Gaslit

A cruel sociopath slowly drives his wife insane and her only hope for escape lies in an eccentric detective obsessed with solving an open case from early in his career.  This is Angel Street and it is currently playing at Brownville Village Theatre.

I had heard of this story under its more famous name of Gaslight, but this was my first time seeing it in any medium and I had really been missing out on something special.  Patrick Hamilton wrote a tight, taut thriller that had me hooked from start to finish.  Hamilton has a grand gift for words and knows how to use them to build mood, tension, intrigue, and emotion.  This play is completely dialogue driven, but Hamilton’s skill in plotting had me feeling as if I had run a marathon by the time it was all said and done.

Now a play needs more than good words to sell it.  It also needs fantastic acting and direction to unlock the full potential of those words and this play has all of that and so much more.

Mitch Bean’s direction is spot on.  He understands the many twists and turns of the play’s mazelike plot and knows how to build and resolve the play’s many intense scenes.  Some of his finest moments were the final confrontations between Mr. Manningham and Detective Rough and Mr. and Mrs. Manningham.  The Manningham/Rough scene is particularly gripping and is the verbal equivalent of a savage fistfight with the way the two men continue circling each other and fling words at each other like knives.  Bean has also coached his entire cast to sterling performances with nary a weak link among them.

Bella Walker and Lucy Haarmann are very strong in the smaller roles of household servants.  As Elizabeth, Haarmann is very loyal to her mistress and is actually the character that first leads Mrs. Manningham to her first steps on her road to freedom.  Walker is very smug and saucy as Nancy, a servant who acts like and has ambitions to be the mistress of the house.

I have to admit that when I first saw Benjamin Salazar, I thought he was a little young for the role of Mr. Manningham, but, the second he opened his mouth, I completely bought into the illusion.  Salazar has a rich and powerful voice that belies his youth and is suited for the evil Manningham.  And, believe me, evil is defined by this man.  Though he has the manners of a gentleman, Manningham is a cruel, vicious monster.  Salazar knows how to use Manningham’s words like a weapon as he constantly pummels his wife emotionally and even teases her with occasional bursts of kindness.  Salazar plays Manningham with an uber controlled menace and his ramrod posture makes Manningham seem like a cocked gun threatening to go off at any moment.  And that control is crucial as it makes his explosive moments of anger and violence truly frightening as the play surges to its conclusion.

Trevor Comstock is a delight as Detective Rough.  Comstock’s take on Rough reminded me of Jim Hutton’s interpretation of the fictional detective, Ellery Queen, as he seemed to be a bit of an absent-minded genius.  He clearly listens to Mrs. Manningham as he questions her about her current situation and husband, but his eyes show that he’s thinking ten steps ahead which make his replies seem cryptic, yet they’re not.  Comstock brings an indefatigable energy to the character as he warps about the room and you can practically taste his excitement in finally closing the lone open case of his career.  Comstock also brings the commanding presence needed to both buoy Mrs. Manningham and cow the steely Mr. Manningham.

Rachel Curtiss brings her all to the role of Mrs. Manningham.  This is not an easy role to play due to the massive emotional shifts of the character, but Curtiss nails it to the floor.  Curtiss does a good job of vacillating between being nearly broken emotionally and mentally, to a brief burst of happiness, to the wonderment of Rough’s story, to a little gaslighting of her own when she confronts her brute of a husband.  Curtiss’ body language is phenomenal as she seems like a spring that has been wound too tight and seems apt to break at any moment.

Mitch Bean has designed a fine upper middle-class house with well to do furniture such as a desk and secretary with fine china.  Sara Scheidies’ costumes suit the period of the time especially with the Victorian dress of Mrs. Manningham and the elegant wear and ascots of Mr. Manningham.  Trevor Comstock’s usage of lights is one of the best I’ve seen in a show as he uses it to set mood, particularly with the gaslights as the room darkens and lights based on the flow of gas.  Benjamin Salazar’s sounds help to enhance the action with the sounds of footsteps being a favorite of mine.

This is a truly intense and gripping night of theatre and I highly recommend seeing it and bringing a friend or loved one to get you through the spooky moments.  While this may be my first visit to Brownville Village Theatre, I can guarantee it won’t be my last.

Angel Street plays at Brownville Village Theatre through August 12.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on July 16 and 24, and August 4 and 12 and 2pm on July 23 and 31 and August 7.  Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at the Box Office, visiting www.brownvillevillagetheatre.com, or calling 402-825-4121.  Due to intense scenes and subject matter, this show is not suitable for children.  Brownville Village Theatre is located at 222 Water Street in Brownville, NE.

A Belle of a Good Time

Beauty and the Beast_4

Timothy Vallier as Beast & Leanne Hill Carlson as Belle

A classic fairy tale comes to life.  A vain and cold hearted prince is transformed into a hideous beast by an enchantress when he fails to show her hospitality.  The only way to break the curse is for him to finally love and be loved in return before the enchantress’ rose sheds its last petal.  When circumstances bring the lovely Belle to the castle of the Beast, will the curse finally be brought to an end or is the afflicted prince doomed to his fearsome shape for all time?  Find out in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, closing the season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I’m going to make a confession. . .I have never seen any version of Beauty and the Beast nor have I ever read the fairy tale.  I share that confession with you because I want you to understand that I walked into this show with a completely unbiased pair of eyes and no influences to alter my expectations.  Having said that, I now need to tell you that this was an entrancing and beautiful production, one worthy to be viewed by every man, woman, and child in this city.

