SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS

A Tale of Queer Love and Ancestral Voices

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: April 20-May 14, 2022.

Ticket Prices: $30-35; $18 for Preview nights; $10 for Students.

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.

Just as every now and then someone says, does, or creates something so wonderful that I enviously wish I had done it. Similarly, every now and then someone creates a play, poem, or story that is so unique or so wonderful that I wonder why I never thought of or heard of the idea before. Sugar in Our Wounds by Philadelphia-based Afro-Queer playwright, poet, and filmmaker Donja R. Love is a prime example of this type of work. Rescheduled from 2020, you know, when that little thing called The Pandemic stopped by, Sugar in Our Wounds was well worth the wait. Set on a plantation in the summer of 1862, during the Civil War, “somewhere down South, by a tall, tall tree,” Sugar in Our Wounds examines the intersection of freedom and love.

“Ain’t no roamin’ the world, for a weak nigger. – Henry

STRANGE FRUIT

An elder, Aunt Mama, and her makeshift family, James and Mattie, occupy a cabin on a plantation that has a striking feature – a mystical whispering tree so tall no one can see the top. Generations of enslaved people have been hung from this tree, but James is determined this particular generational curse will stop with him. James is smart. He keeps his head down – both literally and figuratively – and follows the rules – except for one. The master’s daughter, Isabel, sneaks down to the cabin periodically to teach James how to read.  She’s bored, because her husband is away fighting the war, and predictably, at some point, like Potiphar’s wife in the Old Testament, she begins to take a dangerous interest in the only available men around, but that’s not the real story here.

The real story is about love, across time and generations, and involves a young stranger who arrives and is accepted by Aunt Mama and her little family. Mattie, who also happens to be the master’s daughter, is in a precarious position, trusted by no one. Although we never see or hear from other enslaved people on the plantation, we know there are others, but only Aunt Mama and James feel safe in the company of Mattie, who like many others in her situation, is not welcome in either of the worlds she straddles. So of course, Mattie is attracted to this able-bodied stranger, Henry, but we soon find out that Henry, while he does not entirely rebuff Mattie, is far more interested in James than he is in Mattie.

“The darker you is, the more questions you got.” – also Henry

HISTORY LESSONS

There are so many significant details in Sugar in Our Wounds that it would be nearly impossible to notice them all on just one viewing. The show opens with projections of legs and feet, photos on the rocks and trees, the “strange fruit” many of us were first introduced to by Billie Holiday’s recording of the mournful song of the same name. The tree hums and whispers, and James and Aunt Mama can hear it and communicate with it, with the ancestral spirits who reside in or around it and who use it to teach and warn their descendants. One notices a fancy chair that seems out of place in the little cabin, that is sparsely furnished with a tiny communal bed, shared by the three occupants, an all-purpose that serves as a seat or a table, and a bucket whose aroma Isabel finds offensive.  The chair, of course, belongs to Isabel. Aunt Mama refuses to keep the bucket (aka chamber pot) outside because it is a precious commodity and might be stolen by nearby residents – another way we know this little family is not alone on this plantation. At one point there is an authentic feeling ring shout for the upcoming freedom. But there were also a few moments that seemed out of time and place. Sometimes the men are barefoot, and sometimes they wear shoes – and socks. Would enslaved young men have owned socks? During one visit to teach James to read the bible Isabel says the slop bucket smells “funky” and moments later she to James, “you blow me away.” The Oxford dictionary says the word “funky” originated in the late 17th century, so maybe it would have been used, and idiomorigins.org says “blow me away” phrases date back to the 16th century.  Later, James says, “Don’t act new!” It seems people were saying something similar back in the day – as far back as the 1560s. Shakespeare even had a variation, “fire-new.” Both “brand new” and “fire-new” meant fresh from the fire. Who knew?

THE SPIRIT OF LOVE

The cast, the story, the execution of this production more than just a play, more than a love story. It felt like a work of love that was more than just acting, but more like a spiritual offering. Dorothy Dee D. Miller inhabited the persona of Aunt Mama like an act of faith, as if she did not just choose to act this role, but as if she HAD to share this role. Jónel Jones, whom I had recently seen as a scammer in a TheatreVCU production of Intimate Apparel took on a quite different role here as the hero, giving a strong yet gentle, nuanced performance that lingered some time after the final bows. Duron Marquis Tyre as Henry, the mysterious new-comer similarly maintained a balance of mystery, danger, and tenderness. Tyra Huckaby maintained a relatively low-key supporting role until the end, when the seed she was carrying elevated her to a place of prominence as the last remaining hope for the future, while Charlotte Grace Smith was a necessary but negligible presence – not because she wasn’t good enough but because Sugar in Our Wounds wasn’t about her.

Director Lucretia Marie did an excellent job, creating, maintaining, and drawing the audience into this mystical world in a way that educated, entertained, and enlightened all at once. The pacing, the acting, the setting, the atmosphere, all worked together to create that magic that every show aims for but few actually achieve. Sugar in Our Wounds is one of the most memorable and moving shows I’ve seen in recent memory, and I hope to have a chance to see it again in the future to see if it hits the same.

———-

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

———-

SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS

Written by Donja R. Love

Directed by Lucretia Marie

CAST:

James …………………………………….          Jónel Jones

Aunt Mama ……………………………          Dorothy “Dee D.” Miller

Isabel …………………………………….          Charlotte Grace Smith

Mattie …………………………………..           Tyra Huckaby

Henry ……………………………………           Durron Marquis Tyre

Understudies

For Isabel – Juliette Aaslestad

For Aunt Mama – Sharalyn Bailey

For Mattie – Ayana Flowers

For Henry – Calvin Graves

For James – Makai Walker

CREATIVE TEAM:

Scenic Design by William Luther

Costume, Hair & Make-Up Design by Margarette Joyner

Lighting Design by Steven Koehler

Sound Design and Original Music by Kyle Epps

Projections Design by Dasia Gregg

Props Design by Tim Moehring

Intimacy Choreographer – Kirsten Baity

Violence/Asst Intimacy Choreographer – Stephanie Tippi Hart

Assistant to the Properties Designer – Nicole Pisaniello

Dialect Coach – Evamarii Johnson

Dramaturg – Shinji Elspeth Oh

Assistant Director – David Powell

Original Scenic Concept – Mercedes Schaum

Technical Director – Rebecka Russo

Assistant Stage Manager – Dwight Merritt

Production State Manager – Shawanna Hall

Photo Credits: John MacClellan

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

CLICK HERE TO Donate TO RVART REVIEWCLICK HERE TO Donate TO RVART REVIEWCLICK HERE TO Donate TO RVART REVIEW

LOVE/SICK

It’s 7:30 on a Friday Night in June in a Big Box Store Somewhere in Suburbia

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: May 21 – June 25, 2022

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

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

Lovesick – adjective. in love, or missing the person one loves, so much that one is unable to act normally.

