BAREFOOT IN THE PARK

A Romantic Comedy

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

Washington Square Park!

Paul: It was 17 degrees!

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented By: Virginia Rep

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

Performances: December 11, 2021 – January 9, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**********

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

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

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

**********

Barefoot in the Park

by Neil Simon

Directed by Jan Guarino

Cast

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

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

Ethel Banks …………….….… Joy Williams

Victor Velasco ………………. Joe Pabst

Telephone Repairman …. Quan Chau

Delivery Man ………….…….. Eric Williams

Ethel Banks understudy .. Terrie Powers

Creative Team

Scenic Design: Terrie Powers

Costume Design: Sue Griffin & Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design: Matt Landwehr

Sound Design: Jacob Mishler

Stage Management: Sam Shahinian

Run Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes including 2 intermissions

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

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

———-

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: The Illuminated Stage Theatre Company

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

Performances: November 19 – December 5, 2021

Ticket Prices: $35. $20 for students.

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

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

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

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

Week One – The Swing

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

Week Two – The Tango

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

Week Three – The Viennese Waltz

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

Week Four – The Foxtrot

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

Week Five – The Cha-Cha

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

Week Six – Contemporary Dance

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

Week Ten – Bonus Lesson

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

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

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

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

SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS

Written by Richard Alfieri

Cast:

Kelly Kennedy as Lily Harrison

Travis West as Michael Minetti

Creative Team:

Directed by Julie Fulcher-Davis

Stage Manager: Leanna Hicks

Lighting Designer: Andrew Bonniwell

Set Designer: Vinnie Gonzalez

Costume Designer: Elizabeth Weiss Hopper

Light Board Operator: Leanna Hicks

Sound Board Operator: Matt Nixon

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

Technical Advisor: Jon Shelley

Photographer: Dave Jones

Run Time:

About 90 minutes, with one intermission

Performance schedule:

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

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

Tickets:

$35

$20 for students

Photos:

Dave Jones

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WINTER WONDERETTES

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

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

Performances: November 20, 2021 – January 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINTER WONDERETTES

Written and Created by Roger Bean

Word Arrangements by Roger Bean & Brian Baker

Musical Arrangements by Brian Baker

Cast:

Georgi Hicks as Missy

Anne-Michelle Forbes as Suzy

Alanna Wilson as Betty Jean

Rachel Marrs as Cindy Lou

Direction and Design Team:

Directed by Tom Width

Musical Direction by Paul Deiss

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Scenic Design by Tom Width

“Suzy Snowflake” choreography by Alissa Pagnotti

Technical Direction by Liz Allmon

Orchestra:

Keyboard: Paul Deiss

Drums: James Oyan

Reeds: Sheri Oyan

Bass: Greg DeBruyn

Guitar: Sam Kindle

Run Time:

100 minutes, one intermission

Performance schedule:

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

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

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

Tickets:

$49

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

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

Photos: Robyn O’Neill

LEFT: Anne Michelle Forbes and Georgi Hicks

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

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EVERY BRILLIANT THING

#7 People Falling Over

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: The Illuminated Stage Theatre Company

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

Performances: September 17 – October 3, 2021

Ticket Prices: $40. $25 for students.

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

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

The spanking new Perkinson Center for the Arts and Education (opened November 2020) hosted the first performance by its new resident theater troupe, the Illuminated State Theatre Company (Artistic Director Julie Fulcher-Davis) and it was everything you could have hoped for.

September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and EVERY BRILLIANT THING is a special show, quite unlike any other you are likely to encounter. Written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, the one-actor play walks us gently through one person’s journey through the pain of her mother’s depression and suicide. Tender, warm, and at times surprisingly humorous, EVERY BRILLIANT THING is a rich and relevant theatrical experience. Written initially as a short story authored by Macmillan, it grew into a monologue, and finally, with the collaboration of Donahoe, grew into a full-fledged play that premiered in 2014, with successful runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in London, and in New York.

