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Monday, January 27, 2014

Theatre Blog - the ALIENS at Dobama Theatre

The playwright, Annie Baker, has created a fascinating play that reminds me of Woodstock genetically altered to exist in the back alley of a coffee shop. Characters that define two perceptions of life, from frenetic to chilled out. But from the first moment of the play, I can tell you this, the sound designer (Richard Ingraham) knocked this out of the park. In an opening ceremony that reminds me of the upcoming Sochi Olympics, the results are hysterical. And then the play sits there for a moment, and you get a clue to how the evening will progress. Not afraid to let silence tell a story of character, unresolved pain, and choices. Nathan Motta (Artistic Director/Director) of this production chooses wisely to understand the piece as a "real time" experiment. Motta has crafted a beautiful evening of theatre, letting the laughter come from a very simple and neurotic place, aided of course, by drugs of choice.

We meet KJ and Jasper. Or as I thought of them, Tom and Jerry tweaked out 24/7.  Nestled in the safety net behind a coffee shop, these two approach life differently, one jittery, and the other one, well, he would fit nicely in the back seat of Cheech and Chong's ride. KJ (equity actor Alexander V. Thompson) is a frickin scream. His physicality is priceless, and I kept on wondering how many calories he must burn per second for the energy to get his thoughts from this brain to his mouth. Watching this lovable train wreck with awe is Jasper (played beautifully intense by Matt O'Shea). He reminds me of a skinny panic attack, and that is a compliment. Jasper is a tortured artist as we all are. Writing poetry, songs, and hopeless expression about love loss.For the two, it's quite a love story of sorts. Two individuals who didn't quite turn out the way they might have hoped. Both share of love for the work of Charles Bukowski. No wonder, because in 1986 Time called Bukowski a "laureate of American lowlife". So I can see why an artist that can make poetic justice about how two individuals find solace behind a coffee house, and not in it.

Soon we meet Evan (Joseph Dunn) who brings a 17 year old perspective into the picture. Although he starts off bringing the heat to the two in a nervous ball of being assigned a duty that he really didn't want, which is to get rid of them. Dunn craftily handles and assimilates to the proceedings, much like the Borg. And to stand tall against these two on stage, is a major bonus. No weak links on the boards. Thus begins the interaction that provides sustaining energy to this triangle of innocence and misfortune. Through this triangle, you certainly learn that SHROOMS can be very entertaining. A whole other meaning to "High Tea" if you will.

The evening makes me wonder what happened to these guys in their lives. You get hints of their valleys throughout, but it makes me want to know more about them. Motta keeps the slow pace moving well which just carries you through the play faster then you think you are going.

The highlight of the music that is presented in the play is the Frog Men Song. A hilarious rendition. Think of the Everly Brothers on a three day bender on the back of a farm truck. It is so much to crack each other up, isn't it.
The fact that both gentlemen have great folk voices adds to the charm and the bewilderment to the tunes that materialize in the show.

Act Two offers a surprise which triggers some more deeply moving scenes and honestly within the characters. That against the very funny discussion of their first sexual experiences, and what honor that band camp brought to Evan. I think we can all take a few lessons from Evan on how to lean on a garbage to try to create coolness. That bit cracked me up.  Also, KJ made me want to look up truth tables.

The evening ends with loss. We can appreciate how Evan has grown from both of these back alley counselors. There is a way out of depression. You just have to pick it up and play.

I realize how the set works perfectly for this piece (fine work by Aaron Benson), aiding by the eerie lighting design (Marcus Dana). Together the pair bring realness to this ordinary life. The costumes (Tesia Benson) are dead on. My favorite being the horse shirt. I would imagine KJ has named them all at some point.

Dobama is known for presenting high quality, professional productions of the best new plays. Well, they are indeed.

January 24 - February 23

7:30pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2:30pm Sundays

Arrive 45 minutes before curtain and you’ll have something to enjoy!
Pre-show talks: 1/24, 1/25, 1/30, 2/2, 2/7, 2/8, 2/13, 2/16, 2/21, 2/22
Live Music from local singer/ songwriters: 1/26, 1/31, 2/1, 2/6, 2/9, 2/14, 2/15, 2/20, 2/23
*for this production, doors always open 45 minutes before curtain

Friday, January 17, 2014

Theatre Blog - Exact Change at cleveland PUBLIC theatre

Change is powerful. It can save a life, regenerate a country, and even elect a president. Exact change has a increased value to it and is much tougher. Pinpointing something that needs revision, and making a plan to create an exact change, to something that is usually taken as a given, and accepted by others as the same. Therefore, there must be truth to make those decisions. Because it is in that truth that we find peace, or a reasonable defense of our new position in life.

Christine Howey had to find that truth on a remarkable journey which is now on display at cleveland PUBLIC theatre in her one woman show EXACT CHANGE. As director Scott Plate says "Truth, like gender, is shaped by what it faces as it comes into being." That clarity of directorial vision enabled Plate to guide this journey smoothly through the 90 minutes of prose, poetry, and demonstrative storytelling. His excellent skill at moving the piece forward is only matched by Howey herself, who serves up a tremendous evening of entertainment, to say the least.

