview Performance]

Friday, June 10 at 7:30 [Opening Night]

Saturday, June 11 at 7:30 [Post-Show Dialogue]

Sunday, June 12 at 7:30

Wednesday, June 15 at 7:30 [ADDED SHOW]

Thursday, June 16 at 7:30

Friday, June 17 at 7:30

Saturday, June 18 at 7:30 [Closing Night]

NOTE: All performances are at 7:30pm at The Basement:

300 East Broad Street, Richmond VA 23219

THE TICKETS

$20 – General Admission

$10 – Teachers & Students

LINK: https://tlab-internet.choicecrm.net/templates/TLAB/#/events

*PROOF OF VACCINATION / A NEGATIVE COVID TEST REQUIRED* The Basement is a fully vaccinated venue. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (within 48 hours of the performance) are required upon entry. For the safety of our artists and audiences, masks must be worn while at the theatre. Thank you for keeping our community safe!

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

———-

Photo Credits: Photos by Tom Topinka

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BONNIE AND CLAIRE

A Tender New Comedy by Bo Wilson

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover  Courthouse Rd, Hanover, VA 2309

Performances: May 13 – June 12, 2022

Ticket Prices: $48 (subject to change during the run)

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

Richmond-based playwright Bo Wilson’s new play, Bonnie and Claire, is not only humorous, but also a gentle treatment of aging and the often unexpected and unintentional toll it takes on those we love. Two extra years in the making – due to that pesky little pandemic – Bonnie and Claire made its debut on Virginia Repertory Theatre’s Hanover Tavern stage May 13. Well worth the wait, it landed exactly right and hit all the feels.

Bonnie (Melissa Johnston Price) and Claire (Jan Guarino) are two sisters who have been estranged for decades, but life’s circumstances and advancing age have brought them together in  Bonnie’s small town home. The reunion is rocky, but their niece, Zoe (Sydnee S. Graves) is there to ease the transition – and drive the two wherever they need to go. At the beginning of the play, Zoe is chauffeuring Bonnie who is hobbled by crutches after, we soon learn, a car accident. With each subsequent scene, Bonnie appears with a new injury – an arm sling, a neck brace. All are due to accidents in which she was driving – such as driving into a 7-11 – and none of them were her fault. According to her.

Wilson and his phenomenal cast have impressively balanced the element humor with the reality that comes with aging and the declining ability to do the things we love, the things that give us our freedom and independence. It is understandable that Bonnie is cranky and even appears somewhat ungrateful that she has to rely on her niece Zoe, and at first Zoe is caring, polite, and deferential. But as the accidents escalate over the nearly ten years this play encapsulates (from 1990 to 1999) the burden of being a care-giver to Bonnie and mediator between the two sisters, who have vastly different worldviews, begins to wear on Zoe, who is trying to start a new business and a new relationship.

ADVISORY: Skip the next paragraph if you plan to see the show and want to be surprised!

Claire, who has worked as an actress for decades, lived in the city and never learned to drive. Of the three, she initially seems flighty and superficial, and her character takes the longest to develop, but gradually we see the chasm close between the two sisters. Bonnie outwardly remains her crotchety old self, but underneath the gruffness even she has some soft edges and begins to smile and even laugh a bit as the years pass and the two sisters are drawn together by past memories and the reality of the present and future challenges. The greatest change is seen in Zoe, whose apprenticeship as a caregiver and relationship with her aunts helps her transition into adulthood. Zoe learns to draw boundaries, falls in love with her business partner (who happens to be another woman), and by the final scene they are ready to start a family. So here we are privy to another dichotomy, another delicate balance, between growth and decline, between dependence and independence.

The entire play takes place in a car – first in Zoe’s fluffy ride and later in Bonnie’s old Buick. Kudos to Jacob Mishler’s sound design – every time a door was closed, an ignition was started, or any other vehicle related sound was required, it happened – perfectly timed and at an appropriate volume. Every. Single. Time. (Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.) Dr. Jan Powell’s direction infused Bonnie and Claire with a satisfyingly rhythmic ebb and flow of humor and compassion. The ensemble – veteran Melissa Johnston Price with her wide range and droll humor; Jan Guarino, who directed VirginiaRep’s first show after the pandemic shutdown, Barefoot in the Park, and the wife of the playwright, Bo Wilson; and Sydnee S. Graves, who is making her Hanover Tavern debut – appeared to be a tight-knit unit even on opening night, so one can only expect their chemistry to increase throughout the run, which concludes June 12.

ADVISORY: Another possible spoiler!

After Zoe puts her foot down, takes away Bonnie’s car key, and pretty much orders her two elderly aunts to play nice and behave, the two giddily decide to go for a short ride. Bonnie had a spare key! Now, mind you, Bonnie’s license has been revoked and Claire hasn’t been behind the wheel of a car since she was about fifteen with a learner’s permit! Of course their planned outing to get ice cream ends with them getting lost and Zoe has to come rescue them.

