BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY: Location, Location, Location

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY: The Family We Choose Sometimes Chooses Us

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: October 13 – November 4, with previews on October 11 & 12 and talkbacks October 21 & 28

Ticket Prices: $10-35

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

 

Written in 2014, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s multiple-award winning play, Between Riverside and Crazy, could have been ripped directly from current headlines about police shootings of black men in America, but it was actually inspired by the shooting of a black undercover officer by an off-duty white officer on a New York City subway train in 1994.

Add to a controversial shooting the additional components of illegal activities, drug and alcohol addiction, strained relationships, faltering faith, and unresolved grief, and you have the makings of a compelling drama. Walter “Pops” Washington, the cantankerous patriarch, is played by David Emerson Toney, an experienced actor who is an Assistant professor of Acting and Directing at VCU, but new to the Richmond stage.

Toney’s portrayal of Pops is a delicate balancing act of rage, hurt feelings, loss, love, and longing. At any given time, the audience is not sure which emotion is going to come bubbling up and erupt over Rich Mason’s set – the kitchen and living room (later bedroom) of what is described as a “pre-war apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City.” It’s important to know that this is an unusually spacious apartment, in a highly desirable neighborhood, that it is protected by long-standing rent control laws that prevent the landlord from pricing the coveted units out of the reach of (mostly elderly) residents. Pops starts drinking early in the morning and is so fond of the word m—–f—– that it appears that it’s even the preferred name for his dog.

After the death of his wife, Pops opened his home to his son Junior (Jerold E. Solomon) who shares more than a name with his father. It was interesting to see Solomon, who is often cast in the role of the father figure, placed in the position of prodigal son. The chemistry and conversations between father and son provided some of the most fascinating and revelatory moments in the entire play.

In addition to father and son, the household includes Junior’s girlfriend Lulu (Juliana Caycedo) and Junior’s friend Oswaldo (Thony Mena). Lulu is a somewhat mysterious figure, simultaneously portrayed as a good girl and a “working girl.” She is genuinely caring, but there is something off about her, which is never really explained. Oswaldo is presented as a strong, sympathetic figure – a set-up for one of two completely shocking events in this two-act play. Individually both Lulu and Oswaldo share a special relationship with their host, and both call Pops “Dad.” I loved everything about both Mena and Caycedo, right down to her skin tight clothing and his Nuyorican accent.

Supporting characters included Bianca Bryan as Pop’s former partner, Detective Audrey O’Connor and Larry Cook as her fiancé, Lieutenant Caro.  They take turns playing good cop/bad cop and frequently confuse the difference between caring and coercion. I found the dynamic between Bryan and Cook interesting, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe Bryan’s tears when her character tried to play the victim; she just seemed too strong for that. Last but not least there was Maria Hendricks as the Church Lady, an almost mythic creature who appearance, long after we had been told to expect her, was a startling contrast to what I had been led – or lulled – to expect. Hendricks provided the second big shock of the evening, in a most delightful and humorous way, blending sex and spirituality with an unexpected cultural twist.

Between Riverside and Crazy reminds me of those commercials that point out that families are what we make them. There is nothing standard about this family, but there is something unsettlingly familiar about each member and the family unit they have created. The final scene raises more questions than it answers. “Does it have a happy ending?” asked the woman I met and chatted with pleasantly throughout the evening. “That depends,” I responded. It depends on what constitutes happiness for you. It depends on which questions are important to you, what you need answers for, and how much ambiguity you can live with. What is important to you, and what can you live without?

Rich Mason’s set manages to achieve an elaborate sense of spaciousness, but the aged and drab furnishings contrasted oddly, to my eye, with the tall elegant windows, and the kitchen appeared outdated, even though the exact time-frame was never clear. And maybe it was just me, but the family’s entrances and exits from both an upstage door and a downstage corner and their sudden appearances on the rooftop sometimes seemed to defy the laws of physics. Jesse Senechal included some subtle and appropriate effects in the sound design while Sarah Grady’s costuming was appropriate and consistent for each character – although I did wonder, if is it common for police officers to come to dinner in uniform.

Tawnya Pettiford-Wates has directed Between Riverside and Crazy with sensitivity and perception. The cast has responded with authenticity that defies perfection. The resulting experience makes for unforgettable, must-see theatre.

NOTE: Between Riverside and Crazy contains adult language and is recommended for viewers ages 16+.

