The Third Choice: Comedy Fueled by Real Life

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

A Jewish Family Theatre Presentation

At: The Sarah Bell November Theatre at the Weinstein JCC, 5403 Monument Ave., RVA 23226

Performances: March 29 – April 2, 2023

Ticket Prices: $20 for JCC Members; $25 for non-members

Info: (804) 285-6500 or https://weinsteinjcc.org/programs/arts-and-ideas/zero-hour/

First, some housekeeping. Well…acknowledgements. And…maybe a confession. I have been viewing and writing about dance and theater in RVA for more than 25 years, but this is the first time I have seen a show at the Weinstein JCC. It’s not that I haven’t know about shows there, or been invited, I just never seemed to have found the time to fit it into my schedule. Jason Marks sent me a DM about this show, which opened while I was out of town for a performing residency, and I somehow found myself driving straight from a DC dance space directly to the Firehouse Theatre on a Friday night, then to the JCC on Saturday after spending the morning in rehearsal and the afternoon at the Nature Center celebrating my youngest grandchild’s first birthday, and ending the weekend at Atlee High School for the final performance of a CAT show. That’s how “retired” people roll.

Second – and last – I appreciate growing up in Brooklyn and attending the Bronx High School of Science. That background made many of the Zero Hour’s references familiar and the humor genuine – unforced and abundant. So I could sum up right here and just say that Zero Hour is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen and it appears to have been a perfect vehicle for Jason Marks. But I won’t – sum up just now – because that wouldn’t be fair or fun.

Zero Hour is a skillful balance of biography and entertainment. For those unfamiliar with Zero Mostel, it is informative, and for those who were already fans, it might reveal a few unknown nuggets. Mostel (who, like me, was born in Brooklyn and also shares my birthday, February 28) was active at a time when the US was obsessed with the Red Plague or Red Scare, when McCarthyism (which took its name from US Senator Joseph McCarthy) insinuated that the government and Hollywood, among other industries, were being infiltrated by the dreaded specter of Communism. Numerous investigations were directed at the film industry leading to the blacklisting of industry professionals – including Zero Mostel.

The freedom of any society varies proportionately with the volume of its laughter. – Zero Mostel

The heart is, truly, the source of love. The proof is that if you remove it from someone, they will almost certainly never love again. – Zero Mostel

An unfortunate encounter with a NYC bus in 1960 nearly cost him a leg. The leg was saved, but he lived the rest of his life in pain. But on the bright side, the accident saved him from having to perform in a reportedly bad play, The Good Soup. But there were plenty of memorable roles on his resume, from Tevya in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof to Pseudolos in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, from classics like Ionesco’s Rhinoceros to special appearances on The Electric Show, Sesame Street, and The Muppet Show.

There are several explanations for how Samuel Joel Mostel came to be known as Zero. One is that his mother coined the nickname because of his poor grades in school – but one bio notes that he was a “A” student. Another explanation is that a press agent once said of him, “Here’s a guy starting from nothing.”

Known widely as an actor and singer as well as a comedian, Mostel developed a talent for painting and drawing from childhood. He took art classes provided by a community program that served Jewish immigrants and their children, and later attended City College of New York and then enrolled in a master’s program in art at New York University (which also happens to be my alma mater). Zero Hour is set in Mostel’s NYC art studio, just two months before the end of his life, on a day when he is being interviewed by a New York Times journalist – whom Mostel contentiously greets by calling him a putz (idiot; jerk) because “I don’t know your name.” BTW, Mostel didn’t care to learn the reporter’s name until near the end of the play, because “I don’t want to know your name; this is an interview, not a relationship.

“That’s it, baby, when you’ve got it, flaunt it! Flaunt it!” – Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel in the 1967 movie, “The Producers”

From House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings to his mother’s displeasure at his Catholic shiksa (gentile) wife, from his dislike of choreographer/director Jerome Robbins to often being not the first or even second but the third choice for roles he made legendary, from being blacklisted to being invited to the LBJ White House where “the thought of having to eat with Texans was too much!”), all of this, and more, is lovingly and capably captured by Marks under the director of Debra Clinton. Clinton, in the Director’s notes, paid homage to Mostel’s individuality – his commitment to standing up for what he believed even to the detriment of his career – “his honesty, passion, and empathy.” Given the larger-than-life persona of Mostel, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the reporter is a disembodied and oddly reticent character, given his profession; we never actually see him or hear him. The HUAC investigator, however, is voiced by Roger Price. It probably would not have mattered how much or how little the reporter talked, there wasn’t a dull moment with Mostel’s explosive personality. Sometimes it was hard to tell where Marks ended and Mostel began. I am sure playwright Jim Brochu who originally starred in his own play, would approve of Marks’ interpretation.

