Thank You for the Music. . .and the Singing. . .and the Dancing. . .and the Fun

Sophie is getting married and she wants her father to give her away.  The problem is she doesn’t know who he is, but has it narrowed down to 3 candidates.  She could ask her mom, but she doesn’t know which of the 3 it is either.  Which dad gets the honor?  Find out in Mamma Mia!, currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

I’ve always thought there was a certain genius to this script.  Catherine Johnson managed to create a musical that is almost devoid of plot (the mystery of the fathers is introduced at the top of the show and then almost forgotten about until Act II), but is so packed with fun that nobody really gives a hoot. The play’s appeal lies in the classic ABBA numbers whose lyrics are used to move the play along.

Brandon McShaffrey provides a remarkable piece of direction to this musical.  He adds a lot of little touches and flourishes that make the show far more than a jukebox musical.  He manages to make the show feel realistic by adding dramatic moments, sweet moments, and funny moments.  In short, he has transformed it into a slice of life production.  He’s also guided his actors to strong, vital performances and they are characters as opposed to caricatures.

Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than seeing a supporting musical cast that gives their all to a show.  It adds such a crucial dimension to a musical.  Without it, a show will collapse.  This cast not only fueled the show with a vibrant energy, but they were obviously having fun and a particularly infectious kind as it spread throughout the audience as the night progressed.

Some standout members of the supporting cast include Maria Konstantinidis and Megan Opalinski as Tanya and Rosie, the best friends of Sophie’s mother, Donna.  Ms Konstantinidis is delightfully vain as the snobbish Tanya while Ms Opalinski had the crowd roaring as the fiercely liberated, yet man-hungry Rosie.  Both women have beautiful singing voices and harmonize well, providing memorable moments in harmony with “Dancing Queen” and in solos such as Ms Konstantinidis’ turn in “Does Your Mother Know” and Ms Opalinski’s take on “Take a Chance on Me”.

Other strong performances come from Trevor Berger who is sweet and sincere as Sophie’s fiancée, Sky, and Danny Vaccaro as Harry Bright, a former headbanger (at least in his mind) now turned wealthy stuffed shirt with a heart of gold.

Megan Arrington is splendid in the role of Sophie.  She does an excellent job presenting Sophie’s search for that missing part of her identity, but she also manages to bring a, oh, let’s call it duplicitous mischief to the role.  Sophie is a bit underhanded as she lies to her fathers to get them to come to her wedding, keeps almost everyone in the dark as to their inclusion, and the wedding may actually be a scheme to discover the identity of her dad.  But there is nothing diabolical about her actions.  Sophie just wants to understand herself completely.

Miss Arrington possesses a gorgeous upper alto/lower soprano and she shines in numbers such as “I Have a Dream” and “The Name of the Game”.

Faith Sandberg sizzles as Donna.  She definitely embodies 70s flower power as she boldly and unapologetically lives life as a single, entrepreneurial mother.  She lives life on her terms and anyone who disagrees with it can get to stepping.  But she also brings a deep sensitivity to the character and has a tangible love for her daughter.  Ms Sandberg turns her songs into performance pieces as she acts through them as opposed to simply singing.  Some of her shining moments come with her renditions of “Mamma Mia!”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “Our Last Summer”.

Alan Gillespie gets the character with the most arc as Sam Carmichael.  Sam actually has a genuine story and Gillespie plays it for all its worth as he adds lovely emotional beats and even adds a touch of haunting sadness to Sam.  Gillespie also has a powerful tenor voice and has one of the night’s most memorable numbers in “S.O.S.”.

David Foster provides an impeccable piece of choreography.  Not only are his dancers silky smooth, but the choreography is also original, fun, and even funny, especially with the male ensemble’s work in “Lay All Your Love on Me”.  Shon Causer’s lights really enhance the scenes, especially the use of light and shadows when characters give private monologues.  Star Turner has designed a nice little villa which evokes a feeling of age and dilapidation.  Kevin Casey and his orchestra provide a tuneful night of entertainment.

