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.

Beware the Ides of Smarch, Days 4-6: Vegas Time is Here Again

The destination for our little troupe:  Las Vegas.

Monday, March 4

I admit I was a little surprised by the announcement as Dave isn’t into gambling at all.  On the other hand, Dave had never really experienced Las Vegas aside from a brief overnight trip he took with Mat before the two of them headed off to Japan for the series I entitled “A Journey Beyond Imagination”.  With several days, Dave could get the full experience to appreciate the artistry and architecture of the casinos, take in a show, and possibly even join me for a few sites I had wanted to visit, but had not got around to doing.

Monday morning found us piling into Mat’s Nissan and heading off to Sin City after having a quick bite to eat at Jack in the Box.  Mat was recording our journey with time lapse photography with his Go Pro 4 camera while Dave and I killed the first hour or so of the drive playing a round of Super Mario Party.  I finally got the victory, but it wasn’t quite the same without getting to drive Mat into the dirt.

We arrived at the Linq about 3pm and had a pretty decent room on the 10th floor with a view of the pool.  Mat and Dave claimed the beds while I took the couch.  We puttered around for a couple of hours before heading to dinner over at the Bacchanal Buffet over at Caesar’s Palace.

Bacchanal Buffet is the biggest buffet in Vegas.  If you can think of it, they’ve got it.  We all enjoyed a good meal of whatever we felt like sampling before heading back to the Linq.  I lost $30 playing Dracula and Ghostbusters slot machines while Mat came out ahead on Casino Royale.  Then all 3 of us headed back up to the room for the night.

Tuesday, March 5

I rose early on Tuesday and did a little reconnaissance of the hotel while Mat and Dave slept until about 9am.

Today we were going for a hike.  So we got some breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s before getting some water at a convenience store to fill our camel packs.

Mat drove us out to Red Rock Canyon where we would be doing a loop through the La Madre mountains.  It was a perfect day for hiking as the temperature was moderate and the sky was slightly overcast.  We enjoyed quite a bit of God’s splendor as we gazed upon the mountains and found La Madre Falls and La Madre Spring.

We ended up hiking nearly 8.5 miles as Mat unintentionally led us on a more scenic route than intended.  But it was well worth it for a view of the falls and spring.  After our 3+ hours of hiking, we headed back to the Linq where we cleaned up and/or rested before heading to Hash House A Go Go for dinner.

For those of you not familiar with it, Hash House a Go Go is known for “Farm Food Done Freaky” and huge portions.  I was able to get a smaller meal of the HH Downsized Burger which was quite juicy and loaded with vegetables while Mat and Dave enjoyed wings and Mat indulged in a pork tenderloin sandwich and Dave supped on chicken and waffles.

We returned to our room where I caught a brief catnap while Mat and Dave watched some TV.  At 9:30pm, we headed across the street to Caesar’s Palace to watch Absinthe.

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Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace

Absinthe is one of the most original shows I have seen in Vegas.  The theme of the show is that it’s an illegal, underground circus financed and produced by a man known only as the Gazillionaire.  The show is actually held in a tent with a bunch of mismatched chairs to suggest they were salvaged or stolen.

The show has a collection of impressive circus acts which change from show to show.  Our show consisted of a variety of acrobatics and trapeze artists with an intentionally bad ballet act thrown in.  For my money, the two best acts of the show were a group of jugglers called Water on Mars which did some phenomenal team juggling, sometimes from across the room and Shawn and John, an impressive pair of tap dancers that had the crowd roaring.

Acts are introduced by the Gazillionaire, who is a foul mouthed comic, and his assistant, Wanda Widdles, a sex obsessed woman with enough energy to light the Strip.  Largely due to the blue language utilized by these two, one must be 18 years old to attend the show.

After the show, we returned to our room and collapsed into bed.

Wednesday, March 6

I slept quite late today, at least for me, not awakening until 8:30am.

Today would be kind of an alone day for us.  Dave hadn’t seen Mat in over 2 years, so I made an appointment at the spa so they could spend a little time together.

For my regular readers, you know that I normally attend Qua Baths over at Caesar’s Palace.  For a change of pace, I visited The Spa at the Linq as I wanted to try a unique treatment.

The Spa at the Linq is a good spa.  It doesn’t have a lot of amenities as it only boasts a gym, jacuzzi, and steam room, but that’s enough to relax for a few hours.  For booking a treatment at least $50, I was also allowed to book a session in the Himalayan Salt Cave room for free.

