CRIMES OF THE HEART: A Southern Sister Reunion

CRIMES OF THE HEART: Tales of Southern Sisterhood

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

VirginiaRep

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

Performances: July 20 – August 26, 2018

Ticket Prices: $42

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

The final show of the 2017-2018 season,  Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning three-act southern tragicomedy, boasts outstanding performances by three highly individual women and a beautifully designed and detailed set created by Terrie Powers. It also has near flawless direction by Steve Perigard (who also directed Da and Brighton Beach for this same stage – “near flawless” because, with three acts, it does seem to get lulled into a light sleepy southern languor about halfway through.

There was a time when I would, if given a chance, watch daytime talk shows because the dysfunctional guests made me feel so much better about my own life. To some extent, the quirky Magrath sisters make me feel the same way about my own family. Irene Kuykendall deftly navigates the surprising complexities of Meg, the black sheep of the family, gradually revealing that she is not a complete narcissist, but has hopes and dashed dreams, and holds a deep and abiding love with her two sisters. She’s also the middle child.

Lexi Langs, who last appeared in a VaRep performance ins 2007, is fascinating as the youngest sister, Babe or Rebecca. Physically enchanting with her wide eyes and sometimes vacant stare, we first meet Babe when she returns to Old Grandad’s home after being released from jail where she spent the night after shooting her husband in the stomach. Langs gives Babe a childlike quality that is unnerving; we are never quite sure if Babe has a true mental illness or just an advanced case of “the vapors.”

But the true star of this ensemble is Maggie Roop who shoulders the burdens of the family upon the sloping shoulders of Lenny, the eldest of the three sisters. There’s usually one in every family – the one who takes care of everyone and everything, but no one ever thinks she needs taking care of.  Roop spends much of the play trying to keep the peace; there are dark circles under her eyes, and she is obsessed with cleaning, which is, perhaps, the only thing over which she has any control. Roop brings unforced depth to the character of Lenny. For most of the three acts, I wanted to give Lenny a hug, so it was doubly rewarding when, in the third act, she took a broom to the butt of her obnoxious, social climbing first cousin, Chick (Maggie Bavolack). Whiny and annoying, Chick opens the first scene with a hilarious and unexpected reverse strip-tease, in which she elaborately squeezes into a pair of “petite” pantyhose.

Crimes of the Heart tackles real-life trauma: suicide; the illness of an aging grandparent; spousal abuse; dishonest politicians; social pressure; regret; vendetta; attempted murder; low self-esteem. Set in the small town of Hazlehurst, Mississippi (a real town about 30 miles south of the state capital of Jackson) five years after Hurricane Camille (which blew through in August of 1969), there are subtle references to the racial politics of the day, but more disturbingly, because of the racial politics of the times, a major issue of statutory rape is swept under the table, so to speak.

The overall outstanding ensemble is focused on the relationships between the women, but there are also credible performances by Arik Cullen as Meg’s former love interest, Doc Porter, and Tyler Stevens as the young lawyer, Barnette Lloyd.

There are thought-provoking lines, like, “She works out in the garden wearing the lime green gloves of a dead woman” physical humor, as when Babe prepares a glass of lemonade for Meg that makes Meg’s face – not just her lips, but her entire face – pucker, but adds so much sugar to her own glass that we can almost hear it crunch when she sips it. But despite – or maybe because of – our better judgment, Crimes of the Heart makes us laugh at such taboo topics as attempted murder and an old man falling into a coma. Babe may have shot her husband, but each sister has to face up to her own “crimes of the heart.”

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

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Photo Credits: Aaron Sutton

Crimes of the Heart
Lexi Langs, Maggie Roop, and Irene Kuykendall
Crimes of the Heart
Lexi Langs, Maggie Roop, Irene Kuykendall. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Crimes of the Heart
Maggie Roop, Lexi Langs, and Irene Kuykendall
Crimes of the Heart
Lexi Langs, Maggie Roop, Maggie Bavolack. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Crimes of the Heart
Maggie Roop, Maggie Bavolack, Irene Kuykendall. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

TOMFOOLERY: Swift Creek Shenanigans

TOMFOOLERY: A Politically Incorrect Musical Satire

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: July 14 – August 18, 2018

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

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

 

Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s final show of the 2017-2018 season, Tom Lehrer’s Tomfoolery, features four cast members, 28 musical numbers, a five-piece orchestra, and a sense that anything goes. The satirical musical revue, whose title has nothing to do with Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s artistic director Tom Width, has no plot. Rather, it allows Width to share with the Mill audience his own love of the silly, satirical, politically incorrect songs written and performed by Lehrer between 1953 and 1965 – and even one he wrote for the PBS children’s show, The Electric Company, popular in the 1970s. Surprisingly, other than the era-specific references, such as the names of political candidates and talk of bombs and drills to prepare for nuclear war, much of the humor remains relevant, while the music (book, music, and lyrics are all by Lehrer, adapted by Cameron MacKintosh and Robin Ray) seems more attuned to the ears of those whose college years were marked by folk songs and protest marches.