“It’s not about absurdity, it’s about conformity.” – Zero Mostel


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



By Jim Brochu

Starring Jason Marks as Zero Mostel

Directed by Debra Clinton

Production Team:

Set and Lighting Design + Photos: Todd Schall-Vess

Production Stage Management: Hayley Tsutsumi

Performance Schedule:

March 29: 7:30PM

March 30: 7:30PM

April 1: 8:30PM

April 2: 2:00 PM

Run time: approximately 2 hours, with one intermission

Photos by Todd Schall-Vess


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An Original Musical About War and Love

A Studio Series Production at The Lynn Theatre at Brightpoint Community College, 800  Charter Colony Pkwy, T Building, Room T112, Midlothian, VA 23114

Reviewed by Julinda D. Lewis

Performances: January 27 – February 5, 2023

Ticket Prices: $10

Info: (804) 796-4000 or email theatreinfo@brightpoint.edu 


I usually don’t do much preparation prior to seeing a new show so as not to arrive with preconceived expectations. It didn’t take long before Rachel Landsee’s new musical, Jump Baby, began to feel familiar. This feeling solidified right around the time lead character Amelia West (played by Rachel Rose Gilmour) remarked that the plane banked just before she jumped out. It turns out it wasn’t the plane, hence the title, Jump Baby.


In September of 2021 I attended a wonderfully unique performance of four one-act plays at the Firehouse Theatre. Each had been written in workshop by a veteran, with one, SOAR, being penned by a female veteran. It made an impression:


The first half of the program closed with SOAR,
the only one of the four one-act plays written by a woman veteran, Rachel Landsee. Irene Kuykendall was outstanding as the military lawyer and wife, Rachel. Her husband, Adam (Dean Knight) was also an officer, and the focus of SOAR included the strains military life puts on relationships, the demands made on women, especially if they become pregnant while in service, as well as philosophical discussions of the validity of sending US troops to Iraq and
Afghanistan. For me, this was the most complex and layered of the four pieces, and its appeal is enhanced by the presence of a sort of Greek chorus meets four-part harmony a cappella group composed of four of the male ensemble members. SOAR turned out to be a mini-musical, powered by foot-stomping, finger-snapping military cadence, soulful rhythms, and the bluesy strains of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.”

Birds flying
high, you know how I feel

Sun in the
sky, you know how I feel

driftin’ on by, you know how I feel

It’s a new

It’s a new

It’s a new
life for me…



Nearly 18 months later, SOAR has grown into – or provided a foundation for – a full-fledged two-act musical with an original score by Mark Messing. The a cappella quartet has doubled in size and this iteration features a full ensemble of cast members who play multiple roles, sing, and dance. The military cadences are still there, but now there is a list of a dozen songs and a trio of live musicians, under the direction of Cassie Cipolla. The story of Amelia and Jack has been placed in context, providing more of a backstory and fleshed out relationships.

There’s Jack and Amelia’s marriage, their struggle to understand the role of war and justice, the place of women in the military, and more. At one point, all the women are pregnant, opening the door to but leaving unanswered questions about sexuality, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the military. Kerrigan Sullivan’s deft direction – and Kayla Xaiver’s choreography – keeps everything and everyone moving at a nice clip that echoes the military cadences.

The inaugural production of the Lynn Theatre’s new Studio Series, Jump Baby is a collaboration involving the development of new work by underrepresented voices (Rachel Landsee, a female veteran and military attorney), professional actors (Rachel Rose Gilmour and Adam Turck), and students (onstage and behind the scenes). It has catchy tunes, cadences, a logical story line, and humor. The minimalist set of boxes and graded planes studded with rivets provides an appropriate and versatile background, especially when creatively lit in a kaleidoscope of colors – or in red, white, and blue. Little touches, such as having the ringing of a cell phone voiced by an actor instead of a recording of an actual cell phone demonstrate a commitment to the process.

I fully expect to see and hear more of this project. “You can do so much with music that you can’t do with words,” Landsee said during the closing show talkback. “Musicals are a fantastic way to express an American way of life.”  I don’t think Landsee is finished yet, and it’s been a pleasure to see the growth and development to date. The production closed February 5, but I think I heard from a friend that you may be able to see a streaming version if you contact The Lynn Theatre.

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




Written by Rachel Landsee

Music by Mark Messing

Directed by Kerrigan Sullivan


Amelia West: Rachel Rose Gilmour

Jack West: Adam Turck

Staff Sergeant Michaels/Soldier: Jay Bynum

Deputy Big Boss/Jumpmaster/Soldier: Conner McGowan

Branch Chief/Soldier: Mac Owens

Acting Deputy Big Boss/Jumpmaster/Soldier/Assistant
Director: Russell Paulette

Big Boss/Soldier: Harrison Phillips

Soldier: Mahala Redden

Missy/Soldier: Ariana Silva

Military Doctor/Soldier: Julianna Velasquez


Pianist: Justin Lee

Trumpeter/Auxiliary Percussionist: August Redden

Percussionist: Elliot Loucks

Song List:

War Game

Homicide Rhymes with Lullaby

Jumping Hollywood

Death from Above


Called Away

59 Days and a Wakeup

Christmas Bells

On the Daily

Run, Gun, and Done

Mail Call

Green Light Go

Production Team:

Producing Artistic Director/Director: Kerrigan Sullivan

Playwright/Lyricist: Rachel Landsee

Composer: Mark Messing

Musical Director: Cassie Cipolla

Choreographer: Kayla Xaiver

Creative Team & Designers:

Production State Manager/Lighting Designer/Master Electrician: Alleigh Scantling

Scenic Designer/Technical Director/Properties Master: Hailey Bean

Sound Designer: Grace LaBelle

Costume Designer: Lindsey Ladnier

Assistant Stage Manager/Spot Operator/Costume Shop Supervisor: Claire Bronchick

Marketing Manager/Graphic Designer/Photographer/Videographer/Website Designer: Ian Glass

Assistant State Manager: Michelle Rubinstein

Sound Engineer: Lillian Foster


Sam Richardson, Casey Allen, Sadie Tucker, Kenya Saunders

Performance Schedule:

Friday, January 27, at 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, January 28, at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, January 29, at 2:00 p.m. (Talkback with the playwright follows the show)

Thursday, February 2, at 7:00 p.m.

