Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Agnes of God at the Fine Arts Center

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Audiences may leave John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God (1983) with a surer sense of where they stand in the polemical tug of war between science and religion. How the play might have contributed to this certainty, however, is impossible to defend or grasp.

Pielmeier must be called to account for having created three characters loaded with contrast and potency, but arranging their motivations, philosophies, and utterances so haphazardly as to shoot his own dramatic hull full of holes. The ship sinks slowly, and inevitably, in Agnes of God, but not without impressive displays of rhetoric, compassion, and emotive force.

Nonetheless, Scott RC Levy’s production at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center gives the play — a long-running hit on Broadway and a notable film — every possible chance, and is well worth seeing. Agnes of God does have a certain forward motion going for it, even when that motion seems off the trail to pursuing the central facts or truth of the case.

At issue is the sanity of a novice nun, Agnes (Carmen Vreeman), who has murdered her newborn with its own umbilical cord and deposited the corpse in a wastebasket. She claims to have no recollection of the event (yet has gone to great lengths to conceal her pregnancy). Court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone (Jane Fromme) is enlisted to conduct a series of examinations for evidence that will lead the novitiate either to the penitentiary or an asylum, presumably for life. A guardian Mother Superior named Miriam Ruth (Kathy Paradise) puts up a formidable defense against either, or any strictly legal course of action, based on the religious and psychological factors of the case. Her choice is for the offending young mother to remain in the convent, and therefore exempt from punishment as a criminal. Apparently, the psychiatrist has it within her power to influence the court in this direction.
  • Jeff Kearney
All three women come equipped with ripe admixtures of dogma, skepticism, faith, and madness to get things rolling and sustain dramatic tension. But Pielmeier’s strategy is to let the doctor and the guardian Mother slug it out to a draw — and that’s it. He consigns us to an erratic see-sawing between the two poles, and ultimately, Agnes is left to resolve the situation for herself, if that is what Pielmeier’s fate for her is meant to imply. What appear at first to be sound theoretical and spiritual approaches disintegrate into bluster and snits by the two ladies with no consistency, balance, or targeted plotting by Pielmeier. Nothing fuses into a reasonable determination of cause and effect, from either a religious or a psychoanalytic perspective; we get only a disharmony of details to which Pielmeier assigns equal weight, though they are compelling details.

It’s a maxim in theater that “all scenes are chase scenes,” and Levy directs the action accordingly, seeing us through wordy text with a discerning eye for emphasis and restraint. Dr. Livingstone is herself an apostate from the church, and her enlightened disbeliefs are persuasively shaken by Agnes as the examinations proceed. Mother Miriam proves to be implicated and attached to Agnes in ways that may seem contrived, but that still add momentum because they are put to such good use on stage.

With Levy’s help, Pielmeier achieves a convincing outcome, a symmetry in the two women, in presenting their modified self-knowledge. One must pick and choose, however, among the legal and psychological tokens he has scattered about to decide which are motivating and which are not. And this running task of selecting and organizing details in Agnes of God gets a little tiresome, and distracting. It’s the playwright’s job to do that, not ours.

Moreover, as a discipline we learn way less about psychology in Agnes of God than we do of theology, and the play is severely lop-sided in this way with avoidance. There’s a hidden advocacy going on here by Pielmeier on behalf of beliefs and practices of the church that are at best questionable, and to many, blatantly superstitious. We are expected to swallow them whole, and accept without question as legitimate and potentially exonerating of Agnes as any secular definitions of sanity, crime, or pathology might be. As a result, what we are meant not to question in Agnes of God invades and disturbs the things that we are, as if entering a side door like an unwanted guest.

Agnes also remains an enigma. There’s no question that the harm she suffered as a child dictates her behavior and prescribes her outcome. It does not, on the other hand — nor does the halo of supernatural attributes Pielmeier and her guardian Mother attach to her — dismiss the question of her criminality. The so-called “innocence” Mother Miriam keeps insisting on, in both Agnes’ character and her actions, is betrayed by Agnes’ ability to shift from reason to madness with expediency when it suits her. Her interrogations with Dr. Livingstone reveal this repeatedly.

Still, Levy’s production at the FAC is cause to celebrate rather than resist Agnes of God. For one, and chiefly, better acting can’t be found anywhere. If Pielmeier is indecisive or vague in his priorities, Fromme, Paradise and Vreeman certainly aren’t, and they play to the fullest without giving in to Pielmeier’s tendency to sensationalize. Director Levy and set designer Christopher Sheley can share credit for an appealing use of the spacious mainstage, Sheley’s set both a dreamscape and an arena somewhere, like the play, between heaven and earth.

Agnes of God, through April 6; Thursdays through Saturdays 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees 2 p.m. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St. Tickets:  $15 -$37; for more information, call 634-5583 or visit
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: Venus in Fur by TheatreWorks

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 11:31 AM

  • Isaiah Downing
That Thomas Novachek and Vanda Jordan don’t quite know what they’re getting themselves into when auditioning Vanda for Thomas’s adaptation of Venus in Fur is not to slight them, nor their gifted creator, playwright David Ives.

