IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY

A Christmas Classic with a Gift

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

A Live Radio Play

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Arenstein Stage. 114 West Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: December 2, 2021 – January 2, 2022

Ticket Prices: $36-$56. Discounted group rates and rush tickets available.

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

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A Live Radio Play is a feel-good American holiday classic that unfolds on a stage designed to look like an art deco Christmas card. The set represents the stage and auditorium of Studio A at WBFR in Manhattan, New York on Christmas Eve 1946. An On Air sign adds authenticity, and Applause signs provide cues for the audience – so pay attention.

The house lights are on as the action starts, and we quickly find out that we, the VaRep audience, have been assigned roles as the live studio audience. The actors, playing multiple roles, greet us – some more warmly than others – as they arrive for their show. It seems that not everyone had been told they would be performing before a live studio audience.

The story, adapted by Joe Landry from Phillip Van Doren Stern’s story “The Greatest Gift,” (and the 1946 film starring James Steward and Donna Reed) is an Everyman morality play that borrows freely from “A Christmas Carol.” In IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, we meet George Bailey on Christmas Eve 1946, at the nadir of his life’s journey. After giving up his personal dreams for the sake of his family, his friends, and his town, he finds himself about to lose everything and, in the words of his arch enemy, Mr. Potter, he’s worth more dead than alive.

The holidays are a stressful time for many, and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE acknowledges this very real problem, but balances it with humor and the most unusual distraction found in any play. Some of the humor comes in the form of breaks to acknowledge the sponsors of the play within the play. There’s a commercial for Bremo hair cream and Duck’s Toilet Cake Soap, set to Christmas tunes and sung by the cast within the cast. As for the distraction, well, for me, the best part of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is watching the cast perform the role of the Foley artists who create the sound effects. There’s everything from footsteps and doors slamming shut to breaking glass, from doorbells ringing to thunderclaps.

The talented cast includes Kurt Benjamin Smith and Anna da Costa in the lead roles of Jake Laurents and Sally Applewhite, New York City actors who in turn play the roles of Bedford  Falls, NY residents George and Mary. Maggie Bavolack, Joshua Mullins, William Anderson, and Bo Wilson round out the cast playing the roles of actors Lana Sherwood, Harry Heywood, radio host Freddie Filmore, and actor Oliver Johnston. They, in turn, play all the citizen of Bedford Falls, NY, the small town where George Bailey’s guardian angel arrives on Christmas Eve to show him how much of an impact his life has had on so many.

I thought Smith and da Costa had good chemistry and da Costa was powerfully understated as Mary – especially as many of the other characters were so over the top. Anderson, for instance, was steady and unassuming as Freddie Filmore, the radio show host, but high-pitched, hysterical, and giggly as Uncle Billy Of course, given Uncle Billy’s proclivity for liquid fortification, this was completely in character. Maggie Bavolack looked gorgeous as Lana Sherwood and her Bedford Falls characters varied from loyal friend to va-va-voom girl, complete with a drum-roll to accompany her seductive strut. Bo Wilson sampled his various voices before the radio show cast metamorphosed into their Bedford Falls characters, but he seemed to relish the evil Mr. Potter more than any other.

Given the often quick pace of the show, and with six actors playing multiple characters who often spoken over one another, it was necessary to clearly distinguish between the various characters, and most of the time I was, indeed, able to keep up with who was who. At first I was concerned that the background music was too loud and intrusive, but this issue was short-lived. After the introductions, the background music faded into the background where it belonged.

The six actors shared three mic stands, and switched rapidly between them, but this was not necessarily an indication of a change of character, so IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE really keeps the viewer engaged and actively involved. This is a plus given that the show, which runs an hour and 45 minutes was performed without intermission. (Even though this is a family-friendly play, VaRep cautions prospective members that younger viewers may be challenged by the length of this production, given that there is no intermission.)

Mercedes Schaum’s scenic design was attractive and practical, allowing space for all the Foley equipment without overpowering the actors. Sue Griffins’ costumes were appropriate for the time, 1946, but Mary Hatch Bailey’s dress was especially fetching. Jacob Mishler gets the credit for the impressive sound design. Chelsea Burke’s direction kept things moving at a speedy pace, and maintained a comfortable balance between the extremes of comedy and tragedy. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a wonderful show that belongs in your canon of Christmas rituals.

