Category Archives: Community Theatre

Recap to Move Forward

In order to move forward and regain some momentum with this blog, I thought it would be helpful to recap the shows I’ve seen thus far this year. I feel like it should be more than 10, though that is probably a case of wanting to see more shows than I actually have.
>>EDIT: Oh, yes, it is more than 10. Just.

More details to come. And here they are:

1. Vsnessa Schukis – Community Music Center of Boston

2. Copenhagen – Flat Earth Theatre Company

3. Body Awareness – The Wilma Theater

4. Fallow – People’s Light and Theatre

5. Dead Man’s Cell Phone – Bootless Artworks

6. Time Stands Still – Delaware Theatre Company

7. Peggy Shaw in Conversation – Hampshire College

8. Almost, Maine – Lewiston/Auburn Community Little Theatre

9. Romeo & Juliet – Salisbury School

10. What Corbin Knew – The Penny Seats

11. Totally Awesome Players – Delaware Theatre Company

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Shows to See! January into February!

It’s time for another round of SHOWS TO SEE, for planning, organizational, and chronicling purposes.

FALLOW at the People’s Light and Theatre (January 31)
DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE at Bootless Artworks in Wilmington (February 2)
TIME STANDS STILL at the Delaware Theatre Company (February 3)
THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN
at the University of Delaware Resident Ensemble (February 9)
THE GREAT DIVORCE
at Lantern Theatre Company (February 11)

and yet to be scheduled…
MUSEUM
at Villanova University
MICROCRISIS at InterAct Theatre
PARADE at Wilmington Drama League
BLITHE SPIRIT at Clear Space Theatre
CRUEL, CALM & NEGLECTED at the City Theatre

Contextual Theatre

In my recently posted “Best of 2011” blog entry, which was quite enjoyable to compile and explore, I notice that nearly every play on the list benefited from my knowing some additional context or background information about the production. In those cases, it could have been (was) related to the reputation of the producing theatre, newness of the company, intent of the artistic director or some production team member, and in one bittersweet case, the impending closure of the theatre company.

I know that my impressions of all of those shows would have been modestly to strongly different if I had not known additional context about the material or company itself. This realization led me to wonder – how much does context play into impressions of the play for the average theatregoer? I’m sure that studies have been done on this issue in some form or another, but the process could be different or unique depending on the geography, location or association of the theatre itself.

11 Plays I’ll Remember from 2011

I’m closing out 2011 having seen 55 theatrical productions, traveled at least 7,000 miles, completed a masters degree, moved back to the East Coast, and with a multitude of additional memories to associate with the year. For this entry I’ll focus on those theatrical memories.

I made a top 10 list for the year several weeks ago, expecting that it might be modified before December 31 arrived. As it turned out, that list has remained mostly the same. I also compiled an accompanying Bottom 5 list, but decided not to share that publicly. However, making a list like that reminds me of one of my most interesting theatrical discussions of the year – whether someone receives feedback or not on a performance, and how that process is approached. Perhaps that’s a topic for a future entry.

Ultimately I decided that this would be a “top 11” list, in chronological order, highlighting the standout productions I saw in 2011 across the country. Without further ado…

Sonia Flew at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre in Bloomfield, Michigan – January
While this show actually opened and ran in 2010, I didn’t see it until its final performance on January 2, 2011, and thus will count it in the tally for this year. A powerful story about cross-generational family ties lingers in my mind alongside a historical issue I’d not been familiar with. I felt that the culmination energy of the closing performance added to the intensity and meaning of my seeing the show, alongside the pleasure of cheering on a friend featured in the cast and meeting the other cast members through him.

Clybourne Park at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, California – January
A breath of fresh air for the normally quite static ACT, this show burst out of left field to become a New Year’s hit. I was captivated by the topicality and breexiness of the script, which knowingly looked at hot-button racial issues without taking itself too seriously. On a related level, the actors and director all worked in a seemingly relaxed manner, letting down some of the artifice or distance between them and the audience to create a lasting theatrical impression.

