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Friday, July 29, 2011

Theatre Review by Keith Waits: Actor's Choice's "Equus" at Bunbury Theatre through 8/7/11


You will find interviews with director Mike Seely, actors Roger Fristoe and Drew Cash as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsal for Equus on the Performing Arts Page of Arts-Louisville.com.

Arts-Louisville.com is in the process of merging operations with TheArtsLouisville to better serve our community. I am pleased to welcome Editor-in-Cheif Keith Waits to the site and offer you his review of the production--Scott Dowd

Equus is a mystery, a psychological thriller, and a horrific exploration of the desperate reach for passion and meaning in the unlikeliest of places. For me, it has always been a touchstone and a reminder of theatre’s full potential for discovering the darkest and most complex aspects of the human psyche.

Drew Cash as Alan Strang in the Actor's Choice production
of Equus, at Bunbury Theatre through August 7.
This production, the debut of a new company called Actor’s Choice, does a remarkable job and comes very close to fully realizing the power of Peter Shaffer’s brilliant script. Director Mike Seely doesn’t attempt to reimagine the material, choosing to take his cues from the text and staging concepts that made the original 1973 London production a benchmark of contemporary theatre. From the square, rotating platform to the inventive, abstract metal frame horse heads worn by the actors portraying equine characters, this is a solid representation of the author’s conception.

The story overlays modern concerns about aberrant behavior on a structure filled with allusions to classical theatre. Alan Strang is a teenager sent to a mental hospital after blinding six horses with a hoof pick. Assigned to Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist troubled by questions about his own identity and self-worth, the boy’s psyche is peeled back, layer after layer, until the shocking truth is revealed. Dysart narrates his journey into Alan’s soul directly to the audience, using references to Agamemnon and Mycenae drawn from his own study of ancient history. But Shaffer’s provocative thesis is to promote the idea that Alan’s madness may be preferable to Dysart’s complacency. It is heady, stuff indeed.

Without strong, grounded work in the two leads, it simply won’t work, but Mr. Seely elicits performances that truly deliver. As Dysart, Roger Fristoe brings a lighter touch than one might expect, but he effectively uses the humor to enrich the character and gently lead the audience into the shadowy depths of Alan’s heart of darkness. Eventually he leaves levity behind, delivering the final lines of the play in hushed and strangled tones that confirm that Equus is ultimately much more Dysart’s story than Alan’s.

When I have seen Drew Cash in other roles, his sweet, gentle good looks and open countenance would suggest he is not a good fit for the deeply troubled character of Alan Strang, but he enters the stage with a haunted gaze that renders the character’s disturbance wholly palpable, and fearlessly throws himself into the role. It is the second time this year that Mr. Cash has tackled this character, so perhaps the generous time afforded by two rehearsal periods gives him some advantage, but no matter. However he arrives at this result, it is on the money.   

There is solid support from the rest of a well-chosen cast. Jennifer Thompson (also repeating from the previous production) is a beguiling Jill, the girl who plays an important part in triggering Alan’s tragic actions, while Jayme Thomas, Claire Sherman and Alan Weller delivered good counterpoint in smaller roles.

The roles of Alan’s parents, who are a contrast in temperament and sensibility that attempts to explain Alan’s unique pathology, are more problematic. It is an area of Shaffer’s script that seems a little out-of-step now, an oversimplification of motivations that seem too neat and tidy more than 30 years later. And while Tom Petty was pretty good as Frank, Jamie Lentz was too neurotic and self-conscious as the mother, Dora. Her mannerisms were a little “busy” and therefore distracting, a problem exacerbated by an unfortunate wig that accentuated every movement with unneeded emphasis. It was the one bad element of an otherwise impeccably designed show. Ms. Lentz did manage to bring her character into better focus for her final act two scene with Dysart.

