STARR FOSTER DANCE PRESENTS:

18th Annual Mid-Atlantic Choreographers Showcase: Celebrating Pride

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: June 4 & 5, 2022

Ticket Prices: $15

Info: www.starrfosterdance.org, www.facebook.com/starrfosterdance, Instagram/starrfosterdance

2022 CHOREOGRAPHERS

AB Contemporary Dance / Alyah Baker; Raleigh, NC

Ankita; Brooklyn, NY

Luisa Innisfree Martinez; Richmond, VA

Megan Mazarick; Philadelphia, PA

Next Reflex Dance Collective / Roxann Morgan Rowley; Fairfax, VA

Starr Foster Dance/Starrene Foster; Richmond, VA

Wow. From first to last, the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Choreographers was riveting. The six works by six choreographers from Brooklyn, NY to Raleigh, NC each embraced LGTBQIA+ themes or concepts related to gender or sexuality. Each was performed in the round – actually, in a defined square, with the audience intimately situated on all sides. For those old enough to know what I’m talking about, it reminded me of my undergraduate days watching dance at NYC’s Judson Church. (If you’re not of a certain age, I don’t know, maybe a cypher or a rave might describe the vibe.)

One of the most striking pieces was Fools+Kings, a premiere choreographed and performed by Alyah Baker in collaboration with Lee Edwards and Kahlila Brown. Accompanied by smooth jazz performed by Nat King Cole and Orchestra and CeeLo Green, the trio graced us with liquid combinations of movement and incredibly soft landings. Sometimes the arresting choreography consisted of just a gaze, a burning stare. Dressed in black vests and pants, with three low stools as mobile props, the dancers kept the movement simple, yet their virtuosity was undeniable.

Inspired by the life and legacy of composer Billy Strayhorn, Fools+Kings was escribed in the program as an exploration of “themes of connection and heartbreak through the lens of Black Queer aesthetics and embodiment.” I was particularly struck by Lee Edwards who – I swear – reminded me of a compact, femme version of Bill T. Jones. Anyone who knows me knows that Bill T. Jones is one of my favorite dancers of all time, so I do not say this lightly. Fools+Kings built up a complex structure balanced on hot and cool jazz and Afro beats and then, BAM! – without warning or preparation, it ended with a full stop. Wow. I cannot wait to see more from this group.

Backtracking to the opening, the program began with a solo, old swan, by Megan Mazarick. Dressed in a tailored suit, Mazarick delivered portions of a deconstructed lecture while executing a fusion of post-modern, classic break-dance type moves, the robot, and even a bit of disco in a humor-infused cycle of melting and resurrecting. This is the work that took me back to Judson Church. I take notes in the dark, and for this piece my page was inscribed with a large heart. While old swan may be a reference to ballet classics like Swan Lake and all the fairy tale magic that goes along with the romantic era, it may also be a sly play on the symbolism of swans representing grace, love, trust, beauty, and loyalty. The final scene of the swan “coming home to roost” reminded me of that old saying about chickens coming home to roost – meaning that the evil things you do will come back to bite you in the butt (i.e., karma). Of course, Mazarick may not have intended any of these concepts, but I felt free – even invited – to explore all of them in this wonderful solo.

Another work that resonated was an excerpt from a dance called Penumbra, choreographed by Ankita Sharma and performed by Sharma and Darryl Filmore. Penumbra is dark, very dark. I have sometimes teased Starr Foster, saying that her works are so dark, but I was referring to the lighting. Penumbra  is psychologically dark, and that’s an even more terrifying kind of dark. By definition, a penumbra is a region of shadow or partial illumination, resulting from an obstruction or partial obstruction.

This section of the artist’s evening-length work is called “Aftercare,” and the work explores the question, “What does it feel like to say the dark things that remain inside out loud?” Based on the dancers’ shared experiences with trauma, the two begin on opposite sides of a small table, somehow, remarkably, performing similar movements with strikingly different dynamics. The force and counterforce reminds me of the life and death encounters being negotiated by the old men convened around Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table but her it takes only two, not a dozen, to create this howling, apocalyptic effect!

When they arise from the floor, the gentler of the two seems to transform into the dominate, or abusive partner, and the sharper mover becomes fearful and guarded. A shift to demonic red lighting carries them away. Notably, this was the only group that did not take a bow – to do so would have broken the spell and diminished the power of this work.

I was glad I tarried long enough to see Sharma and Filmore emerge from backstage to greet their friends and audience members with smiles. It was relief to see they were able to drop the heavy personas they had adopted and leave them on the stage.

The program also included Circular, a duet by Roxanne Morgan Rowley, performed by Rowley and Sara Goldman, that explores the circularity of relationships between two women; and Luisa Innisfree Martinez’s hilarious Trope in a Box. Performed in, on, and under an open sided crate, Martinez’ solo uses comedy and strong, acrobatic movement phrases to examine and deconstruct themes and tropes of femininity. The program concluded with Starr Foster’s new work, Stripped, a trio that explores identity. The three women become entangled, connect, collapse, support one another, and finally seem to reach a place of calm, peace, and acceptance.

Foster has produced the Mid-Atlantic Choreographers Showcase for 18 years, and hasn’t run out of ideas yet. This was, by far, the best Showcase yet: powerful new work, a diverse collection of choreographers and dancers, a relevant theme, and a variety of perspectives. Thank you, all of you, for a wonderful experience.

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

———-

Photo Credits: See individual photo captions

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BONNIE AND CLAIRE

A Tender New Comedy by Bo Wilson

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: May 13 – June 12, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADVISORY: Another possible spoiler!

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

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


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


BONNIE AND CLAIRE

By Bo Wilson

Directed by Jan Powell

Cast

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

Claire …………………         Jan Guarino

Zoe ……………………         Sydnee Graves

Design Team

Scenic Design  …….….         Terrie Powers

Costume Design ……..        Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design ………        Matt Landwehr

Sound and Projection Design … Jacob Mishler

Stage Management ……     Joe Pabst

Ticket Information

Box Office: 804-282-2620

or http://www.virginiarep.org

Tickets prices start from $48

Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets available.

