Shining at the Mill: a review of Bright Star

 

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I love it that artists often venture into mediums outside of their typical schtick. Being an artist is a license to play. Being a successful artist means that you can capitalize on your fame and the stuff you play at can go big. Like when Madonna decided to write children’s books or when Lady Gaga decided she wanted to be an actress in a movie. These artists got to go big with their little projects because of who they are regardless of their artistic merits. Had they been regular unknown artists their projects may never have come to fruition – regardless of their merits.

Bright Star is the perfect example of this. Two famous artists, Edie Brickell and Steve Martin, created this musical and so it went to Broadway… regardless of its artistic merits.

Swift Creek Mills’ production of Bright Star is excellent!

Everything is in place here in terms of theatrical elements and talent. Grey Garrett is a wonderful Alice Murphy, acting and singing up a strong female role in a satisfying way. Her love interest, Jimmy Ray Dobbs played by Jim Morgan is also great, as are the other pair of sweethearts, Margo, played by Olivia Mullins and Billy Cane, played by Ian Page. The supporting cast is also wonderful; dancing, singing and acting up a storm worthy of a hot summer night.

I just didn’t care for the play itself.  The plot is painfully predictable. The music is fine but sometimes extraneous in terms of moving along the plot although it is beautifully performed by the cast.

Full disclosure: blue grass is not my cup of moonshine but I was entertained and glad I saw the show despite its issues.

If you like blue grass, a good production or fabulous performances you will like this show.

For more information click here.

 

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to go: A review of ATLANTIS

 

Atlantis

Last spring I traveled to the Sivananda Ashram on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Among several sacred spots on the 7 acre plot of pristine prime real estate on which the Ashram stands is a temple built around a rock which is supposedly, according to the late Swami Sivananda, is the tip of a spire of an ancient temple of the legendary city of Atlantis which he claimed was sunken underneath the island. Thus the name of the famous resort located right next door to the Ashram.

That tidbit has nothing to do with my review. I just wanted to boast that I have been to the most likely geographic location of the play’s namesake and touched with my own hands the supposed top of that ancient temple.

Anyway, the play, Atlantis, like Paradise Island, is beautiful. A feast of perfectly executed production values in lighting, props, set design and execution,  costumes, make-up, hair (wigs), and sound design. The actors are flawlessly cast, including Broadway worthy leads who are great looking and wonderful singers. Kristen Hanggi’s direction is thoughtful and effective. Anthony Smith’s musical direction is spot on. Kikau Alvaro’s choreography is meaningful and exciting. A beautiful world is created in the script complete with politically correct same sex couples and mixed race families.

So, what’s not to like?….

Despite all of the production perfection, this show is as hollow as a summer fling at the beach. It feels good in the moment to be with that sun tanned, hot-bodied surfer but it lacks the kind of substance that makes a lasting relationship.

The script is so thin that I did not give one rat’s ass that Atlantis was going to disappear into the ocean or that some of its inhabitants were going down with it. (Oh, Oops! Spoiler Alert.) The Disney-esque feel to it made me nauseated. If I wanted to see a Disney show I would go to one.  Most of the songs sounded the same and seemingly all of them ended in a loud crescendo! which left me thinking, “Enough already!”

Please know- I was entertained.

This play is for Andrew Loyd Webber fans.

For more information click here.

Uncontrolled: A review of Animal Control at the Firehouse Theatre

 

 

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As audience members stood to give Friday night’s performance of ANIMAL CONTROL an ovation, I was genuinely confused. Perhaps, like the two sides of the Notre Dame re-build situation, I felt overwhelmingly different about the play than they did. In fact, if they thought the show was deserving of such kudos, I know we were in different camps because I found it inane, boring and generally a poor production.

Since this is a short review I will deliver my observations succinctly:

I liked that all sides of the dog story were presented, giving the audience  thought provoking perspective.

In all three acts, there were characters on stage waiting for another character to appear. It felt like 15 minutes of each act was filled with script that neither provided any information about the characters nor moved the plot as the waiting commenced. That is a lot of time on stage in plot purgatory.  And it wasn’t just me that seemed to think this. The woman sitting directly in front of me took to checking her emails on her smartphone and sharing them with her husband halfway through the third act.  A man in the second row nobly fought sleep.