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

———-

Photo Credits: Jason Collins Photography

 

 

VaRep_Cadence_Between_Riverside_3
Jerold E. Solomon, Juliana Caycedo, Bianca Bryan, and David Emerson Toney
VaRep_Cadence_Between_Riverside_4
Bianca Bryan, Larry Cook, and David Emerson Bryan
Between Riverside and Crazy
David Emerson Toney. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
VaRep_Cadence_Between_Riverside_6
Jerold E. Solomon and Juliana Caycedo

 

Between Riverside and Crazy
David Emerson Toney and Maria Hendricks. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
Between Riverside and Crazy
Thony Mena and David Emerson Toney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIZZIE: An Axe Musical

LIZZIE:  The Musical

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

5th Wall Theatre

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

Performances: October 11-November 3, 2018

Ticket Prices: $32 General Admission; $20 Students; $20 RVATA Cardholders

Info: (804) 359-2003 or https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3613679

 

Lizzie Bordon took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. Who would ever think of turning the story of Lizzie Borden into a musical? Well, apparently the team of Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Steven Hewitt (music), Cheslik-deMeyer and Tim Maner (lyrics), and Maner (book and additional music). The punk rock opera got its start as an experimental theater piece in 1990, and by 2013 had evolved into a two-act rock opera with an all-female cast and hard-driving (but thankfully not deafening) music.

Thanks to the opening number and finale, that old jump-rope rhyme will be stuck in my head for days, as will bits and pieces of this fascinatingly odd and weirdly satisfying piece of theater. Rachel Rose Gilmour is Lizzie Borden, while Rachel Marrs plays her sister Emma Borden, Anne Michelle Forbes takes the role of Lizzie’s friend Alice Russell, and Michaela Nicole fills the high-top sneakers of Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan, the Borden’s maid.  Pualani “Lani” Felling and Morgan Lynn Meekins both pull triple duty “Roadies” who sing with the onstage band and also act as stagehands, moving the microphone stands and trunks that serve as the only props; they are also the understudies for the four main characters.

The five-piece band, under the very capable direction of Starlet Knight, is not merely accompaniment, as the music is the driving force behind this entire concept, and what a concept it is! The story of the bloody murders of Lizzie Borden’s stepmother and her father have been the subject of so many tales – in literature, movies, an opera, a television series, a ballet – that it seems more legend than fact. This production seems to freely mix fact and fiction as well as to attempt to time travel, placing the events of 1892 into the modern era of punk rock. Alex Valentin’s costumes are a blend of Victorian couture, 19th century bordello, and punk rock. Vinnie Gonzalez’ set design looks like the backstage area of a rock concert, consisting of stacks of trunks, speakers, and microphone stands. The band and their instruments and the roadies occupy the upstage area, and the actors and roadies often strut and stride, sometimes confronting the audience up close.

Lizzie, the Musical creates a big feel in an intimate space and I could not imagine it in a larger space. It needs to be seen and heard and felt from up close. Rachel Rose Gilmour gives a dynamic performance, running through a range of emotions from rage to fear, from crying out in desperation to vulnerability. There are intimations of abuse, incest, and lesbian relationships. There is murder and mystery, and while in real life Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the murders and lived out the rest of her life in the same town where the murders took place, Fall River, Massachusetts, there also seems to be a confession and a cover-up.

The entire cast is powerful, but in addition to Gilmour, I must mention Michaela Nicole. Not only does she give Bridget/Maggie a mysteriously strong attitude, but the woman can rock and roll with the best of them, and clearly makes this maid more than a supporting role. Marrs brings an edge to the sister, Emma and Forbes shows the friend Alice caught in the conflict between loyalty and truth.

If blood, gore, murder, mystery, strong women, and loud music with a head-banging beat appeal to you, you won’t go wrong with Lizzie, the Musical.

 

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

———-

Photo Credits: 5th Wall Theatre

THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY: Who Dared to Be Different

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey: The Price of Being Different

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Richmond Triangle Players

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

Performances: October 6-15, 2018

Ticket Prices: $10-20

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

Sweet. It’s not a word one would normally attach to the story of a 14-year-old murder victim, but in the case of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey it fits.

This one-man show written and originally performed by James Lecesne is the simply and intimately told tale of a young boy who, when life served him lemons, made a huge bowl of punch and shared it with the entire town. Leonard, who was sent to live with his non-biological aunt (you know, the extended family kind of aunt) was unapologetically different with his green plaid capri pants and his rainbow colored platform sneakers, made by gluing layers of flip-flop soles to the bottoms of a pair of Converse sneakers.

Jeffrey Cole, under the careful and understated direction of Melissa Rayford, allows the story to unfold with sensitivity and even a bit of humor as he portrays nine different characters in a small Jersey shore town where being different will get you chased home from school with sticks – and, ultimately, tied up in fisherman’s knots, wrapped in a net, and dumped in a lake. Some of the most touching and revealing speeches are given by Leonard’s cousin Phoebe Hertle (16, going on 45); his drama teacher, the locally famous Buddy Howard; his aunt’s client, the “high-hair redhead” Marian Tochterman; and the old clockmaker, Otto, in whose shop Leonard seeks refuge from the neighborhood bullies. The story is largely narrated by Chuck DeSantis, the detective assigned to Leonard’s case. In a surprise ending, the detective’s life is touched maybe more than any other.

