It Slays

When she discovers a Dungeons & Dragons module written by her late sister, Tilly, Agnes Smith decides to play through the game in the hopes that it will help her understand the little sister that she never really knew.  This is She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Nguyen’s script is a refreshing new take on the old idea of a character seeking to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.  The use of a game like D&D is quite inspired as it is a game where a person could easily infuse her or his essence into it and be his or her true self.  Most of the game moments are played up, quite well, for comedy, but a few dramatic revelations are made which then skillfully and smoothly connect with the real world and make Agnes’ growing understanding of her sister quite believable.

Beth Thompson provides a pretty effective piece of direction to this production. Her staging is quite nice making use of the entire stage as well as the aisles of the Howard Drew Theatre.  She demonstrates a thorough understanding of the script by playing up the comedic moments for all they are worth, but knows when to get serious with the more dramatic moments of the story.  The acting of her performers is quite capable with a pair of stirring performances in the form of her two leading characters.

I think this play is one of the friendliest to character actors I’ve ever seen as it provides a lot of fun characters for a performer to sink his or her teeth into.  Some of the night’s most rib-tickling performances come from Kevin Gosford who had the crowd guffawing with his take on Orcus, a lazy and retired overlord of the underworld who’d rather watch TV than take souls and fight heroes; Carrie Beth Stickrod who provides laugh out loud moments as a foul mouthed, ineffective guidance counselor and a malevolent fairy guarding the five headed dragon, Tiamatt; and Will Rodgers as the hapless Steve who routinely gets brutalized in the world of D&D and pushed around by Ms Stickrod’s guidance counselor in the real world.

But this play does rest on the shoulders of the two actors playing Tilly and Agnes and Chloe Irwin and Catie Zaleski are more than up to the task of carrying that burden.  The two performers have a symbiotic chemistry with each other and truly feel like real sisters.

Ms Irwin dominates the show with a compelling performance as Tilly.  Indeed, she has a poise, presence, and naturalness to her acting that many experienced veterans would envy.  She definitely nails the essence of the little sister by being a constant pain to Agnes and even peppering her with the insults one would expect from a younger sibling.  It is clear that D&D is the only place where she ever felt free as her alter-ego of Tillious is brave and confident and is able to indulge in real life fantasies or deal with the difficulties of growing up.  Some of her best moments come when Tilly drops the façade of Tillious to be completely open and honest with Agnes about herself and their relationship.

Catie Zaleski is rock solid as Agnes.  She expertly presents an ordinary person who discovers life as she really learns about her sister through the playing of her module.  Her transformation from a disinterested player to a full blown participant is played out well as she slowly peels off the layers of her resistance to the game and, symbolically, her sister.  It’s also quite humorous how heavily she gets into the game as it is implied she is playing out both sides of the conversation with her sister which makes some of the insults she receives such as having her avatar be called Agnes the Asshatted even funnier.

Ms Zaleski handles the comedy of the piece quite well, especially as she gets raked over the coals in the early playing of the game.  But she also handles the drama equally well as she discovers some of her sister’s secrets and how that begins to affect her real life.

Shannon Smay has composed an awesome score for this show with ominous music well suited for a playing of D&D.  Christopher Dills’ set brilliantly merges the messy bedroom of Tilly (further enhanced by the props of Darin Kuehler and Carrie Velez) with the guidance counselor’s office and a spiral staircase at center stage is a nice touch for introducing characters.  Darren Golden’s lights enhance the piece with atmospheric lighting for bright forests and deep, dank caves and other locales in New Landia.  John Giblilsco provides some A level sounds and Amy Elizabeth Schweid provides some amusing fight choreography for the big battle sequences.  But she also provides some truly realistic blows in quick skirmishes, such as a backhand delivered to Agnes with such ferocity it drew an audible gasp from me.

