Seasons of Returning to My Roots

“When are we going to see you on stage again?”

You’d be surprised at how often I’ve heard that question recently.

“The next time I audition” is what I would like to say, but, as my regular readers have learned, we actors have very little control over when we get our next role.

“When a role I want intersects with a director seeing me in said role,” might be a little closer to the mark, but I still don’t think it’s the right answer.  It’s also a mouthful to say.

I have the answer, but I’ll wait until the end to reveal it.

It’s been a while since I’ve had enough tales built up to merit writing an entry, but this season and the close of last season have provided some pretty interesting fare.

It began late last season with auditions for One Man, Two Guvnors over at the Omaha Community Playhouse and guest directed by Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek.

This is a modern day rewrite of A Servant of Two Masters and tells the story of Francis Henshall, a minder (British slang for bodyguard), lackey, and all around gofer for two criminals and his desperate shenanigans to prevent the two bosses from ever meeting.

There was only one role I really wanted in this show and that was Alan Dangle, a wannabe actor who is constantly on and a pretty poor performer to boot.  With a lot of Omaha’s finest auditioning for this one, I figured there would be a lot of good playing around at this audition.

While that may have been true, it simply wasn’t going to be true for me.  My instincts were on target.  A sad pity that my execution was not.  The vision in my head did not match the interpretation coming out of my mouth.  I had stumbled getting out of the gate and never managed to regain lost ground.

I didn’t even hold a faint glimmer of hope about this one.  I actually had a weird sense of satisfaction being able to look into a mirror and saying, “Hey, buddy.  That one was all on you” after I got the rejection.  After years of being rejected for reasons other than my prowess, it was almost refreshing to know I was the cause of my own downfall.

Then came this season.  My defeat in One Man, Two Guvnors was a return to my roots in the wrong way albeit an oddly satisfying wrong, but now I was getting back to the right way with the most auditions I had done in quite a long time.

I would begin with the OCP’s season premiere of Sweat which would be guest directed by Susie Baer-Collins.

Sweat is inspired by the story of Reading, Pennsylvania.  This steel mill town went from being one of the most prosperous in the country to one of the poorest due to the Great Recession.  The play focuses on the employees of a steel mill and the bar where they enjoy hanging out.  The steel mill employees are lifers looking towards fat pensions at their retirements.  When the recession strikes, the employees go from looking at lucrative pensions to unemployment.  As things go from bad to worse, tensions rise and racism rears its ugly face until the show’s devastating conclusion.

Now this sounded like a great show.  But I was up against stiff circumstances.  There were only roles for 2 Caucasian actors and I fell right in between their ages.  The younger one was completely out of the question.  Even with my unusually youthful features, my hair and hairline were going to put me out of the running.  However, I hoped they might prove helpful in playing the older man who was suggested to be in his fifties, but I was hoping that maybe he could be bought as a man in his mid to late 40s at a push.

That idea was quickly blasted when I read the line that stated he had been on the floor for 28 years before an injury ended his mill career.  I still had fun with the read as it was a different character from my real personality:  rougher and coarser.  I think I even stunned Susie a bit with my take as she looked at me with a surprised look in her eyes as she walked me out of the room and said, “Good job!” with a bit of wonderment in her voice.

To no shock at all, I wasn’t cast.

Next on my list was the Blue Barn Christmas show, A Very Die Hard Christmas which would mark my first audition with the theatre and Susan Clement-Toberer in five years.

Believe it or not, I have never seen Die Hard in its entirety, though I have seen enough of it to know the story.  Not that it mattered because the character I wanted to play was original to the script and that was the Narrator.

Imagine a role where you just rattle off variations of Twas the Night Before Christmas, sing at inappropriate moments, and just react to the lunacy going on around you while being somewhat separate from it.  This would be a role of great fun.

Even better, the Blue Barn was planning something a bit different this time.  Not only did they want you to sign up for an audition time, but they were encouraging actors to bring monologues.  At last!!  The moment for which I had been waiting.