Friday, February 3, at 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, February 4, at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, February 5, at 2:00 p.m. (Talkback with the playwright follows the show)

Run Time:

About two hours with one intermission


General admission tickets are $10. Military and veteran tickets are $5. Current Brightpoint students may get their tickets for free with a Brightpoint Student ID. To purchase tickets, go to https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/5692705

Photos: Ian Glass

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UPROOTED DANCE: The Ascension Project

Dogtown Presenter’s Series 2022

A dance review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: May 20-21, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $15 Students & Military

Info: (804) 230-8780 or https://www.dogtowndancetheatre.com


The Ascension Project: An Indie-Rock Dance Opera

Choreography: Kiera Hart-Mendoza & Uproot Dance Cast Members

Music: Sufjan Stevens, Ascension Album

Director: Keira Hart-Mendoza

Assistant Director: Carrie Monger

UpRooted Dance Cast Members: Rachael Appoid, Ashayla Byrd, Raeanna Grey, Brittney Leasure, Carrie Monger, and Julianna Raimondo

Community Member Dancers in Act II: Lexie Hays, David Monger, Lea Monger, Maria Carmina Parong, Honey Lyn Savage, Dhol Tuason, Belle Villanueva

Original Projection Art and Design: Nitsan Scharf

Celestial Headpiece Design: Margie Jervis

Lighting Design: Kaylin Corbin

Scenic Design: Ken Hays

This may seem like a strange start, but stick with me. I promise it will make sense. I have memories of people skipping church when they knew the senior pastor was away. They apparently attended church for a personality, rather than to worship God. Some people just don’t like the unknown and unless the guest speaker was a well-known personality, many showed no interest. This is the thought that ran through my mind when I attended The Ascension Project by Uprooted Dance at the Dogtown Presenter’s Series on Friday, April 20. My partner and I seemed to be the only attendees in the approximately 150-seat theater who were not staff members or family or friends of the performers. There were fewer than 20 people in the seats.

Now, I was not familiar with Uprooted Dance, a Metro D.C. – area based company that is committed to presenting interdisciplinary collaborative work that tells thought-provoking stories and community engagement. That is exactly why I wanted to see them. What a great opportunity to see a new-to-me company without having to travel several hours and spend money on gas. Well, that’s my take on the situation, but I know that’s not going to fill empty seats, so without further ado – or diversion – here’s my take on The Ascension Project.

The Ascension Project was inspired by the events of the past two years: the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, social justice, the flattening of personal space as represented on a Zoom screen. Arranged – remember, this is a dance opera – into a prelude and three short acts, The Ascension Project is a journey through time and space that begins with isolation in small spaces, explores identity, trauma, and loss, and concludes with a transcendent journey. So, what does this look like?

The “Prelude,” described in the Director’s notes as “a bright, bold, big dance number” has the company of six dancers performing warm up movements in brightly colored casual clothes against a wall of brightly colored projections that include videos of the dancers performing the “Prelude.” For all the clever moments, including the dancers passing and sharing up close with the audience signs bearing messages such as “I missed you,” “Can you see me,” “Sit back and relax,” and “Enjoy the show,” and an attempt to create a satirical replica of a Zoom dance class experience, the sum total of all the components of the “Prelude” was remarkably subdued.

The dancers spend most of Act 1, the “Dream Sequence” on the floor in uncomfortable positions, rolling and restless as the background of colorful mandalas spins and regenerates at a sometimes dizzying pace. In one mesmerizing section the dancers log roll upstage, walk back downstage, and repeat the sequence, each time at a faster pace until finally they are running. Black and white projections and earth-toned costumes segue into colorful blooming flowers for the ”Circle of Life” section where the dancers move in a clockwise rotation, briefly holding hands and wrapping their arms around one another, ending the nightmare of illness, death, war, and famine.

The focus – and tone – shifts again in Act 2, “America,” when the company members are joined by members of the Sayaw! Philippine cultural dance group and community dancers, including a lone man and two little girls.  The focus of “America” is culture and identity and features a power fist pump, a cultural dance, taking a knee, and saluting the flag (background) with a hand over the heart.

Finally, Act 3, “Blast Off,” contemplates what the future holds. The dancers start off as astronauts, in silver suits and a cleverly designed spaceship – a blend of physical and video components – that takes them to future new worlds where race and politics and nationality no longer exist, no longer separate and segregate. After experiencing weightlessness – and planting their flag – the dancers become transformed into celestial beings with lighted constellations headdresses. The lighting and dark costumes obscure their individuality, such as race, hair, skin color, creating a minimalist effect that harkens ack to the beginning.

Make no mistake, like most operas, this one needs a synopsis to help an unfamiliar audience navigate the strange  new terrain. Extensive program notes were provided in the printed program but before each new section, Artistic Director Kiera Hart-Mendoza provided a verbal map to guide the uninitiated.

Honestly, The Ascension Project has the look and feel of a work-in-progress. Sometimes, it’s good to get in on an emerging work and follow its development. I suspect this is very much the case with The Ascension Project,” as its name implies. The Ascension Project is an interesting and evolving work that did not quite reach its full potential, but hopefully will continue to evolve and reach an appropriate and appreciative audience.

