Bitter Fruit

A mother and her genius, but ill-mannered, son relocate to Crested Butte, CO to begin a new life.  Running parallel paths, the mother begins to find happiness once again while the son takes a step towards living life for the very first time.  But an insatiable need to know may tear both of their lives asunder.  This is Wildflower by Lila Rose Kaplan and is currently playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

While Ms Kaplan’s script is interesting in some respects, it suffers from the flaw of not being a strong narrative.  By that I mean there really isn’t an arc to this play.  It’s really vignettes of the lives of the characters of this show.

Where the writing excels is in the characters themselves.  Not only are the characters fully formed people, but they have distinctive and well developed arcs with plenty of meat in which actors can sink their teeth.  The powerful characters help to cover the fact that the overall story lacks a unifying core.

Lara Marsh is a bit of auteur with this production as she not only directs, but also designed the set and helped to design the sounds.  Her direction is tight and sure.  Each character gets its fair due and chance to shine and Ms Marsh knows how to maximize each climax and resolution in the interrelationships of these characters.  Her staging is admirable with the entire blackbox being utilized and her mastery in crafting emotional moments cannot be argued.  She also gets thoroughly capable performances out of her cast.

Solid supporting performances are supplied by Francisco Franco and Jarod Cernousek.  As Mitchell, Franco plays a former burlesque performer turned hotel owner/chef who dispenses wise advice and has found peace in his life in the most extraordinary way.  Cernousek’s James is a forest ranger with a power complex and the rod up his back has a rod up its back which I’m pretty certain has a rod up its back.

Aaron Sorilla is exceptional in his performance as Randolph.  Randolph is a high functioning autistic and Sorilla does truly wonderful work in communicating the aspects of autism such as his focus on self, rudeness, fixations, and a bit of a sing-song cadence to his speaking patterns.  His timing is excellent and he knows how to elicit a good laugh from a line.  But he also handles the drama side of the role equally well.  There is a real tragedy to his character as he is unable to understand emotion and his literal nature means everything needs to be spelled out to him in excruciating detail.  And that need to know leads him down a treacherous path.

Jocelyn Reed plays Erica, Randolph’s mother.  Ms Reed does a good job of encasing Erica’s core of sadness in a bubbly personality.  The bubblyness is not a put on.  It’s more like if Erica focuses on being happy, then she’ll forget the sadness which is always threatening to rear its ugly face.  This is a person who has had a rough go of things.  It’s implied she was in an emotionally abusive marriage from which she is trying to recover and while she loves her son, Ms Reed’s body language conveys the sense that she sometimes feels chained to him due to his special needs.  Indeed, as a loving mother, she makes sacrifices to her own happiness for the sake of her son.  But her shining moment is when we get to see her exude utter joy when her son forms a special friendship with a girl.  Not only is she happy for him, but she is happy for herself as she sees the possibilities that each of them can live their own life.

Hannah Davis makes her acting debut as Astor and does quite well in her first outing.  There’s a lot of fun to this character.  One is never certain if she is also a high functioning autistic or just very immature due to a combination of an odd upbringing and her own exceptional intelligence.  She comes off as much younger than 16 especially when she’s bossing Erica around in the visitor’s center and engaging in childish arguments with Randolph.  Yet she has startling moments of pseudo-sophistication and clearly has the longings of a young girl coming of age due to her wanting intimacy so she isn’t inexperienced when she shortly heads off to college.  While Ms Davis’ character foundation is rock solid, I think she has the leeway to amp up what’s she’s doing a notch or two.

Lara Marsh has provided a simple, but effective set for the production with a counter full of brochures, seeds, and flowers for the visitor’s center and a rolling counter for Mitchell’s kitchen.  Kendra Newby’s costumes well suit the personalities of the characters from the perfectly pressed forest ranger’s uniform of James to the too big sports coat (it’s his father’s) of Randolph to the childlike clothing of Astor as well as her beautiful sundress as she comes of age.  Riley Campbell and Craig & Lara Marsh team up for some fantastic sounds such as the hotline’s ringing telephone and the blast of fireworks.  Rebecca Roth’s lights are top of the line especially with the stars of the outdoors and the flash and colors of exploding fireworks.

In spite of a missing centrality to the story, this show is a strong showcase in character work aided by surefire direction.  It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you wonder.  It’ll even tug at your heartstrings a little.

