A Love Cursed

Out of tragedy is born love.  And out of that love arises another tragedy. . .and a bit of hope.  Come discover the story of the Tin Woodsman of Oz before he became the Tin Woodsman in the Strangemen Theatre Company’s production of The Woodsman by James Ortiz with music by Edward W. Hardy and lyrics by Claire Karpen.  It is currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

The hardest thing about writing an article is coming up with a good conclusion.  This time, it’s a piece of cake.  Go see this show.

OK, now let’s get to that analytical stuff.

I knew I was going to see something different when I saw this show, but what I didn’t know was just how good it was going to be.  Ortiz has written a sensational tale about the pre-metal life of the Tin Woodsman.  It’s sweet.  It’s moving.  It’s even a little spooky at times and you’ll likely shed a tear or two before it’s all through.  For the purists, the transformation to the Tin Woodsman is very faithful to L Frank Baum’s description from the original Oz novels.  For those thinking of bringing kids, it means it’s a little grim, but not overly violent.

Ortiz draws from a wide variety of performance styles such as straight dialogue, pantomime, puppetry, and musical.  Outside of a prologue, a song, and a rare word here and there, this show is done with no dialogue and I think that’s where its real power lies.  The actors have to tell a highly nuanced tale with naught but facial expressions, body language, and little expostulations of sound.  The result is a production that ranks as one of my favorite shows of the season.

James Ortiz and Claire Karpen co-direct this singular tale and their control and execution of the story is like watching a master painter create a masterpiece from scratch.  Finding beats in dialogue is tricky enough, but finding beats without the spoken word is another beast all together and the two directors expertly strike each and every one without effort.  Under their coaching, the performers “tell” this story with crystal clear expressions and body language that let me “read” this story just as easily as I read novels.  Their direction combined with movement direction from William Gallacher creates a story that really invokes all of your senses.  You can almost smell the campfire, hear the pounding of a panicked heart, and feel the texture of a warm hand on a body that no longer has sensation.

The ensemble is a critical part of this production as they literally become the world.  They are the trees of the forest.  Their whistles are the songs of birds.  Their snaps are the pop of a fire.  Their slaps are the blows of an ax.  They also play a variety of supporting parts and I was especially impressed by the work of Barry Carman and Stephanie Jacobson as Pa and Ma Chopper as they tell an excellent story about their courtship and their life together complete with posture changes to signify their aging.  I was also floored by the work of Michael Burns, Caulene Hudson, and Be Louis with their puppetry of the Wicked Witch of the East.  Their skilled manipulations made the Witch seem like an otherworldly force of nature and a truly vile villain.

The beauty of Anna Jordan’s performance as Nimmee made me want to weep.  She has an absolutely phenomenal physicality that makes for great pantomime.  You can feel and see the fear in her tense body whenever the Witch is around.  Her selling of the routine physical abuse dealt to her by the Witch is spot on.  The slow opening of her heart to Nick Chopper is wondrous to behold.  And a bit where she and Nick try to subtly cozy up to each other by a fire is sweet and funny.

Matthew Olsen’s portrayal of Nick Chopper (the flesh and blood version of the Tin Woodsman) is equally powerful.  His love for his family is palpable and it was a joy watching his childish antics as he grew up especially as he learns to fight from his father and properly wield an ax.  His courage is inspiring as he battles a forest monster to protect Nimmee.  And his anguish is haunting as he slowly loses his human nature.

Never before have I seen a show where light was so crucial to its telling and Jamie Roderick’s work is of superior quality.  His lighting is so atmospheric as he takes you to the depths of a pitch black forest with just a wisp of sunlight peeking through to the magical charges of Nick Chopper’s amulet to the dankness of the Witch’s lair.  Jenny Pool’s costumes had a nice old fashioned flair of a long forgotten time.  The set was pretty much bare bones though I thought the tree branches hanging about the theatre and the old fashioned lights set above the stage (and a bit out into the seating area) was a very nice touch.  And the violin score provided by Samantha Perkins was heavenly especially with the haunting song of the Tin Woodsman at the end.

This is storytelling at its finest.  It’s an achingly beautiful and well told love story guaranteed to melt the coldest of hearts.  At the risk of repeating myself, go see this show.

The Woodsman plays at the Blue Barn Theatre through June 16.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm.  On June 9, there will be an additional 2pm matinee and Jun 16 will have only a 2pm matinee.  Tickets are $35 ($30 for seniors) and can be obtained at www.bluebarn.org or by calling at 402-345-1576.  The Blue Barn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

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‘The Woodsman’ to Close Blue Barn Season

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents:

Strangemen Theatre Company’s Obie Award-Winning The Woodsman by James Ortiz with Music by Edward W. Hardy and Lyrics by Jen Loring May 16th, 2019- June 16th, 2019.