NOTE: For my review of a similar show, A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, November 2018 – January 2019, click here: https://wordpress.com/post/jdldancesrva.com/724

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A Live Radio Play

Adapted by Joe Landry

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is based on the story, “The Greatest Gift” by Phillip Van Doren Stern from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, and Jo Swerling

DIRECTION

Chelsea Burke

CAST

Jake Laurents…………………………. Kurt Benjamin Smith

Sally Applewhite……………………………… Anna da Costa

Lana Sherwood……………………………. Maggie Bavolack

Harry Heywood………………………………. Joshua Mullins

Freddie Filmore……………………………William Anderson

Oliver Johnston………………………………………… Bo Wilson

Cover…………………………………………………. Nora Ogunleye

Cover………………………………………………… Alvan Bolling II

CREATIVE TEAM

Scenic Design………………………………… Mercedes Schaum

Costume Design ……………………….…………….…. Sue Griffin

Lighting Design ………….,…………………….….. BJ Wilkinson

Dialect Coach ………………………….………Karen Kopryanski

Sound Design ………………………………………… Jacob Mishler

Stage Management ………………………….…….. Justin Janke

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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

Virginia Rep COVID Guidelines

To provide the highest level of safety, all patrons are required to show proof of vaccination, or proof that they have received a negative COVID test by a professional technician within 48 hours of the performance date/time.

Patrons must show your vaccination card or a photo of the card on your phone, along with a valid photo ID, when you arrive for the performance. If you are unable to be vaccinated, you may provide proof of a Rapid COVID-19 antigen test taken within 48 hours of your performance. At home tests will not be accepted.

Please see the Virginia Rep Covid Safety FAQ for details.

In accordance with current city, state, and CDC guidance, face masks are REQUIRED at all times while you are in the building, regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated.

At this time, no food or drink is allowed in the theatre.

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SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: The Illuminated Stage Theatre Company

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

Performances: November 19 – December 5, 2021

Ticket Prices: $35. $20 for students.

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

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

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

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

Week One – The Swing

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

Week Two – The Tango

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

Week Three – The Viennese Waltz

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

Week Four – The Foxtrot

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

Week Five – The Cha-Cha

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

Week Six – Contemporary Dance

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

Week Ten – Bonus Lesson

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

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

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

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

SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS

Written by Richard Alfieri

Cast:

Kelly Kennedy as Lily Harrison

Travis West as Michael Minetti

Creative Team:

Directed by Julie Fulcher-Davis

Stage Manager: Leanna Hicks

Lighting Designer: Andrew Bonniwell

Set Designer: Vinnie Gonzalez

Costume Designer: Elizabeth Weiss Hopper

Light Board Operator: Leanna Hicks

Sound Board Operator: Matt Nixon

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

Technical Advisor: Jon Shelley

Photographer: Dave Jones

Run Time:

About 90 minutes, with one intermission

Performance schedule:

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

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

Tickets:

$35

$20 for students

Photos:

Dave Jones

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WINTER WONDERETTES

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

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

Performances: November 20, 2021 – January 1, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINTER WONDERETTES

Written and Created by Roger Bean

Word Arrangements by Roger Bean & Brian Baker

Musical Arrangements by Brian Baker

Cast:

Georgi Hicks as Missy

Anne-Michelle Forbes as Suzy

Alanna Wilson as Betty Jean

Rachel Marrs as Cindy Lou

Direction and Design Team:

Directed by Tom Width

Musical Direction by Paul Deiss

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Scenic Design by Tom Width

“Suzy Snowflake” choreography by Alissa Pagnotti

Technical Direction by Liz Allmon

Orchestra:

Keyboard: Paul Deiss

Drums: James Oyan

Reeds: Sheri Oyan

Bass: Greg DeBruyn

Guitar: Sam Kindle

Run Time:

100 minutes, one intermission

Performance schedule:

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

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

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

Tickets:

$49

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

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

Photos: Robyn O’Neill

LEFT: Anne Michelle Forbes and Georgi Hicks

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

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A CHRISTMAS KADDISH

A World Premiere Holiday Play

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: November 17 – December 18, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $10 – $40.

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org. Richmond Triangle Theater has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccine or recent negative PCR test results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.

For more years than I can remember, the Christmas season has been heralded by the return of The Nutcracker ballet and a unique holiday-themed play by Richmond Triangle Players. This year’s RTP Christmas production took a new twist with the world premiere of a new musical conceived, created, and directed by the creative team of Levi Meerovich, Nora Ogunleye, and RTP Artistic Director Lucian Restivo.

To make the twist even twistier (I know, convoluted would be a better word choice, but, you know, candy canes and all), one half of a queer couple wakes up in a hospital on Christmas day, having spent four days in a coma. Instead of contemplating presents, Jay and Leigh are contemplating matters of life and death and come to blows when Jay considers signing a DNR.

Taking a page from A Christmas Carol, Jay has flashbacks to previous Christmases – a Groundhog Day style reunion with their parents, the first meeting with Leigh – each preceded by a staticky segue partially unintelligible (or partially intelligible, if you prefer) voices from an ambiguously unidentifiable entity.

To assist with the otherworldly visitations, there is a long runway style ramp where the center aisle would normally be located. This is where Claire Bronchick (Jay) begins the show and the site of several entrances and other-worldly encounters.

