Blue Barn Gets Back to the 80s with ‘Heathers: The Musical’

Heathers - Press Photo

BlueBarn Theatre Presents:  Heathers the Musical

The BLUEBARN Theatre is proud to present the regional premiere of Heathers: the Musical with book, lyrics, and music by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy.

BLUEBARN Associate Artistic Director Randall T. Stevens directs with Producing Artistic Director Susan Clement-Toberer, with set design by Martin Scott Marchitto, lighting design by Carol Wisner, costume design by Wesley Pourier, sound design by Craig Marsh, and properties design by Amy Reiner.

Shows run May 19 – June 19, 2016; Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday June 5, June 12, and June 19 at 6 p.m.

Single tickets for Heathers: the Musical are $30 for adults; and $25 for students, seniors 65+, TAG members, and groups of 10 or more.

Heathers: the Musical is generously sponsored by Kate and Roger Weitz, and Dr. Merlyn Knudsen and James Davis.

About HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL

The darkly delicious story of Veronica Sawyer, the brainy and beautiful misfit who hustles her way into the most powerful and ruthless clique at Westerberg High: the Heathers. But before she can get comfortable atop the high school food chain, Veronica falls for the dangerously sexy new kid, J.D., who plans to put the Heathers in their place – six feet under.

About the stars of HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL

Heathers: the Musical showcases the talents of many newcomers to the BLUEBARN stage. The large cast is led by Roni Shelley Perez (Jesus Christ Superstar, Omaha Community Playhouse) as “Veronica” and Andy Augenbaugh as “J.D”, who are both making their BLUEBARN debut. Rounding out the stellar cast is Nick Albrecht, Matt Bailey, Katy Boone, James Delage, Aaron Ellis, Joey Galda, Sarah Gibson, Thomas Gjere, Matthew Hansen, Natalie Hanson, David Jesik, Lauren Krupski, Aguel Lual, Laurel Rothamel, Samantha Simpson, Robby Stone, Mallory Vallier, Kelsi Weston, and MacKenzie Zielke.

About the PLAYWRIGHTS, Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy

Kevin Murphy co-wrote the stage musical Reefer Madness – the Musical , which won many awards. He coproduced and co-wrote the movie adaptation of “Reefer” which won an Emmy Award. Other TV credits include “Desperate Housewives,” “Defiance,” “Reaper,” “Ed,” “Hellcats,” “Caprica.”

Laurence O’Keefe wrote Legally Blonde – the Musical (Tony nomination, Best Score; Olivier Award, Best Musical). Off-Broadway: Bat Boy – the Musical (Lortel Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk nominations for Best Music/Lyrics), The Explorers’ Club, Cam Jansen (Drama Desk nomination, Best Book), Sarah, Plain and Tall. Film/TV: “Defiance,” “The Daily Show,” “Johnny & The Sprites,” “Make ‘Em Laugh”.

ABOUT THE BLUEBARN THEATRE

The BLUEBARN Theatre has been bringing professionally-produced plays to area audiences since 1989. Since its inception, BLUEBARN has produced over 100 plays and has established itself as Omaha’s professional contemporary theatre company. Striving to bring artistically significant scripts and professional production values to Omaha and the surrounding region, BLUEBARN is known for high-quality entertainment and the fearless pursuit of stories that challenge both theatre artists and patrons.

Surreal ‘The Feast’ is Mirthfully Macabre

All meat in the world has mysteriously rotted forcing the populace into compulsory vegetarianism.  A dinner party awaits a delayed guest and the other participants are getting. . .hungry!!  This is the framing device for The Feast by Celine Song and currently playing at the Shelterbelt Theatre.

Note that I use the term framing device as opposed to plot because the story of this play is rather nebulous.  Ms Song’s script starts out incredibly strong as it focuses on the famished partygoers and their dysfunctional relationships appear to be the thrust of the tale.  Towards the play’s climax, the story begins to veer into the surreal before taking a left turn into the nonsensical.  A telling monologue attempts to tie up the peculiarities of the story, but the lack of centrality somewhat weakens the show.  With that being said, the play’s surefire direction and steady acting greatly neutralize a good deal of the story’s shortcomings.

