I’ve Gotta Get Back in Thyme. . .Again

015

Friday, July 29:  the day the road took me to my most poignant place.

On this sunny day I began a journey nearly 14 years in the making.  For it was on this day that I headed to Bonner Springs, KS to be a guest at Back in Thyme Bed and Breakfast and to review The Elephant Man for The Barn Players of Mission, KS.

If you’re a first time visitor to this website, The Elephant Man is my favorite play and it played a rather profound moment in my life.  For the full details of that story, click here.  I had long made my peace with the events of that day which is why I was so excited to finally have an opportunity to see the show and come fullish circle.  The timing couldn’t be more appropriate as this article will be posted on the 14th anniversary that I heard the results of that audition.

Bonner Springs is a suburb of Kansas City so it provides a unique blend of small town living with the perks of a nearby major metropolitan area for things to do.  Back in Thyme, owned and operated by Judy Vickers, is a beautiful “new-old” Queen Anne house nestled on a secluded acreage near Nettleton Avenue.

Given the size of the house I was surprised that it only boasted 3 bedrooms for rental.  On the other hand, the limited number of rooms does make it ideal for peace and quiet.  As I climbed the porch steps, I met Brantley and Ashley, fellow guests who were in the area to see a Rascal Flatts concert.  As I reached the top step, I was greeted by Judy, a very hospitable host and a fount of knowledge on fun things to do in the area.

Judy led me to the Bay Laurel Room which would serve as my base of operations.  It’s one of the most comfortable rooms in which I’ve stayed with its soft armchairs, burgundy walls, feather pillows, and a queen bed with a firm mattress.  The room also boasts a fireplace and I mildly wished it were colder so I could get a crackling blaze going.

I unwound in my room for a while before sprucing up for the show and enjoying a 6pm appetizer with Judy and a couple of her friends.  I ended up in a great conversation with Fred, a rather intelligent man who is currently writing three books.  I enjoyed a pleasant hour conversing with Fred as we nibbled on cheese, olives, crackers, and baba ganoush.

When Fred noticed traffic starting to back up on the highway, I decided to head over to the Barn Players.  Once more, Mapquest tried to put one over on me by telling me to make a right turn on a street when it should have been a left.  Shades of Richardson, TX flashed through my brain as I got my bearings and got back on the right track.  Luckily, I made it to the theatre with about 7 minutes to spare.

017

The Barn Players is a bit of an institution in Mission and has quite an impressive reputation.  Many of its alumni have gone on to professional acting careers, most notably Chris Cooper.  The show was almost everything that I hoped it would be.  A few flaws kept it out of the excellent region, but it was still very good and thoroughly enjoyable.  You can read my review for the show here.

I returned to Back in Thyme where I wrote my review and curled up in my bed for a good night’s rest.

After a comfy night’s sleep, I awoke ravenous.  I headed downstairs and enjoyed chit-chat with Brantley and Ashley as we dined on Judy’s wonderful scrambled eggs cooked in thyme butter, crispy bacon, French toast, and fried apples.

001

Having restored the inner man, I went upstairs to do a little work on the computer before deciding to take advantage of the pleasant day and walk along some trails I found behind the house.  Normally I like communing with nature, but I got a faceful of nature in the most literal sense as I stumbled through myriad spider webs as I wandered through the woods.  I escaped from the woods yanking webbing off of my face and hair.

Judy had suggested several areas of interest, some of which I will save for a future visit to the K.C. area, but I did take time to visit Bonner Springs’ famed Moon Marble Company.

As the name implies, the store is famed for its marbles and even gives demonstrations into a making of marbles, but the store is so much more than that.  The store also specializes in board games, puzzles, and classic toys.  I was amazed at all of the hard to find toys and games located in the shop.  Duncan Yo-yos, rare board games, Jacob’s ladders, Fisher-Price toys that I remembered from my childhood.  If you like vintage toys and games, take some time to visit Moon Marble Company if you find yourselves in Bonner Springs.

After I drove around the downtown area, I returned to the inn where I killed a few hours watching a mystery series before cleaning up for church and dinner.

I attended services at Good Shepherd Catholic Community in Shawnee, KS where I enjoyed a wonderful service preached by Fr. Oswaldo.  When services were done, I headed over to Hereford House for dinner.

010

Hereford House is a Kansas City institution and this was one of the tastiest meals I have ever eaten.  I indulged in a small salad with creamy Italian dressing before supping on the main course of a 12 oz ribeye blackened with garlic butter and a side of Cheddar Ranch potatoes and a bit of bread.  Most of my dinner came back with me where it currently rests in the inn’s guest fridge for a future meal.