Kimberly Faith Hickman works an incredible bit of magic with her direction.  Not only did she lead her actors to a string of dynamite performances, but she also flawlessly paced the show.  So smooth was its running that I was honestly taken aback when it came to an end for it only felt like a few minutes had passed.  Her staging is pluperfect and makes use of the entire theatre and the scene changes were satin slick.

From a technical standpoint this was, bar none, the finest show I have ever seen.  The costumes of Georgiann Regan, Travis Halsey, and Amanda Fehlner are so elegant and eye catching from Belle’s simple blue dress to her opulent yellow gown to the rich oddity of the servants’ garments (they are humans transforming into household objects) to the make-up of the Beast.

Jim Othuse continues to pull from his neverending bag of tricks with his sets, lights, and special effects for this show.  You will travel from a simple, homey village to a dark and foreboding forest to a sprawling, cavernous castle.  John Gibilisco’s sounds help animate every moment and Darin Kuehler’s properties give life to the audience’s imaginations.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra never miss a note of the epic score and Michelle Garrity nails the choreography with lavish dance numbers and I must say that “Be Our Guest” is the single best bit of dancing I have seen in nearly 21 years of theatre.

And the acting?  Well, where does one begin?  Such a universally marvelous cast makes it very, very difficult for me to center on select performances.  But kudos go out to Kyle Wright who is delightfully dorky as Gaston’s lackey, Lefou and Brian Priesman as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, and he especially shines with his melodic tenor in “No Matter What”.

However, I would be sorely remiss if I failed to mention the fantastic work done by the actors playing the Beast’s servants.  These include Bob Gilmore as the too tightly wound Cogsworth, the castle’s major-domo; Steve Krambeck as Lumiere, the charming candelabra with an eye for the ladies; Dawn Buller-Kirke as Mrs. Potts, the castle’s cook who also dazzles with her sweet and moving rendition of the title song; and Joey Galda as Madame De La Grande Bouche, the diva wardrobe.

The role of Belle seemed to be tailor made for Leanne Hill Carlson.  She brings intelligence, warmth, sensitivity, and strength to the part.  Ms Hill Carlson well communicates Belle’s outsider status due to her peculiar pater and her love of reading while also bringing nobility when she selflessly volunteers to take Maurice’s place as the Beast’s prisoner.  With expert ease, she carefully undergoes the transformation from fearing and detesting the Beast to falling in love with him.  Her beautiful soprano will keep you mesmerized all evening with such numbers as “A Change in Me”, “Belle”, “Is this Home?”, and “No Matter What”.

Timothy Vallier makes a triumphant debut at the Playhouse with his interpretation of the Beast.  Vallier has a phenomenally well modulated voice, capable of a wide range of nuances ranging from animalistic snorting to cold anger to desperate loneliness to tender love.  He excellently executes Beast’s transformation from his temperamental, arrogant old self to his emergence as a kind and loving man.  Vallier also has a honey sweet tenor which is well utilized in “If I Can’t Love Her” and “How Long Must this Go On?”

Ryan Pivonka rounds out the three leads with his own worthy performance as Gaston.  Gaston isn’t your typical villain as he really isn’t evil.  He’s simply full of himself and his need to win Belle’s heart does drive him to a few dirty deeds.  Pivonka brings a macho swagger to Gaston who routinely roughs up the sycophantic Lefou while singing his own praises in “Gaston”.  He also manages to bring a small touch of sympathy to the role as he does genuinely love Belle, it’s just become twisted due to his overwhelming arrogance and selfishness.

I thought the pratfalls and violence could be smoothed out and punched up a bit, but that did little to dampen a magical night of theatre.  There are tickets still available, but I highly suggest ordering yours right away as I’ve heard they are rapidly dwindling.  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is fun for the whole family and I promise you a Belle of a good time.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 25.  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.

OCP Closes Season with ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Tickets On Sale to the Public At Omaha Community Playhouse May 26 – June 25 2017

Omaha, Neb.— Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the first Disney production produced at the Omaha Community Playhouse, will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at OCP May 26 – June 25, 2017. Tickets are available now at the OCP box office or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com

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.

Production:      Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Show Dates:     May 26 – June 25, 2017 (Wednesdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm & Sundays at 2pm)

Director:           Kimberly Faith Hickman

Cast

Cork Ramer as Narrator

Leanne Hill Carlson as Belle

Tim Vallier as Beast/Prince

Brian Priesman as Maurice

Ryan Pivonka as Gaston

Kyle Wright as Lefou, Cheesegrater

Kevin Olsen as Baker, Monsieur D’Argue, Silverware

Steve Krambeck as Lumiere

Bob Gilmore as Cogsworth

Melissa King as Babette

Dawn Buller-Kirke as Mrs. Potts

Sasha Denenberg and Maddie Smith as Chip

Joey Galda as Madame De La Grande Bouche

Ensemble features:  Leonna Blake, Megan Ingram, Sierra Lancaster, Cadie Jochum, Isabelle Rangel, Jordan Smith, Cody Girouex, Emma Powell, Julia Ervin, Megan Kelly, Alex Nilius, Jonathan Smith, Juliana Angel, Tabor Cross, Brandon Fisher, Megan Morrissey, James Verderamo, Debbie Trecek Volkens, Jennifer Bonge, Stella Clark-Kaczmarek, Judson Cloudt, Drew Cota, Samantha Gillotte, Jude Glaser, Andrew Hedin, Tessa Priesman, and Amina Teri

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.

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