I would guess that most of the 30-plus people who gathered in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's SaGaJi Theater on Wednesday wondered at first who that stranger was greeting us from the stage. It was none other than Producing Artistic Director Scott RC Levy himself, almost unrecognizable without his trademark goatee. Turns out he shaved it off for his official local acting debut as Man in Chair in the upcoming production of The Drowsy Chaperone. Oh, the sacrifices we make for the theater.
Levy wasted no time getting to the reason we were all there: the announcement of the FAC Theatre Company's 2013-2014 season. And while he seems to be skewing away from the envelope-pushing works of his first season two years ago (Assassins, In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)), the upcoming season does offer a comfortable balance of new and old, light-hearted crowd-pleasers and deeper, more challenging works.
Noises Off by Michael Frayn
Sept. 26 - Oct. 20
Longtime New York Times critic Frank Rich called it "the funniest play written in my lifetime." Now the FAC takes its stab at this backstage farce about the most incompetent actors ever to grace a British stage. One of my personal faves.
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg
Dec. 5 - Dec. 29
For the holiday season, the FAC offers this family favorite adapted by the Royal Shakespeare Company and based almost word-for-word on the classic 1939 film, except for the addition of an entire song ("The Jitterbug") that was cut from that film. Levy promises some serious pyrotechnics in this one.
Play It Again, Sam by Woody Allen
Jan. 30 - Feb. 16
Before it was a successful movie, it was a wildly successful Broadway play, running an amazing 453 performances starting in 1969. Here a neurotic writer who turns to Humphrey Bogart's famous tough-guy character from Casablanca for guidance in wooing women.
Agnes of God by John Pielmeier
March 21 - April 6
Next year's multidisciplinary theme for the FAC is Religion in Civic Life. To tie in with this, the theater company offers a play about a young nun who claims that her dead baby is the result of a virgin conception. An unusually small work for the main stage — in Levy's words, "It's three women and a chair" — this incisive drama raises compelling questions about miracles and faith.
Forever Plaid by Stuart Ross
May 8 - June 1
The ever-popular musical revue about a 1950s close harmony group. Features a boatload of easy-listening tunes like "Three Coins in the Fountain" and "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing," linked together by the whitest of white-bread gags.
Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky by David Cale, music by Jonathan Kreisberg
Not only will this be the Colorado premiere, but the first licensed production of this dark, off-Broadway musical about an alcoholic country songwriter and his talented young protegé. In fact, this work is so new that the score hasn't been published. "We have the chord progressions and the recordings," Levy said. "But we're actually going to be writing down the score so that other theater companies can produce it."
Levy also ran down the schedule at the FAC's Second Stage, where the focus has been on smaller shows and experimental works:
WYNOT Radio Theatre: The Short Hello by Cory Moosman and Sammy Gleason
Nov. 14 - Dec. 1
You've laughed your butt off at this comedy troupe's previous parodies of old-time radio. Now you can catch the world premiere of their fifth stage show, The Short Hello, with all new commercials and serials and a send-up of Casablanca starring everyone's favorite detective, Rick Luger. And yes, the famous smoking baby will be back.
The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris
Dec. 19 - Jan. 5
If you listen to NPR's This American Life, you already know Sedaris is one of the funniest men on the planet. Here he dramatizes his real-life and extremely uncensored experience as a department-store Christmas elf.
Pinkalicious the Musical by Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann
March 27 - April 6
A cute children's musical based on the popular picture books about a girly-girl who loves cupcakes so much she turns pink.
2013 Rough Writers
April 24 - May 4
This month, the FAC will do a staged reading of the four full-length and six short plays that were named finalists in the inaugural Rough Writers play festival. Next year, they'll give a full production to the full-length play dubbed the winner.
Special events just penciled in for now are a concert performance by comic Paula Poundstone and the return of The Civilians' controversial look at the Colorado Springs evangelical community, This Beautiful City. The play was given a script-in-hand performance at Colorado College in 2009, but Levy is hoping to do a full production this time.
On a side note, Knuffle Bunny is currently going strong in the FAC's Music Room, and the run has just been extended for one more weekend. If you haven't seen this sweet musical about a little girl who loses her favorite stuffed animal, you've got only five more chances to catch it: Friday, April 5, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., and Saturday, April 6, at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Call 634-5583 or visit csfineartscenter.org for tickets.
In case you missed it, TheatreWorks recently announced its lineup for the 2013-2014 season, and as usual, it's a heady mix of classics and new works. Without further ado ...
• Cymbeline by William Shakespeare for TW's Shakespeare in the Park
• Seven Guitars by August Wilson
• Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Oct. 24 through Nov. 10
• It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play by Joe Landry
• The Weir by Conor McPherson
Jan. 23 through Feb. 9
• Woyzeck by Georg Büchner for the UCCS Student Production
• Venus in Fur by David Ives
March 20 through April 6
• The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
April 24 through May 11
And with each show, TW hosts a free Prologue Lecture, featuring, for instance, John Douglas Thompson in conjunction with Cymbeline. Thompson, according to the website, is "considered the greatest Shakespearean Actor [sic] in America." For It's A Wonderful Life, Scott Simon of NPR will speak, and dominatrix Mistriss Djuna will present at Venus in Fur.
Visit the website for more information on each play, including prices, other events, and a write-up on each choice from TW artistic director Murray Ross.