#1. Ice cream

#10. Kind old people who aren’t weird and don’t smell bad

At a loss as to what to do on finding that her mother has been hospitalized because she can’t think of a reason to live, the young 7-year-old daughter stands outside her father’s study, waiting to see what record he plays. If it sounds like the notes are falling downstairs, she knows to stay away. When she hears the jangling, discordant sounds on the other side of the door, she heads downstairs to fend for herself. What results is the beginning of a list of things worth living for. By the time her mother comes home from the hospital, the list has grown to eight pages. She continues to add to it through high school, college, and into adulthood.

#23. Batman

#24. Spaghetti with meatballs

Louise Keeton, who stars as the otherwise unnamed Narrator, quickly established a rapport with the audience at Sunday’s matinee. The script calls for audience participation, and Keeton flows seamlessly from narrating the play to performing the role of the daughter, calling on various audience members to join her onstage for coached or spontaneous roles as the family Veterinarian, her Dad, a university Lecturer, her college boyfriend (and later husband) Sam, and her elementary school guidance counselor Mrs. Patterson. Keeton is so engaging that no one refused her offer to join her onstage. Some were given lines, others were required to improvise, and it all came together to create theater magic.

#319. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose

#521. The word “phlegm”

For this uniquely interactive and immersive production, each audience member was offered the opportunity, on entering the building, to write a few words on a Post-It note and share it on a white board. We also received a pair of numbered strips, each containing an item from the list. Mine were #7. People falling over, and #996. Really good oranges.

#823. Skinny dipping

#993. Having dessert as a main course

Keeton inhabits this role like a well-worn sweater. Whether narrating the story of having her childhood pet euthanized, or reading the Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide [https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/media-guidelines/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide/] she is fully present, and we are right there with her. What a wonderful vehicle for Keeton; I’ve never seen her stronger: sweet, sentimental, vulnerable, insightful, warm, reflective, caring. Each emotion is treated with integrity.

#999. Sunlight

#2000. Coffee

Remarkably, Keeton and director Julie Fulcher-Davis have struck a balance that invites humor to naturally inhabit the scenes. This ebb and flow prevents EVERY BRILLIANT THING from becoming, well, depressing and morbid. Driving in the car with her dad, on the way to the hospital to visit her mother, the little girl keeps asking “why.” The audience member selected to participate in this scene as the Dad delivered his lines with just the right cadence and inflection. In another car scene, we are reminded that “In order to live in the present we have to be able to imagine a future that is better than our past.” There are many quirky and endearing touches, such as the family’s tradition of gathering around the piano in the kitchen to sing soul songs.

#2005. Vinyl records

#9995. Falling in love

Fulcher-Davis, who is also credited with the set and costumes, has kept things simple yet elegant. A straight-backed chair and a comfy chair, a bookcase with books, a lamp, and a record player occupy a platform centerstage. There are a couple of chairs on one side, and a kitchen table that doubles as a piano on the other side of the stage. A large screen provides a home for beautiful projections that enhance the dimensionality of the space. Wonderful music accompanies each scene and shows off the venue’s top-notch acoustics, while Gretta Daughtery’s lighting is subtle and effective.

#777,777. The prospect of dressing up as a Mexican wrestler

#826,979. The fact that Beyonce is Gustav Mahler’s eighth cousin, four times removed

I’ve seen this play before, performed by a male actor, and in all honesty it feels entirely different. Looking back at the review I wrote of Chris Hester’s performance at the HATTheatre in March 2019, I would not change a word of what I said then, but Keeton brings a whole new set of feelings and nuances to the role. At this writing, there is only one more weekend left, and I highly recommend get a ticket. You won’t regret it.

#1,000,000. Listening to a record for the first time

END SCENE

EVERY BRILLIANT THING

Cast:

Louise Keeton

Creative Team:

Directed by Julie Fulcher-Davis

Written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe

Stage Manager: Hannah Hoffert

Lighting Designer: Gretta Daughtery

Set & Costumes: Julie Fulcher-Davis

Light Board Operator: Hannah Hoffert

Sound Board Operator: Zach Birnbaum

Backstage Coordinator: Lanham Hoffert

Technical Advisor: Jon Shelley

Run Time:

Just under an hour and a half with no intermission.

