Charming ‘Catch’ Could Use a Charge

At sixteen, Frank Abagnale, Jr. began the path to becoming one of the greatest con men of all time.  Posing as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, he bilked the country out of nearly $2,000,000.  Finally cornered by the dogged FBI agent determined to capture him, Abagnale decides to tell (and sing) his story in Catch Me If You Can:  The Musical by Terrence McNally with music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.  It is currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

McNally’s script is a mixed bag.  It does a fine job of highlighting Abagnale’s life and his most notable impostures and I think sharing this might have been enough as his life had enough drama and natural humor for a great story.  Where the script falters is when it tries to needlessly force humor into the story such as making the FBI agents with the exception of Hanratty seem like inept fools.  Kudos to Matt Karasek, Randy Wallace, and Jackson Hal Cottrell for a superb job of playing the characters as written.

D. Laureen Pickle does an admirable job of directing this piece. The staging is well done, seeming more like a sixties sitcom and full performance space is used in telling this story. She found some great beats to add some heart to this story especially in the conversations between Abagnale and his father and she has guided her actors to solid and moving performances.

The ensemble does fine work supporting this story as they were clearly enjoying themselves and really helped to flesh out crowd scenes and provide some snappy dancing courtesy of inventive choreography provided by Kerri Jo Watts and Eastin Yates.  That being said, I did note a couple of points where the execution of the dancing needed to be a bit cleaner.

Some great supporting performances are provided by Kevin Olsen as Frank Abagnale, Sr. who was a minor league con man that taught Junior everything he needed to know about running a scam.  Olsen’s Abagnale, Sr. is quite pitiable as the purpose for his cons is simply to provide a better life for his family, though he does seem to derive a pleasure out of outsmarting the government.  Heather Wilhem is marvelously entertaining as an Atlanta housewife who is quite taken with the smooth Abagnale, Jr. who wishes to marry her daughter.

Thomas Stoysich gives a rather entertaining performance as Frank Abagnale, Jr.  He is a very likable and charming person and these traits are crucial to being a good con artist.  Stoysich is so darn likable that you don’t want to believe that he’s really a crook.  Stoysich also adds a remarkable emotional depth to the performance as he portrays Abagnale’s con artistry as a compulsion.  He can’t seem to help himself.  Stoysich does good work in showing the three reasons why Abagnale does what he does:  1.  He’s trying to survive.  2.  He hopes to earn enough to reunite his broken family.  3.  It’s fun.

Stoysich also has a very pleasant tenor voice which was well utilized in “Live in Living Color” and his attempt to end Abagnale’s story prematurely in “Goodbye”.

Eric Micks is rock solid as Carl Hanratty, Abagnale’s determined pursuer.  This is a man who is completely dedicated to his job and that came at the cost of his own family.  Micks gives Hanratty intelligence and tenacity, but he also gives him a haunting loneliness.  The job is all he has, even spending the holidays by himself except for an annual phone call from Abagnale with whom he shares a sort of friendship in spite of their adversarial relationship.  Micks also possesses a fine baritone shown when he tries to discover “The Man Inside the Clues” as he investigates the crimes of Abagnale.

Chris Ebke and his orchestra do justice to the score of the show with an energetic performance.  Nancy Buennemeyer’s costumes suit the sixties settings especially with the pilot and flight attendant uniforms of the time as well as the elegant clothes for Abagnale and the rumpled suit for Hanratty.  Joey Lorincz does it again with another stellar set with a stairway lit by runner lights and a pair of revolving doors for speedy entrances and exits while locales are projected behind the stairs.

This show badly needed doses of energy and volume last night.  The volume was especially important with the orchestra situated behind the cast as I lost bits of dialogue at various points.  There also seemed to be something up with the microphones as they didn’t seem to work except for a brief burst towards the end of Act I.  Part of the energy issue came from an audience not giving the cast much to work with.  In a show like this, the cast needs the fuel supplied by a lively crowd to further heighten their own performances.  Cue pickups could also be tightened to help the energy.