I’ve long kept a secret weapon for just this opportunity.  A monologue from one of my favorite plays that’s guaranteed to make any director who knows me see me in a brand new way.  To make sure the monologue would be in top form, I revealed the weapon to my friend and ace director, Lara Marsh, who spent an afternoon helping me to polish and refine it.  I was even amazed by the new discoveries made during the process.

The day of the audition arrived and I was practically bursting with excitement though I kept a cool exterior.  I arrived in plenty of time for my 3pm audition which allowed me to engage in some small talk with friends and acquaintances and then the auditions started.  Though I had been expecting to read at 3pm, I didn’t actually get to read until 4:10pm.  But the extra time gave me an opportunity to run through my monologue again and center myself.

When I was on deck to audition, I was handed a side for the Narrator by Blue Barn’s dramaturg, Barry Carman.  I was surprised as I thought they wanted monologues.  But I figured I’d be asked about it once I got inside.

I entered the theatre and met a group consisting of Susan, Susie Baer-Collins, Barry, and Hughston Walkinshaw who would be playing the role of Hans Gruber in the play.  I nailed the read to the floor, managing to infuse a bit of my sheepish humor into the character.  Susan said, “That was really awesome, Chris (pause as she thinks for a moment).  I may or may not be having callbacks for this one.  But you know how things run here and you know I know you” before thanking me for coming.  For a brief moment, I thought I should ask if she would like to hear the monologue, but I pushed it aside, deciding that the idea must have been scrapped.  I was happy with my read and thought I had a good chance based on its strength.

In hindsight, I wish I had obeyed my instinct.

That Friday, I had a thoroughly wretched day.  I mean it was foul!  When I got home, I started to open my mailbox and stopped.  I just had this terrible notion that my day was about to end on an awfully sour note.  I told God that I feared my rejection was in there and asked if it were possible to please hold off for one day if I was rejected just so I could end the day somewhat easier in mind.

I opened the mailbox and saw one letter.  I grabbed it and slowly turned it to face me to see the Blue Barn stationery.

I exhaled a mighty sigh.  I really didn’t want to open the envelope, but did in the faint hopes that maybe it would be a personalized rejection to help cushion the blow.  It wasn’t.

“That’s it.  I’m going to bed,” I thought to myself.

I admit it.  This one got to me.  I really wanted to be part of this project and thought I had a good chance of being involved and the rapidity of my defeat got me in the breadbasket.  As I laid down on my bed, I wondered what might have happened had I brought up the monologue.  Getting to perform it may not have altered the result.  Heck, I may not have even been permitted to read it. But, in either case, at least I would have known that I had my biggest and best bite at the apple as dictated by the circumstances.  On the plus side, I do have it in my back pocket for the future.

My next audition (more than likely, my last of the season) was a real return to my roots.  It marked my first audition for the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company in. . .I couldn’t tell you how long.  It also marked my first audition for Scott Kurz since he originally read me for Dracula all the way back in 2003.

BSB’s holiday show was going to be a night of one acts capped with an original version of The Monsters are Due on Maple Street which was being reimagined by Scott.  I was looking forward to this one as I’m a big fan of the works of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone.

My audition night came and I was up for the game and feeling good.  I shook Scott’s hand and began filling out the audition form.  As I scanned the top, I did a double take.  I looked away and blinked.  Then I looked at the form again.

According to the website the show was supposed to end on December 15, but the form said the last day was going to be Dec 22.  I asked Scott if the dates had been changed.  He said there had been an issue scheduling the show with the venue holding it and it had to be pushed back a week.  Internally, I crumbled.  I had to sheepishly admit that I had to fly out to Phoenix at 8am on Dec 22.  Scott seemed just as bummed as I felt.  I offered to stay as an extra body so Scott could have another reader and he thought that was a good idea.

With no stakes to speak of, my reads lacked the full power of my heart.  Not to say they were bad.  On the contrary, technically I was solid.  There were a few characters that didn’t feel quite right, but I loved my takes on Tommy who I reimagined as an autistic man and as the mysterious boss figure to whom I gave a quiet malevolence and a slight edge of insanity.