It’s spring and love is in the air – only not in the way you might expect. For LOVE/SICK John Cariani (author of Almost Maine) has constructed nine discrete tales in which love falls somewhere on a spectrum of, well, mental illness. Each ten-minute play is set “at 7:30 PM on a Friday night in June, in an alternate suburban reality.” The backdrop for this suburban reality is The Super Store – a generic mock-up of a big box store, in which some of the silhouettes on the shelves remind me of miniature tombstones.

The nine couples are portrayed by four actors who zanily and adeptly transform from character to character between scenes: costumes, hair, voices, mannerisms, posture. Before the pandemic, it was fairly unusual to see a show in which actors played multiple roles, but that seems to have become a necessary skill in the new normal we are all adapting to. Described as Almost Maine’s “darker cousin,” each Love/Sick  story line has an unexpected twist.

Among my favorites: “The Singing Telegram” man (Matt Hackman) hesitates to deliver his message because the sender is using the singing telegram to break up with his girlfriend (Katherine Wright). This is probably the saddest of the collection, while “Uh-Oh” is probably the sickest and displays the most twisted humor. In “Uh-Oh” a bored wife (also Wright) seeks to bring some excitement into her one and a half year old marriage – by fabricating a story about a research article and then assaulting her unsuspecting husband with a very real looking squirt gun.

“The Answer” starts off with a groom (Hackman) hiding in a bathroom, crying and ends on a somber note, while “Lunch and Dinner” is filled with Freudian slips of the tongue. When lawyer husband Mark (Freebourn) asks his corporate wife (Reisenfeld) what she had to eat at her business luncheon, she inadvertently responds, “sex.” And so it goes, until we come full circle ending up back at The Super Center where two exes (Hackman and Wright) are reunited and the original “Obsessive Impulsive” couple (Reisenfeld and Freebourne) bump carts again. Occasionally a profound thought punctuates the hilarity, as when Jake (Hackman) wonders why, “when you meet and fall in love and it doesn’t work out, how come we don’t call THAT destiny?”

Two monitors on either side of the stage announce the titles of the scenes while the scenery and the actors change, and Width keeps the pace and the laughs moving along with the smooth regularity of a train schedule. Of course, what makes it work, what makes it funny, is that we can recognize bits and pieces of ourselves – or our partners – in many of these characters. Have you or someone you know thought about killing their spouse – even jokingly – or considered getting back together with an ex? Still, ninety minutes without an intermission is hard on some of us with mature bones and joints that need to move periodically. Oh, and one more thing – the transition music between scenes was (perhaps intentionally?) unnecessarily irritating, but not enough so to interfere with my enjoyment of this hilarious show.

LOVE/SICK

By John Cariani

Directed by Tom Width

Cast:

PJ Freebourn

Matt Hackman

Paige Reisenfeld

Katherine Wright

​​

Production Team:

Directed by Tom Width

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Scenic Design by  Tom Width

Technical Direction by Liz Allmon

Incidental Music by Julian Fleisher

“No Lie” composed by John Cariani

Performance Schedule:

Fridays @ 8:00PM: May 27, June 3, June 10, June 17, June 24

Saturdays @ 2:30PM: June 11, June 25

Saturdays @ 8:00PM: May 21, May 28, June 4, June 11, June 18, June 25

Sundays @ 2:30 PM: June 5, June 19

Wednesdays @ 2:30 PM: June 8, June 15

Thursdays @ 8:00PM: June 16, June 23

Tickets:

$44-49

Run Time:  Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Donate HERE TO
SUPPORT RVART REVIEW
Donate HERE TO
SUPPORT RVART REVIEW
Donate HERE TO
SUPPORT RVART REVIEW

A SINGLE PRAYER

A New Play by K. Jenkins

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: April 20 – May 8, 2022

Ticket Prices: $30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A SINGLE PRAYER

By K. Jenkins

Directed by Mark J. Lerman

Performers:

Laura Shelton Bassin – Mom / Clem’s Mother

Matthew R. Dubroff – Dad / Clem’s Father

Madison Hatfield – Clem

Fred Iacovo – Stan / Clem’s Stepfather

​Maggie McGurn – Juniper / Clem’s Stepmother

​​Adam Turck – Michael

Ed Whitacre – Charlie

​​

Production Team:

Director – Mark J. Lerman

Set Designer – Tennessee Dixon

Costume Designer – Alex Valentin

Lighting Designer – Andrew Bonniwell

Composers and Sound Designers – Mark Messing, Kate Statelman

Movement/Dance Director – Joan Gavaler

Stage Manager – Emily Vial

Asst. Stage Manager – Dennis Bowe

Performance Schedule:

Wed April 20 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Thu April 21 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Fri April 22 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Sat April 23 @ 7:30pm

Thu April 28 @ 7:30pm

Fri April 29 @ 7:30pm

Sat April 30 @ 7:30pm

Sun May 1 @ 3pm

Thu May 5 @ 7:30pm

Fri May 6 @ 7:30pm

Sat May 7 @ 7:30pm

Sun May 8 @ 3pm

Tickets:

$30

Run Time:  Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission

PHOTO CREDITS: Bill Sigafoos

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

CLICK HERE TO Donate
TO RVART REVIEW
CLICK HERE TO Donate
TO RVART REVIEW
CLICK HERE TO Donate
TO RVART REVIEW

DEAR JACK, DEAR LOUISE

A Timeless Love Story

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: March 18 – April 17, 2022

Ticket Prices: $48.