When all is said and done Catch Me If You Can is a slightly surreal telling of Abagnale’s story.  It’s got the potential to be a great crowd pleaser thanks to a talented crew and a spritely orchestra and a “Strange But True” story.

Catch Me If You Can:  The Musical plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Sept 29.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or calling 402-291-1554.  Some discretion is advised due to some strong language and suggestive moments.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

BLT Holding Auditions for Season Opener ‘Catch Me If You Can”

Bellevue Little Theatre Presents
Catch Me If You Can Auditions

Saturday, June 29 @ 2:00 pm
Sunday, June 30 @ 6:00 pm

Location:  203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE

A cast of 20-23 adults, male and female, ages 16-70 is needed for this production.

Interested parties need only attend one day of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you.

Those auditioning are asked to prepare 16-32 bars of music WITH printed accompaniment – no a cappella, please.  An accompanist will be provided. There will be a dance audition, so those auditioning are asked to wear/bring appropriate clothing and shoes.

Callbacks: Saturday, July 6
Rehearsals will begin on Sunday, July 14
Performance Dates: September 13-29
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Questions? Please text the Director at 402-681-9785

D. Laureen Pickle will be the stage director, with music direction by Chris Ebke, choreography by Kerri Jo Richardson-Watts, and stage management by Melissa Carnahan.

Bellevue Little Theater is delighted to open its 51st season with the  musical Catch Me If You Can, based on the real life adventures of con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr.   Based on the incredible true story, Catch Me If You Can is the high-flying musical comedy about chasing your dreams and not getting caught. Nominated for four Tony awards, including Best Musical, this delightfully entertaining show was created by a Tony Award-winning “dream team,” with a book by Terrence McNally (The Full Monty, Ragtime) and a swinging score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray).

Seeking fame and fortune, precocious teenager, Frank Abagnale, Jr., runs away from home to begin an unforgettable adventure. With nothing more than his boyish charm, a big imagination and millions of dollars in forged checks, Frank successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer – living the high life and winning the girl of his dreams. When Frank’s lies catch the attention of FBI agent, Carl Hanratty, though, Carl pursues Frank across the country to make him pay for his crimes.

 

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.

Free-Spirited Farce Flips, Flops & Flies

OneMan_8

Steve Krambeck as Francis Henshall

Charming con artist and ne’er-do-well, Francis Henshall, takes a job as a minder (bodyguard) for a gangster just so he can eat regularly.  When he sees an opportunity to further line his pockets, he takes a job with a second criminal and now needs to keep both from finding out he works for the other.  This is One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean with songs by Grant Olding and based off Carlos Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Trust me, this story is far more complicated than this simple synopsis as farce always is and this play contains all of the elements for a truly great farce.  You’ve got the mistaken identities, gender swapping, pratfalls, slamming doors, constant plot twists, and then everything is tidily resolved at the end of the show.  Bean does good work updating Goldoni’s story for a more modern era as it is set in the late 1960s.  But he also manages to retain the flavor of the original with characters making constant asides to reveal their true thoughts and motivations.  He still manages to make it his own with some out of the box fourth wall breaks and the need for his performers to indulge in a bit of improvisation.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek, one of Omaha’s finest comedic talents, helms this production and he is clearly in his element guiding this clownish tale.  He’s definitely got a good eye for a gag and comes up with some real doozies when it comes to pratfalls and some that are tastefully crass such as when Francis tries to woo a woman with a rose.  His cast has some strong comedic chops and knows how to deliver a punchline and he uses some truly unique staging such as the use of a skiffle band (Colin Duckworth, Paige Cotignola, Susan Hendrick, and Adam Sherrerd) to warm up the audience and cover scene changes with some fun and rollicking tunes.

Some of Omaha’s best and brightest grace this production, but there are some truly standout performances from Bill Hutson as a feeble and deaf waiter; Marcus Benzel whose expressions and animated movements really bolster his scenes; and John Shaw as Alan Dangle, a wannabe actor who always speaks in an overexaggerated, theatrical style.