Hijinks and shenanigans abound – and many of us can relate to the family dynamics – all of which makes Bonnie and Claire a marvelous theater experience that I highly recommend.


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


BONNIE AND CLAIRE

By Bo Wilson

Directed by Jan Powell

Cast

Bonnie ………………..       Melissa Johnston Price

Claire …………………         Jan Guarino

Zoe ……………………         Sydnee Graves

Design Team

Scenic Design  …….….         Terrie Powers

Costume Design ……..        Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design ………        Matt Landwehr

Sound and Projection Design … Jacob Mishler

Stage Management ……     Joe Pabst

Ticket Information

Box Office: 804-282-2620

or http://www.virginiarep.org

Tickets prices start from $48

Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets available.

Run Time

The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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LOVE/SICK

It’s 7:30 on a Friday Night in June in a Big Box Store Somewhere in Suburbia

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: May 21 – June 25, 2022

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

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

Lovesick – adjective. in love, or missing the person one loves, so much that one is unable to act normally.

It’s spring and love is in the air – only not in the way you might expect. For LOVE/SICK John Cariani (author of Almost Maine) has constructed nine discrete tales in which love falls somewhere on a spectrum of, well, mental illness. Each ten-minute play is set “at 7:30 PM on a Friday night in June, in an alternate suburban reality.” The backdrop for this suburban reality is The Super Store – a generic mock-up of a big box store, in which some of the silhouettes on the shelves remind me of miniature tombstones.

The nine couples are portrayed by four actors who zanily and adeptly transform from character to character between scenes: costumes, hair, voices, mannerisms, posture. Before the pandemic, it was fairly unusual to see a show in which actors played multiple roles, but that seems to have become a necessary skill in the new normal we are all adapting to. Described as Almost Maine’s “darker cousin,” each Love/Sick  story line has an unexpected twist.

Among my favorites: “The Singing Telegram” man (Matt Hackman) hesitates to deliver his message because the sender is using the singing telegram to break up with his girlfriend (Katherine Wright). This is probably the saddest of the collection, while “Uh-Oh” is probably the sickest and displays the most twisted humor. In “Uh-Oh” a bored wife (also Wright) seeks to bring some excitement into her one and a half year old marriage – by fabricating a story about a research article and then assaulting her unsuspecting husband with a very real looking squirt gun.

“The Answer” starts off with a groom (Hackman) hiding in a bathroom, crying and ends on a somber note, while “Lunch and Dinner” is filled with Freudian slips of the tongue. When lawyer husband Mark (Freebourn) asks his corporate wife (Reisenfeld) what she had to eat at her business luncheon, she inadvertently responds, “sex.” And so it goes, until we come full circle ending up back at The Super Center where two exes (Hackman and Wright) are reunited and the original “Obsessive Impulsive” couple (Reisenfeld and Freebourne) bump carts again. Occasionally a profound thought punctuates the hilarity, as when Jake (Hackman) wonders why, “when you meet and fall in love and it doesn’t work out, how come we don’t call THAT destiny?”

Two monitors on either side of the stage announce the titles of the scenes while the scenery and the actors change, and Width keeps the pace and the laughs moving along with the smooth regularity of a train schedule. Of course, what makes it work, what makes it funny, is that we can recognize bits and pieces of ourselves – or our partners – in many of these characters. Have you or someone you know thought about killing their spouse – even jokingly – or considered getting back together with an ex? Still, ninety minutes without an intermission is hard on some of us with mature bones and joints that need to move periodically. Oh, and one more thing – the transition music between scenes was (perhaps intentionally?) unnecessarily irritating, but not enough so to interfere with my enjoyment of this hilarious show.

LOVE/SICK

By John Cariani

Directed by Tom Width

Cast:

PJ Freebourn

Matt Hackman

Paige Reisenfeld

Katherine Wright

​​

Production Team:

Directed by Tom Width

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Scenic Design by  Tom Width

Technical Direction by Liz Allmon

Incidental Music by Julian Fleisher

“No Lie” composed by John Cariani

Performance Schedule:

Fridays @ 8:00PM: May 27, June 3, June 10, June 17, June 24

Saturdays @ 2:30PM: June 11, June 25

Saturdays @ 8:00PM: May 21, May 28, June 4, June 11, June 18, June 25

Sundays @ 2:30 PM: June 5, June 19

Wednesdays @ 2:30 PM: June 8, June 15

Thursdays @ 8:00PM: June 16, June 23

Tickets:

$44-49

Run Time:  Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission

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GREATER TUNA

The Third Smallest (Fictional) Town in Texas Makes Us Laugh for All the Wrong Reasons

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

Performances: March 19 – April 30, 2022

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

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

There are so many ways I could write about GREATER TUNA. So, I’ll just start and see where this goes.