Width keeps things moving, with a simple, colorful set with the musicians settled upstage right and a small bar set up stage left where the actors congregate while waiting their turn. Maura Lynch Cravey has Richard Koch in a vested suit that is vaguely vaudevillian, while Bryan Harris and PJ Llewellyn are dressed less distinctively, and, but for one outstanding exception, Debra Wagoner’s wardrobe seems to be mostly an afterthought. Robes, suspenders, hats, canes, stools, and other props provide visual interest and cues, and the actors use their own names throughout the revue, which runs under two hours, including one fifteen-minute intermission.

Tomfoolery opens with “Be Prepared,” an homage to the Boy Scout oath, and closes with “We Will All Go Together When We Go,” an irreverent post-apocalyptic sendup. In between, no topic is off-limits. “Bright College Days” (Richard and Bryan) contains my favorite lyric of the evening: “Soon we’ll be sliding down the razor blade of life.” Bryan sings my favorite song, “Elements,” which sets the periodic table of the elements to the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan (to the theme of a song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance). “The Hunting Song” tells of bagging “two game wardens, seven hunters, and a cow,” while “Smut” is an ode to pornography.

There’s a song dedicated to Wernher Von Braun, a German engineer and rocket scientist who was a member of the Nazi party and an SS officer before coming to the US to work for NASA while “Who’s Next” speculates on which nation will be next to get a bomb. And just in case you haven’t been offended by the end of the first act, “National Brotherhood Week” reminds you of who hates you and who you should hate in return.

Oh, and the one time Debra Wagoner was dressed in a glitzy glamourous dress with a blinged out feather boa was for “Oedipus Rex,” her second act homage to incest which allowed her to belt out a song full-out as only she can and make you wish you could sing like that, too.

Great theater? By no means. An entertaining evening with good music that is beautifully played under the direction of Paul Deiss (who even gets to sing one number, “The Old Dope Peddler”)? Absolutely. And don’t forget to get your Swift Creek Mill “sippy cup” so you can take your preferred beverage – hot, cold, or alcoholic – into the theater (new this season).

 

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

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Photo Credits: Robyn O’Neill

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KNUFFLE BUNNY: Musical Theater for the Whole Family

KNUFFLE BUNNY: A Cautionary Musical

A Family Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis, with input by Emmitt, Kingston, and Soleil

At: Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn; 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, Richmond, Virginia 23230

Performances: July 13 – August 12, 2018

Ticket Prices: Start at $18

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

Knuffle Bunny is a hilarious family-friendly musical that held the attention of even the youngest audience members. With a running time of just under 45 minutes, and no intermission, I thought it might be worth a test run with my youngest grandson, Emmitt, who just turned 4.

Emmitt sat attentively for the entire show, sometimes singing along, eyes big as saucers, feet swinging happily. He was the first in our party of four to predict that the “rat with wings” would be making a comeback – an event which would open up the possibility for a sequel. His final pronouncement, “Awesome!”

Knuffle Bunny – much to my surprise, the “k” is pronounced – is based on the book of the same name by Mo Willems, who also wrote the script and lyrics. The music is by Michael Silversher. Upbeat and colorful, with a simple, uncluttered set designed by Emily Hake Massie and lighting by BJ Wilkinson, Knuffle Bunny is a cautionary tale about the adventure that ensues when pre-verbal toddler Trixie, played by Christina Ramsey, leaves her beloved stuffed bunny at the laundromat. Her poor dad (David Janosik) is cast as the somewhat incompetent rube by his beloved wife (Louise Ricks) who from the beginning doubts his ability to successfully take a basket of laundry to the laundromat with Trixie in tow. Hilarity ensues.

There is a chorus kick line, some striking air guitar play, animated puppetry of gigantic pieces of laundry (a necktie a onesie, a brassiere, and a man’s shirt), and a local geography lesson as the ensemble (Brandon James Johns and Corinne MacLean) runs across the stage holding signs reading Broad Street, Boulevard, and Cary Street as the little family makes their way from their house to the laundromat.

There is plenty for the adults to enjoy, as well. Trixie’s sad ballad to her beloved Knuffle Bunny has the ensemble holding up their lighters, as is customary at concerts – a feature that may be over the heads of the littlest audience members but did not go unnoticed by the adults.  (I couldn’t resist – here’s a link to an article on the practice of holding up lighters at concerts: https://beat.media/history-of-the-lighter-at-concerts)

My adult daughter, Soleil, could hardly contain her composure as Trixie’s big number was set up – the dramatic lighting, the mood music, all to accompany a heart-wrenching song made up entirely of nonsense syllables, “Aggle Flaggle Klabble.”  When asked by the cast members during the post-show meet and greet what he thought of the show, my seasoned assistant Kingston (older brother to Emmitt) responded that he enjoyed the songs and wanted more like “Aggle Flaggle Klabble.” I know that Willems wrote lyrics, but I wonder if the “words” to “Aggle Flaggle Klabble” come out the same each time – and if they didn’t, would anyone notice?

