GRIEF, GUILT, AND PARANOIA: The Madness of Poe

Grief, Guilt, and Paranoia: Poe in October, How Perfect!

A Live Theatrical Experience Reviewed by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Hanover Arts and Activities Center, 500 S. Center Street, Ashland, VA 23005

Performances: October 16, 23 & 30, 2020 @5:00PM [Recommended for ages 13+]

Ticket Prices: Pay-What-You-Can

Info: http://www.WhistleStopTheatre.weebly.com or (804) 798-2728 (Venue)

On Friday evening (October 16) the rain let up just in time for a live “pandemic appropriate” performance of Grief, Guilt, and Paranoia: The Madness of Poe, staged under a wide-spreading tree on the spacious lawn of the Hanover Arts and Activities Center. It was a cool 55 degrees and cloudy, but not uncomfortable. Attendees are required to bring and wear a mask as well as a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. (I would also advise a blanket for the cool weather.) About a dozen people claimed socially distanced in squares marked off in the grass as a pre-show playlist of Poe-inspired songs filled the air. (Three trains passed on the nearby tracks during the 45-minute show, but the program was so riveting the interruption was negligible.)

I don’t like to know too much about a show before I see it, so as not to be unduly prejudiced before I get there, so Grief, Guilt, and Paranoia: The Madness of Poe was a total surprise. Whistle Stop Theatre Company’s founding artistic director Louise Keeton conceived of Grief, Guilt, and Paranoia as a multi-faceted work that includes multiple historical and artistic influences. It takes place, for instance, not far from a home once occupied by Poe’s childhood sweetheart (and later fiancee) Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. Created in partnership with the Ashland Museum, the work includes three voice artists representing the different “voices” of Poe (also represented by three different masks created by Keeton).

Those familiar with the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe and those who are not may relate differently to this work that uses Poe’s own poetry, original music by Paul Loman, and choreography by Katherine S. Wright. Wright, who eerily embodies Poe (wearing theatrical masks and a long-coated suit), doesn’t ever speak, but rather uses pantomime and dance in a riveting and passionate display of non-verbal communication while Poe’s words are voiced by Lucretia Marie, Barbara Keeton, and Craig Keeton. Sophia Manuguerra is the vocalist, and all the voices and music were created and recorded virtually.

The artistic choices – including Keeton’s masks and artwork by local artists that is all being auctioned off – are diverse and unconventional, making them all the more appropriate for the subject at hand. In addition to honoring and appreciating the poetry of Poe, Grief, Guilt, and Paranoia is about missing the people we love and the ways in which that can drive us mad – an obvious reference to the current pandemic and our similar and diverse reactions to it.

Grief, Guilt, and Paranoia digs into love and loss, life and death, verbally and visually mining the depths of “Annabell Lee,” “Elenora,” “The Premature Burial,””The Telltale Heart,” and of course, “The Raven.” The Hanover Arts and Activities Center had already constructed a small stage under a tree, and Keeton and company added three black cubes with hinged lids that provided all the set, the furniture, and the props needed for this production.

There are two remaining performances of Grief, Guilt, and Paranoia: The Madness of Poe on October 23 and 30. To view and bid on the art work visit the Whistle Stop Theatre Company’s website: whistlestoptheatre.weebly.com. Opening bids start at $10 for the masks and prints, and $5 for artwork delivered via high res digital files. All bids are due before October 29, 2020.

Edgar Allan Poe Trivia

The Baltimore Ravens NFL team is named for Poe’s poem, “The Raven” and the team mascot is named Poe.

Poe married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm when she was 13 and he was 27.

To this day, the cause of Poe’s death remains unknown. In 1849 he “went missing” for five days and was found, delirious, in Baltimore. He died in a Baltimore hospital and was buried two days later, without an autopsy.

Photos: From the Whistle Stop Theatre Company website. Katherine S. Wright as Poe.

A slideshow of auction items follows.

JACQUELINE JONES IS “ANN”: One Woman Show at the Firehouse Theatre

Jacqueline Jones Lends Her Voice to the Story of Ann Richards, Fearless & Feisty Female Democratic Governor of Texas

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad Street, RVA 23220 [live and streamed options available; live performances have a limited capacity of 2, 4, 6, or 8]

Performances: September 16 – October 25, 2020

Ticket Prices: $30 suggested donation; pay what you will

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

Wearing a blue suit, accessorized with a double strand of pearls and bronze metallic pumps with a matching bottomless tote bag, Jacqueline Jones looks – dare I say it? – presidential as she portrays Ann Richards, the first female Democratic governor of the great state of Texas.

I did not want my tombstone to read, ‘She kept a really clean house.’ I think I’d like them to remember me by saying, ‘She opened government to everyone.’

And in case you were wondering, as I was, who holds the honor of being the first female governor of Texas, it was Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson, known as “Ma” Ferguson who served two terms as Governor of Texas, from 1925-1927 and again from 1933 to 1935. And somebody please correct me, if necessary, but my cursory research shows that “Ma” Ferguson, who basically took over after her husband was impeached, was a Democrat, so unless I’m missing something that would make Ann Richards the SECOND female Democratic governor of Texas…but I digress.

I get a lot of cracks about my hair, mostly from men who don’t have any.

