A “Choice” Selection Being Served at BlueBarn this Season

BLUEBARN Theatre is proud to announce our 34th Season: CHOICE!

Season 34 Mainstage

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Oct. 6 – Oct. 31, 2022

Washington Irving’s masterpiece comes to spooky life with a top-notch ensemble and sheer theatrical invention. Omaha’s own Ben Beck and Jill Anderson incorporate music, dance, and puppetry into a world premiere adaptation, with scenic design by Sarah Rowe and original music composed by Olga Smola. The Headless Horseman rides again!

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) by Michael Carleton, Jim Fitzgerald, and John K. Alvarez
Original Music by Will Knapp
November 25 – December 18, 2022

Instead of performing Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday classic for the umpteenth time, three actors decide to perform every Christmas story ever told – plus Christmas traditions from around the world, seasonal icons from ancient times to topical pop-culture, and every carol ever sung. A madcap romp through the holiday season, this laugh-out-loud comedy offers a hilarious alternative to anthropomorphic Nutcrackers and singing Victorian children.

What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck
Feb 2. – Feb. 26, 2023

Fifteen year old Heidi earned her college tuition by winning Constitutional debate competitions across the United States. In this hilarious, hopeful, and achingly human new play, she resurrects her teenage self in order to trace the profound relationship between four generations of women and the founding document that shaped their lives. Hailed as the best play of the year in 2019 by the New York Times and earning two Tony Award nominations, this boundary-breaking play breathes new life into our Constitution and imagines how it will shape the next generation of Americans.

The Chinese Lady by Lloyd Suh
Mar. 30 – Apr. 23, 2023

Brought from Guangzhou in 1834 as an “exotic oddity” The Chinese Lady follows the true story of the first woman from China to enter America. Afong Moy is paraded around for the American public to indulge their voyeuristic curiosities by delivering a performance of her “ethnicity”. Over the course of 55 years, Afong Moy begins to challenge her views of herself, her culture in the hands of others, and her disconnect from her homeland while grappling with her search for her own identity in America.
“By the end of Mr. Suh’s extraordinary play, we look at Afong and see whole centuries of American history. She’s no longer the Chinese lady. She is us.” The New York Times

Dance Nation by Clare Barron
May 25 – June 25, 2023

Somewhere in America, an army of pre-teen competitive dancers’ plots to take over the world. And if their new routine is good enough, they’ll claw their way to the top at the Boogie Crown Grand Prix Finals in Tampa Bay. A 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, Dance Nation is a stark, unrelenting exploration of female power featuring a multigenerational cast of women portraying our 13-year-old heroines.

Season 34 Happenings

The Big Damn Door Festival
August 25-28 & Sept 1-4, 2022

The BLUEBARN invites you to celebrate THREE ARTIST-DRIVEN approaches to innovation in the creation of new work for the stage. Our Big Damn Doors are not just a primary feature of the architecture of the BLUEBARN, but a metaphor for the festival itself: wide-open doors and unbounded possibilities. BLUEBARN is proud to support emerging artists from the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan area whose work has the power to drive change in our community, and who’ve been most impacted from systemic biases in opportunity. Artists that identify as Global Majority (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), LGBTQIA2s+, neurodiverse, and artists with disabilities have been prioritized.

Musing: A Storytelling Series
October 26, 2022 & April 19, 2023

Last season’s live storytelling sensation, Musing, returns to the BLUEBARN stage! Story curator Seth Fox will present Miscellanea Volumes One & Two: Storyteller’s Choice – two one-night-only events that feature compelling true stories exploring a variety of themes, all told by the people who lived them.
To have your story considered for a future Musing event, or for more detailed information about Musing, please contact story curator Seth Fox at musingomaha@gmail.com.

New TruBLU memberships go on sale Monday, 8/15! Renewing TruBLU members, check your email for your renewal link, or call our box office at (402) 345-1576. For more information on Season 34, visit http://bluebarn.org/plays-events!

Gaslit

A cruel sociopath slowly drives his wife insane and her only hope for escape lies in an eccentric detective obsessed with solving an open case from early in his career.  This is Angel Street and it is currently playing at Brownville Village Theatre.

I had heard of this story under its more famous name of Gaslight, but this was my first time seeing it in any medium and I had really been missing out on something special.  Patrick Hamilton wrote a tight, taut thriller that had me hooked from start to finish.  Hamilton has a grand gift for words and knows how to use them to build mood, tension, intrigue, and emotion.  This play is completely dialogue driven, but Hamilton’s skill in plotting had me feeling as if I had run a marathon by the time it was all said and done.

Now a play needs more than good words to sell it.  It also needs fantastic acting and direction to unlock the full potential of those words and this play has all of that and so much more.