Extreme praise is due to Amanda Fehlner for an extraordinary piece of costume design for this production.  Her costuming is pitch perfect for the piece including the Xenaesque outfit worn by Tillious, the red, furry, demonic bodysuit for Orcus, and the bugbear outfits, just to name a few.

There were a few minor blips in the show.  Energy seemed a bit low, volume needed stepping up from some actors, and the pace could be quickened, but these did little to dampen an original night of theatre.

It may be a tried and true formula, but this is the most original take on a journey of discovery that you’re ever likely to see.

She Kills Monsters plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Nov 4.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets begin at $30 for adults and $18 for students.  For tickets visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or call the box office at 402-553-0800.  Due to some strong language and sensitive themes, this play is not recommended for young children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

“She Kills Monsters” Opening at OCP

Omaha, Neb.–She Kills Monsters is opening this week at the Omaha Community Playhouse. The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre from Friday, October 12 through Sunday, November 4, 2018.

Thrilling audiences with equal parts costume and combat, She Kills Monsters is a coming-of-age dramatic comedy play riddled with 90s pop culture and all things Dungeons & Dragons. Agnes Evans finds a notebook left behind by her deceased younger
sister containing a game scenario for the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons. As Agnes delves into the world of D&D, she comes to discover more about the sister she often misunderstood.
Tickets for She Kills Monsters are available at OmahaPlayhouse.com or through the Omaha Community Playhouse box office by calling (402) 553-0800 or visiting 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132. For more information, please visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

SPECIAL EVENTS
Women’s Stage Combat Workshop
The Omaha Community Playhouse will hold a special Women’s Stage Combat Workshop to celebrate the opening of She Kills Monsters. This women-only workshop will be held on Sunday, October 14 at 12:30 p.m. at the Omaha Community Playhouse and will be taught by Amy Elizabeth Schweid—fight choreographer for She Kills Monsters.

Participants are encouraged to stick around after the workshop for the 2 p.m. matinee performance of She Kills Monsters. Cost for the workshop is $15 and includes a drink ticket. Costumes are encouraged, but not required, for this female empowerment
workshop. Register at https://tinyurl.com/ocpworkshop.

Production: She Kills Monsters
Production Dates: October 12 through November 4 in the Howard Drew Theatre
Show Times: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: Tickets starting at $30 for adults and $18 for students; Prices may vary by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office at 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.
Written By: Qui Nguyen
Director: Beth Thompson

Cast

Catie Zaleski – Agnes
Chloe Irwin – Tilly
Kaitlin Maher – Narrator
Thomas Gjere – Miles
Riley Perez – Lilly
Jaiden Lindsey – Kaliope
Brendan Brown – Chuck
Kevin Goshorn – Ocrus
Carrie Beth Stickrod – Vera/Farrah
Ava Burk – Evil Tina
Amanda Overfield – Evil Gabbi
Will Rodgers – Steve
Jake Parker – Monster Ensemble
Ben Battafarano – Monster Ensemble

 

‘Superior Donuts’ Has No Holes

Arthur Przybyszewski has given up on life.  The aging hippie works his family’s 60+ year old donut shop whenever he feels like opening it, mourns the recent death of his ex-wife, and is estranged from his daughter.  Then Franco Wicks enters the picture.  This ebullient, confident young man takes a job as Arthur’s assistant and slowly helps him rediscover the joy of living.  When demons from Franco’s past return to stalk him, will Arthur help his new friend or run away again?  Find out by watching Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Prior to tonight’s production, I had never seen a Tracy Letts play.  Now I’d like to see more of them.  Letts has a genuine gift for dialogue, skillfully blending comedy and drama, and a real knack for character development as every role from supernumerary to lead has a story arc that gives each a chance to shine.  It also didn’t hurt that he also happens to tell a great story with Superior Donuts.

Susie Baer-Collins returns to the Omaha Playhouse to direct this production and brought her A game to the table.  She nimbly fleshed out all of the individual story arcs and led her actors to strong performances, deftly guiding them from comedy to drama and back again.