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

It was inevitable that Dear Jack, Dear Louise would prove to be such a heart-warming story. It is the story of playwright Ken Ludwig’s parents’ courtship, performed by a couple of actors who are married to each other in real life.

The story begins when aspiring actress Louise Rabiner received a letter from U.S. Army Captain Jack Ludwig, a military doctor stationed in Medford, Oregon. The first letter is dated June 1, 1942. The tentative and touching relationship grows warmer with each exchange of letters until August of 1943, when Louise is preparing for a big audition and Jack is awaiting orders to deploy overseas, they each sign off their letters with “love.” For those of us accustomed to the fast pace of modern life and the directness of relationships initiated through dating apps, the leisurely pace and storybook romanticism of this budding relationship is both shocking and sobering – in a delightfully endearing way.  

Set mostly in Jack’s office in Oregon – and later, his undisclosed overseas deployment – and the New York City boarding house and various dressing rooms occupied by Louise, Dear Jack, Dear Louise is not just a story of a romance, but also a story of war and how it touches individuals who are powerless to affect the outcome, or even control their own involvement. After months of planning, Jack and Louise must postpone their first date due to escalating war activities.

Louise’s side of the stage is populated by signs for a NYC automat, the Barrymore Theatre, and 42nd Street, while Jack’s side has the drab accoutrements of a military base and a sign for a diner. There are wall telephones with cords and Jack even sends Louise a telegram when he needs to get an important message to her quickly. Further drawing us into this historical fiction, Ludwig (the author, not the character) has the audience join his characters  in listening to songs, like, “Yes, We Have No Bananas” (first published in 1923 and resurrected during periods of rationing during WWII), and Louise’s big audition is for Hellzapoppin’ (1938), the longest running Broadway show during that time period.

Sue Griffin and Marcia Miller Hailey’s costuming for Louise is a veritable fashion show of WWII women’s garments, from the sweater with one black sheep to the classy plaid traveling suit to the high-waisted pants that remind me of the pants worn in The Color Purple (that I have yearned for since the VaRep production of that show some years ago).

When date night rolls around, (October 2, 1943), Louise is on tour in Cincinnati and Jack is in Ft. Houston en route to his deployment. October 31, that same year, Jack received a care package from Louise. She’s in Tennessee and he’s now somewhere in England. And then the letters stop. Louise receives a letter from Jack’s friend, informing her that Jack is MIA. But we know this is a love story, and it has a happy ending. Miraculously, Jack returns home, some three years after that first fateful letter, and the play ends with a first kiss.

Lydia Hundley has some wonderfully meaty comedic turns, and Neal Gallini-Burdick comes across mostly as sincere and delightfully awkward in matters of the heart. Debra Clinton’s direction is nicely paced, and somehow even the pauses – the times when communication between Jack and Louise breaks off – never become boring. Hundley and Gallini-Burdick, who met in college and married in May 2021, have appeared in five shows together, and may have had the advantage of drawing on their own love story to bring authenticity to Dear Jack, Dear Louise. And, if course, once cannot watch a wartime play these days without reflecting on current events in the Ukraine.

Comedy, romance, war, two actors with great chemistry, and good direction equals a heart-warming play that effectively meets the challenge of balancing love and war, reality and fiction.

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

Cast

Jack Ludwig……….Neal Gallini-Burdick

Louise Rabiner…….Lydia Hundley

Direction & Design

Direction: Debra Clinton

Scenic Design: Dasia Gregg

Costume Design: Sue Griffin, Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design: Matt Landwehr

Sound Design: Jacob Mishler

Stage Management: Joe Pabst

Assistant Stage Management: Amber Hooper

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Donate HERE TO SUPPORT
RVART REVIEW
Donate HERE TO SUPPORT
RVART REVIEW
Donate HERE TO SUPPORT
RVART REVIEW

FREE FALL

An evening of dance works by Shane O’Hara, Scott Putnam & Malcolm Shute
A dance review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23223
Performances: April 15-17, 2022
Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $15 Students
Info: (804) 230-8780 or https://www.dogtowndancethetre.com

THE PROGRAM
A Day in the Life of My Brain
Choreography: Shane O’Hara
Music: John Zorn
Costume Design: Kathleen Conery
Performer: Shane O’Hara
Cascade
Choreography: Malcolm Shute in collaboration with the dancers
Dancers: Susan Donham, Roxann Morgan Rowley, Alexander Short, Malcolm Shute
Music: “Adagio in G Minor” composed by Albonini, recorded by Miguel Del Oro Orchestra
A Cloud of Probability (2022)
Choreography: Scott Putman
Dancers: Sophia Berger, Erin Dutton, Sydney Goldston, Abby Hardy, Celine Lewis, Makayla Woolner
Music: “Tower,” “Dirt,” “Hero Brother” by Sarah Neufeld
Costumes: Damion Bond
Personal Space
Choreography: Malcolm Shute in collaboration with Katie Sopoci Drake
Dancers: Katie Sopoci Drake and Malcolm Shute
Music: Malcolm Shute
Travelblog…The Grand Tour (2009)
Choreography: Shane O’Hara, Ric Rose, and Ryan Corriston
Music: Sound score by Mitchell Mercurio
Text: Shane O’Hara, Ric Rose
Performers: Ryan Corriston, Shane O’Hara

A weekend of dance by Shane O’Hara, Scott Putnam, and Malcolm Shute at Dogtown Dance Theatre had the feeling of a James Madison University dance faculty/alumni reunion combined with a going away party for outgoing Dogtown Artistic Executive Director Jess Burgess.