Susan Sanford directed this delightful musical – which really caters to the youngest of audiences without boring older siblings or the adults who accompany them. Go. Enjoy. And don’t forget to take a young person or two. Copies of the book Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale are available for purchase at the bar.

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

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Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

Knuffle Bunny
Christina Ramsey and Louise Ricks
Knuffle Bunny
David Janosik, Christina Ramsey, Knuffle Bunny, and Louise Ricks
Knuffle Bunny
Louise Ricks, Christina Ramsey, Knuffle Bunny, and David Janosik
Knuffle Bunny
Knuffle Bunny, Christina Ramsey, and David Janosik

HAND TO GOD: The Invention of the Devil

HAND TO GOD: The Devil Made Me Do It

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

A co-production of  TheatreLAB and 5th Wall Theatre

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

Performances: July 13-28, 2018

Ticket Prices: $15

Info: (804) 359-2003 or 5thwalltheatre.org

 

Weird – in a very creepy way – and funny – in a very irreverent way – Robert Askin’s Hand to God is probably the most unsettling study in family dysfunction I’ve yet so see on a stage. A co-production of TheatreLAB and 5th Wall Theatre directed by Gary C. Hopper, Hand to God features a remarkable performance by Adam Turck and a commendable performance by Kimberly Jones Clark – who will not soon be nominated for mother of the year.

The recently widowed Margery (Jones Clark) and her teen-aged son Jason (Turck) have not fared well in the six months or so since Margery’s husband died of a heart attack. Margery has been depending on her son for support and Jason seems to alternate between blaming his mother for his father’s death and blaming his father for abandoning the family. Their kind-hearted Pastor Greg (Fred Iacovo) – who apparently skipped the seminary coursework in grief counseling – has ill-advisedly placed Margery in charge of the church’s puppet ministry, hoping to fill her idle time and distract her from her grief.  Iacovo initially comes off as mild-mannered as Mr. Rogers, but in the second act he boldly and surprisingly confronts the evil Tyrone. I guess this is where I should mention that Tyrone is Jason’s puppet.

Hand to God is set in a church basement in a small town somewhere in Texas. On entering The Basement, many of  us will take one look at David P. Melton’s set design and immediately have flash backs to Vacation Bible School, otherwise known simple as VBS. There are the inspirational posters, the pictures partially colored by children, and the ubiquitous puppet stage.

In spite of the popularity of the puppet ministry in many churches, many children are terrified of puppets. My own son, in his youth, would scream at the sight of clowns, masks, mimes, and puppets. But Tyrone takes it to a whole new level. Tyrone actually opens and closes the show with his own prologue and epilogue, and in Acts 1 and 2 he demonically possesses young Jason. We’re talking bloody mutilations and violent sexual acts. We’re talking foul-mouthed verbal assaults and  blood curdling laughter. Imagination? Psychological transference? Doesn’t matter – we’re talking spine-tingling horror.

Turck switches between the mild-mannered Jason and the evil Tyrone throughout the show, which runs nearly two hours with one intermission. The rough-edged voice he uses for Tyrone as well as the shouting must wreak havoc on his vocal cords, but he doesn’t hold back. He goes full out and is the only character that really earns our sympathy. Jones Clark turns in an edgy performance as his mother, and as much as she’s obviously hurting, her actions do not generate much sympathy. One wonders what’s going on in this small town, as Margery is pursued by both Pastor Greg (Iacovo) and the foul-mouthed bully, Timmy (Adam Valentine), who reluctantly attends the puppet ministry while his mother is otherwise engaged in her AA meetings. The third young member of the puppet ministry is Jessica (Anne Michelle Forbes), a shy teen who uses her buxom female puppet to get through to Jason/Tyrone in a most surprising way in the second act.

Hopper’s direction keeps things moving, but I found some scene changes in the first act ran a little long, and while Melton’s set authentically captured VBS, it was surprisingly unsteady and had a noticeable gap in the rear wall – both of which are probably due to the need to unfold several panels to reveal the pastor’s office in the second act. The puppet theater, also designed by Melton, actually seemed much sturdier than the actual set. Joey Luck created the sound design with his usual impeccable touch, and Michael Jarett did the  lighting – which included some impressive lightning.  Heidi Rugg is credited with the puppetry, ranging from Timmy’s simple sock puppet to Jessica’s femme fatale and Jason’s two versions of Tyrone – one of which featured teeth and horns.