The play is supposed to be about people and how they behave like the dogs they are discussing. There is A LOT of talk about the dogs. Dogs are special to their owners. Discussion of specific dogs and their issues is interesting to the folks directly involved.  To the rest of us it is dull conversation. And even though I personally experienced a similar situation as the plot presents with my own dog biting another dog, I felt nothing for the characters.

I did feel sorry for the actors, however. They had to stumble through this insanely inane script, trying to bring rather one dimensional characters to life with perhaps, little to no direction. They all appeared a bit unsure of exactly what they should be doing on stage.  One actor was so choppy in their line delivery and disengaged from the other actor in the scene, that I thought they might be a last minute substitute allowed to read their lines off of a phone.

My favorite line from this play is:

“What’s taking so goddamned long?”

Because it summed up my feelings as I waited for the ending.

This play is great for people who like theatre for the sake of it and want to cheer on our local actors and new playwrights.

For more information go to the Firehouse website.

 

7 Thumbs Up: A review of Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England

 

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I shall start in the way of the bad critic in this review of Seven Mammoths Wander New England by clearly stating: I love this play. And not just because one of the main characters is a yogini, like me, but because it is clever, charming and wrangles with the subject of life and death in a way that feeds my soul – with pop culture references, hometown newspaper columns, alternative kinship structures and talking dioramas of ancient peoples.

I also love the thought and care that Lucian Restivo used in directing RTP’s production, giving his actors the space to be authentically vulnerable without falling into the sap trap. Annie Zanetti, Shaneeka Harrell and Meg Carnahan give intrigueging performances in their roles of Dean Wreen, Greer and Andromeda (respectively) a complicated triangle of former and current lesbian lovers living together as one goes through cancer treatments. Special shout out to Carnahan who kept me in stitches as the yogini, providing a true-to-life mirror of some of the slightly woo woo oriented women who choose yoga as a medium for self-transformation. The supporting cast of David Clark, Maura Mazurowski and Ray Wrightstone are hilarious in their roles balancing out some of the deeper moments of the play.

This play is best for people who love thought provoking theatre with a lighter side.

For more information go to the RTP website

 

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Hear them Roar!: The Women’s Theatre Festival

The first thing I want to say about the Women’s Theatre Festival which is touted as 4 Weeks, 4 Companies, Four Fantastic Shows is:

GET YOUR TICKETS NOW!!!

Because if you don’t get your tickets now you will miss out on some wonderful performances by some awesomely talented and obviously hard working actresses who are bringing some provocative plays to life.

And if you do get your tickets now and go to see these plays you will be spellbound by the talent and expanded by the stories presented not to mention support women as badass bosses of masterful theatrical productions.

I have now seen 4 of the 5 shows that are part of the festival. In My Chair, Eva DeVirgilis’ play that was presented at the Theatre Gym under the auspices of Cadence Theatre Company and co-produced by Virginia Rep, was reviewed on this blog several weeks ago and closed last night. You can find my review here.

All of these plays are written by, produced by and performed by and everything else by women.

Over this weekend I planned to see the other 4 offerings, all performed in the Basement operated by Theatre LAB but the Saturday night presentation of Bad Dates, featuring Maggie Bavolack, Directed by Melissa Rayford and Stage Managed by Morgan Howard was cancelled due to Maggie being sick.

But I did get to see The Richmond JCC’s offering, Golda’s Balcony on Thursday night; Message From a Slave, produced by the Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company on Friday night; and 5th Wall Theatre’s offering, Pretty Fire, on Sunday afternoon. They were all thought provoking plays delivered via powerhouse performances brought forth by adept direction and production elements.

Golda’s Balcony is about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir with an emphasis on the crisis she faced during her tenure when Israel was almost lost to the Arabs. Jacqueline Jones brings “Goldie” to life under the direction of Debra Clinton. I barely remember this incident as it unfolded but the names were familiar and Jones does justice to the hard scrabble woman who made history.

 

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Pamela Archer-Shaw was mesmerizing in Message From a Slave, an interesting amalgam of slave life and life advice. I was particularly moved by the first act where African woman, Chaku describes how she came to be a slave and how she survived her bondage henceforth. Archer-Shaw simply owns the audience throughout both acts, holding us spellbound in her hand as she sings, dances and shares characters with us.

 

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Lastly but definitely least, I was pleasantly surprised by Haliya Roberts’ deft performance in Pretty Fire as Charlayne. I say this because I was unimpressed with her performance in Talk Radio but she really shows some real acting chops in this one. Directed by Carol Piersol and choreographed by Melanie Richards, Robert’s maximizes the use of a single prop and crisp clear movements to define spaces and specific actions. The perspective on racism in this play is pure genius.