Performance schedule:

Fri, Sat @8:00PM Sept 24 & 25, Oct 1 & 2

Sun @3:00PM Sept 26 & Oct 3

Tickets:

$40. $25 for students

Photos: (Credits not available at the time of publication)

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I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE

A Modern Romantic Musical Comedy: “Everything you have ever secretly thought about dating, romance, marriage, lovers, husbands, wives and in-laws, but were afraid to admit.”

At: The Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Chesterfield, VA 23834

Performances: September 11 – October 23, 2021

Ticket Prices: $44-$49

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

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE is musical comedy balm for the over-whelmed pandemic soul. After a year and a half of pandemic restrictions, and one year after bailing out of the worst flood in the building’s history (https://www.chesterfieldobserver.com/articles/historic-flooding-leaves-swift-creek-mill-theatre-under-water/), The Swift Creek Mill Theatre has reopened its doors to a live audience. This delightful romantic musical comedy was originally scheduled to open in 2020, but the work was put on hold due to the pandemic.

Opening at full capacity, with no social distancing between seats, a fully masked staff welcomed a fully masked audience that had access to digital programs. Love them or hate them, digital programs are here to stay. Opening night featured a pre-show reception with a light buffet instead of a full dinner, but going forward, dinner will be served prior to the show (with plated table-side service instead of a buffet line), and the bar is open.

But enough about housekeeping. Let’s talk about the show; after all, that’s why you came here. It appeared that dynamic quartet of actors – Rachel Marrs, Nicole Morris-Anastasi, Ian Page, and Luke Shares – found just as much enjoyment in their multiple roles as we did. Tom Width first directed this show in 2006, and it has since been updated. Sprinkled throughout the vignettes are references to Google and Netflix, Tinder dating profiles, and the Jennie Craig weight management system. There are local references to Joe’s Inn and the VMFA as well.

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE was written as a series of vignettes, each of which could stand alone, but which, taken all together, follow a more or less chronological timeline of relationships from dating to marriage, concluding with a charming encounter by an elderly couple. The scenes are familiar, relatable, and consistently amusing. Oh, and the actors’ voices are perfect for their roles, whether singing or speaking.

Among my favorites: Morris-Anastasi and Page were hilarious as two awkward people who turned out to be made for each other in “A Stud and a Babe.” Then there was Schares and Marrs at the movies, where he tried to maintain a tough, macho attitude only to be drawn into all the feelings in “Tear Jerk.”

My initial question about whether a scenic element represented a fireplace or a headboard was answered in “And Now It’s Sexy Time,” a scene that explored the wisdom of employing a lawyer to negotiate a couple’s intimacy requirements. “When a Man Texts a Woman: A Picture of His” tackled one of the more contemporary sticky issues with a balance of humor and insight, while “Scared Straight” was assuredly the most outrageous scene. Here, a singles group facilitator took a small gathering to prison to receive relationship advice from a serial killer played by Schares. Schares’ prosthetic teeth slipped out at one point, and he deftly replaced them, earning a laugh without missing a beat.

There was a scene with a family of doting parents composed of two dads and a vignette about driving with the family that included ingenious choreography for four rolling office chairs. Marrs and Schares brought warmth and tenderness to the final scene, “Funerals are for Dating.” It was delightful to watch Marrs’ character shed her stodgy church-lady demeanor and spontaneously dance with her flirtatious partner. And I must mention Marrs’ expressive face throughout. She has an excellent command of physical comedy – at times reminding me of Lucille Ball.

With a total of twenty scenes spread over two acts, there truly is something for everyone. I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGEis a wonderful welcome back to SCM. If you need a relaxed, enjoyable evening of theater, with good, solid performances and lots of laughs, you can’t go wrong here. In his Director’s Notes, Tom Width refers to “the shock of recognition” principle that allows us to take comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one who has thought or gone through this – whatever “this” is for you.

 I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE is timeless and inclusive. The authors apparently made provision for including local and updated references.