The Salt Cave treatment is simply sitting in a room for 45 minutes while finely ground salt is sprayed inside.  The salt helps improve breathing and clears congestion from colds, asthma, allergens, and other toxins like secondhand smoke.  The salt also helps to detoxify the skin.  It was an interesting experiment and I do think I was breathing a bit more fully after the session.

From there, I went straight to my massage appointment with Theresa who released knots in my neck and shoulders and pepped up my tired feet which were a little sore from yesterday’s walking.

With my treatments completed, I returned to the room where Dave was watching TV and told me Mat was downstairs playing blackjack.  Mat had enjoyed a great run for the past six hours and was essentially playing at the casino’s expense.  When a new dealer showed up, the table left the game and Mat and I returned to the hotel room where we collected Dave and headed over to Planet Hollywood so Mat could pick up a gift card he had earned.

We wandered around the Miracle Mile Shops where Mat spent his card on a Bruce Lee T-shirt.  Then we made our way to Bally’s where I got whipped in a round of mini golf at Twilight Zone mini golf.  For losing, I won a free round of golf which never expires.

After my helping of humble pie, we went to the Flavors Buffet at Harrah’s for dinner and enjoyed another good meal before heading back to the room for the night.

Tomorrow it’s back to Phoenix.

“Dracula” is Stalking the Circle Theatre

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Count Dracula (Justin Eller) recruits Renfield (David Sindelar) in his quest for victims

An ancient evil from Transylvania concocts a scheme to travel to London, England in search of victims to satisfy his endless hunger for blood.  His pursuit of a young woman leads to an unlikely banding together of five ordinary people led by a wise, if eccentric, professor.  Their goal?  To erase this evil nobleman from the face of the earth before he can claim further victims.

Bram Stoker’s classic gothic tale, Dracula, comes to vivid life at the Circle Theatre in an original adaptation written by Ryle Smith from Oct 19-Nov 3.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm with a special Halloween performance on Oct 31 at 9pm.  Tickets cost $20 ($15 for Seniors/College Students/Military/TAG Members & $12 for high school students).  Tickets can be purchased online at circleom.booktix.com or at the door on performance nights.  The Circle Theatre is located at 4444 Frances St in the Hanscom Park United Methodist Church.

Production:  Dracula

Written By:  Ryle Smith in an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel

Location:  The Circle Theatre (4444 Frances St in Hanscom Park United Methodist Church)

Ticket Prices:  $20 for adults ($15 for Seniors/College Students/Military/TAG Members & $12 for High School Students).  Purchases can be made at circleom.booktix.com or at the door on performance nights.

Directed by:  Angela Dashner

Cast

Isaac Reilly as Jonathan Harker

Stephanie Olson as Mina Murray/Harker

Chris Elston as Dr. Jack Seward

Nate Slater as Lord Godalming, Arthur Holmwood

Hunter Ponce as Quincy Morris

Ron Boschult as Professor Abraham Van Helsing

David Sindelar as R.M. Renfield

Kirsty Eden as Lucy Westenra

Kristine Dunbar as Mrs. Westenra

and

Justin Eller as Count Dracula

Also featuring:  Mylan Coffman, Corie Jacobsen, Emelia Rau, Mary Oliver, Stan Tracey, Patrick Brusnahan, and Brian Bencker

 

Circle Theatre Holding Auditions for ‘Dracula’

Auditions for Dracula will be June 11-12, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. The auditions will be held at Hanscom Park United Methodist Church, 4444 Frances Street, Omaha, NE. People who audition will be asked to read from the script. Rehearsals will start in August.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Oct 19- Nov 3, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and a special performance October 31 at 9:00 p.m.

We are excited to bring this classic novel to the stage. This adaptation, by local playwright Ryle Smith, includes all the principal characters from Stoker’s original story. This play tells the story of Dracula through the eyes of Jonathan Harker as in the novel. Much of our current mythology about vampires comes from this great classic novel.

For more information contact the Circle Theatre at 402-553-4715 or www.circletheatreomaha.org

Tepid, Tiresome Tale Dooms Dracula

When Dr. Seward’s daughter, Lucy, begins exhibiting the same symptoms that preceded the death of her friend, Mina, Dr. Seward calls in his old friend, Professor Van Helsing for help.  Van Helsing suspects the work of a vampire and it is up to the two doctors and Lucy’s fiancée, Jonathan Harker, to discover the vampire and save Lucy from certain doom.  This is the plot of Dracula by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker and currently playing at the Chanticleer Theater.