If you read the March 6 issue, surely you rushed to get tickets to the March 9 stage show, Immortal Solstice.
If you got your tickets, then you also realized the show was canceled due to organizational issues with the Damon Runyon Theater.
It's time to stop all that moping around and pouting.
Caretaker and the Graveyard Girlz quickly took action to make sure the world gets another chance to see this mixed-media story of their (pseudo) origin.
At 7 p.m. April 13, doors to the Pueblo Community College Hoag Theatre will open. Tickets will be $12 for adults, $6 for students, and $10 for presale tickets. Already-purchased tickets will be honored at the new venue.
Families are such powerful subjects in art. Take any image of Abraham and Isaac for the high drama, or some Dutch Baroque-period works for serenity. Both situations are gripping, at least in their own way.
But what about families of today? They certainly look different now, with same-sex couples, more single parents and the like.
That's the aim behind the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's next multidisciplinary show, Families, which kicks off Feb. 23. Like Conflict | Resolution and NASA | Art: 50 Years of Exploration before it, Families will encompass the museum, the theater and the Bemis School of Art.
The museum has scheduled A Family Affair: Selections from the Progressive Art Collection and Mother: Photographs by Carol S. Dass. The former is a multimedia exhibit from the insurance corporation, which has accrued more than 7,800 pieces since it started collecting contemporary art in 1974. Mother, meanwhile, is a series of pictures taken by local artist Dass, as she grows to experience her mother as a person beyond "that role of the woman who carried me in her womb, raised me the best that she could, and will in many ways continue to view me as a child regardless of my age."
Over on the theater side, the FAC will produce Other Desert Cities, a new play that follows a fictitious, semi-famous Palm Springs family about to unravel when one daughter brings home her draft of a tell-all memoir. Other Desert Cities was nominated for five Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. This show will be the Colorado premiere of the play.
As part of its second-stage season (a handful of plays and events held in the Music Room upstairs), the FAC will also put on Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical, an all-ages musical about a trip to the laundromat that goes terribly wrong. (For those of you who've ever lost a beloved toy, you know what I mean.) It's based on the award-winning children's book by Mo Willems (a big-time Emmy winner), who helped convert it to the stage with Grammy-winning composer Michael Silversher.
Come April, the second-stage season will also bring about Rough Writers: A New Play Fest. For this, the FAC put out a call for scripts that respond to one of three works in the Families exhibits. About 12 chosen submissions — which can be 10 minutes, or one act, or a full full-length play or musical — will then be read to the audience for feedback, and then those will be judged by "a panel of theatre professionals" which will decide on a winning script to be fully staged in the FAC's big theater next season.
By the way, you can still submit a script; entries are due Feb. 14.
Ormao Dance Company will also perform an original piece for the FAC from April 12 through 14, and the Story Project will hold a session based on the idea of contemporary family struggles April 5.
Lastly, Bemis has scheduled a full slate of classes for all ages, from kids museum tours to a wine and watercolor course.
Got an old set of brushes? Glass mason jars or paint cans?
You're probably an artist if you have ephemera like this lying around, and if you want to rid yourself of it, or help TheatreWorks, take it to the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre lobby any time today, tomorrow or Monday for the company to use in its upcoming production of RED, a play about artist Mark Rothko.
TheatreWorks is currently building the set and asking folks via Facebook for donations. Unfortunately, anything you give won't be returned, so only bring old cast-offs, nothing you'll want back.
For more information, call 255-3232.
But that’s the best word to describe You Can’t Take It With You, the Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy that opened at TheatreWorks last weekend. While most plays from its era are forgotten now, the humor in this play still works, the story still sings.
And typically, that's its biggest problem. A longtime favorite of high school and community theaters alike, You Can't Take It With You has been seen so often and by so many people it’s easy to forget how radical its message of individuality was when it debuted in 1937. (See our preview of the play here.)
Thankfully, it's not a problem here. By mining George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s witty dialogue for new meaning, Denver-based director Geoffrey Kent makes this production not just timeless, but timely.
It all takes place in the main room of the Sycamore house, which in David M. Barber's design is so warm and inviting you’ll wish you could move in. And for a time, you do. One of the brilliant touches to the design is that the entrance to the home is built right into the entrance to the theater. To get to your seat, you have to step through the foyer of the house.
This made it a little confusing when early in the first act, a pair of latecomers made a rather dramatic entrance of their own. But there's no denying that this layout pulls you right in, making the story your story too.
It’s here where the members of the wildly eccentric Sycamore family pursue their passions. Mother (a charmingly scatter-brained Gabriella Cavallero) is writing several plays, some religious, some brimming with sex. Daughter Essie (a comically gawky Missy Moore) pirouettes around the house in a pink tutu. Father (the always dependable Tom Paradise) manufactures firecrackers in the basement. And Grandpa (an infinitely likable Ken Street), having dropped out of society after adopting the identity of their deceased mailman, now spends his days attending high school commencements for fun.
“The world’s not so crazy,” Grandpa says. “Just the people in it.”
Into this chaos enters younger daughter Alice. Played by the extremely versatile Jamie Ann Romero (you may remember her heartbreaking performance as Nina in TheatreWorks' production of The Seagull), she's the only "normal" one in the family. At least, she's the only one with a job.
She's been dating her handsome young boss Tony (the impossibly suave Sean Scrutchins), and now she believes he's on the verge of proposing.