The first in a series of four satirical plays about the fictional town of Tuna, TX, GREATER TUNA requires two actors to portray twenty citizens of this conservative Texas community. John Hagadorn and Bartley Mullin are so good at quickly transforming from one character to another that it’s almost possible to overlook the content they are sharing that is making us laugh out loud. Hagadorn thoroughly encapsulates the town’s KKK leader Elmer Watkins, with his baseball cap pulled low over his eyes and so convincingly inhabits the characters of town matriarchs Bertha Bumiller and Pearl Burrus that we almost forget he is a male actor portraying these stereotypical southern women. Hagadorn is familiar with the inhabitants of Greater Tuna, having appeared in SCM’s production of A Tuna Christmas (2016-2017 season). This is the Mill’s first production of Greater Tuna, the original play, since 1985, and director Mark Costello returned to steer this wild ride and keep it on track.

Then there’s Bartley Mullin. His interpretation of the chain-smoking used weapons shop owner, Didi Snavely (“if we can’t kill it, it’s immortal) and the whiny and angst-filled teenager Charlene Bumiller are all that and more. His endearing but jumpy Petey Fisk, who works for the Greater Tuna Humane Society (who knew there were enough people in this town to support such an organization!) and the pretentious Vera Carp (Vice President of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order) are wonderfully over the top. Hagadorn, his face hidden behind a newspaper, provides the voice of an annoying puppy Petey is trying to find a home for. It is all but impossible not to laugh and that reminds me of what Swift Creek Mill artistic director Tom Width said of A Tuna Christmas, that he produced and directed in November 2016, “It’s so wrong in the best kinds of ways.”

Right off the bat, we are introduced to Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, the anchors of the town’s radio station, OKKK. The station’s call letters are repeated frequently, and yes, the “KKK” stands for just what you think it does. One of the first bits of news is the announcement of the winners of the town’s essay contest. First place goes to an essay entitled, “Human Rights, Why Bother,” while the second and third place winners are “Living With Radiation,” and “The Other Side of  Bigotry.”

Of course there is a group tasked with banning books, to protect the town’s children from undesirable and divisive literature such as Roots, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (a book that even students in my NYC high school protested against until the teacher caved in and removed it from the syllabus), Huckleberry Finn  (because it showed a child cavorting with a criminal, no mention of “Nigger” Jim), and even Romeo and Juliet (because it portrays young people disobeying their parents). Then there are The Smut Snatchers of the New Order, whose focus is cleaning up the dictionary. Just send them a word you want removed. . .

When a visiting reporter brings up the concept of intellect, Bertha Bumiller, the woman he is interviewing, responds with a deadpan, “I don’t believe we have that here in Tuna.” Act One ends with Pearl Burrus and Stanley Bumiller running over a dog to cover up the fact she poisoned it! In another of Greater Tuna’s few somber moments Stanley, at one point, reveals a dark secret surrounding the sudden death of the town’s judge.

The dilemma, of course, is that Greater Tuna is so authentically hilarious and Hagadorn and Mullin are so darned good that we find ourselves laughing at uncomfortably racist statements and stereotypical images of people that, frankly, most of us have encountered in real life – and some call family. So, how does one approach Greater Tuna? Do you just ignore the racism and bigotry and laugh at the humor? Do you acknowledge the political incorrectness and call it out? And if so, to what purpose? It is, after all, a satire – and it is intended to expose and comment on our stupidity and foibles. But. . .does that make it right, or relevant? I do not have answers to any of these questions. I just know that at least one attendee left at intermission and those who stayed for the final bows seemed happy and satisfied. And yes, I laughed. Without apology.

GREATER TUNA

By Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard

Cast:

John Hagadorn plays                                      Bartley Mullin plays

Thurston Wheelis                                            Arles Struvie

Elmer Watkins                                                 Didi Snavely

Bertha Bumiller                                              Harold Dean Lattimer

Yippy                                                               Petey Fisk

Leonard Childers                                             Jody Bumiller

Pearl Burrus                                                    Stanley Bumiller

R. R. Snavely                                                    Charlene Bumiller

Reverend Spikes                                              Chad Hartford

Sheriff Givens                                                  Phinas Blye

Hank Bumiller                                                 Vera Carp

Direction and Design Team:

Directed by Mark Costello

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Scenic Design by Tom Width

Scenic Art by Liz Allmon

Original Music by Matthew Costello

Run Time:

2 hours, 1 fifteen-minute intermission

Tickets:

$49

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

Photos: from the SCM Facebook page

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HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE

How to Safely Tell an Uncomfortable Story

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced by: The Conciliation Lab

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

Performances: March 11-26, 2022

Ticket Prices: $35 General Admission; $25 Senior/Industry (RVATA); $15 Student/Teacher (with valid ID)

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

NOTE: The Basement is a fully vaccinated venue. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours of the performance must be shown at the box office and masks must be worn while at the theater.

The title of Paula Vogel’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, How I Learned to Drive, is a metaphor for a story so complex that it defies stereotypes. Vogel presents people not as good or bad, victim or victimizer, but as multi-layered and flawed humans. The play is more layered – and even stickier – than a baklava (Greek pastry), and Vogel chose to tell the story in non-chronological order, making it seem even more realistic as the scenes bombard the audience in much the same way as our own memories might arise from the murky depths of an unsuccessfully buried past.