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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THROUGH THEIR EYES: Raymond Goode Walks a Mile in Their Shoes

Ripped From the Headlines, From the Page to the Stage: An Evening of Monologues, Music, and Art

Some Observations on a COVID-Conscious Theater Experience by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The ARTS Community Center, 10179 Hull Street Rd., Midlothian, VA 23112

Performances: December 5, 2020, at 6PM, 7PM, 8PM & 9PM

Ticket Prices: $25

Info: rd.goode@yahoo.com

Some theater is meant to entertain, to make you laugh, or to be a diversion from your everyday life. And some theater is meant to move you, to educate you, to stir you to action or make you uncomfortable. Raymond Goode’s THROUGH THEIR EYES falls squarely into the latter category. In his book of the same title (which I promise I will read as soon as I clear my schedule of over-due assignments), Goode crafts short stories from the real-life situations he has culled from the headlines or in some cases from history. In each story, Goode has placed himself in the shoes of the protagonist (I try to avoid using the word “victim”), and the result is a series of moving, sometimes raw monologues.

With minimal set (a podium, a veteran’s flag encased in the traditional triangular frame) and live musicians (David Thompson on saxophone, Eugene Harris on keyboards, and Orisegun Olimidun on drum), there were few distractions from the gravity of the words. Conceived as a series of monologues, the work is fluid, with each of the four performances having a different line-upof monologues and entre’actes. The program, in its current form, has more of the feel of a staged reading or an open mic night, as one viewer told me. Goode is both author and director, and future iterations might benefit from the vision of another pair of eyes in the directorial chair.

My introduction to the Goode experience began with Benny Blonkoe Perry’s retelling of “Step in the Name of Love.” It is the story of a man remembering how, as a little boy, his father took him on a rare trip to McDonald’s, only to be shot to death in front of his son, for the paltry contents of his wallet. “That night haunts me to this day,” the now adult son remembers. “I was the last person to see my father alive.” The R Kelly hit tune “Step in the Name of Love” was playing on the radio and forms the haunting background to this memory.

In the second set, Katrina Robinson, who also performed as vocalist, stepped into the painful shoes of a mother who learned to come to terms with her son’s coming out, only to have him die from AIDS shortly after graduating from Morehouse College. “He Was My Son” should come with a warning to bring tissues or a handkerchief – and I think Robinson’s tears were genuine as she stumbled off the stage.

Royal Coakley stirred hearts and rage as she told the story of an enslaved woman who was raped in front of her husband, who sat helplessly and watched the violation unfold. When Coakley stormed offstage to find Harriet Tubman and get a ticket on the underground railroad at the end of “Still He Was,” the audience was ready to follow her.

Other stories brought to life included “Trayvon Martin” performed by Tandylyn Cooke, “Treatment Facility,” with Ken Moretti in the role of the broken veteran, “Homicide,” and “Goodies” with Goode in the role of the desperate father and fallen addict, respectively. Other performers included vocalists Lakesha Walker and TC, Dana Terry with dance interpretation, and my personal favorite, “Krumpologist” Casey Kingversastylez Inneigh who mesmerized the audience with his mind-bending, shape-changing movement to “Black Mothers’ Rules” and Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit.”

The few spaces that have stepped back into the world of live performances have done so under the guidance of strict pandemic regulations and guidelines that include temperature checks, scanned tickets, and digital programs. They require masks (a major ballet company even has the performers wear masks), and have greatly reduced the seating capacity. Given that ticket prices cover only a portion of the expenses involved in a production, reducing seating capacity from 250 to 75 or from 100 to 25 certainly doesn’t make economic sense, but instead speaks volumes to the dedication of performers to put on a live show. These are desperate times.

All that to say, with a socially-distanced capacity of 25 (in a space that could easily seat more than 100), it was heart-breaking to see only two other couples in attendance at the two shows I attended. One couple arrived late (for a 45-minute show) and one couple left early from each show. I would love to know if they left because the material was so intense they couldn’t bear to relive it, or because they were not satisfied with the quality, or if they just had other plans for the rest of their evening.

Even in it’s rough-edged state, in an open space without benefit of theatrical lighting or other accoutrements, with the restraints of social-distancing and all that entails, THROUGH THEIR EYES has the power to move. It’s dynamic. It isn’t perfect, but neither are we. And that makes it worth a look – or two or three.

Click here to visit Raymond Goode’s website: https://www.raymondgoode.com/about

Check out Raymond Goode’s social media pages to find out more about his books: Through Their Eyes, The Road to Oprah, 350 Goals of a Leader, and more.

For a promo clip of Goode’s work on WTVR News6: https://www.wtvr.com/news/local-news/through-their-eyes-author-brings-short-stories-to-the-stage-with-live-performances

Visit Amazon.com to purchase copies of Julinda’s publications:

The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt

Stories in the Soil by The Conciliation Project

Observations on a Research-based Performance by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Pre-recorded at the VCU’s ICA (Institute for Contemporary Art) and on location in Richmond; live-streamed on YouTube

Performance: Sunday, November 15, 2020 at 3:00 PM; available for a limited time thereafter (see link below)

Ticket Prices: free

Info: https://youtu.be/yrbIGTA0WYg

There is no getting around the fact that 2020 has been a most unusual year. It has brought unprecedented challenges to our arts. Yet, as history confirms, art always prevails. Theater and dance has found new ways to exist and mined new ways to create.