The only problem? Tony insists on bringing his terminally strait-laced parents for dinner, and Alice knows their relationship will never survive the fireworks (both literal and figurative) that are sure to come.
It’s a setup that has launched a thousand sitcom episodes. But here it takes on a depth that's really quite surprising for such a lighthearted play. It's not just a conflict of personalities. Instead, it strikes to the very heart of how we choose to live our lives.
There are so many wonderful performances in this production, it would be impossible to describe them all. But I’ll highlight three more.
Logan Ernstthal steals every scene he’s in as the booming-voiced Russian who’s supposed to teach Essie how to dance but spends most of his time dispensing unasked-for — and hilariously mangled — advice to the other members of the family. And that black broom-head of a beard he's got is so impressive it should get its own credit in the program.
Bruce Carter turns prudishness into a high art form as the stone-faced father of Tony.
And I can't forget Ashley Crockett, who makes an all-too-brief appearance as a hammy, washed-up drunk of an actress (see figure on couch above).
If you’re wondering how all this insanity fits into the holiday season, don’t worry. In the end, one character makes a transformation as far-reaching as any made by George Bailey or Ebenezer Scrooge.
The difference? This one’s a whole lot funnier.
You Can't Take It With You
Through December 23, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees, 2 p.m.; Sunday matinees 4 p.m. TheatreWorks, Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle. Tickets, $8-$35, free for UCCS students. Call TheatreWorks at 255-3232 or visit theatreworkscs.org for more.
"You'll shoot your eye out!
"I triple-dog dare you!"
"I can't put my arms down!"
Is there a more quotable movie than A Christmas Story? Around my house at least, it’s the one film no one ever gets tired of. With its dry humor and unsentimental look at middle-class American childhood, this 1983 comedy provides the perfect antidote to sappier holiday fare.
Which may explain why it’s the basis for not one but two very different stage productions. The musical version, famous for its leg lamp kick line, debuted on Broadway in November. The one that just opened at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is the decidedly non-musical but wildly funny version published in 2000 by Philip Grecian, a Kansas playwright who has a long association with Colorado’s Creede Repertory Theatre.
The play, like the movie, is set in 1938 in Hohman, Indiana, a fictionalized version of the real-life hometown of radio personality Jean Shepherd, who wrote the original stories. There, 9-year-old Ralphie Parker wants nothing more for Christmas than “an official Red Rider carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass and this thing that tells time right in the stock.” But everyone from his parents to his beloved teacher to Santa himself gives him the same ominous warning: “You’ll shoot your eye out!"
Potential land mines abound in adapting anything so well-known and well-loved for the stage. But Grecian balances a very narrow tightrope, resurrecting the most iconic dialogue to make long-time fans happy while adding enough new material to keep it fresh. And director Joye Cook Levy adds plenty of comic touches of her own. (Read the Indy's preview of the play here.)
One of these is making the adult Ralphie more than just a narrator but a character in his own right. Here he moves in and out of scenes, watching the action up close and egging his younger self on when all seems lost. Still wearing the oversized spectacles of his youth, this Ralph is played by Jason Lythgoe, a multi-talented actor who must have figured out a way to clone himself because it seems as though he’s appeared in every local play this year.
At times, I did think his delivery was rushed, preventing the audience time from soaking in all of Ralph’s colorfully phrased commentary. But Lythgoe gave the character a nerdy, self-effacing quality that contrasted nicely with his more folksy persona in the film.
The most dangerous part of any theater critic’s job is reviewing kids. To be honest, it’s often more convenient (and safer) to ignore them altogether. I can’t get away with that here because the seven young actors in the cast form the heart and soul of the piece. So I’m glad — and more than a little relieved — to say that they’re all terrific.
Ralphie is played by Evan Lennon, a spirited seventh-grader who brings a winning pluckiness to the part. Finn Dufford is hilariously obnoxious as little brother Randy, getting laughs each time he whines, "I gotta go wee-wee!" And London Lyle lends an innocent charm to a new role created for the play, that of Esther Jane, Ralphie’s budding young love interest.
My only critique (here goes!) is that some of the kids could have projected a little more, as their smart-alecky banter was sometimes hard to hear.
I may be committing heresy here, but I've got to admit there's one weakness with the film. I’ve always thought the story was too episodic, with nothing tying one scene to the next. That’s not the problem here. Grecian extends many of the scenes and ties them all together in ways that heighten the tension and provide a much bigger payoff.
For example, in the movie, the turkey is little more than an afterthought. But in the play, the Old Man (an amusingly grumpy Tom Auclair) spends quite a bit of time planning for and mooning over and rhapsodizing about the big bird, so when it finally disappears in a perfect storm of furry fury, the whole scene comes across much funnier.
The elaborate set, designed by R. Thomas Ward, is its own Christmas miracle, effortlessly transforming from classroom to department store to the simple but cozy home where Ralphie dreams his spectacular hipshot-fueled dreams. That house is used to full advantage in a very funny, wordless sequence in which Mother (the always good Eryn Carman) and the Old Man battle for control of the legendary leg lamp.
That leg lamp, by the way, can be yours for a measly $5, if you’re lucky enough to win the raffle that the FAC is holding.
But if you do win it, be careful. It’s fra-jee-lay.
A Christmas Story
Through Dec. 23, Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, SaGaJi Theater, 30 W. Dale St. Tickets, $27-$37. Call the box office at 634-5583 or visit csfineartscenter.org for more info.