This is, quite possibly, the dullest script I have ever seen produced on a metro area stage.  Even by the standards of the year this play was written, 1924, it isn’t scary.  It’s a sitting room melodrama and that is not suited to a gothic tale like Dracula.  Aside from the lack of scares, Deane and Balderston have done the cast and audience no favors by leaping straight into the action with no sense of build and eliminating 3 crucial characters from the story though the presence of one, Mina Murray, is felt throughout the play.  The tension is nearly non-existent and the resolution is anti-climactic.

I tip my hat to Daena Schweiger and her group of actors for a valiant effort in trying to do something with this script, but it hates them with a passion and practically defies them to do anything with it.  It truly is a pity as Ms Schweiger’s direction is of very good quality.  The show is well staged, well paced, and Ms Schweiger has guided her actors to mostly very good to excellent performances.

Andy Niess shone in the role of Renfield, Dracula’s insane servant.  Arguably the most well developed character in the play, the script still tries to hamstring the actor by making Renfield the clichéd slavering lackey.  Niess turns the tables on the script with a deep, multilayered performance.  He demonstrates great understanding of Renfield’s nature by leaping from sane to insane and back again at a moment’s notice.  Sometimes even within the same sentence.  When he laughs it is with purpose and it is sinister and scary.  When he begs to be restrained and sent away to protect Lucy, he is strangely sympathetic.  The only flaw in Niess’ performance is that he needs to commit more fully when Renfield physically attacks  others.  He was obviously holding back during those moments of violence.

Amanda Vyhnalek does remarkable work with the relatively one note character of Lucy Seward.  Ostensibly, she is the stereotypical damsel in distress and Dracula has already begun attacking her as the play opens.  Ms Vyhnalek communicates Lucy’s fear and sickliness well with a weary, fearful delivery and stooped body posture.  She truly gets her moment to shine when her vampiric nature begins to dominate her.  She is sultry and coy as she tries to pry the group’s plans for Dracula out of Jonathan.  Ms Vyhnalek’s diction is some of the best I’ve heard out of a local performer and she is also capable of a bloodcurdling scream guaranteed to send chills down one’s spine.

Mark Reid is pretty effective in the role of Professor Van Helsing.   I thought his soft spoken approach to Van Helsing worked especially well as it made the character’s intelligence and strength of will more pronounced.  This Van Helsing is clearly a step ahead of everyone else intellectually and it is that crucial step that makes one believe that he will defeat the evil Count.  Reid does need to be careful with his accent as it seemed to come and go and sometimes sounded more British than Dutch.

Adam Haverman does good work with his interpretation of Jonathan Harker.  Haverman has a nice, natural delivery style well suited to the earnest Harker.  He is brave and he is determined.  Haverman also reacts well to others.  A sterling example of this talent is his determination not to reveal the heroes’ pursuit of Count Dracula to Lucy despite his body language clearly indicating he wants nothing more than to do just that.

Alfred Salanitro is fairly solid in the role of Dr. Seward.  I liked the clinical air he brought to the psychiatrist as it made it very believable that this man would be very logical and not open to the idea of a supernatural beast hunting his daughter.  However, I did think he overused it a bit as, even after he accepted the reality of a vampire, he still seemed very clinical towards Lucy’s plight and I did not sense a great deal of concern for his daughter’s well-being.  Salanitro also needs to step up his volume.

Matthew Kelehan seems a bit out of his element in the title role.  He lacked the regal presence needed for the Count and he had difficulty with Dracula’s Romanian accent.  Kelehan’s interpretation also needs to be nuanced as it came off a bit stiff and wooden.

The technical pieces of the show were some of its strongest assets.  Particularly impressive was Michael Taylor Stewart’s set, the imposing stone edifice of Purley Sanitorium and Dave Podendorf’s sound design with its intense bass beats, creepy music, and haunting cries being the perfect support for a gothic story.

I’ve long said that bad writing will sink good acting each and every time and this particular story seems to support that belief.  The cast deserves much better than what this play gives them, but they certainly do give their all to the tale.

Dracula plays at the Chanticleer Theater through November 1.  Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  An additional 10:30pm performance will be given on October 30.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students.  For reservations, contact the Chanticleer at 712-323-9955.  The Chanticleer is located at 830 Franklin Ave in Council Bluffs, IA.  Dracula is a horror show and parental discretion is advised.