Noah Diaz is truly becoming a force to be reckoned with on the directing scene.  His staging is incredibly sharp with a particularly nice touch of the actors already being on stage during the pre-show playing party games.  This added a vital bit of realism to the production and was able to pull the audience into its world before the dialogue began.  Diaz also has a well coached cast who gave sterling performances and picked up cues at the drop of a hat.

Diaz also played the role of Rhett, a friend of the party’s hostess and her husband.  Diaz is blessed with that mysterious x factor that makes for great acting.  Always perfectly believable, Diaz’s Rhett is a sickly, smarmy prig.  Diaz plays the role with a charming insincerity as he constantly inquires about how much longer the hostess’ husband will be simply because he wants to eat or politely fighting with his wife before they “make-up”.  Rhett’s wife claims Rhett always wants what he can’t have and one of the play’s more surreal scenes reveals the reason Rhett behaves this way. This grants Diaz the opportunity to play a brilliantly tragic moment which engenders great sympathy for Rhett.  Diaz is a little young for the role, but had to step into the part when the original actor needed to withdraw very late in the rehearsal process.

Mary Kelly is darling as Wendy, the hostess.  As the stereotypical 1950s housewife, Ms Kelly’s Wendy is quite solicitous in looking after the wants of her guests and constantly checking in with her husband to find out when he will arrive so she can serve dinner.  However, Ms Kelly gets to turn the stereotype on its head during her dark asides when she becomes a demented Betty Crocker.  She talks about her fantasies of eating people due to her desire for some meat, passionately describing how she would prepare the entrée.  Ms Kelly also gives her Wendy a bit of a lascivious nature as she secretly pines for her husband’s stepbrother.

Leanne Hill Carlson strikes all the right notes with her depiction of Sam, Rhett’s wife.  Sam is a selfish, petty woman who lives life below the bellybutton because she’ll sleep with and kiss anything with a pulse that isn’t her husband.  This type of role could be a real scene chewer, but Ms Hill Carlson always remains grounded in a very effective performance.  The fact that Sam’s selfish nature is a façade that covers a bitter truth permits Ms Hill Carlson to add some wonderful and crucial dramatic heft to the character.

Beau Fisher soars in his Omaha theatre debut as Xander, a scientist and the stepbrother of Wendy’s husband.  Fisher impresses as the hyper-intellectual Xander who is more content experimenting on animals than he is engaging with other people.  I was especially impressed with the subtlety of Fisher’s performance as he manages to hint at a lusting towards Sam as well as having a keen grasp of what’s going on around him despite his isolationist tendencies.  Fisher’s descent into madness towards the play’s finale is one of the show’s funniest moments.

Brennan Thomas gives a nicely understated performance in the uncredited role of Francis, Wendy’s husband.  In spite of his limited stage time, Thomas is able to bring some beautiful nuance to Francis who is tasked with explaining the meaning, or non-meaning, behind the play’s plot.

The technical aspects of this show were some of the strongest I have seen this season.  From the clever and surprisingly complex cardboard set of Sharon Diaz, to the nearly living lights designed by Joshua Mullady, to the wonderfully appropriate mood music of Hannah Meyer, and the always apropos sounds of Shannon Smay, this show will be a treat for your eyes and ears.

Despite the oddities of the script, Ms Song does accomplish a very difficult task which is to make a dark comedy truly funny.  Most dark comedies rely on the story being funny due to acts of cruelty, but this show uses genuine humor and leaves the darkness to bolster the show’s more serious moments.  While the plot may be “love it or hate it”, the show’s directing, acting, and technical aspects will be certain to hold the audience’s interest.

