OCP Announces New Alternative Programming Season

Omaha, Neb.—The Omaha Community Playhouse is announcing its Alternative Programming series for the 2017-18 season. Alternative Programming includes a series of staged readings, special events and play development collaborations. All events are held at OCP.

The 2017-18 Alternative Programming schedule includes:

1776

Book by Peter Stone, Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Based on a concept by Sherman Edwards
(1969 Tony Award winner for Best Musical)
July 17, 2017
Staged reading of a musical, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Ashley Laverty

It’s the summer of 1776 and the nation is ready to declare independence… if only our founding fathers can agree to do it! 1776 follows John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia as they attempt to convince the members of the Second Continental Congress to vote for independence from the shackles of the British monarchy by signing the Declaration of Independence.

In an effort to provide more performance opportunities for women actors and to look at familiar works of theatre through a different lens, this staged reading will be fully cast with women playing all roles.

CRY-BABY
Book by Thomas Meehan & Mark O’Donnell
Music and Lyrics by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum
Based on the Universal Pictures film written and directed by John Waters
July 31, 2017
Staged reading of a musical, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Andrew Saladino

It’s 1954. Everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism and Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore. He’s a bad boy with a good cause – truth, justice and the pursuit of rock and roll. Cry-Baby and the square rich girl, Allison, are star-crossed lovers at the center of this world. Based on the cult classic 1990 John Waters film, Cry-Baby features a delightfully demented book from the writers of Hairspray and a rockabilly score from the co-founder of Fountains of Wayne and the executive producer of “The Daily Show.”

ANGELS IN AMERICA

Written by Tony Kushner
TWO DATES: August 7 and 28, 2017
Staged reading of a play, Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman

Part One: Millenium Approaches
In the first part of Tony Kushner’s epic story, set in 1980s New York City, a gay man is abandoned by his lover when he contracts the AIDS virus and a closeted Mormon lawyer’s marriage to his pill-popping wife stalls. Other characters include the infamous McCarthy-ite lawyer Roy Cohn, Ethel Rosenberg, a former drag queen who works as a nurse, and an angel.

Part Two: Perestroika
In the second part, the plague of AIDS worsens, relationships fall apart as new ones begin and unexpected friendships take form.
Contains adult content.

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Written by John Ball, Adapted by Matt Pelfrey
September 18, 2017
Staged reading of a play, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Marie Amthor Schuett

It’s 1962. A hot August night lies heavy over the small town of Argo, Alabama. A dead white man is discovered and the local police arrest a black stranger named Virgil Tibbs. The police discover that their prime suspect is in fact a homicide detective from California. As it happens, Tibbs becomes the racially-tense community’s single hope in solving a brutal murder that is turning up no witnesses, no motives and no clues.
Contains adult content.

FROM THE GROUND UP
Written by Denise Chapman
October 30, 2017
Special Event, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Kevin Lawler

Come share in the experience of seeing a workshopped performance of a brand new script. This community-based play will focus on North Omaha in the 1970s and the effect of the North I-75 Freeway being built in and running through the heart of the community.

An official collaboration with the Great Plains Theatre Conference, From the Ground Up is a workshop that provides a safe and nurturing playground for artists to develop new work for the theatre. The playwright’s material will be shared with an audience while still in the developmental phase then will continue to be developed to be included in the next Great Plains Theatre Conference.

WHITE RABBIT, RED RABBIT
by Nassim Soleimanpour
THREE DATES: November 6, 2017; February 19, 2018 and May 14, 2018
Special event, Howard Drew Theatre

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit has been called a play. But it’s a lively, global sensation that no one is allowed to talk about. Its award-winning playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, is Iranian. His words have escaped censorship and are awaiting your audience. Slyly humorous and audaciously pointed, this ‘theater-entertainment-meets-social-experiment’ is unlike anything, and will make you question everything. This show is always performed by a single actor who has never read the script before and has no idea what it’s about. Come experience a truly unique piece of theatre, then come back to see it again with a different performer.