I may or may not have heard of Ann Richards (born 1933, served as Governor 1991-1995, died of esophageal cancer in 2006), but Jones brought Richards to life in a way that made me feel as if I might have known her, and would definitely have liked her if our paths had crossed. The humor, the perfect delivery of Richard’s famous one-liners, even a naughty joke, all worked together to create a sense of intimacy that was entirely captivating.

“I suppose I owe you an apology. Well, you ain’t gonna get one. ‘Bye!”

Due to COVID-19, Ann was an ideal choice as a one-woman show, and The Firehouse Theatre restricted live performances to 2, 4, 6, or a maximum of 8 patrons. Scattered as we were, for social distancing, it felt as if Jones/Richards was speaking directly to each of us. Part of this may be due to the extensive research and care that playwright Holland Taylor put into Ann. Taylor, herself an Emmy winning actor, portrayed the legendary Governor on Broadway – as well as in Texas.

Hate the evil and love the good, and establish justice in the court. – Amos 5:15

During his customary pre-show curtain talk, Firehouse Producing Artistic Director Joel Bassin asked audience members to share their experiences and memories of Governor Richardson. Comments ranged from graceful, humorous, and forceful to “wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Jones gave us all of that. The play starts with Richards giving a commencement speech as the University of Texas, and ends with her commenting about her own funeral. In the space between, we are gifted with 100 minutes of compelling storytelling, wit, history, and inspiration.

“I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could. I was in college before I found out he might be wrong.”

We learn of her ground-breaking accomplishments, her commitment to service, her concern for civil rights and social justice. But we also see her as a wife, a mother, a real person with real challenges – she had to check herself into rehab for alcoholism. I came away with a picture of a woman who understood being Governor was more about others than her own personal interests, someone who worked for unity in diversity, which I found surprising for her time and her state. And to bring things into perspective, if you yearn for relevance, or like to make things connect: Ann Richards’ granddaughter, Lisa Adams, worked as an aide for Hilary Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign and was director of communications for Senator Kamala Harris during her presidential bid.

“Bad things happen when they don’t vote.”

One thing that is quite remarkable is the way Jones kept up her energy and the connection with the audience, given the limited number of people and less of feedback. But this play, with this actor, and this director – Billy Christopher Maupin, who starred in the Firehouse’s first pandemic-style contactless show the past summer – did more than just make do. They made beautiful theater.

The government is not “they,” the government is us!

Kudos to costumer Ruth Hedberg for the presidential suit and the Ann Richards wig. (See the photos below of Richards and Jones with the Richards wig. The photos, by the way, do not do justice to Jones, who looked radiant throughout this production.) While it was a one actor show, Erica Hughes lent her voice as Nancy Kohler, Richard’s secretary (as well as the show’s vocal coach) and Partricia Alli was the voice of the College President.

“Men are great fighters, women have the power to bring consensus.”

Performed with one ten-minute intermission, “Ann” is among the first of the live theatrical experiences to return to Richmond theater venues. Joel Bassin and the Firehouse staff have gone above and beyond to make the audience feel comfortable and safe. Masks are required of all patrons and staff. (Jones does not wear a mask on stage for her solo performance.) A staff member meets and greets you at the door with a contact-less thermometer. Everyone is assigned a seat number and even a designated bathroom. You are asked to wash your hands before taking your seat, during intermission, and before leaving. There is no lingering or fraternizing in the lobby. Unlike some other venues, The Firehouse is still providing printed programs (no need for tickets for 2, 4, 6, or 8 people) and the programs are placed in a taped off, numbered space as you check in. The bar is closed, but drinks may be pre-ordered (beer, wine, soda) and magically appear on the bar in a taped off space -identified by your number. Email confirmations are sent out with detailed instructions (it’s a lot to remember).

“Call ’em out!”

If you’re ready to venture outside of your quarantine quarters, this show, running though October 25, is a good place to start your journey.

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2020 ARTSIES AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED

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
“Urinetown”
TheatreLAB


Best Direction, Musical
Matt Polson
“Urinetown”


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


Best Actress, Musical
Bianca Bryan
“Urinetown”


Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Musical
Luke Schares
“Urinetown”


Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Musical
Kelsey Cordrey
“Urinetown”


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


Best Choreography
Nicole Morris-Anastasi
“Urinetown”


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


Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design, Musical
Michael Jarett
“Urinetown”


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
“Fences”
Virginia Rep


Best Direction, Play
Alison Devereaux
“Stupid Kid”


Best Actor, Play
James Craven
“Fences”


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
“Fences”


Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design, Play
Nicholas Seaver
“Fences”


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/ .

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SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: At the Edge of the Ocean

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: A Play Without Words

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220

Performances: March 7-29 (with previews March 5 & 6), 2020

Ticket Prices: $37

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

It isn’t often that someone writes a play that requires the actors to take a vow of silence. But that is exactly what happens in Beth Wohl’s play, Small Mouth Sounds (premiered in 2015), when six people in search of themselves – or something or someone other than their themselves – arrive at an upstate New York center for a silent retreat. Small Mouth Sounds was inspired by the author’s own retreat experience.