This show is exactly what it presents itself as:  a pure unadulterated fun fest.  You’ll feel good by the time the night is through and if you’re not having fun, well, I suspect you probably don’t have a pulse.

Mamma Mia! plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 8.  Showtimes are at 7:30pm on June 24, July 3, 7 and 2pm on June 24, 26-27, 30, July 6, 8.  Tickets cost $31 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

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Familial Follies

Today should be the greatest day of Tom Kerwood’s life.  He and his wife, Linda, are a step away from adopting a baby.  Then Tom’s two brothers, Dick and Harry, decide to help.  Dick wants to share the proceeds of smuggled cigarettes to help support the child while Harry plots to get them a killer deal on a house by planting cadaver bits in the backyard.  Then the illegal immigrants show up.  Oh, and the police are expressing an interest in the goings-on at Tom’s house.  And time inexorably ticks forward to the appointment with the social worker, Mrs. Potter.  How will it all work out?  Find out in Tom, Dick, and Harry by Ray & Michael Cooney and playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

This is, without question, one of the funniest scripts I have ever had the privilege of watching.  The Cooneys’ script is a bit of comedic genius as it manages to fuse two very disparate types of comedy:  the farce and the traditional English comedy.  These seem like two styles that wouldn’t gel as one depends on action and hijinks while the other is driven by dialogue, but it works incredibly well.  The dialogue is so sharp and witty and carefully builds into the manic comedy and action.  The play is further enhanced by a director and cast who are clearly masters at the craft of comedy.

Trevor Belt’s direction is absolutely pluperfect.  The staging of the show is magnificent as it makes use of the entire stage with especially clever use of any and all types of orifices:  doors, windows, even hide a beds.  He knows how to find the funny in each and every line and dreamed up some incredibly funny bits as well.  He’s also led his thespians to grand performances.  Belt’s pacing is spot-on as it starts out careful and methodical and picks up speed as the insanity unfolds.  Cue pickups were also done on the turn of a dime.

The play is a wonderful little ensemble piece and some stellar performances come from Kat Walker-Hill who plays Tom’s very proper wife, Linda, who is capable of unleashing an extraordinarily violent temperament when pushed to the limit; Michael Davis as the persistent, if not overly bright, Constable Downs; and Alex Vinh who gives a scene stealing performance done mostly through pantomime as Andreas, an illegal immigrant searching for his daughter.

Luke Bridges nails the role of Tom Kerwood.  Bridges’ work is exemplary as he plays Tom as the reformed con artist turned happy family man thrown into the most bizarre of situations.  The role is unique as it requires someone who can play a straight man, but also be a good physical comic as well.  Bridges handles the straight man with ease with precise and potent facial and physical reactions to the lunacy swirling around him.  He’s also an impressive physical comic culminating in the most epic meltdown I’ve ever seen on the stage.  Bridges also has a good grip on the nuances of language as he often has to say the same phrases over and over, but alters his inflection each and every time to change the meaning and tone of the phrases.

Troy Bruchwalski is the epitome of a con artist as the middle brother, Dick Kerwood.  Bruchwalski’s Dick is always looking for the next score, but gives the sense that he is rarely, if ever, successful.  He is a charmer and he is likable, essential tools in the arsenal of a con artist.  However, his charm and likability are clearly part of Dick’s personality.  He’s not out to hurt people, just earn a little illicit money.

Bruchwalski is also a tremendous physical comic, best displayed when he tells his brother the story of the illegal immigrants by deciphering their sign language in one of the show’s best moments.  He also possesses a mighty operatic tenor used during a “rehearsal” for a fake reality TV show.

Kyle McCaffrey does some skillful work in his portrayal of the youngest brother, Harry Kerwood.  I was particularly impressed by the fact that he lifts personality traits from his “brothers” to form his own character.  McCaffrey’s Harry has the kindliness of Tom, but the scamming instincts of Dick.  Regrettably, his scamming instincts are less honed than Dick’s as he never thinks his cons completely through.  McCaffrey is also a good physical comic especially a prolonged bit with a hide a bed and his ability to be repeatedly shoved out of a window.