There is nothing delicate about Hand to God: Askins – and this well-chosen cast – tackle family dynamics, sexual issues, religious hypocrisy, and more with rawness and humor. There is no happy ending. There is no clear-cut good or bad. Major, life-changing decisions made by the characters raise more questions than they answer – all of which sounds, to me, like the elements of good theater.

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

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

Hand to God.5
Fred Iacovo, Kimberly Jones Clark, Adam Valentine, Adam Turck, and Anne Michelle Forbes
Hand to God.4
Tyrone
Hand to God.3
Adam Turck and Anne Michelle Forbes
Hand to God.2
Tyrone and Adam Turck

 

AS YOU LIKE IT: All the World’s a Stage

AS YOU LIKE IT: Pastoral Comedy Under the Stars

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Quill Theatre/20th Annual Richmond Shakespeare Festival

At: Agecroft Hall & Gardens, 4305 Sulgrave Road, RVA 23221

Performances: July 6-29, 2018, Thursdays – Sundays at 7:30pm

Ticket Prices: $30 Adults; $25 Seniors; $20 Students & RVATA Members (with ID)

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

 

As You Like It is one of the bard’s zaniest comedies. Set initially in the French court of the evil Duke Frederick, formerly the domain of his banished brother Duke Senior, but mostly in the idealized Forest of Arden, As You Like It is filled with improbable disguises and misidentification, sibling rivalry and love at first sight. There’s also an awesome wrestling scene in the first act (fight choreography by James Ricks) and a rowdy dance at the end (choreography by Nicole Morris-Anastasi). There’s plenty of action, plenty of laughs, and – as they say – it’s complicated.

C.J. Bergin plays the love-struck Orlando, the youngest and sadly disinherited son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys. Bergin is both sympathetic and brave, first facing the ferocious wrestler, Charles, then posting odes to his beloved Rosalind on trees in the forest. Rebecca Turner is Rosalind, the object of his affections and daughter of the banished Duked Senior. Shortly into the play, Rosalind finds herself fallen head over heels for Orlando after he quite unexpectedly overpowers the professional wrestler Charles (Tommy Ryan). Accompanied by two ring girls dressed as Shakespearian wenches, Charles is a real moustache-twirling villain. His satin embroidered robe and vainglorious long locks, in stark contrast to the women’s more traditional costumes, typifies Cora Delbridge’s time-bending, era-mixing costumes. The fight was fixed by Oliver (Matt Bloch), Orlando’s older brother, but Orlando, facing defeat and having nothing to lose, knocked out Charles with a folding chair, WWE style, and as a result must flee for his life.

Rosalind’s mercurial uncle, Duke Frederick (John Cauthen – who also plays the brother, Duke Senior) not only has it in for his own brother, but also counted Orlando’s father among his enemies. After the wrestling match does not go according to plan, Duke Frederick turns his wrath on the fair Lady Rosalind, his niece and his daughter’s best friend. He gives her ten days to vacate the court, but his daughter, Celia (Jocelyn Honoré) decides to join her.

Rosalind, disguised as a young man with the fictitious name Ganymede, embarks on a hair-brained scheme to join her father and his band of merry men who have been subsisting in the forest, and here Turner get to shine as a woman impersonating a man who is in turn impersonating a woman. [In Shakespeare’s day, when all roles were played by men, Rosalind would have been a male (actor) impersonating a woman (Rosalind) impersonating a man (Ganymede) impersonating a woman (Rosalind).] Celia sticks by her cousin, but once in the forest, Honoré seems to fade into obscurity more than necessary. The character of Rosalind is, undoubtedly, the most developed female character of the play and perhaps of Shakespeare’s entire body of plays, and Turner embodies equally well the sometimes overlapping comedic, dramatic, and romantic aspects of her character.

John Mincks, as Touchstone, the court jester and Rosalind and Celia’s servant and protector, is a standout. His dandy wardrobe of plaid jacket and straw hat marries the look of the traditional court jester with the more modern look of a minstrel, his lines consist of humorous sometimes rhyming, sometimes philosophical speeches that are delivered with a speed and sassiness that could easily trip up any lesser actor. In the second act, a shepherd couple, Silvius (Cooper Sved) and the unresponsive Phoebe (Nicole Morris-Anastasi) provide a humorous diversion, with Morris-Anastasi’s character falling for Ganymede – not knowing the object of her affections is actually Rosalind in disguise. The quick-tongued Rosalind/Ganymede delivers one of the play’s most cutting lines – and perhaps one of literature’s first recorded instances of body-shaming – to Phoebe, telling the nerdy-looking and socially awkward young woman, “Sell when you can, you are not for all markets.”

