The Funny Truth About Politics

When a sex scandal forces the current governor to resign, Lt. Governor Ned Newly is sworn in as the new governor.  Ned is a whiz in administration and government functions, but has crippling social anxiety and low self-confidence so he comes off as an idiot in public.  After seeing his wretched swearing in ceremony, a famed political advisor decides he can make Newly into a political superstar by presenting him as the worst candidate in history.  This is The Outsider by Paul Slade Smith and is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

This is one of the most insightful comedies I’ve ever seen and one of the best productions mounted by Bellevue Little Theatre.  Smith’s script is an apt commentary on the modern political climate where the public seems obsessed with celebrity status instead of competence and focuses more on the sizzle instead of the steak.  Newly is the official people actually need since he truly is good at his job, but his advisor wants to present him as a dope because he believes that is the official that people actually want since a candidate should be just as clueless as the public according to his philosophy.

Marya Lucca-Thyberg has supplied an ace piece of direction for this show.  She keeps her actors briskly moving about the stage to keep the energy of the show up (though the pace of tonight’s show needed a bit of quickening) and the staging is of excellent quality especially with the visual gags and reactions of her performers.  Lucca-Thyberg also guided her actors to fairly effective and strong performances.

Strong supporting performances were supplied by Mike Pilmaier as a laconic cameraman who serves as the voice of the American people who has lost faith in government and is weary of politics in its current state.  Sara Scheidies also gives a fine performance as an effective and efficient pollster who enjoys the current state of politics, but understands that the people deserve something better.

Louise Peakes has one fewer brain cell than an amoeba.  It is a one note character (possibly a parody of Sarah Palin), but Sarah Dighans plays it for everything its worth.  Dighans comes off as a blithering dolt, but at least she’s happy and enthusiastic.  She’s the epitome of America’s fascination with the sizzle as she only spouts pithy phrases and makes pie in the sky promises.  The difference is that she’s wholly sincere.  She isn’t out to manipulate the public for any selfish gain.  She’s just eminently unqualified and, if elected, would simply be the blind leading the blind.

Matthew Bell is pitch perfect as Arthur Vance, the famed political advisor.  Bell’s Vance is the P.T. Barnum of politics because for him it’s all about the show.  Without question, Vance has a lot of political savvy, but he tends to misuse that savvy as he’s more fixated on the win than the quality of the candidate.  Clearly he has a low opinion of the voters as his intention is to give them candidates that either are or appear to be stupid because he thinks that’s what they want.  Bell does an admirable job in keeping Vance somewhat likable as he really isn’t a bad person.  He’s just so caught up in politics that he’s forgotten what is the true purpose of government.

Brennan Thomas gives an absolutely flawless performance as Ned Newly.  Thomas presents Newly as a man virtually paralyzed by social anxiety with his inability to speak when around strangers and his palpable fear at public speaking of any type.  With his hunched shoulders and limbs pulled into his body, Thomas always resembles a coiled spring ready to snap at the slightest sound.  His reactions and vocal effects are hilarious, but he also brings real intelligence and heart to the character.  Newly wants what is best for the people and has ideas and plans to get there, but has been forced to work from the shadows since he lacks the charisma to be the face of the party.

Joey Lorincz has assembled yet another top notch set as the Governor’s office has a real sense of authority with its imposing size, elegant balcony doors, and fine furniture.  Nancy Buennemeyer clothes the characters to their personalities from the flashy and expensive suit of Arthur Vance to Newly’s more sedate and professional suit to the bright blue dress to match the perky personality of Louise Peakes.  Sam Bass did some fine sound design from the beeps of an intercom to a soundtrack featuring classic rock hits.

If you want a clear idea of the difference between politics and leadership, then this is the play for you.  It’s funny.  It’s truthful.  And it gives you a lot to think about.  One never knows.  Perhaps a future leader may be watching this show and be inspired to be the leader we need and not the leader we think we want.

The Outsider will run through May 16 at Bellevue Little Theatre. Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 ($18 for seniors, $10 for students) and reservations can be made at http://bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com/reservations.html.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Papillion-LaVista Community Theatre is Back and Needs Some Spellers this Summer

Papillion-LaVista Community Theatre Announces Auditions For:

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Written By: Rachel Sheinkin

Music & Lyrics By: William Finn

Directed By: Suzanne Withem

Papillion La Vista Community Theatre’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will be performed July 16-18 and 22-24, 2021 at the SumTur Amphitheater in Papillion. Auditions will be held at Trinity Village’s Trinity Family Life Center (522 West Lincoln Street, Papillion, NE 68046) on Sunday, May 16th at 1:00 pm and Monday, May 17th at 6:00 pm. Those auditioning need only attend one session. Some may be asked to attend a callback on the evening of Tuesday, May 18th.