The Conciliation Project is a Richmond-based social justice theater company under the direction of Dr. Tawyna Pettiford-Wates (Professor of Graduate Pedagogy in Acting and Directing at Virginia Commonwealth University) and Dr. Ram Bhagat (educator, peace-builder, community healer, and co-founder of Drums No Guns). With heavyweights like these at the helm, it should come as no surprise that The Conciliation Project offers research-based programming that reveals, examines, and demands a response to racial stereotypes and racial injustice.

The script for “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” was developed from conversations with Richmonders, with a focus on the history-defining events of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial (in-)justice protests that resounded around the world in the weeks and months following the murder of George Floyd.

“The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” is not a play in the traditional sense. It is reminiscent of Ntzoke Shange’s self-described “choreo-poems” or the eye-opening work I saw as a teen-ager at what was then the mecca of Brooklyn’s Black culture, The East. (For a description of The East, look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_East_(Brooklyn) and http://www.corenyc.org/omeka/items/show/320). In other words, this is work that exists to educate and enlighten as well as to entertain.

Conciliation: The process of winning over from a state of hostility or to gain the goodwill of. The building of bridges to connect two points that are distant, and/or disconnected from one another.

Among the topics presented by the voices in “The Common wealth & The Common debt” are the definition of the word “commonwealth,” diverse perspectives on the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia (the middle passage, slave markets, Jim Crow and other racial injustices), the value of Richmond monuments, the Civil War, racism, power, segregation, urban farming, and more. In one moving scene, Keaton Hillman has a conversation with an ancestor, Callie, a woman sold into slavery and later freed. “Help break the cage for someone else,” she says before returning to the ancestral plain. The next scene shows a group of protesters marching in cadence to “no justice, no peace.”

Against the backdrop of a chain link fence and passing traffic, masked performers sing, “We Wear the Mask.” Contemporary voices blend with traditional fables, history, and storytelling in a non-linear way that the modern western mind might struggle to comprehend. Experiencing “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” is a bit like being inside the production while watching it; similar to the way one might dream and awaken to wonder where the dream state ends and reality begins.

“I think we could definitely do a better job at creating monuments that glorify actual heroes instead of being used as an intimidation tactic, which is what they were originally put there for.”

The creative team organized a solid ensemble consisting of Calie Bain, Juliana Caycedo, Keaton O’Neal Hillman, Zakiyyah Jackson, Dylan Jones, Jamar Jones, Todd Patterson, and Mariea Terrell. The acting ensemble is supported by Drummers lead by Ram Bhagat and dancer Alfumega Enock. In a live post-performance discussion, we learned that the stories and interviews were collected by the Graduate Applied Theatre Class at VCU as well as members of the Ensemble, with support from the ICA. “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” should be accessible for the remainder of the week of November 15. Catch it, if you can.


For more information, contact:
Amy Wight , amyzzon@gmail.com

“Lucky 13” Annual Theater Awards Winners Announced
TheatreLAB wins ten “Artsies,” VA Rep honored for Children’s Theatre

Richmond, VA – September 14, 2020. The 13th Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards (Artsies), which is typically an in-person black-tie event, was all virtual this year. With a “Lucky 13” theme, the show highlighted the funny – and often outrageous – ways that theater can go wrong, elevating what is unique and vital about live performance: the thrill of the unexpected.

Not only are the Artsies the community’s recognition of excellence in Richmond-area theater, but they are the primary fundraising event for the Theatre Artist Fund of Greater Richmond (The Fund). The Fund provides emergency financial assistance to theater artists who have experienced an exceptional financial need related to a specific crisis beyond their control. Since
its inception, the Artsies have raised $83,446 for the Fund, which has written 21 grants totaling $30,468 for artists in need. While no tickets were sold for this year’s event, attendees were urged to consider donating in support of the Theatre Artist Fund of Greater Richmond .

Although the 2019-2020 theater season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Richmond-area professional theaters staged a number of remarkable productions. Virginia Repertory Theatre received a special award this year for Excellence in Children’s Theatre for its productions of “Tuck Everlasting” and “Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad,” the
latter written by local playwright Douglas Jones. In addition, the theater came away with an impressive eight wins, including Best Play for its production of August Wilson’s “Fences.” Virginia Rep’s production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” garnered four of those wins, including Scott Wichmann’s award for Best Actor in a Musical.

TheatreLAB swept the night with ten Artsies, most of them for its production of “Urinetown,” which was also the production that won the most Artsies. “Urinetown” received seven awards, including Best Musical; Best Direction of a Musical for Matt Polson; Best Actress in a Musical, which went to Bianca Bryan; Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for Luke Schares; and Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Kelsey Cordrey. The show also picked up awards for Best Choreography for Nicole Morris-Anastasi’s work and Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design in a Musical for Michael Jarett’s lighting. And, the first show of the season, TheatreLAB’s production of “Level 4,” was honored as Outstanding Original Work.

Among Firehouse Theatre’s four awards this year was the Best Acting Ensemble award to the cast of “Passing Strange,” which also won Jimmy Fecteau an award for his sound design. Lorin Hope Turner’s role in the theater’s production of “Stupid Kid” earned her an Artsie for Breakout Performance, and Alison Devereaux won an award for her direction of the play.