Steve Krambeck gives an energetic performance as Francis Henshall.  Krambeck certainly has his work cut out for him as he has to add a sense of likability to an unlikable person and he does so admirably.  Krambeck oozes the charm crucial for a con artist and handles the physicality of farce quite well as his character takes quite a beating throughout the night.  But he also shows himself as having a good grip on improvisation as he often repartees with the audience and once even had me believing he had broken character during one of these interactions as his delivery of the joke was so subtle and smooth.

It is certainly an exhausting performance as Krambeck runs, flops, dances, charms, xylophones, and sings his way into your heart.

Cathy Hirsch is sterling in her performance as Rachel Crabbe.  Most impressive is that Ms Hirsch spends most of the show disguised as her character’s twin brother, Roscoe, a thug whose death prior to the show is the catalyst for everything that goes down.  Ms Hirsch’s portrayal of Rachel as Roscoe is quite convincing as her bearing, speech patterns, and walking make her a very believable man.  This also allows for a great change in dynamic when she drops the façade to be the truly feminine Rachel.

Chris Shonka is a gentlemanly brute as Stanley Stubbers.  Beneath his elegant manners beats the heart of a fiend as he’s a killer on the run who doles out violence when angered, has a penchant for sadism, and seems to have a rather deviant appetite for virgins.  Shonka does so well with the excellent manners that one tends to forget just how rotten he truly is until your brain has a chance to process some of the heinous things he’s saying.

Matthew Hamel definitely has a set for the times as the colors of his buildings really reflect the psychedelic 60s.  His buildings and scenes have the flavor of a seaside town and I rather liked his elegant dining room with its grand wooden walls towards the end of Act I.  John Giblilisco’s sounds added to the ambiance of the show with the lolling of waves, the popping of champagne corks, and the splash of bodies hitting the water.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes epitomize the swinging 60s with their bright, loud colors, especially the tweeds of Francis.  Adam Sherrerd does excellent work with the musical direction of the night’s numbers as well as being in fine fettle on lead vocals.

The show could definitely benefit from a few tweaks.  The energy of a farce needs to be akin to a runaway train once it gets going and the pace of the first act dragged.  The accents were uneven among the cast and some of the pratfalls and violence were a bit overly controlled.  On the other hand, comedy, especially farce, really needs the juice of a live audience to energize the performers and the loud laughs I heard tonight gives me confidence that this show is going to get its necessary fuel.

One Man, Two Guvnors plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 5.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $24, with ticket prices varying by performance and seating zone.  Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Due to some of the risqué humor, this show isn’t recommended for young children.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

BLT Holding Auditions for ‘The Music Man’

Be a part of a time honored tradition!  Auditions for the Bellevue Little Theater’s production of The Music Man will be held on Sunday, July 10th and Monday, July 11th at 7:00 PM.

D. Laureen Pickle is the stage director, with Chris Ebke serving as music director, Kerri Jo Watts as choreographer, and Jamie Jarecki as stage manager. Sandy Thompson, assisted by Kerri Jo Watts is serving as producer.

Numerous roles are available for youth and adult singers, actors, and dancers, ages 8-108. Please prepare 16-32 measures of music with accompaniment. No acappella, please. An accompanist will be available for auditions. Also, bring clothing and shoes appropriate for dance auditions. Finally, please be prepared to list any conflicts during the rehearsal period. We will begin rehearsing July 17th, with productions on September 16th-October 2nd. Questions? Please email the director at laureen.pickle@cox.net. or call the BLT at 402-291-1554.

The Music Man is set in the small town of River City, Iowa, and follows the adventures of Professor Harold Hill, a fast talking traveling salesman,  as he attempts to convince town members to buy instruments and uniforms for a boy’s band he ‘intends to form’. Of course Hill intends to skip town with all the money and never form the band….a scheme the local librarian Marian suspects.

Before the play’s end Marian has transformed Hill, and the boy’s band? You will see where it winds up as the Music Man concludes with a heartwarming finale.