We are actively seeking minority actors for lead roles. Actors of all types, ages 16+, will be considered for student roles. For a complete character list and details, please see Music Theatre International’s website, https://www.mtishows.com/the-25th-annual-putnam-county….

Please prepare 16 to 32 bars of music (or about 1 minute of singing) that showcases your vocal and storytelling abilities. Bring printed sheet music for the accompanist who will be provided. Auditioners should also be prepared for a light dance audition and cold readings. Auditioners are also encouraged to bring a headshot and resume (if you have them) and a list of conflicts between May 18 and July 25.

College students who would like to be considered, but who are not be able to attend the live auditions, may arrange to submit video.

About the Show

An eclectic group of six mid-pubescents vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime. While candidly disclosing hilarious and touching stories from their home lives, the tweens spell their way through a series of (potentially made-up) words, hoping never to hear the soul-crushing, pout-inducing, life un-affirming “ding” of the bell that signals a spelling mistake. Six spellers enter; one speller leaves! At least the losers get a juice box. For additional information about live or video auditions, schedules, character descriptions or the production, please contact Suzanne Withem at suzannewithem@gmail.com.

Buddy Needs a Few Members For His Band

Rave On Productions Proudly Announces Auditions For:

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

Rave On Productions is holding open auditions for the roles of Ritchie Valens and Maria Elena in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. These are paid performance opportunities. This production will tour to three different outdoor venues in Nebraska and Iowa. All other roles have been cast.

Auditions will be held on Saturday, May 15 at Rave On Production Studios located at 8719 Countryside Plaza in Omaha, NE from 2pm-5pm by appointment only. Auditions can be scheduled by e-mailing info@billymcguigan.com

AUDITION INFORMATION

All actors in this production (with the exception of the actors cast as Buddy, Joe and Jerry) will play a primary character, in addition to other ensemble characters.  

Those auditioning should be prepared to sing 16 bars of an early rock n’ roll song, or a song from a musical.  Please bring your sheet music to the audition – an accompanist will be provided.  If you wish to accompany yourself, please bring your instrument with you.  (There will be an electric keyboard in the studio.)  If you have a performance resume, please bring it with you (though it is not required).

Due to Covid-19 protocols that are still in place, masks are required upon entering the studio.  Singers will be behind a plexi shield and can sing with masks off. 

AVAILABLE ROLES

Ritchie Valens / Ensemble – (male or gender non-conforming) A rock n’ roll singer / musician with serious charisma, a dedicated eye for the ladies and the ability to hold the stage in his own right.  His featured song is “La Bamba”.  Actor must be able to act and sing – ability to play an instrument or dance is a plus.  
Ethnicity:  Latino / Hispanic heritage.  

María Elena Holly / Ensemble – (female or gender non-conforming) Receptionist for a music publisher, classy and well-educated, she eventually becomes Buddy’s wife.  Actor must be able to act and sing – ability to play an instrument or dance is a plus.  
Ethnicity:  Latina / Hispanic heritage.

SHOW INFORMATION

Co-Directors: Billy McGuigan and Kimberly Faith Hickman
Co-Music Directors: Billy McGuigan and Matthew McGuigan

Rehearsals begin July 12, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska.ABOUT BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY

Rehearsals begin July 12, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska.
Performance dates and venues are as follows:
July 30 at 7:30pm at SumTur Amphitheater in Papillion, NE
July 31 at 7:30pm at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield, NE
August 1 at 7:00pm at Davies Amphitheater in Glenwood IA

They Are Family

Dysfunction, thy name is Magrath.  After ten years, the three Magrath sisters reunite in the wake of their grandfather being hospitalized by a stroke.  One is an unhappy old maid bound to the hometown to take care of their grandfather.  One is a selfish diva with delusions of stardom.  One has a charge of attempted murder hanging over her head.  Will the sisters overcome their personal trials and long buried animosities to be a true family?  Find out by watching Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley and currently playing at Lofte Community Theatre.

Henley’s script has its pluses and minuses.  I personally felt that the script was somewhat overlong and could have been edited into a two act play as the first act is a bit of a slog.  Once past the slow moving first act, the play really picks up the pace and the second and third acts are much more compelling and riveting as a result.  Another weakness is that the play sets up several storylines, but doesn’t really resolve any of them.  What the script lacks in story development, it more than makes up for in character development as the Magrath sisters are fully realized and gripping characters especially in the hands of the production’s three leading ladies.

Kevin Colbert’s direction is steady and sure.  I appreciated the high quality of his staging as he kept his actors moving about the stage to keep the talky play from becoming static.  He also understood the play’s numerous emotional moments and had his actors play them with unerring accuracy as they always felt genuine and realistic.  He also coached his actors to high caliber performances.