Classic Horror Opens at Chanticleer Theater on Oct 23

Chanticleer is proud to present Dracula based on the novel by Bram Stoker with dramatization by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston This adaptation is of the classic thriller that marvelously balances the menace of the horror tale with sophisticated satire. Perfect for Chanticleer, given our predilection for housing bats. Performances on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. A special additional showing will be on Friday, October 30 at 10:30 PM

The production is directed by Daena Schweiger.

Dates:  Oct 23-Nov 1

Tickets:  $20 for adults, $16 for seniors, $10 for students

The cast features:  Matthew Kelehan in the title role, Andy Niess (Renfield), Adam Haverman (Jonathan Harker), Amanda K. Vyhnalek (Lucy Seward), Alfred Salanitro (Dr. Seward), Mark Reid (Van Helsing), Geana Schneider (Miss Wells), and Michael Taylor-Stewart (Mr. Butterworth).

Dracula is presented by special arrangements with Samuel French, Inc. 235 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 1003

For more information contact the box office at 712-323-9955 or email chanticleertheater@gmail.com

“Dracula” Lacks Bite

The evil vampire, Count Dracula, stalks the streets of London. He, himself, is hunted by a group of adventurers pledging to end his reign of terror. This is the story of Dracula written by Steven Dietz and based off of Bram Stoker’s classic novel and is currently playing at the UNO Theatre.

I have always considered this version of the legendary tale one of the better ones as it is based much more closely on the novel. Dietz manages to capture the most important elements of Stoker’s novel though he does eliminate two crucial characters and compresses events down to size for the sake of the play.

D. Scott Glasser’s direction is fairly solid. He makes good use of the cobblestoned three tiered stage (wonderfully designed by Robbie Jones) and had his actors well placed for the multiple simultaneous scenes that take place during the course of the show. But I did disagree with his staging. The actors presented the story in a very theatrical manner which seemed over the top at certain points which resulted in snickers and chuckles from the audience. A more realistic approach would assist in making this show a true spellbinding chiller.

Michael Judah does fine work in the title role. He has a nice intimidating physical presence and lent an air of mystery to the character as he quickly appeared and disappeared on stage. I was especially impressed with his rejuvenated Dracula as he was truly a beast. He took what he wanted, succumbed to his appetites without regret, and oozed danger. His weaker, aged version of Dracula (a stellar make-up job from Charleen Willoughby) was a bit too energetic and animated. I also thought Judah needed to be more authoritative as weaker Dracula as he is a nobleman and warrior with centuries of experience and cunning on his side.

Andrew Prescott is excellent as Professor Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula’s chief nemesis. Prescott’s marvelously powerful speaking voice was well suited to his bold, decisive characterization. He was truly a man of action and convinced me that this was somebody I would want leading me into a dangerous situation. Prescott does need to be careful not to upstage himself as he turned his back on all of the audience members in the round on a couple of occasions.

Enrique Madera made some odd choices in his interpretation of Renfield. When he opened the play, he spoke with a Received Pronunciation accent and had utterly flawless diction. When he transitioned into the Renfield of the story he fell into a Cockney accent and his diction vanished. At certain points he also seemed to imbue the character with some effeminate qualities which I didn’t think worked very well. Madera also didn’t seem to quite get Renfield’s true nature, though he was on the right track. Renfield is a man of massive extremes. When he is sane, he is completely calm and controlled. When he goes through a psychotic fit, it is savagely violent and he is capable of making those changes on the turn of a dime. Madera was making those changes but they need to be sharper and more pronounced. I also thought his choice to consistently giggle was a little too clichéd.

Garrett Garniss’ portrayal of Dr. Seward was a superior work of storytelling. His rich voice captured all of the subtle nuances needed for the character. I could feel his pain when he lost Lucy, his confusion and irritation with Van Helsing who would not reveal the whole truth of the situation, his anger and disgust at what needs to be done with Lucy, and his courage and determination when he decides to accept the burden placed upon him. It was truly fine workmanship.

The only flaw in Mike Burns’ Jonathan Harker was its theatricality. Toned down a few notches, it is a gripping performance. Burns did good work in portraying Harker as the hungry new solicitor determined to do good by Dracula as his leasing agent. Most impressive was his turn as a nearly catatonic patient after the horrors he experiences at Castle Dracula.

I thought Sarah Nickolaisen made for a very sweet Lucy Westenra. She could be playful as when she was teasing Mina, empathetic when she rejected Seward’s marriage proposal, and I was chilled when she transformed into the eerie and bestial Bloofer Lady. She does need to be certain to overenunciate when she has the fangs so she can be understood.