The diverse selection of dance works ranged from the comedic to the meditative. O’Hara opened the program with “A Day in the Life of My Brain” and closed it with “Travelblog…The Grand Tour.” The former is a kaleidoscope of gestures – humorous, percussive, and precise. A soundscape of buzzes, squeaks, and screeches – ranging from funny to irritating – complement O’Hara’s Elizabethan neck ruff (clown collar) and kinetic shenanigans. For example, O’Hara rises from the floor and attempts to assume a dignified stance, only to appear to be attacked by a swarm of invisible bugs.
In “Travelblog,” O’Hara starts off as a tour guide narrating a London excursion, only to wander off on a tangent – which is exactly what he warns his charges not to do. Equal parts dance, mime, and dialogue, “Travelblog” is a zany tour de force. O’Hara and partner Ryan Corriston are dressed in conservative gray suits and high top Converse All Stars. Corrison, at one point, passes his umbrella to an audience member for safe-keeping, as the two embark upon a journey that includes a riotous litany of TSA airport vocabulary that is anchored by the ubiquitous “three-ounce” rule. There is a marvelous moment of apparent weightlessness and O’Hara’s encounter with a “bad knee” ends in audience participation. O’Hara inexplicably dies centerstage, so Corrison retrieves his umbrella and calmly sits on O’Hara’s apparently lifeless body. And scene!
Bookending O’Hara’s comedic offerings were two vastly different works by Malcolm Shute – “Cascade” and “Personal Space.” In “Cascade” the dancers began piled atop one another and moved as a unit. They separated briefly, but not for long, drawn back by an invisible, magnetic pull. When they peel off and roll at the end it doesn’t feel like an act of freedom; it seems more sad than liberating. The dancers’ black tops and pants have a paint splattered pattern and Albonini’s “Adagio in G Minor” contribute to a vaguely familiar, and simultaneously funereal atmosphere.
“Personal Space” is an expansive exploration of a confined space. The two dancers, Katie Sopoci Drake and Malcolm Shute, collaborated on the symbiotic meditation. They gently fit together, back to back, but as Shute’s textured and eclectic score ratchets up into what sounds like an antique movie film reel whose lose end is flipping over again and again, Shute’s transitions become more challenging. At one point he is cantilevered over Drake, legs suspended in the air, seemingly supported solely by his core. Throughout the piece, neither dancer’s feet ever touch the floor. The one odd moment – was it a technical decision or a technical faux pas? – occurred near the end when the rear curtain that had been unobtrusively open throughout the duet suddenly closed. I found this distracting and an unwelcome intrusion into the meditative flow of the dance.
In the middle of the program, closing out the first act, was Scott Putnam’s “A Cloud of Probability.” Damion Bonds’ colorful costumes suggested characters from epic tales as the six dancers traced mesmerizing circles and spirals. The spirals were often accompanied by an upward look with the head and eyes following. The piece was set against a background of Sarah Neufeld’s violin compositions. Neufeld’s work has been described as minimalist and post-modern classical, but in “A Cloud of Probability” I would characterize it as futuristic folk music that enhanced the subtle intensity and energy of the work.
Saturday night’s program included an emotional tribute to Jess Burgess, the outgoing Artistic and Executive Director of Dogtown Dance Theatre. Burgess came to Dogtown as a volunteer in 2010 when the space opened its doors and served in a volunteer capacity before coming on as director in 2015. Burgess will be moving to South Carolina to become the CEO for the Greenville Center for Creative Arts.

No photos available at the time of publication.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution to support the continued
publication of RVArt Review is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Donate HEREDonate HEREDonate HERE

AN ILIAD

War is Still Hell

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dominion Energy Center, Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse, 600 E. Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: March 24 – April 16, 2022

Ticket Prices: $24 – $45

Info: (804) 340-0115 or quilltheatre.org

AN ILIAD (2010) is a masterful piece of storytelling. Director Lisa Peterson and actor Denis O’Hare adapted Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, into a play for one actor. Many of the characters – and places – will be familiar to some: Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Paris, Helen, Troy. But even if you did not pay attention in your high school literature classes, you will be able to relate. This is more than a retelling of an ancient tale. Whereas Homer’s The Iliad tell the story of the final year of the Trojan War, An Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War from a contemporary perspective. What makes it relevant? Well, the Trojan War went on so long – some ten years – that people began to forget why they were fighting, what they were fighting for, what the end goal was, and that has a ring of familiarity for us today.

The Poet (Alec Beard) appears carrying a battered suitcase filled with a bottle of whiskey, a glass, and some papers containing, what – photos? memories? His overcoat, hat, and scarf signal that he is a time traveler. The stage is a war-torn battleground of scaffolds, an overturned chair, deserted props and tools. It is a place that appears to have been abandoned in a hurry, due to the ravages of neglect, disinterest, a war, a pandemic, or some unnamed man-made catastrophe. A ghost light on stage at the beginning and ending of the play seals the metaphoric atmosphere: security, superstition, repetition, tradition.

Beard holds our attention from start to finish, wielding a paint roller as a scepter, a random table leg as a spear, and words as weapons and keys. Beard is mesmerizing as The Poet. In the background, cellist Chris Chorney provides a timeless acoustic soundscape, and serves as a foil for Beard’s ruminations. When Beard tells a joke about Achilles, Chorney remains poker-faced; it’s as if he’s heard it all before, many, many times before. The Poet is like a vampire, immortal, timeless, no longer moved by the bizarre and inexplicable road rage that litters human history, even when animatedly re-enacting scenes from the past atrocities we seem determined to repeat. Director James Ricks has created an immersive experience that makes it impossible for the audience to distance themselves emotionally or intellectually. The Gottwald Playhouse becomes transformed, temporarily, an intimate cocoon that wraps around the performers and audience and only releases us when the lights come back up.

An Iliad includes a litany of wars, conflicts, and invasions, starting in ancient times and concluding – for now – with the current events in the Ukraine. Does An Iliad encourage the audience to understand the past by placing it into a modern context, or does it inspire us to understand the present by comparing it to the past?  Like Achilles, are we, too, addicted to rage, or do we need to re-examine our definition of heroes?  Returning the ghost light to center stage before exiting, The Poet asks, “You see?” But do we…

An Iliad

By Denis O’Hare & Lisa Peterson

Cast

Alec Beard as The Poet

Christopher Chorney as Muse

Direction & Design

Director:  James Ricks

Composer: Niccolo Seligman

Dramaturg: Dean Simpson

Lighting Designer: Gretta Daughtrey

Scenic Designer: Missouri Flaxon

Production Manager: Oliver Samson

Box Office Manager: Margot Moser

Marketing Consultant: Emily Adler

Stage Manager: Corrie Barton

Assistant Stage Manager: Hope Jewell

Scenic Construction: Quinlan Boyle

Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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

———-

Photo Credits: Dave Parrish Photography

 

GREATER TUNA

The Third Smallest (Fictional) Town in Texas Makes Us Laugh for All the Wrong Reasons

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

Performances: March 19 – April 30, 2022

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

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

There are so many ways I could write about GREATER TUNA. So, I’ll just start and see where this goes.