Another favorite is the melancholy Jaques, played with laid-back élan by Luke Schares. A nomadic traveler who also frequents the forest, it eventually becomes clear that he is actually the middle son of Sir Rowland de Boys, younger brother of Oliver and older brother to Orlando. You may not be familiar with Jaques or the play, but you will remember his line, “All the world’s a stage. . .” If it seems difficult to keep all these characters straight, it is. It’s helpful to read the synopsis and list of cast members before the show – and again during intermission. It doesn’t help that several cast members play multiple roles.

My daughter and I went on Friday, opening night, but after a fifteen-minute rain delay and wearing a poncho as protection from the light rain that fell during the first act, the show had to be cancelled due to a storm cell and lightning. So, having a second chance to watch the first act was actually helpful in keeping all the characters and their relationships straight. The humor is unrelenting, but it’s even better when you can keep the players organized. The cast also included Derek Kannemeyer as Orlando’s faithful old “yet strong and lusty” servant, Adam; Taylor Lyn Dawson as both Amiens, Duke Senior’s musician and Audrey, the object of Touchstone’s affections; and Bill Blair as both Corin, an elderly shepherd, and Le Beau, a member of Duke Frederick’s court.

Rain pace or fair weather – and Saturday was perfect, with clear skies, cool temperatures, no humidity – As You Like It is hilarious, with well-timed direction by artistic director James Ricks, atmospheric music provided by Juan Harmon on accordion, and satisfying ensemble work by a cast of thirteen actors.

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

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Photo Credits: Photos by Aaron Sutten; Audience selfie by Noah Downs.

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DOUBLEWIDE, TEXAS: A Hoot ‘n a Hollar

DOUBLEWIDE, TEXAS: Trailer Park Victory

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: June 1-16, 2018

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

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

 

Doublewide, Texas, now onstage at CAT, is written by the same trio – Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten – that created Always a Bridesmaid, which is currently running at Swift Creek Mill Theatre. True to form, Doublewide, Texas is a comedic farce, deliberately designed to be played over the top and it reaches for the broadest laughs possible.

Set in a tiny trailer park in Texas, the flimsy premise is that the trailer park is about to be annexed by the nearby town of Tugaloo, and the residents – mostly related – are banding together to fight the annexation and the accompanying high taxes. There are laughs aplenty, with plenty of puns and running gags, physical humor, and generous hints about deep dark secrets. The cast of nine is generally delightful and maintains a natural camaraderie that makes it easy and natural to laugh at even the most obvious groaners.

First up is Big Ethel Satterwhite (Catherine Cooper) who delivers a lecture on nutrition to the county inmates and parolees. The only problem is Big Ethel doesn’t believe in the program and succumbs to the temptation of a gigantic cookie, tossing a large, fresh cabbage over her shoulder, and, along with it, her job! By placing her podium on the floor in front of the stage, Big Ethel and director Michael Fletcher immediately engage the audience and draw us into the play.

Next, there’s Georgia Dean Rudd (Donna Marie Miller) who runs the local diner, Bronco Betty’s Buffeteria, where fried foods are the specialty every day.  Georgia Dean helps spearhead the  efforts to save the trailer park.  Her best friend, Joveeta Crumpler (Crystal Oakley) has vowed to fight the annexation tooth and nail – but has only a few days before escaping to a new job with a discount cruise line.

Joveeta is part of a zany and loving family that includes little brother Norwayne “Baby” Crumpler (Travis Williams), a lovable galoot who spends much of the show practicing for the womanless beauty pageant;  and their beer-guzzling mother Caprice Crumpler (Jeannie Goodyear) who is determined to break into show business as the star of a mattress commercial. She appears in a series of costumes, each more outrageous than the other, ranging from Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz to Marilyn Monroe to Cleopatra. I guess it’s a case of like mother, like son, because “Baby” wears one crazy get-up after another, starting with high heels, then adding panty hose, and finally an oversized, white satin, fringed cowgirl getup.

Lark Barken (Christiana “CC” Kaniefski) is a breath of fresh Oregonian air as the new age child – who happens to be heavy with child. A young widow with a secret, she is new in town, as are her strange habits of chanting and burning sage. She sets up and maintains a running gag with a series of nontraditional baby names, such as Saffron and Willow. No comedy would be complete without a villain, and in this one there are two. Neighbor Haywood Sloggett (Wally Jones) can’t wait to get rid of the “trailer trash,” until the tables are turned on him. Super tall, handsome, and swaggeringly obnoxious Lomax Tanner  (Kent Slonaker) is the newcomer who proves that things are not always what they appear to be. Olivia Laskin has a small but key role as the mayor’s wife, Starla Pudney.