Wildflower plays in the Weber Fine Arts Building in Room 006 at the University of Nebraska-Omaha through April 28.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets are free.  Due to adult subject matter and language, this show is recommended for mature audiences.  The University of Nebraska-Omaha is located at 6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

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Staged Reading of ‘DragOn’ is Next for OCP’s Alternative Programming Season

Omaha, NE–Omaha Community Playhouse is hosting a staged reading of Jessica Austgen’s DragOn on Monday, April 29, 2019 in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre.  Alternative Programming events are free and open to the public, however free-will donations of any amount are crucial to adventurous programming.  OCP is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Synopsis

In this unique comedy, a fledgling drag queen must go through the tests and trials of legendary cosplay divas to find her swagger.  An ode to both geek and drag cultures, this refreshingly original piece gives the audience a front row seat to what happens when you combine equal parts fantasy adventure, comic book convention, and drag show.

Directed By:  Joey Galda

Cast

Katie Miller as The Doctor

Sue Mouttet as Cat Lady/Space Princess

Michael Taylor-Stewart as The Gatekeeper

Matthew Tolliver as Weather Mutant

Juan Valdovinos as Bobbi

Christopher Violett as Mother of Drag

Travis Wilcox as Amazon Warrior

Amanda Vyhnlanek as Stage Directions reader

‘Men on Boats’ Closing Out Howard Drew Season at OCP

Omaha, NE–Men on Boats will open Friday, May 3 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show runs in the Howard Drew Theatre from May 3-26, 2019.  Performances will be Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Synopsis

Adventure, bravery, and humorous absurdity–led by an all-female cast–Men on Boats is the “true-ish” story of ten explorers on four boats charting the course of the Colorado River in 1869.  Guided by a one-armed captain, the outlandish, but loyal, crew encounters various disasters, conflicts, and harrowing adventures along the way.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $30 for adults and $18 for students with prices varying by performance and seating zone.  Tickets may be purchased at OCP Box Office, located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Directed By:  Amy Lane

Cast

Teri Fender as John Wesley Powell

Carrie Beth Stickrod as William Dunn

Beth Thompson as John Colton Sumner

Daena Schweiger as Old Shady

Breanna Carodine as Bradley

Esther Aruguete as O.G. Howland/Tsauwiat

Yone Edegbele as Seneca Howland/The Bishop

Katt Walsh as Frank Goodman/Mr. Asa

Robyn Helwig as Hall

Sarah Klocke as Hawkins

Catch a Whiff of this ‘Wildflower’

The University of Nebraska-Omaha Theatre Department Presents:

Wildflower by Lila Rose Kaplan

Directed by Lara Marsh

Synopsis

A woman and her son look to escape their past in Crested Butte, a small town with its share of secrets. They encounter a curious girl, a forest ranger, and an innkeeper. The five collide in a summer of botany and sexual awakening. Wildflower explores the discovery of desire and its consequences.

Cast

Randolph – Aaron Sorilla
Erica – Jocelyn Reed
Astor – Hannah Davis
James-Jarod Cernousek
Mitchell – Francisco Franco
Performance Dates:  April 24-28 (Wed-Sat at 8pm.  Sun at 2pm.)
Location:  University of Nebraska-Omaha (6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE) Weber Fine Arts Building, Rom 006
Tickets are free.  Due to explicit language and sexual content, this show is for mature audiences.

Inhumanity

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana

In Vichy, France, 10 people are brought in by the Nazis to supposedly have their identification papers checked.  When it is revealed that the Nazis are really looking for Jewish people to send to concentration camps, tensions rise, debates rage, plans form, and people vanish one by one.  Some to freedom.  Others to death.  This is Incident at Vichy by Arthur Miller and performing at several local venues under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

I’m going to start with the ending of this review.  If you miss this show, you will be doing yourself a massive disservice.

Now let’s go the beginning.

One of theatre’s most amazing powers is its ability to take us out of ourselves for a while.  But it doesn’t always take us to a happy place.  In those moments, another of theatre’s powers is revealed.  Its ability to be a powerful agent for change by forcing us to take a long look at ourselves to examine our pasts, our motivations, and our history in order that we might be able to make those changes.  Incident at Vichy is one of those types of plays.

This is Arthur Miller’s least known and produced work.  I hadn’t even heard of it until I saw it on the BSB’s schedule.  After watching it, I’m surprised at its obscurity because it is clearly one of Miller’s finest works.

Few writers had the ability to shine a light on the darker sides of humanity the way Miller could.  He could effortlessly show our prejudices, our brutality, our capacity for evil.  Yet there is always the silver lining of hope.  Never is that more important than for this play as Miller must bring his skills to bear on a real part of our history.

