Being Alive

“You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”—Paul McCartney

I think this quotation best sums up Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey which is currently playing at the BlueBarn Theatre.

Normally, I open my reviews with a brief synopsis of the play’s story.  This time I’m going to wait until the end as this particular show completely eschews the normal narrative style.  From my experience, Eno seems to have a knack for creating an everyman character to communicate with the audience.  Perhaps this everyman is the audience or at least its conscience.  Ostensibly the play’s unnamed central character is here to say good-bye, but shares a far more powerful message in a story that truly fits BlueBarn’s season-long theme of memory.

Barry Carman offers up a stunning piece of direction in this show.  Every single word.  Every single pause.  Every single look.  Every single breath.  Every single move has purpose.  Seldom have I seen such a meticulous piece of direction or staging.  Carman has also led his two performers to extraordinary performances and I was particularly keen on his “less than more” animation of his actors.  They neither move a lot nor need to.  As I said earlier, when a movement is made, a definite purpose is behind it.

Aaron Zavitz plays the unnamed central character (listed simply as Guy).  Who is Guy?  Unknown.  But tonight he is apparently a talk show host as that’s the vibe he gives out, further bolstered by a hanging “No Applause” sign and a reference to a special guest.  From the get-go, Guy seems to be marking time to an ending and is talking with the audience solely to pass that time.

Zavitz is a marvel in the role.  His rich, mellow baritone filling the theatre as he talks with us about anything and everything, but mostly about life.  Zavitz’s delivery is exceptionally extemporaneous.  He truly sounded like he was making everything up as he went and this is well-suited for his character who seems a trifle disorganized with his out of order note cards and his unseen help who sometimes goof up his audio and visual cues, if not outright pranking him on word jumbles.

Zavitz is quite likable and is, at turns, funny, nervous, serious, happy, melancholic, even slightly desperate as he tries to teach the audience about being alive.  Most impressive is his character’s deterioration over the course of the show.  Guy is sick and weak and gets progressively more so over the course of the show as Zavitz’s chest begins to collapse in on itself, his mobility decreases, and his mental focus falters.

Echelle Childers is equally wonderful as the mysterious helper, Lisa.  There is something otherworldly, dare I say, angelic about this character.  Childers is so gentle and loving as Lisa as she carefully massages and soothes the wearied Guy, offers him hibiscus juice, and tidies him up before wheeling him offstage and she does it all with a beatific smile on her face.  I was moved by her soft-spoken nature which permeated her entire being up to and including a little dance she performs while Guy takes a brief catnap.  Her character seems to hold a vast store of wisdom as she shares a few of her own stories and outlooks with the audience.

Craig Lee’s set adds to the ethereal nature of the show with a seemingly abandoned room save for a few boxes that is dominated by a large screen, massive windows in the rear, and never used door on house left.  Lights and sounds are absolutely critical to this piece and Bill Kirby rises to the occasion with his lights suddenly clicking on and off, soft music, flashy disco lights, and a moment simulating sunrise.  Kirby is also responsible for the projections which ranged from the sweet to the amusing.  Susan Clement-Toberer has costumed the actors well with the ordinary shirt and jeans for Lisa and the bedrobe and rumpled clothes/pajamas for Guy.

So what is the story of Wakey, Wakey?  It’s simply YOUR story.

Wakey, Wakey plays at BlueBarn Theatre through Feb 23.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm except for a 6pm show on Feb 16.  Tickets cost $35 ($30 for seniors) and can be obtained at www.bluebarn.org or by calling 402-345-1576.  The BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Florentine Players Holding Auditions for 56th Annual Melodrama

THE FLORENCE COMMUNITY THEATER PRESENTS
THE FLORENTINE PLAYERS’ 56TH ANNUAL MELODRAMA
I Saw Her Standing There or The Show Must Go On AUDITIONS

Sunday, February 9 @ 6:00 pm
Monday, February 10 @ 6:00 pm

Tentative Read Through: February 16
Detailed schedule pending review of cast conflicts
Performance Dates: April 30, May 1, 2, 7, 8, & 9, 7:00 pm

Auditions will consist of cold readings from the script.