“Our organization has tried at this unprecedented time to support theater artists who continue making their art and sharing it with the world,” said Susie Haubenstock, RTCC President. “The RTCC embraces the rich diversity of backgrounds and perspectives that our local theater artists bring to their craft and is proud to honor and pay tribute to the excellence they bring to
Richmond-area theater.”

Best Musical

Best Direction, Musical
Matt Polson

Best Actor, Musical
Scott Wichmann
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

Best Actress, Musical
Bianca Bryan

Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Musical
Luke Schares

Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Musical
Kelsey Cordrey

Best Musical Direction
Sandy Dacus
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

Best Choreography
Nicole Morris-Anastasi

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design, Musical
Sue Griffin
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design, Musical
Michael Jarett

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design, Musical
Chris Raintree
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design, Musical
Jimmy Fecteau
“Passing Strange”

Best Play
Virginia Rep

Best Direction, Play
Alison Devereaux
“Stupid Kid”

Best Actor, Play
James Craven

Best Actress, Play
Terri Moore
“The Cake”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Play
Joe Pabst
“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”

Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Play
Maggie Bavolack
“The Revolutionists”

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design, Play
Ruth Hedberg
“The Revolutionists”

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design, Play
Joe Doran
“Holmes and Watson”

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design, Play
Josafath Reynoso

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design, Play
Nicholas Seaver

2020 Ernie McClintock Best Acting Ensemble Award
The cast members of Firehouse Theatre’s “Passing Strange”
are honored for their notable performance as a cohesive and compelling ensemble:
Patricia Alli
Keydron Dunn
Keaton Hillman
Dylan Jones
Jamar Jones
Katrinah Carol Lewis
Jeremy V. Morris

Breakout Performance
Lorin-Hope Turner
“Stupid Kid”

Outstanding Original Work
Level 4, TheatreLAB

Excellence in Children’s Theatre
“Tuck Everlasting” and “Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad,” Virginia Rep

To view the “Lucky 13” Artsies video, visit http://www.artsies.org/ .


LATIN BALLET: Legend of the Poinsettia 2020


A Dance Review and Seasonal Observations by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, 2880 Mountain Road, Glen Allen, VA, 23192

Performance Were: January 9-12, 2020

Ticket Prices: $10 – $20

Info: (804) 356-3876 or http://www.latinballet.com

The Legend of the Poinsettia is, for many, a local holiday tradition, much as The Nutcracker ballet has become in communities across the USA. This year I attended a Thursday morning production. Because it is designed for school field trips, the program has been truncated and lasts only one hour. I am familiar with the full-length two-act version and was impressed that the field trip edition is seamless, and if you didn’t know what was omitted, it didn’t feel as if anything was missing.

I noted that the indomitable Miss Frances Wessells, who normally dances the role of Abuelita, the grandmother, was absent. I understand that she is saving her appearance for the final performance on Sunday at 3:00pm, and at age 100 (yes, she officially became a centenarian last August!), she can choose to dance whenever and wherever she wants!

There was no soloist, singing “Ave Maria” as well as several other selections. Also, the life-sized nativity, where the Virgin Mary usually takes up residence for most of the second act, remained empty.

Other differences were not cast related. This year’s production has done away with the traditional, and sometimes bulky, set and replaced it with stunningly beautiful projections of background scenes, buildings, window boxes, the night sky, whatever is needed to enhance and promote the storyline. The program doesn’t list a credit for the projections, but Antonio hidalgo Paz is credited for lighting design and technical direction with Steve Kohler as technical assistant.

Dominion Energy sponsored the program as well as some of the schools present. But while the weather was sunny in Richmond and Glen Allen, some schools from Fredericksburg were forced to cancel due to snowy conditions just a little father north of the Glen Allen venue. Those present ooh’d and ahh’d when the curtain went up, and again when the company’s men – Jay Williams, Nicolas Betancourt Sotolongo, and Glen Lewis, performed flips and handsprings across the stage. But this is Latin Ballet, and I felt that the young attendees’ responses were subdued – either because this was their first time attending the theater experience or because their teachers and chaperones had cautioned them to be on their best behavior. And they were – on their best behavior, that is.

At the end, company member Jay Williams invited audience members onstage for a mini-hiphop class, which offered many aspiring performers the opportunity to show off their best moves. The young audience members seemed to enjoy meeting the cast, taking pictures, and getting autographs nearly as much as the performance itself.

            The Legend of the Poinsettia tells the story of Little Maria (with Sydney Smith and Kaia Davis-Martin, who performed on Thursday morning, alternating in the role).  After the sudden death of her mother, who was teaching her how to weave a colorful blanket, Maria finds herself in need of a gift to present to the Baby Jesus on Epiphany Day on January 6. Epiphany or Three King’s Day (Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos) celebrates the 12th day of Christmas and the legend of the three Wise Men bringing gifts to the Christ Child. This provides a great excuse for those who did not take down their Christmas trees on January 1 to just say you were waiting to celebrate Epiphany.