Mitch Bean’s direction is spot on.  He understands the many twists and turns of the play’s mazelike plot and knows how to build and resolve the play’s many intense scenes.  Some of his finest moments were the final confrontations between Mr. Manningham and Detective Rough and Mr. and Mrs. Manningham.  The Manningham/Rough scene is particularly gripping and is the verbal equivalent of a savage fistfight with the way the two men continue circling each other and fling words at each other like knives.  Bean has also coached his entire cast to sterling performances with nary a weak link among them.

Bella Walker and Lucy Haarmann are very strong in the smaller roles of household servants.  As Elizabeth, Haarmann is very loyal to her mistress and is actually the character that first leads Mrs. Manningham to her first steps on her road to freedom.  Walker is very smug and saucy as Nancy, a servant who acts like and has ambitions to be the mistress of the house.

I have to admit that when I first saw Benjamin Salazar, I thought he was a little young for the role of Mr. Manningham, but, the second he opened his mouth, I completely bought into the illusion.  Salazar has a rich and powerful voice that belies his youth and is suited for the evil Manningham.  And, believe me, evil is defined by this man.  Though he has the manners of a gentleman, Manningham is a cruel, vicious monster.  Salazar knows how to use Manningham’s words like a weapon as he constantly pummels his wife emotionally and even teases her with occasional bursts of kindness.  Salazar plays Manningham with an uber controlled menace and his ramrod posture makes Manningham seem like a cocked gun threatening to go off at any moment.  And that control is crucial as it makes his explosive moments of anger and violence truly frightening as the play surges to its conclusion.

Trevor Comstock is a delight as Detective Rough.  Comstock’s take on Rough reminded me of Jim Hutton’s interpretation of the fictional detective, Ellery Queen, as he seemed to be a bit of an absent-minded genius.  He clearly listens to Mrs. Manningham as he questions her about her current situation and husband, but his eyes show that he’s thinking ten steps ahead which make his replies seem cryptic, yet they’re not.  Comstock brings an indefatigable energy to the character as he warps about the room and you can practically taste his excitement in finally closing the lone open case of his career.  Comstock also brings the commanding presence needed to both buoy Mrs. Manningham and cow the steely Mr. Manningham.

Rachel Curtiss brings her all to the role of Mrs. Manningham.  This is not an easy role to play due to the massive emotional shifts of the character, but Curtiss nails it to the floor.  Curtiss does a good job of vacillating between being nearly broken emotionally and mentally, to a brief burst of happiness, to the wonderment of Rough’s story, to a little gaslighting of her own when she confronts her brute of a husband.  Curtiss’ body language is phenomenal as she seems like a spring that has been wound too tight and seems apt to break at any moment.

Mitch Bean has designed a fine upper middle-class house with well to do furniture such as a desk and secretary with fine china.  Sara Scheidies’ costumes suit the period of the time especially with the Victorian dress of Mrs. Manningham and the elegant wear and ascots of Mr. Manningham.  Trevor Comstock’s usage of lights is one of the best I’ve seen in a show as he uses it to set mood, particularly with the gaslights as the room darkens and lights based on the flow of gas.  Benjamin Salazar’s sounds help to enhance the action with the sounds of footsteps being a favorite of mine.

This is a truly intense and gripping night of theatre and I highly recommend seeing it and bringing a friend or loved one to get you through the spooky moments.  While this may be my first visit to Brownville Village Theatre, I can guarantee it won’t be my last.

Angel Street plays at Brownville Village Theatre through August 12.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on July 16 and 24, and August 4 and 12 and 2pm on July 23 and 31 and August 7.  Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at the Box Office, visiting www.brownvillevillagetheatre.com, or calling 402-825-4121.  Due to intense scenes and subject matter, this show is not suitable for children.  Brownville Village Theatre is located at 222 Water Street in Brownville, NE.

An Accidental Friendship

A young businessman is forced to assist an elderly Jewish man once a week for six months after nearly hitting him with his car.  What begins as an unwelcome punishment soon evolves into a warm friendship as each helps the other to escape from a prison of his own making.  This is Visiting Mr. Green and it is currently playing at the Lofte Community Theatre.

Jeff Baron’s script is a feast for character actors.  There are a lot of rich, chewy scenes for actors to gnaw on as well as oodles of character development and all wrapped in a slice of life package.  The construction of the script is remarkable.  Initial scenes are short due to the two men wishing to spend as little time together as possible.  As their friendship develops and grows, the scenes lengthen.  When their relationship hits the skids, the scenes begin to shrink again.  It’s also a touching tale of two people trying to come to grips with a world in which they don’t seem to fit.