Star Turner provides a dandy less is more set with a simple, but comfortable house full of the doors needed for farce.  Jimmy O’Donnell’s costumes suit the play’s characters from the suburban wear of Tom and Linda to the cheap clothing of the immigrants.  Mariah Yantz’s props really add to the play, especially a wall clock that runs in real time which is crucial to the play’s time element.

This is what a comedy should be.  There’s no moral.  There aren’t any deep thoughts.  It’s just pure unmitigated fun from start to finish and is guaranteed to chase the blues away with a night of deep and hearty belly laughs.

Tom, Dick, and Harry plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 27.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on June 27, 30 and July 6, 11, 13, 21 and 2pm on June 23 and July 1, 3, 11, 13-15, 17, 22, 24-25, 27.  Tickets cost $31 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

To Live Again

Elliott Liteman is in a state of living death.  Stricken with Lazarus Syndrome (a type of survivor’s guilt which afflicts some people who are resuscitated after clinical death), Elliott doesn’t want to die, but is afraid to live.  During a horrific blizzard, his family comes to visit and he learns the importance of forgiveness and embracing life.   This is Lazarus Syndrome by Bruce Ward and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.

First and foremost, let me assure you that this isn’t a doom and gloom story.  True, there are moments of weightiness, but this is an excellent slice of life tale full of humor, hope, and even mystery.  Ward’s script focuses on themes such as family, regret, ennui, aging, self-loathing, forgiveness, mortality, and what it means to be alive.  I found myself spellbound by the tale as Elliott’s internal struggle is outwardly manifested as he spars and engages with his family.

M. Michele Phillips has provided a superlative piece of direction to this story as well as an inspired bit of casting. She understands the path of the story well, skillfully navigating the many turns of the tale and capitalizing on every beat. Ms Phillips guides her actors to rock solid performances and you’ll never doubt for an instant that this group is a family.

Brett Foster gives a powerful and poignant performance as Elliott Liteman.  Living death well describes Foster’s essaying of Elliott as he merely goes through the motions of living.  Foster gives a wonderful weariness to Elliott whose guilt and depression are so great that he’s turned away from almost everything that made him happy and lives a life that’s a mundane routine of taking medicine to combat his HIV and wandering around his apartment in his bathrobe.  You can’t help but root for the guy when he finds small bits of happiness and vitality whether it’s through a sweet early morning conversation with his lover or a vigorous debate with his family.

Foster makes you feel the pain of a man who has lost his sense of self and is just seeking a way to end his cycle of nothingness.

Thomas Lowe plays the small, but crucial role of Stephen Bliss, Elliott’s young lover.  Lowe brings a sweetness and innocence to Stephen who has enough energy to live life for the both of them.  Your heartstrings will be tugged as Stephen’s love for Elliott allows Elliott to reclaim small sparks of himself and Stephen’s honesty and plain-spokenness may be the key to Elliott finally living his own life again.

Matt Allen is awesome as Elliott’s younger brother, Neil.  Invoking the essence of younger brothers everywhere, Allen’s Neil is a bit of a thorn in Elliott’s side as he drips melted snow onto Elliott’s floor and scarfs down Elliott’s food while making wry observations on his unique tastes in edibles.  Allen brings an incredible extemporaneousness to Neil’s dialogue as well as a snarky attitude which he carefully modulates to be a pest to Elliott, but not obnoxious or mean, especially when they start having suffering battles or discussing their somewhat fractious relationship.

Brent Spencer is the ideal Jewish father as Jake.  He believes a good meal can solve all ills and that the three things Jewish people do best are eat, suffer, and fight.  He is also clearly a man of his generation as he was brought up to believe that men didn’t show emotions and foul language is inappropriate in polite conversation.  But he also shows that an old dog can learn new tricks as his own losses have taught him the value of emotions and he tries to instill that lesson into Elliott.