011

I spent the remainder of the evening working on this article before turning in for the night.

I awoke to a rather gloomy day and am expecting some rain on the drive home.  I spent a bit of time editing this article and then went downstairs for another rousing breakfast.

At the table, I met Courtney and Ashley from Olathe, KS who had just come in from having coffee on the porch and we chatted while Judy served us a sumptuous meal of sausage, green chile egg casserole with salsa (now one of my favorite dishes), zucchini muffins, and cantaloupe.  The pleasant meal and talk was over much too quickly and I began to pack up for the drive home.

013

So if you find yourself in the Kansas City area, spend an evening at Back in Thyme in Bonner Springs.  You’ll find some good (and healthy) home cooking on a peaceful estate with plenty to do nearby.

What Makes a Man?

Josephmerrick1889

Take a good, long look at the above photo.  Imagine being caged in a body like that.  Hideously ugly.  Virtually crippled.  But inside that tragic figure your heart beats with the sensibilities of an artist, the innocence of a child, and the charming wit of a gentleman.  This was Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, who defied his pitiable circumstances to become the toast of London society.  His life story is the focus of The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance which is currently playing at the Barn Players Community Theatre.

Time for a little full disclosure.  This is my favorite play.  I know it backwards and forwards and am a cornucopia of knowledge in the history of the real Joseph (misnamed John) Merrick.  As you can imagine, I’ve got some pretty high standards for this show.  I’m very pleased to say that The Barn Players met my standards and even exceeded them at some points in a very powerful and poignant piece of storytelling.

Pomerance’s script is an interesting blend of historical fact (though some events are embellished for dramatic effect) and compelling themes such as strength of spirit, egoism, love, friendship, and what really makes us human.  Despite being the title character, Merrick’s presence is more of a force that touches the lives of everyone he meets in some form or another.  Some realize their own humanity while others lose theirs.  Interestingly, many of the other characters project their own qualities onto Merrick and only two actually see Merrick for the beautiful soul that he is.

These ideals make for storytelling at its finest and the cast and crew do a very good job on the whole in telling that story.

Mark Hamilton should be especially proud of his direction.  His staging is excellent and he has coached performances ranging from very good to superior from his actors.  I did note a couple of beats that could be mined for greater dramatic impact, but those moments can still bloom during this show’s run.

I consider the role of Merrick to be one of the most difficult and grueling an actor can undertake.  Not only does the actor playing the role need to be unbelievably versatile to handle the complexities of the character, he must also adopt an awkward and demanding body language to communicate the infirmities of Merrick.  With that being said, Coleman Crenshaw does extreme honor to the role.

Crenshaw certainly did his homework as he understands Merrick right down to the ground.  His physicality was tremendous, though he needs to keep that body language in mind at all times.  He made some movements that would either have been impossible for the real Merrick or done only with excruciating difficulty.  That quibble aside, his interpretation of the dialogue blew me away.

Crenshaw’s delivery is so nuanced it almost staggers the imagination.  With incredible ease, he captures Merrick’s innocence, wit, genius, fears, awkwardness, and goodness.  And he does it with a clogged and slobbering speech that still retains flawless diction.  His evolving of Merrick from frightened creature to bold man over the course of the show is a tour de force and I foresee Crenshaw being in the running for many local acting awards.

David Innis does a fairly good job as Dr. Frederick Treves, the doctor who found Merrick and gave him a home at the London Hospital.  Innis presents Treves as a full of himself young doctor who originally gets involved with Merrick solely because he is a good subject for study. His inherent decency appears when he brings Merrick to live at the London Hospital after he is abandoned by his manager.

From there, Innis does a marvelous job showing Treves’ awakening to his own humanity and ugliness as he comes to know Merrick’s internal beauty.  Treves grows to hate himself as he believes he has turned Merrick into a freak, albeit a high class one, as he introduces him to London society and bitterly regrets seeing him as a mere research subject.

One thing Innis must master during this run is to project.  He was so quiet that, had I not known the dialogue so well, I would not have understood large portions of his speeches.

Stefanie Stevens brings depth and intelligence to the role of Mrs. Kendal, the actress who befriends Merrick.  Originally brought in to visit Merrick because she is trained to hide her true emotions, Mrs. Kendal instantly recognizes the man within the monstrous body and forms a kinship with him.  Ms Stevens plays the role with an elegant sincerity and is especially impressive in the moment when she decides to grant Merrick’s fond desire of seeing a real woman in all of her naturalness.