Kevin Colbert provides an effective piece of direction.  He gives the scenes plenty of time to breathe and utilizes the energies of his two thespians well.  The more keyed up Ross Gardiner constantly moves around and performs little actions to burn off his excess energy while the more laconic and elderly Mr. Green is a bit more economical with his movements.  This utilization of energy leads to some good staging as the two actors use the entire apartment which keeps this purely dialogue driven from drifting into static.  Colbert has also guided his actors to a pair of very stellar, human performances.

Ross Mumford is very charming and likable as Ross Gardiner.  That likability is key to his performance as Mumford wisely skips the obvious choice of being a jerk at the top of the show.  He’s basically a good guy, who is wound a little tight and unhappy about his community service.  This makes his opening up to Mr. Green believable when their relationship blossoms into a true friendship.  Gardiner hides a heavy secret and that secret might lead a lot of actors to the lazy choice of playing him angry, but Mumford constantly picks better alternatives.  He gets frustrated.  He gets indignant.  He gets sad.  When anger is used, it’s brief and appropriate.  Mumford does need to be aware of his body as he upstaged himself on a few occasions and needs to cheat out on some of his conversations with Mr. Green.

Bill Bossman gives an exceptional performance as Mr. Green.  I loved his use of body language.  At the start of the show, Mr. Green is sickly and malnourished and his movements reflect that as his steps are plodding and weak.  As he begins to eat more regularly, thanks to Ross, he gets some pep in his step and starts moving a bit more easily, but still in the style of an octogenarian.  Bossman puts some great crust on the grieving widower who simply wants to be left alone until he learns that Ross is Jewish and then you can see and hear his interest piquing which gets the ball rolling on their friendship.  Bossman well essays Green’s unyielding beliefs and attitudes and is very convincing when he starts to let those walls crumble as those beliefs and attitudes have caused the fractures in his life instead of healing them.

Kevin Colbert’s apartment is well suited to Mr. Green’s life.  It’s simple, but comfortable.  It’s even homey after Ross cleans it up and you can definitely see the touch of Green’s late wife after the place has been tidied.  The set is boosted by the properties of Melinda Mead and Sheila Hansen with books, dishes, knickknacks, and a very convincing mess with newspapers strewn about the place at the top of the show.  Nick Haussler further adds to the feeling of a low rent apartment with the squawking erupting from the kitchen faucet.  Janet Sorensen’s costumes suit the characters’ characters with the simple dress shirt, tan pants, and sweater of Mr. Green and Gardiner’s business attire.

It’s a sweet show with a lot of heart and Visiting Mr. Green has proved to be another feather in the cap of the Lofte.

Visiting Mr. Green plays at Lofte Community Theatre through May 16. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at www.lofte.org or by calling the box office at 402-234-2553. Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road in Manley, NE.

The Family Caste

The cast of “Stick Fly” Back L to R: Olivia Howard, Brandon Williams, Nina Washington, DJ Tyree Front L to R: D. Kevin Williams, Kara Davidson

The LeVay family takes a weekend getaway at their vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard.  While there, long buried animosities and secrets come to light.  This is Stick Fly and it is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I kept my opening paragraph intentionally brief as I want you to come watch this show and experience the dysfunction of the LeVay family.  Not only was this the best show I’ve seen all season, but it’s the best show I’ve seen in years and it easily marched its way into my personal top five.  Mark my words, this show is going to be showered with praise and accolades so let’s start it off with mine.

Lydia Diamond’s script is utterly flawless.  The story has a beautiful arc with sharp, incisive dialogue, gives each performer a moment in the spotlight, is tinged with a bit of mystery as the connections and relationships between the characters slowly take shape, and it unabashedly tackles some tough topics such as racial and class equity and the meaning of family.  It also has the greatest closing line I’ve ever heard in a play.

Words almost fail me in describing DeMone Seraphin’s direction.  It is incredible.  I was blown away by the staging which made excellent use of the LeVay home with the actors settling in and really giving it that homey, lived in quality.  His knowledge of the beats was intimate and he knew how to utilize a pregnant pause for all its worth, ratchet up tension, and perfectly paces the show.  Not only did he lead his troupe to prize-winning performances, but I was enthralled by how he used his actors when they weren’t the focus of a particular scene.  I often found myself watching them just to see how they would react and behave towards the main action or created their own stories if in a separate room away from the action.  This show has a lot of dialogue which runs the risk of being static, but Seraphin avoids that pitfall by keeping his actors moving and energized. My only minor quibble is a bit more projection is needed by some of the actors.

Kara Davidson has a stellar OCP debut as Kimber.  She’s a good person whose desire for social justice and to be in a mixed race relationship may have initially been motivated by her wish to stick it to her uptight, snooty family but has evolved into real compassion and love.  D. Kevin Williams is authoritative and flawed as Joseph LeVay, the family patriarch.  He can be gregarious and charming, but also seems to be trapped by and participates in a caste system that doesn’t fully recognize him despite his wealth and success and compels him to favor one son over another as well as being able to strike a vocal tone to remind the family housekeeper that she’s at the bottom of his little hierarchy.