The primary characters in this fractured and dysfunctional family tale are Li’l Bit and Uncle Peck, her maternal aunt’s husband. It says a lot about the nature of this family unit that nicknames are derived from genitalia. The grandfather is Big Papa. Her little cousin is BB for Blue Balls, and her mother is referred to as the Titless Wonder. Li’l Bit, who is never identified by her real name, presented with petite genitalia at birth, and the name stuck, although from her teen years onward she is mercilessly bullied and teased by family and classmates alike for her ample bosom. Uncle Peck is an uncle by marriage, so I don’t think his name is part of this twisted roll call – but he makes up for it in other ways.

Both Li’l Bit and Uncle Peck are given stellar performances by Juliana Caycedo and Jeffrey Cole, respectively. These are the kinds of roles that make people look at you sideways when they encounter you in the produce section of the local supermarket. The rest of the cast – family members, classmates – is played by three actors: Bianca Bryan as the Female Greek Chorus, Mahlon Raoufi as the Male Greek Chorus, and Maggie Bavolack as the Teenage Greek Chorus.

The story, narrated mostly by Li’l Bit with the help of the Greek Choruses, is a surrealistically humorous recounting of sexual abuse and survival cloaked in the guise of driving lessons. It is not surprising that Uncle Peck is an alcoholic; he is not the only one either. Li’l Bit also recounts the all too familiar pattern of women in the family who not only turn a blind eye to the abuse, but also blame the child for being seductive. Aunt Mary, Uncle Peck’s wife, blames Li’l Bit for her husband’s pedophilia (and incest?), waiting for Li’l Bit to go away to college so she can rekindle her marriage. Li’l Bit’s own mother reluctantly allows her daughter to go on a long drive to the beach with Uncle Peck, warning her that she will hold Li’l Bit – a child – responsible if anything happens. There are so many outrageous scenes like this, many of which may trigger memories in audience members as well as cast and staff, that it seems each performance should be followed by a talk-back with a therapist on hand.

How I Learned to Drive is so well performed and so well directed by Chelsea Burke that is should be required viewing. Caycedo is vulnerable and resilient. It is undoubtedly exhausting to play the role of Li’l Bit – especially knowing that there are thousands of Li’l Bits out there still fighting to survive. Cole presents as a really creepy guy, even as the role sometimes calls for him to present as a caring adult. He comforts Li’l Bit when she flees a family dinner, broken by the teasing about her large breasts and the family’s refusal to acknowledge her dreams of going to college. Who needs a college degree to lay on their back? That’s Big Papa’s perspective. Uncle Peck celebrates with her when she passes her driving test on the first try; but he also inappropriately plies her with martinis and oysters. What the hell is the matter with this man? The conflict is brought to the forefront when, at one point, Li’l Bit wisely wonders if someone had groomed or molested him when he was a child.

We applaud Li’l Bit’s survival and her ability to leave Uncle Peck behind, a diminishing image in her rear view mirror. At the same time, we weep for those who are still learning how to drive.

When I attended the Sunday matinee was followed by a talk back with members of the current cast and crew and members of the cast and crew of the 1998 performance, including cast members Gordon Bass and J.B. Steinberg and lighting designer Steve Koehler. The sharing was accompanied by memories and a few tears. Both were needed.

At the time of publication, there are only two more opportunities to see this run of How I Learned to Drive. If you can find a way to get there, run!

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE
by Paula Vogel

Directed by Chelsea Burke

THE CAST
Lil Bit…………………………………Juliana Caycedo
Peck……………………………………..……Jeffrey Cole
Female Greek Chorus…………….Bianca Bryan
Male Greek Chorus…………..…Mahlon Raoufi
Teenage Greek Chorus……..Maggie Bavolack

THE TEAM
Direction: Chelsea Burke
Scenic Design: Alyssa Sutherland
Projections Design: Dasia Gregg
Lighting Design: Deryn Gabor
Costume Design: Maggie McGrann
Sound Design: Candace Hudert
Properties Design: Kathy Kreutzer
Set Construction: Chris Foote
Scenic Painters: Faith Carlson, Alyssa Sutherland
Assistant Stage Management: Leica Long
Associate Direction: Nadia Harika
Dramaturgy & Intimacy Direction: Stephanie “Tippi” Hart
Production Stage Management: Crimson Piazza

THE SCHEDULE
Friday, March 11 at 8pm – Preview
Saturday, March 12 at 8pm – Opening Night
Thursday, March 17 at 8pm – Student Night
Friday, March 18 at 8pm
Saturday, March 19 at 8pm
Sunday, March 20 at 3pm – Matinee
Tuesday, March 22 at 8pm – Community Partner Night
Friday, March 25 at 8pm
Saturday, March 26 at 8pm – Closing Night

Photos by Tom Topinka

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STONEWALLIN’

STONEWALLIN’

A Coming Out Story with Stonewall Jackson, Witch’s Spells, and a Bobolink

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 9-March 5, 2022.