Perhaps because it was originally a young adult novel, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey lacks the rawness, the intensity of The Laramie Project. Leonard is running in tandem with The Laramie Project and uses the same set – stripped bare of the locational identifiers. In fact, Leonard requires only a single folding chair, a small work table, and an evidence box. The rest of the atmosphere is created by Michael Jarett’s subdued lighting and a rather agreeably layered sound design by Lucian Restivo, who also did the set.

Some of the characters seem more caricature than genuine. Marian, for example, bears more than a little resemblance to Alice from the 1970s sitcom of the same name – yes, the Alice, who with her own “high-hair” coined the phrase, “kiss my grits.”  Cole subtly varies the nuances of each character, changing his posture, adding a gesture or a tilt of the head, but it sometimes took a moment or a few words before I was certain which character he was portraying. He did not seem to have the lightning fast reflexes of Stevie Rice or Scott Wichmann – both of whom are currently appearing in The Laramie Project, but in the end, he delivered the story with a sensitivity, gentleness, and sense of wonder that left the audience with a feeling of comfort that did not excuse the horror of what happened, but somehow tinged it with a veneer of sweetness. This sweetness was, I think, more a reflection of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey¸ of the character of that young man, and the lasting ways in which he touched those around him, than any attempt to downplay the very real dangers of homophobia and hate crimes.

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey runs about 75 minutes, with no intermission. I am glad I went, but before recommending it to others, I would caution that seeing both The Laramie Project and The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey might prove overwhelming to some. To paraphrase Leonard Pelkey’s friends – you might be doing too much.

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

———-

Photo Credits: Louise Ricks

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT: A Community of Caring

THE LARAMIE PROJECT: The Magnitude of Hate

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis                                                                     

Richmond Triangle Players                                                                                              

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

Performances: September 26 – October 19, 2018

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

Created by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, The Laramie Project is based on the true events surrounding the 1998 beating and death of Matthew Shepard, a gay man, while he was a student at the University of Wyoming. The words of the play are the words of the people of Laramie, gathered by the authors over a series of interviews. Real people. Real issues. Real tears.

The beauty of the script lies in its unadorned simplicity. Eight actors portray about sixty different characters as they examine the story from the perspectives of the people of Laramie, students and faculty at the university, the media, and the personal experiences of the members of the Tectonic Theater Project.

Running nearly three hours with two intermissions, director Lucian Restivo has maintained a moderate pace that allows the characters to come across as authentic and feels almost like real time.  Multiple perspectives are presented, friend, foe, and undecided. From incident to trial, some points of view shift as people examine themselves and some are surprised at what they find inside.

The Laramie Project is set in a rustic space of wooden walls and shelves with a few chairs on multiple levels designed by Restivo, who also designed the sound, and with lighting by Michael Jarett that sometimes resembles sepia-toned photographs. The physical tone almost makes this play feel as if it is dragging the viewer back in time into the wild, wild west, although the events took place only twenty years ago. The more striking and unfortunate thing is that this sort of hate crime could have been stripped directly from the latest breaking news.

The excellent cast consists of Rachel Dilliplane, Annella Kaine, Amber Marie Martinez, Cole Metz, Jacqueline O’Connor, Stevie Rice, Adam Turck, and Scott Wichmann.  It would be difficult and unfair to speak of specific characters, as at any given time each of these versatile actors switches from one role to another, changing voice, accent, stance, and perhaps a shirt or hat. Scott Wichmann is often placed in the role of narrator, as project leader Kaufman, and some much needed humor is provided by O’Connor as a spunky citizen and Rice as an outrageous limousine driver.

The Laramie Project is difficult to watch because it is so real and because people involved in the incident are still alive. No details of the attack on Matthew Shepard are spared as the doctor and judge provide blow by blow details of the attack and its effects, leading to coma and eventually death. There is a section of documentary footage, and there are the incomprehensible protests by the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, whose members are known to show up to protest at the funerals of gay people. We get to hear the words of the two assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson, as they are sentenced after their separate trials. Their images surround the audience in 43” x 43” oil pastel portraits by artist Michael Pierce.

The Laramie Project is an all-encompassing theatrical experience that requires a huge team effort. There are actors, a team of writers, a large creative team, community partnerships, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which is dedicated to human rights advocacy. It’s hard to tell where the play stops and real life begins. But the tears. . .the tears are all real.