A unique and defining characteristic of Equus is the portrayal of six horses onstage by actors wearing stylized horse’s hooves and heads. They act as something of a chorus in key scenes in the stables, and there entrances brought a powerful and foreboding presence that was crucial to setting the appropriate tone. Tim kitchen led this group in the role of Nugget, and has a good comic scene as a horseman early on. In addition to Mr. Kitchen, they are Sherrick O’ Quinn, Kevin Bowling, Jeremy Gutierrez, Colby Ballowe, and Luke Aaron.

In the end, this Equus is a stunning and beautifully crafted production of a potent and profound play. The script builds magnificently and Mr. Seely’s careful direction maintains the measured pace so that the carefully judged central performances have room to breathe and mature. Arriving in the dog days of summer to once again provide proof of the role theatre should play in our lives, this production is a must-see.

Equus

July 28 – August 7, 2011

Actor’s Choice
At Bunbury Theatre
604 S. Third Street
Louisville, KY
(502) 583-8222

Entire contents are copyright © 2011 Keith Waits. All rights reserved. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Theatre Review: Music Theatre Louisville "Guys and Dolls"

Peter Holloway and the company of Guys and Dolls
rock the Bomhard Theatre again this week. Photo by David E. Becker
Over the years I see more than a few productions of Guys and Dolls. Chances are Music Theatre Louisville's production is not your first time at the track neither. Nathan Detroit, Nicely Nicely Johnson, Big Jule and Sky Masterson are now iconic American characters in the their own right since they are introduced to the world more than sixty years ago. The thing about this particular staging that I find amazing is that all the talent comes from right here in Louisville. Outside of Broadway itself I don't see anybody do this show better. Sure there is a voice here and a dance step there that is slightly off the mark; but this is the real deal.

Immediately we are struck by the work of the designers: Duper Berry (scenic), Sarah Russell (costumes), Theresa Bagan (lighting) and Robert Dagit (sound) who create the colorful, lively world inhabited by these aforementioned guys and their dolls. Director Peter Holloway, choreographer Megan Bliss, and musical director Jason Seber do an amazing job in creating a show that is sure to please old-timers like me and bring in many new converts as well.
Peter Riopelle as Nathan Detroit and Julie Evins as Miss Adelaide.
Photo by Al Wollerton.

Especially appealing in this especially appealing company is Julie Evins as Miss Adelaide, the long-suffering fiance of one Nathan Detroit, as played by the show's only member of the Actors Equity Union Peter Riopelle. Ms. Evins brings charm and vulnerability to her character and gives us to understand through her interpretation just why she has but up with Nathan these 14 years without benefit of wedding. "Adelaide's Lament," always a bit of comic genius as written by Frank Loesser, has real pathos in Ms. Evins' hands. Right from the start she wins our hearts and we see in her the strength of character needed to reform her erstwhile lover, the quintessential "also ran." Riopelle returns to MTL after a very different star turn as the future President John Adams in last summer's 1776. The success of Guys and Dolls relies heavily on the characterization of Nathan Detroit and Mr. Riopelle throws nothing but sevens and elevens.

The book for Guys and Dolls, written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, comes from two of Runyon's short stories, Blood Pressure and the Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, the latter of which introduces us to the eponymous Salvation Army Sargent patrolling for lost souls among Manhattan's gamblers, hustlers, molls and gangsters. In the MTL production this part is played by the lovely young Sierra Stacy, sporting an impressive voice and more than enough charm to catch the eye of the show's most eligible gambler, Sky Masterson, played by the also young Mason Stewart. Both of these young actors are still in the training process and each has more than enough talent to carry the weight here.

Another young performer who looks like he might be a real contender in years to come is Kyle Braun as Bennie Southstreet. Braun is part of the trio that open the show with one of the best numbers ever written for Broadway. Namely Fugue for Tinhorns. Throughout the production Braun's talents as actor, dancer and singer draw attention to themselves without becoming a distraction--this is an actor to watch. I would lay odds we'll see him in bigger roles down the line.