Naturally, things do not unfold smoothly as each character reveals their special brand of quirkiness or unveils their personal demons. Judy and Joan are a couple – two middle-aged  women who are struggling to shoulder the burden of Judy’s cancer diagnosis. Alicia is a young woman who apparently just broke up with someone named Fred; she keeps dialing his number and is constantly distracted by her forbidden cell phone. She is perturbed to discover that she has been assigned a male roommate.

Ned and Rodney are two of the most interesting members of this unlikely collection of people. Ned has had an unimaginable string of bad luck: he fell off a mountain and broke his skull; his wife started sleeping with his younger brother; he started drinking and joined AA only to have his sponsor commit suicide, and his dog got run over by a car. That’s just a small sampling of all that he’s been through. Rodney is a passive aggressive yoga instructor who smugly and silently snubs everyone else, shows off his yoga skills, removes his wedding ring as soon as he arrives, and is the first to strip down for the clothing optional lakeside activities.

Oh yes, there is a bit of nudity – full frontal – and some “herbal tobacco” and Palo Santo wood gets burned onstage. This play is recommended for viewers 18 years and older. But, to get back to the cast, one of the greatest surprises comes in the final scene from the mild-mannered Jan.

This group of seekers comes under the care and watchful eye of a gruff-voiced guru, an unseen and nameless Teacher who coughs and sneezes into her microphone and appears o the verge of a breakdown. The audience never sees the Teacher, Marisa Guida, until she comes out to take her bow at the end. Guida is the only character allowed to speak throughout the play.

The marvelous cast consists of Lauren Leinhaas-Cook as Judy (the one with cancer); Jenny Hundley as her partner Joan (the bubbly one who always seems to have a small wrapped candy); Maura Mazurowski as Alicia (the young one with all the bags and baggage – and snacks); Jim Morgan as Ned (the one who has all the bad luck); Adam Valentine as Rodney (the passive-aggressive yoga instructor); and Larry Cook as Jan (the one whose secret I will not reveal here, but about whom I will post a nagging question at the end of this review). What makes them all so marvelous is that, except for a rather long monologue by Ned, and a brief but sharp exchange between Joan and Judy, we learn all we know about these characters through facial expressions, gestures, and a few grunts. In order to successfully carry off a play in which the main characters are all required to take a vow of silence, these actors had to act their butts off!

Running 70 minutes with no intermission, Small Mouth Sounds is set in a yurt-shaped structure with large open windows and chakra symbols painted on the walls. The only furniture is a few backless wooden stools (which Judy emphatically complains about) and some floor pillows. At night, the campers make do with their yoga mats as they fight mosquitos and shiver at the sounds of growling bears and other unknown animals. Actors enter down the center aisle, sometimes rather noisily, and the top of the set extends over the audience making us feel that we are inside the experience – or experiment, which I believe is the word used in the opening seconds – perhaps even in the position of the Teacher.

Joey Luck designed the sound – a variety of ambient sounds including insects and birds and a bear or two, assorted snorts and grunts, and a torrential rainstorm. Rusty Wilson, Irene Ziegler and the cast members contributed voice-overs and other vocals sounds. Sarah Grady’s costumes helped define the characters. This entire delightful production was directed by Laine Satterfield with a balance of structure and freedom that allowed humor to emerge quite naturally. The pacing was unhurried, yet never lagged, and the scenes perfectly captured the juxtaposition of the meditative environment with the characters’ personalities and problems. In her Director’s Note, Satterfield describes how, during their first week of rehearsal, the cast members lived key moments of their characters’ lives and even worked out timelines and bios.

Small Mouth Sounds runs through March 29 in the intimate Theatre Gym at the Virginia Rep Center on West Broad Street. A part of the Acts of Faith Theatre Festival, the play runs in tandem with a series of wellness workshops, Centered Stage, including topics such as meditation and feng shui. The series takes place after the shows on March 8, 12, 15, 19, 22, and 26.

 

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SPOILER ALERT

Now, for that question regarding Jan and his secret. . .Do not read this paragraph if you don’t want to know before you go. . .

So, in the final scene, it is revealed that Jan does not speak English. My question is, how was he able to read his information packet and follow the instructions of the Teacher? Hmm???

**********

 

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

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Photo Credits: Jason Collins

Small Mouth Sounds
Adam Valentine, Jenny Hundley , Lauren Leinhaas-Cook, Maura Mazurowski, Jim Morgan, Larry Cook. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.

August Wilson's Fences
Marisa Guida. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.

Small Mouth Sounds
Maura Mazurowski, Jim Morgan. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.

Small Mouth Sounds
Adam Valentine, Jenny Hundley, Lauren Leinhaas-Cook. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.

Small Mouth Sounds
Jim Morgan and Maura Mazurkowski. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.

 

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THE GREAT GATSBY: Allusion, Delusion, Illusion

THE GREAT GATSBY: A Novel Approach

Performances: March 6 – 22, 2020

By: Quill Theatre

At: Leslie Cheek Theater at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard, RVA 23220

Ticket Prices: $40 Adults; $30 VMFA Members; $35 Seniors 65+; $30 RVATA (must show card); $20 Students (with ID)

Info: (804) 340-1405 or quilltheatre.org

Love lost and found, wealth and power, prohibition era bootlegging, corruption, infidelity, homosexuality, white supremacy, domestic abuse, the aftermath of war, mystery, lies, and more are all part of the plot, and it all hits the fan in Act Two. It would be impossible not to draw comparisons between the 1922 setting of The Great Gatsby and the state of the world nearly 100 years later, in 2020.