Scott had said he’d send e-mails out by the end of the week, but it ended up being two weeks later.  A lot had changed in that interim as Scott had informed us that The Twilight Zone was experiencing another burst in popularity and ten classic episodes were being released to the big screen in November, one of which was “Monsters”.  As such, CBS would not release performance rights.

Scott spent that two weeks searching for a new show and found it, but wanted to ask if actors still wanted to be part of it.  Due to my inescapable conflict, I formally took myself out of the running though I suspect my conflict had outed me anyway.

And so my season has come to an end.  It didn’t quite work out the way I planned, but it did open the doors to pleasurable non-theatre activities that would not have been possible had I been doing one of the Christmas shows.  And, of course, it raises the question:

“When are we going to see you on stage again?”

When the time is right.

The Monsters Are Needed at the BSB

Brigit Saint Brigit is holding auditions for our next production ‘The Monsters are Due on Maple Street and Other Assorted Treats’ directed by Scott Kurz. Casting will be gender/race-blind. All roles are open. All roles are paid. Roles will be tailored to suit the actor not the other way around.

When/Where: Saturday, Oct., 19 @ 1:00 PM @ UNO (Fine Arts Building Rm. 333) & Monday, Oct., 21 @ 7:00 PM @ First Central Congregational Church (421 South 36th St.)

Details: A rep company will be cast for this production. All members will be cast in ‘The Monsters are Due on Maple Street’ and others will be double-cast in other shorts/one-acts that evening (including Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘The Long Walk to Forever,’ an original work written by the director and more…) The original ‘Monsters…’ Twilight Zone episode can be found on Netflix (Season 1, Episode 22)—this version is being updated to a contemporary setting/sensibility. This will be a fun, stimulating and collaborative production!

If you are unable to attend either night and would like to be considered for a role, please contact Scott Kurz (skurz@bsbtheatre.com).

Inhumanity

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana

In Vichy, France, 10 people are brought in by the Nazis to supposedly have their identification papers checked.  When it is revealed that the Nazis are really looking for Jewish people to send to concentration camps, tensions rise, debates rage, plans form, and people vanish one by one.  Some to freedom.  Others to death.  This is Incident at Vichy by Arthur Miller and performing at several local venues under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

I’m going to start with the ending of this review.  If you miss this show, you will be doing yourself a massive disservice.

Now let’s go the beginning.

One of theatre’s most amazing powers is its ability to take us out of ourselves for a while.  But it doesn’t always take us to a happy place.  In those moments, another of theatre’s powers is revealed.  Its ability to be a powerful agent for change by forcing us to take a long look at ourselves to examine our pasts, our motivations, and our history in order that we might be able to make those changes.  Incident at Vichy is one of those types of plays.

This is Arthur Miller’s least known and produced work.  I hadn’t even heard of it until I saw it on the BSB’s schedule.  After watching it, I’m surprised at its obscurity because it is clearly one of Miller’s finest works.

Few writers had the ability to shine a light on the darker sides of humanity the way Miller could.  He could effortlessly show our prejudices, our brutality, our capacity for evil.  Yet there is always the silver lining of hope.  Never is that more important than for this play as Miller must bring his skills to bear on a real part of our history.

Scott Kurz returns to the BSB for the first time in several years to direct this production and hasn’t lost a step.  The piece is masterfully staged as the 10 people sit side by side on a bench and are taken away in order.  Movement is minimal, but expertly utilized in the tiny performance space.  Kurz’s direction is absolutely impeccable.  No energy is wasted.  Each beat carefully presented.  The show is perfectly cast and each member of the ensemble nails their role to the floor.

Where does one begin analyzing a cast like this?  All do a superlative job, but some truly memorable performances come from Jeremy Earl who gives one of his best and deeply emotional performances as The Waiter; Garett Garniss as Lebeau, an extremely nervous artist who constantly taps out a melody and laments the fact that he was caught simply because he wanted to take a walk and see something real; John Hatcher as Bayard, an electrician who instantly recognizes the danger this group is in; Josh Ryan as a gypsy who provides some levity as he protects his pot; Tom Lowe as a “social anthropologist” who is confident he can recognize Jews through the length of noses and circumcision.  His smugness was so aggravating that I wanted to punch him in the mouth.