It must be exhausting, being Cory Moosman and Sammy Gleason. Not only do they write all of the material for WYNOT Radio Theatre, not only do they maintain one of the craziest performance schedules in the Pikes Peak region, hauling their 200-plus props from gig to gig, but this year they've also been hitting up regional theaters across the country, hoping to break into the big time.
"There's booking conferences that we're looking at," Moosman says. "And we're looking at a couple of different regional fringes, going back to Boulder Fringe, looking at Phoenix Fringe. I mean, it is as close to door-to-door-sales as you can probably get —"
"Without having a vacuum cleaner in your car," Gleason adds.
Next year, they hope to land some of these gigs so they can go on their first real tour.
There's just one problem. They don't have a good way to get there.
Which is why, on Nov. 4, they launched their first crowdfunding campaign. Working through Indiegogo, they hope to raise $10,000 so they can buy a gently used van as well as a 5- by 8-foot box trailer to carry all those zany props. (To visit their Indiegogo page, click here.)
Contributors get some nifty premiums. Donate as little as a buck and you get your name listed on the side of the van. For $100, you get an autographed copy of their hilarious CD. Throw in a cool grand and you get your name written into a future show.
They're off to a respectable start. As of this morning, they'd raised $1,305 with 45 days left to go.
In the meantime, they continue to juggle that crazy schedule. This weekend they're performing their last four shows of Death Wore Elevator Shoes at the Millibo Art Theatre (1367 Pecan St, themat.org). Then it's off to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 W. Dale St., csfineartscenter.org) for their Christmas show, It Came Upon a Midnight Deadly. That one runs Dec. 13-30.
And they continue to tweak, perfecting the show so they'll be ready when that big break comes.
"We've had time to develop and grow what the show is," Moosman says. "A lot of it's been finessing and just speeding and trimming because you get it right or you die."
First there was the Millibo Art Theatre's Ten Minutes Max. Then there was THEATREdART's Theatregasm. And of course, Springs Ensemble Theatre has its 24SEVEN.
Now the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is getting in on the act, launching a two-week festival that gives playwrights an opportunity to see their works produced on a local stage.
The big difference? Rough Writers, the FAC festival, is open to writers from around the world, raising the bar both competitively and artistically.
Plays can be of any length. The only requirements are that all must have a theme of "family" and be inspired by one of three works of art which will be on exhibit at the FAC's Taylor Museum in February:
1. States of Union 3, a photograph by Alix Smith
2. Don't Get Too Comfy Pal, a charcoal drawing by Liz Maugans
3. Everyday is Like Sunday, a porcelain figure by TR Ericsson
"I'm excited to add the development of new works for the stage to the portfolio of artistic endeavors the FAC produces," said Director of Performing Arts Scott RC Levy. "My hope is that playwrights from near and far write work that honors the history of the FAC, by combining the performing with visual arts."
Around 12 scripts will be chosen for a staged reading during the Rough Writers festival, which will take place April 18 to 28 in the Music Room of the Fine Arts Center. The winning play will receive that ultimate of playwriting prizes: a full production during the FAC's 2013-2014 Season.
Submissions — unbound, hard-copy — must be received by Feb. 14, along with a $10 entry fee and a cover letter explaining why you chose the artwork and what you hope to achieve by having your work performed at the festival. The whole package goes to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale Street, Colorado Springs 80903.
I could tell this wasn’t going to be a typical play as soon as I stepped into the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater. Instead of a stage, the performance space featured a wrestling ring, loomed over by a pair of giant TV screens and lighting towers worthy of a rock concert. And Drew Martorella, executive director of Theatreworks, was handing out free ice cold bottles of Budweiser.
But it wasn’t until I spoke to the nicely-dressed woman sitting next to me that I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
“I’m just here for the hardbodies,” she told me.
The play is The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama by Kristoffer Diaz.
If you think the violent, body-jarring action of professional wrestling and the more rarefied world of live theater make for a strange brew, you’re right. But they also share some interesting similarities.
They’re both ancient forms of entertainment. They both rely on familiar stereotypes to tell stories. And they both use a significant amount of trickery and illusion.
Combine the two, as in Chip Walton’s explosive production here, and you’re in for one hell of a ride.
The show is the first co-production between Theatreworks and Denver’s widely respected Curious Theatre, and the partnership proved to be a real win-win. Curious got to premiere the show, Theatreworks got an “out of town tryout” (as artistic director Murray Ross described it) and together they were able to share the costs of developing the technology-heavy set and attracting an accomplished, bicoastal cast.
Seriously, I don’t know what they paid these guys, but whatever it was, it was worth it. The cast is phenomenal.
The story is told by Macedonio Guerra, or Mace, a scrappy Brooklyn native who plays the fall guy to bigger, less skillful wrestlers. LA-actor Michael Lopez gives this character real heart, telling his story with an easygoing demeanor and a wry wit.
The main problem with the play is that as likable as Mace is, there’s just too much of him in the first act. Yes, his commentary on the “elaborate entrance” of Chad Deity is funny, and his description of the techniques he uses to avoid getting injured during falls is fascinating. But for a long time it feels like the story isn’t going anywhere, and it’s not until Mace meets a streetwise tough kid named VP that we begin to get any real sense of conflict.
