WNRN Culture Connection for February 23rd – March 1

February wraps up with a theatrical world premier in Richmond, a collection of Chekhov shorts (not to be confused with a collection for shorts for Chekhov – spring IS coming after all) in Charlottesville and an art show in Staunton.

To learn more about these events you can click the links provided or play a podcast of this week’s WNRN Culture Connection by going to wnrn.org> features>culture connection.

The World We Know:

http://www.firehousetheatre.org/this-world-we-know-world-premiere/

Vodka Variations: An Evening of Chekhov Shorts:

http://tickets.artsboxoffice.virginia.edu/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=4042

Mixed media art show:

http://saartcenter.org/

THIS WORLD WE KNOW

THIS WORLD WE KNOW

Have a cultured week!

Best,

Mary

The Culture Maven

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This week’s WNRN Culture Connection

WNRN logo

Here are three really cool things to do this week to get your culture fix: Artist, Peter Traub’s Woodear exhibit, Firehouse Theatre Companies production of WAIT UNTIL DARK and a performance by the Sobel 4tet.  So get out there and get cultured, y’all.

To learn more about the featured events, click on the links below.  You can hear a podcast at wnrn.org- just click on “features” then “Culture Connections” to find it.

Woodear exhibit at UVA:

http://www.petertraub.net/2014/08/07/woodear-opening-at-uvas-ruffin-gallery-august-29-october-3rd-2014/

Sobel 4tet at Rockfish Lounge:

http://rockfishvalleycommunitycenter.memberlodge.com/music

Wait Until Dark:

http://www.firehousetheatre.org/wait-until-dark/

Have a fantastically cultured week!

Mary

The Culture Maven

Publicity photo for Wait Until Dark at Firehouse

Publicity photo for Wait Until Dark at Firehouse

As Blah as Any Given Monday

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Here are my thoughts on ANY GIVEN MONDAY, which closed last Saturday night.

My mother saw this show and said it was one of the funniest show she had ever seen – one of the best evenings of theater she had experienced in Richmond in her 30+ years as a regular season subscriber to many local theater companies.

I failed to see what she saw in it but to each her own.

The script was funny enough, a man acts out a lifelong fantasy in an effort to support his friend who is suffering from the pain of his wife leaving him for another man, but the script had its flaws and for me fell completely flat halfway into the second act where I found myself gazing around the room and thinking, “Crap, I could be snuggled up in my comfy bed right now instead of here enduring this drivel.” At that point Lenny, played by David T. Zimmerman and Starlet Knight (would make an excellent burlesque stage name), who played Lenny’s wife, Risa, were engaged in a non-plot moving conversation that had something to do with her affair or conditions on her returning home or something- I can’t even remember it was that tedious.

Part of the problem with this production was a complete lack of connection between any of the characters, a directorial problem rather than a script issue.  The show was horribly miscast.   Zimmerman must be almost the same age as Kerry McGee who played his daughter, Sarah while, Knight,  had on make-up that made her look much older than Zimmerman and so pale under the lights against her shock of red hair that I was reminded of the Joker of the Batman Cartoon series.  Although Nicholas Aliff who played Mickey the friend of Lenny, seemed a contemporary of the latter, the two had zero chemistry and seemed oddly matched as friends.

Ahhhh,chemistry, that mysterious element that binds a cast together and makes their character relationships believable.  Directors are responsible for generating chemistry between actors when it is organically absent and there was none that I could discern amongst this group. This is surprising as Director, Shanea N. Taylor, is usually better at this. It was like watching four different monologues happening simultaneously.

There were props issues as well.  All the action takes place in the family room of Lenny and Risa’s home.  There is considerable emphasis on Risa’s concern for the preservation of the furniture implying high-end stuff.  Her costumes and manner would also indicate sophisticated taste while the room was furnished inconsistently, a light blue velour covered Lay Z Boy chair paired with a contemporary couch covered with a striped wool blanket and a light-colored inexpensive chest for a coffee table.  The decor of the room didn’t make sense for the character’s taste and the demands of the script.  It was more “early attic” than coordinated chic.

I did enjoy the concept behind the play of carrying out a murder and the philosophical implications of that action. In fact despite the “connection” problems, I enjoyed the first act fairly well. But maybe I missed something regarding the collective whole. Who knows.  I honestly have to give this one a “C-” grade.  It just seems like the level of talent involved with this show could do better even considering the flaws of the script.

Looking forward to TIME STANDS STILL in April.

Thoughts on Death of a Salesman

Last Friday night I traveled that straight, flat stretch of I-64 between Charlottesville (heaven) and Richmond (my personal hell) to see Firehouse Theatre’s production of Death of a Salesman.  Earlier in the week, I interviewed director Rusty Wilson and based on my knowledge of Rusty’s talent and the reviews, I was prepared to be blown away.