Michael Fletcher keeps things moving in his mainstage directorial debut, but there were a few scene changes that lagged a bit, and the pace could be a bit faster overall.  Scott Bergman’s set is authentically finished with fake wood paneling and pink curtains. There are pink flamingoes in the small flower bed out front, and there is even pink insulation peeking out of the cutaway roof, but I’m pretty sure the CAT stage is deeper than a standard doublewide. Becki Jones probably had fun designing the costumes, especially the more outrageous ones for Caprice and “Baby.” CAT often features a show-themed raffle; this time the prize is Georgia Dean’s pinkety-pink quilt, which will be awarded at the final performance. Doublewide, Texas is a hoot and a holler, but does not quite rise to the standards set by The Dixie Swim Club or The Hallelujah Girls.

 

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

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Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios

CAT Jeannie Goodyear -Travis Williams
Jeannie Goodyear and Travis Williams
CAT Jeannie Goodyear as Caprice
Jeannie Goodyear
CAT Donna Marie Miller
Donna Marie Miller
CAT Crystal Oakley-Kent Lonaker
Crystal Oakley and Kent Slonaker

ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID: Southern Hospitality in a Comedy of Recognition

ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID: Southern Women Ensemble Humor Strikes Again

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: May 19 – June 30, 2018 [Note: Opening weekend was postponed due to flooding from regional spring storms]

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

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

 

Director Tom Width fondly refers to Always a Bridesmaid as a “comedy of recognition” because viewers are likely to recognize themselves or a family member or friend in the broadly drawn, zany characters. Written by the trio of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jaime Wooten, who also gave us The Dixie Swim Club and The Hallelujah Girls, Always a Bridesmaid is an amalgam of  television sitcom and every southern woman ensemble play you’ve ever seen – from Dixie Swim Club to  Hallelujah Girls and let’s not forget Steel Magnolias.

There’s nothing deep here, no life-changing moral theme, no political controversy, just good-natured female bonding and free-flowing laughs, built around the premise of four friends who made a vow during their high school prom to be bridesmaids at each other’s weddings. Who knew, at the time, that some of them might get married multiple times and this promise might evolve into a life-long, even multi-generational covenant?

The best thing about this production of Always a Bridesmaid is the cast. Amy Berlin is the statuesque and sharp-tongued Monette. In the first scene she is about to jump into the murky waters of her third marriage – to a man she has known for just about two weeks. Already the tallest of the quartet, Monette favors stiletto heels, which sets up the foundation for a running joke as well as some not so subtle physical humor. Jacqueline Jones is Libby Ruth, who in good southern form is always referred to by both names. For most of the play, Libby Ruth is the level-headed, perpetually cheerful member of the group, the one who always sees the bright side of things and finds a solution to every problem. But in the final scene, when it’s her own daughter who is getting married, she folds up like a lace fan.

Debra Wagoner is Deedra, a high-powered judge who uses a smile and southern charm to mask her steel trap legal mind. Wagoner, whose own real-life wedding to husband Joe Pabst took place at Swift Creek Mill 23 years ago, is walking with a slight limp in her first role after her debilitating fall resulting in a broken ankle during last fall’s production of Mary Poppins, but it never showed on her face. Jennie Hundley completes the quartet as Charlie, perhaps the quirkiest of them all. A landscaper, Charlie prefers pants and Birkenstocks and when we first meet her, her friends are trying to tame her wild nest of  hair, which is home to leaves and other bits of flora. Watching Charlie stumble about in a pair of heels during one of the weddings is one of the most hilarious moments of the evening.

It is worthy of note that with the exception of Libby Ruth, who appears to be a happily married housewife and mother, these southern women are independent business women and professionals.  Deedra is a judge, Monette owns a club, and Charlie owns her own landscaping business. But they are not the only characters bringing something to this table.

Jody Smith Strickler plays Sedalia, the owner of the elegant venue where all the scenes take place. Historic Laurelton Oaks, in Laurelton, Virginia, twenty miles northwest of Richmond is the setting for the entire play, which takes place over a period of seven years. Sedalia is known for providing top notch wedding services, but she rules her domain with an iron fist – and occasionally wields an axe to keep recalcitrant brides in line and on schedule. You’d better be at that top step when the first note of the wedding march begins – or else! Last but not least, there is Rachel Hindman as Kari, Libby Ruth’s daughter, who appears as a bride giving her reception speech at the start of each scene.  Sipping from a champagne glass, Kari becomes increasingly tipsy at each appearance, and shares such tidbits as the restraining order on her uncle was temporarily reduced to 30 feet from his estranged wife so that both could attend her wedding. In a “small world” turn of events, Kari is marrying Sedalia’s son.

It’s all very cozy and nothing really bad ever happens. There is an off-stage fight, but no one dies and it’s all love and kisses at the final curtain. Physical and visual laughs are provided by a fashion parade of ugly bridesmaid dresses, including a French maid, and a Marie Antoinette costume worn by Monette that is so big Charlie can hide behind her without even bending down. Kudos to Maura Lynch Cravey for her creativity and diversity in costume design for this show. Tom Width designed the elegant sitting room.