The cast, a dynamic quartet consisting of Emily Berry (Leigh), Bronchick (Jay), Amber Marie Martinez (Dr. Martinez), and Eddie Webster (Rabbi Aaron Edelstein) is energetic and have ear-pleasing voices that partner well with Levi Meerovich’s music and lyrics. Indeed, during their first encounter, Leigh jumps up and admonishes Jay, in their characteristically snarky voice and aggressive attitude, not to sneak up on strangers and start harmonizing with them.

There is obvious love between Jay and Leigh, more powerfully demonstrated when Leigh sings, “I Will Care For You” while Jay sleeps that in any spoken words. But Jay’s unnamed illness – some sort of cancer, it seems – is like an intrusive third party in their relationship. Jay easily balances talk of DNR forms with jokes that slide easily off the tongue, much to Leigh’s chagrin. They are both, it seems, grieving Jay’s imminent departure, but in diametrically opposed ways. When Jay wails, “When you’re dying on Christmas, Christmas doesn’t seem so great,” there is a hint of humor, but when Leigh screeches, “you want to un-alive yourself,” it feels desperate. There is a lot of door slamming, and I hope the set can hold up to the trauma for the duration of the run.

Leigh rebuffs all attempts to help, brazenly insulting Dr. Martinez and ordering Rabbi Edelstein to get out of the room. And that brings up another question. What, exactly, is the deal with the spiritual elements of A Christmas Kaddish? There’s more than just the obvious Judeo-Christian background and conflicts, by the Christmas decorations that adorn Leigh’s large private hospital room and the persistence of Rabbi Edelstein, who so graciously persists in the face of Leigh’s escalating anger. There’s a third spiritual element, but I don’t want to spoil the fun, so after you see the show, comment here on this blog, and let us know what it was.

The cast’s voices and Meerovich’s music and lyrics are supported by an unseen musical quartet: Kim Fox, Mike Goldberg, Joy Lubman, and Bea Kelly. Nia Safaar Banks designed the costumes, and there were some interesting nuances for Leigh (lots of fishnet and cutouts), and a particularly interesting mini dress ensemble for Jay during one of their time-traveling encounters, but it was the costumes and hair (designed by Luke Newsome) for the extra, largely unnamed characters including Jay’s parents and the Rabbi’s deceased daughter, that really demonstrated creativity. Sometimes it was the costume, sometimes it was the total transformation of the character that was most captivating.

There are many moving parts to A Christmas Kaddish, and the production had a lot of wonderful moments even on opening night, but for me, some of these moments didn’t hit the target. I suspect that I might come away with a different overall feeling if I saw this same show later in the run, when the cast and all the elements have had a chance to bond more and develop that distinctive character that distinguishes each show and each cast. Looking at the extensive and talented creative team, I wonder if the individual contributions of each has yet to meld into a cohesive unit – maybe it just isn’t done yet. For now, it was a pleasant night of live theater in one of the most comfortable venues in the region, but I suspect – and hope – that the production will grow and become better than simply good. After all, this is the annual RTP Christmas Show, and Rabbi Edelstein has prayed really hard for it.

A CHRISTMAS KADDISH

Conceived by Lucian Restivo, Levi Meerovich, and Nora Ogunleye

Book by Nora Ogunleye and Levi Meerovich

CAST:

Leigh – Emily Berry

Jay – Claire Bronchick

Dr. Martinez – Amber Marie Martinez

Rabbi Aaron Edelstein – Eddie Webster

CREATIVE TEAM:

Directed by Lucian Restivo and Nora Ogunleye

Music and Lyrics by Levi Meerovich

Scenic Design by Lucian Restivo

Costume Design by Nia Safaar Banks

Lighting Design by Austin Harber

Sound Design by Share Barber

Hair and Make Up design by Luke Newsome

Properties Design by Tim Moehring

Assistant State Manager: Nathan Ramos

Production Stage Manager: Lauren Langston

Orchestra Prepared and Conducted by Kim Fox

Musical Director: Levi Meerovich

Photos:

UPDATED TO INCLUDE Photos by John MacLellan

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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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OUR TOWN

“Does Anyone Ever Realize Life While They Live It?

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Ashland Theatre, 205 England Street, Ashland, VA 23005

Performances: November 3, 12 & 13, 2021

Ticket Prices: November 3: Pay What You Can. November 12 & 13: $10 donation.

Info: whistlestoptheatre@gmail.com

Nothing out of the ordinary happens in Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, OUR TOWN, and that is precisely the point. But first, a confession: like many of you, I have heard of OUR TOWN, but this is the first time I have every actually seen it.