How could the mischief they create for each other ever be expected, or for that matter, avoided? The script they read from will transform their drab rehearsal room irresistibly into an enchanted forest of 19th-century desire and taboo. Its modus operandi is masochism, that controlled application of pain and medievalism involving extreme role reversals, bondage, and heightened sexual dominance.

As if following forbidden breadcrumbs, Thomas and Vanda scamper headlong into one world while leaving behind another, thinking they have everything in perspective, in focus, and under control. They learn otherwise.

“It’s porn!” Vanda chirps merrily of their source, a famous novel by Leopold Sacher-Masoch (1869). “No, it’s world literature!” Thomas passionately counters and, as we discover, they are both right.

Masochism is the gentler side of the sadomasochism equation and not the sometimes monstrous activity pioneered, so to speak, by the 18th-century French aristocrat and libertine, the Marquis de Sade. This distinction should be kept clearly in mind. In Venus in Fur, sharply directed by Murray Ross, there is none of the bloodletting, gouging, or merciless torment that landed Sade in various French prisons, and finally an asylum. (For those details, see the late Maurice Lever’s wonderful Sade: A Biography).

Instead we are taken down a seductive path by Ives toward alarming and often wise revelations about power, equality, and of all things in a sex-comedy, civil society. Ives' casual way of having Thomas and Vanda segue out of a 19th-century text and into the now as they pause to reflect or stage a scene exposes many assumptions that afflict and form their own kind of bondage in our time. In Thomas’s case a forthcoming — or rather impending — marriage to his fiancé Stacy has all the snares and piercing discomforts one could find in matrimony to any Victorian snoot of Sacher-Masoch’s era. The puritanism of the past has resurfaced as a PhD in the present in pedigreed, New England Stacy, and Thomas will merely serve as a prop to her whims and games of social show-and-tell, and he knows it. (Vanda makes sure of that).

The play itself, and Thomas’s connection to it, develops as a kind of antidote to this whole Stacy thing, as something he must rid himself of if the lessons he learns in rehearsal are to be taken as seriously in life. A teacher/student configuration rules the masochistic code of conduct as often as a master/slave one does, and Venus in Fur under Ross’s direction shifts from one to the other with spellbinding ease.

In the meantime, as Thomas and Vanda explore Sacher-Masoch’s obsessions, the action onstage prompts many questions that cover a range of significance, largely due to the fine performances by Carley Cornelius as Vanda and Jon Barker as Thomas. It captures and illuminates the mercurial process of acting that we often take for granted, and the level of energy and commitment necessary for making a script come alive.

Vanda is a very good actress, and Cornelius impresses mightily in her ability to show us that. Like her counterpart Barker as Thomas, she is young enough to be adventuresome, yet old enough to tackle or subdue Vanda’s wildest impulses. There isn’t a single false note or moment’s hesitation from Cornelius — deadly in playscript of this kind — to stymie or derail our fascination with Vanda, even though Ives does shuffle a bit in assigning her clear motives. Barker meets her at every turn, and subtly ups the ante when called upon to do so.

(An interesting side note, Ross was no doubt alert to Cornelius’ successful run in Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman in Chicago, a play very similar in its demands to Venus in Fur. As in Dutchman, an attempted return to Eden “can be very dangerous, very destructive,” Ross warns in a program note, and both works play that out.)

There are times in Venus in Fur that you’ll never hear more intuitively sensed and fluid dialog, but the ambiguities Ives fixes to Vanda to create a feeling of mystery and menace tend to backfire in unnecessary confusion. Ross and company do all they can to cover or amend Ives' misuse of these details, and Cornelius’ Dionysian vigor goes far in preserving Vanda’s mystique. But a key ingredient is left out somewhere, and we wait for some gesture or utterance of psychological truth to understand Vanda. It doesn’t come, though Ives supplies her with a plausibly violent crescendo to make up for it.

Still, for all its racy, leather-clad cosmopolitanism, Venus in Fur is an impressionistic work, and seems at times a better play than it is given credit for. There is no underestimating the value of having our less-visible assumptions exposed for intelligent questioning and evaluation. This play proves that our time is not so different from Sacher-Masoch's in crucial ways, though we pretend it isn't, that we are more flexible, democratic and advanced.

And when served such a message so delectably, how can you top that?

Venus in Fur, through April 13. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 pm; Saturday matinees (March 29th through April 5th and 12th) 2pm; Sundays at 4pm. 527 S. Tejon St. Tickets: $35, free for UCCS students. Reservations advised. For more call 255-3232 or visit

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Seeking a stage: THEATREdART and Star Bar

Posted By on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 5:01 PM

As you may by now know, or perhaps have already seen, A Clockwork Orange is playing this month at the Underground's Subterranean Nightclub.  