Simon Levy’s 2006 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic American novel, The Great Gatsby, now playing at the Leslie Cheek Theatre at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, is the only version of the play authorized by the Fitzgerald estate. There’s a lot of history on that stage, but as important as historical context may be, it is human relationships and the human condition that are at the heart of this show. Indeed, the program notes are careful to point out that the lively and dynamic Charleston scene at the top of Act Two would most likely never have occurred, as that dance did not become popular – at least not outside the black community – until 1926, about four years after the setting of The Great Gatsby. Part drama, part comedy – perhaps unintentionally so – The Great Gatsby features a dynamic and diverse cast of major and minor characters.

Kurt Smith is Jay Gatsby. Since this is his debut in the Richmond theater community, I am not at all familiar with his range or abilities, but he elicited many of the laughs on opening night with his awkwardly affected portrayal; he would stick out a hand as if to shake and leave it extended for an inordinate amount of time, or stand in profile with one foot slightly ahead of the other, reminiscent of a figure on an ancient Egyptian painting. The character of Gatsby also, oddly enough, alternates between the confidence of a successful businessman – one who has made his fortune through illegal or illegitimate means – and the nervousness of a schoolboy about to ask a girl on a date for the first time. Somehow, these two sides of Gatsby never truly reconciled.

Rachel Rose Gilmour as Gatsby’s love interest, Daisy Buchanan, adopted the hand-to-forehead swooning persona of the southern bell for most of her scenes. Caught between two loves, she could not decide which to choose, instead allowing circumstances to make the decision for her.

Daisy, who seemingly has everything – a wealthy husband, big home, money and social standing – is actually a victim: a victim of domestic abuse; a victim of 1920’s social restraints placed on women.

Daisy’s husband, Tom, played by Cole Metz, is a pompous, bombastic, white male supremacist who is very much aware of and feels justified in his privilege. Tom is carrying on an affair with the wife of gas station owner whose business he frequents on his trips back and forth from New York City to Long Island. Metz’s character is the one you most want to boo. Each of these main characters has a distinct style and mannerisms – they just do not seem to have selected the same style or mannerisms from the same school or time period.

The play is narrated by Chandler Hubbard who plays Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway. The narrator guides the audience through this twisted tale, providing a sort of auditory synopsis, filling in the blanks for the audience members who may have forgotten or never read The Great Gatsby, while Nick seems to represent the voice of reason and the face of good. As the play progresses, and it becomes obvious that wrong-doers will not be held accountable for their actions, he distances himself from the others – even from his high-society girlfriend, Jordan Baker, played by Michelle Greensmith as an overly-confident, sometimes delightfully sarcastic, and generally loud caricature of a flapper – but without the fringes.

Speaking of loud, the un-mic’ed (is that even a real word?) actors were often difficult to hear in the Leslie Cheek Theatre – even from the fifth or sixth row from the front. As to other production elements: Gregg Hillmar’s lighting was sometimes used to effectively highlight scenes while at other times, perhaps because of the thrust of the stage, with steps and ramps downstage, or perhaps because of the structure and limitations of the house, the lighting seemed to extend into the houselights, illuminating the rows of people sitting in front of you as much as the actors onstage. James Ricks, the company’s Artistic Director, did the effective sound design himself, and there was no doubt that Tennessee Dixon had created the projections that added depth and visual interest in lieu of three-dimensional set construction. Among the stunning effects, flying birds and jonquils (a flower that earned prominent mention in another classic play earlier this season, The Glass Menagerie). Interestingly, jonquils are a type of narcissus, named for the character in Greek mythology from whom the word “narcissism” is derived.

Credit for the lively Charleston scene at the top of Act Two – a scene that prominently featured Keaton Hillman and Markell D. Holloway who played the role of the servants, among other roles – goes to Jeremy Gershman and Kayla Xavier. Reed West’s compact set design included a revolving platform that held a surprising variety of furniture and settings and Cora Delbridge designed the lovely and lovingly detailed period costumes that made generous use of sparkling fabrics and swinging fringes.

The cast also included LaSean Greene as the gas station owner, George Wilson, whose wife was involved with Tom Buchanan. Greene has a small part, but a significant scene in the latter part of Act Two. The versatile Amber Marie Martinez played George’s wife, Myrtle – another victim of the times. Melissa Johnston Price, Eddie Webster, and Jeff Clevenger are all well-known accomplished actors who played very small roles. The ensemble included Daniel Camargo (who also played the minor role of Frank), Mara Barrett, Jackie Cook, Kayla Xavier, Mallory Keene, Billy Heckman, Keaton Hillman, Reed Patterson, and Markell Holloway.

With all these features going for it, The Great Gatsby provided an entertaining evening of theater that generated laughs and made the audience confront many unpleasant facets of human nature. With such an accomplished cast and the skillful direction of former artistic director Dr. Jan Powell, I left with a slight feeling of emptiness, as if someone had left out an ingredient. I hope the remaining shows will tighten up and fulfill the high expectations that have been generated. The Great Gatsby has a short run, so freshen up your 1920s attire and catch it before it closes on March 22.