Please contact Derek Kowal for audition material and for detailed character descriptions: derekkowal@gmail.com

Our Hero has returned to Florence to attend his Uncle Buford’s funeral only to discover a vague clause in Uncle Buford’s will means the fortune is up for grabs unless our Hero can successfully stage a Melodrama. Will our hero be able to rally a ragtag group of farmers, townsfolk, and drunks to successfully stage a Melodrama and keep Uncle Buford’s fortune out of the hands of the villainous and avaricious C. Wells and C. Fargo? Heaven help us all!

Florentine Players is located at Florence City Hall (2864 State St) in Omaha, NE.

Lofte Community Theatre Setting Up Some ‘Office Hours’

THE LOFTE COMMUNITY THEATRE PRESENTS
Office Hours AUDITIONS

Auditions: February 10 & 11 at 7:00 PM

Performances: April 17-19 & 23-26
Thursday – Saturday 7:00 pm
Sunday 2:00 pm

Whether you’re new to the stage or an experienced performer, the Lofte Community Theatre welcomes everyone to audition for our productions! Please come a few minutes early to auditions with possible rehearsal and performance conflicts and be prepared to read lines.

Six seemingly different stories unfold across a major city on a Friday afternoon. As the stories unfold we see the tiny details that somehow connect each story to the next. In true Norm Foster style, Office Hours makes us laugh at our humanity. Office Hours is an unconventional race to quitting time. Mr. Foster also wrote Hilda’s Yard, the comedic hit from The Lofte’s 2018 season.

For questions regarding auditions contact the Lofte Community Theatre at 402-234-2553, email the Artistic Director Kevin Colbert at loftedirector@lofte.com, or visit The Lofte Community Theatre’s website at www.Lofte.org and click on “Get Involved”.

Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Rd in Manley, NE.

 

‘Wakey, Wakey’ Over at Blue Barn

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents: 

The Regional Premiere of 

Wakey, Wakey

By Will Eno 

January 30th -February 23rd, 2020

Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm

Sundays: 2/9 & 2/23 at 2pm| 2/16 at 6pm 

Memento Mori.

About the play:

You are invited to a celebration. We will talk about time, gratitude, our childhoods, and the million miracles at work in the world, in every single moment. There will be pictures. There will be music. Gifts. Wonder. Grief. Rebirth. From Will Eno, author of the BLUEBARN’s productions of Thom Pain and Gnit, comes an extraordinary, strange and beautiful experience that wakes up the big questions, and awakens us to one another with sly humor, compassion, and grace.

P.S.  There will be cake.          

About the production:

Wakey,Wakey features performances by Aaron Zavits and Echelle Childers. Directed by Barry Carman. Scenic design by Craig Lee. Properties by Amy Reiner. Sound, lighting, and projection design by Bill Kirby. Costumes by Susan Clement-Toberer. 

Generously sponsored by:

Security National Bank

Warren Distribution

Tickets:

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org. Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

Pardon Me, Boys, is that the Murdering Choo-Choo?

A shady businessman is found murdered in his locked sleeping compartment on the Orient Express.  Will the famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, be able to solve the mystery with his formidable “little gray cells” or has he finally met a killer too cunning for him?  Find out in Murder On the Orient Express adapted by Ken Ludwig from a novel written by Agatha Christie.  It is currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

It’s awfully hard to write about the plot without being too spoilery so I’ll simply say that Ludwig does an admirable job hitting the essential points of the classic mystery.  With his involvement, I was expecting more of a comedy, but Ludwig plays this script surprisingly straight, though he does leave room open for a bit of over the topness with some of the characters.  The mash-up of comedy and drama weaken the first act slightly, but he sticks the ending on the second act as he seems to have decided to be almost totally dramatic with that act.