THEATREdART is behind the production, directed by artistic member Michael Lee, and starring Christian O'Shaughnessy, Dylan Mosley, Ashley Crockett and many more local talents. 

Lee, in the show's program, is quoted as saying this about the staging:
It is a strange future, though not too hard to imagine, a confluence of Cold War powers, youth culture uninhibited, an all-consuming state and an apathetic populace... I want to stray from Kubrick's iconography and re-contextualize this story for a post-cyberpunk,
post-Grand Theft Auto, post-9/11 world.
And though we are post-many-things, the strange future that actually is a little tough to imagine for both THEATREdART and fellow community theater company, Star Bar, is the one in which both are comfortably re-housed inside of their own performance space(s) somewhere in the downtown corridor. 

As detailed in part in a press release send out in mid-February, both companies were forced to move out of their prior space at 128 N. Nevada Ave. 

THEATREdART artistic director Brian Mann thanked Vintage Realities, the building's manager, for providing "a fantastic space at an affordable price" since April, 2011, enabling the company to put on 15 productions at that location. 

Star Bar's artistic director of the last five years, Alysabeth Clements Mosley, also thanked the company for being "advocates for the arts," having hosted several Star Bar performances at the spot, as Star Bar was technically renting space from THEATREdART to share the space. 

Both directors acknowledge noise complaints from neighboring businesses and Mann says he tried to address them to the best of the companies' abilities, but a longterm solution "would have required major renovations" that were simply untenable. 

Kathleen Venezia, vice president of Vintage Companies, confirms that the ongoing noise problem, which included late-night gatherings, indeed was the motivating factor to ask the companies to move out; presently there is no other renter for the space. 

"We're family owned," she says. "We believe in theater downtown — they had a rent break. But it wasn't worth upsetting the market-paying tenants. We're sad to see them go, but we were having more and more complaints." 

So, graciousness and tough love aside, where does this friendly eviction leave the two groups?

"We're kinda homeless," says Mann, who with two weeks notice to scoot, ended up booking the Subterranean with the help of Unbrand's Crystal Carter. "We're exploring our options now," he adds, noting that the next two scheduled shows, Beat Generation and Crime and Punishment, may have to shift on the calendar a bit — the latter possibly into the next season. 

Mann says THEATREdART will likely move to fewer shows per season, though they surely "don't intend on going away," as they seek a new, permanent home. 

Star Bar is pretty much in the same situation, says Mosley, who has been on the Star Bar board for 20 years, having seen her first Star Bar show at age 5. 

"We're now dark until we know what we are going to do ... We've been through adversity before, we will again," she says, noting that "we're the oldest community theatre in the Springs," dating back to a 1972 Shakespeare in the Park performance at Acacia Park downtown. 

"It's really important for us to stay downtown," she says. "We've always been a downtown company.That's our home ... any downtown worth itself has a theater district ... we know of a lot of empty storefronts, we hope someone is interested in taking a write-off or something. If it is sitting fallow, why not be a hero for the arts?" 

Mosley notes a "deep love" for the City Auditorium, where Star Bar performed for many years, but again, noise concerns prove to be a conflict — in reverse this time — as weekend bookings inside the main auditorium tend to drown out the audio inside the adjacent Lon Chaney Theatre performance space, making it untenable as well. 

Both artistic directors suggest checking each company's website for updates as they hopefully find suitable digs and announce new performance dates. 

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Psycho beaches, Ludlow and Samuel Beckett: TheatreWorks' new season

Posted By on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Last night, TheatreWorks announced its line-up for the 2014-2015 season. Expect some pretty out-there shows; one based on the Ludlow Massacre co-created by Brian Freeland and Murray Ross; and an exciting lineup of Prologue Lecture speakers, several of which wrote the plays themselves.

Without further ado:

As You Like It, July 31- Aug. 23
Take a break from summer in the city, and come to our tent in beautiful Rock Ledge Ranch. You’ll follow the fortunes of two women and a clown fleeing a corrupt court to seek new life in the great outdoors. Shakespeare’s great romantic comedy is a feast of language, song, and freedom featuring the fabulous Rosalind, the girl dressed like a boy who teaches the boy how to get the girl. No one does it better!

Ludlow, 1914, Sept. 11-28
A group of players telling the story of an infamous incident find themselves facing unexpected difficulties. On the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre, we team up with Denver’s LIDA Project to create a brand new play. Special appearances by Mother Jones, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and General Palmer, along with some wonderful music and several miners dead and alive.

Psycho Beach Party, Oct. 23-Nov. 9
All the sweet nerdy Chicklet wants to do is learn how to surf, apart from those strange blackouts and dreams of world domination. Could she really be the demon barber of Malibu? Grab your bongos and hit the beach on Halloween with this hilarious shotgun marriage of Gidget and Alfred Hitchcock. Surf’s up!