 

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

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Photo Credits: Photos by Maria V. Salova

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THE REVOLUTIONISTS: Find the Heart, Not the Art (Marianne Angelle)

THE REVOLUTIONISTS: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Gil Scott-Heron)

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 27 – March 21, 2020

Ticket Prices: $30 Regular Admission; $20 Seniors & Industry/RVATA; $10 Students and Teachers with ID

Info: (804) 506-3533 or TheatreLABrva.org

Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists, first produced in 2015, may be the only comedy that begins and ends with an execution. The Revolutionists is a play about a woman writing a play during the French Revolution. It is hysterically funny, and it is real. Three of the four characters are historical (not hysterical) figures:

Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) was a French playwright and political activist. She was executed by guillotine for seditious behavior and attempting to reinstate the monarchy – based on the “evidence” found in the contents of an unfinished play about former Queen of France Marie Antoinette.

Women have the right to mount the scaffold;

they should likewise have the right to mount the rostrum.

-Olympe de Gouges played by Maggie Roop

Charlotte Corday (1768-1793) was a political activist who was executed by guillotine for the assassination of Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat, a leader of the Reign of Terror. She stabbed him in his bath.

I killed one man to save 100,000.

-Charlotte Corday played by Lydia Hynes

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was convicted of treason and executed by guillotine.

No one understands my ills, nor the terror that fills my breast,

who does not know the heart of a mother.

– Marie Antoinette, played by Maggie Bavolack

Marianne Angelle is a composite of the free black women revolutionaries of the island nation of Saint Domingue (now Haiti). The island was rich in sugar, coffee, and cotton with a population of 500,000 slaves, 32,000 white people, and 28,000 free black people. In August 1791 the Saint Domingue revolutionaries started the first successful slave revolt in history.

You can’t be a hero if you’re too scared to show up!

– Marianne Angelle played by Katrinah Carol Lewis

For two hours (including one ten-minute intermission), these four women gather in Olympe’s Parisian office to talk philosophy and plan how to change the world. The Revolutionists is a smart, fast-paced, bold tragi-comedy. It is a play that embraces a love of words and language, and Chelsea Burke’s thoughtfully irreverent and well-timed direction dares the audience to come along for the ride and keep up. Dasia Gregg’s understated set (some framed wall sections, a tiny desk and a few seats that are removed after the first act) has the audience seated in the four corners of the intimate space. Some audience members were sitting just a foot or two away from the performers when they sat on a chair on chaise lounge.

It wasn’t until the end of this riotous yet serious discourse that we realized we were not ordinary participants, but extras cast in the role of audience members. It was something like going along for a ride in your friend’s new car, only to find out later that the car was stolen, and you were the designated getaway driver for the crime they planned to commit.

The Revolutionists boasts a dynamic cast with Maggie Roop as Olympe de Gouges, full of fiery talk but coming up short when it’s time to take real action. Lydia Hynes portrays Charlotte Corday with youthful energy and commitment – and she’s loud (and that’s not a criticism, but a comment from her mentors, Olympe and Marianne). Maggie Bavolack is very pink and fluffy (especially her hair and bosom) and is hysterically funny as Marie Antoinette. But she also expresses an unexpected warmth and compassion that develops as she spends time with Marianne and Olympe.

And then there’s Katrinah Carol Lewis as the free-black freedom fighter Marianne. Marianne is the character we learn the most about, from her family to her political and womanist philosophies and Lewis takes full ownership of this character and the show, from the moment she strides into Olympe’s office, assesses the situation, and applies her sense of righteous indignation tempered with wisdom beyond her years.

In fact, all the woman exhibit knowledge beyond their years – or at least beyond their time period – as their dialogue and declarations are interspersed with contemporary language and well-seasoned with swear words.

The production team includes period costumes by Ruth Hedberg (some attractive, some serviceable, some versatile, and some for fun), sound design by Kelsey Cordrey (filled with crowd sounds, heavy breathing, ticking clocks, gunshots and other ambient sounds), and dramatic lighting by Michael Jarrett that goes black to tastefully yet ominously indicate that the guillotine has dropped.

The Revolutionists, a part of the Acts of Faith Festival, runs through March 21. To paraphrase Marianne, “You can’t be a participant if you’re too scared to show up.” Don’t be that person.

 

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

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

 

 

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THE CAKE: A Slice of Life

New Show March 7 at 2 pm! Most Other Performances Almost SOLD OUT!  Tickets on Sale at 10 am Monday, February 24!

THE CAKE: A Ripped-From-the-Headlines Play

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Richmond Triangle Players – An Acts of Faith production

At: The Robert B Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230

Performances: February 12 – March 7,  2020

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

Stepping into Della’s North Carolina bakery shop is like stepping back in time. In an opening monologue, Della sings the praises of real butter and sugar and tells us that cake made from a box is like Scotch tape dipped in Splenda®.