Location

Bellevue Little Theatre (203 W. Mission Rd., Bellevue, NE)

July is a Hot Month for Area Auditions

At the Circle Theatre

Circle Theatre is holding auditions for its Dec 2016 Holiday Production A Charlie Brown Christmas. Performances run weekends December 2-17. Auditions will be held July 5 and 6th at 7:00p.m. at the  Urban Abby at 1026 Jackson Street in the Old Market.  The production calls for actors ages 8-50 who can sing and dance. Those auditioning will be asked to bring a prepared song to sing.  Auditions are by appointment only. To schedule an audition or for more info please e-mail dashmtheatre@gmail.com

At the Chanticleer Community Theatre

  • Elf – The Musical Jr.
  • Sunday, July 10 and Monday, July 11 @ 6:00 p.m.
  • Production Dates: September 16 – 25, 2016
  • Rehearsal Dates: Looking to begin Wednesday, July 13.
  • Bring sheet music and come prepared to sing 16 measures. Accompanist provided.  Wear shoes comfortable for dancing.  May be asked to read from script.
  • Show Summary: The Chanticleer Children’s Theater presents a modern-day holiday classic that’s sure to make you embrace your “inner elf”. This hilarious fish-out-of-water comedy follows Buddy the Elf in his quest to find his true identity.
  • Contact Information: 712-323-9955 or chanticleerthater@gmail.com
  • Director and/or Production Team: Denise Putman, Director, Jerry Gray, Musical Director & Ariel Ibsen-Bauer, Choreographer
  • Location:  830 Franklin Ave in Council Bluffs, IA

 

At Bellevue Little Theatre

Be a part of a time honored tradition!  Auditions for the Bellevue Little Theater’s production of The Music Man will be held on Sunday, July 10th and Monday, July 11th at 7:00 PM.

D. Laureen Pickle is the stage director with Chris Ebke serving as music director, Kerri Jo Watts as choreographer, and Jamie Jarecki as stage manager. Sandy Thompson, assisted by Kerri Jo Watts, is serving as producer.

Numerous roles are available for youth and adult singers, actors, and dancers, ages 8-108. Please prepare 16-32 measures of music with accompaniment. No acappella, please. An accompanist will be available for auditions. Also, bring clothing and shoes appropriate for dance auditions. Finally, please be prepared to list any conflicts during the rehearsal period. We will begin rehearsing July 17th, with productions on September 16th-October 2nd. Questions? Please email the director at laureen.pickle@cox.net. or call the BLT at 402-291-1554.

The Music Man is set in the small town of River City, Iowa, and follows the adventures of Professor Harold Hill, a fast talking traveling salesman,  as he attempts to convince town members to buy instruments and uniforms for a boy’s band he ‘intends to form’. Of course Hill intends to skip town with all the money and never form the band….a scheme the local librarian, Marian, suspects.

Before the play’s end Marian has transformed Hill and the boy’s band. You will see where it winds up as the Music Man concludes with a heartwarming finale.

Location:  203 W Mission Rd in Bellevue, NE

Taut, Tense ‘Mauritius’ a Gripping Tale of Mystery and Intrigue

From left to right:  Chris Shonka (Sterling), Alissa Walker (Jackie), Karl Rohling (Philip), Will Muller (Dennis), Julie Fitzgerald Ryan (Mary)

From left to right: Chris Shonka (Sterling), Alissa Walker (Jackie), Karl Rohling (Philip), Will Muller (Dennis), Julie Fitzgerald Ryan (Mary)

What is the value of two little pieces of paper?  Is it intrinsic?  Financial?  Sentimental?  Whatever the worth, these two little pieces of paper bring out the worst in people in Mauritius, the Omaha Playhouse’s 91st season premiere.