David Sindelar also shines in a role as a silent rabbi whose curled hand suggests a stroke, but he is always aware of what’s going on.  Sindelar has a gift for acting with his eyes and you can tell when he’s feeling fear, concern, defiance, and sadness with an occasional click of the tongue or mutter or whimper thrown in for good measure.

Scott Kurz gives an A+ performance in his turn as Leduc.  His delivery is so natural and extemporaneous that his lines truly sound like they’re coming off the top of his head as opposed to being learned dialogue.  His Leduc is determined and courageous, willing to risk his life if it means saving some of the others.  Some have argued that Leduc may be the voice of Miller himself as he recognizes the depth of depravity in humans and always serves as that galvanizing force so others will confront evil instead of kowtowing to it or simply lamenting it.

David Mainelli is pitiable in his role as Monceau.  I think this role could easily be played as a sniveling coward, but Mainelli makes him more complex.  His take on the character is more akin to the typical attitude taken towards Hitler when he was first gaining power.  He truly cannot believe that the Nazis would be so animalistic and barbaric as to incinerate people in furnaces due to their faith and ethnicity.  His determination to cling to the law which should protect him is both admirable and tragic as it forces him to suppress his survival instinct.

Vince Carlson is brilliant as Von Berg, the Catholic prince of Austria who is the one person guaranteed to escape this horror.  The fact that he knows he will escape puts an extraordinary burden on his shoulders as he must decide what to do with his freedom.  Carlson does phenomenal work being bowed by this pressure.  Unlike the rest, he truly understands the extreme danger presented by Hitler.  He’s seen his servants venerate Hitler like a god.  He’s seen the destruction Hitler is bringing to the Jews.  Von Berg represents the part of the populace that must make the life or death decision to either turn a blind eye to the oncoming storm or make a stand against it.

Charleen Willoughby’s costumes really enhance the production and add a bit of crucial life to each of the performers from the spot-on uniforms of the Nazis to the elegant custom-made suit of Von Berg to the rags of the Gypsy to the working-class clothes of Bayard and Leduc.

Incident at Vichy shines a glaring light on one of the darkest periods of human history and Miller reminds us it is an evil that must not be permitted to rise again.  As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”.

Incident at Vichy continues through April 21.  The April 14 performance will be at Omaha Benson High School (5120 Maple St) at 2pm.  The April 19-20 performances will be at The B Side of Benson Theatre ((6058 Maple St) at 7:30pm.  The April 21 performance will be at Omaha Burke High School (12200 Burke St) at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 ($25 for students/senior/military) and can be obtained at www.bsbtheatre.com or 402-502-4910.

One Queen Too Many

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Story of the Lost Tudor

Mary Stuart AKA Mary, Queen of Scots was not the most liked of people.  She was Queen of France by marriage and Queen of Scotland by blood.  After losing the French throne due to the death of her husband, Francis II, Mary Stuart moved to Scotland to claim her royal throne and rule over a less than enthused citizenry.  The murder of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, began a chain reaction that would end with Mary abdicating the Scottish throne, fleeing to England to seek sanctuary from her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I, and ultimately be imprisoned and executed ostensibly for the murder of Lord Darnley, but, in actuality, due to her attempting to claim the English throne.

A dramatized version of the aftermath of Mary Stuart’s trial will be presented by the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company in the play Mary Stuart opening May 4 at the Joslyn Castle and starring Charleen Willoughby as Elizabeth I and Patty Driscoll as Mary Stuart.

The centerpiece of the play is a fictional conversation between Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, but the play is not simply about the two queens.  It is the story of multiple factions jockeying for power as conspiracy mounts upon conspiracy in a secret war that can only end with one queen standing.

Director Lara Marsh said, “[Directing this production] is a guilty pleasure” due to her love of the Tudors.  She further stated, “People often forget that Mary was a Tudor and had a legitimate claim to the throne of England. . .It’s time that Mary’s story was told.”