Melissa Holder is absolutely spot on as Lenny Magrath.  She brought a wonderful world-weariness to the eldest sister and the constant sag in her shoulders well communicated the terrible burden weighing upon her.  Holder’s Lenny is actually the play’s unsung hero.  Lenny is the glue that holds her family together.  She has remained at home to care for their grandfather who is implied to be an uncaring sort and had to be a mother to her two younger sisters after their real mother committed suicide.  My heart went out to her as she constantly sacrificed her own chances at happiness to help someone else and I silently cheered when she began taking the small steps to regain control of her own life.

Meg Magrath is a self-centered, conniving brat.  It’s a rich character for a performer and Natalie McGovern plays her for everything she’s worth.  If all the world is a stage, then Meg certainly believes herself to be the star.  McGovern brilliantly displays Meg’s egoism with a smug body language that says, “I always get my way” as she prepares for a night out with a married ex that clearly suggests she’s expecting romance.  She guzzles bourbon like a pro to soothe her deep unhappiness and lies like a rug to look good to her grandfather.

For all of her unsavory qualities, Meg also has some redeeming features.  She does love her sisters and is straight with them.  She’s capable of kindness such as surprising her older sister with a birthday cake.  McGovern does wonderful work in making these small decent seeds blossom as Meg does mature a bit throughout the run of the show.

CeCe Hastreiter is sweet and naïve as the youngest Magrath sister, Babe.  Hastreiter’s Babe may seem a bit dumb, but she’s actually an innocent unwise in the ways of the world.  She married at a young age and has been dominated by her thuggish husband.  Hastreiter gives Babe a lovely heart of gold as she is willing to go to prison rather than explain her motivations for shooting her husband and she also lends Babe a tender fragility as she can still be broken by her hospitalized husband and practically swoons over her lawyer who shows her a kindness and respect long denied by her brutish spouse.

Aside from direction, Kevin Colbert also designed the set which was a lovely little two story home where the screen door and gas stove invoked memories of my grandparents’ house.  The properties provided by Sheila Hansen and the cast helped make the home feel old and lived in.  Janet Sorensen’s costumes helped solidify the characters with clothing that suited their personalities such as Lenny’s simple housedress or Meg’s more vibrant and flashy dresses.

There were some minor issues in today’s performance.  Projection could have been better on the parts of some actors.  Energy was down and cue pickups were a bit lax in the story’s slow first act, but picked up remarkably in the more energetic second and third acts.  Performers also upstaged themselves on a few occasions.

Ultimately this is a story about family and before the story ends the Magrath sisters will prove that they are a family through thick and thin.

Crimes of the Heart plays at Lofte Community Theatre through April 25.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets cost $24 and can be obtained at www.lofte.org, calling 402-234-2553 or e-mailing LofteTickets@gmail.com.  Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Rd in Manley, NE.

Unlocking the Painful Past

Morgan and Angus are farmers living their quiet lives until Miles enters the scene.  Miles is an actor wanting to study them in order to write a play about farming.  One night Miles overhears Morgan telling Angus the story of the Drawer Boy which she includes in the play.  When Angus, who can only remember the here and now due to a head injury, sees the play, he begins to remember his past. . .and the painful truths hiding there.  This is The Drawer Boy and it is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This is what theatre is all about.  A brilliant story shaped by a genius storyteller and told by 3 masters of their crafts.

Michael Healey’s script contains the finest usage of voice I have ever heard in a tale.  The play has to be seen to understand what I mean, but most plays use the characters to tell the story.  Healey uses the characters to create the story.  It’s almost like there was no plot, but the three actors were simply conjuring the entire play out of thin air and it had me enraptured and on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.  The storytelling is meticulous and well-constructed as it builds up steadily and sturdily to a climactic peak and then slowly and surely descends to an epic resolution.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek’s direction is the sharpest I’ve seen this season.  His creation of this world is akin to a Bob Ross painting.  It seems so simple and rudimentary at first, but he constantly adds subtle colors and details until a beautiful masterpiece leaps from the canvas.  The staging is absolutely impeccable with the story taking place in a dilapidated farmhouse (another Jim Othuse winner) and he managed to make it feel small and enclosed while still keeping his performers socially distanced.  His control of the pacing was sure and confident and he guided his 3 actors to sterling, immaculate performances.

Olivia Howard has a naturalness and believability to her acting that is astonishing to behold.  Her Miles is a free-spirited, experimental actor with a genuinely good heart and her performance had me hooked from the word go.  Howard’s storytelling just rings with pure honesty.  Some of my favorite moments were her trying to get into the mind of a cow as she struck bovine poses and mooed as well as her telling the story of Hamlet in the first person to an enthralled Angus.  I also admired her drive and determination to helping Angus achieve peace by helping him to remember his forgotten past.