Ben Adams has designed a cozy little apartment that feels like a real home.  Taelore Stearns’ lights pack an emotional punch.  They actually feel just as sad as Elliott.  Fred Goodhew’s sounds buoy the show’s emotional beats.  Leah Skorupa’s costuming is just right with the suits worn by Neil and Jake and the hum-drum look of Elliott with muted t-shirt, boxers, and a somewhat colorful bathrobe to offset the drabness of his other garb.

In the end, this is a story of life overcoming death and that it can still be lived and enjoyed despite great tragedy if one is only willing to take that chance.

Lazarus Syndrome plays at SNAP! Productions through June 24.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  The final show on June 24 will be at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students, seniors (55+), TAG members, and military, and for all Thursday shows.   For tickets, call 402-341-2757 or visit www.snapproductions.com.  Due to strong language and mature themes, Lazarus Syndrome is not recommended for children.  SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California Street in Omaha, NE.

Singin’ Up a Storm

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From left to right: Nate Wasson, Tayler Lempke Plank, and J. Isaiah Smith star in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

Silent film stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are America’s sweethearts.  Lina is sweet on Don, but he merely tolerates her.  Don falls for a budding young actress named Kathy Selden who has earned the ire of Lina.  Their studio decides to make a talkie which morphs into a musical.  Difficulties arise when Kathy is selected to overdub Lina’s grating voice.  Lina decides to ground Kathy’s career to a halt as a result.  Will her machinations succeed?  Find out in Singin’ in the Rain, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

If you like musicals with lavish dance numbers and memorable songs then this is the show for you.  Betty Comden and Adolph Green did a superlative job transcribing this classic movie to the stage.  They managed to retain the entirety of the original tale with very few changes and add a bit of that something extra by adding a song and dance number after every section of the story.  Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed have written a nice little score peppered with snappy, loving, and upbeat tunes.

Kimberly Faith Hickman once again infuses a show with some of her inimitable directing magic.  She hits all of the show’s beats.  Her staging is precise.  Her actors spot on.  The singing is on point.  More importantly, she just makes the show fun.

Kudos to a strong supporting cast who add the little touches that breathe vital reality into this world.  Some memorable featured performances include Mary Trecek in a humorous turn as Lina Lamont’s diction coach; Jason DeLong who shows he’s got acting chops to match his talented feet as Don Lockwood’s diction coach; Don Harris as Roscoe Dexter, a director struggling to transition to talkies; and Boston Reid who shines with his golden tenor voice singing “Beautiful Girls”.

Nate Wasson is truly a triple threat as Don Lockwood.  He can sing, dance, and act with an ease and naturalness that seems to be instinctive.  Wasson has a real knack for making you feel right along with Lockwood.  When he’s happy, you’re happy.  When he’s sad, you’re sad.  Wasson gives Lockwood a needed likability and sensitivity and comes across as a regular guy who just happened to make it very, very big.

And Gene Kelly can eat his heart out when it comes to Wasson’s singing and dancing.  Wasson’s fabulous tenor will grace your ears with sweet tunes such as “You Stepped Out of a Dream”, humorous ones like “Moses Supposes” (a personal favorite), and, of course, the iconic title song.  And his feet will keep you clapping as he skillfully taps his way into your heart in “Good Morning” and his solo work in “Singin’ in the Rain” which is rendered more difficult as he dances in an honest to goodness downpour.

Tayler Plank brings a sweetness and confidence to the role of Kathy Selden.  She plays a little coy with Don in the beginning as she poo-poohs film acting and pretends not to really be aware of his fame until they meet again at a party.  Later they truly bond when she becomes a contract player at Monumental Studios.

Ms Plank possesses a glorious soprano and delighted the audience all night with numbers such as “Would You?” and “You are My Lucky Star”.  She also does some impressive hoofing of her own in “Good Morning” and “All I Do is Dream of You”.

J. Isaiah Smith is definitely the man to watch with a mind blowing turn as Cosmo Brown. Smith has unteachable timing as the joke a minute songwriter and his rubbery face is ideal for comic acting with the wide variety of expressions he was able to conjure, each well suited to the moment. Seldom have I seen such an athletic dancer as Smith especially with his jaw dropping solo in “Make ‘Em Laugh” where he leaps all around as well as on and off the stage.