 

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

———-

Photo Credits: John MacLellan

Laramie_009-1
Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project” runs through October 19 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, Richmond, VA
Laramie_156
Scott Wichmann in just one of the many characters he inhabits in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project”
Laramie_313
Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project” runs through October 19 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, Richmond, VA
Laramie_555
Annella Kaine (center in just one of the many characters she inhabits (along with Cole Metz, Stevie Rice and Amber Marie Martinez) in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project”

Laramie.3

THE WOLVES: Game On

THE WOLVES: Girls with Goals

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Cadence Theatre Company in partnership with TheatreVCU

At: Raymond Hodges Theatre at the W.E. Singleton Performing Arts Center, 922 Park Avenue, RVA 23220

Performances: September 27 – October 7, 2018

Ticket Prices: $5.00 – $19.99

Info: (804) 828-6026 or VCUtheatre.showclix.com

An unexpected collaboration of Cadence Theatre Company and TheatreVCU + an unusual play about teen-aged girls by Sarah DeLappe = an intriguing production of sometimes intense situations that portray the multiple dimensions of young women on their way to adulthood.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, each scene in The Wolves shows the nine-member female high-school indoor soccer team preparing for their weekly game. The Wolves, by the way, is the name of the team. Initially they talk over one another, with multiple conversations occurring at once.  School work, boyfriends, the weekend, and menstruation are popular topics. US immigration policies are discussed in depth (the play premiered in 2016), as well as a lengthy dialogue on Cambodia and genocide. In addition to the usual teen-aged squabbles, there are accidents and injuries, hints of eating disorder and a possible same-sex relationship, and genuine, life-altering tragedy. We get to meet the girls as they warm up and prepare to meet their weekly opponents.

The author, interestingly, has chosen to identify the girls by their jersey numbers, rather than by name, although they do address one another by name. #25, Havy Nguyen, is the team captain but she might as well be the coach. #25 leads the warm-ups and they require genuine dedication to the running, jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, ball passing, and more. We learn, in bits and pieces, that the unseen coach apparently has a drinking problem, and at any rate, he is not nearly as popular as a previous coach who left to care for his ailing mother. I immediately wondered why Nguyen was wearing an ugly wig but the answer to that is revealed in the closing scenes.

#7, Jocelyn Honoré, is the team’s leading striker, but she has anger problems and a tendency to make poor decisions in life. #13, Anna Katogiritis, is the team clown, but has a bit of a mean streak and her humor always turns sarcastic.  #46, Emma Olson, is the new girl; home-schooled and well-traveled, she lives in a yurt with her mother, and struggles to fit in. The team goalkeeper, #00, Amari Cummings, is something of a prodigy: she plays the saxophone, chairs several academic teams, and has an astronomically high GPA. She also refuses to talk and has to throw up before every game.

Other team members include Katy Feldhahn (#14), Lydia Hynes (#8), Katelyn Shinn (#11), and Celeste Taica (#2). There are friendships and cliques and gossiping, but as the season passes, the girls become closer, and the audience begins to learn their personalities and quirks. Much like a Peanuts comic strip, the adults are largely unseen and unheard, with the exception of the Soccer Mom (Karen Kopryanski) who appears in the final scene, heart-rending scene. The girls are all TheatreVCU students, and Kopryanski is an assistant professor.

The Wolves is directed by Sharon Ott, Chair of the Department of Theatre at VCU with great energy and stimulating pacing that varies from frenzied action to well-placed silence. All the action takes place in an AstroTurf covered indoor arena; the floor curves upward into the ceiling. There are suggestions of actions taking place offstage, and one kick sends a soccer ball flying into the audience where it was bandied about for a bit before being returned to the playing field (as we were directed to do at the start of the show). Credit Dasia Gregg with the scenic design, Theo Dubois with the costumes, Christian DeAngelis with the lighting and Nicholas Seaver with the sound. In topic and tone, The Wolves strives to – and largely succeeds – in standing out from the pack.

NOTE1: I sat on the right side in the front row, and had no problem hearing everything, but a friend who sat in a middle row in the middle section said the sound quality was problematic.

NOTE2: A smile to #4 and #9; the stagehands who came out in uniform to set a scene!

 

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

———-

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

The Wolves-990Wolves.3The Wolves-849Wolves.2The Wolves-763Wolves.1

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME: Mystery of the Mind

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME: Touching But Don’t Touch

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Marjorie Arenstein Stage

Performances: September 21 – October 14, 2018

Ticket Prices: $30-52

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

Every now and again a play comes along that stands alone, defies description, breaks away from the normal genres. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time seems to be one of those plays. Written by Simon Stephens and based on the novel by Mark Haddon, the play concerns an exceptional teen, his adventure, and his relationships with others. What makes it different is that the young man, Christopher, appears to have some form of autism, and he is a savant, a mathematical genius, as well as the author’s device of staging the story as a play within a play, and the designers’ decisions to include lots and lots of technology, mostly in the form of multiple projections.