But first, back to that famous entrance. Chad Deity, an African-American wrestler with the preening self-confidence of Muhammed Ali and the body of a Da Vinci statue on steroids, is the big moneymaker for THE Wrestling and the face that launched a thousand action figures.
He also happens to be a horrible wrestler. But that doesn’t matter to EKO, the director of THE Wrestling who’s played to snakelike perfection by Denver actor William Hahn. EKO makes sure that when Chad Deity enters the ring, lights flash, music blares and fake hundred-dollar bills flutter to the floor. He also makes sure that Chad Deity never loses, and he does that by sending fall guy after fall guy against the champ, the darker and more foreign-looking the better.
Sure, professional wrestling is fake. But in Mace’s eyes, that’s part of the appeal.
“Don’t get on my art form for being preconceived unless you’re going to get on ballet for knowing the swan is going to die ahead of time.”
As played by NY-actor Patrick Byas, Chad Deity is something of a cartoon, a bicep-kissing caricature of every wrestling star you’ve ever seen. But Byas is so fully committed to his character, you’ll have no trouble believing that somewhere, there must be athletes this ridiculously self-absorbed.
Plus, the's the funniest guy in the cast.
And then VP steps in. With his hip-hop swagger, the Bronx kid seems like the perfect candidate for a pro wrestling bad guy. He even comes up with an idea for a character: a techie who steals American jobs.
But EKO is having none of it. Dubbing him The Fundamentalist, EKO gives VP a scraggly beard and the persona of a crazed Muslim terrorist. Never mind that VP is Indian. To EKO, one dark-skinned villain looks like another.
Mace, meanwhile, is given a sombrero and a pair of bandoliers to play his border-crossing, tequila-swilling Mexcan sidekick. Never mind that Mace is Puerto Rican.
Akshay Kapoor’s finely drawn portrayal of VP is one of the highlights of the play. At first he just seems to be another fast-talking street kid. But as he’s drawn deeper and deeper into the racially-driven fiction that is professional wrestling, he begins to grow a conscience, and its his decision to fight back that sets in motion the final dramatic conflict.
A word about the wrestling. One of my biggest peeves with stage combat is how fake it often looks. That’s not an issue here. The fighting is so authentic, the body slams so agonizingly real, you’ll feel them in your own bones. A large part of the credit for this goes to the single-named Ronin, an 8-year veteran of professional wrestling who trained the cast and choreographed much of the fighting.
In fact, in the second act, there’s so much wrestling action that’s it easy to ignore the undercurrents running just beneath the surface. But they’re there. Diaz forces us to confront the stereotypes that the more educated of us pretend not to believe. But do we laugh at them because they’re so ridiculous or because we feel there’s a grain of truth to them?
And this whole focus on wrestling. Does Diaz really mean to shine such an intense light on that insular little world or does wrestling serve as a metaphor for something else, something bigger?
I don’t know. I’m still thinking about that one.
But there’s no doubt that when the play finally hits, it hits hard, never more so than in the final line of the play, dropped so quietly and so matter-of-factly that the full power of the words don't hit us until after the lights go out.
That’s quite an achievement, however you look at it.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Through November 11, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees, 2 p.m.; Sunday matinees 4 p.m. TheatreWorks, Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle. Tickets, $8-$35, free for UCCS students. Call TheatreWorks at 255-3232 or visit theatreworkscs.org for more.
If you’re on the hunt for Halloween chills this year, you’re probably planning to visit a haunted house, maybe catch a slasher flick or two. Theater may be the last thing on your mind.
But this year, Springs Ensemble Theatre is offering a Halloween treat guaranteed to give you nightmares.
It’s The Pillowman, the 2003 play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, best known for his black comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Like most of his plays, The Pillowman is very funny and intensely violent. (See our preview of the play here.) But the violence isn’t there for its own sake, as in the bloody plays of the Grand Guignol. The violence has a point, and McDonagh is a genius at plumbing the depth of human depravity in order to unearth some deeper truths.
The power of the piece hits you as soon as the lights come on. A steel door slides open and a hooded man is shoved sprawling onto the floor of a bleak interrogation chamber.
His name? Katurian Katurian. His crime? Writing grisly stories about the torture and murder of children. Only they’re not fiction. One by one, Katurian’s stories are coming true, and the grim-faced police officers grilling him want to know why.
As Katurian, Jeremy Joynt ekes out every bit of humanity from his character. His Katurian is a heroic figure, standing up to his tormentors with noble courage and a wry wit. Only the threat of violence against his brain-damaged brother could make him cave. Of course, as soon as he hears the tortured screams coming from the next chamber, he knows that’s exactly what the police officers have in mind.
Joynt is a talented young actor, and I’ve enjoyed his work before. Unfortunately, on opening night, he was way under-rehearsed, forgetting some lines and stumbling over others.
Director Max Ferguson made a number of other inspired choices in this production. One of the most effective of these is to cast Lisa Siebert, a sweet-faced blonde who just happens to be seven months pregnant, as Tupolski, the hard-nosed cop originally written as a man. She’s quick to point that she’s the “good” cop of the pair. But as played by the gifted Siebert, she’s actually the more intimidating of the two, for the weapon she wields — her cold, calculating mind — is more dangerous than any truncheon.
Plus, she really, really wants to kill Katurian.
“Dimwits we can execute any day of the week,” she says. “But if you execute a writer, it sends a signal.”