Ticket Prices: $30-35; $10 for Students.

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

The best comedy is relatable comedy. It often takes something from life – and it can be something bad – and pokes fun at it. By this standard, Kari Barclay’s new play – winner of Richmond Triangle Player’s So.Queer Playwriting Festival – is outrageously funny. It’s outrageous, period. The humor is a bonus.

STONEWALLIN’ features a “missing” statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (explaining the rabbit ears around “missing” would be a great big spoiler), a budding bi-sexual romance between a queer woman and a queer man, a friendship between a young Black man and an older white grandmother who spend some of their free time as Civil War re-enactors and some of their time together drinking whiskey and gossiping, and let’s not leave out a spell cast by a self-taught witch that has major unintended consequences. Surprisingly, it all fits together like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

STONEWALLIN’ is set in the author’s hometown of Lexington, VA, home of Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. Other points of interest include the gravesites of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as well as the residence of Jackson, a Confederate general. More recent notoriety include the Red Hen Incident; in 2014 then White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckaby Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen Restaurant because of her role in the Trump Administration. All of this – and more — finds a home in STONEWALLIN’.

What also makes its way into STONEWALLIN’ is a stellar cast, consisting of Levi Meerovich as Tommy Jackson (a direct descendant of Stonewall Jackson), Nora Ogunleye as Marsha Lyons (a transplant from Berkeley, CA who is staying temporarily with her brother while reconnecting with her family roots), Jacqueline Jones as Mamaw Jackson (grandmother of Tommy and a staunch proponent of “heritage, not hate”), Trevor Lawson as Elijah Lyons (brother of Marsha and apparently the proprietor of an unnamed small business), and Chandler Hubbard as General Stonewall Jackson.

While Meerovich and Ogunleye rightfully take the leading roles as the unlikely young couple and share a relationship that is at once endearingly awkward and reluctantly intimate, it is Jacqueline Jones who steals my heart – and the show – as the sassy and sometimes deliberately daft Mamaw. She’s a rebel with or without a cause, just for the hell of it. She argues with her friend Elijah as they return from one of their Civil War re-enactment engagements, yet promises to rally her (Confederate) Flagger friends to support his housing project. She cannot fathom the emerging gender identity of her grandson – grandchild — Tommy, whose preferred attire is some variation of a black dress and earrings, and finds it more acceptable that he would have a relationship with a Black woman than that he could be gay. What a perfect example of the dilemmas posed by the state of affairs in which we currently exist.

Want further proof of how close to home this show hits? Barclay’s world premiere opened the same month that the bases of confederate statues right here in Richmond were being removed. (For those readers not familiar with what’s going on here in Richmond, the recently removed Confederate statues from Monument Avenue and other areas of the city are slated to be given to the local Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.) As for Elijah, he walks a delicate line between liberal political activist and moderate citizen of a small southern town. Lawson emanates the right demeanor – a balance of impassioned persuasion and moderate reason – to carry this off with authenticity. [Lawson recently appeared in VaRep’s Barefoot in the Park, December 2021https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/12/18/barefoot-in-the-park/and Pipeline,October 2021 https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/10/16/pipeline/]

Chandler Hubbard eases all too comfortably into the role of a southern gentleman who all too easily says things that would have been perfectly acceptable in his day but are seen as searingly offensive and racist in 2022. STONEWALLIN’ is a whole hoot and a holler of a show. Barclay has found the key to talking about difficult subjects, not only making them palatable, but mining] the humanity and liberally seasoning them with humor.

Raja Benz, who also directed Pink Unicorn at RTP [July- August 2021 https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/07/31/the-pink-unicorn/], directed this new work with insight and a big pinch of irreverence. Credit Frank Foster with the scenic design – a Stonewall Jackson pedestal that can be disassembled to create whatever minimal set pieces might be needed for any given scene – and Michael Jarett with the lighting design. Kudos to Candace Hudert for an appropriate and interesting sound design. All the elements – including rearranging the audience seating so that some were actually seated onstage – worked together to create an energized, intimate, and welcoming atmosphere. The ending is left somewhat inconclusive, leaving open the possibility for more to come.

STONEWALLIN’ runs through March 5, so there’s still time to go and find out about that “missing” statue.


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


STONEWALLIN’ – A World Premiere

Written by Kari Barclay, winner of RTP’s Inaugural So.Queer Playwriting Festival

Directed by Raja Benz

CAST:

Tommy Jackson………………………  Levi Meerovich

Marsha Lyons ………………………..   Nora Ogunleye

Mamaw Jackson …………………….  Jacqueline Jones

Elijah Lyons ……………………….….  Trevor Lawson

Stonewall Jackson ………………….. Chandler Hubbard

CREATIVE TEAM:

Scenic Design by Frank Foster

Costume Design by Claire Bronchick

Lighting Design by Michael Jarett

Sound Design by Candace Hudert

Hair and Make Up Design by Carolan Corcoran

Properties Design by Tim Moehring

Dramaturg Katharine Given

Intimacy Choreographer Kirsten Baity

Dialect Coach Louise Casini Hollis

Assistant Director Kendall Walker

Assistant Intimacy Choreographer Kevin Kemler

Technical Director Rebecka Russo

Assistant Stage Manager Dwight Merritt

Production State Manager Kasey Britt

Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

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A HOTEL ON MARVIN GARDENS

A HOTEL ON MARVIN GARDENS

“All I want is to run everything and always be right.” – K.C.