The title refers to the death of a neighbor’s dog, for which Christopher, played by Michael Manocchio, is initially blamed. In the course of his detecting, Christopher upsets neighbors, infuriates his dad, and uncovers disturbing news about his mother. He also learns some astonishing and life-affirming things about himself. Manocchio, who is new to the Richmond theater community, is believable in this role. His reactions to being touched and his sharpness of mind, along with his apparent deficit of social skills that make him sound alternately arrogant and childlike remind me of students I have encountered over the years.

Some years ago, I came across a book written by Temple Grandin, PhD, a professor and autistic savant known for her work in the field of animal behavior. What struck me about Dr. Grandin’s book as well as about this play is the authors’ ability to present the point of view of the autistic person in a way that draws others into an entirely new and unfamiliar world. It is sometimes uncomfortable, and many of us do not have the tools to navigate this world. The use of technology, including sound, lights, and screens, helps create this world for us, the audience. It may as close as many of us will ever come to understanding the point of view of someone on the autistic spectrum.

A device and a strength of The Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is that it tells a story, tapping into a history and culture of storytelling, sometimes using a narrator.  Emelie Faith Thompson flawlessly fills this role as Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher or paraprofessional aide – it’s never quite clear exactly what her job description is. In her role as narrator and caretaker, Thompson is omnipresent and caring, carrying the story line, explaining, sometimes digging for clarity, but her own character is never given depth or definition. Both Joe Pabst as Christopher’s dad, Ed and Laine Satterfield as the mom, Judy are presented as loving, caring people who are also deeply, humanly flawed. The rest of the cast, including Sara Collazo, Matthew Radford Davies, Adam Valentine, Andrew C. Boothby, Raven Lorraine Wilkes, Irene Ziegler, Axle Burtness, and Sanam Laila Hashemi play multiple roles as school staff, neighbors, passengers on a train and more; they even portray inanimate objects such as an ATM.

Set in Swindon, a town in South West England, and in London, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time requires the cast to maintain British accents. I think they do most of the time, but I became so consumed in the play that I really didn’t pay much attention to that detail. The dialect coach was Erica Hughes. The design team responsible for this simultaneously bright and dim set, filled with little surprises, like the model train that takes a symbolic journey across the stage, includes scenic design by Tennessee Dixon, costumes by Sue Griffin, lighting by BJ Wilkinson, and sound design by Julian Evans.

Virginia Rep artistic director Nathaniel Shaw’s direction includes lots of organic movement, which the program lists as choreography – something seldom seen in a non-musical production. Shaw’s direction and storytelling techniques here reminded me of last season’s River Ditty, a play I found difficult to embrace, but here his distinct style of directing seemed to work much better or at least I was able to connect with it on a more organic level. He established an environment that drew his excellent cast and his audience into an alternate reality for some two and a half hours, creating a cohesive theatrical experience that simultaneously entertains, makes you think, and touches the heart. There’s also an amazing little scene after the final curtain in which Christopher very entertainingly gets to explain his favorite mathematics problem from his Level A exams. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a curiously satisfying production.

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

———-

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

DRACULA: Sink Your Teeth into This

COUNT DRACULA: A Comic Vampire Tale

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: September 14 – October 20, 2018

Ticket Prices: $40 Theater only; $57 Dinner & Theater

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

 

There is no shortage of flying bats, howling wolves, secret passages, or sudden and mysterious appearances and disappearances by Count Dracula himself.  There actually are smoke and mirrors involved in this production, along with a few other tricks of the trade. These are things Tom Width, producing artistic director of Swift Creek Mill Theatre does very well indeed. But in yet another sleight of hand, Width did not direct Count Dracula, the opening show of the 2018-2019 season. Instead, that honor went to guest director Mark Costello, a Mill alum who was a teenaged intern on the Mill’s very first opening night in 1965.

Costello keeps things moving during this two-act play, based on Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. The show runs for two hours and 45 minutes, and the well-chosen cast of nine has some standouts. Kerrigan Sullivan, in the role of Sybil Seward, sister of Dr. Seward, exemplified the comedy horror genre, both in delivery of her lines and with her physical presence, as when she slipped a bottle of sherry into the folds of her robe. For some reason, most of Sullivan’s dresses were sadly ill-fitting, in contrast to the more elegant garments that adorned Caity Brown, who portrayed Mina Murray (the object of the Count’s affections), or the formal suits favored by the male cast members. Credit Maura Lynch Cravey with the costuming.

Levi Meerovich was a solid and lumbering presence as Dr. Seward’s multi-talented servant, nursing assistant, and patient-wrangler, Hennessey, and Joey Gravins was close behind him as his second in command, Wesley. I enjoyed Chandler Hubbard as Mina’s doting fiancé, Jonathan Harker, and Jon Cobb gave a strong performance as vampire expert Heinrich Van Helsing.