Todd Uhrmacher provides a solid piece of direction for the production, handling the dual natures of comedy and drama in the first act quite well and excelling with the nearly purely dramatic second act.  I liked the staging of his show as he placed his actors well in the cramped confines of the train without the actors ever seeming bunched up or blocking each other.  Uhrmacher guided his actors to well-defined performances as each imbued a distinct character.

Some enjoyable performances were supplied by Michael Taylor-Stewart who comes off as somewhat off-kilter and creepy as the secretary of the murder victim and Gene Hinkle as the genial CEO of the company that owns the Orient Express.  But Jeff Garst deserves special notice for an exceptional performance as the conductor, Michel.  He gives Michel a very efficient nature and he nails a brief, heart-wrenching moment at the show’s finale.

Jon Flower is an extremely worthy Hercule Poirot.  He has a firm grip on the sleuth with a flawless Belgian accent, well communicating Poirot’s genius with his deductions, displaying a very gentlemanly and cultured nature, and demonstrating Poirot’s fastidious personality with the care he gives to Poirot’s signature moustache.  Flower also brings a certain weightiness to Poirot who has to wrestle with a choice between his devotion to the law and his dedication to justice which, for the first time in his career, may not be one and the same.

D. Laureen Pickle is utterly obnoxious as Mrs. Hubbard. Almost from the get-go one begins looking for a muzzle to clamp shut the mouth of the man-hungry, stuck-up, grating American snob. Pickle plays this character slightly over the top, but always keeps it in the realm of believability.  She also deftly handles the character’s more dramatic moments when certain secrets begin to come to light.

I don’t think Joey Lorincz could design a bad set even if he was working blindfolded.  He has created one of the most ambitious sets I’ve seen on the Bellevue stage with a three room revolving set that shows an elegant dining room, an office/rear of the train, and the tiny, sleeping compartments one would expect to find on a train.  Lorincz does double duty on lights which were also quite effective, especially the dark blue of the recalling of clues during the denouement.  Todd Urhmacher also pulls double duty with his designing of the costumes which evoke memories of the 1930s with the elegant dresses of the ladies and the snappy suits of the men and the classic conductor’s tunic for Michel.  My program lacked a credit for sound effects, but liked the sounds of the train whistle and the rumble of the wheels on the track.

I thought the pace of the first act could have had a snappier pace and there were a few moments when speaking actors were in darkness.  Volume and projection could have been a bit stronger on the parts of some of the actors and accents were a bit of a mixed bag.

Ultimately, this show is a very pleasant theatre experience with the combination of a faithful telling of a legendary mystery and compelling characters making for a respite from the real world for a few hours.

Murder On the Orient Express plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 2.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or calling 402-291-1554 during the hours of 10am-4pm Mon-Sat.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

The Price of Family

Raisin_9

Upper row from L to R: Faushia R. Weeden, David Terrell Green, and Olivia Howard. Lower row from L to R: Karen S. Fox and Brodhi McClymont

A poor family in Chicago’s South Side gains a windfall of $10,000.  Amidst thoughts of dreams granted and a happier life, the money serves to deepen cracks in an already fractured unit and prove that the love of money is the root of all evil.  But the love of family still has the power to conquer all.  This is A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and it is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Hansberry’s script has its ups and downs.  It introduces powerful themes of family, racism, poverty, generational changes, personal identity, perseverance, hope, and self-respect, but also has some structural weaknesses.  The first act introduces several storylines for the show, but moves terribly slowly and doesn’t provide adequate build for the stories.  By the second act, the primary story of the money gains center stage, a potentially interesting subplot about a surprise, possibly unwanted, pregnancy is all, but forgotten, and a story about a young woman seeking her own identity gets a bit of short shrift.  On the other hand, the second act does provide some incredibly strong monologues and conversational moments that are a treasure trove for performers.