Run Time

The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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A SINGLE PRAYER

A New Play by K. Jenkins

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse 1609 West Broad St., Richmond, RVA 23220

Performances: April 20 – May 8, 2022

Ticket Prices: $30

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

A Single Prayer was originally scheduled for its world premiere in March 2020, but then along came a little disruptor call The Pandemic. This unusual and provocative play finally made its debut April 20, two years later, with a blast.  A literal blast – the show opens with a storm. Blinding light, thunder, the sounds of birds and rain and waves accompany the destruction of the neatly set stage. A long table, covered with a cloth, four chairs, a bowl of fruit are all dislodged. The tablecloth becomes a billow representing the storm waves and when everything has settled down a broken and disjointed table remains centerstage – perhaps a metaphor for this tale of family dysfunction and a young person who must find their place in a blended family and navigate through the challenges that accompany all that follows.

The cast of characters is centered around Clem (Madison Hatfield). There is Juniper (Maggie McGurn), Clem’s stepmother, a nail model whose nails change color to reflect her mood, while Clem’s mother (Laura Shelton Bassin) remains mute, apparently by choice, and chooses to communicate by drawing disturbing pictures of birds. Clem’s Dan (Matthew R. Dubroff) is chained to his laptop and tries to remain distant from anything remotely emotional or ontrover3sial, while Stan (Fred Iacovo), Clem’s geneticist stepdad makes futile attempts to bring a semblance of normalcy to this family. Perhaps the most interesting character is Michael (Adam Turck), Clem’s friend, who seems to embody the spirit of the birds and all that goes through Clem’s mind. And Charlie (Ed Whitacre), who emerges from a front row seat in the audience, where he has been observing with the rest of the audience, has the unfortunate and futile task of being the family therapist for this family.

Set “Here” in the Past, Present, and Future, A SINGLE PRAYER is mythical, mystical, metaphorical, and mysterious.

Clem: ​This is my blended family. That’s what Charlie says, he’s our therapist. But blended isn’t really the right word. It’s more like shaken up in a ride like at the carnival where the seats are all dirty and scratched and you’re not sure if it might fall apart all at once from the rusty nails and something that got put together after a couple of beers, and then taken apart again in pieces everywhere and then put back together again so that you wonder how it all ever got together in the first place.

Jenkins, the author, holds degrees in religious studies and sociology and has written extensively on relationships, but don’t expect any answers to life’s big questions to arise from this work. It is, instead, a poetic journey that offers alternate routes to navigate life’s complex and divergent paths.

Kudos to Tennessee Dixon for the intriguingly minimalist scenic design and Joan Gavaler for the movement. It seems Adam Turck has been moving as much as if not more than speaking in several of his most recent productions, and he does it with a compelling, quirky confidence. Mark J. Lerman’s direction is organic and invisible, by which I mean the direction is not heavy-handed and the words and actions seem to flow naturally and unpredictably. Perhaps the beauty of A SINGLE PRAYER lies in its acceptance of the exceptional.

A SINGLE PRAYER

By K. Jenkins

Directed by Mark J. Lerman

Performers:

Laura Shelton Bassin – Mom / Clem’s Mother

Matthew R. Dubroff – Dad / Clem’s Father

Madison Hatfield – Clem

Fred Iacovo – Stan / Clem’s Stepfather

​Maggie McGurn – Juniper / Clem’s Stepmother

​​Adam Turck – Michael

Ed Whitacre – Charlie

​​

Production Team:

Director – Mark J. Lerman

Set Designer – Tennessee Dixon

Costume Designer – Alex Valentin

Lighting Designer – Andrew Bonniwell

Composers and Sound Designers – Mark Messing, Kate Statelman

Movement/Dance Director – Joan Gavaler

Stage Manager – Emily Vial

Asst. Stage Manager – Dennis Bowe

Performance Schedule:

Wed April 20 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Thu April 21 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Fri April 22 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Sat April 23 @ 7:30pm

Thu April 28 @ 7:30pm

Fri April 29 @ 7:30pm

Sat April 30 @ 7:30pm

Sun May 1 @ 3pm

Thu May 5 @ 7:30pm

Fri May 6 @ 7:30pm

Sat May 7 @ 7:30pm

Sun May 8 @ 3pm

Tickets:

$30

Run Time:  Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission

PHOTO CREDITS: Bill Sigafoos

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STUDIO THREE: IT’S A WOMAN’S WORLD

Three For Three: Richmond Ballet Studio Three Presents Works by Three Women Choreographers

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: The Richmond Ballet, Canal Street Studios, 407 East Canal Street, RVA 23219

Performances: March 22-27, 2022

Ticket Prices: $26-$46. (Choreographer’s Club: $66-$101)

Info: (804) 344-0906, etix.com, or richmondballet.com

Updated COVID-19 Protocols, see below.

THE PROGRAM
LIFELINE         

Choreography by Sarah Ferguson

Music by VOCES8 and Zapp4

Costume Design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

Choreography by Jennifer Archibald

Music by Jacob Banks, Ray Charles, Frank DeVol. And Leon Russell

Costume Design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

KALEIDOSCOPIC ETUDES

Choreography by Katarzyna Skarpetowska

Music by Philip Glass

Costume and Scenic Design by Fritz Masten

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

As soon as I learned that Richmond Ballet’s Spring 2022 Studio Three production would be a program of works by women choreographers I was filled with eager anticipation. The program that was delivered did not disappoint. A combination of the Ballet’s New Works Festival and the Studio Series, the program featured two new works – by Sarah Ferguson (a VCU Dance grad who serves as a Richmond Ballet administrator and photographer) and Jenifer Archibald (a prolific Canadian-born choreographer with an extensive background that includes hip hop and theater) – and a commissioned work by Katarzyna (Kate) Skarpetowska a native of Poland and Juilliard graduate, who lists her residence as Petersburg, Russia and New York City. Skarpetowska premiered her work Polaris for the Richmond Ballet’s New Works Festivalin 2015.