Personally, after some three-weeks of being housebound after two surgeries, this was the perfect outing for me. While I did not recognize any of these women from my immediate circle – I am after all, from Brooklyn – I did recognize them from other plays and sitcoms, and I thank them for bringing laughter and joy, with a nod to loyalty and love.

 

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

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Photo Credits: Robyn O’Neill

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018 @ DOGTOWN: Spring Has Sprung Diversity

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018: Bringing the World of Dance to Richmond – Week 1

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: April 27-28, May 4-5 & May 11-12 @ 7PM + Next Generation May 5 @ 2:30PM

Ticket Prices: $15 General; $10 Students/Children

Info: (804) 230-8780, dogtowndancetheatre.com or https://rdf18.brownpapertickets.com/

 

The 5t Anniversary of the Richmond Dance Festival opened Friday, April 27 with a jam-packed program of diverse works. There was truly something for everyone (well, nearly everyone, if you’re that picky).

With ten works on the program – and three of those short films – it’s easy to get a sense of dance overload; shortly after leaving the theater, you can’t remember which dance was which! Phone numbers are seven digits because science has shown that the average human can accurately retain about seven chunks of information – and sometimes seven dances is pushing it! But, as usual, I digress.

Artistic and Executive Director Jess Burgess believes this years selection of eighteen choreographers and nine dance filmmakers is “an excellent representation of Dogtown’s vision to support all dance and movement artists spanning a vast variety of dance forms and backgrounds.” The first week’s program included local dancer and choreographers as well as artists who hail from as far away as Canada and even South Africa.

Four works particularly stood out for me. First, and possibly the most unusual of all, was Shane O’Hara’s True Confessions: My Boyfriend Mic. This is a fantastic ollaboration of stand up comedy, dance, music, spoken word, and experimental theatre – and it works! Dancer Sarah McCullough initially startles the audience by walking head first into a standing mic. As if to make sure we knew that was intentional, she did it again! McCullough proceeds to tell a somewhat fractured narrative from which we glean that her boyfriend is names “Mic” and he’s tall and skinny.  She dances with and without her “boyfriend,” sometimes using spoken word, sometimes dancing to music. She employs Broadway style jazz, acrobatics, and explosive movements of no predetermined genre.  At one point she dons a football helmet and later places black tape over her eyes and grabs a cheerleader-style megaphone or bullhorn.

True Confessions is bold and shocking and hilarious – a perfect way to end the first act. Choreographer Shane O’Hara, a Professor of Dance at James Madison University, is no stranger to the Richmond dance community and Dogtown Dance Theatre. Developed in collaboration with his daring soloist, O’Hara fashioned a dance theater work about “a lone female warrior. . .fighting passionately. . .to protect her heart.” Yep. That. And then some!

The second part of the program opened with Stewart Owen Dance’s duet, After Party, choreographed by founding partner Vanessa Owen, and performed by Owen and partner Gavin Stewart.  The Asheville, North Carolina-based company “aims to engage communities and maintain an environmentally conscious approach to art and performance,” but After Party is a sweet and amusing dance that contrasts elegant lines and poses and purely pedestrian transitions and humorous asides. My favorite? When Owen reaches into her lovely blue ball gown, removes the socks that have been padding her bosom and pull a pair onto her slim bare feet!

After Party is apparently a remake of a solo version, but I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of Owen’s bow-tied partner.  We don’t know whether the part of the title was a wedding, a ballroom dance, a banquet, or what, but it was apparently successful, and has left these two feeling tired, mellow, and in the mood to reminisce a bit for calling it a night.

I was also highly intrigued by S.J. Van Breda’s short film, Grey. Performed by Kioma Pyke and Kevin Navia who, between the two of them, attempt to singlehandedly cover multiple bases on the diversity front. Grey is about diversity, equality, race, and gender. The film depicts bold, strong images, mostly in shades of gray. Pyke, who appears to be, for lack of a better term, mixed-raced woman of color, begins with her skin and hair colored white, or pale gray. She dips hers hands into a bucket of chocolate-colored liquid and allows it to coat her skin. Her partner, Navia, who appears to be Asian and/or Latino and/or Native American, similarly explores the opposing end of the color spectrum.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed Subjective Dance Company’s OHMY! Adventures: Meet Queen Jeia. Performed by the SDAnimals crew, the five male dancers under the direction of Choreographer and Coach Greg Whitlock performed a high-energy, high-impact work that combined classis and contemporary hip hip with contemporary and jazz and other movement genres. The adventure is initiated or controlled, apparently, by a “battle box” and the competition-style movements include the sort of group unison and canon that we have grown familiar with from the televised dance competitions. Onstage, live, however, it is so much more fun! I was not quite clear on the mission to recover the missing dancer – where was he? How did the get him back? – but group Subjective Dance Company, also known as Subjective Dance Crew, is well on their way to fulfilling its mission to bridge the gap between stage and street dancing.