Not only was it a treat to watch Olivia Howard’s performance as Taylor, but, for my money, it was the strongest performance I’ve seen from an actor this season.  She is so, so natural and believable and she adds tiny little details to her acting that give it that extra dash of pepper such as when she actually clicks her heels when she discovers an unusual breed of fly.  Her work is truly multilayered with the way she engages with the other characters.  She loves Kent.  Spars with Flip.  Argues and debates with Kimber about racial equality.  Tries to connect with Cheryl because she views the two of them as being on the same social level and tries to make Joseph into the father she never had.  Howard truly knows the ebbs and flows of Taylor’s arc and never misses a trick with her storytelling.

DJ Tyree is phenomenal as Kent (Spoon).  He is a genuinely good man who has clearly been searching for something for a while and finally seems to have found some peace and happiness with his relationship with Taylor and burgeoning success as a writer.  Tyree’s Kent is the only member of his family that treats the housekeeper, Cheryl, as a person instead of a servant.  He has a good relationship with his brother despite their disparate personalities and his father’s obvious favoring of Flip.  Tyree really shines in his dealings with his father, Joseph, as it’s clear he does love him, but hates the fact that he’s treated like a screw-up due to his choosing a life that made him happy instead of rich and powerful.

I was stunned by Nina Washington’s work as Cheryl.  She’s able to say an awful lot with simple body language and expressions.  It’s clear she’s not happy serving the LeVays as she was used to being treated like a member of the family by them growing up (her mother was the family maid), but does so out of a powerful sense of duty to her ailing mother.  She’s smart.  She’s sassy.  And she gets a shining moment with an emotional breakdown so tense and explosive that you’ll feel like you were punched in the gut with a gauntlet.

Brandon Williams is definitely his father’s son as Flip.  He bleeds the sense of entitlement and arrogance bestowed by his family’s wealth and his own personal success as a plastic surgeon.  Williams’ Flip is also fully aware of his standing in the social caste system as he easily treats Cheryl as merely a servant.  He is a truly selfish man who lives to satisfy his appetites as he has no desire to live a stable, normal married life with Kimber and spends money as fast as he earns it.

Jim Othuse’s set really evokes the wealth of the LeVays with its elegant woodwork, fine furniture, and sense of largesse.  Andrew Morgan’s properties help to add to that sense of money with a well-stocked mini-bar and a large bookcase filled with classics and best-sellers from top to bottom.  John Gibilisco’s sounds add a bit of oomph with ambient noises like the coffee maker brewing up some morning joe and Justin Payne provides some toe tapping music. Quinton Lovelace’s costumes really highlight the socioeconomic differences between the two castes with the name brand and designer clothes of the LeVays/Kimber and the more relaxed clothes of the working-class Cheryl and lower middle class Taylor.

“I just want to be seen!” shouts a character at one point and that sums up my feelings about this show.  It not only wants to be seen, but needs to be seen.  Masterpiece seems too small a word.  This is a truly epic piece of theatre and words cannot describe how badly you will cheat yourself if you don’t take an opportunity to watch it.

Stick Fly runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 5.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $36 and may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. Due to strong language and mature themes, this show is not suitable for children. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

‘Visiting Mr. Green’ Opening at Lofte Community Theatre

Manley, NEVisiting Mr. Green will run at Lofte Community Theatre from May 6, 2022 to May 15, 2022. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at www.lofte.org or by calling the box office at 402-234-2553. Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road in Manley, NE.

Synopsis

Mr. Green, an elderly, retired dry cleaner, wanders into New York traffic and is almost hit by a car driven by Ross Gardiner, a 29-year-old corporate executive. The young man is given a community service of helping the recent widower once a week for six months. This is a moving and often funny story about two men who do not want to be in the same room together. As they get to know each other and come to care about each other they open old wounds they’ve been hiding and nursing for years.

Cast

Bill Bossman as Mr. Green
Ross Mumford as Ross Gardiner

The Burden of Memory

Cork Ramer and Stella Clark-Kaczmarek star in “The Giver”

Jonas lives in a perfect world.  There’s no war.  No hunger.  No crime.  Also, no love.  No acknowledgement of the past.  No color.  It’s sterile.  At a ceremony celebrating his twelfth year of life, Jonas is selected to become the new Receiver of Memories and a whole new understanding of reality is opened up to him through the acts of The Giver which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This show is a pretty bold step by the Playhouse as The Giver is based off of a Newberry award winning children’s story.  As such, I wondered if this production was going to be able to capture the interests of adults.  Let me tell you, after viewing this play, I just may read the novel.