Tyrone Beasley’s direction is quite effective.  This show is driven solely by dialogue which can become quite dry, if not handled just right.  Beasley handles it well by having his actors make natural movements that animate the, often lengthy, conversations.  He understands the emotional beats and his actors always hit those moments subtly and organically.  He’s coached his actors to performances ranging from solid to deeply adept and I tip my hat to his superior guidance of the debuting Karen S. Fox.  That being said, I also thought the show could have benefited from a brisker pace.

Good supporting performances are given by Faushia R. Weeden who projects a spiritual weariness as Ruth Younger as she goes through the motions of life with a crumbling marriage and a hopeless future until the promise of a new home in a better neighborhood relights her candle.  Brodhi McClymont has a real naturalness for this work and provides some lighthearted moments as Travis Younger.  Christopher Scott provides a suitably subtle, polite, and slimy performance as a racist trying to engineer a buyout of the Younger’s new home in Clybourne Park so “those people” won’t move in.

David Terrell Green gives a gripping performance in his Playhouse debut as Walter Lee Younger.  At his core, Walter Lee is a good man.  He wants nothing more than to provide the best, possible life for his family, but has been so beaten down by life that he copes with his perceived failures with alcohol and sometimes takes reckless gambles in an attempt to provide that better life.  Green is dead on target with Walter Lee’s brokenness, but still shows that inner decency and drive to do better for his family.  He really sizzles in the second act when he makes an awful mistake in attempting to grab the brass ring and shows the depths of his love for his family with a performance demonstrating the utter humiliation he’s willing to undergo to rectify that error.

Karen S. Fox really dove into the deep end as she makes her acting debut with the heavy role of the Younger matriarch, Lena.  For someone who’s never performed before, Fox did an exceptional job.  She portrayed a good, Southern woman with strong faith in God and desperately fighting to hold her family together as it falls apart.  She hits the emotional beats well, reaching just the right level of anger when the bulk of her money is misused and being a bulwark for her son as she understands the impact of the blows life has dealt him.  Fox does need to make some minor fixes in volume, projection, and not upstaging herself.

Steven Williams has designed a dilapidated apartment whose spaces between the boards help to communicate the poverty in which the Youngers live.  Tim Vallier has composed a haunting score for the show which is sure to stir your heart.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes well display the social status of the various characters from the cheaper quality clothes of the Youngers to the more elegant wear of the wealthier Karl Lindner and the more educated Joseph Asagai and George Murchison.

This preview night performance did have some difficulties.  Pacing was quite slow.  Pickups for internal and regular cues needed to be much, much quicker.  Energy was sorely lacking for stretches, but when it was there, the dialogue sparkled and popped.  There was also an x factor missing from the performance.  Actors know that feeling.  It’s that magical something that causes the show to take on the fullness of its own life and it is an intangible.  It’s either there or it isn’t.  When it’s not there, the show feels like a rehearsal.  When it’s there, that’s when the show reaches maximum potential.

At the end, this is a story about family.  Its highs and lows.  Its joys and trials.  Its hopes and dreams.  A night with the Youngers just may give you a new perspective on life.

A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Feb 9.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $24 ($16 for students) and vary by performance.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the box office. Due to some adult language, parental discretion is advised.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

An Open Letter to Omaha

An Open Letter to Omaha

by Daena Schweiger

First, thank you for taking the time to read this. I debated long and hard before doing this. It may not help. It may, in the end, not be a good thing. But it comes from the heart. If I didn’t feel as I did, I would keep my thoughts to myself. And these are MY THOUGHTS. Mine alone. Want to be clear about that.

Okay. Let’s get real.

The reality is SNAP! Productions and The Shelterbelt Theatre need your help if we are to find a home in 2020. If we don’t find a home in 2020, that’s it. No more. We will have given it our best shot for two years. The longer we stay away the harder it is to come back. We had a shot at a space a year ago. A legit shot. And we lost it. Not because of anything we did or did not do. We lost it because the landlord walked away at the 11th hour. Literally.

We have searched high and low for a space that meets updated code requirements that a 25 year grandfathered status no longer affords us. Finding a space that had things that we ABSOLUTELY NEED – ADA bathrooms, HVAC system – at a rent price that was at a level we could afford is a daunting task.