The first in a series of four satirical plays about the fictional town of Tuna, TX, GREATER TUNA requires two actors to portray twenty citizens of this conservative Texas community. John Hagadorn and Bartley Mullin are so good at quickly transforming from one character to another that it’s almost possible to overlook the content they are sharing that is making us laugh out loud. Hagadorn thoroughly encapsulates the town’s KKK leader Elmer Watkins, with his baseball cap pulled low over his eyes and so convincingly inhabits the characters of town matriarchs Bertha Bumiller and Pearl Burrus that we almost forget he is a male actor portraying these stereotypical southern women. Hagadorn is familiar with the inhabitants of Greater Tuna, having appeared in SCM’s production of A Tuna Christmas (2016-2017 season). This is the Mill’s first production of Greater Tuna, the original play, since 1985, and director Mark Costello returned to steer this wild ride and keep it on track.

Then there’s Bartley Mullin. His interpretation of the chain-smoking used weapons shop owner, Didi Snavely (“if we can’t kill it, it’s immortal) and the whiny and angst-filled teenager Charlene Bumiller are all that and more. His endearing but jumpy Petey Fisk, who works for the Greater Tuna Humane Society (who knew there were enough people in this town to support such an organization!) and the pretentious Vera Carp (Vice President of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order) are wonderfully over the top. Hagadorn, his face hidden behind a newspaper, provides the voice of an annoying puppy Petey is trying to find a home for. It is all but impossible not to laugh and that reminds me of what Swift Creek Mill artistic director Tom Width said of A Tuna Christmas, that he produced and directed in November 2016, “It’s so wrong in the best kinds of ways.”

Right off the bat, we are introduced to Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, the anchors of the town’s radio station, OKKK. The station’s call letters are repeated frequently, and yes, the “KKK” stands for just what you think it does. One of the first bits of news is the announcement of the winners of the town’s essay contest. First place goes to an essay entitled, “Human Rights, Why Bother,” while the second and third place winners are “Living With Radiation,” and “The Other Side of  Bigotry.”

Of course there is a group tasked with banning books, to protect the town’s children from undesirable and divisive literature such as Roots, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (a book that even students in my NYC high school protested against until the teacher caved in and removed it from the syllabus), Huckleberry Finn  (because it showed a child cavorting with a criminal, no mention of “Nigger” Jim), and even Romeo and Juliet (because it portrays young people disobeying their parents). Then there are The Smut Snatchers of the New Order, whose focus is cleaning up the dictionary. Just send them a word you want removed. . .

When a visiting reporter brings up the concept of intellect, Bertha Bumiller, the woman he is interviewing, responds with a deadpan, “I don’t believe we have that here in Tuna.” Act One ends with Pearl Burrus and Stanley Bumiller running over a dog to cover up the fact she poisoned it! In another of Greater Tuna’s few somber moments Stanley, at one point, reveals a dark secret surrounding the sudden death of the town’s judge.

The dilemma, of course, is that Greater Tuna is so authentically hilarious and Hagadorn and Mullin are so darned good that we find ourselves laughing at uncomfortably racist statements and stereotypical images of people that, frankly, most of us have encountered in real life – and some call family. So, how does one approach Greater Tuna? Do you just ignore the racism and bigotry and laugh at the humor? Do you acknowledge the political incorrectness and call it out? And if so, to what purpose? It is, after all, a satire – and it is intended to expose and comment on our stupidity and foibles. But. . .does that make it right, or relevant? I do not have answers to any of these questions. I just know that at least one attendee left at intermission and those who stayed for the final bows seemed happy and satisfied. And yes, I laughed. Without apology.

GREATER TUNA

By Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard

Cast:

John Hagadorn plays                                      Bartley Mullin plays

Thurston Wheelis                                            Arles Struvie

Elmer Watkins                                                 Didi Snavely

Bertha Bumiller                                              Harold Dean Lattimer

Yippy                                                               Petey Fisk

Leonard Childers                                             Jody Bumiller

Pearl Burrus                                                    Stanley Bumiller

R. R. Snavely                                                    Charlene Bumiller

Reverend Spikes                                              Chad Hartford

Sheriff Givens                                                  Phinas Blye

Hank Bumiller                                                 Vera Carp

Direction and Design Team:

Directed by Mark Costello

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Scenic Design by Tom Width

Scenic Art by Liz Allmon

Original Music by Matthew Costello

Run Time:

2 hours, 1 fifteen-minute intermission

Tickets:

$49

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

Photos: from the SCM Facebook page

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution in support of RVArt Review is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Donate HERE.
THANK YOU.
Donate HERE.
THANK YOU.
Donate HERE.
THANK YOU.

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE

How to Safely Tell an Uncomfortable Story

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced by: The Conciliation Lab

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

Performances: March 11-26, 2022

Ticket Prices: $35 General Admission; $25 Senior/Industry (RVATA); $15 Student/Teacher (with valid ID)

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

NOTE: The Basement is a fully vaccinated venue. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours of the performance must be shown at the box office and masks must be worn while at the theater.

The title of Paula Vogel’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, How I Learned to Drive, is a metaphor for a story so complex that it defies stereotypes. Vogel presents people not as good or bad, victim or victimizer, but as multi-layered and flawed humans. The play is more layered – and even stickier – than a baklava (Greek pastry), and Vogel chose to tell the story in non-chronological order, making it seem even more realistic as the scenes bombard the audience in much the same way as our own memories might arise from the murky depths of an unsuccessfully buried past.