This has been the most thought-provoking work I’ve seen all season.  The source material, written by Lois Lowry, tackles a challenging theme of what it is that makes us human and the roles that free will, choice, memories, and individuality play in our humanity and uniqueness.  Eric Coble’s translation is tight with concise storytelling merged with crackling dialogue that had me hooked from the start.  The ending is a bit vague, but that vagueness actually makes perfect sense in this particular universe.

Lisa Kerekes’ direction is absolutely splendid.  The cast is made up mostly of children and Kerekes had them (and the adults) working like a well-oiled machine.  The kids really had their acting fundamentals down with projection, cheating out, and not upstaging themselves.  Her pacing was pitch perfect.  Cue pickups were tight as a vise.  Kerekes guided her actors to rock solid performances and managed to eliminate the static from the talky script with precisely plotted movement that beautifully animated the scenes.

Prepare to be amazed by some powerful performances from Giovanni Rivera and Katy Kepler as Father and Mother, friendly, but monotone caretakers of their family unit.  Ree Davis-Stone manages to imbue a subtle, mightier than thou attitude in her Chief Elder.  Liam Richardson provides a splash of humor as Asher, a boy fretting about his imminent career assignment and a constant mispronouncer of words.  Madeline Scarsi is charming as Lily, as close as one can get to being a rebel in this world.

As good as the supporting cast is, the night belongs to Stella Clark-Kaczmarek and Cork Ramer.

I searched for the right word to describe how Clark-Kaczmarek’s performance hit me and gobsmacked is definitely the word.  Clark-Kaczmarek is stunning as Jonas as she displays an acting confidence well beyond her years.  She gives Jonas that needed sense of curiosity and potent sense of justice to realize that there is something beyond the flat earth he knows and that he has the courage needed to forge a new path for this society.  She is so gentle and caring and the glee and agony she feels as Jonas experiences the memories of the past are infectious and believable.

Cork Ramer brings a phenomenal weariness to The Giver.  This is a man who is not broken, but is definitely bowed under the awesome weight of having the memories of the past as well as coping with the regret of his personal failure in attempting to train a successor to his role ten years prior.  Ramer’s Giver is almost Christlike as he bears humanity’s essence on his shoulders and he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to help humanity regain itself.

Matt Hamel has designed a simple set suited to the sterility of this world with a stone pillar, dining room table and chairs, podium, and a cell phone like monitor in the family living room that suggests this world’s equivalent of Big Brother is watching its citizenry.  Jim Othuse’s use of light is very effective, especially the sporadic use of color in this staid world.  I loved Andrew Morgan’s properties with his bright red apple at the top of that list.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes fit the sameness of the world with the virtually identical gray tunics worn by everyone.  John Gibilisco provides a cornucopia of sounds to help move the story along from the roar of an airplane to the crying of a baby to the sound of memories being transmitted.  Timothy Vallier has composed a moving score and I tip my hat to Darrin Golden for the effect of snowfall and Amelie Raoul’s use of projected scenes to represent memories of the past.

As I said earlier, this is one thought-provoking story.  Yet in a dystopia that has stripped humanity from the people, its greatest gift is still present:  hope.  Bring the family and enjoy a tale suited for one and all.

The Giver runs at the Omaha Playhouse through May 8. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased by calling 402-553-0800, visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com, or at the box office.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

‘The Giver’ Opens at OCP on April 15

Cork Ramer and Stella Clark-Kaczmarek star in ‘The Giver’

Omaha, NE– The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) production of The Giver will open Friday, April 15, 2022. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre through May 8 with performances Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets are on sale now starting at $25 with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

Synopsis

Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a utopian society with no war, no pain and no memories. All of life’s choices, from your occupation to your family members, are conveniently dictated by the government to keep things perfectly equal and functional. But when Jonas is chosen by The Giver to bear the memories of his society, past and present, he learns the truth behind his perfect world. Will Jonas fall in line or risk everything to forge a new path?

Directed by: Lisa Kerekes

Cast

Stella Clark-Kaczmarek as Jonas
Cork Ramer as The Giver
Giovanni Rivera as Father
Katy Kepler as Mother
Madeline Scarsi as Lily
Liam Richardson as Asher
Jane Rohling as Fiona
Presley Vogt as Rosemary
Sue Mouttet as Larissa
Ree Davis-Stone as Chief Elder
Tyson Bentley, Callahan Hernandez, Alexander Mezger, Benjamin Rohling, Joshua Shapiro, & Rowan Snyder as Everworld Crew

Photo by Colin Conces Photography

J’accuse la Divinite

A group of Auschwitz prisoners, waiting for their potential call to death, decide to put God on Trial to determine if He is guilty of breaking His covenant with His chosen people.  The show is playing at First Central Congregational Church under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s script doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings.  It drives a knife into your chest and gouges a hole in your heart.  It paints a brutally realistic picture of life in a death camp as the prisoners look starved and beaten and you can feel them desperately clinging to their last thread of self-control as they constantly dread the summons to the gas chamber that hangs over their heads like the Sword of Damocles.  Cottrell-Boyce’s taut and crisp dialogue really sells the trial as the prisoners argue over all facets of God.  Does He exist?  Is He just and loving?  Is He not all powerful?  Why would He allow His chosen people to suffer such an abomination?  Is He no longer on their side?  This show is really going to make you think and the utter silence I heard at the play’s end is the best tribute to its power which I can conceive.