As stated earlier, Letts has created a nice little microcosm which is a dream for character actors as each role has its wonderful little quirks.  Some sterling performances include Mary Kelly as an alcoholic street lady with a major sugar addiction and wisdom that either defies or results from the fact that she doesn’t live in the greater construct called reality; Devel Crisp as a dedicated and Trekkie police officer; Mark Thornburg as a gregarious Russian businessman hoping to buy Arthur’s donut shop; and Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as the cop with a crush on Arthur.

My socks were knocked off by the performance of Jeremy Estill as Luther Flynn.  Making his Playhouse debut, Estill brought an incredible sincerity and a palpable sense of danger to the neighborhood loan shark.  You really believe him when he says he doesn’t want to rough up Franco who is having difficulty repaying his sizable debt, but you also don’t doubt him when he promises harm to Franco if he can’t come up with the cash.  Estill’s well chosen gestures wonderfully animate Flynn and made him one of the night’s treats.

Aaron Winston has a stellar Playhouse debut as Franco Wicks.  Winston brings a real joie de vivre to Franco who has a lot of wild ideas for updating and upgrading the hole in a wall donut shop such as adding music, holding literary events, and upselling pastries.  Winston’s Franco eats life with shining teeth and is such a dreamer that Arthur (and the audience) can’t help but be buoyed by his enthusiasm and energy.  That infectious energy works just as well in Wicks’ more dramatic scenes as you’ll crash with Franco as he pays an awful price for his failure to repay Luther Flynn.

It is an excellent performance, but I would recommend that Winston pick up the pace a bit as it will add some more zing to his fine work.

Kevin Barratt’s work as Arthur Przybyszewski is a tour de force.  He begins the play as an utterly defeated man going through the motions of life.  He barely talks, shows little emotion, and seems resigned to the fact that his life has derailed.  When Franco’s zest begins to rub off on him, you see Arthur begin to lighten up and start rediscovering the joys of life.  He becomes more animated, has fun, and dances badly.  But Barratt’s best moments occur during his numerous monologues as he recounts his life up to the present moment and you really feel the joy of his childhood, the regret of his teens when he makes a cowardly choice, and the pain of watching his family disintegrate.  And it is through those stories that you’ll understand why he takes the steps he does to help Franco at the show’s climax.

I was rather impressed with Matthew D. Hamel’s set.  It has the perfect look of a hole in the wall donut shop from its aged racks, to its ancient cash register, to the old, but functioning Superior Donuts sign.  John Gibilisco’s sound strongly supported the story and Lindsey Pape’s costumes were an excellent fit (no pun intended) for the characters.

The pacing and cue pickups needed a bit of tightening, but it truly was a pleasant night of theatre with a show that has a lot of heart and soul and teaches the importance of friendship and simply being alive.

Superior Donuts plays at the Omaha Playhouse through June 4.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language, the play is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

War for the Heart, War in the Soul

It’s a twist on the love triangle when John takes a break from his boyfriend only to fall for a girl.  Now forced to decide between the two, John finds himself in the middle of a vicious, emotional cockfight between the two loves in his life.  This is Cock by Mike Bartlett and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.

I confess to being a little taken aback when I was asked to review a show with such a title as many connotations of the word flew through my mind.  And, yes, this play does utilize multiple definitions of the play’s title from the innocent to the vulgar.  More importantly, this show is also one of the season’s best.

Mike Bartlett has written a whip smart script with dialogue that surges with intensity and compelling characters.  Bartlett leaps straight into the action with little build, but manages to fill in the gaps as he rapidly moves John between his boyfriend and girlfriend until the inevitable confrontation between his two significant others.

Without question, Joshua Mullady’s direction is the finest I have seen this season.  Mullady displayed an intimate understanding of the script with brilliant staging.  Not only is there not a single static moment in the show, but Mullady uses the play’s words to establish the movements of the characters.  As they grow apart, they physically move further from each other.  As they grow closer, they literally move closer and show intimacy.  Mullady has also perfectly cast this show with 4 actors who have pitch perfect chemistry and give nearly flawless performances.  Mullady also designed the beautifully simplistic lights which pulsed with a life of their own as they shifted with the beats of the show.