Music Theatre Louisville's Guys and Dolls continues through Saturday, July 23 in the Kentucky Center's Bomhard Theatre--if you miss it you miss a real evening's entertainment. Get your tickets by calling the Kentucky Center Box Office at 502.584.7777 or online at www.KentuckyCenter.org.

The season finale, Big, based on the Tom Hanks film opens August 5 and runs through the 14. Watch www.Arts-Louisville.com for a preview of that production, coming soon.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Theatre Review: "Hair Spray," Jewish Community Center's Center Stage by David Scott

Thursday night was my first time inside the Jewish Community Center's Linker Auditorium where the Center Stage company performs. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have for years been aware of the activities at 3600 Dutchman's Lane, but had never taken advantage of them. Now that I have broken that barrier I plan to be a regular attendee.

l-r LaMont O'Neal, Hannah Gregory, Chad Broskey,
 Jill Sullivan, Ericka Gibson and company.
Photo by Ben Goldenberg.
Artistic Director John Leffert has put together a strong season of sure-to-please hits that opened last week with the 2002 hit Hair Spray. This is an ambitious undertaking that requires a full complement of more than thirty triple-threat performers. Leffert also put together a six-piece band led from the keyboard by music director Chris Bryant. The horn section struggled a little at the performance I saw but the band was otherwise solid throughout.

The company is led by Jill Sullivan as Tracy Turnblad, a chubby teen who overcomes the prejudices of television producer Velma Von Tussle, played by Annette McCulloch, to become a dancer on the Corky Collins Show. Corky is a smarmy, but savvy visionary as played by Mike Fryman. Unfortunately for McCulloch, Fryman and the company at large their performances were marred by intermittent sound problems ranging from dropped cues to poor design. The latter of these could be easily remedied by a quick trip the Doo-Woop Shop. The inexpensive rental of a couple speaker towers positioned on either side of the thrust stage would do wonders for the show's audibility and would take care of the feedback problems that occasionally overwhelmed the performers.

Back to the story. For those of you who haven't seen Hair Spray in any of its incarnations, Tracy leads a revolution to integrate Corky's show, while questing for the heart of Elvis would-be Link Larkin, played by the very talented Chad Broskey, and raising awareness of the need for positive body image among teenage girls. Tracy's sidekick and best friend is the nerdy Penny Pingleton, played by Hannah Gregory who absolutely steals every scene with her strong character choices, and effortless performance.

Jill Sullivan as Tracy and
John R. Leffert as her mother, Edna Turnblad.
Photo by Ben Goldenberg
The work this company has put in with Choreographer Zachary Boone is obvious on stage. Boone has created visually exciting numbers that us the limited space to its full potential. It is a joy to watch talented dancers throw off complex choreography as if it were nothing. The ease with which Dallyn Brunck, who plays Tracy's nemesis Amber Von Tussle, sings and dances her way through "Cooties" was nothing short of amazing.

One of the most controversial songs in Hair Spray is the eleven o'clock number, "I Know Where I've Been," and low-down R&B heart-ripper sung by a secondary character, Motormouth Maybelle the African-American DJ who serves as counterpoint to both Corky Collins and Tracy's mother Edna (more on her in a minute). As Motormouth Tamika Skaggs wows the audience with her powerful interpretation of this this song that, for that moment, brings to bear the heartbreaking impact of institutionalized racism.

Artistic Director John Leffert himself takes on the role of Edna Turnblad, originally played by the flamboyant drag queen Divine who appeared in several of John Waters' early films. The character has also been played on stage by the great Harvey Fierstein and on film by John Travolta. Leffert walks a fine line as the organizational leader, and I think he is holding back to avoid the appearance of upstaging anyone. This is unfortunate, because the joy of Edna is her oversized, larger-than-life presence. What Leffert gives us is great, but left me wanting more.

As I said this is a large cast and I could easily give compliments to each member of the company for their performance. Ericka Gibson as Little Inez deserves a paragraph as does Lamont O'Neal as Seaweed Stubbs.

Leffert's set design and Butch Sager's costumes are spot on.