Mike White seemed fully committed to his role as Dr. Arthur Seward, in whose Asylum for the Insane the play was set, but one thing I found confusing was what made Seward and Harker suddenly believe in the vampire lore that Van Helsing kept expounding upon.  Caity Brown was perfectly cast as Mina Murray, pale and waif-like, yet capable of projecting a powerful, gravelly alter-ego when voicing the soon-to-be-bride of Dracula. I loved Bartley Mullin as Renfield, the fly-eating mental patient and minion of Count Dracula who brings a chillingly weird energy to each scene in which he appears. I have a great admiration for actors who can convincingly and respectfully play the role of an insane, blind, or autistic character.

Last but not least there was Jeremy Gershman in the title role. Gershman appeared to take great delight in his role, swirling his voluminous cape, lurking, looming, and leering in that seductive yet chilling manner that characterizes the best Draculas. I knew where he appeared and disappeared from, but even from my front row seat, I was never once able to detect him getting into position or exiting the space!

The attractive wood paneled set was designed by Frank Foster, with lighting by Joe Doran, special effects by Tom Width, and technical direction by Jason “Blue” Herbert. There are lots of laughs, sufficient chills and thrills, and no blood or gore – the elements of horror that I find off-putting which is why I am not a fan of the horror genre.  The strong ensemble, beautiful set, and well-timed tricks and effects are all worth a trip to The Mill, but I did find that the 2:45 running time seemed to drag on a bit, and sometimes there was just too much talking! This talented and confident cast is perfectly capable of telling the story without spelling it all out.

 

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

———-

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Plus None

SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Love And. . .

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: September 19 (Preview)/September 20 (Opening) – September 29, 2018

Ticket Prices: $30 general; $20 seniors/industry (RVATA); $10 students/teachers (with ID)

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

Significant Other (written by Joshua Harmon, who also wrote Bad Jews, which TheatreLAB produced in 2016) is a heartwarming comedy about a group of friends looking for love in 21st century New York – until somewhere in the second act when it takes a sudden heart-wrenching turn.

On opening night, the cast still seemed to be feeling its way, and when, during one scene, Deejay Gray held onto his shirt in hopeful anticipation that his upcoming date would turn out to be “the one,” the energy generated was electrical. This may have been a combination of opening night jitters and his characters’ palpable expectancy. It was good to see Gray, the artistic director of TheatreLAB, onstage after an absence of three years [this is a correction] while he has been managing the affairs of running a company.

It may have taken me a while to warm up to these characters, but they started delivering laughs as soon as the lights came up. Matt Shofner has directed this dynamic ensemble with a fast pace that still manages to provide depth and perspective to this group of long-time friends whose lives are being changed as they move into “adulting.”  The wide center aisle – seldom used in this flexible space – is used to physically and emotionally extend the space. At times there is unseen action off in the distance, cued by disco lights and music. Other times the space is used as an actual aisle for actors to move on and off the stage, and then there are the times when characters stare off into the space, pulling us deep into the mind of the author right along with them.

Jordan Berman (Deejay Gray) is in search of Mr. Right, even as his closest friends find true love, become engaged, and marry. The opening scene, in fact, is one of numerous bachelorette parties and weddings that populate this two-hour, two-act play. Gray is onstage for just about every scene, and his energy slowly, inexorably draws us into Jordan’s world and concerns. Jordan is the only character given a last name – perhaps to emphasize his Jewishness? The wonderful Jacqueline Jones has a supporting role as Jordan’s grandmother, Helene. She makes her entrances and exits along that wide aisle, using a pink walker whose seat holds a photo album that she and Jordan review reverently and lovingly each time they meet. There is something about the ritual of their interactions that brings groundedness to Jordan and to the play. But it is Jordan’s interactions with his tight-knit group of girlfriends that is the foundation of Significant Other.

Kiki, the party girl, is the first to find love and happiness. Mallory Keene navigates the play in formfitting dresses and stilettos – even when, in the final scene, Kiki is eight months pregnant! Vanessa is the more down to earth friend – and the black friend. The second to get “boo’d up,” she meets her mate at Kiki’s wedding. Jessi Johnson’s character is beautiful and cosmopolitan; she wears wedge heels and dresses professionally. Laura is a teacher, and because she and Jordan were once roommates, her relationship with Jordan is both the closest and the most volatile. When Laura finds love at work, it catapults their relationship into new and unforeseen directions. Laura wears flats and an eclectic Bohemian wardrobe. This role seems to have been written for Kelsey Cordrey. Some of the most poignant moments between these two are silent, as when Cordrey and Gray stand side by side, dancing or swaying, or when he tiptoes to rest his head on her shoulder. Their big scene, a second act argument, is – in contrast – explosive. As Jordan’s friends pair up and move on, he finds himself without a dance partner or a “plus one” for Laura’s wedding.