Likewise, I thought Jordyn Petersen was loyal and steadfast as Mina Murray, but she also needs to watch her diction as her dialogue was mushy at points during the play.

Charleen Willoughby’s costumes were perfect for the gothic tale. Aaron David Wrigley’s sound was an ideal match to the mood of the story. Adam VanOsdel’s special effects could not be improved upon. Audrey Wardian’s lighting was well suited, but was a bit too dim and shadowy. For a large portion of the play, I had difficulty seeing the actors and could not read their reactions and expressions.

The play did have some group issues as well. The theatre is a black box so the actors need to really belt out their lines to be heard. Accents were a mixed bag and sometimes were dropped and changed. The pace of the show also needed to be greatly picked up and scenes of violence need to be tighter and cleaner. Still, I see untapped potential in this show. As this was the first of two preview performances, there is still time for adjustments to be made to allow the show to reach the heights I believe it can reach.

Dracula plays at the UNO Theatre in the Weber Fine Arts Building through October 10. Performances are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm. Tickets cost $16, but UNO students get one free ticket. Reservations can be made at 402-554-PLAY or their website at www.unomaha.edu/unotheatre. Dracula is a horror story and is recommended for mature audiences.

Auditions for Dracula at Chanticleer Theater

Auditions for the second production of the Chanticleer Community Theater 2015 – 2016 season, Dracula, by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, will be held on Sunday, September 13 at 6:00 p.m. and Monday, September 14 at 6:00 p.m. at Chanticleer Theater (830 Franklin Ave, Council Bluffs, IA).

Those auditioning will be asked to read from the script.  Please bring a calendar and a list of ALL conflicts from September 16 – November 1, 2015.  Cast read-thru tentatively scheduled for audition week with rehearsals beginning week of September 21.

Dracula opens October 23 and runs through November 1, 2015.  Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons for two weekends. For this production we will be including an additional midnight performance on Halloween!

Show Summary
Lucy Seward, daughter of the physician in charge of a sanatorium near London, is mysteriously anemic. Doctor Van Helsing, a specialist in obscure diseases, suspects a vampire which, according to legend, is an ugly soul that, grave-bound by day, roams the earth at night, and sustains its earthly life by sucking the blood of approachable victims.

The Players
Dracula: A tall, mysterious man. Polished and distinguished. Continental in appearance and manner. Age 40 – 60.

Harker: A young man age 20 – 30; handsome in appearance; a typical Englishman of the Public School class, but in manner direct, explosive, incisive and excitable.

Dr. Seward: Age 50 – 65; intelligent, but a typical specialist who lives in a world of text books and patients; not a man of action or force of character.

Van Helsing: Age 50 – 65; Clearly a man of resourceful action; nervous, alert manner; an air of resolution; incisive speech, always to the point; raps his words out sharply and quickly.

Renfield: Repulsive young man age 20 – 30; repulsive; face distorted, shifty eyes, tousled hair.

Lucy Seward: Daughter of Dr. Seward; A beautiful young girl age 20 – 30; her face is unnaturally pale and she walks with difficulty; fiancée of Harker.

Maid: An attractive young girl age 20 – 30; possibly to double in non-speaking role of Mina.

Attendant: Young man of 20 – 30; Sanatorium worker for Dr. Seward.

Dracula will be directed by Daena Schweiger and is produced by special arrangement with Samuel French. For more information or to check out a script please contact the Chanticleer Community Theater at (712) 323-9955

The Fun and Flop of FMV Games

Back in the day, I was a pretty avid gamer. Nowadays I’m more of a dilettante. I break out my systems once in a while, though I have a particular passion for vintage systems.

Back when I was a teenager, I purchased a JVC X’Eye, essentially a combo Sega Genesis/Sega CD player. When the Sega CD came out, I was fascinated by the types of games that would be available, especially the full motion video games also known as interactive movies.

FMV games were a pretty polarizing lot. People either loved them or hated them. Most probably hated them, citing poor writing, acting, and low replay value among the many flaws. I don’t disagree with these criticisms, but I always found the genre to have a certain charm. If I could find a way to immerse myself in the story, I found that this style of game could have a very high replay value.

Today’s article is going to focus on the FMV games that I felt were the most enjoyable of the lot and why I liked them.