 
EMOTIONAL CREATURE
Written by Eve Ensler
February 17, 2018
Special Event, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Emma Rasmussen

Performed by an ensemble of young women, Emotional Creature is made up of original monologues—and irresistible songs—about and for girls. Placing their stories squarely center stage, it gives full expression to their secret voices and innermost thoughts, highlighting the diversity and commonality of the issues they face. Emotional Creature is a call, a reckoning, an education, an act of empowerment for girls and an illumination for parents and for us all.
Contains adult content.

APPROPRIATE
Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
March 26, 2018
Staged reading of a play, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Christopher Scott

Every estranged member of the Lafayette clan has descended upon the crumbling Arkansas homestead to settle the accounts of the newly-dead patriarch. As his three adult children sort through a lifetime of hoarded mementos and junk, they collide over clutter, debt and a contentious family history. But after a disturbing discovery surfaces among their father’s possessions, the reunion takes a turn for the explosive, unleashing a series of crackling surprises and confrontations.
Contains adult content.

THE PATCHWORK PLAY PROJECT
April 23, 2018
Special Event, Hawks Mainstage Theatre

A completely original piece of theatre with a twist! Omaha is home to many talented playwrights, both well-established and up-and-coming. A group of local talent will be teaming up to write an original play—one piece at a time. Where the story goes… nobody knows! Come watch a staged reading of the final project to find out what the creative minds of Omaha can concoct.
Contains adult content.

Alternative Programming events are free and open to the public with an opportunity for donations. No tickets or reservations are necessary. Some events may be intended for mature audiences. For more information on Alternative Programming, contact Jeff Horger at jhorger@omahaplayhouse.com or (402) 553-4890, ext. 158.

 

Be Their Guest

Beauty and the Beast_4

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Themed Events

Opening Night Celebration and Sunday Tea Parties

Omaha, Neb.— In celebration of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Omaha Community Playhouse’s first  Disney production running in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre May 26 – June 25, 2017, OCP will host several themed events for ticket holders, including an Opening Night Enchanting Extravaganza on Friday, May 26 with free pre-show activities for ticket holders beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Pending weather and availability, opening night activities will include a “provincial village” mini-petting zoo outdoors featuring small farm animals; “Gaston’s Strength Challenge” high striker game; and “Belle’s Beauty Boutique” hair styling for boys and girls. Complimentary desserts and beverages will also be available. Activities take place from 6:00 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. for ticket holders of that evening’s performance. No separate registration is required for these activities, which are generously supported by Great Western Bank.

Omaha Community Playhouse will also host Beauty and the Beast Royal Teas before all Sunday matinee performances May 28 – June 25, 2017 beginning at 12:45 p.m. Guests will enjoy a dessert and beverage, participate in a themed craft, and be visited by a special guest before attending the 2:00 p.m. performance. Space is limited to 30 people per date and advance registration is required for these events  at $15 per guest. The May 28 Royal Tea is sold out and there is limited seating for the June 11 event. For questions, contact Jana Coburn at (402) 553-4890, ext. 147 or jcoburn@omahaplayhouse.com.

Additionally, 20 minutes prior to the start of each performance an actor from the show will lead the children in the audience in educational warm-ups. Children in the audience will also receive a child-friendly printed program with activities. This is in conjunction with OCP’s educational wing, the Henry Fonda Theatre Academy.

Production: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Show Dates: May 26 – June 25, 2017 (Wednesdays – Sundays)

Director: Kimberly Faith Hickman

Step into the enchanted world of the beloved musical, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. This classic story of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress, is guaranteed to entertain all audiences.  If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed to his former self — but time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity. This “tale as old as time” is filled with spectacular costumes and sets and is a must-see for the whole family.

Show dates: May 26 – June 25, 2017; Wednesday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m.

There will be two Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. on June 17 and June 24, 2017 only.