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 5/26 at 6pm| 2 Shows Sunday 6/2 & 6/9 at 2pm & 6pm | Sunday 6/16 at 2pm

About the Play

Based on the forgotten writings of L. Frank Baum, The Woodsman tells the origin story of the Tin Man from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This hauntingly beautiful love story is told through original music, physical storytelling, and innovative puppetry. Members of Strangemen Theatre Company re-create their Obie Award-winning experience with an ensemble of Omaha professionals. Follow ‘Nick Chopper’ on a magical adventure filled with dangers and wonders that are breathtaking to behold.

About the Production

The performance ensemble for The Woodsman features MoiraMangiameli, Matt Olsen, Anna Jordan, Stephanie Jacobson, Barry Carman, Be Louis, Caulene Hudson, Michael Burns, Beau Fisher, and Samantha Perkins(violinist).  The original creative team behind The Woodsman is in Omaha to work with our incredible local talent in bringing this haunting tale to life.

The Strangemen Theatre Company and the BLUEBARN share another origin story- each company was formed by graduates of the same acting conservatory, SUNY-Purchase.

Strangemen mainstays James Ortiz(Director/Playwright/SetDesign), Claire Karpen(Director), Will Gallacher(MovementDirector), and Amanda Lederer (Associate Director) will lead the BLUEBARN ensemble. The Woodsman features lighting design by Jamie Roderick, costume design b yJennifer Pool , scenic painting by Craig Lee,original sound design by Adam Salberg, and stage management by Meghan Boucher.

Tickets

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org.  Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

Ashes to Ashes

Sholem Asch is a young, hungry Jewish playwright who wishes to write stories about his people that show they are just as flawed and human as anyone else.  Members of his own community refuse to let him produce his play, The God of Vengeance, in Yiddish theatre as they perceive his work as anti-Semitic, so he takes the show on the road.  After a long, successful run in Europe, he manages to bring his show to Broadway.  Then trouble really begins for his show.  This is Indecent by Paula Vogel and is currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Assuredly, this is one of the most difficult and challenging shows I’ve seen produced in quite a while.  Ms Vogel’s script borrows from quite a few genres:  drama, musical, comedy, Yiddish, play in a play, and wraps it in a sheen of surrealism that gives the production an almost dreamlike quality.  This quality is well suited to this show as it is a show of memories of what once happened.  Going along with the motif of memory, which is a tricky thing, after all, some of the events depicted are fiction or embellished.

Ms Vogel’s script well handles the difficulties Asch faced with his script.  Some of the subject matter and themes in The God of Vengeance such as blasphemy, prostitution, and homosexuality are still taboo by today’s standards, let alone in the early 1900s when they would have been viewed as downright abhorrent by society, especially American society.  Even worse was the fact that many missed the point Asch was attempting to make due to only seeing the surface of his work and not digging a little deeper.

Truthfully, this show would test the mettle of any director, but Susan Clement-Toberer rises to the challenge and manages to merge all of this play’s disparate elements into a rock solid production.  Not only has she led her troupe to stellar, nuanced performances, but she was quite creative with her staging and transitions.  From having her actors sitting on stage before the show, still as statues until the lights breathe life into them, to original transitions using song, dance, and music, this show is a master’s level class in direction and storytelling.

Ezra Colon sizzles in his Blue Barn debut as Sholem Asch.  He well essays the young Asch as a youthful, energetic artist bound and determined to tell stories about his people.  One of my favorite moments was the respectful defiance he showed to his leaders and peers at the play’s first reading as he knows what he is saying with his play and is confident that he can find ears receptive to its message, even if those ears are others than his own community.

Colon is equally as impressive as a middle aged Asch and he somehow seems to age decades in a matter of moments with a slump of his shoulders and a haggard, wearied expression on his face.  His whole being seems to wonder if his work is a noble fight or a curse as trouble mounts for the Broadway production.  He finds himself unable to properly defend the work or his troupe due to his limited command of English and things he has witnessed as part of a delegation which have broken him in half spiritually.

Jonathan Purcell provides a powerhouse performance as Lemml.  He works wonders as the shy tailor whose eyes are opened by Asch’s work which he considers a life changing masterpiece from the very beginning.  Watching him tentatively begin a new career as stage manager for The God of Vengeance to growing into a confident, new person who takes full command of the show to keep it alive is a complete and utter joy.