Presented in three acts, “Daily Life,” “Love and Marriage,” and “Death and Eternity,” the play – a metadrama, if you will, that is narrated by the Stage Manager (Craig Keeton) – follows the simple, everyday lives of two families who live in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover’s Corners from 1901 to 1914. Children grow up. People fall in love and get married. Others die. And therein lies the thick of the plot.

Using minimal props (four ordinary wooden chairs, two wooden ladders, and a couple of those all-purpose black cubes that most theater companies seem to have in stock) Wilder takes us on a languidly breath-taking journey that reveals the complexities and the beauty of life. Of every life. Of your life and mine. Do we take the time to look at one another? Do we really listen to one another? Are we really present in our own lives? Mrs. Webb (Barbara Keeton) insists that, as important as reading is, Wally (William Young) put his book down at the breakfast table. (I don’t need to tell you to translate that to today’s smartphone, but I just did.) Rebecca Gibbs (Ziona Tucker) sneaks into her brother’s room because his window has a better view of the full moon, and another character – I don’t remember which – takes time to enjoy the moon as well as the scent of Mrs. Gibbs’ heliotrope. (For those of us who had no clue, that’s a fragrant, often purple-colored flower often used to make perfume. And yes, to make another obvious statement, that’s example of taking time to stop and smell the, well, flowers…)

Emily’s mama assures her that she is, in fact, pretty. “You’re pretty enough for all normal purposes.”  And when Emily (Louise Keeton) can’t find a blue hair ribbon her mother left out for her, Mrs. Webb says, “if it were a snake it would have bitten you,” the exact words my own grandmother wielded on my youthful overlooking of the obvious. Simon Stimson, the organist and choir director for one of the town’s churches (there are multiple denominations, with the Congregationalists and Methodists near the center of town, the Baptists down by the river and the Catholics on the other side of the tracks), has a drinking problem. People gossip about him, but they also look out for him, and we never learn the cause of his unnamed troubles. The point is, OUR TOWN really is about the best of each and every one of us.

The play starts on May 7, 1901. Dr. Gibbs (John Gordon) is the overworked town doctor, there is a stable for the horses, and it is deemed downright weird for anyone to lock their doors at night. George Gibbs (Axle Burtness) and Emily Webb (Louise Keeton) meet in high school. Act 2 takes place three years later. It’s July 7, 1904, when students have graduated and turn their attention to marriage. George and Emily get married right after intermission.

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read the next paragraph if you don’t know what happens in the third act.

The third act takes place nine years later. It’s 1913. Horses are becoming a rare sight on the main streets and people have started locking their doors. Emily has died giving birth to her second child and the rest of the play takes place in the town cemetery after a philosophical monologue by the Stage Manager and a simple yet touching processional in which Emily is surrounded by her remaining family. (I won’t give away everything; even I have my limitations!)

Some comic relief is provided by Dean Knight as Simon Stimson, the drunken choir director. Knight appears up in the balcony, usually with a bottle, or some sort of drinking prop in his hand. Props are rare commodities in OUR TOWN. Most actions are mimed by the ensemble, some with more clarity than others. A wonderfully awkward moment occurs when George visits his future father-in-law (Roger Reynolds on November 2, Frank Creasey on November 12 and 13) on the morning of the wedding. And the soft-spoken Emily gives George a piece of her mind, striding from the stage to the back of the audience, forcing us to turn and crane our necks like voyeurs watching a couple’s very public argument.

Some cast members have been given multiple roles. Most notably, Ziona Tucker gave little sister Rebecca Gibbs just the right amount of sassiness, balanced friendliness and servitude as newspaper boy, Howie Newsome appeared constrained as mortician Joe Stoddard with a long church jacket that appeared to have been misbuttoned. (Was that intentional, or no?). William Young also breezed through multiple roles as little brother Wally Webb, Si Crowell (who appears only as a visitor for his cousin’s death), and Sam Craig.

Director Matt Bloch maintains a languid pace that doesn’t feel weighted down and keeps the audience from becoming complacent by blatantly ignoring the parameters of the proscenium stage. Once we, the audience, become familiar with the characters and their rhythm, the pacing and flow seem quite natural – so natural that I couldn’t be sure if a few slight stumbles were first-night flubs or normal speech patterns. I also thought I detected some New England accents, but I didn’t see any credit for a dialect coach, so maybe I was just lulled by the atmosphere.

This production – my introductory production – of OUR TOWN is like theatrical baklava: rich and multi-layered, sweet with seductive savory bits mixed in, resulting in a satisfying treat. Two more performances remain as of this writing.