The primary characters in this fractured and dysfunctional family tale are Li’l Bit and Uncle Peck, her maternal aunt’s husband. It says a lot about the nature of this family unit that nicknames are derived from genitalia. The grandfather is Big Papa. Her little cousin is BB for Blue Balls, and her mother is referred to as the Titless Wonder. Li’l Bit, who is never identified by her real name, presented with petite genitalia at birth, and the name stuck, although from her teen years onward she is mercilessly bullied and teased by family and classmates alike for her ample bosom. Uncle Peck is an uncle by marriage, so I don’t think his name is part of this twisted roll call – but he makes up for it in other ways.

Both Li’l Bit and Uncle Peck are given stellar performances by Juliana Caycedo and Jeffrey Cole, respectively. These are the kinds of roles that make people look at you sideways when they encounter you in the produce section of the local supermarket. The rest of the cast – family members, classmates – is played by three actors: Bianca Bryan as the Female Greek Chorus, Mahlon Raoufi as the Male Greek Chorus, and Maggie Bavolack as the Teenage Greek Chorus.

The story, narrated mostly by Li’l Bit with the help of the Greek Choruses, is a surrealistically humorous recounting of sexual abuse and survival cloaked in the guise of driving lessons. It is not surprising that Uncle Peck is an alcoholic; he is not the only one either. Li’l Bit also recounts the all too familiar pattern of women in the family who not only turn a blind eye to the abuse, but also blame the child for being seductive. Aunt Mary, Uncle Peck’s wife, blames Li’l Bit for her husband’s pedophilia (and incest?), waiting for Li’l Bit to go away to college so she can rekindle her marriage. Li’l Bit’s own mother reluctantly allows her daughter to go on a long drive to the beach with Uncle Peck, warning her that she will hold Li’l Bit – a child – responsible if anything happens. There are so many outrageous scenes like this, many of which may trigger memories in audience members as well as cast and staff, that it seems each performance should be followed by a talk-back with a therapist on hand.

How I Learned to Drive is so well performed and so well directed by Chelsea Burke that is should be required viewing. Caycedo is vulnerable and resilient. It is undoubtedly exhausting to play the role of Li’l Bit – especially knowing that there are thousands of Li’l Bits out there still fighting to survive. Cole presents as a really creepy guy, even as the role sometimes calls for him to present as a caring adult. He comforts Li’l Bit when she flees a family dinner, broken by the teasing about her large breasts and the family’s refusal to acknowledge her dreams of going to college. Who needs a college degree to lay on their back? That’s Big Papa’s perspective. Uncle Peck celebrates with her when she passes her driving test on the first try; but he also inappropriately plies her with martinis and oysters. What the hell is the matter with this man? The conflict is brought to the forefront when, at one point, Li’l Bit wisely wonders if someone had groomed or molested him when he was a child.

We applaud Li’l Bit’s survival and her ability to leave Uncle Peck behind, a diminishing image in her rear view mirror. At the same time, we weep for those who are still learning how to drive.

When I attended the Sunday matinee was followed by a talk back with members of the current cast and crew and members of the cast and crew of the 1998 performance, including cast members Gordon Bass and J.B. Steinberg and lighting designer Steve Koehler. The sharing was accompanied by memories and a few tears. Both were needed.

At the time of publication, there are only two more opportunities to see this run of How I Learned to Drive. If you can find a way to get there, run!

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE
by Paula Vogel

Directed by Chelsea Burke

THE CAST
Lil Bit…………………………………Juliana Caycedo
Peck……………………………………..……Jeffrey Cole
Female Greek Chorus…………….Bianca Bryan
Male Greek Chorus…………..…Mahlon Raoufi
Teenage Greek Chorus……..Maggie Bavolack

THE TEAM
Direction: Chelsea Burke
Scenic Design: Alyssa Sutherland
Projections Design: Dasia Gregg
Lighting Design: Deryn Gabor
Costume Design: Maggie McGrann
Sound Design: Candace Hudert
Properties Design: Kathy Kreutzer
Set Construction: Chris Foote
Scenic Painters: Faith Carlson, Alyssa Sutherland
Assistant Stage Management: Leica Long
Associate Direction: Nadia Harika
Dramaturgy & Intimacy Direction: Stephanie “Tippi” Hart
Production Stage Management: Crimson Piazza

THE SCHEDULE
Friday, March 11 at 8pm – Preview
Saturday, March 12 at 8pm – Opening Night
Thursday, March 17 at 8pm – Student Night
Friday, March 18 at 8pm
Saturday, March 19 at 8pm
Sunday, March 20 at 3pm – Matinee
Tuesday, March 22 at 8pm – Community Partner Night
Friday, March 25 at 8pm
Saturday, March 26 at 8pm – Closing Night

Photos by Tom Topinka

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution to support RVArt Review is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Donate HEREDonate HEREDonate HERE

Moments with MommaJ: #1

Moments With MommaJ – Thoughts But No Reviews: February 24, 2022

Since January 18, 2018, I have published 240 reviews in this blog space. (I wrote 238 and 2 of them were written by a young mentee.) That averages about 60 reviews each year, or 5 per month. And BTW, I welcome the comments and reviews of others. (There’s no pay, right now, but you get the satisfaction of seeing your words in print – or disagreeing with me.)

I started this venture – a safe space I call RVArt Review, a home for dance and theater – when the newspaper for which I had been writing dance and theater reviews for more than a decade suddenly and without explanation, decided they no longer had the space or funds to publish reviews. (There had been three of us writing about local theater productions and I was the first to be ghosted. And yes, I did ask for an explanation, some closure, something, but never got it.)

I have been writing about dance and theater since shortly after I started grad school in 1978. (I earned a BS in Dance and Dance Education from New York University in 1977 and returned in 1978 to begin work on my MA I the same department.) I took a course on writing dance criticism with Ernestine Stodelle. Ms. Stodelle had been a member of the pioneering modern Humphrey-Weidman Dance Company and later became a writer. She encouraged me to continue writing, and I have been writing ever since, first for a local publication in Brooklyn, then for The Black American weekly, occasionally for The Village Voice¸ nearly twenty years for Dance Magazine, and many free-lance assignments for newspapers, periodicals, academic journals, followed. After moving to Richmond in 1996, I wrote for The Richmond Free Press and The Richmond Times Dispatch. Just as I had to continue dancing after having two total knee replacements and a spinal fusion (in the same year), I had to continue writing, even as “professional” outlets began to disappear, because that is what I do. Since about age three I knew that I was called to dance, teach, and write.