Suzanne Withem is marvelous in multiple roles.  With a pair of glasses and shawl, she is Asch’s supportive, loving wife, Madje, and the first fan of his bold script.  With a change of clothes and a slightly vacuous expression, she becomes Virginia McFadden, an inexperienced performer who has taken the role solely to shock her parents on multiple levels.  But her best role is that of Ruth/Reina, the Yiddish actress who originally portrays Rifkele in the American production of The God of Vengeance.  She is proud of her Yiddish identity and has much in common with her character, right down to knowing the love of another woman.  Her scenes with her lover, Dorothee Nelson/Dine, are some of the best in the show as they are charged with a raw power and honesty and I consider “The Rain Scene” one of the best moments I’ve ever seen mounted on a stage.

Leanne Hill Carlson also lights it up in multiple roles.  But her two best are Freida Neimann, a slightly egotistical and prejudiced actress who finds her characters through intuition as opposed to reading the script and Dorothee Nelson/Dine, the American Manke for The God of Vengeance.  Her chemistry with Ms Withem just ripples with life and she well plays the age old agony of love vs career as the chance to be a Broadway star nearly causes her to sever her relationship with Ruth/Reina as well as subsume her ethnic identity to be more palatable to American audiences.

Strong supporting performances are supplied by D. Scott Glasser, especially as Nakhmen, a Jewish scholar who opposes Asch’s script; Judy Radcliff, as her portrayal of Esther Stockton playing the role of Sarah in The God of Vegeance provides some wonderful levity; and Jonathan Wilhoft who shines as I.L. Peretz, a Polish writer who gently advises Asch to burn his script.  Samuel Bertino, Kate Williams, and Olga Smola also do fine work as a trio of musicians who provide the score of the production.

Steven Williams provides a beautiful, broken down stage with its cracked and crumbling walls and raised platform.  His lights are equally good and quite ethereal at points, especially with the ghostly blue of “The Rain Scene”.  Georgiann Regan’s costumes are spot on.  Fine examples of her work are the quiet elegance of Asch’s suits, the well-made, but lower quality garb for Lemml, and the deadly accurate Hasidic dresses for the women.  Bill Kirby sounds are inspired and his use of artillery effects towards the end had me jump out of my seat.  Melanie Walters provides some unique choreography for scene transitions.

Indecent is the epitome of the Blue Barn mission and makes for an interesting case study into The God of Vengeance. Was it the work that was corrupting or was it corrupted by others once it hit American shores?  What was the play’s truth and did it get lost in the presentation?  Was it a curse or a blessing?  You may ask yourselves these and other questions as you watch the production.  You may not come up with a definitive answer, but you’ll certainly have a lot of food for thought.

Indecent plays at the Blue Barn through April 14.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm with the exception of a 6pm performance on April 7.  The shows for March 23, 30, and April 6 are sold out.  Tickets are $35 ($30 for seniors) and are available at www.bluebarn.org or at the box office at 402-345-1576.  Due to mature subject matter, this show is not suitable for children.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Blue Barn’s Next Show is a Little “Indecent”

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents

Tony Award-Winning Indecent by Paula Vogel

March 21st, 2019- April 14th, 2019

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 3/31 & 4/14 at 2pm | 4/7 at 6:00pm

About the Play

Inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeancea play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel, INDECENT charts the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it. Paula Vogel’s Tony award-winning masterpiece is a glorious celebration of the power of theatre to harness the very best of the human spirit.

About the Production

    Indecent features Sam Bertino, Leanne Hill Carlson, Ezra Colón, D. Scott Glasser, Jonathan Purcell, Judy Radcliff, Olga Smola, Jonathan Wilhoft, Kate Williams, and Suzanne Withem. Directed by Susan Clement, Assistant Directed by Barry Carman, with stage management by Taylor Jackson, choreography by Melanie Walters, music direction by Hal France and Olga Smola, scenic and lighting design by Steven Williams, costume design by Georgiann Regan, scenic painting by Craig Lee, sound design by Bill Kirby, and properties by Amy Reiner.

The production is generously sponsored by Vernie and Carter Jones,

 Fran and Rich Juro, Kim Jubenville and Devin Fox.

Tickets

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org. Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

Engagement Events

The God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch  Mon, March 25th @7pm BLUEBARN | TBA @ JCC                                                                                             

Experience the Yiddish theatre classic that lies at the heart of Paula Vogel’s Indecent. In partnership with the JCC, we present a staged reading of Sholem Asch’s legendary play, The God of Vengeance. Directed by Roxanne Wach There will be two performances: March 25th at the BLUEBARN Theatre with a performance TBA at the JCC, 333 S. 132nd St

Why We Remember   Saturday, March 30th @ 5pm

Join us as we host Scott Littky, Executive Director of the Institute for Holocaust Education.