OUR TOWN

by Thornton Wilder

Cast

Craig Keeton as the Stage Manager
Axle Burtness as George Gibbs
Dean Knight as Simon Stimson 
Louise Keeton as Emily Webb
Roger Reynolds as Mr. Webb on Nov 3
Frank Creasy​ as Mr. Webb on Nov 12 & 13
John Gordon as Dr. Gibbs
Barbara Keeton as Mrs. Webb
William Young as Wally Webb, Si Crowell & Sam Craig
Annie Zannetti as Mrs. Gibbs
Ziona Tucker as Rebecca Gibbs, Howie Newsome & Joe Stoddard

Creative Team

Directed by Matt Bloch
Music direction by Michelle Bayliss 
Stage management by Kieran Rundle

FYI Notes

1.) Guests are required to present proof of vaccination at the door and remain masked unless consuming concessions. Children under the age of 12 may attend without proof of vaccination.
Guests may choose their own seats upon arrival and are encouraged to consider social distancing. 

2.) There are no physical tickets or seating assignments. Ticket confirmation emails will be sent the day before the show you purchased tickets for. If you purchase tickets the day of the show, you will not receive a confirmation email from the Whistle Stop. Please bring a copy of your PayPal confirmation in its place.

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

———-

Photo Credits: Kieran Rundle

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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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PIPELINE

The Poetry of Oppression

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Arenstein Stage. 114 West Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: October 15 – November 7, 2021

Ticket Prices: $36-$56. Discounted group rates and rush tickets available.

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

From the striking set, designed by Brian Barker, to the physical interpretation of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry by actor Trevor Lawson, to the stunning and sometimes prophetically pixilated projections by Dasia Gregg, the VaRep production of Dominique Morisseau’s PIPELINE grabs your attention and doesn’t give it back for the full 90 minutes that the play runs.

The playwright, Morisseau, the director, VaRep’s Katrinah Carol Lewis, and the indomitable cast, headed by Sasha Wakefield and Trevor Lawson, pack so much content and context into these 90 minutes it may be days, if not weeks, before the full effect is fully unpacked. The title, PIPELINE, refers to the “school to prison pipeline,” that convergence of zero-tolerance school disciplinary policies and law enforcement policies that work together to shuttle black boys into the criminal justice system. Harsh penalties, high rates of suspension and expulsion, and legal actions resulting in higher rates of incarceration for students of color – especially boys – have led to a rising American epidemic over the past two decades. Heavy stuff for a play that, somehow, manages to make us laugh at regular intervals.

Central to the story is Omari, a bright young man learning how to navigate life while containing the anger of generations of systemic racism compounded by immediate family dysfunction. His mother, Nya, a teacher in a public high school, is raising him with little direct help from her ex-husband, Xavier, a businessman. The only thing Omari’s parents seem to agree on is that he should attend an expensive private boarding school from which he is about to be expelled – and possibly worse – after an altercation with a teacher became physical.

That’s the short synopsis. There’s much more. Morisseau, Lewis, and this powerful cast gradually peel back and reveal the many and complex layers of each character and their relationships with one another. It’s not just the complex, loving, and very raw relationship between Omari and his mother Nya, although that is the primary relationship. There is also the explosive relationship between Omari and his father, Xavier – one that remains tantalizingly unresolved at the play’s end. In one scene, Nya has a confrontation with her son’s girlfriend, Jasmine, which resembles nothing less than a smoldering and potentially deadly tango. Then there are Nya’s relationships with her co-workers, Laurie, a fellow teacher (Laine Satterfield) and Dun, her school’s security guard (Todd Patterson). Lest I forget, kudos to Patterson and director Lewis for developing such a nuanced character for Patterson. Dun is an interesting guy, one of the “good guys,” and Patterson sinks his teeth into this role and doesn’t let go until he turns it into a supporting role worthy of attention. A brief scene with all three men – Shabazz, Lawson, and Patterson – explores a multitude of emotions and connections in just a few words.

Another supporting role of note is Jessie Jordan as the spunky girlfriend who respectfully goes toe-to-toe with the self-assured and rather intimidating Nya. Jessie/Jasmine has brains and beauty (frequently reminding all within earshot that she’s “cute”) and knows how to use both. She is also prone to misspeak common idioms, resulting in lines like, “There’s a lot of fish in the swimming pool.” Laine Satterfield plays Nya’s friend and co-worker as the comic sidekick, the sassy white chick. But lest we forget that scar on her forehead is a reminder of reconstructive surgery as the result of being assaulted by a student’s parents in their tough inner city school. Her heart is in the right place, but that doesn’t keep her from teetering on the brink of burnout.

It’s interesting, and perhaps significant, that Xavier, who is supposed to be a co-parent, doesn’t make a physical appearance until about halfway through the play. Iman Shabazz begins his portrayal of Xavier with dignity and grace, but we soon realize that he can barely control the same feelings of rage he wants his own son to control. Sasha Wakefield plays Omari’s mother with fragile confidence. It isn’t easy for Nya to give up her right to be right; it takes a major scare for her to consider alternatives.