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These plays are for anyone who wants to see some intellectually stimulating , kickass, well executed theatre.

For more info and tickets click here.

Mystery Seance Theatre: review of HUMBUG

 

 

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Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of being humbugged by David London at the Branch Museum. Now you can just get your minds out of the gutter and know that to humbug someone means to deceive them with a light hearted intent as in a jest or rouse. Humbuggery is all about good clean fun and so was the show I saw, HUMBUG: The Great P. T. Barnum Seance brought to the Branch courtesy of The Firehouse Theatre.

London, creator of and sole performer in  is a magician  who incorporates magic tricks into informative performance art pieces. HUMBUG engages the audience in the history of P. T. Barnum and his career in the first act then allows 12 seance table ticket holders participate firsthand in a seance using a table of London’s own design while the other audience members watch.

This show is participatory all the way. Just as the ad for the show says London regales the audience with tales of Barnum’s life and illustrious career as he passes around artifacts associated with Barnum and the acts that made his museum and circus famous (some real, some not) then there is the “spirit” connection thing. What the ad for the show fails to convey is the magic tricks that London incorporates in the first act that truly astounded me – unless of course, I really am psychic.

I was chosen out of the audience to assist with a demonstration designed to prove a connection between items associated with a person and that person’s spirit. I was asked to hold a keepsake supposedly containing a lock of hair from the beard of Annie Jones one of Barnum’s most famous bearded ladies. Then I was asked to blindly identify cards with either her picture or that of a random bearded lady. Somehow they came out 100% correct! Upon reflection I have an idea of how the trick was executed but at the time it was smooth as silk and I was, along with the rest of the audience, genuinely surprised.

I mean we were all grown-ups and knew this wasn’t real but it was good entertainment all the same. My one criticism: London could use some tweaking in the acting department. He is good enough for the average theatre goer but could be smoother as a showman. That subtle difference would have drawn me into the piece to a higher degree making my suspension of disbelief that much more salacious.

This show is great for history buffs, people who like the mysterious or folks who are simply looking for a different kind of theatrical experience.

Playing one more weekend. For more information click here.

 

 

A “Positive Post” to Eva DeVirgilis from Mary in Richmond, Virginia:

 

In My Chair

Dear Eva,

I am so proud of you for showing up, taking a risk, and putting yourself and the stories of so many other women out there in the form of your one woman show, in my chair. It was a gigantic undertaking which has already, and I am sure will continue to, generate some empowering positive vibrations across the Universe by making women aware of debilitating behaviors like constantly apologizing about themselves and allowing their looks to be a primary factor in their societal value.

You are a good actress in your own right, smart, funny and talented so I was a little confused by the many “Wichman” acting quirks you incorporated in your performance. You can make this so much more YOUR style and it will double the value of the message. But I don’t suppose anyone who is unaware of your husband’s way of approaching characters will spot that. And it is a charming testament to how beautifully supportive you two are of each other – which you also make clear in the show. (Spot on with the imitation of Scotty watching a football game, BTW! You should totally keep that as you are playing him directly. It is adorbs.)

The story of how the show came to be is fascinating, the TEDxRVAwomen talk invite, the success of the talk itself, the 8 countries in 44 days tour, etc but some of the stats and deets are unnecessary to the message and might come off as a bit braggy which is a turn-off. For example, the part about how many views the TEDxRVAwomen talk got is great for your bio and a nice vehicle for getting your mother in the show but adds nothing to the play except annoying distraction. You are good enough, your message is strong enough and your play is good enough without this type of information.

Speaking of your mother…I found the character similarities between your mother and your nagging, inner voice, Norma, to be an interesting psychological twist. I know that my inner critic originates partly from my mother’s parenting choices ingrained in my psyche and it is often her voice I hear when I experience doubt, fear, or limitation. I assume this is universal. Awesome insight here, Eva!

I loved the interaction with the audience you incorporated into the script. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the show as a volunteer. I am really glad that I had the experience of being invited to stand up, asked to shout out, “I am a Leader!”, and receive the exhilarating energy from the audience as they shouted back to me, “We support you!” If that happened to me once a day I bet I could do anything and be wildly successful. It was an unexpected takeaway that I will use for inspiration for months to come. What a wonderful gift!