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

CAT – Chamberlayne Actor’s Theatre

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

Performances: February 4 – 12 2022

Ticket Prices: $24.00 General Admission. $20.00 Seniors

Info: http://www.cattheatre.com

Watching four other people play a game of monopoly could be about as exciting paint dry, After all, it is a long and sometimes slow-moving game, and not exactly the sort of thing that draws spectators. Yet this is exactly what playwright Nagle Jackson expects us to do.

Under the smart direction of Amber dePass, and with an amiable cast led by Crystal Oakley, A HOTEL ON MARVIN GARDENS is both an amusing evening of live theater and an opportunity to use a board game that celebrates capitalism as a metaphor for the use and mis-use of corporate power.

Set on a private island whose owner and sole resident, K.C. has named her magazine ME, A HOTEL ON MARVIN GARDENS ironically takes place on April Fool’s Day. It is a long-standing tradition for K.C. to host an annual gathering on April 1st, the centerpiece of which is a game of Monopoly that comes with a boatload of unwritten rules. K.C. always gets the top hat. K.C. always gets Marvin Gardens, the most expensive property on the board. And K.C. always wins.

On this occasion, K.C. (Oakley) is joined by her publisher and weekend lover Bo (Aaron Willoughby), her Managing Editor Henry (Joshua Mullins) whom she plans to fire after the party, and his plus one, Erna (Kyle Billeter) who is the magazine’s food editor. At the end of Act One, just as we’re beginning to think this is going to be a long and uneventful day, the author shakes things up by tossing in a surprise visitor. Rose (Liv Meredith) found herself stranded after turning down the advances of her date; angered, he gets in his little boat and leaves her stranded on the island in the middle of a storm. Rose surprises many in the audience when she reveals she is a teacher. Her language and demeanor could have belonged to a high school or college student, but Henry soon takes note of her.

Willoughby’s Bo is a low-key and suitable foil for Oakley’s over-bearing and narcissistic K.C.

I’m not sure what to think of Henry. At times he stands up for himself with confidence, at times he gives in to pretentious free-spirited outbursts, and then there are those other, uncharacterizable moments. I personally was outraged when, during a scheduled bread in K.C.’s precise schedule for game day, Henry went outside and urinated on the rocks – only to come back inside, pick up his drink, and return to the bar without washing his hands!

Billeter’s portrayal of the quirky food critic Erna is undoubtedly the most lovable character. And of course, she raises K.C.’s hackles. No one appears to notice when, on at least two separate occasions, Erna drops her indeterminate European accent when reminiscing about the joys of tuna melts and tuna casseroles, and even lets it slip that her mother was the Queen of Velveeta. Hmm.

A HOTEL ON MARVIN GARDENS seemed to be just what the welcoming audience needed. It was also a minor triumph for CATTheatre, which became a nomadic troupe in the  midst of a pandemic. Their first show after emerging from behind masks was performed at Atlee High School. This one found a home at Dogtown Dance Theatre in Manchester, and the next performance will head west to HatTheatre. Undaunted, the show must go on! A HOTEL ON MARVIN GARDENS has one more weekend of performances, February 11 & 12, at Dogtown Dance Theatre. Just remember, K.C. always gets the top hat and K.C. always wins – even if it means she’s left all alone. Oh, and enter K.C.’s kitchen at your own peril. And you should probably avoid the Pump House…

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

A HOTEL ON MARVIN GARDENS

Written by Nagle Jackson

Directed by Amber dePass

Cast

K.C.                Crystal Oakley

Bo                   Aaron Willoughby

Henry              Joshua Mullins

Erna                 Kyle Billeter

Rose                Liv Meredith

Design Team

Stage Manager            Nancy McMahon

Assistant Stage Manager, Costume Design, Set Dresser        Jenn Fisher

Lighting Design          Kaylin Corbin

Set Design                   Andrew Way

Ticket Information

www.cattheatre.com

Ticket prices range from $24.00 General Admission. $20.00 Seniors.

Run Time

The play runs about 1 hour 50 minutes including 1 intermission

Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios

———-

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A DOLL’S HOUSE, Part 2

Nora Returns 15 Years After Slamming That Door

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 4 – 27, 2022

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

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

If Nora and Torvald were on social media, there is no doubt their relationship status would be, “It’s Complicated.” When Nora walked out of the home she shared with her husband Torvald at the end of Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House (1879) it was described as “the slam heard ‘round the world.” Nora’s decision to leave her husband and children was so scandalous Ibsen was forced to write an alternate ending. For 138 years people were left to ponder what happened to Nora.