The three works were widely diversified and each was glorious in its own way.

The Richmond Ballet New Works festival has supported the development of and presented 89 new works since its inception in 2008. Each choreographer is offered 25 hours of studio time with selected company members and presents their work at the New Works studio performance. Many of these short works  go on to be developed from five- to ten-minute ensembles to full 20-minute ballets.

Ferguson, familiar to many as a company administrator in a variety of roles and to others as the company’s resident photographer, revived her interest in choreography during the days of the pandemic. She says that she now choreographs like a photographer, and her new work, “Lifeline,” has a juicy, languid quality. The dancers are often directly connected to one another, reaching, pulling, and stretching like an evolving organism. During the opening night post performance discussion, images of starfish and even armadillos were evoked to describe the organic and tidal movement that at times resembled the animated sculptural qualities of MOMIX or Pilobolus. The pod, the entity, the emerging and evolving unit, consisting of nine dancers in inky dresses and pants led by Sarah Joan Smith and Enrico Hipolito, were beautifully lit to create illusion of floating. The first of three works on the evening’s program, “Lifeline” received a standing ovation.

The color and flair of Archibald’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” initially gave me a fleeting flashback of the high school dance scene in West Side Story but Archibald drew her inspiration from the film starring Sir Sidney Poitier and her own experience of growing up with interracial parents. Archibald likes to explore storytelling that is not grounded in Eurocentric narration and likes having a diverse cast of dancers to explore a range of human experiences. Her vocabulary seamlessly merges classical ballet with hip hop and jazz. Her women softly leap, are caught horizontally and lay out as if landing on a soft pillow instead of on two arms precariously molded over thin air. Then a swiping motion that could be playfully affectionate – or not – forces the receiving partner to duck. Timing is everything, and Archibald’s timing veers towards the daring and unexpected. For those familiar with modern dance history, her use of the ensemble is reminiscent of the exhilarating way Talley Beatty filled a stage with bodies and energy. If all goes as planned, Archibald is expected to return in November to lengthen “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” into a full-length (i.e., 20-25 minute) ballet.

The second half of the Studio Three evening was given over to Skarpetowska’s beautifully lit and colorfully costumed “Kaleidoscopic Etudes.” Set to five Philip Glass etudes for piano and string quartet. Ferguson stressed that she choreographs like a photographer, but Skarpetowska’s new work is visually stunning with the floor and background representing two different versions of a kaleidoscope and the dancers’ playful attire carrying out the same color scheme of pink, lime green, and blue. Like an optical kaleidoscope, Skarpetowska’s movement and Glass’ music continually adjust and readjust, reflecting complex and constantly changing ephemeral patterns that seem on the brink of evoking a memory or telling a story. Sabrina Holland and Joe Seaton were featured in this work that is fueled by an exciting and slightly dangerous tension that teases with unexpected punctuation and then just as suddenly, it’s gone.

Studio Three Performance Schedule

Tuesday, March 22 @6:30PM (Choreographer’s Club)

Wednesday, March 23 @6:30PM

Thursday, March 24 @6:30PM

Friday, March 25 @6:30PM

Saturday, March 26 @5:00PM

Saturday, March 26@8:00PM

Sunday, March 27@1:30PM

Sunday, March 27@4:00PM (Final Program)

UPDATED COVID-19 Protocols (As of March 2022): Please note that we are seating at 100% capacity this season. Beginning with Studio Three in March, we will no longer require patrons to wear masks or to show proof of vaccination/negative COVID test in order to attend a performance.

MASKS: In light of the latest CDC guidelines and Central Virginia’s current “Low/Medium Community Level” status, masks are optional at these performances.

BALLET BARRE: The Ballet Barre (cashless) will be open for our spring Studio performances. Beer, wine, and soft drinks will be available for purchase pre-show as well as during intermission.

CHOREOGRAPHER’S CLUB: In addition to the exclusive Q&A session with the artists, designers, and dancers, we will host a modified post-show reception. More details will be found in your House Notes email.

WELLNESS CHECK: Patrons who do not feel well leading up to a performance are asked to stay home. If you have tested positive or have symptoms of COVID-19, please call our Box Office at 804.344.0906 x224 so that we may discuss ticket options.


Photo Credits: All photos by Sarah Ferguson.

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CHANTEUSE: A Survival Musical

A New One-Person Show That Explores the Question: What Does Survival Mean to You?

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: January 13 – 23, 2022

Ticket Prices: $10 – $40

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org.

Have you ever been to a production where you clapped at the end, not because of the content of what you had just experienced, but because you could think of no other way to acknowledge the artist’s performance? That’s what the audience collectively experienced on Thursday night after Alan Palmer uttered the final words of Chanteuse: A Survival Musical.

Palmer wrote the script and lyrics and stars in this moving one-person musical, set in Berlin in 1933. The music is by David Legg and for this limited Richmond run the inimitable Kim Fox performed the roles of musical director and conductor.

Walking into the space, the audience was immediately drawn into the scene. Small tables with lamps lit by flickering tea candles that suggested the intimacy of a Berlin club were distributed throughout the house. The stage itself was darkly lit, suggesting something ominous was about to happen. There was a mannequin with a dark gown or robe topped by a dark wig, and there were several set pieces covered in black fabric. The darkness, however, was not just a physical effect of the lighting, and stage properties, but there was also a palpable emotional element that lingered heavily, a portent of things to come.

The back wall was mostly brick but accented with a center arch that served as a projection screen and two sections of rough-hewn wooden pallet on either end. The horizontal slats of the pallet sections suggested some sort of confinement, while allowing a glimpse of the band stage left. That’s how I was able to see that the instrument that was churning out soul-tearing melodies was actually a bass, although Jonathan Wheelock magically and skillfully made it sound like a cello.

Palmer entered into this space and immediately captivated the audience with the horrific story of one queer man’s tale of life and survival in Nazi Germany, where being queer, a cross-dresser, Jewish, or mentally or cognitively challenged were sufficient cause for being detained, brutalized, and ultimately killed.