Special notice also goes out to Jeph Scanlon and Sean Leistico who play the roles of Carr-Gomm and Ross.  As Carr-Gomm, the administrator of the London Hospital, Scanlon manages to be kindly if a little stiff and serious.  And I never thought I would make a critique like this, but he actually needs to enunciate a little less.  He was hitting his syllables so hard that it made his dialogue a little staccato.  Softening his syllables will let his speech have a more natural flow.

Leistico adds a third dimension to Ross with sheer force of acting ability.  The role could be treated as a throwaway, but Leistico is pathetically oily as the manager who robs Merrick of his life savings and is just pathetic when he comes crawling back, sick and dying, in the hopes that Merrick will throw away the life he’s created to be a high class freak.

Holly Daniel’s costumes are gorgeous and a perfect fit for Victorian era London.  Laura Burkhart has developed a wonderful “less is more” set that easily shifts from Merrick’s room to the hospital to Belgium.  I would also be remiss if I did not mention the music of Daniel Yung.  He provides all of the sounds and music of the show with a superior piece of cello playing that he suits to each and every moment of the play.

What ultimately makes the show so compelling is Merrick’s humanity and that teaches a valuable lesson to us all.  Life dealt him the worst possible hand and he did not become embittered by it. He rose above it and taught us all what it means to be human.

The Elephant Man plays at the Barn Players Community Theatre through August 14.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  There will be an industry night performance on Monday, August 8.  Tickets cost $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $12 for students (w/ID) and groups of 10 or more.  Industry night tickets are $12 at the door.  To order tickets, visit the Barn Players website at www.thebarnplayers.org or call 913-432-9100.  Parental discretion is advised due to a scene of partial nudity.  The Barn Players Community Theatre is located at 6219 Martway in Mission, KS.

There’s Nothing Funny About this Joke

In my reviews I’ve often said that I become concerned when a story is changed from one medium to another as something is usually altered or lost in the translation which waters down the story’s original intent.  But every now and again, a translation comes around that shows great reverence for the source material and maintains its original beauty.  Batman:  The Killing Joke is just such a translation.

This film version of Alan Moore’s legendary graphic novel stays true to Moore’s gritty tale almost word for word and manages to add a little something as well thanks to a well written screenplay by Brian Azzarello.  Azzarello added a lengthy monologue to bolster the character of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and extend this story to theatrical length.

Let’s get something straight from the beginning.  Though this is an animated film, it is not for children.  The film carries an R rating due to its dark and grim thematic elements.  For those of you unfamiliar with the tale, the story centers around the Joker’s desire to prove that all it takes is one bad day and someone can be driven as mad as he is.  He attempts to prove his point by psychologically torturing Commissioner James Gordon.  This torture involves the brutalization of his daughter, Barbara.

Two points have long fascinated me about Moore’s story.  The first was the painstaking care he took in showing that Batman and Joker are simply two sides of the same coin.  Joker is given an origin story in this film in which he had one bad day which drove him stark, slavering buggo.  Batman also had a bad day which made him what he is.  The difference is that he didn’t break and he used that bad day to fuel a greater good.  This is what makes their war so mesmerizing.

The second is that Moore actually delves into a rare area:  the humanity of Batman and Joker.  Batman’s humanity is somewhat taken for granted as he is a hero.  But this story takes it one step further as he tries to reach out to Joker and genuinely rehabilitate him to get them off their doomed road.  Prior to this story, Joker’s humanity had never been touched on.  But this tale shows that somewhere within this beast exists a kernel of decency long buried by tragedy.

Bringing these ideals to light would be incredibly difficult if not for the amazing talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.

If voice actors could be nominated for Oscars, Mark Hamill would easily earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his take on the Clown Prince of Crime.  Hamill has always managed to keep the role fresh and original despite having voiced the Harlequin of Hate on and off for the past 22 years, but he rose to unprecedented heights in this film.

In this go-around, Hamill finally gives us a truly vile and merciless Joker with a guttural voice and truly malevolent laughter.  As scary and disgusting as he is, Hamill manages to make us feel some pity for the Joker as we view his life as a failed comedian before his transformation.  But Hamill’s crowning achievement occurs near the end of the film as the Joker considers Batman’s offer of help.  If there is any doubt that Mark Hamill is the best of the Jokers, this interpretation will wipe them all away.

A Joker is only as good as his Batman and Kevin Conroy also comes out all guns a blazing with his essaying of the Dark Knight.  Like Hamill, Conroy has also played his iconic role for the better part of two decades and brings all of that experience to this film.  The nuance Conroy can put into a rasp is truly astounding as you can hear Batman’s sincerity as he pleads with the Joker to let him help, his concern and care for Barbara, and his anger when he hunts the Joker.

