Bitter Fruit

A mother and her genius, but ill-mannered, son relocate to Crested Butte, CO to begin a new life.  Running parallel paths, the mother begins to find happiness once again while the son takes a step towards living life for the very first time.  But an insatiable need to know may tear both of their lives asunder.  This is Wildflower by Lila Rose Kaplan and is currently playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

While Ms Kaplan’s script is interesting in some respects, it suffers from the flaw of not being a strong narrative.  By that I mean there really isn’t an arc to this play.  It’s really vignettes of the lives of the characters of this show.

Where the writing excels is in the characters themselves.  Not only are the characters fully formed people, but they have distinctive and well developed arcs with plenty of meat in which actors can sink their teeth.  The powerful characters help to cover the fact that the overall story lacks a unifying core.

Lara Marsh is a bit of auteur with this production as she not only directs, but also designed the set and helped to design the sounds.  Her direction is tight and sure.  Each character gets its fair due and chance to shine and Ms Marsh knows how to maximize each climax and resolution in the interrelationships of these characters.  Her staging is admirable with the entire blackbox being utilized and her mastery in crafting emotional moments cannot be argued.  She also gets thoroughly capable performances out of her cast.

Solid supporting performances are supplied by Francisco Franco and Jarod Cernousek.  As Mitchell, Franco plays a former burlesque performer turned hotel owner/chef who dispenses wise advice and has found peace in his life in the most extraordinary way.  Cernousek’s James is a forest ranger with a power complex and the rod up his back has a rod up its back which I’m pretty certain has a rod up its back.

Aaron Sorilla is exceptional in his performance as Randolph.  Randolph is a high functioning autistic and Sorilla does truly wonderful work in communicating the aspects of autism such as his focus on self, rudeness, fixations, and a bit of a sing-song cadence to his speaking patterns.  His timing is excellent and he knows how to elicit a good laugh from a line.  But he also handles the drama side of the role equally well.  There is a real tragedy to his character as he is unable to understand emotion and his literal nature means everything needs to be spelled out to him in excruciating detail.  And that need to know leads him down a treacherous path.

Jocelyn Reed plays Erica, Randolph’s mother.  Ms Reed does a good job of encasing Erica’s core of sadness in a bubbly personality.  The bubblyness is not a put on.  It’s more like if Erica focuses on being happy, then she’ll forget the sadness which is always threatening to rear its ugly face.  This is a person who has had a rough go of things.  It’s implied she was in an emotionally abusive marriage from which she is trying to recover and while she loves her son, Ms Reed’s body language conveys the sense that she sometimes feels chained to him due to his special needs.  Indeed, as a loving mother, she makes sacrifices to her own happiness for the sake of her son.  But her shining moment is when we get to see her exude utter joy when her son forms a special friendship with a girl.  Not only is she happy for him, but she is happy for herself as she sees the possibilities that each of them can live their own life.

Hannah Davis makes her acting debut as Astor and does quite well in her first outing.  There’s a lot of fun to this character.  One is never certain if she is also a high functioning autistic or just very immature due to a combination of an odd upbringing and her own exceptional intelligence.  She comes off as much younger than 16 especially when she’s bossing Erica around in the visitor’s center and engaging in childish arguments with Randolph.  Yet she has startling moments of pseudo-sophistication and clearly has the longings of a young girl coming of age due to her wanting intimacy so she isn’t inexperienced when she shortly heads off to college.  While Ms Davis’ character foundation is rock solid, I think she has the leeway to amp up what’s she’s doing a notch or two.

Lara Marsh has provided a simple, but effective set for the production with a counter full of brochures, seeds, and flowers for the visitor’s center and a rolling counter for Mitchell’s kitchen.  Kendra Newby’s costumes well suit the personalities of the characters from the perfectly pressed forest ranger’s uniform of James to the too big sports coat (it’s his father’s) of Randolph to the childlike clothing of Astor as well as her beautiful sundress as she comes of age.  Riley Campbell and Craig & Lara Marsh team up for some fantastic sounds such as the hotline’s ringing telephone and the blast of fireworks.  Rebecca Roth’s lights are top of the line especially with the stars of the outdoors and the flash and colors of exploding fireworks.

In spite of a missing centrality to the story, this show is a strong showcase in character work aided by surefire direction.  It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you wonder.  It’ll even tug at your heartstrings a little.

Wildflower plays in the Weber Fine Arts Building in Room 006 at the University of Nebraska-Omaha through April 28.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets are free.  Due to adult subject matter and language, this show is recommended for mature audiences.  The University of Nebraska-Omaha is located at 6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

A Most Unique Perspective

A teenager on the autism spectrum decides to investigate the murder of his neighbor’s dog.  His investigation leads to the discovery of an even weightier mystery and his investigation into that case may lead those closest to him to a remarkable discovery about him.  This is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s novel and is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

To be up front, this is not a play about autism.  This is a play about family, trust, and love whose central character just happens to be on the autism spectrum (likely Asperger’s Syndrome).  I haven’t read the novel though, from the play, I suspect the book is also told from the point of view of the central character, Christopher Boone.  As such, Stephens’ adaptation creates one of the most original plays I have ever seen.  Not only is it a rock solid story, but it also allows the audience to vividly see just how Christopher processes information through writing and truly innovative staging that bring his internal processes to life.