But all was not doom and gloom. The first half of the one-hour solo musical, performed without intermission, had several moments that allowed Palmer, an actor, dancer, and real-life Power Ranger (he played Corcus on The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series, 1993-1996) to dance, strut, change clothes, tease, titillate, and morph from a gay male performer to living life full-time as a female chanteuse in a supper club in Berlin.

A raid on Club Silhouette sends his life (do we ever really learn his name? he is telling his own story, so we never hear anyone call him by name) into a tailspin. Now, if you plan to see this show, you might want to skip the next paragraph, but since this is a limited run, by the time you read these words the show will likely have closed, therefore what follows is technically not a spoiler – I am alerting you out of courtesy so that you know that I am a civilized and cultured person. So…on that note…

The sudden death of his long-time landlord turns out to be a blessing in disguise. You see, they had become friends, and even looked somewhat alike, so it seemed like the best way to honor his friend’s memory (there are untold secrets involved) and simultaneously assure his own safety from the homophobic Nazi’s was to assume the identity of the late Frau Friederick. On the positive side, this transformation led him to find true love. Ironically, our protagonist transformed from a gay male into a woman in order to protect himself from the Nazi’s only to discover – too late – that Frau Friederick had been hiding the fact that she was Jewish.

Chanteuse begins in the decadence, freedom, and sometimes glamor of the Berlin club scene and ends, not with a bang but a whimper, in the soul-killing Sachsenhausen concentration camp – a labor camp for prisoners and training ground for SS officers that housed separate sections for political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet POWs, Poles, Jews, Homosexuals, and Freemasons. While there, he reunites, briefly with his partner, Yakob, to whom he was illegally yet lawfully married (using Frau Friederick’s ID). Is it any wonder this leads him to begin to pray in Hebrew? “Baruch ata Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, sh’hecheyanu, v’kiyemanu, V’higianu, lazman, hazeh.” (Praised are You, the Eternal One our God, Ruler of the Cosmos, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.)

And here we have the point of the plot. Survival. In this moment. And suddenly the past is united with the present and the future. A moment in time telescopes into another moment in time. Past becomes present, and we have to ask ourselves, what have we learned? Indeed, what have we done?

So you see, it was necessary to explain the applause. The applause was not for the experience we had all just shared. The applause was not for the message we were processing. The applause was for the messenger, and the brilliant and unpretentious way he delivered that harsh message.

Chanteuse: A Survival Musical is/was here in RVA for only eight performances, and Palmer has plans to open in London sometime later this year. I haven’t yet been to London, but I always keep my passport up-to-date. Now I know that flying off to London to see a show may not be realistic for most of us; my point is that this intelligently and beautifully produced musical needs to be seen.

Kudos to director Dorothy Danner for keeping Palmer’s pacing and blocking flowing organically and breathing a breath of life into these words that Palmer then exhaled over us all. David Legg’s music was dynamically connected to Palmer’s words, and Kim Fox’s musical direction guided us along the right paths of emotion.

Chanteuse: A Survival Musical

Created by and Starring Alan Palmer

Director – Dorothy Danner

Music – David Legg

Book and Lyrics – Alan Palmer

Lighting Design – Joe Doran

Audio Engineer – Brandon Duncan

Technical Direction – Vinnie Gonzalez

Production Stage Manager – Crimson Piazza

Musical Director and Conductor – Kim Fox

The Band – Kim Fox (Conductor and keyboards), Chris Sclafai (saxophone), Joe Lubman (percussion), Jonathan Wheelock (bass)

Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre in association with Palmer Productions

Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccines or recent PCR rest results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.

Photos: from Alan Palmer’s website and Google.com

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MOVING MONOLOGUES

KDance Shorts, Eighth Edition

A Dance-Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: KDance, the Resident Dance Company at The Firehouse Theatre

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 West Broad St., Richmond, RVA 23220

Performances: November 7-9, 2021

Ticket Prices: $25

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

After eight years of presenting the annual Shorts program, Kaye Weinstein Gary still has new tricks up her sleeve. This year’s program, MOVING MONOLOGUES, was a collaboration between Gary (choreographer, director, performer), Adam Turck (actor), and Irene Ziegler (playwright). While previous Shorts programs have been marked by innovative storytelling combined with movement, this is the first time the stories were all connected.

What a treat it was to reconnect with Kitty, the potty-mouthed fourth-grader introduced by Gary in her most recent YES! Dance Festival (April 2021, https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/05/01/k-dance/). Here, Ziegler has written additional monologues that introduce Kitty’s mother, grandmother, and dad, all of whom are embodied by Gary and Turck, after a brief introductory warm-up set to Erik Satie’s Piano Works #7, Nocturne II. The “Prologue” also introduces the program’s main prop: a pair of crystal clear “ghost” chairs that magically reflect and refract the light and create stunning visual effects.

“Thank you, sensei, for showing me the way.”

-Kitty

“Kitty” has been enhanced to point to connections with the new monologues. Against a background of Ana Roxanne’s non-melodic, ambient soundscape (it sounds like what your mind would sound like if you could record the sound), Kitty moves through postures of dejection and defiance – until she discovers the “superpower” of her imagination. “I have a superpower. Holy shit!” Oh, I did mention she’s been sent to her room because of her vocabulary, didn’t I? Dressed in purple leggings and white coverall shorts, Gary delightfully embodies the spirit of the fourth-grader.

But it just keeps getting better. Next up is Adam Turck as Kitty’s dad, Rodney. Dressed in shorts and carrying a gym bag, Turck, drops the bag just as the beat drops, and it’s MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit. Turck, a real-life certified personal trainer, moves through the paces of a man-twerk, slaps himself on the butt, and begins to record a hilariously awkward online dating profile.

“The best you can hope for is to find someone

whose baggage doesn’t clash with yours.”

-Rodney

After a bit of shadow play with a fabric veil, we get to meet Martha, Rodney’s mother. It isn’t clear whether she is in the early stages of dementia, or just lonely. When she receives a package from an unseen delivery man (a potential fourth character for a potential sequel) she drags out their interaction as long as possible. “Can you see me?” Martha asks. “I thought I was made of vapor.” Martha smells like loneliness and goes on eBay at night to order hope. Oh, and that package? It contained the cremated remains of her late husband.