Della has a lot going on in her life right now. She’s living her dream of being a contestant on The Great American Baking Show when along comes Jen, her goddaughter, who announces her impending wedding and she wants Della, her late mother’s best friend, to bake her wedding cake. Della and her husband Tim, a plumber, are stunned to find that Jen plans to marry another woman – a black woman journalist. That step back in time is multi-faceted; it is physical, geographical, social, and political.

The strong cast compellingly engages in difficult discussions about topics that are emotionally laden, faith testing, and politically controversial. Terri Moore as Della, Nicole Morris-Anastasi as Jen, Zakiyyah Jackson as Jen’s partner Macy, and Gordon Bass as Della’s husband Tim are all more than up to the task. The audience is skillfully exposed to the different points of view and nuances of each character.

And this is where Terri Moore – who recently delighted audiences as Patsy Cline’s number one fan, Louise Seger, at Hanover Tavern – pulled out all the stops. Della convincingly struggled to balance her Christian faith with her love for Jen – even searching the scriptures to see if she really understood the word of God.

In turning to her husband Tim to talk through her dilemma, Della uncovered her own marital discontent and in the second half of the one-act play (running nearly two hours with no intermission) she touchingly, hilariously, yet unsuccessfully tried to spice things up by seducing Tim. The failed seduction involved soft lights, mood music, and whipped cream. Tim later countered in a hilarious scene that will forever make you look differently at mashed potatoes.

Jen breezed into her childhood town with unresolved issues surrounding her life as a gay woman and her need to earn the approval of her late mother. Significant discussions about difficult topics that are both emotionally charged and faith-challenging occur between Della and Tim and between Jen and Macy. Macy is confident and pragmatic; she’s not really interested in anyone else’s opinion, and the most difficult thing for the audience to accept may be how Macy and the self-deprecating Jen ever fell in love with each other, much less sustain a viable relationship.

The thing is that we are able to empathize with both Della and Jen. I credit this to the combined creative ability and social intelligence of Moore, director Dawn A.  Westbrook, and playwright Bekah Brunstetter (who is also a writer for the hit television show This Is Us). The Cake provides a template for how we might all deal with the difficult topics: gender; race; marriage and more. The cast of four is excellent, with Moore and Jackson’s characters standing out as more fully developed. The Cake is a charming play, made even more delightful thanks to Terri Moore.

I think I was enamored of this play because we see Della, Jen, Macy, and Tim as people, not as issues. Westbrook’s direction is gentle, and the humor flows freely and easily shares the stage with the serious topics, keeping the audience engaged.

This slice of life play is based loosely on the true story of a Colorado baker whose refusal to bake a wedding cake for two gay men went all the way to the Supreme Court. (The Court ruled in favor of the baker, based on his religious beliefs.)

David Allan Ballas designed an inviting bake shop that cleverly converts to two bedrooms with the aid of two murphy-style beds hidden behind the shop’s shelving. The Robert B. Moss Theatre lobby has also been decorated with a variety of tempting-looking cakes and sweets. Sheamus Coleman’s sound design includes very appropriate background music, while Michael Jarett’s lighting and Sheila Russ’ costumes supported the overall look and theme and Donna Coghill’s dialect coaching helped the North Carolina accent roll gently off the tongues of Della, Jen, and Tim.

 

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

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Photo Credits: John MacLellan

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Terri Moore is Della, a well-known Southern bakery owner who is faced with a dilemma that will change her life in “The Cake,” a new comedy by Bekah Brunstetter (“This is Us”), directed by Dawn A. Westbrook. Playing at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through March 7.

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Nicole Morris-Anastasi (left) and Zakiyyah Jackson as Jen and Macy, a couple in a bit of a crisis running up to their wedding in “The Cake,” a new play by Bekah Brunstetter (“This is Us”), directed by Dawn A. Westbrook. Playing at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through March 7

 

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RICHMOND BALLET’S “SWAN LAKE”: Happily Ever After

Richmond Ballet’s SWAN LAKE: A Valentine Treat

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219

Performances: February 14-16 @ 7:00pm; February 15 & 16 @2:00pm

Ticket Prices: $25 – $125

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

It’s hard to believe that when the ballet Swan Lake debuted at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1877 that it was not well received. Times change, and with it, people’s taste and expectations. After many adaptations and variations – the current production has choreography by Nicholas Beriozoff  after Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, and Alexander Gorsky, with restaging and additional choreography by Richmond Ballet’s Malcolm Burn. Petipa and Ivanov choreographed the 1895 revival; the original choreography was by Julius Reisinger. One constant in the evolution of Swan Lake has been Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score, with all its drama and the familiar leitmotif, “The Swan’s Theme.” https://youtu.be/9cNQFB0TDfY

In addition to the music, Swan Lake is a visual treat with its three major sets: the lakeshore, the area outside the castle where Prince Siegfried begins his birthday celebration, and the magnificent castle ballroom. Credit for the opulent set and costume design goes to Jens-Jacob Worsaae.

Two dancers with the Chinese National Ballet, a company the Richmond Ballet has developed a relationship with overtime, were scheduled to dance the lead roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried but plans were changed due to fears about the coronavirus, which prevented Xu Yan and Li Wentao from traveling to the US.