Tickets: At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $42 for adults (Thursdays – Sundays) and $25 for students (Thursdays – Sundays). Wednesday prices are $32 for adults and $20 for students. Tickets are $32 for groups of 12 or more. Single ticket discounts do not apply to this show

Location: Omaha Community Playhouse, Hawks Mainstage Theatre (6915 Cass Street Omaha, NE 68132)

Blue Barn Closes Season with ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert–The Musical’

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The BLUEBARN Theatre is proud to conclude Season 28 with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert–The Musical.

BLUEBARN Producing Artistic Director Susan C. Toberer co-directs with Associate Artistic Director, Randall T. Stevens with set design by Martin Scott Marchitto, lighting design by Alberto Segarra, costume design by Jenny Pool, sound design by Craig Marsh, and properties design by Amy Reiner.

Shows run May 18-June 25, 2017; Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday June 4, 11, 18, and 25 at 6pm.

Single tickets for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert–The Musical are $35 for adults; $30 for students, seniors (65+), TAG Members, and groups of 10 or more. The BLUEBARN Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert–The Musical is generously sponsored by Dr. Devin Fox,  Jeff Grinnell and Dan Gallagher, Dr. Merlyn Knudson and James Davis, and Rich and Fran Juro.

About Priscilla, Queen of the Desert–The Musical

Based on the smash hit movie, Priscilla is the heartwarming, uplifting adventure of three friends, Tick, Bernadette, and Adam, a glamorous  Sydney-based performing trio who agree to take their show to the middle of the Australian Outback.  They hop aboard a battered old bus, “Priscilla”, searching for love and friendship and end up finding more than they could have ever dreamed.

Featuring a hit parade of dance floor favorites including “It’s Raining Men”, “I Will Survive”, “Hot Stuff”, “Finally”, “Boogie Wonderland”, “Go West”, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, and “I Love the Nightlife”, this wildly fresh and funny musical is a journey to the heart of FABULOUS!

About the Stars of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert–The Musical

Priscilla features veteran actor, Cork Ramer (Man of La Mancha, Omaha Playhouse) as Bernadette and Mark Hinrichs making his BLUEBARN debut in the role of Tick.  Newcomer Matt Bailey, last seen dancing in Heathers:  The Musical, plays Adam.  Also featured in the large cast are Roderick Cotton, Justin Eller, Aubrey Fleming, Eliot Gray, Julian Hinrichs, Don Keelan-White, Grant Mannschreck, Roni Shelley-Perez, Randall T. Stevens, Erin Stoll, Cammy Watkins, and Sam Woods.

About the BLUEBARN Theatre

The BLUEBARN Theatre has been bringing professionally-produced plays to area audiences since 1989. Since its inception, BLUEBARN has produced over 100 plays and has established itself as Omaha’s professional contemporary theatre company. Striving to bring artistically significant scripts and professional production values to Omaha and the surrounding region, BLUEBARN is known for high-quality entertainment and the fearless pursuit of stories that challenge both theatre artists and patrons.

Scenic South Dakota: Sioux Falls & Steever House

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Steever House

It was one of those weekends where everything falls into place.  I’m just finishing up a stay at the Steever House in Lennox, SD and my only regret is that I can’t stay for an extra day or two.

But let’s start at the beginning.

It was an absolutely perfect spring day for one of my jaunts.  The sun was bright.  There wasn’t a cloud to be seen.  And the temperature was, mmm, just right.

I hopped into my car and began the drive to the Sioux Falls area of South Dakota where I would be staying at Steever House as well as reviewing Jesus Christ Superstar for the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.

The drive was great and it was nice to enjoy some new scenery as I headed north to South Dakota.  Once I crossed the border into the state, I admit I did a double take when I saw the 80mph speed limit.  Maybe I’ll try the max speed on the empty Sunday roads, but not being used to that type of speed, I kept things to about 75mph.

I arrived in town about 12:30pm.  Regrettably, I was only doing an overnight so I didn’t have the normal time that I usually allow my explorations.  But if I were going to do one thing, it had to be a visit to the town’s namesake falls.  So off I went to Falls City Park.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in a park in my life.  As a testament to the absolutely gorgeous day, families galore were having picnics, exploring the Sioux Falls, riding bikes, and meandering.  Heck, a group was even taking wedding photos there.