Murphy Scott Wulfgar provides an immersive piece of direction.  The staging will make you feel like a fellow prisoner as the actors weave between audience members and perform inches from your face.  The coaching is sterling.  His performers shine in a series of monologues that will leave you feeling raw and wrung out.  The reactions of the prisoners are precise and exact.  In fact, one of the play’s strongest scenes is a moment of about two minutes of silence except for the sounds of a new group of prisoners being indoctrinated into Auschwitz (courtesy of Eric Griffith’s soundscape work).  The far-off sounds of heads being sheared combined with the fearful and haunted looks of the prisoners make it one of the best ensemble scenes of the season.

This play totally eschews the typical form for a show as there is no leading character.  Nearly everyone gets a moment to shine and provide a vital piece of the puzzle.  Some of the sensational performances you see come from Jack Zerbe who sizzles as Kuhn, a man who retains his childlike faith even in these dire circumstances and understands the true meaning of sacrifice.  Jeremy Earl gives the most honest and gut-wrenching performance of his career as Jacques, a French Jew whose use of logic leads him to a dark and hopeless place.  Michael Lyon stirs as the judge for the trial who hides a secret of his own.  Thomas Lowe pulverizes your soul as a father who watched his children taken away from him by the Nazis.

Scott Working is thoroughly believable as Schmidt, a rabbi who assumes the role of God’s defense counselor.  Always maintaining his calm, Working’s Schmidt elucidates the history of God with His chosen people and points out how serious blows to the Jewish people led to greater good for them and this period could simply be a test for them or even a purification ushering in the arrival of the longed for Messiah.  His defense of God centers around His mysterious nature and how His ways are not our ways and man’s misuse of free will.

On the other side of the table is the prosecutor, Mordechai, as essayed by Murphy Scott Wulfgar.  What I liked best about Wulfgar’s portrayal was that he ignored the obvious choice of anger.  Instead, he infuses Mordechai with an interesting blend of frustration, weariness, and logical induction.  Unlike Schmidt, Mordechai doesn’t use scripture to back his arguments.  Rather he uses the defense’s own words and examples and inverts them to prove that God is callous and doesn’t care for His special people.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek is spellbinding as Akiba.  Silent for most of the show, his one extended monologue manages to fuse the arguments of Mordechai and Schmidt into one combined entity.  A rabbi himself, Akiba is able to use scripture just as easily as Schmidt, but his arguments based off those scriptures support Mordechai as he argues God was never good, just merely on the side of the Jewish people.  Now, he argues, God is merely with someone else and they are suffering the fates of the Egyptians, the Amalekites, the Kenites, and others decimated by God.

Courtney Sidzyik’s simple set of wooden bunks and benches combined with a low, almost moonish, light bring a depressing reality to Auschwitz.  Charleen Willoughby’s costumes excel with the ill-fitting prison uniforms and cheaply made Star of Davids identifying the Jews and the green triangles signifying the criminals.

The church is not sound acoustically.  As such it was difficult to make out dialogue at certain points as the walls just sucked up the sound so the actors are really going to need to belt it in order to be understood, even with the audience so close.

This show is going to smack you across the face with its level of complexity.  It asks very difficult questions whose answers may be easy or hard depending on where you are on the spectrum of faith as well as shining a light on man’s hideous cruelty to his fellow man.  Yet even in all the evil and hardship, there is still the kernel of hope.  אנחנו עדיין כאן (We are still here).

God on Trial plays at First Central Congregational Church through April 17.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $35 and can be obtained by visiting www.bsbtheatre.com or calling 402-502-4910.  First Central Congregational Church is located at 421 S 36th St in Omaha, NE.

OCP Reveals 98th Season

The Legend of Georgia McBride
Aug. 19–Sept. 18, 2022
Howard Drew Theatre
By Matthew López

You’ve never seen Elvis like this.

A Southern straight boy and out-of-work Elvis impersonator discovers a hidden talent—and a way to pay his mounting bills—after a drag queen convinces him to fill in on stage for one of her shows. Now if he could only find a way to tell his pregnant wife about his new hobby. A laugh-out-loud comedy filled with music, heart and plenty of sass.