The final monologue in this iteration of Moving Monologues has Rodney talking to his dad’s ashes and returning to the lake house where he spent time with his family when his father was alive, and his mother didn’t feel invisible. Is it just coincidence that the current occupant of the house is named Manny – the same as the delivery guy? The door has been left open to continue this series, much like a serial novel in words and movement.

Ziegler’s script make no direct mention of the pandemic, but Martha’s need to know that she exists feels very much like post-traumatic pandemic syndrome (I don’t know if that’s a real thing or not, but there is such a thing as Pandemic-related PTSD). It’s actually quite remarkable to watch Gary transform from the hopefulness of Kitty to the giddy despair of Martha. She does both so well, adapting her posture and movement dynamics to the character. The words and the movements are measured out teasingly, revealing just enough to keep the narrative flowing, but not enough to answer all our questions. A post-show discussion revealed just how much latitude there was for personal interpretation.

There were so many layers in this short piece, and multiple perspectives played out simultaneously – the same story told by different characters who are all connected. There was a through line, but the sections were not necessarily linear or chronological. In fact, I would be curious to see what would happen if these same five scenes were performed in a different order.

As for the cast, Gary is a dancer who is extremely comfortable with speaking and acting, and it was great to see Turck, an actor, moving with such abandon. MOVING MONOLOGUES is not fully dance and not fully theater but a hybrid niche that Gary claims as her own. While the piece could be performed by a cast of four (Kitty, Martha, Rodney, and Manny – or the Ghost Chair), I think it’s highly effective and serves the multi-layered effect to have it performed by just two. It was such a delight to see and hear these stories on stage, in person. Sometimes less really is more.

MOVING MONOLOGUES

Written by: Irene Ziegler

Cast:

Kaye Weinstein Gary

Adam Turk

Production Team:

K Dance Artistic Director: Kaye Weinstein Gary

Lighting Designer/Scenic Consultation: Matthew Landwehr

Assistant Lighting Designer: Casey Walsted

Production Stage Manager: Ginnie Willard

Assistant Stage Manager: Jason Wineberger

Sound Designer/Production Manager: Todd Labelle

Sound Operator: Emily Vial

Webmaster/Social Media: Emily Gerber

Graphic Artist: Douglas Fuchs

Run Time:

About 45 minutes with no intermission

Performance schedule:

Sunday, November 7 @3:00PM

Monday & Tuesday, November 8 & 9 @7:30PM

​”Everyone who enters Firehouse must be fully vaccinated and wear a face mask.”

Tickets:

$25

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: {Your Name Here}

finding yourself in the movement

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Conciliation LAB @ The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: November 5-7 and 11-13, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $13

Info: www.starrfosterdance.org, www.facebook.com/starrfosterdance, Instagram/starrfosterdance,   https://m.bpt.me/event/5281579

For their first home-based performance since February 2020, Starr Foster dance returned to The Basement (it was TheatreLab then, and Conciliation Lab now) with an innovative and timely choreographic work by Artistic Director Starrene Foster mysteriously titled {Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement.

The trio is performed in an environment framed by four metal trees. Their branches are bare, and the floor is strewn with fall-colored leaves. When the audience walks in, the dancers are already onstage. They stand in a line, arms extended, holding hands. And they whisper. What they’re saying is never revealed. It could be a prayer. It could be confessions of past sins. It could be hope and dreams for the future. It could be the secret things you have not yet voiced to anyone else made manifest in this intimate public space.

I had been invited to a rehearsal of {Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement a few days earlier, but here in this setting, with lights and an audience, it was an entirely new experience. And just two days earlier, I had seen a performance of Our Town, so perhaps the simplicity of that set and the everyday-ness of Thornton Wilder’s storytelling lingered and influenced how I saw {Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement.

Or maybe it’s more obvious than that, because, after all, Foster did put you right in the title: {Your Name Here}. Julinda. Starr. Thomas. Albert. You. Yes, this work is about you. The everyday, ordinary you. The secret you. The post-pandemic. You. That’s why there are FOUR trees. One for each of the dancers. And the fourth one is for…you.

Trees. Trees represent life and growth. The tree of life. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Trees are symbols of wisdom, power, growth, and prosperity. In mythology, trees are home to spirits. They represent physical and spiritual nourishment and transformation. In winter, their branches are bare. In spring they burst forth with new life. In summer they bear fruit. In fall, they drop their leaves, and appear dead to the outside world, but inside, under the earth, where their roots dig deep, they are actively creating, preparing to repeat the cycle all over again. These trees are bare, and their leaves are scattered on the ground, the floor. This is where the dancers find themselves, where we find ourselves.

Foster has a new, pared down company of four women. The opening night cast consisted of Fran Beaumont, Ana Pavón, and Lydia Ross. Each has a moment or two to shine in this 37-minute long work, performed without intermission. Each of the three performs Foster’s choreography in Foster’s unique style – a contemporary genre that reflects stylistic and technical aspects of ballet, modern, post-modern pedestrianism, contact improvisation, and whatever else as needed – but each dancer also brings their own personality. Beaumont has a strong, powerful core wrapped up in a wide-eyed vulnerability, sort of like those iron gym weights that have a rubber outershell to keep you from hurting yourself too badly when you inevitably drop them. Ross’ perfect lines and cat-like softness so beautifully mask the technical expertise that power her hypnotic movement. Pavón is languid, unhurried. She is the one who takes an extended nap in the garden while Beaumont and Ross, continue on the journey, sometimes holding hands or leaning on one another.

The dancers move the trees from a straight line into a cozy, protective grove, then into a wandering tree line. Sometimes they lean into the branches, touching, stroking, gently fingering and shedding a handful of scattered leaves. Sometimes Beaumont and Pavón curl themselves around their trees, and at one point one of the three even dragged her tree along. They even tip over the trees and lie awkwardly but content beneath its branches. Sometimes life’s trials lead us back home, back to the place where we feel loved, nourished, renewed. Sometimes we have to plod along, carrying all our baggage with us for a while. Where do you see yourself in this scenario?