While not the familiar, sing-along type, the lyrics are straightforward, and you can understand every word. It helps that the music, played by an unseen four-piece orchestra, is upbeat and supports the song lyrics, spoken dialogue, and action. Joe Doran’s lighting is subtle yet effective, and Maura Lynch Cravey has fun with the costumes. Her ugly bridesmaid’s dress may have reached a new pinnacle of hideousness. I wouldn’t change a thing about I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE!

Cast:

Rachel Marrs

Nicole Morris-Anastasi

Ian Page

Luke Schares

Production Team:

Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro

Music by Jimmy Roberts

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

​​

Orchestra:

Conductor/Keyboard: Shellie Johnson

Reeds: Sheri Oyan

Drums: James Oyan

Guitar/Bass: Greg DeBruyn

Run Time:

150 minutes

Performance schedule:

Thu, Fri, Sat @8:00PM Sept 11, 17, 18, 24, 25, 30

Sun, Wed @2:30PM Sept 19, 29

Thu, Fri, Sat @8:00PM Oct 1, 2, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23

Sun, Wed @2:30PM Oct 6, 17

Tickets:

$49

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

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

Photos: Robyn O’Neill

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THE BOTTOM SHOW: A “New” Play by William Shakespeare (Mostly)

THE BOTTOM SHOW: or ‘The Merry Conceited Humours of Bottom the Weaver

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road, RVA 23221

Performances: Fridays, July 9 – August 13, 2021

Ticket Prices: $33 ($28 for Seniors and Groups 10+, $23 for RVA On Stage, $20 for Students)

Info: (804) 340-0115 or quilltheatre.org

The Bottom Show: A New Play by William Shakespeare (Mostly), directed by Quill Theatre’s artistic director James Ricks, comes with a WARNING: “This show is devoid of anything vaguely intellectual, serious or romantic. Contains low-brow humor and semi-popular music.” Perhaps the best way to describe The Bottom Show to anyone who hasn’t seen it is that it is Shakespeare for those who think Shakespeare is too high-brow or too difficult to understand – as well as for those who don’t. In other words, it’s for everybody!

Populated, with but one exception, by the same cast who carry the roles of Twelfth Night Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, The Bottom Show – named for a character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is a comic adaptation of that play – runs on Fridays in tandem with Twelfth Night. And if physical humor was evident in Twelfth Night, it is the very foundation of The Bottom Show – so much so that each cast member deserves a large bag of Epsom salts, a jar of tiger balm, and a painkiller of choice for each week of the run.

The premise of The Bottom Show is that a group of amateur thespians – “mechanicals” or tradesmen by day – set to work to put on a show for the entertainment of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his lovely lady, Hippolyta. But, of course, their plans run afoul of a group of fairies who are involved in some soap opera style drama of their own. Toss in snippets of popular and vaguely familiar rock and pop songs and sprinkle liberally with references to the plague that shall not be named, spread out some lawn chairs and break out the snacks and you have the makings of a perfect summer night’s entertainment. Musical highlights included Levi Meerovich playing an accordion and singing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and a moment of four-part harmony on “Life Could Be a Dream” that somehow managed a seamless segue into The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”

Kurt Benjamin Smith works hard – and quite successfully – at portraying Bottom as a terrible yet pretentious actor while Erica Hughes provides a wonderful counterbalance as a voice of reason keeping this rowdy band under control. Michael Blackwood is pretty much a straight arrow as Theseus, but lets loose his inner drag queen as Titania, the queen of the fairies, in one of the breakout musical sequences of the show. Lucretia Marie plays Oberon, the king of the fairies whose desire to exact revenge on the stubborn Titania sets in motion much of the havoc and hijinks of both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Bottom Show and later appears as Hippolyta – the latter in a white pantsuit that gives a nod to recent political events that shall also remain unnamed.

The amateur thespians’ show includes lengthy prologues designed to ease the fears of the “ladies” – at one point drawing a disdainful sidebar from Penny Quince. There is a delightfully annoying portrayal of the moon (I think that was Michelle Greensmith, but it’s hard to keep everyone and their shenanigans straight) and a scene with “The Wall” (Foster Solomon) that teases out alternate meanings of the word “bottom.” And, of course, one can never overlook Puck – Emily Berry leapt and flipped about the stage with supernatural energy. The entire evening, running about 90 minutes without an intermission, is magical.