Cathy Hirsch gives an award caliber performance as Lina Lamont.  She nailed her character to the floor with a whiny, vacuous, New York accented voice that will delightfully grate on your ears.  Ms Hirsch is a primo villain as she is vengeful, egotistical, and just plain old nasty.  But I really tip my hat to her on her solo performance in “What’s Wrong with Me?” as she managed to retain that screechy off-key voice while somehow managing to stay on-key at the same time.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra once again fail at failing with yet another brilliantly performed score.  Roxanne Nielsen returns to the Playhouse to add another laurel to her long list of legendary pieces of choreography, especially with the work done by the three leads.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes evoke a sense of 1920s elegance with double breasted suits and gorgeous gowns.  Jim Othuse’s sets will take you from Don’s apartment to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to a certain memorable rainy street.  The OnPxl team of Matt Bross & Chad Eacker provide some impressive special effects especially with a stunning replication of old time silent films and talkies.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco team up to make some impressive sounds especially the foibles of recording sound movies for the first time.

The best way to sum up this show is to borrow from the title song:

 

They’re singin’ in the rain.

Just singin’ in the rain.

What a glorious feelin’.

You’ll be happy again.

Everyone in the place

Have a smile on your face.

As they’re singin’ and dancin’ in the rain.

 

Singin’ in the Rain plays at the Omaha Playhouse through June 24.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Running Towards/Away

Tess Maynard and her mother, Laura, are prepared to visit Mastavia (the city that’s also a country) to pick up a package left to them by Tess’ father/Laura’s husband.  Just before they embark on this adventure, Laura dies.  Tess decides to continue the adventure and advertises for a traveling companion who must have the same name as her mother.  Enter the second Laura Maynard:  a mysterious woman with something to hide.  As Tess begins this journey of discovery, Laura begins a journey of escape.  This is The City in the City in the City by Matthew Capodicasa and playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

I was quite impressed by the construction of Capodicasa’s story.  On the theatrical level, he actually wrote this as a staged reading which leaves theatres with oodles of flexibility when it comes to the technical aspects such as set design, sound, and staging.  The story level is quite intriguing as well and I love that the parallel stories of the two women are told simultaneously, sometimes quite literally as they often speak at the same time.  Capodicasa also has a grand gift for description as he often has his characters describe what they’re doing and seeing which permits the audience to paint pictures with their imaginations.

This particular production allowed Susan Clement-Toberer to step up her directing game to a whole new level.  As I stated earlier, the play was written as a staged reading and had been performed as such at last year’s Great Plains Theatre Conference.  This was its first staging as a full production which gave Ms Clement-Toberer a blank slate to work with and she’s painted a magnificent portrait.  Using the guideposts of Capodicasa’s words, she has created an ethereal dreamscape which still has one foot planted in reality.  The staging is superb and makes use of the entire theatre.  Ms Clement-Toberer has led her two performers to skillful, sterling performances with a brisk pace and cue pickups so tight that a thin piece of paper couldn’t be wedged between.

Kaitlyn McClincy gives an exceptional performance as Tess Maynard.  She’s a woman who has recently been dealt a rough hand by life.  She’s lost her job and her mother.  Now she has a chance to discover the father she’s never known by taking part in this strange adventure.  Ms McClincy brings a hesitant adventurousness to Tess.  This is a woman who has probably never been out of her neighborhood and now plots to travel to the other side of the planet with a stranger.  She’s wonderfully sincere and conjures up needed seriousness when the moments call for it.

Both performers play multiple roles and some of Ms McClincy’s best characters are a guard at the gates of Mastavia who likes to toy with the two Americans and a truly haunting portrayal of the son of Laura Maynard.  So realistic and believable is Ms McClincy’s voice as the child that, if my eyes were closed, I would have sworn it was another person playing the role.