Theresa Rebeck’s script is a nice, modern take on the crime noir genre.  While mostly dialogue driven, the words have a sharp, crisp energy that immerses the audience and makes one lose track of time though the ending is a bit overlong.  Most intriguing is the fact that Rebeck often makes innuendos about what happened in the past to these characters, but leaves it to the audience’s imagination to determine what may have happened.  Sometimes this technique works well such as the reasons for a mysterious grudge between two characters and not so well at other points such as the lack of explanation for a character’s knowledge of a trick involving duct tape and a plastic bag.

Jeff Horger, making his full directorial debut at the Playhouse, and Assistant Director Nick Albrecht have done exceptional work in guiding this mystery story.  The action slowly builds, beat by beat, growing ever tenser until the play’s climax and denouement.  Horger and Albrecht have also done a fine job shaping the performances of their quintet of actors.

Alissa Walker strikes gold in her Playhouse debut.  As Jackie, the younger of two half-sisters, Ms Walker paints a tragic picture of an emotionally dead woman who wants nothing more than to escape her wretched life and be reborn into a better one.  Jackie believes this new life can be bought with a lot of cash and stakes a claim to an album of rare stamps, hoping to sell two Mauritius stamps and be set for life.

Labeled as a lamb by another character early in the show, Ms Walker’s Jackie is anything but.  She is so eaten up by anger that she has nothing left to give emotionally.  Ms Walker skillfully demonstrates this state with a flat, controlled, nearly emotionless tone of voice.  However, her character’s anger does become more volatile when she senses that her dreams of Easy Street may be threatened such as wrecking her late mother’s living room and punching out her half-sister. Ms Walker’s Jackie is also a survivor which has given her a surprising strength and confidence mighty enough to go verbally, intellectually, and physically toe to toe with a dangerous criminal determined to get her stamps.

As good as her performance was, Ms Walker does need to keep up her projection which weakened a bit in Act II.  She also needs to watch her positioning as she upstaged herself on a couple of occasions.

Julie Fitzgerald Ryan is wonderful as Mary, Jackie’s much older half-sister.  She escaped from a bad home situation when she was 16 and has finally returned home to ostensibly pay last respects to her and Jackie’s late mother and attempt to build a relationship with Jackie.  While an element of those sentiments may exist, Mary really wants the stamp book which she says was left to her by her grandfather.

While Ms Walker’s Jackie is almost devoid of emotion, Ms Fitzgerald Ryan’s Mary is almost afraid of it.  Mary also bottles up a lot of anger, but Ms Fitzgerald Ryan has her attempt to ignore it by being overly solicitous and friendly instead.  But her true feelings often explode out of her as she constantly clashes with Jackie over their mother and what to do with the stamps.  But each time she explodes, she catches herself and tries to smother it with more attempts at solicitude.

What I truly enjoyed about Ms Fitzgerald Ryan’s performance was how subtle she made Mary’s true nature.  You may think she’s a nice person.  She isn’t.  Mary is incredibly selfish as she will not share the stamps with Jackie.  Her love of the stamps for their sentimental value is equally as powerful as Jackie’s greed and those motivations coupled with tremendous chemistry with Ms Walker made for some powerful confrontations.

Will Muller is perfectly cast as Dennis, the con artist.  With his babyface and velvet smooth voice, how could you not trust him?  Dennis is the one who first learns of Jackie’s Mauritius stamps and concocts the scheme to get them from her.  Interestingly, Muller gives his con artist a shocking bit of honesty and sincerity.  He is not out to steal the stamps from Jackie.  He merely wants to get them for as low a price as possible so he can profit more from a resale.  Muller’s easygoing, laconic delivery made his Dennis a very enjoyable watch, but he does need to increase his volume.  He was very soft-spoken in the first act, though he did pick up the volume in Act II.

Chris Shonka radiates menace and danger as Sterling.  Sterling is a wealthy criminal who loves collecting stamps despite having no knowledge of philately.  Be wary for he is not one to be trifled with.  What Sterling wants, he gets, and he has no qualms about using threats and violence to get what he wants.  Shonka’s awesome physical presence combined with a venomous delivery from his rich bass voice made his Sterling a beast to be feared and a force to be reckoned with.