The Bottom Show

By William Shakespeare

Cast

Bottom – Kurt Benjamin Smith

Penny Quince – Erica Hughes

Flute – Mitchell Ashe

Snug – Levi Meerovich

Snout – Foster Solomon

Starveling – Michelle Greensmith

Titania/Theseus – Michael Blackwood

Antonio – Lucretia Marie

Oberon/Hippolyta – Lucretia Marie

Puck/Philostrate – Emily Berry

Musician – Lennon Hu

Direction & Design

Director:  James Ricks

Assistant Director: Cole Metz

Stage Manager: Nata Moriconi

Technical Director: Ryan Delbridge

Lighting Design: BJ Wilkinson

Costume Design: Cora Delbridge

Music Direction: Levi Meerovich

Choreography: Nicole Morris-Anastasi

Sound Mixing: Todd Schall-Vess

Additional Dialogue: James Ricks, Bo Wilson, Bradley Carter

Assistant Stage Manager: Lane Woodward

Assistant Stage Manager: Hope Jewell

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

———-

Photo Credits: Dave Parrish Photography & Quill Theatre Facebook page

TWELFTH NIGHT: Shakespeare on the Back Lawn

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road, RVA 23221

Performances: July 8 – August 14, 2021

Ticket Prices: $33 ($28 for Seniors, $23 for RVA On Stage, $20 for Students)

Info: (804) 340-0115 or quilltheatre.org

For their first show at Agecroft Hall after “the plague that shall remain nameless” the Quill Theatre chose Shakespeare’s zany romantic comedy, Twelfth Night. The play takes its name from the Twelfth Night as it was created as holiday entertainment marking the Epiphany, or the end of the Christmas season. In addition to the shipwreck, unrequited love, deception, revenge, mistaken identities, cross-dressing, androgyny, and numerous other elements that Shakespeare wrote into the plot, Quill Theatre updated the play with colorful and whimsical costuming (e.g., Feste’s flower child ensemble, Malvolio’s bell bottoms and yellow stockings) and a sound score that featured 1960s pop hits (think the Beatles, the Monkees, and Elvis).

Meerovich, who plays the fool Feste as well as serves as musical director, opens the show with a lively serenade that sets the tone for the evening and Lucretia Marie who plays the minor but nonetheless important role of the sea captain, Antonio, who saves the shipwrecked Sebastian, reads the evening’s announcements. Before you know it, the play has begun, with some major characters popping up from amidst the audience from time to time. The show runs about 2.5 hours, with one intermission, but director Jan Powell established an easy, organic pace that complemented the casual layout, with the audience spread out over the back lawn under a clear sky, accentuated by a lovely sunset, a pastoral setting, and welcome breezes from the nearby river – as well as the occasional passing train.

For those who need a refresher – or an introduction – Twelfth Night recounts the tale of noble-born twins Viola and Sebastian who are shipwrecked off the coast of Illyria, a region of the Balkan Peninsula. The twins are separated, each thinking the other has drowned. Sebastian is rescued by Antonio, a sea captain, and the two remain peripheral for much of the play while Viola, after being saved by an unnamed rescuer, disguises herself as a boy, takes the name Cesario, and becomes a servant to Duke Orsino, who is in love with the fair Olivia, who is mourning her deceased brother. To complicate matters, Viola/Cesario falls in love with Orsino, and Olivia falls in love with Cesario who has come to plead the case of Orsino. While all this is going on, Olivia’s maid Maria, Olivia’s rowdy uncle Toby and his friend Sir Andrew conspire to convince Olivia’s household steward Malvolio that Olivia is in love with him. Feste, a court jester and roving musician, weaves between all the characters, collecting tips and keeping the audience entertained with musical divertissements.