Times change. The landscape of reviewing the arts must change, too. You may have noticed that I prefer the term “reviewing” over “criticism.” The former is a better fit for the conversational tone and sometimes rambling writing practice that suits me, while the latter sounds to me as if the writer sets out to find fault. I know, these are not the standard definitions, but hey, this is my space, so I get to make the rules. When you read what I have written, my hope is that you feel as if we are sitting down having a conversation. So yes, responses are appreciated.

I write about dance and theater because I love dance and theater. My first paid job was in a summer youth program in NYC where we did community service (cleaning parks, painting the yellow lines in front of fire hydrants) and put on full-scale theatrical productions. During my three wonderful summers in that program (approximately ages 13-15), I played the roles of Maria in West Side Story, Yenta in Fiddler on the Roof,  and a character whose name I cannot remember in a western, a “pioneer drama” called The Chips Are Down.

———-

You may be surprised to learn that even though I average 50+ reviews per year, I do not write reviews about everything I see. The standard for arts organizations  and publications I have been associated with has been to review only “professional” productions or those that meet a certain standard for number of performances, paid staff, and the like. But this is a new space, my space, and so I’m going to make some new rules, my rules. Sometimes, I want to talk a bit about people, places, and theater-making that might not meet the traditional standards for reviewing, whether it is a student or community theater production or a reading or just some interesting bit of history or a noteworthy nugget. So, here we are. Several paragraphs into this rambling rabbit hole of a journey, welcome to the first Moment With MommaJ – a space where I will occasionally share some thoughts on whatever I feel like, just because.

Here we are at the final weekend of February, and I’ve posted four reviews this month: A Doll’s House, Part 2, A Hotel on Marvin Gardens, Stonewallin’, and the ballet Romeo & Juliet. This month I also saw a few things I did not review, and I’m just gonna take a moment (a Moment with MommaJ) to write a few words about them before I sign off for the month.

On February 17 I attended a Pre-Assessment Concert for middle school and high school bands hosted by the Clover Hill Band Program in Chesterfield County. I was there to support my eldest grandchild, Kingston Marley Holmes, who plays percussion for the Manchester Middle School Advanced Band under the direction of Mrs. Elizabeth McHatton. Of course I was impressed to see Kingston confidently moving from tambourine to timpani as the percussionists are multi-instrumentalists (if that’s a word). My heart swells with pride and my eyes get a bit leaky whenever I see young people doing positive things and doing them well.

The Manchester Middle School Advanced Band, the Swift Creek Middle School Combined Band (directed by Mr. Jim Neiner) and Clover Hill High School’s Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble (both directed by Mrs. Brianna Gatch) each offered three selections and it was a most satisfying evening. I am in no way qualified to evaluate or assess band music, but I can tell you that the level of skill, talent, dedication, commitment, and confidence I observed in these young people will take them far, whether they continue to study and play music or not. Bravo, young people. Bravo.

Then on February 19, I attended a performance of Intimate Apparel at VCU’s W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts. A production of  the VCUarts Theatre Department, Intimate Apparel is directed by none other than Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates (Dr. T). Written by Lynn Nottage, the play premiered at Center Stage in Baltimore, MD in February 2003 and opened Off-Broadway the following year. Set in New York City in 1905, the plot revolves around Esther, an African-American seamstress in her mid-thirties who lives in a boarding house and earns a decent living sewing intimate apparel. Her clients include a wealthy white woman, Mrs. Van Buren, and Mayme, a lady of the night with a heart of gold who happens to be a classically trained musician, who appears to be the conservative Esther’s best friend.

Esther longingly observes the other women who live in the boarding house, owned and managed by a dignified widow, Mrs. Dickson, get married and move away. She becomes impatient with biding her time, slowly saving to buy her own beauty parlor and hoping to meet a nice man to marry. Things start to look up when she begins to correspond with George. Introduced by  a mutual connection, they seem to have a lot in common. Like Esther, George has moved far from his home in Barbados to work on building  the Panama Canal. Like Ether, George, too, is lonely, and looking for a wife and a chance to own his own business. But things are not what they appear to be, and Esther ends up loosing both her man and her money – but not her mind. Bowed but unbroken, she returns to the boarding house and starts over. There is more, much more, but this is not a review and I don’t want to give away all the nuanced and multi-layered details, because I want you to see – or at least read – this one for yourself.

You know how some of us – many of us? – are just learning about some ignoble events in American history? You know…things like the bombing and burning of Black Wall Street or the flooding of African-American communities to build parks? Well, this is kinda the literary and theatrical version of that on an individual, social, economic scale.

Under the direction of Dr. T, Amaiya Howard (Esther), and Jonel Jones (George) bring this story to life, revealing bits of history while exploring human nature and traversing largely hidden, forgotten, or otherwise unfamiliar territory by way of a poetic and sensual Africanist storytelling aesthetic.

They are ably supported by Tatjana Shields (whose Mrs. Dickson reminds me of Claire Huxtable), Caroline Mae Woodson as the ingenuously innocent “white lady” is all too familiar, and Nia Simone as Mayme, a humorously bawdy prostitute. Hands-down, my favorite supporting role was that of Mr. Marks, the Hasidic owner of the tiny fabric store where Esther found her special fabric deals. Elijah Williams was so genuine in this role, he brought back memories of shop owners I encountered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

My only issue with Intimate Apparel is that, even with two intermissions, these old bones have a hard time sitting through an approximately three-hour production!