The Lying Kind, Dec. 4-21
On Christmas Eve, two kindly constables must inform an elderly couple their daughter has been killed in a motor accident. You can’t begin to imagine the complications which follow. we revive the play which might be the funniest show we’ve ever produced—a diabolical comedy full of very bad news and real holiday cheer.

Detroit, Jan. 22-Feb. 8, 2015
Steaks are sizzling in a backyard as a couple gets together with their neighbors, and soon it’s not just the grill that’s blazing. we’re excited to present this terrific new play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, which begins like a sitcom and spirals into a suburban bacchanal. It’s a funny, disturbing and indelible portrait of life in an economic downturn. You will recognize these people; they may be living next door. Make sure your fire extinguishers are charged.

UCCS Student Production: The Shadow, March 5-15, 2015
Once upon a time, in a land far away, a young scholar falls hopelessly in love with a beautiful princess. Yes, this rollicking and rarely performed play is a fairy tale, but a with twist. A corrupt government plots against the poor scholar and enlists his shadow to do dastardly things. will it all end happily ever after?
Happy Days, March 19-April 5, 2015
Somewhere in Colorado Springs our most celebrated artist, Floyd Tunson, is creating a small mountain from found materials. half buried on top is winnie, and she has a lot to tell you, thanks to the incomparable genius of Samuel Beckett. Prepare yourself for an experience like no other—a devastating masterpiece that leaves you walking on air.

The Liar, April 23-May 10, 2015
A charming young man comes to Paris and immediately falls in love. he’s a moral zero with an unmatched gift for stretching the truth. In no time he’s spinning amazing yarns and sending his love play into outer space. This zesty new adaptation of a French classic is like springtime in Paris—full of wit, elegant dresses, fancy lace, a twisting plot, lies of genius and true love at last.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Desdemona says a lot about the company, if you can hear it

Posted By on Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 11:53 AM

  • Courtesy Springs Ensemble Theatre
Not much can be said in either defense or disapproval of a play in which not one, but two, major characters are rendered incomprehensible by the actresses portraying them.

But with Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, which Springs Ensemble Theatre is staging, Paula Vogel seems to have written an often gripping exploration of suspicion, class antagonism, and gender allegiance among women that deserves our best attention anyway.

Vogel has taken shrewd and intriguing license with much of Shakespeare’s Othello to remake Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca into complex heroines suggestive of the best plays by Strindberg and Genet. We also learn a great deal about the men of Othello that interests and seems true, but understated in the original. (See our preview of the play here.)

Desdemona (played by the exceedingly talented Leah Jenkins) of the title is the very same as that of Othello, but of a completely opposite disposition. Here she is a willing pupil of duplicity and sadomasochism who luxuriates in a Venetian social position that both bores and over-insulates her. She throws fits over a lost handkerchief she doesn’t value much to begin with, and degrades her dutiful scullery-maid Emilia (Sarah S. Shaver) who willingly joins in the search.

Set in a combination laundry and tack room in Cyprus, the earthy, sensual disorder of the place provokes uninhibited confessions from Desdemona. June Scott Barfield’s set design is thoroughly convincing and laudable as evidence of the company’s taste and production values. 

As the scenes progress, the two women approach a kind of sisterhood, until Bianca (Kala Roquemore) arrives. Bianca has lured Desdemona into prostitution and initiates her into one of the more specialized practices of the trade while Emilia (and the audience) watch. The two indulge in a brief Bacchic episode leading into a cat fight over an assumed liaison between Desdemona and Bianca’s betrothed Roderigo. (Or was it Cassio?)

Slews of character and exposition, however, are lost by garbled and inept Irish and Cockney accents by Roquemore and Shaver. I estimate that approximately 30 percent of Vogel’s well-crafted, painstaking dialogue was decipherable by the audience. However, Jenkins more than holds her own as Desdemona, accent and all, and is reason enough for the SET to select and stage the play.

Though flawed, the best of SET’s intentions here ensure that there are much better things to come from this small but ambitious theater company.

Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, Feb. 14-16 and 20-23, 7:30 p.m.Thursdays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. $15, $10 for students. Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre St. For more, call 357-3080 or visit

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Game of Thrones series writer coming to TheatreWorks Sunday

Posted By on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 4:28 PM


This Sunday, Bryan Cogman, co-producer and a writer on HBO’s Game of Thrones will come to TheatreWorks to give a free lecture on “Storytelling, Fans and Writing for TV.” UCCS assistant professor Christopher Bell and communications graduate Tony Mitchell will also speak.

It all goes down at 2:30 p.m. at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater. No reservations are necessary.

According to a GOT Wiki website, Cogman has penned three whole episodes so far, one in each season, and has worked on the full series as a script editor and writer, as well as this:
He also serves as the unofficial "keeper of the mythos" for the show. He also wrote the series bible outlining character and background information for other writers, actors and crew to consult. 

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Review: Stewart and McKellen return in No Man's Land

Posted By on Sat, Jan 25, 2014 at 4:11 PM

Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, Indy theater critic Terry Gibson wrote a review of Waiting for Godot, half of a two-part play series on Broadway that stars Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Here, he offers his thoughts on No Man’s Land, the other play at hand. Again, should you be fortunate enough to have the means, tickets are on sale here.