So that leaves Omari. Trevor Lawson is called on to portray Omari through raw, brutal movement, using non-verbal language as much as he uses words. And the words he has been given are not just dialogue. Fueled by the words, works, and legacy of Richard Wright’s Native Son, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and most prominently Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry, “We Real Cool,” Omari’s speech and movement reflect the cadence of poetry, the intensity of Wright’s Bigger Thomas character, and the philosophy of Ellison’s Invisible Man.Omari shows love and care for his mother, even though he knows of her flaws. While he hasn’t yet come to a place of maturity where he can make peace with his father, he strives to improve the relationship with his mother, creating a list of instructions for her to follow. “Like a list?” she asks. No, he says, “like scripture.” Omari also takes care to distance himself from Jasmine to keep her from experiencing the fallout of his own troubles. “I know why Bigger Thomas did what he did, and I hate that I know,” Omari says at one point.

Like Omari’s non-verbal monologues, Dasia Gregg’s multi-layered and sometimes chaotic projections fill in what words are inadequate or too clumsy to communicate, and Kelsey Cordrey’s sound design splendidly supports the emotional and ambient context. Brian Barker’s set is made of modules that roll in and out quickly – a classroom, a dorm room, a hospital waiting room, a teacher’s break room – further reinforcing the emotional landscape and offering temperature checks of the cultural environment.

Relevant, real, and raw, PIPELINE is a compelling look at life as some Americans know it that may seem foreign, even alien, to many. PIPELINE, for those who listen, explains why there are marches and protests, and debates on systemic racism, defunding the police, and Critical Race Theory. Perhaps some may be more receptive to this mode of learning about these difficult issues, but they must be talked about, one way or another. PIPELINE does not offer solutions, but it makes these issues real and personal, and that’s a start.

Pipeline

by Dominique Morisseau

Cast

Nya – Sasha Wakefield

Omari – Trevor Lawson

Jasmine – Jessie Jordan

Xavier – Iman Shabazz

Laurie – Laine Satterfield

Dun – Todd Patterson

Voiceover – Desirèe Dabney

Xavier Understudy – William Anderson

Jasmine Understudy – Khadijah Franks

Creative Team

Direction: Katrinah Carol Lewis

Scenic Design: Brian Barker

Costume Design: Nia S. Banks

Lighting Design: Steven Koehler

Projection Design: Dasia Gregg

Sound Design: Kelsey Cordrey

Stage Management: Justin Janke

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

———-

Photo Credits: Jay Paul

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NEVERMORE!

Edgar Allan Poe: The Final Mystery

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced by: CAT (Chamberlayne Actors Theatre)

At: Atlee High School (indoors), 9414 Atlee Station Rd., Mechanicsville, VA 23116 & Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church (outdoors), 11421 Gayton Rd., Henrico, VA 23238

Performances: October 8-10, 2021, at Atlee High School & October 15-16, 2021, at Gayton Kirk

Ticket Prices: $24 General Admission; $20 Seniors

Info: (804) 262-9760 or https://onthestage.tickets/chamberlayne-actors-theatre

Many individuals and companies went into the pandemic not knowing what to expect from these unprecedented times and came out strong. For CAT, the Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, self-tagged as “Richmond’s professional theater with the community heart,” things are, well, complicated. Prior to the lockdown, CAT had been in delicate negotiations with the owners of their long-time home on No. Wilkinson Road in Henrico County. Now they are producing their first show in 18 months under the banner “stray CATs,” and a hobo stick has been added to their logo kitty. The temporarily homeless theater company good-naturedly bills their 2021-2022 season as a “touring” season.

CAT has long had a tradition of producing an annual mystery, and this year’s opening show is based on a real-life mystery. On September 27, 1849, Edgar Allen Poe boarded a ferry in Richmond, VA, headed to New York. He never made it to New York. He was found wandering around Baltimore, MD, October 3, delirious. He was hospitalized and died a few days later, on October 7, without ever regaining full cognition. They say truth is stranger than fiction; who could make up something like that?

Julian Wiles’ NEVERMORE!: Edgar Allan Poe: The Final Mystery (1994) enlists Poe’s own life, poems, and stories to explore what might have happened during the final five days of Poe’s life, which remain an unsolved mystery. A full-length play in two acts with one intermission, NEVERMORE! is being performed as a collaboration between CAT and the Atlee HS’s Raider Players, many of whom have worked with CAT as interns, actors, or crew members over the years. Further strengthening this tie, CAT’s Executive Board President, Charles A. Wax, is also a Drama teacher at Atlee HS.

NEVERMORE! has a cast of four principals: Mark Lacy as Edgar Allan Poe, John Marshall as his friend Jeremiah Reynolds, Paige Reisenfeld as Capt. Nimrod aka Satan/Lucifer, and Caitlin Nolan as Poe’s mysterious love interest, Annabel Lee. There is also an eight-member Ensemble made up of both professional and student actors: Sandra Clayton, William Henry, Mary Huhmann, Barbara Johnson, Maddie Moralez, Carter Mullen, Audrey Sparrow, and Camden Sparrow.