Erik Quam brings a delightful childlike innocence to Angus.  His body language always suggests that he is trying to remember something with the way he stares at a patch on the wall where something once hung or the way he parses out the sky to count stars which clearly brings him joy.  Quam convincingly portrays Angus’ affliction as he visibly winces and groans with the onset of debilitating headaches and is constantly surprised by seeing Miles anew after she briefly leaves his sightline.  His joy and agony as he slowly remembers his hidden past is equal parts wonderful, tragic and right on the money.

When I think of a farmer, Mark Thornburg’s portrayal of Morgan is the image that pops into my head.  Thornburg has a terrific laconic drawl to his delivery and a methodic lope to his movements.  His deep bass voice is perfect for narration especially with his telling of the stories of the Drawer Boy.  And his voice captures amazing nuance.  Morgan has tight control over his emotions and its just little tonal changes Thornburg makes to show when Morgan is happy or when he’s starting to lose his cool.  And Thornburg will make your heart shatter when you learn of the sacrifices Morgan has made to aid his friend.

Aside from his stellar farmhouse, Jim Othuse’s lights flesh out the play with sweet transitions from day to night and back again.  He also uses the lights to match the show’s emotions.  Yellow and bright for fun and happy moments.  Blue for sad and somber moments.  Black for moments of bitterness.  John Gibilisco’s sounds help create the countryside with the tweeting of birds and the roar of a tractor.  J. Isaiah Smith has composed a score that sent me to another world and his use of piano and keyboard sent chills through me.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes breathed life into the characters with the simple and poor clothing of the farmers to the 70s threads worn by Miles.  The properties of Darin Kuehler and Greg Combs gave the farmhouse a long, lived-in quality with its supplies and knick-knacks.

If you appreciate the art of storytelling then this is the play for you.  It’s guaranteed to take you on an emotional roller coaster and make you appreciate the treasure of true friendship.

The Drawer Boy runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 2.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets begin at $36 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by calling 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  The show is also available for streaming at https://www.showtix4u.com/events/ocp. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Historic Finery or One Last Blast of Christmas: A.G. Thomson House & Duluth, MN

A.G. Thomson House

Today the road has brought me to Duluth, MN.

I was looking forward to this outing even more than normal.  After getting fully vaccinated, I was ready to experience the most normal adventure I had enjoyed since the pandemic began and I wasn’t let down. 

I started the journey by taking the scenic route through Fort Dodge where I enjoyed a quick bite to eat at Taco Tico before continuing my drive to my stopping point of Northwood, IA.  Cashing in some points, I enjoyed a free night at the Holiday Inn where I was also upgraded to a suite which was much appreciated after a long day of work and driving.  After a full night of uninterrupted sleep, I spent the morning puttering around before hitting the road again at 11:30am.

It was a gray day with sporadic, steady rainfall, but it didn’t dampen my spirits and I found myself in the North Shore town of Duluth and A.G. Thomson Bed & Breakfast, owned by Tim and Angie Allen, before I knew it.

I admit to being wowed when I pulled into the mansion’s parking lot.  A.G. Thomson is a 1909 Dutch Colonial mansion, but looks absolutely pristine and brand new both inside and out.  This property is so meticulously maintained that shoes are left on shelves at the front door.

The inn is absolutely immaculate and has loads of room to spread out with a massive living room, dining room and side porch.  Wine is also sold by the bottle and a room under the staircase contains a refrigerator with water, soft drinks and wine (one complimentary glass per guest) along with a variety of snacks and a large DVD library.

The house had been built for William Ryerson for the sum of $17,000 (roughly $492K today) and passed through the hands of a number of prominent Duluth families.  The name of the house comes from its second owner, Adam G. Thomson, who had a two story addition added to the rear, built the two story carriage house with a four room dwelling on the upper floor and a tool house.

My room was the Mayor’s Chamber, named for John Fedo who owned the house from 1986 to 1989.  Fedo had been the mayor of Duluth and was one of the city’s most controversial figures.  He is credited with the renaissance of Duluth’s lakefront, but was also the only mayor in history to be charged and tried for criminal offenses while in office though he was eventually acquitted.

The room contains the same elegance as found in the rest of the house.  A queen-sized bed takes up a corner of the room.  A tiled gas fireplace is set into one of the walls while the opposite side contains a 2 person whirlpool tub.  The floral wallpaper lends brightness to the room and a leather chair and footstool takes up the center of the room where one can watch the TV set on the wall in comfort.

After getting myself set up, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.  A.G. Thomson is located in the Congdon district AKA the Mansion district.  The area practically shouted wealth as I wandered past the million dollar homes while occasionally communing with nature.  Deer were plentiful and let me get within a few feet for photos before bounding away.  I enjoyed a phone conversation with my best friend, Josh, but eventually called it quits as the late afternoon was becoming a real pea souper and I didn’t need to literally get lost in a fog.