Tom Auclair is Ariel, the bad cop. At first I thought he was too one-dimensional, playing the cop as just another heartless thug of the nameless totalitarian regime he serves. But as his own secrets come to light, divulged by an increasingly hostile Tupolski, Auclair allows a more nuanced vulnerability to peek through his stern façade.
And making his debut with SET is Micah Speirs, doing an admirable job in what may be the toughest role to pull off, that of Katurian's mentally handicapped brother Michal.
McDonagh tells some truly horrific stories in this work. But when you get right down to it, they aren’t any more violent than the original versions of Grimm’s fairy tales. It’s only in their presentation that they horrify us. And for this, Ferguson deftly pulls a variety of magic tricks out of his hat.
One tale about a little girl who wants to be Jesus — right down to the crucifixion — is illustrated by Langdon Foss, a local artist with a national reputation for his graphic novel work. One is acted out with stiff-limbed shadow puppets, designed by the multi-talented Jillmarie Peterson. (She usually does SET's costumes.) And one is performed, believe it or not, as a delicate ballet by Cheyenne Mountain High School freshman Gabby Papa.
Only one, a film featuring the title character by Oscar Robinson, lacked the necessary creepiness. This is largely because his Pillowman — a mysterious figure who encourages children to kill themselves — is too cartoonish, failing to live up to the macabre image on SET’s poster.
McDonagh’s dialogue can get monotonous at times, especially when his characters volley the same line back and forth like some demented comedy duo. But he’s brilliant in the way he uses violence and disturbing imagery to explore tough philosophical questions, questions that touch on everything from the justification of suicide to the nature of creativity.
If this all sounds too deep for you, don't worry about it. You can always just go for the blood.
Through Oct. 28, Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m.
Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre St.
Tickets $15/Student Rush $10; call 357-3080 or visit springsensembletheatre.org.
Memphis is that rarest of Broadway musicals. It’s not a jukebox musical. It’s not based on a movie. It's — surprise! — completely original.
And if that’s all it had going for it, it would still deserve acclaim. But Memphis is more: a fresh, funny show with a dazzling score and vibrant choreography. And while the story doesn’t break any new ground, it does try to say something meaningful about race relations, and has a whole lot of fun doing it.
When the show premiered on Broadway in 2009, it was an instant star-making vehicle for its two leads: Montego Glover and Chad Kimball. The national tour, which just landed at the Buell Theatre on Tuesday for a two-week run, didn’t snag either of those two, but it found a pair of powerhouse replacements in Felicia Boswell and Bryan Fenkart.
This four-time Tony Award winner is set in the 1950s, a time when the middle of the radio dial was reserved for mainstream musicians like Perry Como, and that exciting new sound that would eventually be known as rhythm and blues, but was then called “race music,” was relegated to the far-right side of the dial.
Enter Huey Calhoun (Fenkart), a stoop-shouldered goofball who seems destined for mediocrity until he wangles a job spinning records at one of those white radio stations. OK, “wangle” isn’t exactly the right word. He steals it, locking himself into the control booth while the regular DJ is on bathroom break.
The station manager tries to throw him out. But when the city’s white teenagers hear the finger-snapping, hip-swiveling tunes he’s playing, the station’s phone starts lighting up like a Christmas tree. The station manager has found a gold mine. And Huey has found a home.
But it’s in the underground clubs on Beale Street — a place “where there ain’t no daytime” — that Huey finds his real home. And his first real love, a gorgeous African-American singer named Felicia Farrell (Boswell). Her hard-nosed brother Delray owns the club, and he’s determined to make her a star. The last thing he needs is some white fool hanging around his club, stirring up trouble. But when Huey promises to get her on the radio if she can scrape together the money for a record, Delray agrees to work with him.
The scrappy Felicia is a much harder sell. But she eventually falls in love with the crazy white boy.
"Do you know what the hell you're doing?" a friend later asks him.
"I never know what the hell I'm doing," Huey says. "I just do it."
Of course, this is the pre-civil rights South, and even if music has the power to break down walls, there will always be those who fight to keep those walls up. Unfortunately, many of those are armed with clubs and baseball bats.
As he did in his off-Broadway megahit I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, bookwriter Joe DiPietro too often goes for the easy laugh. (If I see one more show in which a character is embarrassed to be caught “air-jamming," I’ll tear my few remaining hairs out of my head.) But it doesn’t matter, because it’s the music that makes this musical soar.
Surprisingly so, because the songs were composed by David Bryan, a Broadway newbie better known as the longtime keyboardist for Bon Jovi. The songs capture the flavor of the time — a little rockabilly here, a little gospel there — but with a modern sensibility that makes them sound fresh, new and glorious.
The stellar cast gives every note of these songs their due. But it’s Boswell who, with her unstoppable voice, nearly brings the house down again and again. There’s a particularly memorable moment when she pauses to take a breath after a power note: In the silence, it seems as though the entire audience is holding its own breath. Then it gets knocked out of us as we’re slammed by a bigger and even more powerful note. Pure musical gold.
I’ve also got to mention Julie Johnson, a real standout who plays Huey’s mother Mama. With her perfect comic timing, she manages to make her bigoted redneck character completely lovable. But the biggest surprise comes in her showcase song, the insanely catchy “Change Don’t Come Easy,” when she flaunts a dirty growl of which the great Wanda Jackson would have been proud.