Indeed, as the grandniece of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart’s claim to the throne may have been stronger than Elizabeth I’s as she was the illegitimate child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Prepare yourselves for an explosive night of theatre where you’ll be thrust into a web of intrigue as one queen schemes for her freedom and another tries to prove her legitimacy.

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

 

This Operation is a Bittersweet Triumph

Imagine that it’s a night like any other night.  Suddenly a warning siren begins to blare throughout the night sky.  You begin to hear loud whistles growing closer and closer.  Then explosions rip through the air.  Buildings collapse around you.  The ground shakes with the force of an earthquake.  Your heart feels as if it will burst through your chest as your life flashes before your eyes.  If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the terror of the Sheffield Blitz.  Operation Crucible by Kieran Knowles lets the audience experience those horrifying nights through the eyes of four young steelworkers.  It is currently playing at the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

Knowles’ script can best be compared to a runaway freight train.  It starts at a fever pitch and keeps you holding on for dear life until the bitter end.  Be prepared for a most unique night of theatre as Knowles’ script completely rewrites the rules of the game.  The fourth wall dissolves as the actors interact with the audience.  The set consists of a few benches and chairs which the performers manipulate to create the scenes in conjunction with vivid vocal descriptions.  The time of the play rapidly shifts back and forth from present to past and from reality to memories.

Lara Marsh has constructed a powerhouse show as she shares Knowles’ tale of the Sheffield Blitz.  Occurring on the nights of December 12 and 15, this event was the devastating bombing of Sheffield, England (the munitions center of the country during World War II) by the German Luftwaffe.  Ms Marsh’s meticulous direction leaves no beat unearthed in the telling of this heavy tale.  The staging is unbelievable as her 4 actors make full use of the tiny performance space in an exhausting feat of acting as these men are constantly on the move from start to finish.  Ms Marsh has also led her thespians to sterling performances making for one of the best pieces of ensemble acting I’ve seen in quite a spell.

Before getting into individual performances, it’s important to understand the effectiveness of this ensemble.  This play has long stretches of broken, fragmented dialogue with cues that don’t follow a normal flow of conversation.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such tight cue pickups from a cast as these gentleman just came in right on top of each other on all but a couple of occasions.  This is doubly impressive when one considers that there were often no clues to tip the actors off to their next line.  Their physicality was also splendid as the actions and scenes of this story are told largely through the body language of the performers as they paint pictures of luxury hotels, the work of a munitions mill, or the crippling injuries from being caught in a collapsing building.

Daniel Sukup is outstanding in his BSB debut as Tommy.  Sukup imbues Tommy with a wonderful sense of playfulness as he leads the hazing of the new boy, Bob, at the mill.  He’s also an incredible observer of human nature, depending on his ability to judge character to assess situations and form relationships.  Yet he also uses that talent to see to the heart of people in order to keep them at arm’s length.  Tommy’s gregarious nature is also somewhat of a mask that hides his desperate loneliness as he has no family and perpetually grieves a father lost to the horrors of war.  Sukup’s ability to switch from the fun-loving prankster to the haunted and lonely man at a moment’s notice is nothing short of uncanny.

Eddie McGonigal’s Bob is a wonderful treat for the audience.  He’s just full of sunshine and optimism and brightens situations just by stepping into a room.  McGonigal does a superlative job of portraying Bob’s innocence and naiveté.  As the new guy, McGonigal’s Bob is subject to a few practical jokes to test his mettle at the mill, but comes through them with flying colors, especially with his tireless efforts on the job.  Nothing gets Bob down for long and, even in the heart of mortal peril, his positivity serves to buoy the spirits of his friends in their darkest hour.  But McGonigal also gets to shine in a dramatic moment when Bob shares a story about his dog.  Be sure to have a tissue ready.