In 2017 American playwright Lucas Hnath provided us with some of the answers. A Doll’s House,  Part 2 begins with a knock on the door – the same door Nora slammed in 1879. Opening the door to self-exploration was also an open invitation for scandalous speculation and unstoppable feminist progress. Hnath has Nora return after a fifteen year absence to settle some unfinished business.

It is both fascinating and satisfying to see Katrinah Carol Lewis, who played Nora in a 2018 production at what was then TheatreLab, The Basement. In December 2018 I described Lewis’ performance as Nora as one of her most highly charged among many challenging roles. “With her naturally large eyes accented by makeup, and in the intimate space of The Basement, it was easy to see every nail biting emotion, to hear every breath, to practically feel her trembling.” [Follow this link to read my entire review of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: https://jdldancesrva.com/2018/12/08/a-dolls-house-well-shut-the-door/.]

Nora in 1894 is no trembling bride. Her first knock at the door is confident; the second is commanding. She wears the finest clothes, and sits  with her legs spread apart and leaning forward, forearms resting on her thighs, in her straight-backed chair. In many ways, both financial and experiential, this older and wiser Nora has achieved success. But as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that in more ways than she would like, the new Nora has retained much of the old Nora.

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is not a prerequisite for Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2. There are plenty of references to Ibsen’s work to fill in the essential background, but if you are familiar with the original, and even better, if you have seen Lewis in the original, it is a much more fulfilling journey.

Lewis and David Bridgewater, who plays Torvald in this new production, circle around each other like wary cats, avoiding physical contact – or even eye contact – until their climactic scene in the final third of the play. Then their explosive interaction reveals to the audience that what Nora has endured in search of the elusive “true marriage,” a marriage of equals, was right under her nose the entire time. In one fleeting moment, the estranged couple drop their masks, we glimpse the manifestation of what she always wanted, and before we can fully absorb it, before we can get all sentimental about it, it is gone – and so is she. Again. While A Doll’s House, Part 2 answers many questions raised in the original, it leaves us with just as many, if not more, than we had before.

Everything in A Doll’s House, Part 2 has been pared down. The set consists of two elegantly painted or papered walls, a gigantic door, two formal straight-backed chairs, and a small table holding a vase of flowers. The little details that make the space a home have been omitted – or, as Anne Marie says, anything that belonged to Nora was thrown away when she left. The cast has been pared down to just two leading actors (Lewis and Bridgewater) and two supporting actors: Catherine Shaffner as the beleaguered nanny turned housekeeper, Anne Marie and Katy Feldhahn as the Helmer’s youngest child, Emmy. The play itself has been paired down, from Ibsen’s three acts and two intermissions to a 90-minute production performed without intermission.

What has not been pared down is the family dysfunction. Emmy, who has spent the better part of her life without a mother is so much like Nora it’s shocking. As a child, Emmy asked her two older brothers to tell her what they remembered about their missing parent. It may be a genetic or spiritual connection but neither of them seems to be aware of it – or, perhaps, it is just their habit to deny the obvious. Shaffner, in the role of Anne Marie who raised young Nora as well as her children, provides important connecting links between the past and the present, as well as a few welcome comedic outbursts of foul language.

Sharon Ott’s direction retains the main characters’ affectations and packs a lot of emotions and family drama into a much shorter production time. Although there did seem to be a bit of a lull bnear the end of the first half, Emmy’s appearance turned up the heat – and her Option 3 turned the tables on Nora.

Nora and Torvald are not likeable people, but they are familiar. We know people with some of their least likable characteristics. They are members of our own families and sometimes they are us. A Doll’s House, both the original and Part 2, was not intended to give the viewer a satisfying or happy ending. Both make us question gender, marriage, institutions, laws, and systems. They force us to look at the familiar from new perspectives and encourage us to question why we accept things the way they are – and consider what might happen if we walk out the door, or even knock it off its hinges.

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

A Doll’s House, Part 2

By Lucas Hnath

Cast

Nora                                                                Katrinah Carol Lewis

Torvald                                                            David Bridgewater

Anne Marie                                                     Catherine Shaffner

Emmy                                                              Katy Feldhahn

Nora Understudy                                          Donna Marie Miller

Torvald Understudy                                    David Watson

Anne Marie Understudy                            Lisa Kotula

Emmy Understudy                                       Sharaia Hughes

Direction & Design

Direction Sharon Ott

Assistant Director                                        Cam Nickel

Scenic Design                                                 Katherine Field

Costume Design                                            Sue Griffin, Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design                                             BJ Wilkinson

Sound Design                                                  Jacob Mishler 

Stage Management                                      Shawanna Hall

Ticket Information

Box Office: 804-282-2620

www.virginiarep.org

Ticket prices range from $36 – $56/

Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets are available.