Tara Strong gives a strong and dignified take in the role of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.  For her crimefighting is an adventure and thrill, not a lifelong mission as it is for Batman and her voice reflects that zest.  The character of Batgirl generated quite a bit of controversy due to a moment that takes place between her and Batman in the prologue.  You’ll know it when you see it, but I thought it made perfect sense in the universe of this Batman as the incident was referenced in a previous film.  Rather than weakening the character, I thought it humanized her and helped her understand Batman better when she faces her own abyss.

Ray Wise is paternal and noble as Commissioner Gordon.  The love he has for his daughter is palpable as is his agony when he suffers from the Joker’s tortures.  Yet he also manages to be a pillar of strength, demanding that Joker be brought in by the book to prove that the way of law and order works.

Director Sam Liu does good work in keeping the pace of the story going as well as tying the rather disparate prologue together with the core story.  Wes Gleason’s voice direction is nothing but aces, especially with the stellar work by Hamill and Conroy.  I also appreciated that the animators did not try to mimic Brian Bolland’s artwork for the film.  Rather they came up with animation that evoked memories of that work, but managed to be an original take as well.

Batman:  The Killing Joke is the movie for which Batman fans have been pining for years.  It’s been a long wait, but it was certainly worthwhile as we get a story completely faithful to the core material and with all the pathos and nuance intact.

The Stories Actors Tell

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a show?  What kinds of conversations do cast and crew have?  What is the nature of their relationships?  Ben Beck’s play, The Wings, presents some possible answers in a staged reading that took place at the Shelterbelt Theatre tonight.

Beck has written an exceptionally strong script and I’m very excited to see how much stronger it can become with another rewrite or two.  Beck’s theatrical background is certainly prevalent in the script as he well captures personalities one genuinely does find in theatre, but one need not be an actor to appreciate Beck’s scripts.  These personalities exist in all walks of life.

Beck also has written some very compelling stories.  The various vignettes will make you laugh and they will make you shed a tear or two.  My only recommendations for his script would be to reduce the specificity of some of his stage directions and experiment with some different combinations of his characters.  In particular, I think a scene between the Veteran and the Director could make for a wonderful tale.

The direction of Susie Baer-Collins is absolutely incredible.  Her sense of the play’s beats is right on the money and her staging went well beyond what I would have expected for reader’s theatre.  With the movement and scene changes, this was really a play where the actors just didn’t have to memorize their lines.  Ms Baer-Collins has also culled a number of great performances from a cast that was simply stacked with talent.

I could spend pages discussing the individual performances of this cast, but to save time, I will simply say there isn’t a weak link in this cast.  Jonathan Purcell generates some laughs as the Actor who needs to be led by the hand through each individual beat.  Leanne Hill Carlson gives multilayered performances within a multilayered performance as the self-absorbed Actress who is beginning to tire of her boyfriend.  Liz Kendall Weisser is extraordinarily tactful, but firm as the Stage Manager.  Megan Friend is sweet and a bit pitiable as the Understudy who is fairly new to the business.  Delaney Driscoll is an interesting blend of stuck-up and sensitive as the Leading Lady.

Greg Harries gives a standout performance which is made all the more impressive by the fact that he was just reading the stage directions.  Beck’s vivid directions gave Harries the chance to be a sort of omnipotent presence offering his own commentary on what is going on.  I also thoroughly enjoyed Harries’ movement choices, especially when he prevents the Boyfriend from starting a practice audition over from the start.  Should Beck keep his stage directions as they are, I would honestly recommend casting an actor to read them as I thought it added quite a bit to his play.

Steve Hartman’s performance as the Boyfriend was, hands down, the funniest of the night.  He’s a whiney sad sack who is envious of his girlfriend’s theatrical success.  He also happens to absolutely suck as a performer.  His practice audition as Richard from Henry VI, Part 3 is so ludicrously awful that it is a scene-chewing delight.

Jerry Longe steps away from comedy to provide a tragic, yet hopeful, performance as the Veteran.  Longe’s Veteran was a once talented actor whose love for the bottle has blasted a good career.  It is implied that his casting in the play’s unnamed show was a last chance to salvage a dying career and it is failing.  His alcoholism is wrecking his memory and ruining shows.  The tears Longe sheds after being dressed down by the Stage Manager make for the strongest moment in The Wings.  Yet there is hope for the Veteran.  While his career may be dwindling, he does have hope for friendship, possibly even love, as he bolsters the spirits of the Understudy in another pivotal scene.