The circumstances at Broadway’s historic Cort Theater on West 48th Street in New York are these:

Hirst, meticulously played by Sir Patrick Stewart, is a retired poet and man of letters. He has lost himself in a sea of alcohol, affluence and delusion, and can’t decide whether or not to remain that way. He employs two manservants to protect and keep him captive until he expires. He consumes sultanate portions of expensive whiskey with a kind of infantile craving. He crawls on the floor in precisely tailored suits and emits pointless fragments of wit, irony and an upper-class Edwardian pride of yesteryear: “There are places in my heart which no man can ever trespass,” for instance. The servants look on with brute insensitivity, sticking to their job descriptions, replenishing the liquor, idling along for the luxurious ride.

Hirst is his own Titanic, it seems, the embodiment of a fading, squandered empire. No course remains but to nourish him as needed and usher-in his spasmodic demise. “Another whiskey!” he commands, and all oblige. Down we go into the icy water. God Save the Queen.

To the rescue comes Spooner, also an accomplished poet, now scraping by as a 75-year-old pub hand for a few quid and a plate of bangers and mash. Where he lives and rests from this existence is a matter of horrifying conjecture. Though clearly undefeated, he is unmistakably on the far side of genteel Blakean poverty. He wears a lifelessly frayed and ill-fitting grey suit and moves with constant antsiness and agitation. He appeals and appalls at the same time.

Spooner derives his strength and freedom, he claims, from never having been loved. “I looked up once into my mother’s face,” he assures his host, and “what I saw there was nothing less than pure malevolence.” Still, “I am I,” he trumpets, a matchless metaphysical heavyweight. “My faculties remain intact,” and in Harold Pinter’s unforgettable and beautifully acted No Man’s Land we watch enthralled as those faculties, in the consummate hands of Sir Ian McKellen, go to work. “Experience is a paltry thing,” Spooner says, and a brazen, heroic treatment of Hirst begins.

This venture fills the theater with gales of laughter and appreciation. Pinter locates and enters a black hole in our psychic universe and radars back a blueprint for earthly survival that inspires and fascinates. It’s a phobic abyss that can only be described and experienced by implication, by the acutest poetic insight and the clearest diagnostic language suitable for theater. Pinter exhilarates his audiences with the discovery that the English language is fully capable of such extrasensory decoding, of the capacity to restore, humor and heal a soul in total resignation.

Women, real or imagined, are the topic for Hirst’s rehabilitation. To recall correctly, to attach the right names to faces and countryside locales, is the reviving challenge for him, a certifying foothold for Spooner, and means of establishing a former place in the select warrens of the literary leisure class. “This is scandalous!” thunders Hirst, in furious defense of one Arabella Hinscott, a young acquaintance of their day “of the most refined and organized sensibilities.” Spooner remembers her differently, and Pinter’s resort to a verbal thrust-and-parry over the alleged vices of Ms. Hinscott provokes and tantalizes the audience with lively English roguishness. 

Meanwhile, Spooner is threatened and antagonized by Hirst’s near-mutinous guardians, Briggs and Foster. Shuler Hensley and Billy Crudup perform these roles superbly as polar opposites; Hensley as if made of explosive cement, Crudup with the quicksilver deviance of Tybalt. Polishing a teaspoon for Hensley resembles an act of violence; tales of Bali by Crudup either scorch or befog Spooner with menacing ambiguity.

McKellen fends them off with deft rhetorical ease, though they are by no means shuffling presences. As in other works by Pinter, visitors or guests like Spooner often take possession of their host’s surroundings, claiming title on an alarming instinctive basis. Yet they must avert harm or threats of expulsion when doing so.

No Man’s Land is no stroll in the park to direct. Sean Mathias of this production establishes himself at the forefront of such practitioners; movement on the stage is continuous but unobtrusive, our eyes and attention always directed where they should be. There are no false moves, exaggerations or actorish mannerisms to distract us from the business at hand.

It gives nothing away to report that Mathias finishes the play with a tableau of moral relativism, an image of uncertainty about what will happen next, and why. In a world of consuming indifference, Pinter theatrically posits, it’s all up to us to decide, if we will at all. “I’ll drink to that,” says Hirst. Cheers.

No Man’s Land, through March 30. Cort Theater 138 W. 48th St., New York City, New York. Tickets: $40-$137; for more, call 212/239-6200 or visit

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: Waiting for Godot on Broadway starring Sirs Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Editor's Note: On a recent trip to New York City, Indy theater critic Terry Gibson took in a production of No Man's Land, by Harold Pinter, and Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, the main characters played by Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. For those interested in Broadway from afar — you know who you are — here are his thoughts on Godot. Should you have the means, tickets are still available.