Disclaimer: Contains adult language.

School of Rock
Sept. 16–Oct. 16, 2022
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Based on the Paramount movie by Mike White | Book by Julian Fellowes | Lyrics by Glenn Slater | New Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll rock.

A middle-aged wannabe rock star lands a new gig as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school, where he transforms a group of straight-A students into a face-melting rock band. Based on the hit movie starring Jack Black, School of Rock features a cast of young rock stars who act, sing and perform all of the show’s rock instrumentals live on stage.

The Cake
Oct. 7–Nov. 6, 2022
Howard Drew Theatre
By Bekah Brunstetter

A new comedy from the writer of hit TV show ‘This Is Us.’

A celebrated North Carolina baker is thrilled to finally design a wedding cake for her goddaughter. But when she learns the marriage is between two women, she begins to feel conflicted. A surprising and sweet take on a modern-day controversy, seeped in humor and warmth.

Disclaimer: Contains adult language and brief nudity.

A Christmas Carol
Nov. 18–Dec. 23, 2022
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Written by Charles Dickens | Adapted by Charles Jones | Musical Orchestration by John J. Bennett

It just isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Carol!

Experience Omaha’s favorite holiday tradition as Ebenezer Scrooge takes us on a life-changing journey to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Filled with stunning Victorian costumes, festive music and crisp, wintry sets, A Christmas Carol is a beautiful reminder that love and generosity are the heart of the Christmas holiday.

Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold
Nov. 25–Dec. 23, 2022
Howard Drew Theatre

From the creator of Late Nite Catechism.

It’s “CSI: Bethlehem” in this holiday mystery extravaganza, from the author of Late Nite Catechism, as Sister takes on the mystery that has intrigued historians throughout the ages—whatever happened to the Magi’s gold? (“We know that Mary used the frankincense and myrrh as a sort of potpourri—they were in a barn after all.”) Retelling the story of the nativity, as only Sister can, this hilarious holiday production is bound to become a yearly classic. Employing her own scientific tools, assisted by a local choir as well as a gaggle of audience members, Sister creates a living nativity unlike any you’ve ever seen. With gifts galore and bundles of laughs, Sister’s Christmas Catechism is sure to become the newest addition to your holiday traditions.

August Wilson’s Fences
Jan. 20–Feb. 12, 2023
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
By August Wilson

The Pulitzer Prize-winning American classic.

A former Negro League baseball player struggles to co-exist with the racial trauma he still carries from his time in the league. When his frustrations lead to a series of tragic choices, his relationships with his wife and son suffer the consequences. Set in the 1950s, Fences is the sixth installment in The American Century Cycle, a series of ten plays by August Wilson that trace the Black experience through 20th century America.

RENT
Feb. 10–March 19, 2023
Howard Drew Theatre
Book, Music and Lyrics by Johnathan Larson

The cultural phenomenon that has inspired audiences for a quarter century.

A raw and emotional year in the life of a diverse group of friends and struggling artists, chasing their dreams under the shadow of drug addictions and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize, this iconic rock musical has become a cultural touchstone, rite of passage and source of joy and strength for millions.

Disclaimer: Contains adult content and language.

Dreamgirls
March 3–26, 2023
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen | Music by Henry Krieger

Stars rise and fall, but dreams live forever.

A trio of women soul singers catch their big break during an amateur competition. But will their friendship—and their music—survive the rapid rise from obscurity to pop super stardom? with dazzling costumes and powerhouse vocal performances, this Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical is inspired by some of the biggest musical acts of the 1960s—The Supremes, The Shirelles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson and more.

Little Shop of Horrors
April 14–May 7, 2024
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman | Music by Alan Menken

The gleefully gruesome cult comedy with an infectious 60s-style score.
Seymour, a nerdy store clerk at Mushnik’s flower shop, is thrust into the spotlight when he happens upon a new breed of carnivorous plant. But his newfound fame comes at a cost when Seymour discovers the sassy seedling has an unquenchable thirst for human blood. Ravenously fun, dripping with camp and nostalgia.

Pretty Fire
April 28–May 21, 2023
Howard Drew Theatre
By Charlayne Woodard

A profound celebration of life and the Black experience.

Charlayne Woodard takes us on an intimate and powerful journey through five autobiographical vignettes, each capturing different moments of her life growing up as a rambunctious, imaginative child in the 50s and 60s. From her loving family home in upstate New York, to her first experience with racism at her grandmother’s house in Georgia, Pretty Fire is a beautiful one-woman celebration of life, love and family, even in the face of adversity.

Disclaimer: Contains adult content and language

In The Heights
June 2–25, 2023
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda | Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Before there was Hamilton, there was In the Heights.