Foster first conceived of the idea – and the trees – then found the music of Sebastian Selke and Daniel Selke. The Berlin-born duo known as CEEYS plays piano and cello and the pieces Foster selected (“Eichenthal 302,” “Waende,” “Circa,” “Winter Sleep,” and “Strelka”) have repetitive motifs that support and expand the movement phrases Foster created. The lighting design bu Austin Harber is subtle, and much less dark than Foster has been known to favor. And if this seems like a lot of words for one 37-minute long work, well, that’s because so much is packed into

{Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement and the open invitation to insert yourself and your story into this choreographic journey is so immersive. {Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement is just what we need at this time.

{Your Name Here} finding yourself in the movement

Choreography by Starrene Foster

Cast

Fran Beaumont (Nov. 5, 7, 12, 13@5PM)

Anna Branch (Nov 6, 11, 13@8PM)

Ana Pavón

Lydia Ross

Music Composed and Performed by CEEYS

Sebastian Selke and Daniel Selke

“Eichtenthal 302,” “Waende,” “Circa,” “Winter Sleep,” and “Strelka”

Lighting Design by Austin Harber

———-

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

Photo Credits: Starr Foster Dance by Douglas Hayes. NOTE: Photos were not yet available at the time of posting.

RICHMOND BALLET: STUDIO TWO

Pairing a Balanchine Classic with a World Premiere by Tom Mattingly

RICHMOND BALLET 2021/22

STUDIO TWO, OCTOBER

A Dance Review with Historic Notes by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Richmond Ballet, Canal Street Studios, 407 East Canal Street, RVA 23219

Performances: October 26-31, live. November 8-14, virtual.

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets start at $25; Virtual Tickets are $25.

Info: (804) 344-0906, etix.com, or richmondballet.com.

COVID-19 Protocols: Upon entering the theatre, all audience members ages 12 and above are required to show printed or digital proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or of a professionally-administered negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the performance. Patrons ages 18 and above will also need to show a photo ID. All patrons ages 2 and above will continue to be required to wear masks.Please note: Proof of a negative COVID test is not required for children under the age of 12.

THE STUDIO TWO PROGRAM:

Allegro Brillante
Choreography by George Balanchine
Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Staging by Jerri Kumery

Costumes by Karinska

Lighting Design by Catherine Girardi

Jahreszeiten, a World Premiere

Choreographyby Tom Mattingly
Music by Dr. Goetz Oestlind

Costume design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Catherine Girardi

Original Artwork by Court Watson
Pianist: Dr. Douglas-Jayd Burn

STUDIO TWO: OPENING NIGHT

As is customary with the Richmond Ballet Studio Series performances, a classic is often paired with a new work. The pairing of George Balanchine’s joyous Allegro Brillante with Tom Mattingly’s new Jahreszeiten (German for seasons) proved to be a particularly auspicious coupling.

Allegro Brilliante, created was by Mr. Balanchine in 1956 for Maria Tallchief (to whom he was married from 1946-1951) and Nicholas Magallanes. He once described this joyful, kick-up-your-heels celebration in ballet as, “everything I know about classical ballet in thirteen minutes.” Considering who said that, that’s a lot of ballet knowledge packed into a short ballet.

Simple yet elegant, Allegro Brilliante, set to Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 3,” is notable for its courtliness without the distraction of excessive embellishment and the floor patterns of the four supporting couples as they interact with and support the lead dancers, Eri Nishihara and Colin Jacob. Jacob was introduced after the program as one of the nine members new to the company this year. It’s far too soon to ascertain who will become regularly paired, but this couple delivered a performance that was satisfyingly balanced between technique and energy.

The curtain opened on four couples spiraling counterclockwise around a brightly lit stage: Kaeley Anderson, Courtney Collier, Celeste Gaiera, Sara Joan Smith, Roland Jones, Khayom Khojaev, Paul Piner, and Roland Wagstaff. The constantly shifting patterns and interweaving interactions are a perfect match for the music and give the impression that there are more dancers onstage than there actually are. Company artistic director indicated it’s been fifteen years since Richmond Ballet last performed Allegro Brillante. I feel honored to have been able to catch it this time around.

If the name Tom Mattingly sounds familiar to some, it’s because he first came to Richmond Ballet as a 17-year-old trainee where, he says, he learned to be an adult, and a professional. Mattingly returned to Richmond to present a work in the 2018 New Works Festival, Mattingly subsequently turned that into a full length work. Jahreszeiten is his second world premiere set on Richmond Ballet.

A visual treat, Court Watson’s original paintings representing four seasons highlights the flora, fauna, and landmarks of Virginia. Instead of designing backdrops, Watson had the paintings projected in super high definition resolution on the back wall, in contrast to the unadorned elegance of Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante. Mattingly’s interweaving patterns of movement and constantly reformatted groupings of dancers are a perfect contemporary complement to Balanchine’s work.

Watson created a watercolor of flowering dogwood branches (Spring), a painting of cardinals (Summer), one of fall leaves, and a final one of first snow of winter falling softly over a bridge. Emily Morgan designed hand-painted costumes in neutral colors that would pick up the light to reflect the changing seasons, and Catherine Girardi designed lighting that united all the visual elements. But that’s not all.

Jahreszeiten, which even Stoner Winslett had to struggle to pronounce, is a true collaboration. In searching the internet for music, Mattingly came across Dr. Goetz Oestlind’s work and was surprised to learn that Oestlind is a living contemporary composer who was more than happy to grant Mattingly the right to use six piano sonatas for this work. Not only was Tuesday night the premiere of Mattingly’s ballet, it was also the American premiere of Oestlind’s music and the first time it had been performed by another other than the composer himself. The pianist, Dr. Douglas-Jayd Burn (son of Richmond Ballet’s ballet master, Malcolm Burn and Jasmine Grace, a faculty member at the School of the Richmond Ballet), felt that he should be as committed as the dancers. “I should dance with the music as well,” he said, so he performed the challenging sonatas live onstage without benefit of sheet music. That’s right, he spent weeks memorizing the score.