The July 27-28 program also included works by choreographers Taylor Black and Brianna Rivera; Jennifer Klotz of Stavna Ballet; films by Elian Djemil (The Flow), and Simone Wierød (Solus); a duet by Carolyn Hoehner and Emily Karasinski of DC-based Klynveldt&Peat; and a duet by Ilana Puglia of the Dogwood Dance Project. This program may be see once more, on Saturday, April 28, at 8PM.

Next weeks’ line-up: Lucid Beings Dance from Maryland/Northern Virginia; a short film by Barney Cokeliss; a dance by Nina Simone’, the love child of dance twins Ching-I Change Bigelow and Marsell Chavarria (a faculty member and student, respectively, from VCU Dance); a short film by Francesco Belligerante; Alicia Diaz’ Portrait of an Imagined Deity for her local group Agua Dulce Dance Theater; a solo by North Caroline-based artist Eric Mullis; a short film by Jessica Wright/The National English Ballet; and a collaborative work by Mamluft&Co Dance.

 

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

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Photo Credits: Richmond Dance Festival production photos by Kate Prunkl; images of Grey from the director’s website.

 

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ONE IN FOUR: Nu Puppis’ Out of This World Comedy

ONE IN FOUR: An Out of This World Comedy

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

A Nu Puppis Production

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

Performances: April 20-28, 2018. Previewed on April 20; just two shows left at the time of this posting: April 27 & 28 @ 7:30!

Ticket Prices: $15 general/employed humans; $7 students & all others

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

 

I left The Firehouse Theatre with a silly grin on my face and a question on my lips: what just happened here? Levi Meerovich’s madcap comedy, One in Four is ostensibly about four roommates who happen to all be aliens on assignment to Planet Earth. Unknown to each other, quite by chance they all end up living in the same apartment. (The experimental theater producing company, Nu Puppis, takes its name from a blue-hued star, although I have heard some pronounce the name as if it refers to infant canines.)

With its life-sized cutout of Robin Williams (in homage to Mork & Mindy, 1978-1982), a morphing portrait of Danny DeVito (Taxi, 1978-1983) on the rear wall, and numerous references to Seinfeld (1989-1998), the play, which runs just under an hour, with no intermission, is a wacky, unpretentious experiment that relies entirely on interesting writing and good acting skills. Remarkably, it seems that Meerovich was only 19 years old when he (recently) wrote One in Four; if so, he could only have seen these sitcoms and sit-com stars on reruns. The production is deftly directed by Connor Scully and Mahlon Raoufi.

Dixon Caswell is the ostensible lead, Sid. It is, after all, Sid’s Portland, Oregon apartment that is the setting. Cashwell, a founding member of this theater group, has turned himself in a spastic, nerdy alien type who walks with a round shoulder, slack-armed gait and startles easily. Sid is given to spurts of f-bombs and follows his outbursts of temper with profuse apologies. He wears his Hawaiian shirt tucked in.

The first roommate to arrive is Lou, played by Matt Riley with a black wig that looks like a mullet turned backwards. Lou is very sensitive, and pretends to be from Louisiana, because it’s easy to remember. Next up is Carrie, a free spirit played by Jess Rawls. Last to arrive is Lucy, a tightly-wound character who carries a guitar she quite obviously cannot play, along with a shopping bag of raw steak that is not meant to be eaten. Lucy is played by Rachel Hindman. Each roommate must wait to be let in because the unlocked door keeps locking – one of several running jokes in a play that is all about the jokes.

Another is that each time one of the four inadvertently mentions the word “alien” the lights dim – one of the few lighting cues needed or noted. There’s not much in the way of a set either, just an odd collection of objects one might find in a thrift store or at the curb: a single school desk with a lady’s vanity chair, a round table with a globe, an uncomfortable-looking armchair, and a torso suspended from the ceiling that oddly enough has lights emanating from the leg openings.

There may or may not be anything important or deep or subversive about this play, and there doesn’t have to be. It’s funny. It’s hilarious. It makes you laugh. That’s all it needs to be. As Sid says, “If you give somebody a boat, they’re gonna row, even if they don’t know how.”

 

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

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Photo Credits: Bill Sigafoos

 

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Matt Riley and Rachel Hindman

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Matt Riley and Dixon Cashwell

LUCKY ME: A Comedy Exploring the Joys of Being Flawed

LUCKY ME: Finding Joy in the Cracks and Flaws

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: April 6-21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios http://www.daryllmorganstudios.com

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Bill Blair, Amy Berlin, Matt Hackman, and Todd Schall-Vess in “Lucky Me”
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Amy Berlin (as Sara) and Matt Hackman (as Tom)
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Amy Berlin and Matt Hackman
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Matt Hackman and Amy Berlin