The play’s synopsis is promises to be interesting, and the script calls for a number of attention-grabbing magic tricks and the cast approached the production with enthusiasm. But there were several impediments to the successful execution of this show.

First, due to COVID-19 and the protocols of the venue, a Hanover County public school, everyone had to wear masks – including the actors. They all wore the ones with clear windows, so we could see most of their faces and watch their lips move, but the sound was still muffled, and the masks were distracting, giving a kind of sci-fi or horror-movie look to what would otherwise have been a classic traditional mystery.

Second, the uncredited set design was a rough-hewn affair consisting of three platforms of varying sizes and heights, with a few steps, and a sheet or sail stretched across the middle platform that was used to project the background scenes. The screen appeared to get swallowed up in the vastness of the stage.

Third, the company was unable or chose not to execute all the magic tricks as described in the script. To be clear, they did include a couple of disappearances or character switches and one attention-grabbing return from the dead. Overall, given the blended cast, the location, and the very real challenges of a new space, a blended cast and crew (many of whom played multiple roes or wore multiple crew hats) and an on-going pandemic that led to last minute cast changes, NEVERMORE! looks and feels more like a high school production than a professional one. The actors appeared to occupy the space, rather than own it and given the short run in two different venues, I really don’t see a way for this production to meet its own or the audience’s expectations.

NEVERMORE! Edgar Allan Poe: The Final Mystery

Written by Julian Wiles

Directed by Charles A. Wax and Jon Piper

CAST:

Mark Lacy as Edgar Allan Poe

Paige Reisenfeld as Captain Nimrod

John Marshall as Reynolds

Caitlin Nolan as Annabel Lee

ENSEMBLE: Mary Huhmann, Sandra Clayton, William Henry, Maddie Moralez, Audrey Sparrow, Barbara Johnson, Carter Mullen, and Camden Sparrow

CREATIVE TEAM:

Stage Manager: Sue Howells

Assistant Stages Manager: Drake Leskowyak

Lighting Design: Jason Lucas

Sound Design: Jenn Fisher

Costume Design: Alison Eichler

Lights Operator: Jason Lucas

Sound Operator: Jenn Fisher

Program and Graphics:: Jason Lucas

Photos provided by Ann Davis

Performance Schedule:

Friday, October 8 at 8pm – Atlee High School (inside)

Saturday, October 9 at 8pm – Atlee High School (inside)

Sunday, October 10 at 2:30pm – Atlee High School (inside)

Friday, October 15 at 8pm – The Gayton Kirk (outside)

Saturday, October 16 at 8pm – The Gayton Kirk (outside)

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THE NICETIES

“Get over it! It did not happen to you!”

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced by: The Conciliation Lab

At: The Basement, 300 E. Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: October 1-16, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $30 General Admission; $20 Senior/Industry (RVATA); $10 Student/Teacher (with valid ID)

Info: (804) 506-3533; 349-7616 or https://theconciliationlab.org/

NOTE: Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours of the performance must be shown at the box office.

The title of Eleanor Burgess’ two-person play is deceptive, to say the least.

THE NICETIES.

n. pl. ni·ce·ties

1. The quality of showing or requiring careful, precise treatment: the nicety of a diplomatic exchange.

2. Delicacy of character or feeling; fastidiousness; scrupulousness.

3. A fine point, small detail, or subtle distinction: the niceties of etiquette.

4. An elegant or refined feature; an amenity: the niceties of civilized life.

(freedictionary.com)

Under the precise, insightful, and nuanced eye of director Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, an encounter between Zoe, a black student at a liberal arts college in a prestigious university and her white history professor, Janine, a 1960s style feminist, turns into an explosive debate that leaves fallout on a nuclear scale.

The two disagree on a key tenet of Zoe’s paper, the impact of slavery on the outcome of the American Revolution. At first I was unclear who initiated this meeting. A synopsis of the play in the program indicates that Zoe is called into her professor’s office to discuss her paper, while Dr. T. and Zoe (Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew) hold the view that Zoe initiated the meeting to make sure she’s on the right track before submitting the final paper. It’s a small detail, but knowing how the actors see it provides some insight into the development of the play.

“It is easier to be pro-equality

when there is a subjugated minority in your midst.” – Zoe

Burgess apparently does not subscribe to the minimalist school. THE NICETIES is complex and wordy – and you will want to hold on to every word in this dense and razor sharp script. This is a version of the historical realism genre; it is intense and relevant, with mentions of President Obama, the election of Trump, and the possibility of a woman president. It is a play that made the audience talk back, bringing to mind the experience of attending a predominantly Black church or attending a movie in a Black neighborhood – until the final scene of Act One sent the entire theater into an uproar. No need for a spoiler alert, ’cause I’m not telling – I want you to see this for yourself.