The Sioux Falls once powered a hydroelectric plant for the city and you can actually take a self-guided walking tour full of informative tidbits about the falls’ past including the remains of the first hydroelectric plant and mill.

The falls themselves were quite the sight and I found myself mesmerized by the beautiful waterfalls and even saw salmon trying to swim upstream for the first time.  The day was so pleasant that I took a nice shady spot under a tree to catch up on my reading.

About 2:15, I headed over to the small town of Lennox to check into Steever House, owned and operated by John & Sara Steever.  This lovely home is certain to trigger relaxation as it is on a secluded piece of property about ten miles outside of Sioux Falls.

As I pulled into the driveway, I was greeted by John who introduced me to his wife Sara.  He led me to the Dakota Suite, the inn’s newest room and my base of operations for the night.  This is the biggest room I’ve ever had at a B&B and I instantly felt calmer with the room’s soft blue walls and carpeting.  It consisted of a massive bedroom/living room area with a comfortable king sized bed and a couple of plush leather easy chairs set in front a fireplace.  I also had a sitting room and a ginormous bathroom with a whirlpool bathtub.

I had an early dinner reservation so I organized my belongings and drew a bath.  The tub was actually a “smart” tub with a little computer panel to activate the jets and even warm up the water (so I assume as I saw the temperature go up a few degrees during my bath).  I rested my head on the bath pillow and let the jets work their magic.  There was a set of jets shooting water into the small of my back and it felt like a massage therapist knuckling the area.  I could have sat there for an hour or more having the area kneaded.

But since I didn’t have an hour or more, I lingered for as long as I could then got into my suit for dinner and a night of theatre.

I had made dinner reservations at Carnaval Brazilian Grill and, trust me, if you’re in the area, you need to eat here.  Reservations are highly recommended as the place was packed when I got there and it was only 5pm.  Thanks to my reservation, I was immediately led to my table where I ordered a Brazilian cream soda and the famed Rodizio meal.

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Carnaval Brazilian Grill

Brazilian steakhouses are fun because it’s almost like a buffet.  Instead of ordering a standard meal, you get to visit a hot and cold salad bar plus waiters will bring skewers of meat to your table so you can have as much or as little as you want.

This was probably the most in depth and impressive salad bar I have seen with gourmet style vegetables such as champagne soaked onions.  I whipped up a little plate of spinach salad topped with onions, fresh jalapenos, bacon bits, and ranch dressing along with a spoonful of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and caviar medley.

I returned to my table to enjoy my salad, then flipped my tower for the meats.  Brazilian steakhouses give you a disc (or a tower in my case) that is green on one side and red on the other.  When you want some meat, you turn it to green so the waiters will stop by with their skewers and flip it to red when you want a break.  Over the next 90 minutes, I had a sampling of top sirloin, lamb, glazed barbecue pork, and a signature beef marinated in Carnival’s homemade marinade.  That last was the tastiest dish.  I also tasted grilled pineapple basted in cinnamon which was amazing.  Coming from me, that’s something as pineapple is one of the few foods that I genuinely dislike.

I realized I had made a wise choice in having an early dinner as I exited.  Where the restaurant had been packed before, it was now overflowing and spilling out the doors.

From there I hopped into my car and made my way to the downtown area of Sioux Falls which is quite reminiscent of the Old Market area of my hometown of Omaha, NE right down to the lack of parking.  I easily found the Sioux Empire Community Theatre and you are permitted to use most of the empty business parking lots in the area which one-ups Omaha since you now have to pay at the Old Market parking meters during the weekend.

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Sioux Empire Community Theatre

This was one of the best nights of theatre I have experienced.  The theatre is beautiful and it was a sensational production.  You can read my review here.  I even had the pleasure of meeting the theatre’s artistic director Patrick Pope and the show’s director, Eric Parrish.  Patrick told me I’d be welcome back at the theatre any time so I look forward to reviewing more shows at this little jewel.