Last year I attended the Big Box workshop of this show and what a treat that was. 60 minutes of touching, hilarious and brilliant writing, that one person shows rarely achieve. And tonight I had the pleasure of seeing this piece being taken to its next level of development that resulted in 90 minutes of theatrical bliss. With original music supplied by Danny English, we start off the evening with a series of poems and stories. My personal highlight was of one of the most erotic in-home sales calls I have ever witnessed. Witnessed by watching a woman behind window blinds, that reminded me of a commercial for the Trojan Vibrating Tri-phoria, and fully expected her hair to be blown back in a cone after she came out.

The first biting piece for me was Blueberries. Listening to careless conversation between female workers that seems so innocent, and then when it is revealed where this is taking place, a chill goes through you and makes you feel the pain of a time which many would want to forget. I was delighted to see that Beowulf and his wife were back, because this couple would be prime material for a BBC sitcom. As the piece progresses we reach a point where the transformation of Christine begins to unravel before our eyes. We are taken through the life of someone who at first struggles with who they are, asking questions that someone so young couldn't possibly know the answers, to the years where he slowly finds the decisions that will result in a life changing and identity changing event.

As presented by the segments from Oprah, that are shared as part of the evening, we search for the answers and the education necessary to understand sexual versus gender identity. If I remember correctly, I remember seeing Christine and her daughter Noelle on the national show Inside Edition long ago. What an amazing time to be face to face with someone who I thought a hero so many years ago. This process is fascinating to watch, and entertaining as hell. There are painful, thoughtful, and funny moments. And I must say, I would love to have lunch with Dolly, who gives a young man some fabulous advice to be used for his future. At one point during the evening, Christine bares her soul and her head in a very powerful moment of the evening in which she puts everything on the table.

Towards the end of the evening we are reminded of the current murder investigations that are going on that involve the lost transgendered women in the Cleveland area. A reminder that to some, this is a life and death situation. Howey's explanation of the first time she felt accepted in public was a very poignant moment. At the end of this piece, I just sat there and was so inspired by the strength it must have took to not only write everything, but to expose yourself to the world and let all of us in. Remarkable truth was needed to accomplish that task.

As I thought about the play, I was struck with the love story that exists within the evenings poetic synergy, and that is the love story of Christine and Noelle, her daughter. The Oprah clips have Noelle sitting on the couch with her, and then both of them dancing at her daughter's wedding. That really touched me because it was all about family and sticking together. It was a lovely bonus.

Go see this. As a director, actor or playwright. There is a lot to celebrate.

Written and Performed by Christine Howey
Directed by Scott Plate
Scenic Designer: Jeff Herrmann
Stage Manager: Amanda Lin Boyd
Costume Designer: Esther Haberlen
Lighting Designer?Media Intergration: Benjamin Gantose
Text Animation Design: Kyllea Kerg
Sound Technician: James Kosmatka
Assistant Director: Laura Perrotta
Composer: Danny English

Check out cleveland PUBLIC theatre.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sisters Forever. The Burrell Family Letters at True North Cultural Arts - THEATRE BLOG

True North Cultural Arts, located in Sheffield Lake, OH has a unique program within its theatrical walls. Throughout the year, they commission plays to be written to highlight and provide education as to the history of Lorain County.  Kelly Boyer Sagert took on the latest task of exploring the Burrell Sisters, who were an important representative family during a time of the 20's, the Great Depression, World War II and the country's eventual recovery. Although laden with historical facts, Director Brian Bowers chooses to focus on the family dynamics. Creating an evening of relationships that tell how a family survives during tested sisterhood and surviving the economics of life challenges. The evening moves smoothly. Bowers has created an interesting world out of the playwrights vision.

At the helm of the evening is Tyson Douglas Rand, who portrays Ken Burrell, a brother who mystically guides us through the lives of his family with touching antidotes and the ability to crack a joke when needed. He creates a beautiful connection with the audience that sets the tone of Prairie Home Companion-esque. He hardly ever leaves the stage, so he deserves a well earned adult soda. The women of this play remind me that it could be called the Desperate Housewives of Lorain County. Each sister bringing  her own presence and a mother that could beat up Tevye in a street fight. Marilyn Forster plays matriarch Tempe Burrell with charm and a clear understanding of what to tell and not to tell her daughters. Tempe holds her own and gives a good insight to raising her family in these trying times. The three sisters are typical of family dynamics, where along the way it always seems to be an interchangeable two versus one. It is the circle of life, sister style. Eleanor Burrell comes across of the most stoic of the group, and defines herself with a regal sense of serenity that permeates her performance. Virginia Burrell is played with a spunky resolve by Bernadette Hisey. She is most animated of the sisters and makes the most out of the physical shtick. Her Virginia is the most balanced of the sisters. And then there is Doris Burrell, who cracked me up a lot. Played by Kathie Dice with an Annie Oakley charm, and a woman I would not like to have to play Red Rover with because I would never cross over if she was on the other side. Doris goes through the biggest personal heartbreak of the piece, and conveys the journey of what we all face sometimes with directness.  Rounding out the cast are Anne Chriszt, playing her character Lillian Brown with bubbling energy and a spot on performance. Jenny Erbs who brings the irish spitfire Rose O'Reilly to life and definitely knows what she wants and how to get it.
And finally Dean Stamatis, playing Marty Schilling. Dean brings a common man persona to the role and helps us connect with his dream, but with a grounded resolve, and when to say "Ok, you're right"

Written by Kelly Boyer Sagert
Directed by Brian Bowers
Stage Manager Dena Warmuth
Costume Design Luke Scattergood
Set and Lighting Design Keith Newman
Sound Design Stan Kozak

Check out True North Cultural Arts!