I am also grateful for the chance to give and receive a positive message (the ones you call positive posts) to and from another random woman. Women need to do a better job of supporting each other in terms of doing bigger and better things. As you demonstrate, little messages of encouragement can go a long way in this effort; pushing more of us to run for office, start and run successful businesses, make the changes that need to happen to give us the opportunities and status we require, deserve and deserve all over this planet.

I think this show is perfect for women of all ages, girls aged 10 and up and for any man who is looking to have a place at the table anytime in the future.

In the show you said you wanted critics to say in their reviews, “Eva, How are you so tiny and funny.” I have included those words in this post only because you said you wanted them. You are funny, Eva but you are not tiny. You are large in the sense that you are a powerhouse when you are honestly and authentically standing in your truth which is joyfully where you are for the majority of this play -and it shows! Those are the parts that shine. The audience can see and feel it and I bet you can too. It is when you are sharing the stories of the women you met across the globe and exposing your own vulnerabilities.

Keep the positive ripples going, Eva! Keep growing into your own power. Trust yourself and your instincts. You can do this work. You ARE doing this work.

YOU ARE A LEADER AND WE SUPPORT YOU!

 

 

To learn more about in my chair, click here.

photo by Jason Collins photography

God redefined: Review of “An Act of God”

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Who knew that we needed a revamp of the ten commandments? Apparently, David Javerbaum who penned An Act of God thought so. In this intermission-less comedy starring Maggie Bavolack as God, with supporting roles of Michael and Gabriel played by Kylie M.J. Clark and Anne Michelle Forbes (in that order), is basically a rant about the concept of a Judeo-Christian God. It is entertaining but the direction and acting are a bit one dimensional.

Intellectual musings and jokes come and go so quickly here that it is difficult to wrap one’s brain around an idea before attention must be redirected to another. Of the three talented actresses onstage, Forbes is cheated out of a fully faceted performance as she is relegated to stage right without much to do but smile prettily as she reads aloud.

I liked the play and would like to have the time to relish the whit with a slower pacing and wider range of performance.

Why you should see it: It is one of the few religious themed plays in the Acts of Faith Festival this year and the other audience members enjoyed it.

Who would like this play: Adults who appreciate humor as a means of making a point.

Click here for more information.

Cyra-no: A review of bad wigs

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Last night I saw Swift Creek Mill Playhouse’s production of Cyrano with two friends from Charlottesville and we were all mystified by the strange uneven-ness of the melodrama of comedia del arte and realism that ensued. We were all three simultaneously confused and amused at the attempt to overplay a beautiful tragedy with such silliness and felt that it, particularly cheapened the portrayal of Roxanne, the pivotal character of the play.

And then there were the wigs. Seemingly borrowed from various productions and plopped on the heads of the male actors, one looked like it was borrowed from the set of Gigit with bangs and Dippity Do flip in tact.

Things that were great about the play: Deborah Wagoner (Duenna/Nun), Jeff Clevenger (Ligniere/Cadet Vadim/Monk) and Dean Knight’s (multiple roles) performances, Joe Doran’s lighting design and Frank Foster’s set. Despite the problems with the production I was honestly entertained.

Gratitude to the Mill for dedicating the show to the late Andy Boothby who was slated to play the title role and died just before rehearsals were slated to begin.

Click here for more information.

Go because it is a classic (though I disliked this version of the translation).

 

I Saw a Beautiful Show: Once (a review)

 

Once

Every now and again I am really impressed with the whole of a production. Virginia Rep’s production of Once is one of them.

The play is about a moment in time when a broken Irish musician has a chance meeting with a dynamic Czech woman who becomes the catalyst for resuscitating his life. The story is primarily told through a clever script and some rollicking folk rock music. What blew me away the most in this show is the level of proficiency required by the actors. They must be able to act, dance, sing and play a musical instrument very well and all at the same time – which they did beautifully.

Aside from moments when accents seemed to get a bit muddled, I spent an evening of pure bliss in the theatre.

Highlights: Ken Allen Neely as Guy, Katherine Fried as Girl and seeing a kid (Trevor Lindley Craft) whose performance cracked me up in a Live Arts version of Xanadu all grown up and being fabulous onstage with some heavy weight actors.

This show is a gem that shines brightly in the Virginia Rep crown. I put it in my Must See category of shows for this season. Good for ages 10 and up – especially hopeless romantics.

Warning: The title song will get stuck in your head.

For more information click here.

 

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