I hopped in the car and made my way to At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Café for some dinner.

At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe

Even without a full vaccination, I would have felt safe visiting this town as Duluth set the bar for social distancing with protocols set in place for local businesses and a strict mask mandate.  At Sara’s Table is certainly no exception as seating is set six feet apart.

The bistro reimagines traditional American food and it is quite tasty.  I was seated in the library and it does have books you can read.  For my dinner I enjoyed a hearty Rachel with fries and tried a cream ale with has the smoothness of a black beer, but lacks the bitterness.  After my fine meal, I returned to the inn where I organized photos and took a long whirlpool bath before collapsing on the softest mattress I have ever lay upon and didn’t crack an eye until morning.

At breakfast I met Chris and Jessie Peterson and enjoyed some conversation with them while enjoying a repast of chocolate chip muffin, warm butternut squash soup, herb and black pepper scrambled eggs, sweet potato mash and French Toast with a blueberry compote.  A truly fine and filling meal which gave me the energy I needed to visit Glensheen.

Glensheen was the home of Chester and Clara Congdon and their family.  Chester was a lawyer and investor who was one of the first millionaires of Duluth.  He had Glensheen built on a 22 acre tract of land located by Lake Superior for the princely sum of $854,000 in 1908 (modern day equivalent of $22 million).  The Jacobean style mansion contains a jaw dropping 39 rooms and the property also contains a boathouse, gardener’s cottage, carriage house, tennis court and a stone arch bridge built over Bent Creek.

Glensheen

In 1968, the property was given to the University of Minnesota-Duluth by Elisabeth Congdon through a life estate and it continues to run the property to this day.  Tragically, Elisabeth Congdon’s life was cut short when she was killed by her son-in-law, Roger Caldwell.  It was theorized that the crime was committed so Elisabeth’s daughter, Marjorie (charged with & acquitted of the murder), could obtain her $8 million inheritance of which he was to receive $2.5 million.  Caldwell would end up accepting a plea deal for second degree murder, but recanted his guilt in his suicide note.  He never received the money.

I was quite fortunate to get a last blast of Christmas as Glensheen was still decorated for the Christmas season.  Twenty-five Christmas trees and a plethora of decorations adorned the mansion.  For social distancing purposes, the tours are self-guided, but placards containing the tour information are present at every stop and an audio tour can be had courtesy of the Glensheen app.

The mansion has been lovingly maintained and I was floored by the luxury in which the family lived. 

The Congdons were also noted for their charity and generosity.  Most notable was that the servants were permitted to enjoy the same menu as that of the family at meal times which was not the tradition of the day.  Chester was also known as a dutiful and loving husband who kept a spare room that he could retire to on nights he worked late so he wouldn’t disturb his wife and gifting her with $14K worth of pearls each Christmas.

All in all, I spent 2 hours at Glensheen before returning to the inn to post photos and begin writing.

For the first time since the pandemic started, I would finally attend worship services instead of taking in an online service.  A six minute walk took me to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The chapel is gorgeous and I enjoyed a pleasant service.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary

Then it was time for a little dinner and I opted for one of the inn’s favorite restaurants, Tavern On the Hill.

Tavern On the Hill is a bar/restaurant and must be quite popular as it was packed to socially distant capacity.  I ended up taking a seat at the bar where I enjoyed a Thai Chicken Tender Melt.  The sandwich is served on sourdough bread with the chicken glazed in a Thai curry sauce and covered with swiss cheese and bacon.  I contentedly nibbled away on the sandwich while reading my latest volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  Once satiated, I returned to the inn for a quiet night of writing, reading and another whirlpool bath.

Sunday morning found me polishing this article a bit before making my way to breakfast. Today’s repast consisted of a dark chocolate raspberry scone with fruit plate and a main course of spinach artichoke baked potato, grape arugula salad and mushroom & asparagus cheese encrusted quiche. I spent a bit conversing with Chris & Jessie who told me about their day and I spoke a bit with Kirsten, the innkeeper, who regaled me with a story of how she and a friend traveled from Alaska to Duluth. I also got to meet with Tim, one of the owners, who had once lived in Omaha when he was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base.