Dracula Unleashed

This game is one of my two favorites of the genre and it proved a bit of a challenge at first. The game takes place ten years after the events described in Bram Stoker’s novel and centers on Alexander Morris (the considerably younger brother of the novel’s Quincey Morris) as he tries to learn the circumstances behind his brother’s death. This search leads him into a desperate hunt for a revived Dracula before the vampire kills Morris and his friends.

In the game, you travel from location to location watching video clips that may or may not provide important clues and/or items. You have 4 days to unmask Dracula and you must complete a set of tasks each day in order to progress and it is much harder than it sounds. The key to progressing is bringing the right item to the right place at the right time. Failure to do this will result in the demise of Alexander at the end of each day.

It took me nearly a week to get off of the first day. One of the difficulties of the game is that there are no clues to tip you off as to what you need where. The only clues you’ll get are usually after the fact and are vague. For example, failure to bring an odd Romanian manuscript to a meeting where Van Helsing tells the others that Dracula has been returned to life will cause the group to split. Afterwards, Alexander laments in his diary that he wishes he could have convinced them of the danger.

Sometimes it isn’t obvious at all as to what item you need to proceed. I struggled for a long time on what was needed to convince Jonathan Harker to open up about Quincey’s death. My brother suggested, “Why don’t you try the knife?” I said, “Yeah, like he’s going to threaten Harker,” but I tried the knife. . .and it was correct.

The highs of this game are the atmosphere, costumes, high production values, sense of danger, and long gameplay (even if you know it perfectly, expect at least 90 minutes of play). The downs are the constant traveling around to find valid clues and clips, figuring out what item will move the story along, and the acting.

The acting is very shaky. The lead actor, Bill Williamson, is pretty stiff and wooden. Louis Markert, as Devlin Goldacre, is an overacting disgrace. Though strong performances are given by Jay Nickerson as Arthur Holmwood and John Arthur Olson as Professor Van Helsing.

The Beast Within

Had it not been for the lack of danger to the main character, this game would have easily been number one on my list.

This game is the second of a trilogy featuring the Schattenjager (supernatural detective), Gabriel Knight and the only one done in FMV format. In this case, Gabriel attempts his first case as Schattenjager as he investigates the murder of a young girl by a werewolf.

The story is very deep and involved and count on hours of gameplay to complete it. Some of the puzzles are a little unfair, but on the whole, it’s a very worthwhile effort. The production values are a little lacking since most of the backgrounds are green screens, but the writing and acting are very top quality. Undoubtedly the best acting I’ve ever seen in a FMV game.

Particular kudos need to go out to Peter Lucas for his extremely subtle portrayal of Baron Friedrich Von Glower. It is a powerful performance and worthy of film and stage.

The only gripe I have is that Gabriel Knight faces no true danger until the last couple of chapters. Prior to that point, you will get past each day if you solve the puzzles. If the level of danger in the last few chapters was present for the entirety of the game, it would be the absolute best FMV game of all time.

Double Switch

This game was a lot of fun and focuses on you shifting between cameras in an apartment building to trap intruders. The game is split into 3 parts. In the first part, you need to help Eddie, the main character, escape from the basement. In part 2 you need to protect the residents from a killer disguised as a mummy while searching for a hidden treasure. In part 3, you need to stop the unmasked killer and find the treasure.

The game is extremely fast paced which is one of its downfalls. You need to capture far more intruders than you can let escape (and I mean a LOT more). Failure to do so will result in having the plug pulled on you. Since you have to keep catching baddies, you will often miss out on quite a bit of story since everything happens simultaneously. It will take a few go rounds to figure out how to watch most of the story while keeping the villains out. The trap sequences are also repetitive, but quite amusing.

I felt very immersed in this game. From the beginning, you really feel like a part of it as the game is presented in such a way that it does seem like Eddie hacked into your computer system in order to get your aid.

Arguably, the game also has the most star power of any FMV game. Featured roles are played by Corey Haim, Deborah Harry (of Blondie fame), Oscar nominee, R Lee Ermey, and character actor, Irwin Keyes. This results in some pretty solid acting and a fun story.

Ground Zero: Texas

This was probably the most professionally produced of any FMV game. It was made by a real production company, had high production values, was directed by an experienced film director, and had competent actors. Regrettably, they could not afford good scriptwriters as the dialogue is utterly laughable in some spots and painful in others.

In the game, you’re brought to the little town of El Cadron, Texas as a tactical expert. Utilizing four cameras, you scout around the town shooting aliens disguised as humans and, later, robotic stormtroopers.