We looked at gutted spaces but other building codes kept us at bay, not to mention a hefty price tag to add those absolute needs that our former space didn’t have, and didn’t require. 2019 was as depressing as 2018 when it came to finding what we needed.

Okay. Let’s get more real. *SPOILER ALERT *

We have a space. Some of you out there know about this. Despite the fact that the boards were sworn to secrecy. So, it’s not truly a spoiler. We have a space. Well, technically it’s not OURS. YET. But we have one. All we need to do is sign a Letter of Intent. It has everything we need – ADA bathrooms, HVAC systems, a PARKING LOT… everything you could want in a theatre… except… well, a theatre space in the space.

And therein lies the rub.

Renovations.

We need to renovate the space to make it a theatre. It’s move in ready. Except we need to make a theatre. And a rehearsal space. And a green-room. And the cost to do those renovations are a lot. How much? High five-figure to low six-figure depending on what we determine are high / low needs vs wants. It’s the difference between a wall separating a rehearsal space and curtains, light trees vs a light grid, wooden platforms or flex seating.

Those numbers are for a move-in ready space that will provide our patrons with a serviceable theatre space with upgraded amenities.

SIGN. THE. LEASE. You say. We do too. But the funding…

Both theatres have skin in the game. But, we need some assurances from our community that you will help with the rest. Yep, we’re working out the details for a capital campaign. We’re doing this the right way.

But, we survived for 25 years through grants, ticket sales and donations. Fundraising will take time for us. And time is something we don’t have.

We can’t sign a letter of intent unless we know how much we can put into renovations. We can’t announce the location because we don’t have a signed letter of intent. We can’t fundraise until we announce a location and sign a Letter of Intent.

You see a pattern here? A chicken-egg scenario.

So, there it is. That’s the scenario both theatres are dealing with as I type this.

Many of you have spoken to members of both theatres lamenting the loss in the community. We feel it too. 8 productions lost. No place for actors, playwrights, directors, designers to cut their teeth. No place to produce new works or produce works that mirror the changing climate in our communities.

We need sustained financial support from you to make this a reality in 2020.

We lost a space a year ago. Please help us to keep from losing what may well be our last shot.

How Can You Help?

RENT SPONSORS

Make a 5 year commitment to become a rent sponsor for one of the theatres. 5 years at whatever level you can contribute. Our suggestion is between $500 – $2,000 each year for 5 years. Why a rent sponsor? A Rent sponsor allows us to build our audience without worrying about paying the rent and build a rent account to draw from year 6 on so that we’re always working ahead of the game.

“GET US OFF THE GROUND” DONATIONS

Help us get to the point where we can effectively run a capital campaign. 20 people making a donation pledge of $5,000 or more would help us secure the renovations we need to sign the letter of intent and move us into the space so we may begin producing again. 40 people making a $2,000 pledge or more would help us secure the renovations we need. 60 people… well, you get the idea.

MATCHING GIFTS

If you belong to a company willing to provide us with a matching gift, please have them contact me.

That’s it. That’s the pitch.

I am passionate (to a fault) about these two spaces. I have been on both boards, cut my teeth doing productions at both theatres, and am feeling all the feels now that they are gone. I felt like I needed to address the elephant in the room after two years.

I have no development background. Don’t claim to. I don’t believe this will hurt our chances. I’m gambling it will help. If nothing else, at least you’ll understand that we’ve actually been trying to do SOMETHING to keep it going.

If you can help, please send me an email at daena.schweiger@gmail.com.

Let me reiterate – while I once served as a board member for Shelterbelt, and am at present a board member for SNAP! Productions, I am not speaking as a board member. I am speaking as a playwright, an actor, a stage director, a lighting designer, and a box office volunteer. These theatres lasted for 25 years before losing their space through no fault of their own. We need these two theatres to survive. And we need your help, and the help of others you may know, to help get us up and running so we can move forward for the next 25 years.

Thank you.