Yes, this is the famous Godot who does not show up to keep his appointments. And it’s the play where nothing happens — twice. Mr. Stewart plays the reasoning Vladimir, Mr. McKellen the hopeful Estragon.

Without noting too many particulars, their predicament can be described as follows: While waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon pass the time on what seem the most improbable of topics, from carrots and boots to biblical absurdities, comically grasping at relevance for their own entertainment (and ours) as if practiced vaudevillian routines.

Semantic stalemates, blind alleys and logical incoherence are Beckett’s order of the day.


Director Sean Mathias’ set, exchanging Beckett’s “country road and tree” for an industrial scrap heap, seems to have led Vladimir and Estragon to a toxic dead-end or secluded, heavy-labor purgatory. To the audience, vacated wharves and warehouse districts come to mind. Or Baltimore. It’s a place, frankly, you can’t blame Godot for not showing up to.

They will endure at this location as long as their carrots hold out, or Godot arrives. They’re a patient and trusting pair. Whatever terms, conditions or excuses Godot may put forward, he is acquitted in advance of any negligence, false statements or unseemly motives. He could never be the kind of guy to abandon such willing subordinates to the violent whims and loneliness of such a place. Like many responsible for our well-being, be it priest, politician or deity, Godot must have his reasons and it is not our place to doubt or question them, only respond or wait with dignity and in good faith, which Vladimir and Estragon obediently do.

Sound familiar? It is.

What compels and unsettles in Mathias’ production is not Godot’s inability to meet his commitments, but his possible unwillingness or lack of necessity to in the first place. If he does show up, this Godot, or whoever he is, he’s got a heck of a lot of explaining to do. Unfortunately, and catastrophically, he probably hasn’t the faintest idea or concern about what to do or tell his waiting disciples to begin with; and this possibility becomes a probability as his obligations and desires seem even more remote and inscrutable to us all.

Into this setting enter Pozzo and Lucky, and an allegorical sideshow of sorts takes over. They’re an abbreviated version of the world beyond the scrapheap, where people live as either self-indulgent masters or dependent, toiling slaves. They pause for Pozzo to refresh himself, to socialize with Vladimir and Estragon, and enjoy Lucky’s talents for thinking and dancing at Pozzo’s command. Then they leave the scene, only to return in Act II significantly diminished and enfeebled. They have no recollection of their encounter with Vladimir and Estragon the previous day. They deliver the first of Beckett’s unembroidered forebodings of cosmic randomness, and depart again.

Shuler Hensley and Billy Crudup perform these roles ably, if somewhat hurriedly, Mathias not allowing Pozzo (Hensley) the reflective notes and moodiness Beckett supplies. The play is full of explicit directions from Beckett for actors to pause, hesitate or remain silent; Mathias disregards them. Crudup more or less throws away Lucky’s rambling disquisition in a blur of speech and frenzied acrobatics. With it, Beckett’s panoramic satire is tossed aside as well. Both Pozzo/Lucky scenes are handled dismissively, the humor, power and pathos they add diluted by hasty, mistrustful direction.

We are finally given a sketchy outline of Godot in the play’s final moments, from a boy sent to assure and console Vladimir and Estragon of Godot’s arrival and good intentions: he has a white beard and he does nothing. He will not come today, but promises to tomorrow.

We know already how Godot keeps his promises, and by now Vladimir has had his fill of the whole thing. “Habit is a great deadener,” he concedes. It’s a fact of existence that is manifestly to Godot’s advantage and their defeat. Beckett is unerring when situating characters in a gray area between resistance and revolution on the one hand, or dependence and withdrawal on the other. Ultimately it’s a standoff, and no amount of imagination, distraction, or pious devotion can keep from returning us right back where we started in doubt, uncertainty and fear. “I can’t go on like this,” Estragon confesses. “That’s what you think,” Vladimir counters and, as in the beginning, there is “nothing to be done.” Curtain down. End of play.

It is hard, if not impossible, to imagine the play better served than it is by Sirs McKellen and Stewart, who have been performing Godot together for five years. They laugh, cry, embrace, cajole and harass each other with total believability and chemistry. The capacity audiences are thoroughly overtaken and engaged. The ovation at curtain is long, warm and genuinely indebted.

Waiting for Godot, through March 30. $40-$127. Cort Theater, 138 W. 48th St., New York City,

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: The Wizard of Oz at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

Posted By on Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Editor's Note: This review was written by the Indy's new theater critic, Terry Gibson. Look out for more reviews in future issues and on the IndyBlog.

Pizza can be a risky proposition in Colorado Springs.

In many establishments you are served only a semblance of the authentic item, as if someone, a visiting uncle from Pittsburgh, perhaps, had long ago described to the chef what real pizza looked like, and the chef based his (or her) creation on what could be vaguely remembered of that.

Not so with musicals. If you’re gonna step onstage in this town, you gotta belt it out with the best of ‘em.

Drop in on the splendid, spare-no-expense production of The Wizard of Oz, now running at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and see. You’ll be thoroughly pleased and gratified. Transported, in fact, right to Broadway.