Emily Berry and Mitchell Ashe played the shipwrecked twins, each believing the other had drowned until the final scene. Dressed identically, with Berry disguised as a boy, both become involved in relationships that bend and blend gender boundaries. Berry’s character is in a triangle with Olivia and Orsino while Ashe’s character inadvertently risks breaking the bonds of trust established with the sea captain who helped him at great personal risk. Both ultimately end up in conventional male-female couplings. Berry has a lot more stage time than Ashe, increasing the audience’s anticipation of their ultimate reunion – which drew cheers on Thursday night.

Michael Blackwood and Lucretia Marie, as the benefactors of the twins, provided solid dramatic counterpoint to the constant hilarity delivered by Cole Metz, Levi Meerovich, Foster Solomon, and Kurt Benjamin Smith, much of which was instigated by Erica Hughes’ character. Thanks to their unrelenting and often physical humor, it was easy to keep up with the flow of the action even when the sound system failed us. Sometimes, it seems depending on where the actors were standing, words and lines got lost, and for awhile there was a bit of static coming from some of the speakers. But this was a new configuration for the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, and I trust that these issues will be worked out during the run of the show.

A modest set (no credit given on the PDF version of the digital program I have) consisting of a simple wooden fence with a few green vines and some lovely rainbow colored lighting by BJ Wilkerson provided atmosphere without overwhelming the backdrop – Agecroft Hall, a Tudor mansion that, we were reminded, stood in England while Shakespeare was still alive. The audience saw scattered across the spacious lawn on lawn chairs and blankets, in clusters as close to others as you chose to be. I don’t recall seeing any masks, but you could certainly wear one if you want to. All in all, Twelfth Night delivered a delightful night of theater, and its utter nonsense provided a welcome sense of normalcy.

Twelfth Night

By William Shakespeare

Cast

Viola – Emily Berry

Olivia – Michelle Greensmith

Orsino – Michael Blackwood

Malvolio – Cole Metz

Feste – Levi Meerovich

Toby Belch – Foster Solomon

Andrew Aguecheek – Kurt Benjamin Smith

Maria – Erica Hughes

Sebastian – Mitchell Ashe

Antonio – Lucretia Marie

Direction & Design

Director:  Dr. Jan Powell

Assistant Director: Melissa Rayford

Stage Manager: Nata Moriconi

Technical Director: Ryan Delbridge

Lighting Design: BJ Wilkinson

Costume Design: Anna Bialkowski

Music Direction: Levi Meerovich

Sound Mixing: Todd Schall-Vess

Intimacy Director: Lucinda Piro

Assistant Stage Manager: Lane Woodward

Assistant Stage Manager: Hope Jewell

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

———-

Photo Credits: Dave Parrish Photography & Quill Theatre Facebook page

 

THE SANTA CLOSET: The Door is Open and Santa’s Coming Out

The Santa Closet: Where Theatrical Journalism & Non-Binary Humor Meet

A COVID-conscious, Pandemic-appropriate Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: November 18-December 19, 2020. Live & Streaming options.

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets: $30 & $35; $10 for Students. Streaming Edition: $25; $10 for Students. Choice of Eddie Webster or Levi Meerovich.

Info:(804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, online drink orders, and more

Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic we can depend on the Richmond Triangle Players to give us a unique, memorable, and satisfyingly humorous holiday show. This year’s one-man production of Jeffrey Solomon’s The Santa Closet fulfills all those requirements and does not disappoint!

Originally titled Santa Claus is Coming Out when it premiered some ten years ago, starring the author, the title was changed to indicate the play is not just a silly, vapid little play about coming out. The Santa Closet, on the other hand, implies all the depth and layers and “stuff” that are in that closet – and that make this play such a delightful journey.

It all starts with a young child’s letter to Santa. We first meet little Gary when he writes a letter asking Santa for a “Sparkle Ann” doll – a Barbie look-alike. Gary’s best friend, a feisty little girl named Cheyenne, defends him every step of the way. She, after all, is the recipient of Gary’s creative skills in designing doll clothes and hair styles. But his mother, Trish, is floundering on the edge of tolerance while his father, Frank, is lovingly homophobic (yes, it’s possible to be both of those things).

But Santa disappoints little Gary, who receives a truck instead. The following year, Gary tries again, asking for a Dream Date Norm (if you’re with me, you’ve already figured out that’s similar to a Ken doll). Once again, Santa doesn’t deliver, and Gary’s faith begins to wane.