The Feast plays at the Shelterbelt through May 8.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  The final Sunday performance will be at 2pm.  Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for students, seniors (65+) and T.A.G. members.  Sunday tickets are $12.  For reservations contact the Shelterbelt at 402-341-2757, or by e-mail at boxoffice@shelterbelt.org, or their website at www.shelterbelt.org.  The Shelterbelt is located at 3225 California St in Omaha, NE.  Due to some sensitive subject matter, The Feast is recommended for mature audiences.

Powerhouse Performances Punch Up Petty Play

“These people are monsters!” shouts Annette.  Thus sums up the play God of Carnage which kicked off the Blue Barn Theatre’s 25th season whose theme is “Over the Edge”.

God of Carnage is a dark comedy about 2 couples (Michael & Veronica and Alan & Annette) who meet in the apartment home of Michael and Veronica (an absolutely gorgeous retroesque set designed by Martin Scott Marchitto) to discuss an altercation that occurred between their sons.  An altercation that resulted in the son of Michael & Veronica getting some teeth knocked out by the son of Alan & Annette.

Although the conversation starts civilly enough, the behavior of the characters slowly devolves until they act like little more than children themselves.  Dark comedies are often tricky to pull off as the comedy usually follows a wanton act of cruelty and callousness and this play is no exception.  One such example occurs when the high strung Annette projectile vomits (quite viscerally) due to the tension of the situation and her anger with her disinterested, arrogant husband, Alan, who seems more concerned with the people on the other end of his cell phone than with his own family.

The script is somewhat weak, being one note in nature, having no real arc, and an ending that is flat as a pancake.  That said, the weakness is somewhat alleviated by the interesting psychological questions it poses.  Is civility a mask we as a society wear?  How are we any different than animals?  Are we nothing more than overgrown children?

The play is also bolstered by the nice pace director Susan Clement-Toberer cuts and the excellent performances she has coached from her actors.

As Annette, Jill Anderson undergoes the greatest devolution in the play.  She begins as a overwound socialite whose posture is so ramrod straight, one would think the rod up her back has a rod up its back and slowly transforms into a drunken, overwrought child who is unhappy with her loveless marriage to a domineering husband who only lets her do “woman” things.  Her drunken rants and despising of tulips are some of the highlights of this show.

Ablan Roblin plays Annette’s husband, Alan.  Of all the characters, Alan is the only character who really does not change over the show.  His selfishness and arrogance is apparent from the start as he constantly excuses himself to speak to colleagues about a cover-up regarding the dangerous side effects of a blood pressure drug his company produces solely to reap the most profit out of it.  I don’t envy Roblin’s difficulty in playing such a non-evolving character, but he presented the coldness of Alan quite well.

Jerry Longe gives an restrained performance as  Michael.  Starting off as a laidback man trying to keep the peace between both parties, he makes a startling transformation declaring, “I’m a Neanderthal!” with a complete change in voice and body language.  On the turn of a dime, Michael removes the façade of Mr. Easygoing and reveals himself to be a hard drinking, cigar smoking, racist thug who rather enjoys digging into people with his barbed tongue.

Theresa Sindelar plays Veronica, a writer with an obsession for Africa.  Ms. Sindelar does a wonderful job foreshadowing the revelation of Veronica’s true colors.  Veronica is clearly an intellectual who delights in using fifty dollar words in her vocabulary to prove her intelligence.  At first, she seems to be trying to engineer an amiable middle ground between the two couples, but is really more interested in ripping her son’s attacker a new one, more concerned with her books than the health of her guest, and sitting on her high horse declaring, “I am better than everyone in this room!”

In the end, I believe the humor comes from the audience’s recognition of our own childish sides in these 4 pathetic people and how ridiculous we can become we when blow minor things grossly out of proportion.

God of Carnage runs through October 18 at the Blue Barn Theatre located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, NE.  Showtimes are 7:30pm, Thursday-Sat and 6pm on Sundays.  (Note:  There is no show on Sept 29.)  Ticket prices are $25 for adults and $20 for students, TAG members, seniors (65+), and groups of ten or more.  For reservations or information, call 402-345-1576.