The game is split into 4 parts. In part 1, you stun the disguised aliens and protect your 4 partners as the aliens try to kidnap them . As you save a partner, you will receive part of a code. In part 2, you need to locate the alien stronghold, stun the undisguised aliens, and correctly enter the code that will let you into the aliens’ arsenal and prison. You will also rescue kidnapped partners if the aliens nabbed them. In part 3, the aliens send in their robotic stormtroopers to start wrecking the town and you get to blow them to smithereens. In the last part, take out the mother ship lest the military launch a tactical nuke that will stop the threat and wipe out the town.

I really enjoyed the gameplay and was intrigued by the fact that the aliens are aware you are watching them. They are trying to shoot out your cameras in order to stop you. Shields will briefly protect your cameras, but can be destroyed. As your camera breaks down, the picture quality goes down as well, fading to black and white and pixelating. You can get a couple of repairs, but lose too many and you’ll get fired most emphatically. This game had numerous endings which really made it a joy to play.

Prize Fighter

This is a boxing game and, while the game was fun, I felt there was a truly great game trying to break out hidden within it. The cinematography was absolutely gorgeous and the game had a Raging Bull feel as it is filmed entirely in black and white and has some beautiful, close-ups of your opponents being pummeled. The game was directed by Ron Stein, known as a fight coordinator, and I believe he also created the boxing sequences used in Raging Bull.

The game does have the feel of a real professional boxing match right down from the walk to the ring to the introductions by Michael Buffer. I think the game could have used more opponents as you only fight 4 people. The game is also diabolically hard. It is incredibly difficult to figure out what type of punch to thrown when and expect to take a beating for a while until you figure it out. I would advise to use Training Mode to start. In this mode, the first round will indicate where and what type of punch to utilize and it will help you get a field for the fighters’ styles.

The game does have a surprising amount of replay value as there are 3 ways to beat every fighter (KO, TKO, and decision). The fun is winning in every possible way to see all of the available movies. The game is also pretty well acted, again making use of talented character actors.

Supreme Warrior

This game is guilty pleasure fun. If you like cheesy kung-fu films then this is the game for you. It’s essentially Prize Fighter only in color and martial arts. In 16th century China, your character, often referred to as Silent One, comes upon a village being attacked by the evil Fang Tu and his warlords. Fang Tu wears half of a mystical mask that grants its wearer unimaginable power. “He who controls the full mask controls the world,” says Fang Tu and he wants the half his former sensei, Kai, holds (To be more specific, you’re holding it as you were carrying it to the village). Kai refuses to hand it over. Fang Tu gives Kai 24 hours to hand it over or else he’ll put every villager’s heart on a stake and feed Kai’s to his warlords. It then becomes up to you to defeat Fang Tu and his warlords and bodyguards to obtain his half of the mask.

The game actually does contain some well-known actors in the genre of kung-fu movies such as Roger Yuan, Vivian Wu, and Richard Norton. The fights aren’t as difficult as the ones in Prize Fighter though it is sometimes tricky to figure out when to strike your opponent. If your opponent is close you will punch or strike. If they’re farther away, you will need to kick.

The dialogue is ludicrously bad, but I think that is done on purpose as the actors clearly play it tongue in cheek. The locales are cool and the characters are entertaining. Playing it on easy mode will show you where and when to strike your foe. However, beating it on hard will show you the full, over the top ending.

Night Trap

The final game we’ll look at is Night Trap. This was the game that actually kicked off the FMV genre and generated quite a bit of controversy back in the day. This game was actually pulled from the shelves due to the brouhaha surrounding it and was responsible for the creation of the video games rating system.

Having played it myself, let me assure you there is nothing untoward about the game. It is a cheesy B horror comedy. Similar to Double Switch and Ground Zero: Texas, you play a tactical expert for S.C.A.T. (Sega Control Attack Team) investigating the disappearance of teenaged girls at the home of the Martins. Having hacked into their security system, you roam from camera to camera catching augers (half-vampires) and members of the Martin family.

A lot of the controversy stemmed from the incorrect beliefs that you were hunting the girls, the game was excessively violent, and the girls were running around in their undergarments. Well, you’re not, it’s not, and they’re not. What little violence occurs is bloodless and so over the top it’s funny.

The actors are pretty bad for the most part. The only decent actors are John R Kamel and Molly Starr as Victor and Sheila Martin, J Bill Jones as S.C.A.T. leader, Simms, and Dana Plato (best known as Kimberly Drummond from Diff’rent Strokes) as Kelly, the undercover agent investigating the Martin home from the inside.