And all too soon, it was over. But I had an amazing time here in Duluth and it was a much appreciated return to normalcy. Rest assured, I will be back in the area again, possibly for my annual Christmas review. But take the time to experience the peace and tranquility of Duluth and enjoy a night or two at A.G. Thomson House. As an ornament says at the second floor, you’ll enter as a stranger, but leave as a friend and you’ll enjoy some world class dining and luxury.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

‘The Drawer Boy’ Set to Open at OCP

Omaha, NE– The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) production of The Drawer Boy will open Friday, April 9, 2021. The show will run through Sunday, May 2, Wednesdays through Thursdays in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at OCP. Tickets are on sale now starting at $36 with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

Seeking inspiration for her new play, Miles, a young actress from Toronto, moves in with Angus and Morgan, two aging bachelor farmers, in rural Ontario. Angus, who suffered a brain injury during World War II, finds joy and solace hearing Morgan retell stories from days gone by. But when Miles includes one of these stories in her play, she sets off a chain of events that will leave all three of them forever changed. Witty and touching, The Drawer Boy is a testament to the transformative power of storytelling.

STREAMING INFORMATION

The Drawer Boy will be available to rent for at-home viewing beginning Friday, April 16 on the ShowTix4U platform. To view all OCP streaming events on ShowTix4U, visit https://www.showtix4u.com/events/ocp.

Directed By: Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek

Cast

Olivia Howard as Miles

Erik Quam as Angus

Mark Thornburg as Morgan

Hallelujah, It’s Heavenly!!

Keith Patrick McCoy (Front) stars in ‘Cotton Patch Gospel’. Back row (L to R): Isiah Harper, Michelle Justice, Dean Justice, Justin Belew, Jeff Snider

If a man tried to take his time on Earth and prove before he died what one man’s life could be worth, well I wonder what would happen to this world?  Find the answer to this question in Cotton Patch Gospel by Tom Key and Russell Treyz with music and lyrics by Harry Chapin.  It is currently playing at Springer Opera House.

It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite shows.  This is the fourth time I’ve reviewed a version of this musical and I’m always discovering something new based on the storytelling of each cast.  However, I was particularly looking forward to this version as it would be the first time I would see it performed under its original intentions (one actor playing all the roles and backed by a bluegrass band). 

I was not disappointed.

This is a beautiful show for the Easter season and I salute the cast for an energetic and fun-filled night plus give them further kudos for showing great poise as the weather looked like it was turning a little inclement for this outdoor production.

I’ve always appreciated Key & Treyz’s script for its wonderful worshipfulness and clarity.  They do an excellent job of taking the Gospel of Matthew, modernizing it and making it completely understandable to any and all regardless of one’s faith background. In this take, Jesus is born in Atlanta, raised in Valdosta and lynched for the sins of humanity.  Key and Treyz were able to take the most important points of the Gospel and translate it into a 90 minute show that never feels rushed or edited.

Paul Pierce provides very strong direction as he’s guided his lone actor to an impressive performance with a sure and solid hand.  The animation is constant and there’s nary a static moment in the show.  I was also quite pleased with the staging as it had the feeling of an old-time revival show.

Keith Patrick McCoy expertly handles an awesome burden as he plays everybody.  On a scale of 1 to 10, his energy hovered around 15 and he effortlessly transformed himself into several dozen characters with changes in posture and modulation of his angelic baritone.  Some of his great performances included his rendition of the show’s narrator, Matthew, the former IRS man whose respect and love for Jesus is palpable; his sincere and humble Jesus; the conflicted Jud who betrays the Son of God; a smarmy and hypocritical televangelist hyping faith cruises to the Holy Land and Hong Kong; a malevolent Herod bent on killing Jesus to retain his throne; a surprisingly sinister Pontius Pilate who engineers Jesus’ murder.  Last, but certainly not least, I give a personal standing ovation to McCoy’s interpretation of John the Baptizer as he finally gave me the Baptizer I’ve long wanted to see in the form of a blood and guts, fire and brimstone preacher. 

McCoy’s singing is every bit as good as his acting and it always suited the character singing the song. Favorite performances were his Jesus humorously teaching His followers to treat others the way they would want to be treated in “Turn It Around” and agonizing over His impending death in “Goin’ to Atlanta”.  He also has stellar turns as Herod cold-bloodedly admitting “I Did It” when he has an orphanage bombed in an attempt to kill Jesus and as Matthew explaining the takeover plan he and the Apostles cooked up for Jesus in “We Gotta Get Organized”.

The only critique I had was that I thought McCoy could have taken a beat when he transitioned characters and seemed to rush his lines on a few occasions, but I’m going to qualify that by saying he may have been forced to move a little faster due to the weather. 

McCoy was ably supported by a bluegrass band who serves as a second character in the production.  They play all the instruments, sing the bulk of the songs and sometimes stepped in as minor characters.  Justin Belew and Jeff Snider dazzled on guitar and banjo.  Dean Justice was flawless on the stand up bass and his low tenor voice excelled on the somber “Are We Ready?”  Michelle Justice did some fine fiddling and had a lovely solo in “Mama Is Here”.  Isiah Harper was a strong featured vocalist especially in “Something Brewing in Gainesville” and “You Are Still My Boy”.