Sterling’s love of stamps borders on the creepy and lewd.  He almost seems to view stamps as virgins as he loathes it when they are touched by others and describes his viewing of the Mauritius stamps as a post-coital experience.  The only critique I can make is for Shonka to go even further with Sterling’s nearly lascivious love of stamps.

Karl Rohling is a misanthropic grump as Philip.  He is the only character in the play who is a true philatelist, but even his love of stamps has faded as he has grown fed up with evaluating the worthless stamps of others.  Philip is a wonderfully multilayered character and Rohling deftly peels off the many layers of Philip like a snake shedding skins.  Starting off as rude and obnoxious, Rohling shows these traits to be mere symptoms of the fact that Philip is a broken, haunted man as the result of Sterling being involved in the dissolution of his marriage.  With a slump of his shoulders and a whiplash change in delivery, Rohling shows the deep sadness of Philip.  Later he is given the opportunity to show Philip’s vengeful side when he engages in a game of intrigue against Sterling and eventually indulges in unmitigated joy when his love of stamps is reignited.

Jim Othuse’s collectibles shop set is simple, understated, and pitch perfect.  Combined with Darin Kuehler’s wonderful properties, it becomes a thing of beauty.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are well suited to the characters’ personalities.

The fight scenes could use a bit more rehearsal as the actors seemed a little hesitant and unsure which resulted in the brawls looking a little unrealistic and overly controlled.  However that confidence will come with more practice and performances.  I also thought that the age difference between the two actresses may be too disparate for them to believably be half-sisters, but the quality of their performances made this a fairly negligible issue.

Mauritius is an excellent, well paced mystery story that should enthrall the audiences and I foresee a successful run, especially as this group has built a strong foundation from which they will continue to evolve over the next few weeks.

Mauritius runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through September 13.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $35 for adults and $21 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call the Box Office at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.  Mauritius contains strong language and violence and is not recommended for children.

A Season of Exploration, Part I: The Writer & The Actor

I know.  I know.  You weren’t expecting another story so soon.  Well, I got an early start of things this year.  Earlier than you may think as this tale does not begin with an audition, but with a review.

In early May I went to the Playhouse to review Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and my dear friend, Sonia Keffer, was working the TAG (Theatre Arts Guild) table.  She said she needed to talk to me and asked me if I heard that Bob Fischbach (the critic for our newspaper, Omaha World-Herald) was retiring.  I replied that I had.

Sonia then said Bob had contacted her and the newspaper was not quite certain as to what they were going to do with his position.  The most popular idea was that, at least for the upcoming season, the newspaper would gather a pool of writers, send them out on reviews, and pay them by the article.  He had wanted to include her name and she agreed to be part of it.  Then he asked Sonia, “Do you know a Chris Elston?  I understand he writes reviews.”  She said, “Yes, I know him very well and he writes excellent reviews.”  Bob then asked if she could put him in touch with me and she asked me if it was all right to give him my phone number.

The power of speech momentarily eluded me as I was so pleasantly shocked by this good bit of news.  “The answer is yes,” said Sonia with a smile.  “Yes.  Absolutely yes.  And thank you,” I replied.

When I started this website, I had only hoped to become a viable alternative to the reviews put out by the various papers.  But only now, in less than 2 years’ time, was I beginning to understand the impact my writings had actually had.  And that would be revealed to me even further over the next few weeks.

My review for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ended up becoming my most acclaimed to date.  It really struck a chord with people at the Playhouse as it promoted the heck out of that play with my words.  I cannot tell you what a joy it was to see my words featured when the Playhouse promoted the show on Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail marketing.  It was every bit as satisfying as enjoying a really great role on stage.  Thanks to the constant promotion, my readership doubled over the 5 week run of the show.

Aside from the review, I did speak to Mr. Fischbach who told me a little about the paper’s potential plan and asked if he could include my name in the pool he was gathering for his editor.  I agreed to be included and am still waiting for news on that end.  Even if the paper opts to go in a different direction, it was still an honor to be asked to be considered.  Though I freely admit, getting paid to write about theatre would be icing on an already delectable cake.