Joseph Schoborg’s portrayal of John is as haunting as it is powerful.  Schoborg’s John is a complete train wreck of a human being as he struggles to determine who and what it is he wants.  Schoborg’s body language is deadly accurate.  With his failing relationship with his boyfriend, he is stiff-necked with his shoulders up in his ears.  With his burgeoning relationship with his girlfriend, he is relaxed, loose, and tender.  Schoborg also has an incredibly nuanced voice capable of capturing deep frustration and running the gamut to whispering sadness.  The only tiny issues were that Schoborg spoke too quickly at the top of the show and I lost some of his dialogue, but he brought that under control as the play continued.  He also needed to keep his vocal strength up as it was just a hair below where it needed to be.

I was blown away by Eric Grant-Leanna’s interpretation of the nameless boyfriend.  Grant-Leanna gives what may be his best performance with a character he has developed down to the minutest detail.  As M, Grant-Leanna misses no beat as he bounces from lightly teasing John about his lousy cooking, to intense arguments about John’s cheating with a woman, to delivering nasty verbal jabs to the other woman, to nearly begging John to stay with him.  Grant-Leanna’s always spot-on facial expressions greatly added to his brilliant line readings which he enhanced even further with always appropriate gestures.

I was absolutely gobsmacked with Caitlin Staeball’s work as the unnamed girlfriend.  At the show’s start, she sat with the audience watching and reacting to the byplay between John and M.  Jealousy was quite apparent as she glowered at M.  Ms Staeball beautifully maneuvered through the ebbs and flows of her character’s story arc with clear and clean delivery and sure understanding of where she was heading.  Most telling was a scene where she sleeps with John for the first time.  Using just the power of her voice along with Mullady’s stellar lighting, she paints a vivid picture of what is happening without either performer actually doing anything physically.  Her subtle emotional manipulation of John in the climactic confrontation was also a nice piece of character work.  I look forward to seeing Ms Staeball in other roles after this fantastic Omaha debut.

Brent Spencer is very capable in his role as M’s father.  His British accent needed a bit of work, but his interpretation was quite good.  As F, Spencer is clearly devoted to his son and cares a great deal about John as he is quite hurt that John wants to leave his son for a woman.  Spencer also was responsible for some of the night’s more humorous moments as he jousts with John’s girlfriend.

What I found most interesting about the show was that it was not about whether John was gay, straight, or bisexual.  The show’s true tragedy was that John had lost himself.  He didn’t know what he needed in order to be happy and was fearful to take the risk of finding out for himself.  That is a message that will echo profoundly in every person who watches this wonderful dramedy.

Cock plays at SNAP! Productions through March 27.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for students, seniors, T.A.G. members, and the military.  Thursday night shows cost $10.  This show contains adult situations and extremely strong language and is not suitable for children.  SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California St in Omaha, NE.

“Yankee Tavern” to Open Circle Theatre’s Season

The Circle Theatre Presents:

Yankee Tavern by Steve Dietz

​Ever wonder what REALLY happened on 9/11?  Well, just when you thought you’d heard every crazy conspiracy theory imaginable, a mysterious stranger walks into the Yankee Tavern in New York City and nothing is ever the same…for anybody.  Yankee Tavern is a fiercely funny play that will keep you guessing long after you’ve left the theatre.

Dates:  October 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31

Showtime:  8pm

Tickets:  $15 for adults.  $13 for seniors.  $10 for students, active military, and T.A.G. members.  Contact dlmarr@cox.net or 402-553-4715 for reservations.

Location:  First United Methodist Church (7020 Cass St in Omaha, NE)

Gknow Gnit Gnicely Gnails It

Who am I?