Frankly, I was blown away by the acting powers of Kim Gambino.  Not only does she ably play numerous roles, but she morphed into these characters with a snap of the fingers.  Most impressive was a scene where Tess was interviewing Laura Maynards to be her traveling companion.  With a slight change of posture, voice, and facial expression, Ms Gambino adopted nearly half a dozen distinct characters.  My personal favorite of her alternate characters was a witty waiter at a jazz club who had the audience laughing from the gut with her dead-on delivery.

However, Ms Gambino does shine the most with her take on Laura Maynard.  Laura is a shadowy character running from the one thing she can never outrun:  herself.  Ms Gambino brings a strong confidence to the role as Laura does bravely take on the challenge of traveling with a complete stranger who is ably able to help Tess on her quest.  But she also brings a tragic cowardice to the role as running away from herself means running away from her son.  Their phone conversations are some of the finest moments in the play.

The sound design of William Kirby is probably the best I’ve ever seen.  Kirby’s use of sound of the show makes for a truly immersive experience as voices echo throughout the theatre and a phasing effect really adds to the dreamlike quality of some of the scenes.  Ernie Gubbels’ lights were also of high quality especially with the Blue Room and his use of shadows and lights in the phone conversations.  The set is credited to BLUEBARN and is ideal for imagination as the use of sheets and scaffolding take you from Tess’ apartment to Mastavia to a cemetery.

It’s most assuredly a unique piece of theatre that will suck audience members into the tale.  Even more impressive, the show is still evolving which is the joy of working a new show.  On opening night, a new scene was inserted just prior to opening and I just may catch closing night to see what new surprises and changes are added to the show.

The City in the City in the City plays at Blue Barn until June 17.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat and 6pm on Sundays with the exception of one 2pm matinee on June 10.  There are no shows on May 20 and 27.  Tickets cost $30 for adults and $25 for seniors (65+), students, and TAG members.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org.  Due to strong language, this show is not suitable for children.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Not Quite Perfect Yet

On the day of his wedding, Bill wakes up with a monstrous hangover, slightly concussed, and in bed with a woman who isn’t his fiancée.  A series of shenanigans, misunderstandings, and schemes unfold in an attempt to keep his fiancée from learning the truth.  Will there still be a Perfect Wedding by Robin Hawdon and currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre?

Personally I found Hawdon’s script to be a laugh riot.  He has an instinctive understanding of classic farce complete with the impossible situation, desperate attempts to solve said situation, slamming doors, and over the top characters.  Hawdon’s story actually takes things one step further with an ending that wasn’t entirely predictable and had some surprisingly sweet moments as well.

The hand of capable leadership is present in this production with the direction of Marya Lucca-Thyberg.  She definitely understands the art of the character as her actors definitely have distinctive personas.  She also has a good feeling for the more creative side of farce as she conjured up several amusing bits of business.

Thomas Stoysich has a very worthy debut at the Bellevue Little Theatre with his portrayal of Bill.  Stoysich does a pretty good job of making Bill likable despite the fact that he’s not all that likable of a person.  However, I consider that crucial to this character because Bill’s actions are governed by a weight he is carrying on this shoulders.  So he’s not a bad person, just a little soiled.

Stoysich has excellent, crystal clear facial expressions and reactions and manages to tap into the needed broadness for his character.  However, his panickyness and nervousness also seemed to strike the same note and I think there was space to maintain the attitude, but change up the pitch as it were.

Kaitlin Maher gives a spot-on performance as Rachel, Bill’s fiancée.  Ms Maher has a commanding presence and is truly the rock in her relationship with Bill.  Clearly she has to be the more level headed half as Bill is rather flighty.  She’s honest, strong, caring, and obviously deserves a lot better than Bill.

Jessica Mascarello serves as a good counterpoint to Rachel with her essaying of Judy.  Where Rachel is strong and direct, Ms Mascarello’s Judy is weak and sneaky.  Like Bill, she’s more soiled than bad, but she ends up being the other woman with her eyes wide open as opposed to being smashed like Bill.  Ms Mascarello still manages to conjure up a degree of sympathy with her ability to project her disillusionment with love which is what fuels her character.  Ms Mascarello also has a knack for physical comedy as she got to take part in some of the best sight gags.