Audiences today are a tough challenge for such an enterprise. Many Boomer adults, having grown up with annual screenings of the 1940 film version starring Judy Garland, embrace The Wizard of Oz with a curious hodgepodge of mild cynicism and left-wing wish-fulfillment.

Finding shortly after graduation that they are indeed, like Dorothy and Judy, no longer in Kansas anymore, they see Dorothy’s unintended dropping of a house on the Wicked Witch of the East as emancipating, that is, as setting free “the little people,” represented by the Munchkins, from class struggle. No kidding.

The FAC's Oz is a beautiful production. - CSFINEARTSCENTER.ORG
  • The FAC's Oz is a beautiful production.

Munchkinland itself, ruled by a benevolent singing mayor and such fierce organizations of working-class militancy as the Lolly-Pop Guild, is a gloriously egalitarian place, where “from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs” reigns supreme. The great and powerful Oz has an alarming facial resemblance to comrade Lenin, and the man behind the curtain manipulating the whole shebang is a prototype of Rupert Murdoch, or William Randolph Hearst, justly exposed and humiliated. The Wicked Witch of the West finally gets what’s coming to her, and like the bourgeois nation-state, withers away, “in all [her] beautiful wickedness.” That sort of thing.

In a sense, these whims are on target. As noted elsewhere and in the FAC program, Oz lyricist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg was reverently admired by his peers as “the social conscience of Broadway,” a man ardently “dedicated to social justice.” He conceived and wrote the words for “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” (1938), the near-sacred theme song of the Depression, and accented Dorothy’s journey down the Yellow Brick Road with clever hints of utopianism. Lines of Harburg’s like “We get up at twelve and start to work at one, take an hour for lunch and then at two we’re done — jolly good fun!” have simmered and lingered in the minds of the disenchanted for generations.

Director Scott RC Levy’s production brushes aside these middle-aged musings, however, and freshly recaptivates viewers with a masterly use of musical comedy ingredients, full steam ahead and then some.

Dorothy’s Kansas is rendered with a bleak but elegant landscape mural backdrop, reminiscent of Thomas Hart Benton, and the rapidly changing locales from Munchkinland to Witches Castle and back are equally pleasing to the eye. Christopher L. Sheley is the show’s imaginative and accomplished scenic designer. In addition, conductor Jay Hahn’s pliant small orchestra delivers a zestful melodic range and richness; and the choreography from Mary Ripper-Baker is danced with energy and well-rehearsed precision. Though some dancers are clearly lighter on their feet than others, there is no outright flat-footedness or by-the-numbers rigidity to the ensemble — even children execute their moves like aspiring pros.

Levy could slow down his scene changes, though. We tend to forget that Dorothy and her friends are travelling from place to place; instead they seem to land too abruptly in certain scenes, dropping out of nowhere. Denizens of the Emerald City, for instance, look a little lost at first, and then a sort of ‘Wait, where are we again?’ moment ensues, and they begin. Oh, well. When in doubt, dance. And they do. This bunch can’t wait for the music to start, nor can we.

Yet the sly references made by the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion as to the divine source of their creation — “the Lord” — at the top of their solos, are violating and should be promptly removed. Harburg and author L. Frank Baum would howl at the insolence and presumption of such underhanded quackery, and rightfully so. Many in the audience at intermission and after the show complained of it.

If the principals occasionally act better than sing, or sing better than act, it is evident only in the beginning of their journey to Oz, and not jarring. By the time they are off to see the Wizard as a unit, they’re a united ensemble of their own, in full syncopation with the music and each other. The story either compensates or allows for varied acting approaches, even idiosyncratic ones, and there are a few moments of candid but pleasing awkwardness in this respect.

Still, Lacey Connell never fails to convince us of Dorothy’s feverish mix of astonishment and determination, and her longing to relocate somewhere “Over the Rainbow” is tenderly sung and sincere. Jason Lythgoe has all the jangly, loose-jointed charm of the Ray Bolger original, contrasting well with the athletic vigor of Zachary Guzman’s Tin Woodsman, and Brian Harris’ philosophically detached Cowardly Lion. Harris’ Lion seems to have spent many hours stoically wandering the forest, giving this ‘courage’ thing a good going-over; and Mr. Guzman bursts with an unsparing, downstage center fix of old-time vaudeville hoofing. Eryn Carman, Levy and Jen Lennon are seasoned performers, vividly expressive and clear, with powerful voices as the Wicked Witch, the fraudulent Oz, and Glinda respectively.

To Oz? To Oz.

The Wizard of Oz
Through Dec. 29, Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Tickets: $37-$47, $15 for students and kids; for more, call 634-5583 or visit

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: One for the Road by Springs Ensemble Theatre

Posted By on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 7:44 PM

SET stays painfully true to Pinter's work.
  • SET stays painfully true to Pinter's work.
Editor's note: This review was written by Terry Gibson, whose review of TheatreWorks' It's a Wonderful Life appears in Wednesday's paper.