The lead roles were performed by Sarah Lane and Cory Stearns, both principal dancers  with American Ballet Theatre. The chemistry between the guests and the Richmond Ballet seemed organic, and both Lane and Stearns seemed to derive as much joy from performing their roles as the opening night audience on Valentine’s Day. There were audible ooh’s and ah’s each time the curtain rose, and extended applause for the guest artists as well as for the soloists.

Trevor Davis was pure joy as the Court Jester and Mate Szentes made such an impression as von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer, that people actually booed when he took his final bows. The most memorable dancing occurred in the ballroom scene in the third act and included a “Czardas” led by Melissa Frain and Ira White, a “Neapolitan” duet performed by Elena Bello and Marty Davis, and a “Russian Dance” that drew enthusiastic applause for Eri Nishihara. The Black Swan “Grand Pas de Deux” also occurs in the third act and Lane and Stearns did not disappoint. Their performance was elegant and enthusiastic.

BTW- While I understand the convention of applause after the pas de deux (and various displays of virtuosity), the dancers’ mid-performance bows break the flow of the dance and interrupt my enjoyment of the illusion the cast has worked so hard to create.

I always look forward to the big, classic ballet productions the Richmond Ballet offers each year around Valentine’s Day – except when the ballet is Romeo and Juliet because the I find the deaths of the young lovers depressing. Swan Lake has several versions – and endings – and I was happy to find that one of the happier endings was selected.

To clarify, Swan Lake tells the story of the beautiful Princess Odette who is turned into a swan by the evil sorcerer von Rothbart. (No explanation is ever offered, except that without this turn of events, there would be no ballet.) Prince Siegfried is celebrating his birthday with friends and his mother appears to tell him it’s time to get married and start adulting. This sends him into a depression, which he and his friends resolve to address with a hunting trip. Of course, he encounters Odette, who is allowed to appear in human form an hour each day, at midnight.

Prince Siegfried falls in love with Odette and vows to break the evil spell on her with love. Von Rothbart will have none of this and shows up at the castle where the Queen Mother has assembled a half dozen prospective brides for her son to choose from – only von Rothbart brings his own daughter, Odile, disguised as Odette. Prince Siegfried falls for Odile and when he finds out he has been deceived; he rushes to the lake to reassure Odette of his love. This is where some versions have the lovers commit suicide, usually by drowning in the lake, but in this version Prince Siegfried battles the evil sorcerer von Rothbart (with some lovely lightening-like lighting effects), finally overcoming the spell and releasing Odette and the other captive swans from the evil spell. Odette returns to her human form, and she and Prince Siegfried live happily ever after.

Sometimes happily ever after is just what is needed. Swan Lake allows us to linger in the world of make-believe for nearly three hours (with two intermissions). It is a delight for the eyes, the ears, and the soul.

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

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Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: In Rest and Sleep (a dance about love, loss, reflection, revenge & unlimited chances)

STARR FOSTER DANCE: In Rest and Sleep

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 13-15: Thursday & Friday @7:30pm; Saturday @3:00pm, 5:00pm & 7:30pm

Ticket Prices: $15; $25 on Friday (includes post-performance reception)

Info: (804) 304-1523, https://m.bpt.me/event/4497856

Starrene Foster’s new work, In Rest and Sleep, begins with a bit of audience participation. It would be impossible to describe my experience without giving it away, so *SPOILER ALERT*: If you plan to see it, and want to be surprised, skip the italicized paragraph.

 

*SPOILER ALERT*

The audience is held in the lobby and bar area until it is time to enter the performing space. Latecomers will not be seated. As we prepared to enter the space, we were each given a white calla lily – a symbol of holiness and purity, but also of death and resurrection; it is a popular Easter flower. This made me think of a funeral, a feeling that was reinforced as we processed through a black curtain to the sounds of somber music. Once inside the space, we observed three dancers laying face up on the floor and a fourth sitting on a tree stump in solemn contemplation. We were instructed to toss our flowers on the dancers.

*END OF SPOILER ALERT *

 

In Rest and Sleep is described as a dance about love, loss, and reflection. It is also described, in different settings, as a dance about revenge or a dance about unlimited chances. It is all of that, and more. After the show – which runs about 40 minutes, with no intermission – my theater companion asked what I thought it meant, and my response was, whatever you needed it to mean. This is the kind of work that, after the applause, leave the audience momentarily silent, speechless, mute and alone in the midst of a crowd.

I have, on more than one occasion, remarked to Foster that I found her work dark – not just emotionally, but physically, due to the subdued lighting she and her lighting designers prefer. Yet even though In Rest and Sleep may be thought of as a dark topic, the lighting, while subdued, is not very dark at all. In fact, there are moments when Michael Jarett illuminates the space with bright flashes, like shards of enlightenment. The set, designed by Foster and Brad Lebahn, consists of two rectangles of artificial grass and a tree stump. At the beginning and again later, one dancer sits quietly on the stump carefully observing the other dancers.

The combination of stillness that feels like waiting is juxtaposed with violent reaching, grabbing pulling, dragging, and writhing. There are supportive lifts and gentle touches, but there are also kicks and shoves and intertwining phrases of movement that create a perceptible level of anxiety, of unease.