Scott Kurz returns to the BSB for the first time in several years to direct this production and hasn’t lost a step.  The piece is masterfully staged as the 10 people sit side by side on a bench and are taken away in order.  Movement is minimal, but expertly utilized in the tiny performance space.  Kurz’s direction is absolutely impeccable.  No energy is wasted.  Each beat carefully presented.  The show is perfectly cast and each member of the ensemble nails their role to the floor.

Where does one begin analyzing a cast like this?  All do a superlative job, but some truly memorable performances come from Jeremy Earl who gives one of his best and deeply emotional performances as The Waiter; Garett Garniss as Lebeau, an extremely nervous artist who constantly taps out a melody and laments the fact that he was caught simply because he wanted to take a walk and see something real; John Hatcher as Bayard, an electrician who instantly recognizes the danger this group is in; Josh Ryan as a gypsy who provides some levity as he protects his pot; Tom Lowe as a “social anthropologist” who is confident he can recognize Jews through the length of noses and circumcision.  His smugness was so aggravating that I wanted to punch him in the mouth.

David Sindelar also shines in a role as a silent rabbi whose curled hand suggests a stroke, but he is always aware of what’s going on.  Sindelar has a gift for acting with his eyes and you can tell when he’s feeling fear, concern, defiance, and sadness with an occasional click of the tongue or mutter or whimper thrown in for good measure.

Scott Kurz gives an A+ performance in his turn as Leduc.  His delivery is so natural and extemporaneous that his lines truly sound like they’re coming off the top of his head as opposed to being learned dialogue.  His Leduc is determined and courageous, willing to risk his life if it means saving some of the others.  Some have argued that Leduc may be the voice of Miller himself as he recognizes the depth of depravity in humans and always serves as that galvanizing force so others will confront evil instead of kowtowing to it or simply lamenting it.

David Mainelli is pitiable in his role as Monceau.  I think this role could easily be played as a sniveling coward, but Mainelli makes him more complex.  His take on the character is more akin to the typical attitude taken towards Hitler when he was first gaining power.  He truly cannot believe that the Nazis would be so animalistic and barbaric as to incinerate people in furnaces due to their faith and ethnicity.  His determination to cling to the law which should protect him is both admirable and tragic as it forces him to suppress his survival instinct.

Vince Carlson is brilliant as Von Berg, the Catholic prince of Austria who is the one person guaranteed to escape this horror.  The fact that he knows he will escape puts an extraordinary burden on his shoulders as he must decide what to do with his freedom.  Carlson does phenomenal work being bowed by this pressure.  Unlike the rest, he truly understands the extreme danger presented by Hitler.  He’s seen his servants venerate Hitler like a god.  He’s seen the destruction Hitler is bringing to the Jews.  Von Berg represents the part of the populace that must make the life or death decision to either turn a blind eye to the oncoming storm or make a stand against it.

Charleen Willoughby’s costumes really enhance the production and add a bit of crucial life to each of the performers from the spot-on uniforms of the Nazis to the elegant custom-made suit of Von Berg to the rags of the Gypsy to the working-class clothes of Bayard and Leduc.

Incident at Vichy shines a glaring light on one of the darkest periods of human history and Miller reminds us it is an evil that must not be permitted to rise again.  As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”.

Incident at Vichy continues through April 21.  The April 14 performance will be at Omaha Benson High School (5120 Maple St) at 2pm.  The April 19-20 performances will be at The B Side of Benson Theatre ((6058 Maple St) at 7:30pm.  The April 21 performance will be at Omaha Burke High School (12200 Burke St) at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 ($25 for students/senior/military) and can be obtained at www.bsbtheatre.com or 402-502-4910.

Free-Spirited Farce Flips, Flops & Flies

OneMan_8

Steve Krambeck as Francis Henshall

Charming con artist and ne’er-do-well, Francis Henshall, takes a job as a minder (bodyguard) for a gangster just so he can eat regularly.  When he sees an opportunity to further line his pockets, he takes a job with a second criminal and now needs to keep both from finding out he works for the other.  This is One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean with songs by Grant Olding and based off Carlos Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Trust me, this story is far more complicated than this simple synopsis as farce always is and this play contains all of the elements for a truly great farce.  You’ve got the mistaken identities, gender swapping, pratfalls, slamming doors, constant plot twists, and then everything is tidily resolved at the end of the show.  Bean does good work updating Goldoni’s story for a more modern era as it is set in the late 1960s.  But he also manages to retain the flavor of the original with characters making constant asides to reveal their true thoughts and motivations.  He still manages to make it his own with some out of the box fourth wall breaks and the need for his performers to indulge in a bit of improvisation.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek, one of Omaha’s finest comedic talents, helms this production and he is clearly in his element guiding this clownish tale.  He’s definitely got a good eye for a gag and comes up with some real doozies when it comes to pratfalls and some that are tastefully crass such as when Francis tries to woo a woman with a rose.  His cast has some strong comedic chops and knows how to deliver a punchline and he uses some truly unique staging such as the use of a skiffle band (Colin Duckworth, Paige Cotignola, Susan Hendrick, and Adam Sherrerd) to warm up the audience and cover scene changes with some fun and rollicking tunes.