From the revolutionary mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, this Tony Award®-winning musical recounts three days in the vibrant neighborhood of Washington Heights, NYC, where the Latino residents chase American dreams. This bubbly fusion of rap, salsa, Latin pop and soul music boasts an infectious enthusiasm from beginning to end.

Strength of Soul

Celie lives a tragic life.  She was forced to give up her children.  She was basically sold to a tyrant as a wife.  She believes her sister to be dead and her faith lies in tatters.  But with a new friendship, she slowly begins to regain herself and to live life to the fullest.  Watch her remarkable story in The Color Purple which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This is unquestionably one of the most challenging shows I’ve ever seen.  Marsha Norman deals with some dark and ugly themes in this script.  Racism, physical and mental abuse, lust, abandonment, and loss of faith are just some of the themes explored and that’s just in the first act.  But themes of love, family, hope, perseverance, and redemption are also visited in the show’s second act.  This gives the show an incredible multifaceted nature.  Throw in a score that spans genres from Gospel to blues to jazz to swing to African along with a cast that was more than up to the challenge and you have one awe inspiring night of theatre.

Kathy Tyree’s direction is truly to be lauded.  Guiding a performer through an emotionally charged scene is always a difficult and nuanced task.  But to guide multiple performers through numerous emotionally charged scenes requires the hand of a master and Tyree has such a hand.  Not only does she lead her performers through the almost uncountable nuances and beat changes of this tale, but she also stages it immaculately using a surprisingly simple Jim Othuse set of steps, slatted beams which depict African tribal masks on the reverse, and a large screen of scribbles that flash colors to suit the emotions of the scenes.

The ensemble does a masterful job of always being in the moment to add the spark of life to group scenes, but you’ll also be treated to some stellar performances from Doriette Jordan who is full of sass and fire as one of the Church Ladies.  Anthony Holmes provides some levity as the sweet, but hapless Harpo.  Brandi Mercedes Smith is awesome as the tough as nails and brutally honest Sofia who gets one of the show’s most tragic scenes due to her refusal to take garbage from anyone.  Brittany Thompson provides some real sweetness and loving support as Celie’s younger sister, Nettie.

TammyRa’s performance as Celie is so heartfelt and moving that it stirs the dead.  I admit I was blown away by the power and nuance of her interpretation and TammyRa’ is going to be swarmed in award nominations and you can take that to the bank. 

TammyRa’ is so meek and pitiable at the show’s start and she makes you feel Celie’s pain and brokenness with each haunted look and reaction.  But her growing happiness when she begins to claim her life makes your heart soar.  And what an angelic alto!  TammyRa’ belts out a tune like few others can and it communicates the subtlest of emotions.  Some of my favorite numbers were her tortured “Dear God”, her magnificent “What About Love?”, and her confident “I’m Here”.

Jus. B is an utterly worthless piece of humanity as Mister.  This is a cruel, cruel man who does not have one redemptive value in him.  He practically salivates over Nettie, but takes Celie as a “wife” just for a free cow and treats her like a virtual slave as he demands she cook, clean, and satisfy his urges.  Jus. B has an incredible gift of acting with his eyes and you can feel the heat of his anger radiating from them while he smokes a pipe with such intensity that I feared he would snap its stem in two.  He is just as potent on the singing side when that powerful baritone hits you with “Mister Song”.

Dara Hogan has the energy of a dozen people and a magnetic presence as Shug Avery.  She’s the bad girl with a heart of gold and has loyalty to spare with her dedication to her friendship with Celie.  Hogan is truly a triple threat who can sing, dance, and act with numbers such as the heavenly “The Color Purple”, the humorous “In Miss Celie’s Pants”, and especially the showstopping “Push Da Button”.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra are superlative as they play the multiple genres of the score.  Jim Othuse’s lights really add to the production with the depressing darks of Act I and the hopeful colors and brightness of Act II.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco’s sounds seamlessly blend in and enhance the production with my favorite being the singing birds at a picnic.  LaTryce Anderson and DJ Tyree provide some smooth choreography with my favorite dancing sequences being “Big Dog” and “Push Da Button”.  Lindsey Pape’s costumes show the passage of time from 1910-1940 with the gingham dress of Celie giving way to the flapper dress of Shug Avery to the bright and colorful pants that Celie creates.  I was also highly impressed with the tribal masks painted by Janet Morr.

This is a show that is going to grip you by the throat in ways you never thought possible as indicated by the running commentary I heard from various audience members in Act II.  Due to its heavy themes and mild language, I’d suggest some parental discretion, but this is an artistic triumph for Kathy Tyree, her cast, and the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Buy a ticket and learn why The Color Purple is the color of passion.

The Color Purple runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through March 27. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased by calling 402-553-0800, visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com, or at the box office.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Robertson Photography