Thomas Becker ties the play’s two ends together with a beautifully underplayed performance as the Director.  At the play’s start, he seems like a bit of a bully and possibly not that good of a director as he verbally roughs up the Actor and seems unable to give a cogent note.  His deliberate avoidance of the word “honesty” provides a wonderful framing device for the end of the show when he is finally being honest with himself for the first time in a while as we learn why he is a bit of a brute.

In the end, I think The Wings has nearly limitless potential as a full scale production.  It is a neat little slice of life production with heart, intelligence, and tragedy.  I would very much recommend that the Shelterbelt give this play a chance to reach its full potential in the very near future.

‘The Elephant Man’ Opens at Barn Players on July 29

The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance opens on July 29th! Get your tickets today at www.thebarnplayers.org/tickets

Directed by Mark Hamilton

Stage Managed by Diane Bulan
Set Design by Laura Burkhart & Mark Hamilton
Lighting Design by Phil Leonard
Costume Coordination by Ashley Christopher
Choreography & Movement Coaching by Meghann Deveroux
Assistant Stage Management by Amanda Rhodes
Sound Design by Sean Leistico
Production Intern: Alicia Miro

July 29th – August 14th
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sunday at 2:00pm
(Industry Night: Monday, August 8th)

STARRING
Coleman Crenshaw, David Innis & Stefanie Stevens
FEATURING
Eli Biesemeyer, Richard J. Burt, Meghann Deveroux, Dee Dee Diemer, Sean Leistico, Lindsay Lovejoy, Alicia Miro, Jeph Scanlon, Scott Turner & Daniel Yung

SYNOPSIS:
The Elephant Man is based on the life of John Merrick, who lived in London during the latter part of the nineteenth century. A horribly deformed young man, victim of rare skin and bone diseases, he has become the star freak attraction in traveling side shows. Found abandoned and helpless, he is admitted to London’s prestigious Whitechapel Hospital. Under the care of celebrated young physician Frederick Treves, Merrick is introduced to London society and slowly evolves from an object of pity to an urbane and witty favorite of the aristocracy and literati only to be denied his ultimate dream, to become a man like any other.

All performances are at:
The Barn Players Theatre, 6219 Martway, Mission, KS.

Ticket pricing:
REGULAR – $18.00
SENIORS – $ 15.00
GROUPS (10 OR MORE) – $12.00
STUDENTS (WITH A VALID STUDENT ID) – $12.00

WE ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS!
VISA, MASTERCARD & DISCOVER!
The box office opens one hour before curtain time.
For reservations, please call or call 1-800-838-3006
or visit our website at www.thebarnplayers.org

Production support provided by…
The Mainstreet Credit Union
Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce
St. Pius School
Media partner support provided by…
94.9 KCMO
710 AM / 103.7 KCMO Talk Radio

The Barn Players embraces diversity in all aspects of our organization. Non-traditional and equal-opportunity casting is encouraged.

BLT Holding Auditions for ‘The Music Man’

Be a part of a time honored tradition!  Auditions for the Bellevue Little Theater’s production of The Music Man will be held on Sunday, July 10th and Monday, July 11th at 7:00 PM.

D. Laureen Pickle is the stage director, with Chris Ebke serving as music director, Kerri Jo Watts as choreographer, and Jamie Jarecki as stage manager. Sandy Thompson, assisted by Kerri Jo Watts is serving as producer.

Numerous roles are available for youth and adult singers, actors, and dancers, ages 8-108. Please prepare 16-32 measures of music with accompaniment. No acappella, please. An accompanist will be available for auditions. Also, bring clothing and shoes appropriate for dance auditions. Finally, please be prepared to list any conflicts during the rehearsal period. We will begin rehearsing July 17th, with productions on September 16th-October 2nd. Questions? Please email the director at laureen.pickle@cox.net. or call the BLT at 402-291-1554.

The Music Man is set in the small town of River City, Iowa, and follows the adventures of Professor Harold Hill, a fast talking traveling salesman,  as he attempts to convince town members to buy instruments and uniforms for a boy’s band he ‘intends to form’. Of course Hill intends to skip town with all the money and never form the band….a scheme the local librarian Marian suspects.

Before the play’s end Marian has transformed Hill, and the boy’s band? You will see where it winds up as the Music Man concludes with a heartwarming finale.

Location

Bellevue Little Theatre (203 W. Mission Rd., Bellevue, NE)