Matt Polson and Dan Cimo round out this wonderful ensemble, playing all the male characters in the lives of these four friends, from coworkers to lovers. Polson adapts different facial expressions and postures for each of his characters, from Kiki’s country-boy husband to Laura’s mild-mannered Tony. It was fascinating to watch Cimo transform seamlessly from the gloriously gay coworker to Vanessa’s passionate date. Seven actors play eleven characters, and somewhere in this group there is someone you know. It might even be you.

Adam Dorland’s simple set is monochromatic black: three benches, a coffee table, a shelf, some doorways and windows work with Michael Jarett’s sometimes subtle, sometimes flashy lighting to create the office where Jordan works, his apartment, and the various bars, clubs, and wedding venues where the scenes take place. Ruth Hedberg designed the costumes – which vary from office casual to matching bridesmaid dresses and wedding gowns and seems to have used shoe styles to symbolize the women’s characters. Joey Luck did the sound design, which includes some original music. The program lists three songs by Luck and Hannah M. Barnes and an original song by Ali Thibodeau.

Significant Other is very different type of play, and very appropriate to open TheatreLAB’s Season 6, themed “In Pursuit of Happiness.” Significant Other runs through September 29.

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

———-

Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

LIVING IN THE KEY OF “B” UNNATURAL: Where Friendship, Faith & Fantasy Collide

LIVING IN THE KEY OF “B” UNNATURAL: At the Intersection of Friendship, Faith & Fantasy

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Hickory Hill Community Center, 3000 E. Belt Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23234

Performances: September 19 @ 12:30PM; September 21, 21, 22 @ 8:00PM & September 22 @ 4:00PM

Ticket Prices: $10 for Groups of 10 or more; $12 for Students and Seniors; $15 General Admission

Info: thetheatreubuntu@gmail.com; http://theheritageensemble.wixsite.com/thetc

 

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how the poetically titled Living in the Key of “B” Unnatural managed to move me as deeply as it did. Written by Jerry Maple, Jr., who was also the author of last’s year’s The Dream Seller and the Forest Dwellers, a children’s play produced by Heritage Ensemble, Living in the Key of “B” Unnatural is described as “a light-hearted serio-comedy.” I would describe it more as an intersection or perhaps a collision of friendship, faith, and fantasy.

 

Running one hour and twenty minutes with no intermission (but with an inexplicably long pause that obviously did not involve a change of costume or scenery), the play takes place in the single room residence of Dr. Enola VanderHorn-Bernard (Crystal Wiley-Perry). The plot revolves around Enola, a Harvard educated M.D. who one day walked away from her medical practice, her husband, and two daughters. The words depression or mental illness are never mentioned, although Enola’s friends are not exempt from calling her “crazy,” but this is clearly a case of at least clinical depression, and possibly something more. And that is why it requires a tremendous suspension of belief to accept that Enola suddenly snaps out of it.

 

Enola is a brilliant woman with a heart for people, a dislike of privilege, and an unfulfilled desire to be a missionary. Describing her past life with her husband, also a prominent physician, she says that he was “lost in prominence.” Enola’s best friends are now Shummay St. Catherine, a Guyanese short-order cook at a downtown diner (played by Haliya Robert with a flawless accent that impressed even a Guyanese audience member), and her landlord Manfred Monroe (played by Isaiah Entzminger). Enola has “rented” a room in Manfred’s Harlem brownstone for twenty years, but Manfred, who describes himself as stingy, has allowed her to go months, if not years, without paying the rent, which becomes something of an ongoing joke. More concerning, Enola has not seen her family for twenty years, and has not looked in a mirror for nineteen of those years.

 

A fourth character, Dr. Latooza Wellington (Whitney Tymas), was Enola’s Harvard classmate, and suddenly reappears in her life after more than twenty years. Latooza plays a key role in Enola’s final scene breakthrough, and there is a distinct difference in the interactions between Enola and Latooza and those between Enola and all the other characters, but to tell more would spoil the surprise. Toney Q. Cobb has directed with a keen eye for detail, humor, and the storyteller’s pace that is a trademark of this company and its artistic director, Margarette Joyner.  That storyteller’s pace sometimes drags a bit, especially as there is no intermission. I’m not sure if it that was an artistic or directorial choice or a requirement of the author. If given an opportunity, I would ask Maple about that as well as about the characters’ names – unusual even for a group of African Americans.

 

The multi-talented Joyner designed the set (a cluttered, tiny room at the top floor of a brownstone), Pamela Archer-Shaw designed the sound (which included appropriate popular mood music, including “Beautiful,” which I believe is a popular Christina Aguilera song at a key moment in Enola’s evolution), and LaWanda Raines did the costumes (a task made somewhat easier by the lead character’s refusal to change clothes until the final scene).