Yes, this kind of musical-roots story has been told a hundred times before. And that might fool you into thinking you know right where this one is headed. Trust me, you don’t.
And in the end, that may be the biggest surprise of this refreshingly surprising show.
Through October 21, Tuesdays through Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Special Thu matinee on October 18 at 2pm, Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver, Tickets, $25 to $105; call 800/641-1222 or visit denvercenter.org for information.
Whatever happened to yuppies?
Those affluent, self-absorbed professionals seemed to be everywhere in the 1980s. Then sometime in the 1990s, they became a joke. And then they just seemed to disappear, at least from the media's attention if not the country.
Written by French playwright Yasmina Reza and translated into English by Christopher Hampton, God of Carnage transferred from London to Broadway in 2009 and promptly scooped up three Tony Awards, including Best Play. It's the type of play that Star Bar does very well: a smart, dark-edged comedy that says a lot more than it seems. And while it makes an easy target of the aforementioned yuppies, the truths it tells apply to us all.
The story takes place in the tastefully decorated Brooklyn apartment of Veronica and Michael. They've agreed to meet with another couple, Annette and Alan, after their elementary-age boys get into a fight.
This kind of thing that happens every day in playgrounds and schoolyards across the country. But this fight has permanent repercussions, for Henry — as Veronica loves to remind everyone — is disfigured, having lost two of his incisors.
Yuppies to the core, the four adults are certain they can rise above the childish attitudes and heated emotions that drive lesser parents. There will be no lawsuit, and all agree that some sort of apology is warranted.
But the disagreements start almost immediately. As they draft a description of the incident, Veronica insists that little Benjamin was "armed" with a stick, while Alan — a corporate lawyer who constantly interrupts the discussion to talk on his Bluetooth — prefers the word "furnished." That way there's no implication of malicious intent.
And things really go downhill after Annette vomits on Veronica's precious art books, and Michael tries to fix the situation by blow-drying every puke-stained page.
Alan is played by Dylan Mosley, an actor so effortlessly natural you'll swear he's just playing himself again and again. But when you think back over the characters he's played — from Nick in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Pozzo in Waiting for Godot — you realize no two are alike. Here he takes on an added challenge, making Alan deliciously smarmy without letting him sink into caricature.
Miriam Roth Ballard is Annette, the only one who really tries to play fair but who finds herself caught in the middle as her workaholic husband grows increasingly distant and uncaring as the night wears on. Reza gives Annette less of a backstory than the other three, but Ballard fills out the character nicely with an overly righteous indignation and a scary Mama Grizzly rage.
Kevin McGuire strives to embody the contradictions in Michael, a self-made wholesaler who poses as a peace-loving liberal but longs to bust out in some good old-fashioned chest-thumping virility. The night I saw the show, however, McGuire was slow on his cues and sometimes seemed to be somewhere else. But when he was there, he was bitingly funny, with some of the best lines in the play.
Elizabeth Kahn's Veronica runs the gamut from fist-pounding violence to sobbing incoherence, and is absolutely believable every stop along the way. She may be a wacko, but she's a wacko we feel for. My only gripe here is that sometimes Kahn's voice gets lost in THEATREdART's cavernous space. A little more projection would go a long way.
The writing can be a little overwrought at times — Alan is prone to saying things like: "I believe in the god of carnage. The god whose rule's been unchallenged since time immemorial." — but the 90-minute play moves briskly and Alysabeth Clements-Mosley's confident direction never lets the tension flag.
Yes, we laugh at the characters' hypocrisy and petty behavior. But deep down, we know that we wouldn't behave any better. Not where our children are involved.
Oh, man. Does that mean we're all yuppies?
God of Carnage
Through Sept. 29, Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday matinee 4 p.m. Star Bar Players at THEATREdART, 128 N. Nevada Ave. Tickets, $15, $12 for senior/military/veteran, $6 for students. Sunday: Pay what you can. Call Star Bar Players at 357-5228 or visit starbarplayers.org for more info.
When writers first start out, they rarely think beyond themselves, cranking out insular, navel-gazing works about their own lives and concerns. Only when they get this out of their systems and begin to wrestle with the greater world around them do they find success.
A playwright named Tom Williams did it backward. Struggling in obscurity through his 20s, he didn't really get around to writing about himself until the age of 33. It was then that he penned what he called a "memory play," a recollection of his early adulthood when he shared a run-down apartment in St. Louis with his domineering mother and mentally disturbed sister. In so doing, he created something universal.
Oh, yeah. And he changed his name to Tennessee.
The play, of course, is The Glass Menagerie, the classic 1944 drama that opened last Thursday at TheatreWorks.
In the hands of Anna Brenner, a New York City director making her Theatreworks debut, the play takes on a quiet, delicate tone, in which each of the three main characters seems as fragile as the tiny glass figures the daughter collects. These people may have been broken by the world outside, but it is toward each other that they turn their jagged edges.
Williams fictionalizes himself as the Tom Wingfield, the narrator of the play.
"I am the opposite of a stage magician," he tells us as he stands before the curtain at the beginning of the play. "He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."
And then a kind of magic does happen. The tall, self-assured man steps through the curtains and instantly becomes a different person, an angry, stooped and much younger man who longs to be a poet but is stuck in a soul-deadening job at a warehouse. As escape, he runs off to the movies or for a quick smoke on the fire escape. It's never enough, though, for as soon as he returns home, his mother Amanda is there to ask him where's he been; she's worried that he'll run off like his father did years before. There is a world of complexities in Tom, but Ryan Reilly (another NYC import) juggles them all expertly.