The play was good, but I was not blown away but as you may recall, I was hands down the snarkiest critic in town during my 4.5 year tenure as a theatre reviewer for STYLE WEEKLY (and if you are unfamiliar with my critical work click here).

I will tell you what I did like about the play, however because these people were very good and deserve to be mentioned, and made the show worth the trip:

1. Dean Knight as Bernard the egghead next door neighbor boy who helps Biff cheat on his Math tests.  Knight, traditionally is not  one of my favorite actors (apologies, Dean, you are a great guy and very enthusiastic) but he has matured over the years and did a bang up job converting from the young, kind of spazzy Bernard  in the first act to the older, collected version who is depicted in the second act as going off to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. He convinced me his character was a real, multi-dimensional person even though the role is small.  Kudos. After this performance, I confess, I look forward to Knight’s next role.  (Hope he invites me.)

2. Gordon Bass as Charley, Willy’s neighbor (Bernard’s father) and only friend.  Bass is just a fantastic actor.  I often forget who I am watching on stage because he has a way of letting the character just radiate out of  him like Anthony Hopkins who can be in a movie and I don’t realize its him until about half-way through because he is so much the character. Charley is a normal guy who functions like a normal person and Bass embodies that in a way to contrast Willy’s delusions to a “T” without getting lost or overpowered.  I felt Charley’s frustration with Willy towards the end when he offers the newly fired Willy a job and he refuses. That was simply good acting delivered by an actor who understands how to serve the play.

3. Adrian Rieder as Biff, Willy’s confused, late bloomer son.  Rieder said to me after the play that the role was not a stretch for him.  Hah! Perhaps not in the sense that he and the character are the same age and maybe but I don’t really know are struggling with the same issues (Thanks to some rude person who butted into our conversation, Rieder failed to finish telling me why he felt the role was not a stretch.) But the level of emotion and inner dialog that Rieder conveyed would suggest that the role was at least challenging in achieving the quality of performance Rieder gave.  I really got the sense of Biff’s crucial transformation from living in Willy’s dream world to stepping into reality and acceptance of himself in the world. When I stood during the standing ovation, I stood for Rieder. Well done!

To be fair to everyone else in the show- everyone I talked to after the play (as in audience members) thoroughly enjoyed the show, including my mother who saw it the next night.

It is a classic American piece and should be seen performed so I suggest, if you haven’t seen it and have yet to buy a ticket, hustle over to the Firehouse website and take care of that oversight right now. (click here for Firehouse website).

See you at the theatre!

Rusty Wilson Takes on “Salesman”

Salesman-Image

Rusty Wilson has earned my endorsement as FEARLESS over the years as he has deftly tackled some of the most intimidating classics mid-twentieth century theatre has to offer like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.  His latest foray into this genre is Arthur Miller’s, “Death of a Salesman” now playing with an extended run at the Firehouse Theatre Project in Richmond.  I am thrilled to be going to see the show tonight as I know, that this cast, headed by Richmond acting icon,Joe Inscoe as Willy Loman, under Wilson’s careful guidance will produce something worth the effort to get to Richmond.

I wondered why Wilson wanted to do this play as it is so wrapped up in expectations forged in High School and College studies of American Literature.  So we arranged to chat via telephone. Here is part of that conversation:

CN: What vision did you have for this play? Why do it at all?

RW: You know, I had no idea how to direct this play and which is often the thing that gets me interested in directing a play – because I don’ t know how to do it. (laughs) I feel that it is a really timely story at this moment given all of the crap our nation has been going through in terms of this divided electorate, who’s for what and who’s against what and where our values lie. I thought that Mr. Miller had some things to share with us about that.

CN: How does this play relate to today’s economy?

RW: It is definitely a statement on the “American Dream” What do we value? Do we value personality or do we value what’s on the surface? Do we strictly value individualism for its own sake? Do we value a more collective approach to National Health?

 Willy Loman has failed because his dream is false. For a guy who places all his eggs in the basket of being liked of having friends and having a personality that people are attracted to, he dies alone.  Nobody comes to his funeral.  He actually had no friends.  He says to his next door neighbor, a guy he can’t stand who he yells at all the time, “Charlie, you’re the only friend I got.” He’s 63 years old and spent his life trying to be liked and trying to please people. It is shallow. But unfortunately by the end of the play he still hasn’t learned anything.

 CN: So How did you decide how to direct this play?

RW: First of all, I cast it really well. I cast it a good ways out so I could get people who knew how I worked and would serve the play really well.  But it’s kind of like I do every play, I come in with a big question mark. I let the appropriate, relevant and pertinent  questions reveal themselves and then try on a daily basis to find solutions to those problems.  Actually not having the answers is what attracts me to directing a play.