A big downfall of the game is that you have to continually catch augers to keep from having the plug pulled on you a la Double Switch. It is very difficult to get the whole story so I would recommend going to YouTube as it has been spliced into a full movie if you want to see it in all of its hammy glory. It is possible to catch every threat in this game which leads you to a special perfect good and bad ending. The good ending has Kelly walking off into the sunset. The bad. . .well, you can see for yourself.

That wraps up my little retrospective. I sold my X’Eye about 12 years ago, but I admit that writing this article has given me the itch to play these games again. If the price is right, maybe. . .just maybe I could be convinced to own this underappreciated console and library once again.

What Do I See?

A short while ago, I wrote an article on the power of perception which discussed the idea that how actors are seen dictates if and how they are cast.  I’ve said that an actor exerts very little control over this aspect of the business and that is certainly true.  But how an actor perceives himself or herself certainly dictates the types of roles she or he pursues.
 
Some actors only see themselves as leading characters and will only accept a role of that type.  Others may prefer the sidekick/second banana role.  Still more may be willing to accept a role of any kind.
 
When it comes to me, I always seek out the most challenging role.  In my experience, that role is usually something other than the leading role.  So, in a sense, I am probably a character actor, though I think what I pursue is something more than that and somewhat defies a description.
 
If I were to put it into words, I would call myself a storyteller.  This is why I prefer John Merrick to Frederick Treves, Billy Bibbit to Randall McMurphy, and Renfield to Count Dracula.  I really don’t have a particular taste as I will always look for the role that intrigues me, though I do seem to have a predilection for characters that exhibit great strength of spirit.
 
Since I view myself as a storyteller, the size of my part does not matter.  I just want the challenge.  If I thought the leading role in a play was the most difficult one, then that is what I would pursue.  If I thought a character with no lines was the most challenging role, then that is the role that I would want.  With the pursuit of the challenge, a wide plethora of roles is available to me.
 
Not that I will do any role that comes my way.  I have refused roles in the past because I didn’t think they had the difficulty which I seek or just didn’t think myself well suited to the role.  As my abilities as an actor have grown and evolved, I have become a little choosier in what I will do.  For example, at this point in my avocation, the odds of me taking a supernumerary role aren’t particularly high.  Just like in climbing the corporate ladder where you have to work from the bottom up, I believe a role like that needs to go to an inexperienced, untested performer to give her or him a chance to show some grace and aplomb. 
 
As to my style. . .well, I’d like to consider myself a naturalistic actor.  I try to imagine what I would do if I were to find myself in the same situation that that character does and react accordingly.  Sometimes I think I’m too realistic as I need to work a little harder at being over the top when it comes to farce since my instinct is to play things as believably as I can even when my character may be in the midst of an unbelievable situation.
 
My perception of how I’m often cast is that directors tend to cast me in characters that seem to reflect my real personality.  Though, over the past few years, I’ve managed to start obtaining roles different to myself such as the loutish drunkard, Eric Birling, in An Inspector Calls and the adult version of Don Browning in Leaving Iowa.  Rest assured, child Don was very much me and probably the most fun I’ve had being me on stage.
 
And it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed playing the characters who reflect the real me.  I’ve loved them all.  But I’m me every day so I already know I can do that.  In order to continue my growth as an actor, I have to show the sides of me that aren’t seen very much.  This is why I’ll often try a different take on a “me” character to make it a little less “me” when I’m playing that type of role.
 
When I first got started in this business, I didn’t understand what acting was all about.  I felt I had to feel like I was doing something in order to be acting and this road, unquestionably, led to being perceived as a poor performer.
 
Along the road I met those who helped me understand that I didn’t have to feel like I was doing something, I just had to do it.  That is what helped me to become a stronger actor over the years.  Learning to trust my instinct and be in the moment also helped me to achieve that truly rare feat of altering perceptions of me as a bad actor.  Mind you, I didn’t consciously set out to do this.  I just did it because I kept trying, working, practicing, and learning.  My conscious goal was simply to get roles.
 
The theatre season is fully cast and, for the first time in years, I didn’t do a show.  It wasn’t that long ago that I would consider that a failure and the frustration would be weighing on my shoulders like a ton of bricks.  But my perception of me has changed and I now accept myself as a good, capable actor. 
 
There’ll always be another show.  And I’ll be offering directors all of me which is the only thing I can give.  My instinct.  My effort.  My imagination.  My interpretation.  When it comes to casting me, directors may not always agree with me, but they will know that they got the best me.