Hair Spray continues through July 24 at the Jewish Community Center, 3600 Dutchman's Lane. The house on Thursday was nearly full and I'm given to understand ticket sales are strong, so if you want to see this Center Stage production you better call soon. You'll be sorry you missed it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Audition Notice: Louisville Repertory Company, July 18

Louisville Repertory Company will hold auditions for their 19th season on Monday, July 18, 2011 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at First Unitarian Church, 809 S. Fourth Street 40203.

The audition will consist of cold readings, but if you have a monologue that is acceptable too.

Three of the 2011-12 season's productions will be at the Kentucky Center for the Arts' Martin Experimental (MeX) Theatre. The fourth will be a still undecided location.

Before auditioning please check your calendar for availability. Scheduled productions are:


  • Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap directed by Amy Lewis. Performances will be October 25 through November 6, 2011.
  • Ms. Lewis will also direct David Lindsay-Abaire's Fuddy Meers, which opens February 28 and runs until March 11, 2012.
  • Tennessee Williams' classic A Streetcar Named Desire will be directed by Kathryn Furrow. Performances are June 5 through 17, 2012.
  • The season concludes with an unauthorized parody of Charles Schultz's legendary "Peanuts" characters, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. This play by Bert V. Royal will be directed by Natalie Fields.


If you have any questions about the audition process or rehearsal schedules contact Louisville Repertory Company at 502.585.5110.

Please bring a headshot and resume. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Theatre Review: "Sound of Music" at Derby Dinner Playhouse by David Scott

Debbi King-Raque as The Mother Abbess and Kelly Sina as Maria
 in the Derby Dinner Playhouse production of
Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Sound of Music."
How do you solve the problem of over exposure? When everyone knows the story and the songs how do you create a fresh production that is more than a recitation? It isn't easy and many productions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classical musical The Sound of Music never leave base camp.

Because of limited resources and availability of performers small theatres often choose to focus their productions heavily on the incredible music, pushing the drama into a secondary position and ignoring the movement inherent in the story. Director Lee Buckholz, however, has chosen a company of triple-threats--actors who are also strong singers and dancers--in an attempt to realize the show's full potential.

Bucholz has also avoided to temptation to model his production on the iconic 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews. For one thing Kelly Sina's Maria is a coloratura rather than a lyric soprano. She doesn't have Andrews' high notes (who does?), which also means she takes less of a star turn; this gives the entire production the strength of ensemble. The fact that Sina and Brittany Carricato, who plays eldest daughter Liesl von Trapp, are so close in age creates an interesting dynamic by emphasizing Maria's positional authority. Sina is believable as an innocent noviciate from Nonnberg Abbey and her growth throughout the play seems a natural progression.

Audiences will be pleased that Buckholz has included the oft-cut waltz between Liesl and Rolf, Matthew Brennan, that accompanies Sixteen Going on Seventeen. Choreographer Heather Paige Folsom's work here and throughout the entire production is joyous. So often the children are simply marched into various choral positions and left to recite their parts. Buckholz and Folsom have given them life in this production. All of the children gave strong performances the night I saw the show, but I was particularly aware of Matthew Zolla as Kurt von Trapp whose male soprano shone through the ensemble, illuminating without casting a shadow.

This production also succeeded in creating the sense of limbo and underlying viscousness that must have preceded the Nazi invasion of Austria in March of 1938. As Herr Zeller, the local Nazi goon, J.R. Stuart avoids characterization that could have tipped Zeller from threat to clown. His performance is balanced by Brent Gettelfinger's Admiral von Schreiber's resigned acceptance of the Nazis as he gently urges Captain von Trapp, Brian Bowman, to accept the inevitability of his fate. Some of the funniest lines in the play are given to promoter Max Detweiler who ultimately provides the means of escape for the von Trapp clan. Detweiler is played by Kevin Crain, whose cleverly-timed comic jabs and double entendres provide much-needed counterpoint throughout.