 CN: What did you discover about the play as you explored it during the rehearsal process?

RW: For me the play has always been about values. On a more personal level, the dynamics between fathers and sons.  It is one thing to read [the play] and another thing to watch it live. The more living we did the more clear the play became. None my perceptions about the play changed, they just crystalized a bit through the rehearsal process.

CN: Has the play influenced you as a parent at all?

RW: Oh yeah, sure. It is a reminder to really be thoughtful and responsible about what you impart to your children and how your behavior models your belief system. You know, in Willy’s case his son caught him cheating with another woman and so all of these things he had been taught, the way he idealized his father, had been a lie, in an instant it was all a sham.

Biff does finally come to a realization of who he is but it takes this whole process with his dad the last few days he is with him for it to crystalize for him.

 

END OF INTERVIEW

Death of a Salesman has been extended through 12/18.  For more information go to: Firehouse Theatre.

 

See you at the theatre!

MB

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky Horror: De-Camped and Re-Vamped

Below is a story I wrote for STYLE WEEKLY about the Firehouse Theatre Project’s upcoming production of  THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW.

THE FIRST LINE OF THE STORY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE: “I CAN REMEMBER DOING THE TIME WARP”  IN HOMAGE TO THE INFAMOUS “TIME WARP” SONG IN THE SHOW BUT IT WAS EDITED TO BE WHAT IT IS NOW.

I AM SHIVERING WITH AN-TI-CI-PATION FOR TOMORROW’S OPENING NIGHT!!

Camp Revamped

Firehouse Theatre Project stages a darker, sexier version of “Rocky Horror.”

BY MARY BURRUSS

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click to enlargeLab coats are so 1975. On stage at the Firehouse Theatre, you'll find Dr. Frank N. Furter (Terence Sullivan) and his willing victim Rocky (Chris Hester) in leather and spikes. - Adam Ewing

  • Adam Ewing
  • Lab coats are so 1975. On stage at the Firehouse Theatre, you’ll find Dr. Frank N. Furter (Terence Sullivan) and his willing victim Rocky (Chris Hester) in leather and spikes.

I can recall doing the “Time Warp” for the very first time. I was 15 when I saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in the late ’70s, and it changed my life. The film was a titillating thrill ride with a message of sexual acceptance delivered in a palatable mock-shock-horror format — perfect for those of us at the precipice of our sexuality. Fast-forward to the desensitized 21st century, in which grandmothers dance the “Time Warp” at weddings and the film is telecast every Halloween. Where can a Transylvanian find a thrill these days?

Enter Jase Smith, director of the Firehouse Theatre Project’s production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Smith aims to give the show a jolt that should reawaken audiences to the story and redefine the parameters of acceptable naughtiness. “I feel that being shocking is part of getting those messages across,” Smith says.

Smith and his design team — musical director Leilani Giles, choreographer Maggie Marlin, set and lighting designer David McLain and costumer Holly Sullivan — are creating an edgier, dirtier world, with some new material added to excite the jaded. Dr. Frank N. Furter lords over a remote sex club rather than a castle. The costumes have been upgraded from bustiers, pumps and fishnets to all-out sado-masochism gear with lots of leather, straps and spikes. Gone is the electrified, rainbow ritual to create the monster. “In this version, Rocky is not manufactured, he is created,” Smith says. “He comes into the club and is converted into Frank N. Furter’s submissive through drugs and bondage. He is a willing participant.”

Inspired by recordings from the 2003 album “The Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show” and the new Broadway cast soundtrack, Giles has updated some of the music as well. Two songs have been added: “See You Round Like a Record” (recorded by Little Nell Campbell, who played Columbia in the film) and the theme song from the Rocky Horror follow-up, “Shock Treatment.”

Cult devotees know that throwing rice, toast and toilet paper are de rigueur at midnight showings of the film. Not at the Firehouse, please. In order for audiences to focus on the story, Smith requests that props be left at home. “It’s really important that people understand that this isn’t camp,” says Terence Sullivan, who plays Furter. “This show intelligently tells a story that is emotionally, politically and sexually charged. People must connect to it in the context of now.”

The result is a peculiar alchemy of emotion and titillation. “Foremost, I want people to rediscover a reason to cry when Frank dies,” Smith says. “And secondly, I want people to go away and think about visiting Taboo and maybe buy some handcuffs.” S

“The Rocky Horror Show” runs July 19-Aug. 1, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. Tickets are $28 for general admission, $26 for seniors and $14 for students. For information call 355-2001 or visit firehousetheatre.org.

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