 

There is much about this production that some might dismiss as unbelievable, unpolished, or just generally flawed. Why, for instance, is such a big deal made of Enola changing from shoes to house slippers each time she enters her room? Could Enola’s frequent long monologues with herself have been handled differently? But then, there is something magical that happens in that intersection between friendship, faith, and fantasy that I mentioned above, something that inexplicably tugs at the heart and perhaps even dampens the eyes. And that is enough for me to recommend that you see this touching and unusual play and its earnest ensemble during its short run of just four days (the original opening was postponed due to last week’s impending hurricane warnings), ending with two shows on Saturday, September 22, one at 4PM and another at 8PM.

 

 

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

———-

Photo Credits:

Photos Courtesy of Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company

Key of B Unnatural

Key of B
Crystal Wiley-Perry, Isaiah Entzminger, and Haliya Roberts

VICTOR, THE TRUE SPIRIT OF LOVE: Love, Light, and Faith; the Healing Power of Dance

The Latin Ballet of Virginia: VICTOR, THE TRUE SPIRIT OF LOVE

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performance: September 7-9, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9.

Ticket Prices: $10-$20

Info: (804) 828-2020 or http://www.latinballet.com

I’ve seen many performances by the Latin Ballet of Virginia (LBV) over the years. Some have been fiction, some fantasy, and others, like, Victor: the True Spirit of Love, are based on fact. But this one was different. This one touched my heart and had me weeping unashamedly in my seat.

Unlike many LBV programs, this one did not have elaborate scenery, although there were larger-than-life projections of photographs from Victor Torres’ life, scenes from the documentary about his life, and background photos of buildings and cars and alleyways representing Brooklyn, NY in the 1960s. These projections were often so well integrated into the live performance that they became part of the choreography.

Rather than a range of choreography representing the Latino music and dance, heritage, and history, there were poignant selections ranging from R&B to Mambo to Christian songs and instrumental music. Some were upbeat, but all seemed carefully chosen to help carry the emotion and narrative of the story, using movement and music and very few words – so when words are used they have the utmost impact.

Victor tells the story of Victor Torres, a former gang member and drug addict and current pastor of the New Life for Youth Ministries and New Life Outreach Church, right here in Richmond, VA. But more than that, Victor is a story of redemption, of hope, of people helping people. It is a story of victory. It is about finding God, but it is not about religion. It is about faith, but it does not preach. It is about the power of a mother’s love.

It’s not so much the choreography, which is sometimes powerful but mostly quite simple. It is not so much the dancers’ technique, which is sometimes quite stunning, but sometimes uneven – involving, as it always does, both professional and pre-professional dancers and children. But the collaboration of all the elements, culminating in the surprising appearance of three graduates of Pastor Torres’ program as their recorded images and voices give testimony of their dark past and hopeful present – and shines light on their future. This is dance with a purpose that is more than just entertainment. It tells a story. It offers the possibility of healing.

Pastor Torres came onstage after Saturday evening’s performance to take questions, and to offer congratulations to the performers. Roberto Whitaker danced the role of the young Torres – bringing the man himself to tears, by his own admission. Whitaker, who I have watched grow from a promising young hip hop dancer to a versatile professional, led the company, appearing in nearly all of the twelve scenes, from a hip hop and capoeira infused fight (“The Roman Lords”) to a 1960s style jitterbug (“Rock & Roll with My Mama”) to acted and pantomimed scenes of overdosing and recovery and a lyrical dance duet of faith with his savior. Artistic director Ana Ines King danced the role of Victor’s mother, Layla, and with her usual enthusiasm moved from mambo (“It is Mambo Time!”) through ballet, modern, and lyrical (“The Power of Mother’s Love” and “La Esperanza/Our Only Hope”), with an extra dose of drama (going into her prayer closet, and running to the rooftop to save her beloved son from being tossed off by gang members).

Teri Buschman and Marisol Cristina Betancourt Sotolongo made beautiful angels, while DeShon Rollins wore white as the spirit of hope and the saving grace of love. The scenes featuring four of the company’s men were powerful and beautiful, whether they were fighting or creating a smoke-filled, surrealistic scene of drug-fueled gang activity. This production would be a valuable contribution to the programs of churches, community centers, and youth agencies. I’ll just close with the words of the final selection, “Si Dios ama a un rebelde como yo, todo es possible/if God can love a rebel like me, anything is possible.”

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

Photo Credit: Jay Paul

Video Link: Victor, motion picture, official trailer: https://youtu.be/m9ub4w-DJVg

Video Link: One More Life, the Victor Torres Story, full documentary: https://youtu.be/i2UlLWJQFZY

This slideshow requires JavaScript.