Cyrano at the Sonoma County Repertory Theater in Sebastopol, California – February
The final production at “The Rep”, which closed its doors immediately following this show’s run, was elegiac with integrity. I’m sure that my knowledge of the theatre’s real life situation added to my impressions of the drama. At the same time, I recall a certain timeless quality to the production, as if the characters were stepping out of time to give us a moment of their time, and then proceeding to move on to another world, dimension or era.

Born and Raised at the Berkeley Playhouse in Berkeley, California – May
This new work took a look at another hot-button issue (gay marriage) and humanized the experience. Prolific Bay Area director Jon Tracy helmed a locally rooted story about marriage equality, and added creative touches in musical numbers and a balanced, large cast to make the narrative involving and emotionally satisfying. The spirit of new plays, where anything can happen and story elements are in flux, was visible in the creative process and risk taking demonstrated by the cast.

Tiny Alice at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, California – June
In writing up this show, I referred to it as an “elaborate jigsaw puzzle” and while that impression still stands, six months later (now) I recall the heightened artistry of this production: the best use of MTC’s stage that I had ever seen, with the set opening on itself twice, the exaggerated yet sharp characterizations – especially Mark Anderson Phillips as the Butler, and the utter dedication of the five person cast. Director Jasson Minnidakis had clearly wanted to work on this play for a long while, and I hope he looks back on it with a sense of fulfillment.

Let Me Down Easy at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California – June
Renowned actress and storyteller Anna Deavere Smith returned to the Bay Area to tell this story as part of a national tour. Despite (or no matter of) these wide ranging roots, the show had an urgency and topicality that would put it at the top of my top 10 list – if I chose to organize this list that way. Smith made me forget all about her as she embodied a series of subjects/interviewees and recounted their experiences with health care. A show like this ought to have been mandatory viewing when the universal health care question engulfed the USA.

Care of Trees at the Shotgun Players in Berkeley, California – June
A striking, haunting story was given additional depth by director Susannah Martin and the talented two-hander team of Patrick Russell and Liz Sklar. Themes of supernaturalism and unpredictability ran through the piece, but (more strikingly) ran right alongside emotional realism, seen in Russell’s increasingly urgent, vibrant portrayal of the male lead and a series of videos and audio clips that furthered the character’s relationships – and audience understanding.

The Verona Project at the California Shakespeare Theatre in Orinda, California – July
Another breath of fresh air in the height of the summer, mixed now (in hindsight) with the Culmination/Crescendo of my Bay Area life that came to a close 10 days after seeing this show. The creators took a novel concept – turning the words of the Bard into a rock musical – and added unexpected humanity and honesty to the tale. An equal accomplishment was creating several tuneful, memorable songs that I wish were available on a soundtrack album!

Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning, Juliet at The Penny Seats in Ann Arbor, Michigan – August
Buoyant creativity and gleeful mirth sailed through this premiere production from The Penny Seats. This was another example of outside knowledge (being in attendance on Opening Night of the troupe’s Premiere Production) played in to my audience experience. That awareness was matched by a crackerjack acting and production team game for anything – even a rainstorm on the second night that did NOT deter the performance – and a tongue in cheek script mixing notable drama and cheerful irreverence in such a way that allowed The Penny Seats to make a memorable debut.

Little Foxes at the University of Delaware Resident Ensemble Players in Newark, Delaware – October
I’ll dare to say this show was a Revelatory debut experience for the UD/PTTP troupe. I went in expecting to be like “wow” at the end of the show, and I left feeling like “WOAH.” This production was the most skillfully dramatic of the year, as I recall feeling a mix of intensity and gleefulness from getting so involved in the dramatic storyline. The production team also pulled off the coup of making an older storyline seem fresh, which is not always successful. The production notes seemed to imply that the title had been a last-minute choice for production, but the professionalism and integrity of the product belied no evidence of any backstage debates.

A Little Night Music at the City Theater Company in Wilmington, Delaware – December
In a similar manner to the PTTP debut, this production was impressive and deceptively simple. I recall my mom’s comment following the show: “I would have easily driven to Philadelphia for a show like that” and know that I agree with her, where the skillful cast approached Sondheim’s story and score with focus and determination. Several performances from younger professionals showed much promise for future roles, while the veteran performers took a nuanced approach to their work and seemed to intuitively know why they were there and how they’d best fit into the tapestry of the story.