“Evidence drives back ignorance.” – Janine

What started out as a seemingly simple discussion about the proper placement of commas, subject-verb agreement, and grammatical parallelism subtly escalates into a debate about history, politics, and racism. Debra Clinton plays the role of Professor Janine Bosco. I know Debra Clinton as an actress and director, but I did not see Clinton on stage at The Basement. Clinton inhabited the role of Janine and all I saw on stage was Janine. Thanks to Janine’s inability to listen, we learned a lot more about her that we – or Zoe – needed to know. Thanks to Janine’s inability to listen, we learned of Janine’s struggles to become a tenured woman professor in a previously all-male academic environment. This made it all the more difficult to see her as a monster, as indeed she is.

“Everyone is tired of hearing about racism.” – Janine

Zoe initially appears, in turn, distracted by her constantly buzzing cell phone and on the verge of exploding. She is smart, opinionated, and a deeply committed social activist (and I quickly identified Bartholomew as an academic and spiritual protégé of Dr. T). If she were white, especially a white male, she would be called confident, but she is Black and a woman, so she is most likely to be labelled as aggressive, angry, threatening. But Burgess and Dr. T. make sure we also see her as vulnerable and hurting. “What do you want?” Janine asks her at one point. To which Zoe responds, “I want this to be your problem!”

“Greatness does not come from a supportive environment.” – Janine

This is my first time seeing Bartholomew on stage, and I hope it won’t be the last. She gave a nuanced and intense performance as Zoe, making us empathize with her but without sugar-coating her flaws. Zoe wants, needs, and demands to be heard. She wants to be respected. She is tired of waiting and being “nice” so others will feel comfortable. The character of Zoe embodies if not personifies the mission of The Conciliation Lab: a social justice theater organization dedicated to the process of CONciliation, not REconciliation, because you cannot re-do something that has not been done before.

“In all my classes, I write down what I shouldn’t have to hear.” – Zoe

Act Two is one of the rawest and most revealing scenes I have ever witnessed in theater. A large portrait of George Washington on a horse has been removed from Janine’s office wall, but a copy of Kathleen Stockett’s 2009 novel, The Help is prominently displayed on a table and Janine proudly pulls out a copy of a book by journalist Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates, widely known for his work on African Americans and white supremacy. It’s the academic equivalent of saying, “but, I have Black friends!” Micro-aggressions in academia take many forms. But there’s more. Much more. The fallout from Act One also leads to some not-so-subtle consequences, from articles and blogs to marches and death threats. So how does it end? How is it all resolved? Well, that depends on which worldview you most relate to, and which experiences you bring to the table.

THE NICETIES is the kind of play that should have a discussion after each performance – especially when the audience is as diverse as it was for Saturday’s opening night performance. There was so much said, so much packed into Burgess’ many words, and so much that still needs to be unpacked. The beauty of the arts is that art can open the door to the hard conversations, and we need to take advantage of these opportunities when they are made available – especially in safe spaces. Note the dates, below, when post-show conversations will be available, when planning to buy your tickets.

Faith Carlson has created a professor’s office that is stereotypical and filled it with familiar props: books, pictures, a laptop. I especially liked her “fourth wall,” a super low bookcase that framed the space, with the audience (about 50 seats for this production) seated on three sides. Austin Harber’s lighting was subtle and washed the actors in a warm light that was often gentler than their words demanded, and Kelsey Cordrey’s sound design heavily favored hyped hip hop beats that fuel the train that Janine called a quest for freedom and Zoe described as an engine for racial oppression.

THE NICETIES

Written by Eleanor Burgess

Directed by Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates

CAST:

Mikayla LaSahae Bartholomew as Zoe

Debra Clinton as Janine

CREATIVE TEAM:

Scenic Design: Faith Carlson

Lighting Design: Austin Harber

Sound Design: Kelsey Cordrey

Costume Design: Amber Martinez

Props Design: Faith Carlson

Production Stage Management: Crimson Piazza

Assistant State Management: Emily Ellen

Associate Direction: Heather Falks

Photo Credits: Production photos by Tom Topinka.

Performance Schedule:

Friday, October 1 at 8pm – Preview

Saturday, October 2 at 8pm – Opening Night

Thursday, October 7 at 8pm – College Night with post-show discussion

Friday, October 8 at 8pm

Saturday, October 9 at 8pm

Sunday, October 10 at 3pm – Matinee with post-show discussion

Tuesday, October 12 at 8pm – Industry Night

Thursday, October 14 at 8pm

Friday, October 15 at 8pm

Saturday, October 16 at 8pm – Closing Night

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