Debbie Anderson’s musical direction was right on the money as she understood the nuances of Chapin’s score and correctly emphasized its humor and gravitas where needed.  I loved Matthew Swindell’s less is more set of a simple backdrop, table and boxes.  Katie Underwood’s lights were absolutely phenomenal and bolstered key emotional points especially the blue light on Jesus in “Goin’ to Atlanta” and the red and black of Jesus’ lynching.  Sandy Dawson’s costumes were top notch with McCoy’s dapper brown suit and the plaid shirts and overalls of the band.

So if you’re looking for some family entertainment this Easter season, spend some time in the cotton patch with this wonderful cast and story and find out why Cotton Patch Gospel is “The Greatest Story Ever Retold”.

Cotton Patch Gospel plays at Springer Opera House through April 3.  Remaining live performances are April 2 at 8pm and April 3 at 2:30pm.  Livestream performances will be held April 1-3 at 8pm (EST) and a matinee performance at 2:30pm (EST) on April 3.  Tickets range from $20-$38 and can be obtained by calling the Box Office at 706-327-3688 or visiting www.springeroperahouse.org.  Springer Opera House is located at 103 10th St in Columbus, GA.

Photo provided by Allie Kent

The Purpose of an Audition

What is the purpose of an audition?

“To get the role,” I hear you say.  But, no.  That’s the hope of an audition.

The purpose of an audition is simply to be memorable.  For if you are memorable, directors will want to see you again and, sooner or later, will want to work with you.

So how is one memorable?  It begins from the moment you enter the audition locale.

  • Always be polite.

–Politeness pays.  From the moment you walk in the door you are always under observation.  Believe me, if you’re rude or obnoxious or a bad sport, that word will get to the ears of the casting agents/directors and you will be dead before you start.  Be sure to thank your accompanist and the casting agents/directors.  Be gracious to the other auditioners.  Little things go a long way. 

I earned my second role through politeness.  I knew from the beginning that it certainly wasn’t because of my chops as the audition was lousy.  But the director told me that my genuine interest in the show combined with my friendliness is what made him decide to give me a bit part.

  • Always keep in mind that this is a showcase, not a competition.

–I can’t stress this one enough as it was the lesson that took me the longest to learn.  For years I treated auditions as a competition.  For me, it was simple.  If I were the best reader for a part, logically I should get that part.

Boy, was I wrong about that.

When a director casts a show, he or she is piecing together a puzzle and attempting to build something that suits her or his vision of the story.  Your acting is the one and only thing you get to control and that amounts to about 1% in the casting process.  As such, you can be the worst performer in the room as I certainly was in the previous example and somehow get a part.  Or you can be on the opposite side and lap the others several times and still somehow not get cast. 

But, if you’re good, you’ll be remembered.  And if you’re remembered, you’ll get cast eventually.

  • Trust your instincts.

–Everybody is going to see a character differently.  The actors, the director, the stage manager, the costume designer, everyone is going to have a different idea about a character.  So just go full steam ahead with your take on the role.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ask questions about the character if you need some clarity.  But don’t be worried about trying to match your character to the director’s vision.  When the whole begins to come together, that vision is likely to change many times over before the final result.

The final show I auditioned for in college before I graduated was called Death of a Blind, Old Man, a modernized take on Oedipus at Colonus. At the audition, I noted that everyone reading for Oedipus played him strongly as if he were still the mighty warrior before his life was blasted. My instinct ran completely the other direction and I broke him in two. I read him as a frightened, beaten old man. Without question, it was one of the two best reads I ever had in college and while I didn’t make the cut, I was darn proud of the read. And that’s the feeling you want to have when you finish a read.

  • Be bold.

–This goes hand in hand with trusting your instincts.  Time and again I’ve seen actors (not to mention myself) hold back because they’re afraid of making a mistake.  That’s the surest way to destroy your creativity.

This is an audition.  There’s no such thing as a mistake.  I’ll repeat that.  This is an audition.  There’s no such thing as a mistake.

Your view of the character may be completely off the wall and off the mark, but if you’re bold and brave about that choice, the director may very well step in and give you some direction and if you then make that change based off the direction, you will look brilliant.  What the director is more concerned about is your ability to make a strong choice, not necessarily the “correct” choice.

Years ago, I auditioned for The Elephant Man and I was reading a monologue for the character of Dr. Treves.  At this point in the show, he was feeling incredibly guilty and despondent about making the title character a freak again, albeit a high class one.  He’s trying to explain to the bishop his feelings, but doesn’t quite know how to spit it out. 

Now I saw the character as heading towards a breakdown and I attacked the read as such.  I mean I read the monologue with an impassioned desperation. 