Then it was back to Steever House for a little writing and a most restful night’s sleep on my bed’s soft mattress.

I felt fully refreshed when I awoke the next morning and went downstairs to enjoy a tasty meal of fruit, granola and yogurt, ham, Dutch baby, and baked apples.  I also had a pleasant conversation with the Steevers and another couple staying at the inn.

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But now it’s back to reality.  But if you’re in the Sioux Falls area, stay a night at Steever House.  It’s comfortable, secluded, quiet, and the hospitality can’t be beat.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Sioux Empire’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Explodes with Awesomeness

His best friend betrayed him.  His followers can’t understand his message.  His Father needs him to die to fulfill his mission.  This is Jesus and this is the story of his last week of life in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, currently playing at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.

There are certain shows that I hold to higher standards due to my affinity for them.  Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those shows and after the first act, the Sioux Empire Community Theatre’s production had eclipsed nearly all of my standards.  This show is incredible!!  It’s got tip top acting, stellar singing, inventive choreography, outstanding technical elements, and spot on direction.  This particular production has entered my top 10 of the best shows I’ve seen and my top 3 of the best out of state shows I have reviewed.

Eric Parrish takes on the demanding task of serving as both director and musical director of this show and is superb in both roles.  Parrish’s band (Garret Hansen, Tyson Conn, Trace Mahoney, Royce Kuenzli, and Rod Jerke) starts off red hot and just gets hotter as the night goes on as they never miss a trick or note of this legendary score.  Parrish’s direction is simply a thing of beauty.  He has set the show in a post-apocalyptic society where Jesus’ disciples, the Pharisees, and the Romans are depicted as rival gangs which I found positively inspired.  His staging is phenomenal and exhausting.  Static this show is not as his actors hurtle about the stage non-stop.  He also knows how to pull the very best out of his actors as I couldn’t find a weak link in the lot.

The supporting cast does excellent work as they enhance the show with their reactions, but they also acted through the scene changes which was crucial to keeping the show’s energy up.  Standout performances include Dennis Berger as Peter and Devin Basart as Annas.  Berger has a bright, light tenor that I could listen to all day and really shone in “Could We Start Again, Please?”.  Basart is a wonderful bootlicking lackey to the high priest whose operatic tenor soared in “This Jesus Must Die” and “Blood Money”.

Darren Lee’s take on Judas Iscariot has to be seen to be believed.  He presents Judas as a man whose relationship with Jesus has been frayed to the final thread.  He still respects Jesus, but he thinks Jesus is leading them all to their deaths due to his delusions of grandeur of being God’s son.  I loved how he skulked about in the darkness, glaring at Jesus whenever he did something with which Judas disagreed.  So realistic was the tension that I almost thought that Judas was going to slug Jesus at a couple of points.  Lee also ably portrays the regret and guilt of Judas after he betrays Jesus.

Lee also has a monstrously powerful tenor.  His voice is reminiscent of a young Meat Loaf as he belts out power numbers with “Heaven On Their Minds”, “Damned for All Time”, and “Superstar”.

What words could I use to describe Raine Jerke’s rendition of Jesus?  Mind blowing.  Staggering.  Powerful.  Haunting.  Good words to be certain, but they seem to fall short of the true awesomeness of his work.  I was gobsmacked to find out that Jerke has very little acting experience as he has an ease and naturalness equivalent to an actor with years of experience.  His expressions are pitch perfect.  His reactions deadly accurate.  His acting so nuanced as he swings between love for his followers in “Poor Jerusalem” to boiling frustration with them in “The Last Supper” and the extreme agony and fear of his death in “Gethsemane”.  So moving was that last number, that tears welled up in my eyes.

Jerke’s singing voice is astonishing.  His soaring tenor captured every tiny emotional beat of every number and managed to hit the nearly inhuman falsettos required of the role without popping a sweat.