It’s such a simple question, yet it has haunted some individuals for the entirety of their lives.  The search for self is a profound quest and this is the plot of the dramedy, Gnit, an impressive jewel of a play currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Will Eno’s modern day mistelling of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is at times funny, heartbreaking, and deeply insightful.  The play, itself, is very stream of consciousness.  Events seem to happen for no rhyme or reason.  Yet it all, somehow, holds together and provides for a most illuminating night of theatre.  Credit for this goes to the ensemble cast, each of whom is universally up to the challenge of this esoteric and arduous play and the superlative directing of Susan Clement-Toberer.

Matthew Pyle gives a virtuoso performance as Peter Gnit.  Gnit is a thoroughly and utterly worthless human being obsessed with discovering his true and real self.  He is selfish, arrogant, manipulative, clueless, and a coward.  Despite the fact that you should hate this guy, Pyle imbues Gnit with a certain likability that makes you hope that he finally gets it, especially at the moments where Gnit shows his humanity.  Pyle’s delivery is beautifully simple and straightforward which serves to make Gnit so very real.  He could be any one of us and this is most telling towards the end of the play when Pyle’s Gnit tells the audience that he hates us.  Is it because we get it or because we’re not so different from him?

The other performers all play multiple roles, but each has a featured character that really stands out.

For Stacie Lamb, it is her performance as Gnit’s mother.  She’s elderly, sick, crotchety as all get out, and doesn’t trust her son as far as she could throw him.  She quite clearly loves him in spite of the fact that Gnit is a constant source of trouble for her, resulting in her having to pay for his sins.  Act I’s closing scene between Lamb’s mother and Pyle’s Gnit is guaranteed to make you shed a tear.

Jonathan Purcell is incredibly amusing as Town.  Yes, Purcell literally plays an entire town, effortlessly, and schizophrenically, jumping from character to character with every sentence.  A role like this could so easily be played over the top, yet Purcell always manages to play the reality of the situation which permits him to maximize this unique character’s potential and garner innumerable laughs.

Sarah Carlson-Brown plays Solvay, the love of Gnit’s life, and, quite possibly, the key to Gnit’s discovery of his true and real self.  Carlson-Brown brings a confident sweetness to this character.  Her Solvay isn’t waiting around pining for Gnit.  Assuredly believing that Gnit will one day return to her, she is busy living her life in the interim through giving.  Caring for the house Gnit built and creating a bird sanctuary.

Bill Grennan demonstrates his incredible versatility once more with a comedic turn as The Middle/The Sphinx and a more dramatic turn as the Pale Man.  The Middle/The Sphinx is a (mostly) unseen character.  Serving as a conscience of sorts to Gnit, Grennan, using nothing more than the power of his voice, crafts a smartly humorous character determined to point Gnit in the right direction, but is frustrated by Gnit’s obliviousness.

As the Pale Man, Grennan provides a darkly mysterious character out to test Gnit’s “lack of integrity”.  Once his true identity is revealed, you begin to understand the real internal strength of this persona.

Katlynn Yost’s characters are routinely victimized by Gnit.  From a bride being kidnapped and deflowered by Gnit on her wedding day, to playing some groupies snubbed by Gnit, to transforming into an odd, witchlike, “realtoress” impregnated by Gnit, Yost deftly creates one unique characterization after another.  However, it is also implied that her “realtoress” ultimately gets the best of Gnit by cursing him to never find his true self.

“Who’s next?” challenges Gnit at the end of the play.  “Is it you?  You?  Or you?”  Do we know who we are?  Do we even know what it means to live?  And in that pursuit of self, are we merely takers or givers?  How you view Gnit after the play ends will go a long way towards answering those questions.

Gnit continues at the Blue Barn Theatre until March 16.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30 and Sundays at 2pm.  An additional 6pm showing will be shown on Sunday, March 16.  There are no performances on Feb 23 and Mar 13-15.  Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for students, Seniors (65+), and TAG members.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576.  The Blue Barn is located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, NE.