A few weeks after my review I attended a Playhouse even in order to meet the new Associate Artistic Director, Jeff Horger.  As I filled out my name tag, the person behind the table said, “Oh, so you’re Chris Elston” before complimenting me on my writings.  That person was the Playhouse’s Marketing/PR Director, Katie Broman, who put me onto the Playhouse’s press list as of that night.  What this means is that I’ll receive a press pass whenever I’m reviewing a show at the Playhouse.  Winning!!

At the meet and greet, I also bumped into my old friend, Lara Marsh, who is getting to direct Lost Boy Found at Whole Foods at the Playhouse next season after getting to direct it as part of their Alternative Programming season this year.  I may audition for it again this year, but I have not yet decided if I’d rather act in it or learn about directing from it.  I asked Lara about the possibility of shadowing her for it if I decided not to act and if my schedule allowed it.  While nothing is set in stone, it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility that this show may be my foot in the door of directing.

Actually, Lara became the second director I might be able to shadow next season.  The first was Amy Lane, the Playhouse’s former Resident Director now Assistant Professor of Theatre at Creighton University.  My old friend, Sherry Fletcher, recommended her to me as someone who was very big on developing talent in that field and she happens to be a close friend of Sonia’s, too.  Both of us happened to be at TAG Nite Out for Sabrina Fair and I approached her about the possibility of sitting under her learning tree for direction and she asked me to message her closer to the time that she is about to start her guest directing stint at the Playhouse for Love, Loss and What I Wore.  So I may have 2 possibilities to learn a bit about directing next season.

With all of these wonderful opportunities presenting themselves to me, I felt a semi-dormant part of me begin to awaken.  I wanted to tell a story again.

So I auditioned for the Playhouse season premiere, Mauritius, which marks the solo directorial debut of Jeff Horger.  I do not know much about the story except that it centers around 2 half-sisters who may own 2 rare Blue Mauritius stamps.  One girl wants to sell them and three thieves (a charming con artist, a crabby stamp expert, and a dangerous psychopath) want to get their hands on the stamps.  I went into the audition with nothing more than the hope of making a good impression.

It was good to keep my hopes at that level because, like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, this play has a very small cast (2f 3m).  A lot of people came out to audition.  I’d estimate that close to 90 people came out over the two nights meaning that 85 people were going to hear the dreaded “no”.  And there was some keen, heavyweight competition at the auditions.

For my part I was pleased with my work and I believe it had a positive impact.  Based off of my observations, the new style of auditions is designed to make decisions very quickly.  By that I mean, if you do not have the qualities the director is looking for, you will get one read before being dismissed.  I got to read twice so I must have been doing something right.  I read for the con artist and the psychopath.  Of the two I felt that my read for the con artist was probably the better of the two, especially since the psychopath needs a dominating physical presence that I lack.  Putting it in plain terms, I don’t look like the type of guy who would beat someone to a pulp.

I did not receive a callback, so I knew I would be out of the running, but was pleased at the new and fresh faces that did make it into the show.  Luckily, I had another audition all lined up.

The Playhouse is bringing back their Alternative Programming season in full force this season with 9 events.  Three of the shows all had auditions last week.

I had been expecting wall to wall actors for this event, but imagine my surprise when I saw maybe a dozen actors at the second night and I could not imagine the first night being of much greater volume.  I ended up reading 9 times over a 75 minute period.

The first show I read for was A Steady Rain which is a 2 man duologue (meaning that both actors are giving monologues to the audience) about best friends who are cops.  One is dirty and the other is an alcoholic.  It was being directed by Christina Rohling and I first read for the dirty cop.  It was a pretty good read, though I seemed to be fighting myself a bit for some reason.  I instinctively felt the need for physical action and was squashing it to a degree.  Still the read was on target.