———————–

On a slightly melancholic note, I could not have anticipated how departing the Bay Area would result in such a steep drop in my theatregoing: 45 shows up until the end of July (leaving the Bay Area), and only 10 shows during the rest of the year. I sincerely hope that the new year will bring the return of more consistency to my theatre-going, now based in the Mid Atlantic Region… and an accompanying production gig would be the icing on the cake.

A note of accomplishment: I’m very grateful to have maintained this blog as a theatrical chronicle for this year, and know that I want to continue, and possibly enhance, this process in the future. It’s clear to me that keeping a record of all the shows has helped solidify and enhance my theatre studies and pursuits, changing the memory from “oh, what was that show?” to “YES, THAT WAS A MEMORABLE SHOW IN A MEMORABLE YEAR!

Lots of Night Music at a Little Wilmington Venue

Thursday evening brought an introduction to the City Theater Company for their production of A Little Night Music. As show #54, this may win my year-end award for “most pleasing surprise” of my theatrical pursuits this year. I walked in expecting a modest production in a black box theatre space, and I (and other audience members, I hope) received a robust and well tuned fully realized stage interpretation.

I was glad to not be overly familiar with the play, though the song Send in the Clowns has become deservedly iconic. From their production history, it seems that this company takes pleasure in interpreting Stephen Sondheim. Previously, they have featured Into the Woods, Company, and possibly at least two other shows by him. I wouldn’t say that the shows were/are a vanity project, as the energy and focus of the cast exuded professionalism. I was quite taken by the bouncy costumes of the ensemble, changing to fit the different moods of the two acts. However, I agree with a local reviewer who felt that the costumes might have been too modern; I didn’t get a good sense of the time period the creators intended to evoke. On a technical note, the visible presence of the orchestra (off to the stage right side of the main characters) was pleasant, but also distracting at times to see the conductor’s hand raise up a few moments before a song began – as opposed to letting the actor guide the audience into the song. I certainly know these things can’t be perfect in a black box setting, and am merely noting it from the audience experience.

A well trained and evenly balanced cast gave unexpected depth to the storyline. In contrast to my recent experience comparing Delaware’s All My Sons cast to their Broadway cousins, this time I was relieved and impressed by the naturalism of Karen Murdock in the central role of Desiree. The part doesn’t need to be played by someone with the glamour of Catherine Zeta Jones, and if it’s not, I would say it’s more believable. In looking at the production history, I’m reminded that Judi Dench played Desiree (when Dench herself was in her early 60’s) in a 1995 London production. And it’s interesting to see that Diana Rigg was featured in the supporting role of Charlotte in the 1977 film version, which I’d like to see!

While reviewing the production history, I notice a coincidence. The most recent Broadway revival (November, 2009 – January, 2011) had in fact originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, a notable Fringe theatre that opened during my first stint of living in London in the fall of 2004. While I regrettably never saw a show at the Menier, this theatre-going experience (Thursday night in Wilmington) strongly reminded me of their aesthetic, location and production ethos: putting on a deceptively simple production of a usually elaborate show, in a small venue that might be known for something else, close to an elevated railroad and near the banks of a river.

So, is Wilmington on the way to becoming an American London?!

Alphabet Soup, revisited

Okay, I said I would do this, and I want to do it, so I will indeed do it. Belatedly.

Will this all be a SUMMARY, SYNOPSIS or actual RUMINATION? Let’s find out.

Let’s recap:
ALMOST, MAINE
BY THE BOG OF CATS
CABARET

DEAR LIAR

ALMOST, MAINE – seen at the College of Marin just over a year ago, December 4, 2010. My good friend Molly Noble guided 19 (mostly) student actors to an impressively rounded ensemble. A Pacific Sun review glowed with praise. For me, this show was an interesting example of personal and professional lives coming together in the theatre, where I knew the director and several cast members, but tried to remain objective in my opinion of the show.

So what was that list, again? I’m not sure if I truly want to write comments about 26 shows in the past, but I do want to make a note of when I saw them and where.