Mattingly’s choreography ranged from full group movements that reflected the growth and activity of spring to a lingering, unhurried solo for the sultry days of summer. Playful, competitive posturing complemented the release of fall, and romantic duets and dramatic lighting signaled the vagaries of winter. The World Premiere cast included Sabrina Holland, Naomi Robinson, Marjorie Sherman, Izabella Tokev, and Naomi Wilson, as well as Enrico Hipolito, Patrick Lennon, Jack Miller, Zacchaeus Page, and Ira White.

Speaking of his work – on video and live onstage after the premiere – Mattingly spoke of his process as collaboration versus control. He also recalled, “When I was a small child I wanted to be Robert Joffrey.” Now, as the newly appointed Artistic Director of Ballet Des Moines, he wants to be a moving force in ballet, both creatively and administratively.

NOTE: Virtual tickets are $25. For patrons who would prefer to watch from the comfort of home, we are pleased to offer virtual access to Studio Two. On Monday, November 8th, virtual ticket buyers will receive an email with information on how to access the performance recording, which will be available to stream through Sunday, November 14th. Tickets can be purchased online at etix.com or by phone at 804.344.0906 x224. The deadline to purchase virtual tickets is 12:00pm Friday, November 12th.

Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson. All rights reserved.

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WAR IN PIECES

Four New One-Act Plays Written by Four Veterans

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: The Firehouse Theatre in partnership with the Virginia War Memorial Foundation and the Mighty Pen Project; Co-Produced by David Robbins

At: The Firehouse, 1609 West Broad St., Richmond, RVA 23220

Performances: September 23 – October 30, 2021

Ticket Prices: $35 general & $30 military

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

We have grown accustomed to being asked for proof of vaccination and being required to wear masks inside theaters, but this is the first time I remember a pre-show warning to Veterans in the audience: These productions include moments of loud sound effects of combat, gunfire, and explosions, harsh and graphic language, and content.

I vaguely remember writing a preview about this festival back in the pre-pandemic days. Producing Artistic Director Joel Bassin shared, in his pre-show greeting, that the first reading and initial meet and greet for this festival was held in December 2019 – in the “time before.” The real deal far exceeded any expectations I may have held. The point is this festival is a collection of four new plays written by military veterans who share not only “tipping-point” life or death moments from their lives, but also, in black and white videos, the process that led them to the finished product. And these finished – or evolving – products are compelling pieces of theater that bear the imprimatur of authenticity.

In GUARDIAN ANGELS, a severely wounded Marine is rescued by an Army medivac. But this rescue is extraordinary on several levels. The Army helicopter wasn’t even supposed to be in the area, and in spite of the dire situation, author Robert Waldruff manages to wring out a moment of humor when he requires the Marine Lieutenant (Dean Knight) to utter words of respect for the rival Army rescue team. There is also a supernatural element provided by Alvan Bolling II as the Chaplain and Dani Brown who plays multiple characters wearing a traditional white nurse’s uniform. The one scene I found odd – and distracting – was the robotic voice used by the Doctor (Dean Knight). Perhaps there is a reasonable, military reason for this choice.

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

Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn

It’s a new day

It’s a new life for me…

Whereas the works in the first half of the program focused on some of the more practical, blood and guts aspects of war in sometimes poetic ways, the works in the second half tackled similar subject matter in a somewhat more abstract, yet at the same time more emotionally powered and even spiritual manner.

In BONNE ANNÉE, directed by Firehouse Producing Artistic Director Joel Bassin, playwright David M. Aldridge invites the audience to meet his inner voice. This voice, audible only to him, told him when to stop, where to look for booby traps, when the enemy was coming, and continued to serve him well after returning home. BONNE ANNÉE is staged as a monologue featuring Jonathan Hardison as David, just ten days back from Viet Nam and obviously fragile in ways yet unrevealed. As David speaks, in a surprising soft and controlled voice, he gradually reveals details of the horrors he encountered, as well as one quirky but important little detail: Bonne Année, the French phrase for Happy New Year, has been assimilated into Vietnamese culture. These two simple words take on a chilling and supernatural effect in the final moments of the play.

BONNE ANNÉE includes a few supporting roles played by Linda Beringer, Dean Knight, and Dani Brown, and a quartet of menacing Young Men (Alvan Bolling II, Erik DeMario, Jimmy Mello, and Makai Walker). As if sight and sound were not enough, BONNE ANNÉE engages the sense of smell with a pan of sizzling bacon playing a subsidiary role in a key part of David’s monologue.

Last but certainly not least, the evening closed with Chuck Williamson’s introduction to SKYLINE in which he speaks about life in Fort Polk, Louisiana, before guiding us into a story of a convoy where everything that can go wrong goes wrong. Set in Bagdad, SKYLINE is packed with endearing and very human details, such as the men playing cards for snacks, and ends with the team (Erik DeMario, Keydron Dunn, Dean Knight, and Jimmy Mello) assuming a kick-ass superhero pose that encapsulates the heart and soul of each of these characters, who are all obviously real people. The convoy may not have been a successful mission, but these four actors conveyed a genuine sense of comraderie that was unmistakable and moving.

While each play stands alone, presenting them together draws a more comprehensive picture of war and its personal consequences. The ensemble and directors started the evening in unity. All 10 actors entered and took seats on the scattered wooden crates. Their backs were to the audience as they joined us in watching Robert Waldruff’s introductory video, setting the tone and pace for the scenes that followed. WAR IN PIECES is not for the faint of heart.

“There is no movie

that can show the terror

of one little firefight.”

The set has been kept simple, with a series of boxes serving as buildings, vehicles, furniture, and other assorted props. The space is beautifully lit by Andrew Bonniwell whose camouflage shaded lighting has a three-dimensional quality, and Mark Messing’s sound score is outstanding. Transitions on opening night were surprisingly smooth, and I have no doubt that this production that will mature beyond mere theatrics as the ensemble continues to work together sharing these very personal and very graphic stories. This is the sort of production that lingers with the performers and the audience.