Jenn Evanson Lee is wonderfully sweet as Mary Magdalene.  Her work is admirable as she portrays Mary as Jesus’ most loyal disciple.  Indeed she is the only one who actually tries to give Jesus the comfort and support he needs instead of just taking from him.  She also has a fabulous soprano which ranged from soothingly calm in “Everything’s Alright” to emotionally puzzled as she wrestles with her own feelings for Jesus in “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”.

James Van Oort radiates menace and authority as the high priest, Caiaphas.  This is truly a dangerous man and not someone you want as an enemy.  His deep and mighty bass driving home those points in “This Jesus Must Die”, “Hosanna”, and “Trial Before Pilate”.

I rather liked Rick Weiland’s original take on Pontius Pilate.  His first appearance is the only time we see him without his mask and he is a decent and just man puzzling over his dream about the Nazorean (“Pilate’s Dream).  In all of his other appearances, it’s clear that his authority is in his position as he lacks the confidence to withstand the extreme pressure the Pharisees are putting on him to crucify Jesus.

Neil Simons’ lights were the best I have ever seen in a show.  His lights were almost separate characters enhancing every moment of the show.  I was especially impressed with how they would go red or dark whenever evil seemed to be getting the best of Jesus.  Kathryn Pope’s costumes were amazing.  Keeping with the gang mentality, you had the leather jackets of Jesus’s crew and the suits and sunglasses of the Pharisees.  What I found most intriguing was that every character wore black to symbolize the darkness they were in while Jesus wore an off white shirt showing him as the light of the world.  Tiffany Koppes’ choreography was highly entertaining and inventive, especially her hilarious routine for “King Herod’s Song”.  I also adored Brad Waltman’s crumbling Colosseum set.

There were a few minor glitches in the show.  Some microphone issues cropped up in Act II and a little of the dancing could have been smoother, but these tiny things pale in comparison to the sheer magnificence of the show.  As the house was nearly full, I suspect a monster hit is on the hands of the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.  I heartily recommend getting a ticket before it’s too late.

Jesus Christ Superstar plays at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre through May 21.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 and can be obtained by calling the box office at 605-360-4800 or visit www.siouxfallstheatre.com.  The Sioux Empire Community Theatre is located at 315 N Phillips Ave in Sioux Falls, SD.

‘Superior Donuts’ Has No Holes

Arthur Przybyszewski has given up on life.  The aging hippie works his family’s 60+ year old donut shop whenever he feels like opening it, mourns the recent death of his ex-wife, and is estranged from his daughter.  Then Franco Wicks enters the picture.  This ebullient, confident young man takes a job as Arthur’s assistant and slowly helps him rediscover the joy of living.  When demons from Franco’s past return to stalk him, will Arthur help his new friend or run away again?  Find out by watching Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Prior to tonight’s production, I had never seen a Tracy Letts play.  Now I’d like to see more of them.  Letts has a genuine gift for dialogue, skillfully blending comedy and drama, and a real knack for character development as every role from supernumerary to lead has a story arc that gives each a chance to shine.  It also didn’t hurt that he also happens to tell a great story with Superior Donuts.

Susie Baer-Collins returns to the Omaha Playhouse to direct this production and brought her A game to the table.  She nimbly fleshed out all of the individual story arcs and led her actors to strong performances, deftly guiding them from comedy to drama and back again.

As stated earlier, Letts has created a nice little microcosm which is a dream for character actors as each role has its wonderful little quirks.  Some sterling performances include Mary Kelly as an alcoholic street lady with a major sugar addiction and wisdom that either defies or results from the fact that she doesn’t live in the greater construct called reality; Devel Crisp as a dedicated and Trekkie police officer; Mark Thornburg as a gregarious Russian businessman hoping to buy Arthur’s donut shop; and Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as the cop with a crush on Arthur.

My socks were knocked off by the performance of Jeremy Estill as Luther Flynn.  Making his Playhouse debut, Estill brought an incredible sincerity and a palpable sense of danger to the neighborhood loan shark.  You really believe him when he says he doesn’t want to rough up Franco who is having difficulty repaying his sizable debt, but you also don’t doubt him when he promises harm to Franco if he can’t come up with the cash.  Estill’s well chosen gestures wonderfully animate Flynn and made him one of the night’s treats.