The Institute for Holocaust Education is committed to learning the lessons of the Holocaust and inspiring the community to create a more just and equitable society. Scott will speak to the IHE’s mission and the importance of ensuring that the history and tragedy of the holocaust are never forgotten.

A Shanda fur die Goyim (“a shame before the nations”) Sunday April 7th, Post-Show Forum

Following our 6pm performance, join Rabbi Steven Abraham (Beth El Synagogue) and Dr. Leonard Greenspoon (Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton) in conversation about BLUEBARN’s production of Indecent.

Engagement events are free and open to the public

A, E, I and You

Caroline and Anthony are partners on a project analyzing the use of I and you in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”.  On the surface the two have little in common as Anthony is cheerful, laid back, and outgoing while Caroline is sickly, angry, and seems unable to communicate outside of social media.  As they analyze Whitman’s poem, they begin to peel back their own layers to fully reveal each to the other and a friendship grows between them. . .and perhaps something far more.  This is I and You by Lauren Gunderson and currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Lauren Gunderson has crafted something truly original with this play.  It is a slice of life in its purest sense.  The play eschews the normal narrative style.  Instead it relies on a powerful sense of voice as the construction of the dialogue is purely conversational.  There doesn’t seem to be a plot as the two characters engage in ordinary conversation.  Yet through this conversation you see the bonds of friendship come into existence and strengthen.  A nice touch to the story is how Ms Gunderson makes the two characters two sides of the same coin.  Each is nearly a polar opposite in terms of personality, height, gender, race, and philosophies.  In spite of these surface differences, one finds they have much in common as they slowly show their real selves to the other.  The play also contains one of the most satisfactory endings I’ve seen in almost any show.

Barry Carman provides a very fine piece of direction to this work.  His staging is of superlative quality as his actors stay pretty far apart from each other when the show begins to show the gap between them.  But they physically move closer and closer to each other as their friendship grows.  His understanding of the script is both deft and delicate as he knows how to get his actors to hit the beats just right so the discoveries always pop with surprise.  Carman has also led his two performers to sterling characterizations.

Early in the show, the character of Caroline refers to herself as “small, but mighty”.  However, small, but fierce might be a better descriptor.  In the hands of Anna Jordan, the character is simply acting gold.  Ms Jordan brings a real sense of anger, distrust, and determination to the role.  Caroline suffers from a bad liver which has kept her a virtual shut-in for most of her life.  Being cut off from the outside world has kept her away from a lot of joys in life.  The nuances of face to face conversation elude her as social media is her primary means of communication.  Pleasures like reading seem to be anathema to her as she’d rather google things.  She’s resigned herself to being alone and dying young, though what she wants is to be out in the crowd and living life.

Ms Jordan’s physicality is tremendous as her anger manifests in her rigid, rodlike posture and body language.  So ever present is her anger that this physicality is used even when she is having fun like dancing in her room which was one of the show’s highlights.  As Anna loosens and opens up, so, too, does her physicality.  Her movements become more fluid and culminate in a rocking air piano solo to Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”.

Jordan Isaac Smith keeps pace with Ms Jordan with his own excellent portrayal of Anthony.  Where Caroline is tight and withdrawn, Anthony is completely loose and open.  Smith’s physicality is almost gliding as he practically floats around the room, especially when he is gushing over the work of Walt Whitman.  He gives a very convincing portrayal of being a good kid.  He’s close with his family, gets good grade, and is popular.  But he also does fine work in playing typical teenage behaviors such as his sheepish looks and delivery when he confesses to Caroline that he’s put off this project until the last minute.

Smith is equally skilled at playing the heaviness of Anthony as well as his lightness.  Though Anthony is a pretty happy person, he does carry his own well of sadness that he slowly reveals to Caroline as their friendship grows.

Martin Scott Marchitto has designed a stellar set for this show.  It truly looks like a typical teen’s bedroom.  His set is further enhanced by the properties of Amy Reiner.  Few can dress a stage like Ms Reiner as her properties of books, toys, records, computer, and furniture add to the messy, lived in quality of this room.  Josh Mullady’s lights add their own brilliant life to the show.  Especially impressive are his use of planetarium lights from Caroline’s toy turtle and the subtle transition from light to dark to light during a moment of awakening in the show.  Molly Welsh’s sounds blend so smoothly into the show that you are sometimes unaware of their presence until powerful moments end and you realize the sound was adding to the moment.