Was it the right trek?  No.  But I was so bold about the choice that the director stepped in and had me make a massive adjustment.  So I went from nearly cracking up to quietly shaming myself.  He loved the changes and I looked like a million bucks.

No, I didn’t get in the show, but the director has never forgotten me.

  • Keep perspective.

By this I mean, don’t fall apart at the seams if you thought your audition sucked or if you thought it was brilliant and didn’t get in. . .at least not publicly.  Take your moment to be sad privately.  Punch out a pillow.  Scream to the fields.  Do whatever you need to get the feeling out and then let it go.  But remain professional until you can get to that private place.

There’s a lot of rejection in this field and, as clichéd as it sounds, there truly is always another show.  I openly admit that in my early days, rejection gnawed on me like a hungry dog enjoying a tasty bone.  Auditions were almost life and death and it always felt like a shotgun blast to my stomach when I wasn’t cast. 

Even when I got good at the acting side of things, auditions continued to haunt me.  But when I finally realized how little control I had over the casting process, I was finally able to let that burden go.  Then I got to enjoy myself and became more memorable.

So when you audition, keep your head held high.  Be brave.  Be bold.  BE YOU!!  Then you’ll be memorable.  You may not get cast every time, but you will get cast sometimes.

One Man Triumphant

Experience a day in the life of struggling actor, Sam, as he works the reservations line of an exclusive New York restaurant where he must pacify the rich, the powerful, the famous and the screwy as well as deal with his temperamental boss and oddball co-workers.  And all while he waits for a callback while trying to find a way to get home for Christmas.  This is Fully Committed by Becky Mode and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I couldn’t wait to get to work on this review.  This was, bar none, the funniest comedy I have ever seen on an Omaha stage.  Mode has written a delightful slice of life script that realistically depicts a day in the life of a struggling actor as he works a poorly paid, high stress job in order to be able to audition.  While the characters may be somewhat embellished, those who have ever worked a service job will readily recognize the personality types of the many difficult people Sam deals with in the course of a day. 

Mode’s script is not only loaded with witticisms, but it had jokes with punchlines that I never saw coming resulting in the loudest and hardest I’ve laughed at a production in years.  It also contains some nice story arcs that are convincingly and believably maintained and resolved within the course of the show.

Jim McKain has a stunning directorial debut at the Playhouse with his work in this production.  He had a minute understanding of the script and its myriad ups and downs and demonstrated extraordinary acumen in the balancing of the multiple stories in the show as none gets any short shrift.  McKain has also guided his lone performer to what may very well be the performance of the year as he helped his actor shape 40 different characters.  Some of the characters may be larger than life, but all had a foot firmly planted in reality.

Josh Peyton is a juggernaut of talent as well as a thespian of rare versatility.  Each one of his characters is unique and original, differentiated by voice, gestures and body language and imbued with off the charts charisma.   His stamina is amazing as he never slows down for a second and I loved how he would use his animation and gestures to transform from one character into the next on the turn of a dust mite (dime just doesn’t seem to cut it).

Some of the many characters Peyton entertains the crowd with are the volatile, surfer dude chef/owner of the restaurant in which he works; the timid, panicky personal assistant of the editor of Bon Appetit magazine; Sam’s loving and folksy father who always says good-bye by saying, “Adios (finger snaps and hand pointing) amigo”; an incredibly effeminate friend/theatre rival; and Gwyneth Paltrow’s overly perky (and occasionally bellicose) assistant.

However, my favorite performance was Peyton’s interpretation of the play’s central character, Sam.  Sam is a good and decent man who works hard in a thankless job with a dream of making it as an actor.  Peyton is completely believable with Sam’s worries about making rent, his frustrations at hitting a dry spell as an actor, his sadness at not being able to get home for Christmas and his loneliness as he’s just re-entered the single scene.

John Gibilisco had his work cut out for him with what seemed like a few hundred sound cues from the constant ringing of the telephone, the buzz of the private line linking the chef to reservations and the distinctive sound effects that accompanied certain characters.  Every ring and chime pulsed life into this world.  I liked Jim Othuse’s simple basement set.  Enhanced by Darin Kuehler’s properties, it really showed just how low of a man Sam was on the totem pole. 

If you’re in need of a good laugh, come see this show.  I defy you not have a smile on your face by the time it’s over and it’s also one of the best shows of the year.  Strike while you can as tonight’s nearly sold out crowd suggest tickets won’t last long for this one.

Fully Committed runs through April 11.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are on sale now starting at $36 with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. The show will be available to rent for at-home viewing beginning Friday, March 26 on the ShowTix4U platform. To view all OCP streaming events on ShowTix4U, visit https://www.showtix4u.com/events/ocp. The show does contain strong language. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.