Aaron Winston has a stellar Playhouse debut as Franco Wicks.  Winston brings a real joie de vivre to Franco who has a lot of wild ideas for updating and upgrading the hole in a wall donut shop such as adding music, holding literary events, and upselling pastries.  Winston’s Franco eats life with shining teeth and is such a dreamer that Arthur (and the audience) can’t help but be buoyed by his enthusiasm and energy.  That infectious energy works just as well in Wicks’ more dramatic scenes as you’ll crash with Franco as he pays an awful price for his failure to repay Luther Flynn.

It is an excellent performance, but I would recommend that Winston pick up the pace a bit as it will add some more zing to his fine work.

Kevin Barratt’s work as Arthur Przybyszewski is a tour de force.  He begins the play as an utterly defeated man going through the motions of life.  He barely talks, shows little emotion, and seems resigned to the fact that his life has derailed.  When Franco’s zest begins to rub off on him, you see Arthur begin to lighten up and start rediscovering the joys of life.  He becomes more animated, has fun, and dances badly.  But Barratt’s best moments occur during his numerous monologues as he recounts his life up to the present moment and you really feel the joy of his childhood, the regret of his teens when he makes a cowardly choice, and the pain of watching his family disintegrate.  And it is through those stories that you’ll understand why he takes the steps he does to help Franco at the show’s climax.

I was rather impressed with Matthew D. Hamel’s set.  It has the perfect look of a hole in the wall donut shop from its aged racks, to its ancient cash register, to the old, but functioning Superior Donuts sign.  John Gibilisco’s sound strongly supported the story and Lindsey Pape’s costumes were an excellent fit (no pun intended) for the characters.

The pacing and cue pickups needed a bit of tightening, but it truly was a pleasant night of theatre with a show that has a lot of heart and soul and teaches the importance of friendship and simply being alive.

Superior Donuts plays at the Omaha Playhouse through June 4.  Performances 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, the play is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

One Queen Too Many

Two queens.  One rules England, though her claim to the throne is sketchy at best.  Another is imprisoned in a gilded cage with the threat of the axe looming over here, but still harboring hopes for freedom and the English throne.  The two engage in a private war fought mostly by proxy in which only one queen can survive.  This is Mary Stuart, an adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s play by Peter Oswald and playing at the Joslyn Castle under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

Schiller’s play is a nifty historical thriller.  He clearly had great understanding of the history of this particular period of the Tudors as well as great insight into human nature as his play touches on lust, betrayal, conspiracy, Machiavellism, and ambition run amok.  The story is completely dialogue driven, but every conversation and monologue builds to a climax of its own which serves to keep the audience’s attention glued to the tale.  Peter Oswald has updated the language to be more understandable to a modern audience yet still retain the feel of Schiller’s original story.

Lara Marsh provides an exceptionally strong bit of direction to this story.  Her actors never let the pace drag in the talky production, not by speaking faster, but by closing the spaces between their words, letting the dialogue retain its meaning.  Ms Marsh understands every jot and tittle of the play, expertly guiding her actors through the story’s numerous climaxes and resolutions, coaching her players to extremely realistic performances which was rendered more difficult with the audience up so close and personal to the performers, and making full use of the tiny performance space with impeccable staging.

There wasn’t a weak link in the large cast (beautifully costumed by Wesley Pourier), but there were several standouts in supporting roles.  These included MaryBeth Adams as Mary Stuart’s loyal and feisty servant, Hanna Kennedy; Steve Denenberg and Adam Hogston as Amias Paulet and George Talbot, who are the only court members truly concerned with Queen Elizabeth I’s welfare; and Eric Grant-Leanna as Davision, a nervous and befuddled new appointee to the court who falls victim to Elizabeth’s machinations.