Irene Kuykendall made a deep impression as Rachel in SOAR. Dean Knight proved versatile in multiple roles, and showed unexpected discernment as Rachel’s husband, Adam. It was good to see Jimmy Mello onstage again, as well as Jonathan Hardison, Alvan Bolling II, and Dani Brown. Keydron Dunn may be almost unrecognizable to those who remember him from pre-pandemic productions as he cut his locs after being drafted into this production, but his distinctive voice remains the same. Linda Beringer, who has an impressive acting resume, assumed only a small supporting role here (but it did involve bacon!), and I am not yet familiar with the work of Erik DeMario or Makai Walker, both of whom are third year theatre students at VCU. I expect we will see more of them in the near future.

WAR IN PIECES

Cast:

Linda Beringer

Alvan Bolling II

Dani Brown

Erik DeMario

Keydron Dunn

Jonathan Hardison

Dean Knight

Irene Kuykendall

Jimmy Mello

Makai Walker

Production Team:

GUARDIAN ANGELS Written by Robert Waldruff & Directed by Foster Solomon

SOAR Written by Rachel Landsee & Directed by Kerrigan Sullivan

BONNE ANNÉE – Written by David M. Aldridge & Directed by Joel Bassin

SKYLINE – Written by Chuck Williamson & Directed by Todd Labelle

Costume Designer – Anna Bialkowski

Lighting Designer – Andrew Bonniwell

Sound Designer – Mark Messing

Set & Projection Consultant – Dasia Gregg

Choreographer for SOAR – Kayla Xavier

Dramaturg – Lindy Bumgarner

Stage Managers – Emma Avelis, Kasey Britt, Claire Bronchick, Grace Brown, Emily Vial

Festival Co-Producer – David Robbins

Festival Coordinator – Emily Vail

Run Time:

About 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission

Performance schedule:

Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, September 23 – October 30 @ 7:30 PM

Sundays, October 3, 17 & 23 @3:00 PM

Sunday performances include a Post-Performance Talkback

Tickets:

$35 general

$30 military, and first responders

Photos: Bill Sigafoos

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THE ZOMBIE LIFE

Zombies never second guess. Zombies have no regrets. Are you ready to be converted?

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 West Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: August 18-29, 2021. August 18-20, previews. August 21 Premiere. Limited seating due to COVID. All audience members must be fully vaccinated and wear masks inside The Firehouse. Remaining tickets sold out online as of Friday, October 26, but call the Box Office to check if seats have opened up.

Ticket Prices: $33

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

The premise of Chris Gavaler’s new play, The Zombie Life, is that life is better as a Zombie. Zombies do not feel guilt, shame, or emotional pain. They have no responsibilities, don’t have to plan for the future, and have no regrets about the past. So, we find ourselves in the audience as Gavaler’s unnamed* Therapist (Ken Moretti) begins a self-help seminar, the purpose of which is to hear Zombies share their experiences and, hopefully, be convinced to join their ranks. *[The Therapist is unnamed on the program, but elsewhere identified as Dr. Steve Brandeis.]

One Woman (Shalandis Wheeler Smith) comes to the seminar weighed down by the demands of life and her over-stuffed tote bag. She interrupts the Therapist and decides to commit to becoming a Zombie even before the demonstration begins. For the rest of the play, which runs an hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission, the Woman learns the ropes of The Zombie Life as her four mentors demonstrate for the audience.

“Being dead is so much easier, so much safer.”

The Therapist uses objects recycled from their past lives and other found objects to trigger memories of the futility of searching for the meaning of life: a pair of doctors involved in Zombie research, a creepy mortician, a mindless soldier, a couple of cannibals, a group of confederate sympathizers, a sex worker, and the mother of a stillborn baby are among the object examples of human pain, suffering, and foibles. But try as he might, the Therapist has a hard time controlling his little band of Zombies, played with varying degrees of creepiness, conviction, and overacting by Marjie Southerland, Jacqueline Jones, PJ Freebourn, and Keaton Hillman.

“Uncertainty. That’s your soul trying to get your attention.”

I was never sure if the creepy asides and overacting was intentional. I have seen and thoroughly enjoyed all six of these actors in many productions over the years, and I know that they are all capable of giving stellar performances. But Chris Gavaler’s script just didn’t reach stellar levels. The script is scattered and awkward and not even a highly professional cast, or earnest direction by Gavaler’s sister, Joan Gavaler, or interesting movement sequences by Dan Plehal could bring a sense of cohesiveness and focus to this production.

The Zombie Life is different, for sure, and there are more than a few moments of humor. It is thought-provoking, and incorporates relevant social, philosophical, and spiritual issues. It just doesn’t work in its present form. Tickets for the remaining performances are sold out, but if you dare or care to see it for yourself, do call The Firehouse Box Office (804) 355-2001 as a few of the limited and socially distanced seats may open up at the last minute.

Production Team:

Written by Chris Gavaler

Directed by Joan Gavaler

Movement Director – Dan Plehal

Production Designer – Todd Labelle

Costume Designer – Annette Hairfield

Prop Designer – AC Wilson

Crew – Emma Avelis & Scott Shepardson

Stage Manager – Grace Brown

Cast:

Therapist – Ken Moretti

Woman – Shalandis Wheeler Smith

Zombie #1 – Marjie Southerland

Zombie #2 – Jacqueline Jones

Zombie #3 – PJ Freebourn

Zombie #4 – Keaton Hillman

​​

Performance schedule:

Wed Aug 18 7:30pm (preview)

Thu Aug 19 7:30pm (preview)

Fri Aug 20 7:30pm (preview)

Sat Aug 21 7:30pm

Thu Aug 26 7:30pm

Fri Aug 27 7:30pm

Sat Aug 28 7:30pm

Sun Aug 29 3pm

Tickets:

$33

Photos: Bill Sigafoos