In addition to directing the show Buckholz also designed the multi-purpose set that changes effortlessly from the Abbey to Maria's Bedroom to the stage of an auditorium. With the help of costume designer Rachel French he achieves a strong visual to compliment the work of his actors.

Derby Dinner Playhouse's production of the Sound of Music continues through August 7. For tickets and information go to www.DerbyDinner.com or call the box office: 812.288.8281.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Theatre Review: “As You Like It,” produced by the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival




The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s still-newish producing artistic director Brantley M. Dunaway has raised the bar with the company’s latest production. Director Rob Clare has worked on and off stage with many of the most important Shakespeare-producing companies around the world including Steppenwolf and the UK National Theatre. Clare describes his approach to Shakespeare as informed eclecticism, a style that encourages actors to develop their character's individuality, rather than constructing a persona that fits into a larger concept created by the director. His approach gives us a Shakespearean comedy at once witty, ribald and thoughtful. Clare and company evoke the characters’ pathos to brighten the comic notes inherent in the text.

Shakespeare was at the height of his powers in 1600 when he completed As You Like It and the show is filled with inside references to contemporary writers, especially Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Lodge whose novel Rosalynde: Eupheus Golden Legacie, which follows all the same story points as Shakespeare's play, was published in 1590. Another tradition of Shakespeare’s time that continues to the present is the cameo appearance that gives audiences a thrill by inserting accomplished performers into unexpected roles. This may be the reason behind Shakespeare’s continuous introduction of new characters to final moment of As You Like It when Sir Roland de Boys’ previously unmentioned second son, portrayed here by Travis Emery, runs to the stage with a deus ex machina ending that neatly ties up all the loose ends and leaves everyone to pursue their happiness unimpaired. 

In the Kentucky Shakespeare's production Rosalind is played by a stunning newcomer to our community, Madison Dunaway. Beautiful redheaded women in comic roles are bound to be compared with Lucille Ball (for a few more years at least). As far as it goes it is sound, especially considering  Rosalind's deceptive scheming with her blonde cohort Celia (Laura Rocklyn) to bring about her eventual marriage to Orlando (Bryan Austin). Dunaway's performance goes far deeper though revealing the pain, sorrow and fear Rosalind feels as the daughter of an exiled ruler who is maintained at court as a lady-in-waiting. Rocklyn elevates the character of Celia, which could easily be subsumed into sidekick status and gives us a strong, caring woman who lives by her principals even to the point of abandoning her comfortable life to accompany her cousin (Dunaway) into exile in the forest of Arden. The two make their escape in the company of Touchstone, the wisecracking jester portrayed by Kevin Rich. Audiences will remember Rich from his turn as one of the three stooges in the season-opener The Complete Wks of Wm Shakespeare: Abridged. Rich's sense of comic timing and understanding of Touchstone's nature  create a 21st century stand-up comedian doing his six-minutes in iambic pentameter--and killing. 

John Innes, late of the Stratford, Ontario theaters, is Jacques (pronounced Jah qweez), the exiled Duke's man and forest philosopher. It is Innes who delivers the famous Seven Ages speech that begins, "All the world's a stage. . ." with such empathy and compassion that it almost stops the show. Pay particular attention to him after the speech. It is in the character of Jacques that Shakespeare's genius is revealed and Innes plays the part magnificently from beginning to end giving it just the right touch without tipping over into melodrama.

This is a wonderful cast throughout and I could easily single out every person for their work, but I urge you to see the show for yourself. As I mentioned earlier Shakespeare rolls out character after character in Act II, a comic device in itself--watch for Jess Milewicz as Audrey the goatherd. With Rich's Touchstone and Clare's inspired direction her first scene becomes one of the play's highlights.

Kentucky Shakespeare Festival's "As You Like It" continues through July 10 in the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater in Central Park. Performances begin at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday evenings with a pre-show at 7:30 p.m. The season continues July 14 through 17 with a presentation of Two Gentlemen of Verona directed by Anna Kurtz and a production of The Orphan of Chao by UofL's African American Theatre Program.