Cut to the big guy himself. We find a conflicted Santa first having drinks in a gay bar in Manhattan, and then being reluctantly drawn into participating in the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969. (For those not familiar with the history, this was a series of what the LGBT community of the time referred to as demonstrations and the police and city administration referred to as riots. The movement was sparked by a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in NYC’s Greenwich Village.)

Eddie Webster stars in the Richmond production, with Levi Meerovich performing a limited number of performances. I had the pleasure of watching Meerovich performing on Saturday night. Wearing the familiar COVID uniform of pajamas and robe, Meerovich used a variety of accents and mannerisms – and the occasional hat or glowing red nose – to smoothly transform into about a dozen distinct characters.

Besides young Gary, his mother Trish, and his father Frank, the actor must portray Santa; Santa’s agent Sidney; Pete the head Elf; Rudolph the head reindeer (pronouns he, him, his); Gary’s BFF Cheyenne; Santa’s Italian lover Giovanni (a great-great-great-great-great grandson of Pinocchio), the family’s pastor, a waning actress, Beatrice Pond (known for her one-woman portrayal of The Cherry Orchard) who is hired to portray Mrs. Clause; Santa’s gay friend Jose; and Mary Ellen Banford who is the leader of the local branch of Families Against the Gay Agenda, or FAGA for short.

The Santa Closet establishes a delicate balance of humor and tenderness. Solomon wrote the play as if each of the characters is being interviewed and there are “Breaking News” interruptions several times as the drama unfolds. Damage control is required after the Stonewall incident, and reflecting the original title, Santa and Giovanni go missing, never to be seen again. Of necessity, most of the gay characters are over the top. With Meerovich portraying so many different characters in rapid succession, that helps the audience keep up. It also makes the moments all the more sensitive when Gary accepts being different, or when his parents join a support group to help them along their journey to accept their now-adolescent child.

Director Nora Ogunleye has directed with a gentle but steady hand that left Meerovich plenty of room to do what he does so well, while expressing the nuances Solomon wrote into the play. Richmond Triangle artistic director Lucien Restivo kept the costume and set simple (pajamas and slippers, three arched openings, an angled platform, a stool, some holiday lights, a couple of Christmas trees that appear to be fashioned from children’s letters to Santa). This provides a pleasant and seasonal backdrop but allows the audience to focus on the actor and the many characters he portrays. Anything else would have been far too busy and distracting.

Two small wall-mounted screens contain relevant projections, but perhaps I should have said “too-small wall-mounted screens. Even from my fairly close seat in the second or third row from the stage, it was difficult to see the detail on some of the projections. This size may have been a well-reasoned choice, but I am sure that many others with “mature eyes” may also feel they are missing some of the visuals.

Speaking of the audience, the already-intimate theater has been further limited to a maximum of 27 patrons for live performances. Seats are socially distanced in pods of 1, 2, or 4. Masks are required, there is no intermission, drinks may be ordered and paid for online, everyone’s temperature is taken on entry, and programs are fully digital (a pandemic adaptation that many theaters will likely continue when this is all over).

Other members of the creative team – yes, it takes as many people to produce a one-person show as it does to produce a show with a larger cast – include Joey Luck, sound; Deryn Gabor, lighting; Yara Birykova, projections; Sheamus Coleman, technical direction; and Erica Hughes for some really fun dialects.

There are live performances Thursdays through Sundays, with one Wednesday performance. Check the theater’s website for details and to order tickets or purchase the link to purchase one or both of the streaming editions (one features Eddie Webster and the other Levi Meerovich). [I haven’t yet seen Webster’s portrayal, which I expect may be quite different and I will add an addendum to this post after I’ve seen him in the streamed version.] In the meantime, if you’re looking for a little holiday cheer (with a bit of an edge, due to the history), this should fit the playbill. The Santa Closet is highly recommended (for those over age 15).

Photos: Richmond Triangle Facebook page.

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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 to be on 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.

———-

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.

———-

Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

 

 

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