A refined and cultivated brotherhood of sadists is standing by in leisure to gouge out your eyeballs with a rusty spoon while praising the tonalities of Wagner or Proust.

In One for the Road by Harold Pinter, staged with unflinching fidelity by Sarah S. Shaver at Springs Ensemble Theatre, we are proffered a 40-minute vignette by one of these moral pygmies, a soulless mercenary casually implementing a minor facet of the “full spectrum dominance” of our woeful time. Yet he never lays a hand on anyone, at least not in our presence. We hear no screams of anguish or pain. (Well, a little maybe.) That is for lesser playwrights than Pinter who, as in his full-length masterpiece The Birthday Party, keeps such theatrical shenanigans tactfully offstage.

Besides, Pinter’s focus is on other, more significant matters, such as this:

With no identity of their own, these Neanderthals of officialdom are fascinated by those who actually have one, be it man, woman, or child. They murder, castrate, rape or maim not as punishment, per se, but for a momentary glimpse of the moral coordinates so plain to the rest of us, but of which they are knowingly blind.

In the case of One for the Road, Pinter gives us a man named Nicolas (Karl Brevik) who holds captive a young family of moderate subversives who’ve done nothing other than tarnish the name of a man he admired. “He didn’t think, he lived!” Nicolas hectors to make his point.

Indeed, Pinter had a remarkable career dramatizing the discrepancy between thinking and living, the possible or the necessary, even strength and expertise. Using religion, politics, or globalization as a guise, what actually takes place between Nicolas and his subjects is a battle of ontic priorities, a contest of sorts between modes of being that go deep, and often animate, our floundering, convulsive civilization. You can probably guess who comes out on top; many we vote into high office. They smile and make speeches, launch missiles, and wave back to us.

For his plays, his works of poetry and prose, and his extraordinary campaign to free political dissidents and publicly challenge the Reagan/Thatcher regime, Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005. He died of esophageal cancer three years later, and will long remain and be remembered as one of the major creative forces of our time.

In SET's production of One for the Road, both Matt Radcliffe as Victor the husband, and Miriam Roth Ballard as his wife, offer a naturalism, conviction and restraint for which we are truly grateful and absorbed. (Disclosure: Radcliffe is a graphic designer at the Indy.) And Shaver has such a keen, instinctive use of the space to highlight their abilities.

If Brevik’s lines on occasion sound a bit transistorized and flat, no matter — he captures the Epicurean delight of Nicolas with certainty and the calculated aplomb of a cruise-ship entertainment director. Aidan Carter is a charming and intelligent boy, and as Radcliffe and Ballard’s son, he displays a true sense of an actor’s spontaneity and freshness, a thing many performers spend lifetimes striving for.

All told, Pinter would be quite pleased with this production. My, how we wish he were still here to see it.

One for the Road, directed by Sarah S. Shaver, running time: 40 minutes
Dec. 12-14, 8 p.m.
Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache la Poudre St.
Tickets $10, student rush $8; for more, call 357-3080 or visit

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Wicked Witch of the West strikes the FAC

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 3:02 PM

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center meant well with yesterday’s publicity stunt leading up to their theater production for The Wizard of Oz.
FAC hot air balloon fail
  • Ashley Thompson and Evan Richardson
  • Hot air balloon next to the trees; what could go wrong?

But things got a little hairy.

Despite what the Gazette’s coverage would lead you to believe, it wasn’t all ruby slippers and yellow brick roads. Thanks to an errant breeze and a sharp tree, the kids and other media witnessed a flailing hot-air balloon punctured by a branch and emergency services. FAC communications director Warren Epstein suffered a broken arm in the incident, but luckily that was the only injury.

And god love the actors, who stayed in character the whole time.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wizard of Oz, Floyd and Clea in FAC 2013-14 theater plans

Posted By on Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 9:18 AM

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
June 12-29
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 for tickets.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

TheatreWorks' 2013-2014 season is here

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 2:28 PM

TheatreWorks, Venus in Fur
  • TheatreWorks

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
Aug. 1-24

Seven Guitars by August Wilson
Sept. 12-29

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Oct. 24 through Nov. 10

It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play by Joe Landry
Dec. 5-22

The Weir by Conor McPherson
Jan. 23 through Feb. 9

TheatreWorks, A Servant of Two Masters
  • TheatreWorks

Woyzeck by Georg Büchner for the UCCS Student Production
March 6-16

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.

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Immortal Solstice rescheduled

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 9:46 AM

  • Caretake and the Graveyard Girlz

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.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

A peek at the Fine Arts Center's upcoming Families and more

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 5:53 PM

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.

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Progressive

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."

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Progressive
  • Courtesy of the Progressive Corporation.
  • TR Ericsson, "Everyday is Like Sunday," Porcelain decorated in blue toile. Edition 1/3, 2006.

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.

Rough Writers, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

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.

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