After my first read, Christina said, “That was really good” before asking me a bit about my theatrical background.  I told her I had been in theatre for 20 years, but had not performed in 2 and that my past two years had been focused on my website.  When she heard about the website she said, “I think I’ve read some of your stuff”.  It was then that I was struck by the oddity that I had become better known in the  theatre community for 2 years of writing than for 20 years of acting.  Amazing where those roads can take us.

Anyway, I then read a scene as the alcoholic cop with another guy named Tony (who read brilliantly).  It was a pretty good scene, but very tricky to pull off due to not being certain when I was simply telling a story and when, or if, I was interacting with Tony.  It was my last read for that show and I knew it would be the toughest to get into due to the numbers game.

I then read for Take Me Out which tells the story of a baseball player who comes out of the closet.  This one was being directed by Noah Diaz and I first read for the team manager.  Noah asked me to do some big physical action at some point and I had the perfect spot.  I read the letter very professionally.  The thrust of the letter is how the manager admires the player for his bravery in making his revelations and how honored he’d be if he were his son’s teacher or lover.  But he finishes with the whiny cry, “But did it have to be baseball?!!!” and I collapsed to the ground in a loud babyish whine.  In fact, my only regret was that I didn’t go more over the top since I had been given carte blanche to do so.

Noah had me read it again, but told me that he felt the scene had 3 tonal shifts and he wanted me to read it again with those shifts.  I did and Doug Blackburn’s acting boot camp came back to me and I felt I shifted 5 or 6 times and I was pleased with the work.  Finally, Noah had me read it once more with Tony and we read a scene between the baseball player and his best friend.

We read the scene and I made the friend, Kippy, laid back and jokey.  It was a nice read, but I actually reversed one of the jokes since I mistakenly thought Kippy was gay and his comment about being on the same team was a reference to the 2 characters shared orientation.  Noah had us read it one more time with some adjustments and he asked me to make Kippy a bit more serious and dependable and he corrected my mistaken interpretation of Kippy so I got the team joke right on the second go around.

After that, Noah said he seen all he needed to see from me which left me one more show for which to read.

That show was Civil War Voices which is based off of actual letters, diaries, and other writings that took place during the Civil War and will be directed by Jeff Horger.  Again, I was doing something right as Jeff read me three times.  First I read a love letter from a character named Theo.  Then I read a diary entry from a military commander named Chamberlin.  Finally I read a historian, but he asked me to do it in a Presidential voice since I had expressed an interest in Abe Lincoln.  I felt I did well in all of my reads.  Then Jeff asked me a bit about my theatrical background and I gave him the same story I had given to Christina.  After those reads, I went home for the night.

A week passed which I took as a most promising sign.  The longer I avoided rejection, the better my chances, I reasoned.  But late Wednesday afternoon, I took a quick one-two combo to the ego.  I was checking my e-mail and I saw I had rejection notices for both A Steady Rain and Take Me Out waiting for me.

I was quite surprised by how much the wind had been taken out of my sails.  But in a strange way, I was also glad because it told me that my mojo had not faded as I had feared.  I had genuinely wanted to do these shows and was truly disappointed at not being selected.  But there was still hope as I had not yet had any word about Civil War Voices.

Then came Thursday afternoon.  My office phone rang and on the other end was the bright voice of Jeannine Robertson, the Playhouse’s Administrative Assistant.  She said that Jeff wanted to offer me the role of Abraham Lincoln.

That was about the last role I expected to get.  In a full production, I don’t think I would have been seriously considered for the role as I’m not a physical match for Honest Abe.  But in reader’s theatre, I thought there might be a chance.  And it worked out!  After giving one of the firmest yeses I’ve ever given, I hung up the phone with a song in my heart and a jaunty tune on my lips.

And that brings us to the end of this tale.  Rehearsals begin in August just after I get back from a theatre festival in Whitehall, MI where I’ll get to watch one of my favorite shows, Cotton Patch Gospel, and review 3 B & Bs on the long journey.  I look forward to this new adventure as well as more stories during this season of exploration.

Until we meet again. . .