Delaney Driscoll brings power and regality to the role of Mary Stuart.  Although she’s been imprisoned for the last quarter century, Ms Driscoll’s Mary Stuart is still every inch a queen.  It’s an astonishingly multifaceted performance as Ms Driscoll gracefully glides between being assured in her royalty in an early confrontation with Lord Burleigh (played by John Hatcher), to softer, gentler moments with Hanna, to being desperate and vindictive when she finally meets Elizabeth I, to a calm, but firm assurance of her right to rule England and her standing before God when she makes her final confession.

Charleen Willoughby’s take on Elizabeth I is almost the flip side of Mary Stuart.  Where Stuart is full of confidence and certainty in her right to be England’s queen, Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is plagued with self-doubt and insecurity.  Knowing that her right to rule is tainted by her illegitimate birth, Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is determined to overcome that taint by being the perfect queen.  That drive for perfection actually prevents her from taking decisive action and she is constantly seeking the counsel of her court.

But take care as Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is not as weak and willowy as she likes to pretend.  She does hold her own strong opinions and is not afraid to stick to her guns.  She is also very adept at manipulating situations to accomplish her darker whims while salving her conscience.

Eddie McGonigal plays Mortimer, the play’s lone fictitious character.  Mortimer is a traitor to the English throne and spearheads a rescue operation to liberate Mary Stuart and get her the English crown.  McGonigal’s performance is sensational as his Mortimer is so loaded with arrogance, it’s practically seeping out of his pores  If that isn’t bad enough, Mortimer’s grip on sanity is tenuous at best as he fancies himself an avenging angel doing God’s will in saving Mary Stuart.  He also lusts for a sexual relationship with the Queen of Scots culminating in a near rape of her at the end of Act I.

Few actors bring the type of naturalness John Hatcher brings to a role.  As William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, Hatcher always sounds extemporaneous, doubly impressive given the heinousness of his character.  Hatcher’s precise inflection choices beautifully animate his subtly bloodthirsty character with just the right touches of anger, manipulation, and snide pride.  Lord Burleigh wants Mary Stuart dead at all costs to solidify his power base with Elizabeth I and will do anything to make it happen such as softly cajoling Elizabeth into signing the death warrant for the good of England or gently putting the screws to Paulet to let an assassin reach Mary Stuart.  It is one of the night’s most mesmerizing performances.

You would think that Lord Burleigh would be the story’s primary villain, but I believe that (dis)honor goes to David Mainelli’s portrayal of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.  I consider Mainelli’s performance to be his one of his finest due to the difficulty of this character.  Where Burleigh is open and up front with his villainy, Maninelli’s Dudley is a despicable, slimy worm working from the shadows.

Machiavelli is put to shame with Dudley’s machinations.  He loves power so much that he dumped his fiancée, Mary Stuart, because he thought he could do better and began wooing Elizabeth I.  Then he gets involved in the rescue operation of Mary Stuart because he still loves her and then turns on her when the rescue fails and his own survival is at stake.  In all of his oiliness, Mainelli manages to give Dudley a small kernel of decency with his regret at betraying Mary Stuart and finally makes a noble sacrifice to expiate his guilt.

Nearly every character in this play has an ulterior motive.  Elizabeth I needs to remove Mary Stuart to legitimize her claim to the throne.  Mary Stuart needs her freedom to usurp the throne from Elizabeth I.  Robert Dudley needs to increase his power base by any means necessary.  Mortimer wants to save Mary Stuart to be her lover.  Lord Burleigh wants to maintain his own power base and keep England separate from its enemies (all other countries in his mind).  These motives make these characters utterly hateful, but also make for a most compelling night of theatre as well.

Mary Stuart will play at the Joslyn Castle under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company from May 4-25.  Showtimes are Wed-Fri at 7:30pm.  There will be one Saturday performance at 7:30pm on May 6 and no performance on Friday, May 5.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors/military).  For tickets, please call the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at 402-502-4910 or visit www.bsbtheatre.com.  The Joslyn Castle is located at 3902 Davenport St in Omaha, NE.