Almost, Maine
College of Marin, Kentfield, CA, December 4, 2010
By the Bog of Cats
Wyndham’s Theatre, London, England, November 27, 2004
Cabaret
1) Hampshire College Tavern, Amherst, MA, March 6, 2004
2) Lyric Theatre, London, England, April 19 (?), 2007
3) PCPA Theaterfest, Santa Maria, CA, May 15, 2008

Dear Liar
Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA, October, 2007 – I served as an ASM
Equivocation
1) Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR, August 11, 2009
2) Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley, CA, April 20, 2010

False Servant
Cottesloe, National Theatre, London, England, September 13, 2004
Grand Hotel
Donmar Warehouse, London, England, November 19, 2004
Horses
AlterTheater, San Rafael, CA, October 22, 2009
Is He Dead?
Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma, CA, April, 2010
John Gabriel Borkman
Donmar Warehouse, London, England, April, 2007
King Lear
The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, March 29. 2007
Leading Ladies
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa, CA, July 6, 2008
Murderous Instincts
Savoy Theatre, London, England, September 29, 2004
Night of the Iguana
Lyric Theatre, London, England, December, 2005
Of The Earth (The Salt Plays: Part 1)
John Hinckel Park, Berkeley, CA, September 26, 2010
P
(Fat Pig?)
Aurora Theatre, Berkeley, CA, December, 2009
Q
(Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party?)
San Francisco Playhouse, San Francisco, CA, January, 2009
Ragtime
PCPA Theaterfest, Santa Maria, CA, July 10, 2008
Speaking in Tongues
Theatre 503, London, England, March, 2007
Tintin
Barbican Theatre, London, England, December, 2005
Under Milk Wood
Porchlight Theatre, Ross, CA, July 7, 2008
Verona Project
California Shakespeare Theatre, Orinda, CA, July 14, 2011
War Horse
Oliver, National Theatre, London, England, December, 2005
X
?????
You Never Can Tell
Garrick Theatre, London, England, December, 2005
Z
???????

That’s more of what I wanted to do, pulling those titles out of the memory banks. Time will tell if it leads to further commentary. Well, there are a few I would like to write in more detail about:

By the Bog of Cats
Equivocation
False Servant
Grand Hotel
King Lear
Murderous Instincts
(Fat Pig?)
(Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party?)
Tintin
Under Milk Wood
Verona Project
War Horse

… so it will be a challenge to do just that.

Beauty Queen of New Ark

I made my second visit for theatre in Newark, Delaware, last night. This time, it was to the local community theatre, Chapel Street Players, for show #51: their production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh. This Newark, for some reason, is pronounced “NEW ARK”, not “Nooark” – hence my entry title.

I feel the need to add some non-specific comments about my relationship to community theatre. At some point this year, or maybe even the year before that, I became aware that I was attending shows at mostly Equity/professional companies. As an Equity member myself and with a theatre background, it made sense to me that I’d have high standards. But I also wanted to do more comparing and contrasting of productions. So I set the intention to vary it up more between the regional houses, local professional companies, and community organizations. I’m not sure how successful that has been, but I do intend to make a year end listing of shows, so all will be revealed by that time.

With that in mind, I couldn’t help but reflect on my high standards when seeing this show. It was a serviceable and well focused effort from the quartet of actors, all of whom seemed to have worked with the company before. But the company’s possibly tight budget was revealed awkwardly with some of the props, and a surprising staging choice involving lights at the top of the second act. The accent work (Irish) was extremely detail oriented and well put together throughout the whole show. Most of the play is composed of two person scenes for which the respective actors had clearly put effort and attention into.

However, I didn’t really absorb the black comedy angle that I know McDonagh intended to appear somewhere in the play. It left me wondering about interpretations and challenges of creative material – if McDonagh’s film In Bruges, for instance, was played as a melodrama, would it have the same effect? (I don’t think so.) This version seemed unevenly melodramatic.

Despite my wider mixed impressions of community theatre, there’s no denying the heart and soul that the actors put into their work. In most cases, they want to be there on that stage, not just for the work or for the credit, and that energized feeling nearly always finds its way to the spotlight.