SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: At the Edge of the Ocean

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS: A Play Without Words

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

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

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

Ticket Prices: $37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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SPOILER ALERT

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

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

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

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Photo Credits: Jason Collins

Small Mouth Sounds
Adam Valentine, Jenny Hundley , Lauren Leinhaas-Cook, Maura Mazurowski, Jim Morgan, Larry Cook. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
August Wilson's Fences
Marisa Guida. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
Small Mouth Sounds
Maura Mazurowski, Jim Morgan. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
Small Mouth Sounds
Adam Valentine, Jenny Hundley, Lauren Leinhaas-Cook. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
Small Mouth Sounds
Jim Morgan and Maura Mazurkowski. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.

 

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THE GREAT GATSBY: Allusion, Delusion, Illusion

THE GREAT GATSBY: A Novel Approach

Performances: March 6 – 22, 2020

By: Quill Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Photo Credits: Photos by Maria V. Salova

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

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: February 27 – March 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

Women have the right to mount the scaffold;

they should likewise have the right to mount the rostrum.

-Olympe de Gouges played by Maggie Roop

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

I killed one man to save 100,000.

-Charlotte Corday played by Lydia Hynes

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

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

who does not know the heart of a mother.

– Marie Antoinette, played by Maggie Bavolack

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

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

– Marianne Angelle played by Katrinah Carol Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

 

 

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CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: Winter Gala Features American Themes & More

THE CONCERT BALLET OF VIRGINIA: Winter Gala 2020

A Dance Program Review

At: The Woman’s Club Auditorium, 211 East Franklin Street, RVA 23219

Performance: February 23, 2020

Ticket Prices: $12-$18

Info: (804) 798-0945 or http://concertballet.com/ or info@concertballet.org

The Concert Ballet of Virginia, a  civic company based in Hanover County, continued its 44th performance season with a Winter Repertory Gala at The Woman’s Club Auditorium on Sunday, February 23. The Winter Repertory Gala – a showcase for the junior, senior, and performing companies – shared the program with The Concert Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Iris Schwartz, alternating a musical composition with a ballet.

The Orchestra seemed to focus on patriotic music, American composers, and American themes, opening with a rousing rendition of the “George Washington Bicentennial March” by John Philip Sousa. This set the tone and expectation for the remainder of the program.

Additional musical interludes included a Cole Porter symphonic portrait, another march, and a medley of American music, including “Shenandoah,” which lays claim to a rather contentious proposal to be Virginia’s “interim state song,” and “My Country Tis of Thee,” which the conductor encouraged the audience to sing along with but there were no takers.

The first ballet, Lindsay Hudson’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” featured an ensemble of enthusiastic young dancers who, while they did not always keep their legs straight or keep their toes pointed en l’air, appeared steady on their pointes and brought an infectious element of joy to their performance. Scott Boyer’s period costumes with full tulle skirts coordinated with  deVeaux Riddick’s décor, with its life-sized pink and green plants, all of which were well suited to the genteel atmosphere with some patrons seated at tables, where they were served desserts and beverages, reminiscent of an 18th or 19th century salon. The ballet ended on a light note with a very charming back-to-back slide to the floor.

The first half of the program also included Valerie Shcherbakova’s “Bretagne,” set to music by Darius Milhand that seemed somewhat dark, even ominous, in contrast to the dancers’ white dresses with narrow fabric panels draped delicately along their arms. This ballet was set in an undisclosed period and locale (although the title suggests a French locations), with four blue panels painted with chandeliers and draperies and somewhat mysterious obelisks. The work is created with intentional symmetry, and ends with a lighter, livelier coda.

The second half of the program included Scott Boyer’s ‘The Gum Suckers,’ a contemporary ballet that swaddled the dancers in colorful layers and features several different lifts that were sturdy and well-supported.  There was a section in which it was unclear whether the two lines of dancers were supposed to be moving in unison or in canon, but the ballet, which featured a quintet of five pint-sized dancers, was undoubtedly an audience favorite and earned extended applause.

It should be noted that Boyer, a founding member and the company’s artistic director, is the only remaining member of the long-time artistic and executive team. The program pays homage to Robert Watkins (former Artistic Director), deVeaux Riddick (former Designer and Technical Director), and Eleanor Rennie (Executive Director).

The program closed with Karen Moore’s “Rainbow Room,” which saw the dancers dressed in glittery top hats and fringed dressed moving in a jazzy Bob Fosse style to the big band sound of Benny Goodman. Christopher Gangloff’s pretty rainbow lighting effects added an extra layer of pizzazz to this work that began with the dancers laying of the floor, legs up, like the petals of a flower. A sassy percussion beat guided the dancers into a rousing kick line that circled the stage and Boyer, Donald Myers, and an apparently uncredited male dancer escorted the bevy of young women, wearing white tie and tails (but, alas, no top hats!) to complement the women’s fringed frocks.

The Concert Ballet of Virginia’s Winter Repertory Gala 2020 offered a genteel afternoon of audience-pleasing dance and live music in a beautiful setting on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

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

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Photo Credits: Concert Ballet of Virginia Winter Gala 2020 program cover

THE 39 STEPS: See my review in Fifty Plus magazine (link below)

* My review of The 39 Steps at VaRep Hanover Tavern will appear in Fifty Plus magazine on March 9.

Here’s a link the review, found on pages 23 & 25 of the March Edition of Fifty Plus magazine:

Richmond Fifty Plus

The 39 Steps_Fifty Plus Magazine

THE CAKE: A Slice of Life

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

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

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Richmond Triangle Players – An Acts of Faith production

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

Performances: February 12 – March 7,  2020

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Photo Credits: John MacLellan

TheCake_031
Terri Moore is Della, a well-known Southern bakery owner who is faced with a dilemma that will change her life in “The Cake,” a new comedy by Bekah Brunstetter (“This is Us”), directed by Dawn A. Westbrook. Playing at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through March 7.
TheCake_337
Nicole Morris-Anastasi (left) and Zakiyyah Jackson as Jen and Macy, a couple in a bit of a crisis running up to their wedding in “The Cake,” a new play by Bekah Brunstetter (“This is Us”), directed by Dawn A. Westbrook. Playing at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre through March 7

 

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

Richmond Ballet’s SWAN LAKE: A Valentine Treat

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

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

Ticket Prices: $25 – $125

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

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