The narration, given in English and Spanish, also emphasizes that this is also the story of “the true spirit of giving.” Not only is there entertainment and a moral, but there is also history, as the program explains how the poinsettia came to be a symbol of Christmas after Joel Roberts Poinsett, first ambassador from the US to Mexico in 1825, imported clippings and cultivated the plants that came to bear

As I have written previously, The Legend of the Poinsettia is a family-friendly, multi-cultural, multi-generational festival featuring dances, music, and colorful costumes from Columbia, Mexico, and Spain. There are cultural offerings from Mexico (the origin of the legend and of the poinsettia plant), Colombia (King’s birthplace, which also celebrates the nine nights before Christmas with las novenas including songs, prayers, and nativity scenes), Venezuela (the home of the gaitas or festive songs that blend the Spanish and African cultures), the Dominican Republic (home of the bachata, a mixture of Cuban bolero and son), Puerto Rico (home of the Christmas parrandas or musical festivities) and Spain (home of flamenco and the Christmas novenas). A blend of solemn candle lighting and prayers with festive singing and dancing is the common thread that ties together the many cultures and traditions, concluding with the miracle of the poinsettia plant, represented by dancers in red and green. The Spirit of the Poinsettia, floating around the perimeter of the stage in a voluminous read gown from which individual poinsettia “plants” emerge, may remind some of the Mother Ginger figure in The Nutcracker who hides a dozen small children under her huge gown.

Tickets are still available for a weekend of family-friendly shows


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


Photo Credits: Photos from Latin Ballet website; photos of Jay Williams working with the children by Julinda.



GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST: Bifocals Senior Theatre

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: December 16, 2019

Ticket Prices: $10

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Photo Credits: CAT Theatre Facebook page

Whistlin Women

Alvin Ailey


ART OF MURDER: And Then There Were…


A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: September 27 – October 12, 2019

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

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

About halfway into his second line, I wanted Jack Brooks dead. The man, played by Aaron Willoughby, is so obnoxious, narcissistic, and misogynistic, I could never develop any sympathy for him. And it only gets worse after the opening scene, where he emerges from his isolation tank and proceeds to strut around in his swim trunks and an open robe. I don’t know Willoughby, a teacher at the Center for Communications and Media Relations at Varina High School who is performing in his first CAT production, but I attribute Brook’s rotten demeanor to Willoughby’s acting abilities – and the script – and not to any personal shortcomings.

Joe DiPietro’s Art of Murder, a 2000 Edgar Award winner for Best Mystery Play, is a comedy murder mystery full of plot twists and turns and laugh-out-loud moments. The problem is that with the exception of Kate, the Brook’s Irish maid, none of DiPietro’s characters is likeable. And even Kate, played by Charlotte Topp with a warm-as-fresh-baked-bread Irish accent, seems to have something up her sleeve, too.

Jack Brooks is despicable, and his treatment of Kate and his wife Annie, played by Emily Turner, make him a likely candidate for murder. Turner’s character is complex, in turn angry, beleaguered, soft, and sharp. The winding path of the plot keeps her deliberately enigmatic. We don’t like to see women abused, but Annie. . .well, you have to meet her and decide for yourself what her story really is.

There is nothing subtle or enigmatic about the Brooks’ art dealer and friend, Vincent Cummings. Cummings is played with over-the-top flamboyance by D.C. Hopkins (not to be confused with dl Hopkins). Without giving away too much of the mystery, Cummings walks unwittingly into a set up, but he brings his own baggage, so I couldn’t muster up much sympathy for him, either.

All-in-all, Art of Murder is 100 minutes of comedic dysfunction, kept moving along at a fairly swift pace by director Zachary Owens. It’s just a matter of who gets murdered, and when, and by whom – we don’t really care why.

Art of Murder, set in a large country house in Connecticut (a murder mystery standard), on an autumn evening about 10 years ago, opens with Jack and Annie, a wildly famous celebrity artist and his less-celebrated artist wife, awaiting the arrival of their art dealer, Vincent. Jack has a grudge against Vincent, and he and Annie have summoned Vincent for dinner, where they are plotting to execute Vincent’s murder. Or are they? At one point Annie says to Vincent (yes, Vincent, not Jack) “I’ve never killed anyone before.” His response is “It’s always good to try new things.”

There’s – possibly – murder and suicide, red herrings and mis-direction, a gun filled with blanks (or are they?) and props that turn up in the wrong place, an escape from a locked box, a disembodied voice, and all manner of deceptions. Elizabeth Allmon’s set is a standard murder mystery genre room but lacks the elegance of a large country estate owned by a wealthy artist, and Sheila Russ’ costumes for Annie and Jack look more like they came from a thrift store than from a couture boutique, as their lifestyle demands. One prominent prop, Jack’s isolation tank, is a roughhewn black box, more reminiscent of a coffin than a sleek example of spa-inspired technology. Alan Armstrong gets to have fun with lighting, and Hunter Mass gets creative with the sound design. Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” plays before the show starts, and “Ave Maria” ushers in the intermission. Aaron Orensky’s fight choreography is graphic, but I found it visually dissonant and unconvincing that Jack could so easily manhandle Vincent, given that Hopkins is so much more solidly built than Willoughby.

Art of Murder raises many questions. Most of the plot questions are eventually answered, leaving questions like what was the playwright thinking, and are the over-the-top performances intentional, and are the outbursts of anger meant to move the plot along by layering levity with a shot of reality, or were they thinly disguised rants by the playwright? There are only four people in the cast, so the possibilities – who gets murdered and who does the murdering – are not endless, yet DiPietro still manages to throw in some head-scratching surprises.