Finally, as I sit and write this Moment with MommaJ, I have just arrived home from a staged reading – the second in a series of four – presented by the new kid on the block, The New Theatre (TNT), with Nathaniel Shaw as Artistic Director and Vida Williams as Executive Director. Red Bike by Caridad Svich is a poetic duet of a play, simultaneously humorous and solemn. Amber Marie Martinez and Raven Lorraine Wilkes read the roles of two pre-teens growing up in small town America and claiming – not seeking, but claiming – their place in the world. It’s sometimes loud and unpredictable, and the viewer sometimes feels as if they are riding the handlebars as the actors’ virtual bikes speed downhill towards certain disaster. The author and text of Red Bike appear to be aligned with the mission of vision of The New Theatre, which has not yet begun turning out full productions.

TNT’s Mission is “to challenge and expand art and industry through innovation in project development, presentation, and community participation,” and their Vision is to become “an innovative American Theatre where we are all seen, where we are all welcome, where we are all inspired.” Visit their website to learn more about the new kid in town: thenewtheatreva.org.

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

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

CLICK HERE TO Donate
TO rvart rEVIEW
CLICK HERE TO Donate
TO rvart rEVIEW
CLICK HERE TO Donate
TO rvart rEVIEW

ROMEO & JULIET

The Richmond Ballet’s ROMEO & JULIET: Shakespeare’s Family Feud on Pointe

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 East Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: February 18-20, 2022

Ticket Prices: In-Person Tickets $25-$125

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

Romeo & Juliet
Choreography by Malcolm Burn

Music by Sergei Prokofiev

Performed by The Richmond Symphony,

Erin Freeman, Conductor

Scenery & Prop Design by Charles Caldwell

Costume Design by Allan Lees

Lighting Design by MK Stewart

It’s that time of year again. February. Some of us still have Valentine’s Day candy and flowers on our desks. It’s Romeo & Juliet season.

I’ve often mentioned to staff at the Richmond Ballet that my biggest – my only – problem with Romeo & Juliet,a ballet that is always performed around Valentine’s Day, is that it is one of the world’s greatest love stories, but the lovers end up dead at the end. Sigh. I think Romeo & Juliet has a higher body count than many action-adventure plots. But it also has some of the greatest – and largest – hats ever to appear on stage (kudos to costume designer Allan Lees).

On a serious note, Romeo & Juliet, running nearly three hours including two twenty-minute intermissions, is an immersive theatrical experience. There’s young love, friendship, family loyalty, classical ballet, folk dancing, comedy, drama, a fabulous score, and more.

This large-scale ballet, created by Richmond Ballet’s long-time Artistic Associate Malcolm Burn premiered August 1977 and was first performed by the Richmond Ballet in February 1995. The ballet includes a huge cast that highlights the students of the School of Richmond Ballet, the Richmond Ballet Trainees, and the Richmond Ballet II company. I found many of the supporting roles provided some of the most interesting and delightful moments of the evening.

Trainee Gabrielle Goodson was cast as the figure of Fate. A non-dancing role, Fate would appear before a death occurred. I never managed to see Goodson move, but suddenly she would appear or shift to a new position on stage. The black-robed and hooded figure was even more ominous because of the silence, stillness, and unimposing stature.

A trio of Harlots (Celeste Gaiera, Sarah Joan Smith, and Izabella Tokev) provided several amusing interludes, with their dancing (sassy romps through the crowd scenes and seductive moments with the men of the town – all of the men) as well as with their costumes (off the shoulder frocks and outrageous wigs that reminded me of a combination of Marge Simpson and the wigs worn by the step-sisters in the Cinderella ballet).

Among other supporting figures that made a big impact was Susan Israel Massey as Juliet’s Nurse. A character role that did not require much dancing, Massey was delightful: loving and loyal to Juliet, daring and subversive in her support of her young charge, and humorous in the marketplace scene.

Ma Cong, the company’s Associate Artistic Director, who took on his role in June 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, was cast in the role of Lord Capulet, Juliet’s stern and unyielding (abusive might not be too strong a word) father. If I am not mistaken, this was his first onstage appearance with the Richmond Ballet.

Ira White was thrilling in the role of Tybalt, Juliet’s passionate and short-tempered first cousin. White engaged in a lot of swordplay with the gentlemen of the rival House of Montague – Romeo and his sidekicks Benvolio (Colin Jacob) and Balthasar (Zacchaeus Page). The fight scenes lit up the stage with a perfect balance of athleticism and art.

As for the title roles, Sabrina Holland danced the role of Juliet, and Khaiyom Khojaev was her Romeo, roles that require equal parts dancing, acting, and mime. There are no long dance scenes in Romeo & Juliet, and no grand pas de deux, so viewers must soak up every brief encounter, every precious stolen duet between the young lovers. The brevity of each encounter, each step, each lift makes their partnership all the more endearing. Personally, in his group scenes I would have liked to have seen Khojaev adopt some of the feistiness required of White. Tybalt certainly had confidence to spare. But in his solo turns Khojaev’s Romeo soared flawlessly.

Paris (Joe Seaton) the contender favored by Juliet’s parents (Ma Cong and Lauren Fagone), is given short shrift. Juliet flicks away his hand every time he tries to touch her. The poor guy is never even in the running. The tension and family dynamics in the scenes with Juliet, her parents, her nurse, and Paris is palpable and presages the unhappy ending that is sure to come.

Overall, Romeo & Juliet is a family-friendly ballet, and one that can be enjoyed by people who say they do not “understand” ballet. And if you don’t recall the details of Romeo and Juliet from high school, there is a handy scene-by-scene synopsis in the digital program. And the familiar score, played live by the Richmond Symphony, can easily stand alone.

I enjoy the intimate Richmond Ballet Studio Performances that are scheduled four times each season, but there is nothing like a full-scale, evening-length ballet and Romeo & Juliet is a personal and audience favorite, judging by the size, diverse composition, and positive reactions of Friday’s opening night house. At the time of this writing, there are two remaining opportunities to see this run of the Richmond Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet.

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

Romeo & Juliet Performance Schedule

Friday, February 18 @7:00PM

Saturday, February 19 @7:00PM

Sunday, February 20 @2:00PPM

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. Eating and drinking are allowed only in designated areas of the lobby.


Photos of the Richmond Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet. Photos by Sarah Ferguson. All rights reserved.


One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation to support rvart review

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Donate here to support rvart reviewDonate here to support rvart reviewDonate here to support rvart review