Eric Grant-Leanna expands his resume by another top flight performance with his interpretation of Phil.  I found Phil to be the most interesting character in the show as he is a Scotsman which makes him the outsider of the group as his friends are all British.  I found this very apropos as Phil certainly feels like an outsider due to the fact that he was drafted to go fight before a foot injury rerouted him to the mill.  Grant-Leanna does an exceptional job revealing the self-doubt that is constantly on Phil’s shoulders as he tries to make himself believe that he was not a coward for not being able to fight.  Indeed, so heavy is this doubt that Phil’s final monologue in the aftermath of the bombing had me slumping in my seat as he made a defining choice about his life.

There aren’t many who can pack intensity into a role like Daniel Dorner.  Making a rare appearance on stage, Dorner plays the role of Arthur, the leader of the group.  Dorner’s Arthur is a pillar of strength for these four friends as he grew up dirt poor yet has such strength of spirit as he always believed that someone always had it worse.  That nobility serves Arthur well as he suffers a horrific leg injury partway through the show and struggles to work through it.  Dorner sells the injury flawlessly, dragging and/or limping on the useless limb for the remainder of the play.

Charleen Willoughby’s workingmen costumes suit the era of the play to a T.  Darrin Golden’s lights are magic from the red hot glow of a forge to the yellow alert for the bombing raid to the stale shine of a single light bulb when the men are trapped in a hotel.  Eric Griffith’s sounds enhance the play’s story and drew me so deeply into it I actually jumped at a few moments when the attacks and destruction began.

Director Lara Marsh had said this play would help the audience see World War II from the British side and that it certainly does.  It is a tale of friendship, tragedy, and the strength of the human spirit.  It also removes the blinders and shows that the horrors of war often transcend the battlefield.

Operation Crucible will be performed by the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at the Jewish Community Center through Nov 19.  Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm.  There will be a 6:30pm performance on Sunday, Oct 23.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors (65+)/Military).  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-502-4910 or visit the website at www.bsbtheatre.com.  The Jewish Community Center is located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.

Prepare to be Blitzed

The Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company will take you back in time to World War II and to Sheffield, England to experience the devastation of the Sheffield Blitz through the eyes of 4 young steelworkers.  The play is Operation Crucible by Kieran Knowles and will begin its run on October 21 at the Jewish Community Center.

The Sheffield Blitz is a reference to the worst nights of the German Luftwaffe bombing of Sheffield on the nights of December 12 and 15 in 1940.  Sheffield, a steelworks town, was targeted due to its manufacturing of armaments.  In particular, Sheffield was the only city in the UK that made 18 inch armor piercing shells.  The code name for the operation was Schmelztiegel, the German word for crucible.

Prepare yourself for a unique theatre experience as 4 actors (Daniel Sukup, Eric Grant-Leanna, Daniel Dorner, and Eddie McGonigal) share the horrific nights of the bombing on a nearly empty stage using the power of just their voices and bodies.  As director Lara Marsh stated, “I needed 4 actors who could keep up with the physicality of the play. . .who could play different characters. . .who could pantomime.”

Telling a story without benefit of scenery and extremely limited props is quite the chore, but definitely an enticing challenge.  “This is the type of theatre I want to get into. . .I hate the fourth wall,” said Daniel Sukup.

And this play certainly blurs, if not obliterates, the fourth wall.  The play eschews the normal narrative style as the story turns from the nights of the bombings to events in the past to memories of the play’s characters in rapid-fire succession.  In discussing the difficulties of the play, actor Eric Grant-Leanna said, “Memorizing lines [is the toughest].  In most plays, your cues come from an actor saying something to you, but that isn’t the case here.  You’ve got to know what to say and when you’re supposed to say it and you can’t paraphrase because you’ll be losing something.”

Actor Eddie McGonigal furthered that thought when he said, “You’ve got to know your lines and your intentions from the very start.”

Director Lara Marsh believes in sharing stories worth telling and hopes the audience “learns something about the war from the British side.  We know all about it from the American side.”

Operation Crucible opens on October 21 and runs through November 19.  The show will take place under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at the Jewish Community Center located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.  Showtimes are Fri and Sat at 7:30pm with one Sunday performance on Oct 23 at 6:30pm.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors (65+)/Military).  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-502-4910 or visit the website at www.bsbtheatre.com.