It’s interesting that of the current fall productions – and this one is the opening of CAT Theatre’s 56th consecutive season of providing community theater in Richmond – there are three mysteries, including Holmes & Watson a contemporary Sherlock Holmes style mystery at Swift Creek Mill (https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/09/21/holmes-and-watson-its-not-what-you-think), and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder a comedic musical murder mystery at Virginia Rep (https://jdldancesrva.com/2019/10/03/a-gentlemans-guide-to-love-murder-whos-turn-to-die).



D.C. Hopkins, a graduate of Christopher Newport University, has toured with Virginia Rep for their shows “I Have a Dream” and “The Jungle Book.”

dl Hopkins is an award winning actor, veteran poet, and former Artistic Director of the African American Repertory Theatre of Virginia who was aa founding member of Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theatre.


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


Photo Credits: Ellie Wilder



Modern Personal Isolation Tank/Float Tank

Isolation tank


CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA:  43rd Annual Winter Repertory Gala

A Dance Review & Some Random Thoughts by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Woman’s Club Auditorium, 211 East Franklin St., RVA 23219

Performances: February 8 – March 3, 2019

Ticket Prices: $18 for adults; $15 for seniors and students (with valid ID); and $12 for children

Info: (804) 798-0945 or www.concertballet.com

It has been awhile – at least two years, maybe three – since I’ve seen a performance by the Concert Ballet of Virginia. This company, which describes itself a “collection of unsalaried Virginians. . .operating within the framework of a full-scale professional dance company” occupies a unique position. Based on a mission to reach large, diverse audiences, the performing company itself is a form of outreach, offering performing opportunities to many who want to experience ballet without the commitment of a full-time professional career. Many performances take place in schools, bringing storybook ballets and dance exploration to students of all levels.

The company also offers two annual gala programs at The Woman’s Club Auditorium on East Franklin St. The recent 43rd Annual Winter Gala, held February 24, included live music by The Concert Ballet Orchestra and two new works, The Banks of Green Willow, choreographed by Concert Ballet dancers Allie Davis and Will Taylor and Circus, a collaborative story ballet created by three Concert Ballet dancers – Toni Lathan, Allie Davis, and Valerie Shcherbakova –to Norman Dello Joio’s “Satiric Dances.”

The Banks of Green Willow, set to music arranged by Richard Schwartz (Symphonic Winds and The Concert Ballet Orchestra), tells the story of an elegant couple in evening dress returning home through a park after enjoying an evening at the ballet. The rich black and green costumes work well with what appears to be a Victorian-era set, featuring gas lamps and a park bench. Concert Ballet dancers Allie Davis and Will Taylor choreographed the piece, keeping the choreography sweet, uncomplicated, and effective for the scene they created.

Circus is a colorful finale piece that includes dancers of all ages and abilities. There are acrobats and tumblers, a snake charmer, tigers, monkeys, a strong man, and more, all under the big top. Company director Scott Boyer takes on the role of an evil Magician, who appears to be vying with the troupe’s Snake Charmer for the affections of the circus’ Tightrope Walker – who looks like the ballerina atop a classic music box.

The program also included works from the Concert Ballet repertory, including an East Indian inspired Sleeping Beauty ballet, Naila, for the junior dancers with stylized movements, a very red-themed and festive Fledermaus, choreographed by Scott Boyer to music by Johann Strauss, and a revival of the company’s “Emperor Waltz.” If I am economical with details, it is because the programs were mis-printed, and The Concert Ballet Orchestra conductor, Iris Schwartz, announced the music and dance selections – without benefit of a microphone.

One thing this company does very well is backdrops and sets. The Fledermaus set included three gigantic chandeliers against the all-red backdrop; The Emperor Waltz featured Greek goddess dresses with Grecian pillars and candelabra – some with real lights – and Naila had some very pretty Alladin-esque costumes.

Another thing they do well is provide live music. Between dances, the orchestra offered a variety of selections from patriotic marches to Gilbert and Sullivan to Big Band.

At the Woman’s Club, there are a couple dozen tables where audience members can sit cabaret-style and order desserts and coffee prior to the start of the program, and during intermission. Most of the audience members appeared to be family and friends of the performers. The program is family friendly, and there were many toddlers in attendance – most of whom were surprisingly attentive! At least one dad ignored the pre-show announcement not to take photographs or make video recordings, and no one seemed to mind.

I chatted with a young woman seated near me – we weren’t seated at a table but sat on chairs in two rows at the rear of the room.  (There were also seats in the balcony – the program was well attended. It was, in fact, a full house.) She didn’t have family or friends in the cast but had seen the program listed on Facebook and decided to come as she’s trying to sample more of the culture that Richmond has to offer. While I enjoyed the music and admired the sets and costumes, I had some major private thoughts about the caliber of the dancing: flexed feet; uneven lines; unsteady balances; dancers looking at other dancers for cues, and more. But my companion for the day had no such reservations and indicated that she plans to come to the next performance as well. I think that is just the sort of outreach education The Concert Ballet of Virginia aims for. Some of the characteristics I consider signs of professionalism might be deterrents to someone who is new to dance, or who wants to be entertained, but not. . .challenged. Perhaps she will come again. Perhaps she will also want to sample some of the contemporary dance and other local offerings. Did I witness the birth of a new audience member – a potential patron of the arts? I hope I see her again.

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


Photo Credits: There were no photographs available at the time of publication.

Concert Ballet