Run Time

The play runs about one hour and 35 minutes with no intermission

Here’s a little video teaser:

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten [production photos were not yet available at the time of publication] NOTE: Photos updated February 8, 2022.

———-

Virginia Rep COVID Guidelines

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

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

Please see the Virginia Rep Covid Safety FAQ for details.

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

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

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MURDER FOR TWO

Murder for Two Slays as a Two-for-One: Half Murder Mystery, Half Comedy

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

Performances: January 29 – February 26, 2022

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

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

The two actors who play ALL the characters in MURDER FOR TWO come onstage wearing birthday party hats, and immediately begin a series of zany and wordless shenanigans. Their wacky introduction requires them to dress the stage with pedestals, vases filled with flowers, magician’s trick bouquets, and comic sound effects. The stage itself, designed by Tom Width, features stall Greek columns, crazily angled doors, and portraits over the fireplace that have as many as seven sides and angles. A baby grand dominates the center of the stage and could very well be given credit as a third character. As the play progresses it becomes clear that this musical comedy murder mystery, written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair is, as Director Tom Width describes it in his program notes, “quirky in the best possible ways.”

Mark Schenfisch plays Marcus Moscowicz, an ambitious police officer with all-consuming dreams of becoming a detective. Marcus initially appears as to be insufferably arrogant and narcissistic, but Schenfisch gradually digs down and mines the underlying integrity that drives his character.

Most remarkable, however, is Emily Berg-Poff Dandridge who plays ALL the other characters – with one notable exception I will not reveal here because I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who have not yet seen MURDER FOR TWO. The mystery revolves around who killed the prolific author Arthur Whitney who was unceremoniously murdered as he arrived for his own surprise birthday party as the remote mansion where he lives – or lived – with his wife. It is worth noting that Whitney was not well liked. All who gathered to celebrate his birthday had appeared as a character in one of his books, making them all plausible suspects.

Dandridge play the roles of the newly widowed Dahlia Whitney, the Whitney’s feisty and constantly bickering neighbors, Murray and Barb Flandon, Whitney’s talkative and over-achieving niece Stef, a well-known ballerina names Barrett Lewis who has a vaguely Russian accent that does not match her name, Dr. Griff – a local psychiatrist who conveniently ignores the ethics of doctor-patient confidentiality – and, last but not least, Timmy, Yonkers, and Skid, the only remaining members of a twelve-member boys’ choir who were invited to provide entertainment for the birthday party.

As required by the script, Dandridge swiftly transitions between these nine characters using a pair of large round eyeglasses and a red baseball cap as the only notable props. The majority of the characterizations are accomplished through shifting the actor’s center of gravity, changing the posture, and adjusting the voice, accent, and phrasing – often in mid-sentence. The result is that Dandridge often interrupts herself and does it so well we almost forget that there is a single actor creating multiple characters. Thank you, Emily Dandridge, for an outstanding performance.

As far as mysteries go, the authors have written in enough details, anecdotes, and red herrings to keep things interesting. The biggest of these is Dahlia Whitney’s increasingly colorful, complex, and loud musical confessions.

And then there’s the piano. MURDER FOR TWO is a musical, but not the breaking-into-song or catchy-show-tunes type of musical. Instead of the usual offstage band, both actors play the piano, using it like anther character’s voice or as a substitute for their own. Sometimes they do sing, but most often the piano seems to be another voice rather than an instrument to accompany the human voices.  Speaking of voices there is one character who is NOT voiced by Dandridge who is represented by a sound effect reminiscent of the muted trombone voice of the invisible adults on Peanuts animated shows.

MURDER FOR TWO is filled with a steady stream of surprises. The director makes sure the pace rarely lags. This show might even trigger sensory overload for some viewers. The story is complex enough to hold the audience’s attention for ninety minutes with no intermission and the lighting is as wacky as the plot. I especially liked the effect of the arriving automobiles, and there are plenty of other special effects that surprise, stun, and amaze. The physical set screams comedy, and the writers and actors have successfully met the challenge of this hybrid genre of theatre without detriment to either the comedy or the mystery elements. The rapid transitions and complexity sometimes make it a challenge for the audience as well, and there are occasional asides or moments when the audience is directly addressed – giving us a moment to catch up. MURDER FOR TWO is “extra” and that’s one of the best things about it.

MURDER FOR TWO

Book and Music by Joe Kinosian

Book and lyrics by Kellen Blair

Cast:

Mark Schenfisch as Marcus Moscowicz

Emily Berg-Poff Dandridge as The Suspects

Direction and Design Team:

Directed by Tom Width

Musical Direction by Mark Schenfisch

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Scenic Design by Tom Width

Technical Direction by Liz Allmon

Run Time:

90 minutes, no intermission

Tickets:

$49

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

Photos: Robyn O’Neill

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Click Here to Support RVArt Review with
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Click Here to Support RVArt Review with
a one-time or monthly donation
Click Here to Support RVArt Review with
a one-time or monthly donation