Farce needs a strong rapid-fire energy and that was missing in the afternoon’s production.  Pacing needed to be much brisker and cue pickups needed to be much sharper.  Accents and acting were also a bit of a mixed bag.

The technical aspects of the production were quite potent.  Taelore Stearns has constructed an excellent old-fashioned inn with doors aplenty for chases and slamming.  Joshua Christie’s sound design was quite clever with a series of Tom Jones’ love songs.  Nancy Buennemeyer’s costuming was well done especially with Rachel’s beautiful wedding gown and the elegant kilts of Bill and his best man, Tom.

This show is assuredly on the right path to being a rock solid laugher.  A little more speed and a little tightening of delivery will permit this cast to maximize everything this entertaining script has to offer.

Perfect Wedding plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through May 20.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets prices are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students with valid ID.  For tickets, contact 402-291-1554 between 10am-4pm, Mon-Fri.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

There’s Hope on ‘The Mountaintop’

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Donte Plunkett as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Catie Zaleski as Camae

On the night before his death, a mysterious woman helps Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. face his mortality and the future of his cause.  This is The Mountaintop by Katori Hall and playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Ms Hall has written one of the most uniquely constructed scripts I have seen in quite a spell.  Whether by coincidence or design, the script is actually built as if it is a trek up and down a mountain.  It is a long, sometimes laborious, climb to the summit.  But once the peak is reached, the play really begins to pop and rapidly races down to the finale.  While the first half of the play could be a little dry, the second half provides some compelling viewpoints on racial harmony, faith, mortality, how far we’ve come as a people in overcoming our hatred and biases, and how much further we still have to climb.

Denise Chapman has provided an admirable and nuanced piece of direction to the production.  She has staged the play well, keeping her 2 actors animated with a constant moving about of King’s hotel room.  She also has a good instinct for maximizing the play’s twists and surprises and really makes those moments stand out and sing.  Ms Chapman has also guided her thespians to a pair of solid performances.

Donte Plunkett gives a worthy performance as Martin Luther King, Jr.  His features not only bear a remarkable similarity to the real King, but he also managed to tap into a great deal of his essence.  Plunkett exudes a confidence, authority, and gentleness suiting the great Civil Rights leader.  But he also shows a quiet sense of humor and a tragic vulnerability especially when he has a conversation with God about his mortality.  I was also impressed with how well Plunkett carried off a less than savory aspect of King’s personality, his reported weakness for women, with his charming and eyeballing of Camae.

Catie Zaleski’s take on Camae is a master class in putting on faces.  It’s hard to know what to make of Camae at first.  She seems to be so many things.  She readily flirts with Dr. King.  She curses like a sailor and then apologizes for cursing in front of the famed Baptist minister.  She can be very blue collar and seemingly uneducated in one moment, then start spitting out college level words and improvising a Kingesque speech in the next.  At one moment, she seems fully aligned with King’s mission, then diametrically opposed in the next.

When the truth behind this chameleon like behavior is revealed, Ms Zaleski nails the tragic hopefulness of a character who is looking to expiate her own sins.

I thought the performances could be further enhanced with a brisker pace and a bit more energy to kick off the show.  Volume and diction were also off at a couple of early points in the show.

I was exceptionally impressed with the show’s technical elements.  Jim Othuse has designed a clean and comfortable motel room at the Lorraine Motel.  John Gibilisco’s constant claps of thunder well communicated the oncoming storm in King’s life.  I loved Herman Montero’s use of lighting, especially the starlight at the play’s conclusion.  Amanda Fehlner’s costuming captured the essence of the well-dressed man of God and the blue collar housekeeper.

It takes a little patience to get to the play’s core, but it is worth the wait as it touches on themes of race and equality that are still important today.  We have grown quite a bit as a people, but there is still a lot of growing to do.

The Mountaintop plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 27.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language and some mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.