Kimberly Faith Hickman has worked wonders with the show.  Her direction is nimble and nuanced.  Her cast virtually flawless.  But the real key to this show is its staging so the audience is able to see things through Christopher’s eyes.  Rest assured, Ms Hickman hits the bullseye with her staging through the use of silhouetted voices as Christopher recalls memories;  through the cast carrying Christopher around and flipping him over as he imagines himself an astronaut; through the duality of Siobhan reading about Christopher’s experiences while we watch Christopher living the experiences and see exactly how he behaved and reacted.

The supporting cast is exceptional and admirably fills out the people Christopher runs across in his adventures as well as the voices of memory inside his head.  Exemplary performances came from Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher and, arguably, one true friend who encourages his writing and helps him better cope with the rules of society; Daniel Luethke as a pair of kindly policemen who try to help Christopher and a friendly reverend whose faith butts heads with Christopher’s logic and atheism; and Silvia Conley as the motherly Mrs. Alexander who attempts to befriend Christopher and ends up providing crucial clues that lead Christopher to an even deeper mystery than the death of his neighbor’s dog.

The role of Christopher Boone is a meaty, difficult part to play.  Due to its level of challenge, it is often played by young adults pretending to be the 15 year old.  That being said, Kimberly Faith Hickman played a gamble casting the 12 year old Dominic Torres in the role.  That gamble hits the jackpot.

Torres rises to the challenge of this arduous part and nails the characterization to the floor.  The character has similar traits and qualities to Sherlock Holmes to whom the play’s title subtly references.  Like Holmes, Christopher has genius level intellect, a keen eye for detail, and a rude, unfriendly nature.

Torres imbues all of these qualities into his character as well as having a solid grip on the tics and behavior patterns of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome such as his lack of eye contact with people, the blank facial expressions, the awkward poses he assumes with his hands and legs, the monotone quality to his voice, and the inability to articulate frustration.  He possesses an excellent sense of timing and handled the difficult wordplay well.  He just needs to slow down his rate of speech so chunks of dialogue are not lost.

Mike Palmreuter gives a weighty performance as Ed Boone, Christopher’s father.  Palmreuter well communicates the difficulties of a single father raising a son with special needs.  He clearly loves Christopher and has well adapted to his son’s needs such as touching fingers instead of hugs due to Christopher’s dislike of being touched.  But he also displays a lot of doubt as to Christopher’s ability to function in society as he tries to dissuade him from his investigation into the dog’s death and worries when he must leave Christopher alone.  Palmreuter’s slumped posture says more about the weight on his shoulders more than the wonderful dialogue he speaks.

Kerri Forrester provides a good yang to Palmreuter’s yin.  As Christopher’s mother, Judy, Ms Forrester’s body language communicates a longing that Christopher was like other children.  She clearly wants to be able to hug Christopher and hold his hand, but will never experience that joy due to Christopher’s different way of living.  Ms Forrester’s eyes have a deep sadness to them when she realizes that she will never be able to make the emotional breakthroughs that her husband has when it comes to parenting Christopher.

Steven Williams and Chris Wood team up for a deceptively simple looking set that is a boxed grid, but pulses with lights and colors to express scene changes and emotional beats.  Jay Hanson and John Gibilisco join forces for a little music and sound effects from the zapping effects of the flashing lights to the light dings as the background lights assume new Tetris shapes to the crowd noises of subway and railroad stations.  Lindsey Pape’s costumes convey the blue collar nature of the Boone family as well as Christopher’s fixations with the nearly identical clothes he wears and the everyday outfits of the everyday people in the show.

As I said earlier, this is not a story about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.  It’s a story about family and, truly, about seeing things from a different point of view.  I think the best way to sum up this play is from a Sherlock Holmes quotation, “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing.  It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing. . .to something entirely different.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Feb 10.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $28.  For tickets, contact the OCP box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to adult language, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Be Part of OCP’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”

The Omaha Community Playhouse is holding auditions for the upcoming production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on Saturday, October 27 at 11 a.m. and Sunday, October 28 at 6 p.m. at the Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132.

• Production: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
• Roles: Christopher, Siobhan, Ed, Judy, Ensemble (play multiple roles)
• Show Dates: January 18 – February 10, 2019
• Theatre: Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse
• Rehearsals: Begin December 2, 2018
• Director: Kimberly Faith Hickman

SYNOPSIS
Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Play, and based on the best-selling mystery novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the emotional story of Christopher, a 15-year-old boy with autism, who sets out to solve the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog. As he embarks on an incredible adventure to find answers, his perceptions of trust and reality are turned upside-down. With stunning design and innovative staging, this impactful story is a must-see!

AUDITION DATES
• Saturday, October 27 at 11:00 a.m.
• Sunday, October 28 at 6:00 p.m.

AUDITION LOCATION
Omaha Community Playhouse
6915 Cass Street
Omaha, NE 68132

AUDITION INSTRUCTIONS
• Those auditioning should enter through the west “Stage Door” entrance and proceed to the check-in table.
• Actors only need to attend one of the audition dates to be considered for a role.
• Those auditioning will be asked to read from the script provided at auditions.
• If special accommodations are needed, please contact Breanna Carodine prior to auditions at (402) 553-4890 ext. 164 or bcarodine@omahaplayhouse.com.

PLEASE BRING
• All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts with which to fill out an audition form
• To expedite the check-in process, please bring a physical copy of a headshot or recent photo of yourself. Please note, photos will not be returned.