Two distinct moments in time stood out for me, capturing my attention and stirring my emotions. In a duet, one dancer stood off to the side with her right arm extended, fingers trembling in a repetitive pattern while her partner, some distance away, explored the other side of the space until the two eventually tumbled together. While this interaction was unfolding, a third dancer sat on the tree stump watching intently, and the fourth lay curled at her feet on a patch of grass – resting, or asleep. I saw myself in the dancer with the outstretched arm – reaching, disconnected – as well as in the dancer who sat intently observing, waiting for her season to become involved. Others may have connected with the dancer who was moving through space, or with the sleeping figure.

The other moment that caused me to hold my breath occurred when the four dancers ran, one after the other, to a patch of grass, dropped, rolled to center stage, got up, and repeated the pattern several times! The movement was mesmerizing, but the energy emitted was like a volcano erupting. It was over all too soon.

In Rest and Sleep,  a premiere by Starrene Foster, has only five performances this weekend, and while the audience is seated on three sides of the space, there is limited seating. Everyone is up close to the action – and the resting. On Thursday and Saturday at 3:00pm the performers are Fran Beaumont, Caitlin Cunningham, Shelby Gratz Paez, and Mattie Rogers. On Friday and on Saturday at 5:00pm and 7:30pm the cast is Kylie Hester, Erick Hooten, Anna Lebahn, and Mattie Rogers.

The RVA theater community has an Acts of Faith festival – if dance were included, In Rest and Sleep would be a prime candidate for Acts of Faith, along with the accompanying talk-back opportunities for the audience to discuss works with the cast and creative team.

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

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

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BLOOMSDAY: An Irish-Time-Travel Love Story

BLOOMSDAY: Time Shifting & Love

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 7-22, 2020

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

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

I was not familiar with Steven Dietz’ play, Bloomsday. Published in 2017, the four-person play is  set in Dublin, Ireland and shifts between the present and 35 years earlier. The four actors play two characters – the present-day Cait and Robert and their younger embodiments, Caithleen and Robbie. Robert also acts as narrator.

Bloomsday is a tale of love, regrets, and “what ifs.” Robbie, a young American tourist on the rebound from a breakup, joins a walking tour of James Joyce’s Dublin – following the path of Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. The tour guide, an attractive young Irish woman named Caithleen, has a group of 12 tourists ready to explore the streets of James Joyce’s novel as seen through the eyes of Leopold Bloom, but she needs another person so the tour group will not have 13 people (including herself). Robbie joins the group, then selfishly encourages the other tourists to abandon the tour (there are several pubs along the route) so he can have Caithleen all to himself – taking numerous pictures of her.

The two spend one day together. Robbie returns to Seattle where he obsesses over Caithleen until finally, 35 years later, he returns. What follows is a surreal tale in which it is sometimes impossible to tell what really happened and what is just a memory. Cait and young Cathleen, Robert and young Robbie all interact with one another, sometimes sharing the same space – which means time has warped so that the characters come face-to-face with their older/younger selves.

It’s an interesting device that forces the audience to work to keep up with these parallel universes. At one point Mike Fletcher (Robert) and Jordan Stroud (Robbie) are dressed alike. But Robbie’s messy hair and untucked shirt earn him a reprimand from his older self. The first encounter between Caithleen (Lydia MacFarlane Watt) and Cait (Martha Kelly) in Act 1 confirms for the audience, that time is, in fact, malleable in this play.

Mike Fletcher is the dominant figure. After all, his character Robert is both narrator and the one who travels back to Ireland. The interaction between Fletcher and Jordan Stroud, who plays his younger self, is interesting. It has the tension and contentiousness of a father-son relationship. I never got quite as strong an impression from Martha Kelley’s character. The mature Cait seems to have succumbed to the same unnamed mental illness that plagued her mother. Cait seems more contemplative and rational than the others, but I never got a real sense of who she was.

Lydia MacFarlane Watt was well cast as Caithleen, alternating between self-assured  confidence, self-righteous indignation, and anxious introspection. Alison Eichler has dressed Caithleen in sensible shoes, a tulip shaped skirt, white shirt and print sweater, with a large leather bag across her shoulder. The look – along with Watt’s attitude) is perfect. Eichler also created a wonderful costume with a flamboyant feather festooned had for Cait, in honor of Bloomsday – a celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses that takes place on June 16 and includes dressing up in period clothing.

Mike Fletcher and Joe Bly designed the set – a row of shop fronts, including a chemist, a pub, and a café – pasting yellowed book pages on the walls, floor, and steps. (I got up close to check to see if the pages were from James Joyce’s Ulysses but none of them were. Jimmy Mello created the sound design, which included some appropriate ambient sounds, while Jason Lucas’ lighting attempted – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – to emphasize the shifting.

While I found Bloomsday to be a hidden gem of a play, there were some areas that seemed to drag; the show runs only about 90 minutes with one intermission but I there is very little action and after a while the lilting rhythm of Irish accents (mostly good ones, that are easy to understand used by all but Robbie who is American). Mello and his cast made good use of the space, using the aisles as well as the stage. But it is the tenderness and unanswered or unanswerable questions that make this play special. An Acts of Faith Festival offering, Sunday’s nearly sold-out matinee was followed by the first of two audience talkbacks -the second will be Sunday, February 16.

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

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Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios