Family Drama

Lon Smith has been offered a promotion that requires him to relocate himself and his family to New York.  Lon’s family, especially his headstrong and troublemaking daughters, are dead set against the move.  In trying to derail the move, Lon’s eldest child, Rose, ends up derailing his job.  To find out how the family copes with this turn of events, watch Meet Me in St. Louis currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

This show is unusual in that it first began life as a series of short stories by Sally Benson called The Kensington Stories in 1942 and these stories were later novelized under the title of Meet Me in St. Louis. Arthur Freed would convince Louis B. Mayer to buy the film rights and the stories were turned into a musical starring Judy Garland in 1944. Later, Christopher Sergel would turn the stories into a straight play. This production happens to be the straight play and it is very much a period piece.  It does seem a bit stronger than others of its ilk as it isn’t quite so draggy as its counterparts.  This production was also aided by a cast who were able to infuse the words and characters with some whimsy and charm.

Newcomer Jackson Newman really does get all that he can out of the script and any director that can manage to keep vibrancy with incredibly talky dialogue is clearly doing something right.  Newman strikes the right emotional beats with his control of the dialogue and gets his cast to project a strong sense of family.  He’s also led his cast to some effective performances and makes good use of the massive living room set.  It never feels empty in any spot and actors are well staged and blocked and can be seen at all points.

There were some exceptional performances in the supporting cast.  Chris Latta is an insufferable toady as Duffy.  Dannika Rees just bleeds snobbery as Lucille Pentard.  Randy Wallace amuses in the dual roles of the eccentric grandfather who claims he was once a king and as Lon’s blustering boss, Mr. Dodge.

This show had a real find in the form of Amy Wagner as Agnes.  Wagner struck all the right notes as the bratty and defiant tomboy who plays some pretty dangerous and mean-spirited pranks.  Wagner’s voice was clear and strong and could be heard throughout the theatre and her articulation was clear as a bell.

Francisco Franco is very sweet and fatherly as the family patriarch, Lon Smith.  Franco brings a real gentleness to Smith who is fully aware that he doesn’t have much control over the behavior of his children.  As such he uses persuasion and reason to convince his children of the soundness of his judgments as opposed to ordering them about.  What I truly admired about his performance was that he didn’t get angry when his kids screwed things up, he got hurt.  And his agony was more of a punishment to his children than his anger ever could hope to be.

Charity Williams imbues her Rose with the right blend of youth and nobility.  Rose has many positive qualities such as determination and forthrightness.  However, due to her youth, she can misuse these positive traits and can act with great idiocy.  Her mouth tends to run away with her and she often acts before she thinks which can lead to a world of trouble.  But sometimes her blitheness can save the day, too.

Joey Lorincz conjures yet another piece of theatrical magic with his gorgeous living room set that looks like it stepped right out of the early 1900s with its red patterned wallpaper and he closes the show with a colorful fireworks display shining through the living room window.  Rebecca Krause has the living room filled with period correct furniture.  Francisco Franco doubles up with sound design work with my favorite being a yowling cat used in a few gags.  Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes suit the period with dapper vests and suits for the men and fancy dresses, hats, and gowns for the ladies.

There were a few squeaks in today’s performance.  Pacing needed to be much quicker and cue pickups were lax.  Some of the movements seemed a little too staged and needed to be more natural.  Still, if you like a good vintage piece, then Meet Me in St. Louis will be right up your alley.

Meet Me in St. Louis runs through Nov 20. Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at the Box Office, at blt.simpletix.com, or calling 402-413-8945.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Bellevue Little Theatre Holding Auditions for “A Little Night Music”

Bellevue Little Theatre Announces Auditions for:

A Little Night Music

Directed By: Todd Uhrmacher
Musical Direction By: D Laureen Pickle

Audition Dates & Time: Dec 13 and 14, 2022 at 7pm
Location: Bellevue Dance Academy (2264 Franklin St, Bellevue, NE)

Production runs March 10-26, 2023; Fridays-Sundays
Rehearsals will begin in January
Masks are strongly recommended

Production is in need of young adult & adult actors of any gender or ethnicity. BIPOC are especially encouraged to audition. Please prepare 16-32 bars of any song, and bring PRINTED music for the accompanist. Please, NO acappella. Please wear comfortable clothing for light movement and waltzing and bring/wear appropriate shoes. (Ages 16+)

More info at theblt.org

About the Musical
Set in 1900 Sweden, A Little Night Music explores the tangled web of affairs centered around actress Desirée Armfeldt, and the men who love her: a lawyer by the name of Fredrik Egerman and the Count Carl-Magnus Malcom. When the traveling actress performs in Fredrik’s town, the estranged lovers’ passion rekindles. This strikes a flurry of jealousy and suspicion between Desirée; Fredrik; Fredrick’s wife, Anne; Desirée’s current lover, the Count; and the Count’s wife, Charlotte. Both men – as well as their jealous wives – agree to join Desirée and her family for a weekend in the country at Desirée’s mother’s estate. With everyone in one place, infinite possibilities of new romances and second chances bring endless surprises.

Character Overview
-Fredrik Egerman: Successful middle-aged lawyer. Baritone A2–E4[1]
-Anne Egerman: Fredrik’s new, naive wife. Soprano G♯3–A5
-Henrik Egerman: Fredrik’s son, 20 years old. Tenor G2–B4
-Petra: Anne’s maid and closest confidante. Mezzo-soprano F♯3–F5
-Desiree Armfeldt: Self-absorbed actress. Mezzo-soprano F♯3–E5[2]
-Fredrika Armfeldt: Desiree’s 13 year old daughter. Soprano C4–E5
-Madame Armfeldt: Desiree’s mother. Contralto C3–F♯4
-Count Malcolm: Desiree’s lover. Operatic Baritone G2–F♯4
-Countess Malcolm: Carl-Magnus’ wife. Mezzo-soprano G3–F5
-Frid: Madame Armfeldt’s manservant. Has a tryst with Petra.
-The Quintet: Mr. Lindquist, Mrs. Nordstrom, Mrs. Anderssen, Mr. Erlanson and Mrs. Segstrom. Act as a Greek chorus.
-Malla: Desiree’s maid.
-Osa: Maid at Madame Armfeldt’s manse.
-Bertrand: Page at Madame Armfeldt’s manse.

Practical Evil

When a violent encounter with a creepy, conservative conspiracy theorist results in his death, a group of liberal master’s students decide to better the world by killing those they deem to be a potential danger. . . which happens to be those who disagree with their way of thinking.  This is The Last Supper and it is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre under the auspices of SNAP! Productions.

After two years, SNAP! returns to live theatre with a pretty dark and disturbing play by Dan Rosen.  This had actually been a movie and is a combination of a grislier version of Arsenic and Old Lace and the living out of the question, “Would you kill a young Hitler when he was innocent in order the prevent the horrible atrocities he would later commit?”  Rosen has a good grip on the current political climate and his play is actually an interesting commentary on the dangers of political extremism across all spectrums.

That being said, the script is weakened a bit by its lack of character development, dearth of sympathetic characters, and an ambiguous ending (though this becomes less so if you follow the clues.  Here’s a hint.  They’re all visual, so pay close attention.  Happy hunting!)

Todd Brooks has a tremendous sense of atmosphere as he bookends the play between a pair of thunderstorms which well represent the violence of the material and the moment.  He also does an excellent job with the subtlety of the final scene.  Brooks also has led his performers to fairly effective performances, especially with the victims who are the most compelling characters in the show.

Strong ensemble performances come from Dennis Stessman who exudes a cold and palpable menace as the creepy truck driver who gets the victim train going.  Don Harris provides some needed levity as the sheriff.  Randy Wallace is oblivious to his own hypocrisy as the man of God who has a horribly warped view on the horror of AIDS and perceives homosexuality as a disease.  Chloe Irwin is a blend of naivete and arrogance as a high schooler suing her school due to a belief that mandatory sex education is an invasion of her privacy.

As I stated earlier, there is a great lack of character development in the show.  As such, it’s hard to delineate the performances of the primary characters as they simply are what they are.  The only thing that seems to differentiate them is their degree of bloodlust.  The worst of them is willing to kill at the drop of a hat while the best of them comes to realize just how monstrous the group has become.

Roz Parr’s Jude is the primary character that gets the most character development.  At first, she is keen to get in on the killings and is one of the first to suggest eliminating those who don’t adhere to the groupthink.  But she is also the one who truly realizes how corrupted they have become through their heinous acts.  Parr really shines when the focus isn’t on her as her visceral reactions show how appalled and horrified she has become as the murders get easier, but the “crimes” justifying them get significantly minor.

Chris Scott does exemplary work with Norman Arbuthnot.  A conservative pundit in the vein of Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity, Scott’s Arbuthnot is used primarily in interstitials promulgating more and more outlandish bilge until a chance meeting leads to him having dinner with the students where he seems to be a much more reasonable person.  He freely admits that a lot of what he says is just schtick to get attention onto a subject he cares about and almost convinces the students that there is room for differing opinions.  But just when he has you convinced he’s decent, he pulls an act that shows he fully buys his own hype which Scott handles with smarmy aplomb.

Sarah Kolcke has designed a very warm and welcoming home with a comfortable living room and kitchen which serves as a stellar counterpoint to its cold occupants.  Joey Lorincz should win an award for these lights especially with the lightning, the use of shadow, and use of spotlights on silent actors.  Daena Schweiger does some nifty A/V work with the use of the intros for the shows of several conservative pundits as well as her original creation of an intro for Arbuthnot’s show.  Connie Lee’s costumes are natural and suitable to the characters.

Act I felt pretty rough and almost like a rehearsal.  Cue pickups were very loose and the acting in the aftermath of the first death lacked a needed shock and intensity.  In Act II, the conversations felt a lot more natural and in tune with the ever-increasing stakes of the situations.

In the end this show takes a pretty absurdist look at the dangers of extreme political thought, but it also points out the very real threat posed by those who close their minds instead of truly opening up to discuss and debate our differences in order to reach a place of true understanding.

The Last Supper plays at Bellevue Little Theatre under SNAP!’s auspices through July 24.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thursday and Friday and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased at the BLT Box Office or by visiting www.snapproductions.com.  Due to strong language and mature subject matter, this show is not suitable for children.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission St in Bellevue, NE.

After Two Years, SNAP! is Back with “The Last Supper”

Omaha, NE– The second event in the “SNAP! @ Large” Series is the stage version of the 1995 film The Last Supper. Adapted for the stage by the screenwriter himself, Dan Rosen, this play will have its Omaha premiere and will mark the first full production for SNAP! in two years.

The Last Supper is a dark and fiercely witty comedy set in a small Iowa town. The story follows a group of liberal grad students and their well meaning descent into murder.

Would you play God if you could? It’s 1921. You’re in a bar. In Vienna, Austria. You’re sitting across from a young man, his name is Adolf Hitler. He hasn’t done anything inherently evil. . . yet. But he will. You know he will. He might even start a world war, one day. So… Do you kill him? Do you kill him because you know you can save all those millions of innocent people? Do you kill him because, deep in your soul, you know you’re doing the right thing? It’s a question that has been posed by many, but what would happen if you and a group of friends actually decided to take a conviction so far that the lines of right and wrong get blurred? Would you play God if you could?

Directed by Todd Brooks and boasting a cast of veteran actors: Christopher T. Scott, Kerron Stark, Ethan Dragon, Roz Parr, Breanna Mack, Adam Bassing, Dennis Stessman, Randy Wallace, Kaitlin Maher, Jared Dominguez, JJ Davis, Mary Beth Slater, Don Harris and Chloé Irwin. The Last Supper is a funny and fascinating look at human nature, conviction, creative gardening, politics and hypocrisy of the highest sort. The production staff includes Brian Callaghan (Stage Manager), Sarah Kolcke (Set Design), Connie Lee (Costume Design), Daena Schweiger (Audio – Visual Design / Producer), Joey Lorincz (Lighting Design), Joey Hartshorn (Property Design), Gary Planck (Food Wrangler) and Seth Maisel (Fight Choreographer). The Last Supper will run for three weeks, from July 8 – 24, 2022 at Bellevue Little Theater located at 203 W. Misison Street. Ticket prices are $35 with discounts for students, military and seniors. Curtain times are 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday; 2:00 pm on Sundays. The theater opens a half hour before showtime. For tickets or more information, the public is invited to visit www.SnapProductions.com.

Bellevue Little Theatre Announces 54th Season

Bellevue Little Theatre Announces Season 54

Footloose: Sept 16- Oct 2, 2022

Footloose celebrates the exhilaration of youth, the wisdom of listening to one another, and the power of forgiveness.

It’s A Wonderful Life: Nov 4-20, 2022

-It’s the gorgeous love story of George and Mary Bailey, a vivid portrait of the Greatest Generation, a descent into the darkest hour of a man trapped by circumstance and a powerful meditation on what makes a meaningful life.

Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web: Jan 13-29, 2023

-A conscious parody of the detective thriller, Christie delivers a unique blend of suspense and humor in a intricate plot of murder, police, drug addicts, invisible ink, hidden doorways and secret drawers.

A Little Night Music: Mar 10-26, 2023

-Stephen Sondheim’s romantic nineteenth-century waltz whisks us away to a weekend in the country.

Girls’ Weekend: May 5-21, 2023

*Our 250th Production!*

-From the writer of our World Premiere: Temporary Insanity. Karen Schaeffer’s Girls’ Weekend is “Marvelous … successfully punchy … be prepared to laugh”

D.O.A.

A gathering at the home of the Bennetts results in a murder and nobody is above suspicion.  Find out who done it in Death by Design which is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

This show has two things working against it.  The first is the pandemic.  Due to the surge in infections, the actors masked up for the performance which robbed them of their ability to use facial expressions.  The second is the script itself.

Not only is the story pretty weak with a lack of build, poor motivations for the murder, and an unsatisfactory denouement, but I think writing it in the vein of a 1930s sitting room drama hampered it even further.

Sitting room plays are exceedingly hard sells because the dialogue drives everything.  If the dialogue is sharp enough and the cast talented enough, it can be done.  Unfortunately, the dialogue of this show’s first act had all the snap, crackle, and pop of a soggy bowl of Rice Krispies.  Act II was a bit better as it focused on the investigation which made it a tad more gripping.

This story and lack of expressions would have buried a lesser cast, but it’s a tribute to the strength and talent of this show’s cast and director that they pulled out what they did given the circumstances.  Through the use of gestures and vocal animation, they managed to overcome the limitations of the masks.  They also managed to have colorful characters and inject a few jump scares which helped to make the tepid tale more palatable.

Jon Flower’s direction got everything it could out of this story.  He staged the show brilliantly.  The actors were always well placed as I could see all of them at any point and watch their reactions to the events bubbling around them.  I was also especially impressed with the murder scene at the end of Act I.  Easily the show’s best scene, it was chock full of tension as every suspect loomed over the body of the victim in almost total darkness masking the murderer and method of death.  Flower also led his cast to solid performances with nary a weak link among them.  That being said, accents were a bit of a mixed bag and some actors really needed to tighten the cue pickups.

This is truly an ensemble piece and each actor more than held up her or his end of the bargain.  Bill Bossman makes a fine Omaha debut as an arrogant hypocrite who hides his own moral shortcomings under a façade of moral superiority.  Nicki Sitler projects the needed vanity and vapidness of an ingenue actress.  Devon Moore is a suitable everyman as the chauffeur, Jack.  Adam Kerr has the youthful energy needed for an advocate for the workingman.  Charity Williams is a delightful, blubbering mess as the young mistress of Bossman’s Walter Pearce looking to escape from him once and for all.

Sarah Ebke is a delight as the maid, Bridgit.  Clearly the show’s smartest character, Ebke’s Bridgit actually becomes the show’s detective character and it’s well foreshadowed as Bridgit silently observes the shenanigans of the other characters as she tidies up the home, putting her in the ideal spot to unmask the killer.  Ebke is sharp and clever in the role and her energy really drove the show’s second act.

Chris Ebke does sterling work as Edward Bennett.  He utilizes a flawless British accent and has a slightly snooty, upper-class attitude and his “polite” sparring with his vain actress wife provided some needed levity in the show.  I also liked the ambiguous malevolence he gave the character.  From his first appearance, it’s clear he has ill intent for somebody, but who the identity of that somebody is the real question.

God bless Connie Lee.  Her appearance as Victoria Van Roth in latter half of Act I helped kick it out of the doldrums.  She definitely got the show’s most interesting character as her Van Roth lives in some outlier of reality where she translates her feelings into interpretive dance.  Lee masks her talent as a dancer with a series of ludicrous gyrations that made her look like an Egyptian hieroglyphic on crack, though her movements still had an ugly grace about them.

The show’s technical elements were outstanding.  Joey Lorincz continues to show why he’s one of the city’s best scenic designers with the elegant living room of the Bennetts with its striped walls and glass doors.  His lights were also of top quality, especially in the crucial murder scene where he left just enough light to see the silhouetted bodies of the actors.  Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes well suited the period with the traditional working gear of the maid and chauffeur to the lovely gown worn by Sorel Bennett to the dapper evening wear of the gentleman and the elegant, almost mystic wear of Lee’s Van Roth.

Though the story may try to pull them down, this cast and crew managed to pull it up to a higher level in spite of itself and I salute them for their efforts.

Death by Design plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 5.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $20 and can be reserved at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or by calling 402-291-1554.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

BLT Needs Some People to Help Design Some Death

Bellevue Little Theatre Proudly Announces Auditions for:

Death by Design by Rob Urbinati

Audition Dates: Nov 14-15 starting at 7pm at Bellevue Little Theatre (203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE)

Production runs January 14-30, 2022

Read Thru November 22

Masks will be required for all.

Proof of vaccination will be required upon casting.Production is in need of adult actors of any gender or ethnicity. BIPOC are especially encouraged to audition. Please plan to attend one evening. You do not need to prepare anything. Please dress in comfortable clothing. The audition will consist of readings from the script (no prior experience is necessary). (Ages 18+)

​Director- Jon Flower
Stage Manager- Brian Callaghan
Costumer- Todd Uhrmacher
Tech Director- Joey Lorincz​

About the Play:
What happens when you mix the brilliant wit of Noël Coward with the intricate plotting of Agatha Christie? Set during a weekend in an English country manor in 1932, Death by Design is a delightful and mysterious “mash-up” of two of the greatest English writers of all time. Edward Bennett, a playwright, and his wife, Sorel Bennett, an actress, flee London and head to Cookham after a disastrous opening night. But various guests arrive unexpectedly – a conservative politician, a fiery socialist, a nearsighted ingénue, a zany modern dancer – each with a long-held secret. When one of the guests is murdered, it’s left to Bridgit, the feisty Irish maid with a macabre interest in homicide, to solve the crime. Death by Design is more than homage – it’s a new classic.

General Role Overview:
4m, 4w **various dialect work required for every role**
BRIDGIT – the maid; Irish, crabby, warm-hearted, fifties
JACK – the chauffer; Cockney, charming, clever, twenties
EDWARD BENNETT – the playwright; urbane, vain, thirties/forties
SOREL BENNETT – the actress; glamorous, daffy, thirties/forties
WALTER PEARCE – the politician; stiff, conservative, thirties/forties
ERIC – the radical; emphatic, fiery, twenties
VICTORIA VAN ROTH – the Bohemian; intense, artistic, any age
ALICE – the visitor; sweet, shy, twenties

Bellevue Little Theatre does not discriminate against any person regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Auditions are open to all. Actors of all backgrounds and experience levels are encouraged to audition!

A Feast of Farce

Collyn and Emerson are ad agents hoping to land an account for a chain of hotels owned by Samuel Briarwood.  To seal the deal Emerson invites Briarwood and his niece to dinner at her home.  However, her husband currently goes through a 9 month gestation and delivery every 24 hours due to a hypnotic suggestion.  To avoid the embarrassing situation, Emerson gets her husband out of the house and hires an actor to play him.  Unfortunately, Emerson’s husband comes home early.  You can find out the rest by watching Temporary Insanity, a world premiere production by Karen Schaeffer and currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

Schaeffer’s script has considerable promise.  I enjoy the play on the title as it’s a reference to Ted’s daily birthings as well as Emerson’s being a little crazed herself due to her freaking out about the dinner plus the general looniness of the situations that erupt throughout the night.  The farcical second act is everything a great high-energy comedy needs to be with slamming doors, mistaken identities, and new plans spun out on the fly.  But the first act moves a little too slowly and feels more like a traditional comedy as it spends its duration setting everything up to fall apart in the second act.

Jon Flower provides some pretty effective direction with the production.  His actors are always moving and animated so the show is never static.  He developed some great visual gags, though an extended kissing gag will be even funnier once we’re a little further past the pandemic so actors feel safe in actually kissing instead of using body language to simulate the passion.  Flower also guided his actors to solid & strong performances and I was especially impressed with the performances he got out of his two youngest cast members.

Some of the entertaining performances you’ll see during the night come from Michael Taylor-Stewart as Ted whose groans of “pregnancy” liven up the second act.  Sherry Josand Fletcher is also amusing as Emerson’s mother, Marie, who agrees to play the maid for dinner, but proves to be an atrocious actress with her godawful Cockney accent and constant curtseying.  Robert Wagner also provides some chuckles as Ted’s drunken friend who only wants to play with a puppy.

D. Laureen Pickle is a scream as Emerson.  She perfectly captures the frazzled ad agent desperate to land the deal with her cockeyed plans to have an elegant dinner that constantly blow up in her face.  Pickle’s Emerson gleefully guzzles wine from the bottle, cooks so poorly that she can’t even toss salad (or perhaps tosses too well, depending on one’s point of view), and always seems a half step away from dissolving into a giggling hyena ready for a straitjacket.

Heather Wilhelm shows a mastery of straight man comedy as Collyn.  She’s the more level headed of the two ad agents and is clearly the glue holding Emerson together.  She can easily toss off a deadpan zinger and then engage in a bit of soap opera style acting as she concocts a tale with the professional actor hired by Emerson to cover his amorous advances on another character.

Don Harris’ performance as Samuel Briarwood was the fuel that kicked this show into hyperdrive.  As Briarwood, Harris is a blustering, old-school businessman and his flustered and puzzled reactions to the strange situations swirling about him are always a treat to watch.  His romantic tension with Fletcher’s Marie provided some of the funniest moments in the show.

Joey Lorincz creates another classic BLT set with the elegant home of Ted and Emerson complete with the numerous doors needed for a proper farce.  Said set is also impeccably dressed by Jon Flower to give it the feel of a home.  Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes are right on the mark with the uniform of the pizza delivery boy, the evening gown and suit clothing the Briarwoods, and Marie’s karate gi and maid’s uniform just to name a few.

The energy of the show was at an incredibly low ebb for a great deal of the night which made it feel too naturalistic as opposed to the bombastic, over the top feel required for farce.  Once Harris blew onto the stage, the momentum starting kicking up to the proper level.  Cue pickups were also a bit off and tightening them up will help to boost the energy.

In the end, this show does provide an enjoyable evening of insanity.  It almost has the feeling of an extended episode of I Love Lucy with Emerson’s hare-brained schemes and everything getting tied up in a nice little bow as an end.  And who could ask for anything more?

Temporary Insanity runs at Bellevue Little Theatre through June 27. Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 ($18 for seniors, $10 for students) and reservations can be made at http://bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com/reservations.html.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

The Funny Truth About Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Laid Schemes

Tony Wendice has plotted the perfect murder.  His meticulous plan will allow him to gain revenge on his wife for cuckolding him and continue to live off her wealth with nothing to connect him to her death.  But he is about to learn that the best laid schemes gang aft agley.  This is Dial M for Murder by Frederick Knott and is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

I was actually very disappointed by Knott’s script.  The general idea is a massive winner, but the construction of his script actually dilutes the idea.  Knott takes way too long to get where he’s going as the first act is nothing but exposition to set up the story and the murder.  Things heat up nicely in the second act with the actual commission of the crime and the fallout thereof, but the third act takes a nose dive with a somewhat unsatisfying denouement as Knott couldn’t decide whether to let the police inspector or the talented amateur have the credit for unraveling the case.

Todd Uhrmacher’s direction does an admirable job of getting the most out of the script.  He emphasizes the script’s strengths and buoys up its shortcomings, especially in the uber talky first act as his actors were constantly animated which helped maintain interest through the heaps of dialogue.  He has some delightfully tense moments in the second act, but I thought there was room for the tension to be ratcheted up a bit more at key points.  The show is nicely staged and Joey Lorincz’s beautiful luxury apartment lends itself well to creepy moments with its numerous hiding places.

Laureen Pickle is very credible as Margot Wendice.  Her Margot is a good person who made a poor choice when she had her affair, though the script implies she was driven to it by her husband’s callous behavior.  Her regret and penitence are genuine and her near catatonia in the third act is spot on.  I do think she had the space to be a bit more hysterical in the immediate aftermath of the murder scene.

Jonathan Berger has set a very solid foundation in his interpretation of Tony Wendice.  He brings a real intelligence to the character and oozes a slimy charm.  I also admired his pantomime as he tampered with the scene of the crime.  Now he just needs to take what he’s doing and amplify it by a few degrees.  He seemed a little too controlled and there was a great deal of fun for him to have with his reactions and fast thinking when Wendice’s plan begins to go off the rails.

Gene Hinkle is clever as Max Halliday.  Hinkle brings a real decency to the TV writer who also regrets the affair with Margot and wants to confess it to Tony so they can have a clean slate.  I also liked his facility for deduction as he begins to piece together the truth of the sordid affair, though I would’ve liked to see him really dig the needle into Tony in the third act as his pointed questions show that he nearly has the puzzle sussed out. 

I think I caught the show on an off night as it felt more like a rehearsal.  Energy was down.  Cue pickups were lax.  Volume was too soft at a few moments. There were some line struggles and there was stiff acting at certain points.  The murder scene also needed a massive dose of intensity to help its believability.  The foundation of the show is assuredly there, it just needed more oomph.

Along with his always superb sets, Joey Lorincz’s lighting was a tremendous asset to this show, especially the use of darkness and shadow during the show’s most intense moments.  Todd Uhrmacher has also well costumed his performers from the elegant suits of the two leading men to the pretty dresses of Pickle’s Margot.

The story is a bit meh, but Uhrmacher’s capable direction combined with some more juice from the performers can make the show a perfectly adequate thriller.

Dial M for Murder plays at the Bellevue Little Theatre through Mar 21.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 ($18 for seniors, $10 for students) and reservations can be made at http://bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com/reservations.html.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.