Amanda is often portrayed as a shrew, but local favorite Jane Fromme plays her softer. Maybe too soft. Her Amanda is a lovable scatterbrain who truly cares for her children but is so concerned for their futures that she forgets to appreciate them in the present. After learning that the terminally shy Laura dropped out of business school, Amanda decidees that her only hope for financial stability is to marry Laura off. At first Tom rebels, but it's not long before he brings home a co-worker named Jim to meet her.
Melissa D. Brown, also from New York, plays Laura. Brown is a finely nuanced actress, and with her wide, expressive eyes, she definitely looked the part. But in her scenes with Jim (an instantly likable Philip Guerette), I never really bought her as the wallflower she's supposed to be. Her presence is too strong, her voice too commanding.
The set, designed by Julia Przedmojska, contributes to the dreamlike quality of the story. There are few details cluttering up the rooms, and the whole thing rests on open joists to remind us that we are, after all, watching a play. But the actors seemed to be swallowed up by the large dining room, compromising the intimacy of the play.
Another strong element of the production is Elizabeth Atkinson's dramatic background music. I have to admit it was a little jarring at first to hear a 1950s-style jazz drum riff throbbing under the dialogue at key moments in the play, but it was extremely effective in building tension and setting the audience on edge.
Almost 70 years after it premiered, The Glass Menagerie remains one of the great American plays. This powerful, moving and very human production shows why.
The Glass Menagerie
Through Sept. 30, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees, 2 p.m.; Sunday matinees 4 p.m. TheatreWorks, Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle. Tickets, $15-$35, free for UCCS students. Call TheatreWorks at 255-3232 or visit theatreworkscs.orgfor more.
I suppose there was time when La Cage Aux Folles seemed cutting-edge, maybe even shocking. But that time wasn't last Tuesday, when the national tour opened a three-week run at the Buell Theatre in Denver. Instead this show, which first opened on Broadway in 1983, just seemed tired and musty, like a rerun of a 1950s sitcom in which the characters look like real people but act completely different than anyone you've ever met.
The tour is based on the 2010 revival, which won critical raves as well as three Tony Awards. Set along the French Riviera, the story (adapted by the great Harvey Fierstein) centers on a homosexual couple who own the area's most popular drag club. Georges is the suave master of ceremonies and easily flustered "husband." Albin is the flamboyant boa-wearing star and wisecracking "wife."
In an odd bit of "star" casting, Georges is played by the eternally tan and apparently ageless George Hamilton, whom Baby Boomers will remember as the guest star of 1001 TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s and Generation X-ers won't remember at all. I say "odd" because I doubt there's a single person alive who would buy a ticket based on his name alone, and yet he doesn't really bring much in the acting or singing departments.
But damn, I wish I looked that good in a smoking jacket.
Fortunately, the producers made a coup of a different sort by landing the less well-known but much more talented Christopher Sieber, a Broadway veteran who wore out the knees on more than one pair of pants as Lord Farquaad in Shrek the Musical. His Albin is a comic masterpiece, a great big bundle of energy who cavorts around the stage like a gay Kevin James, yet in his more tender moments imbues his character with heartbreaking honesty.
For Georges and Albin, the feathers hit the fan when Georges' son Jean-Michel comes home to announce that he's engaged.
"You're a boy, she's a girl," Albin complains. "What would you possibly have to talk about?"
It gets worse. Way worse. Anne's father is a smarmy homophobe who's the head of the country's Tradition, Family and Morality Party (I understand it goes by another name in this country). And Jean-Michel has invited Anne's parents to meet them.
Correction. He only wants them to meet Georges. Albin, the man who raised Jean-Michel from infancy, can take a hike.
Even less credibly, Georges immediately buys into the plan, even suggesting that they invite Jean-Michel's biological mother, a flaky actress whom he hasn't seen — or missed — in more than 20 years, to maintain a semblance of heterosexual normalcy.
Jean-Michel is able to justify all this by pointing out that Anne is nothing like her father. Oddly, it doesn't occur to him — or anyone else, it seems — that in driving Albin away, Jean-Michel has become exactly like her father.
Of course, anyone who's familiar with farce knows that Sybil will never show up. And Albin jumps at the chance to step into her shoes. Not to mention her bra and garter.
The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable. Michael Lowney doesn't even try to make Jean-Michel likable. And Katie Donohue as Anne gives a performance remarkable mostly for its blandness, making one wonder what Jean-Michel ever saw in her in the first place.
But then the real star of the show is the man who couldn't be there: composer/lyricist Jerry Herman, best known for big splashy musicals like Hello Dolly and Mame but who found his truest and most moving voice when he helped create this quirky little show.
Hamilton doesn't do Herman any favors with his strained version of ballads like "Look Over There." But it doesn't matter, because Sieber gets all the best songs anyway.
And does he bang them out of the park, leading the entire dinner party in a rousing rendition of "The Best of Times." And if you're not moved to tears by his unapologetic belting of "I Am What I Am" — probably the greatest Act I closer in musical theater history — then you're just not listening.
La Cage Aux Folles
Through September 16, Tuesdays through Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver, Tickets, $25 to $105; call 800/641-1222 or visit denvercenter.org for information.