Some of Omaha’s best and brightest grace this production, but there are some truly standout performances from Bill Hutson as a feeble and deaf waiter; Marcus Benzel whose expressions and animated movements really bolster his scenes; and John Shaw as Alan Dangle, a wannabe actor who always speaks in an overexaggerated, theatrical style.

Steve Krambeck gives an energetic performance as Francis Henshall.  Krambeck certainly has his work cut out for him as he has to add a sense of likability to an unlikable person and he does so admirably.  Krambeck oozes the charm crucial for a con artist and handles the physicality of farce quite well as his character takes quite a beating throughout the night.  But he also shows himself as having a good grip on improvisation as he often repartees with the audience and once even had me believing he had broken character during one of these interactions as his delivery of the joke was so subtle and smooth.

It is certainly an exhausting performance as Krambeck runs, flops, dances, charms, xylophones, and sings his way into your heart.

Cathy Hirsch is sterling in her performance as Rachel Crabbe.  Most impressive is that Ms Hirsch spends most of the show disguised as her character’s twin brother, Roscoe, a thug whose death prior to the show is the catalyst for everything that goes down.  Ms Hirsch’s portrayal of Rachel as Roscoe is quite convincing as her bearing, speech patterns, and walking make her a very believable man.  This also allows for a great change in dynamic when she drops the façade to be the truly feminine Rachel.

Chris Shonka is a gentlemanly brute as Stanley Stubbers.  Beneath his elegant manners beats the heart of a fiend as he’s a killer on the run who doles out violence when angered, has a penchant for sadism, and seems to have a rather deviant appetite for virgins.  Shonka does so well with the excellent manners that one tends to forget just how rotten he truly is until your brain has a chance to process some of the heinous things he’s saying.

Matthew Hamel definitely has a set for the times as the colors of his buildings really reflect the psychedelic 60s.  His buildings and scenes have the flavor of a seaside town and I rather liked his elegant dining room with its grand wooden walls towards the end of Act I.  John Giblilisco’s sounds added to the ambiance of the show with the lolling of waves, the popping of champagne corks, and the splash of bodies hitting the water.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes epitomize the swinging 60s with their bright, loud colors, especially the tweeds of Francis.  Adam Sherrerd does excellent work with the musical direction of the night’s numbers as well as being in fine fettle on lead vocals.

The show could definitely benefit from a few tweaks.  The energy of a farce needs to be akin to a runaway train once it gets going and the pace of the first act dragged.  The accents were uneven among the cast and some of the pratfalls and violence were a bit overly controlled.  On the other hand, comedy, especially farce, really needs the juice of a live audience to energize the performers and the loud laughs I heard tonight gives me confidence that this show is going to get its necessary fuel.

One Man, Two Guvnors plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 5.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $24, with ticket prices varying by performance and seating zone.  Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Due to some of the risqué humor, this show isn’t recommended for young children.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Nebraska Theatre Caravan Adult Auditions for 2019 Tour of ‘A Christmas Carol’

The Nebraska Theatre Caravan will hold auditions for adults (ages 17 and older) for the anticipated national touring production of A Christmas Carol.  Auditions will be held Saturday, April 6 at 11am at the Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.  Please enter through the stage door on the west side of the building.

The audition will include singing and reading from the script followed by movement.  Applicants should bring a resume and headshot, a 16 bar cutting of a prepared song with sheet music, and be prepared to read from the script.  Applicants should also be prepared to move.  An accompanist will be provided.

Estimated contact dates for A Christmas Carol are early November through late December 2019.

These are touring productions and performances will be conducted across the United States.  Rehearsals will be held 9am-6pm in Omaha.  All actors must be available to attend al rehearsals during stated times as well as all performances.

For additional audition or production information, contact Company Manager Kate Whitecotton at kwhitecotton@omahaplayhouse.com.