The play’s narrative style may catch a few off guard as it doesn’t follow the ordinary path of a story, but its utter realism and naturalism are crucial to the unfolding of this tale.  With sure and stable direction combined with a pair of potent performances, I and You is another winner in the Blue Barn legacy.

I and You plays at the Blue Barn through Feb 24.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm with the exception of a 6pm performance on Feb 17.  Tickets are $35 for general admission and $30 for seniors.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

“I and You” to Open at Blue Barn

I and You

by Lauren Gunderson

January 31st – February 24th, 2018

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 2/10 & 2/24 at 2pm | 2/17 at 6:00pm

About the play:  One afternoon, Anthony arrives unexpectedly at classmate Caroline’s door bearing a beat-up copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and an urgent assignment from their English teacher. As these two let down their guards and share their secrets, they unlock a much deeper mystery that has brought them together. I and You is an ode to youth, life, love, and the strange beauty of human connectedness.

About the production: I and You features Anna Jordan and Jordan Smith. Directed by Barry Carman, with scenic design by Martin Marchitto, sound design by Molly Welsh, lighting design by Josh Mullady, and properties by Amy Reiner.

The production is generously sponsored by Jannette Davis, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Mutual of Omaha.

Tickets:

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org. Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

Engage:

Whitman Exhibit

Jan 31st-Feb 24th: Visit the Mammel Lobby at the BLUEBARN to peruse a display on the legacy of Walt Whitman curated by UNL’s Whitman Archive.

Louder than a Bomb: Songs of Ourselves

Sunday, Feb 10th @ 6:30 pm: Join us as we host Nebraska Writer’s Collective presenting spoken word poets from their Louder Than a Bomb program. Four high school teams  (Central, Abraham Lincoln, Mercy and Skutt) will compete on the Blue Barn stage in celebration of poetry, theater, Walt Whitman and young writers.

Gifts of Life

Sunday, Feb 17th, Post-Show: Following our 6pm performance, BLUEBARN convenes a forum of transplant donors, donor family members, recipients, and professionals in partnership with the UNMC Transplant Team and Live On Nebraska. Join us for a discussion on the powerful impact of organ donation and the misconceptions that may prevent some from becoming donors.

AfterWords

Thursday, Feb 14th and 21st, Post-Show: Following the show, stay for a revealing conversation with the stars of I and You, Anna Jordan and Jordan Smith. He and she will be ready and willing to answer any and all questions about I and You for you and yours.

Engagement events are free and open to the public.

Witness “An Act of God”

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents

First, he created the universe. Then, he conquered Broadway.  Now, he descends upon Omaha.

An Act of God

by David Javerbaum

November 23rd -December 16th, 2018

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 11/25 & 12/2 at 6pm | 12/16 at 2:00pm

Wednesday 12/5 and 12/12 at 7:30pm

 

About the play:

The supreme being Himself finally returns, and just in time for the holidays!

In this hilariously holy limited engagement, God graces the BLUEBARN stage

along with his angels, Michael and Gabriel.

He’ll answer the eternal questions. He’ll set the divine record straight.

He’s got ten new commandments… and He’s got jokes.

 

About the production:

    An Act of God features Ablan Roblin, Theresa Sindelar, and Raydell Cordell III. Directed by Susan Clement-Toberer, with dramaturgy by Barry Carman, costume design by Georgiann Regan, scenic design by Martin Marchitto, sound design by Bill Kirby, lighting design by Homero Vela, projection design by Bill Grennan, wing design by Halsey Onstage, and properties by Amy Reiner. 

The production is generously sponsored by Omaha Steaks.

Tickets: General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available via our website at www.bluebarn.org. Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576. For more information, visit: www.bluebarn.org/tickets/

Engage:

“The Giving HeARTS Tree” Campaign

It’s the 11th anniversary of BLUEBARN’s holiday partnership with ENOA (the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging). Ornaments bearing the names of local elders in need will be on sale on the Giving HeARTS Tree located in the lobby. Become an elf for the elderly. Proceeds go directly to fulfilling holiday gift needs for seniors in the community.

“Interview with a Heathen…er, Humanist”

December 2nd, Post-Show

It’s God vs. the godless, following our Sunday 6pm performance of An Act of God. In partnership with Omaha Metro Area Humanists Association, God (Ablan Roblin) interrogates Bill Newman, founder of O.M.A.H.A. What the hell is humanism?

How dare these humanists come up with their own ten commandments? The ingratitude! The sacrilege! Just joshing…join us for a lovely conversation on ethics and community outside of religious faith.