2015 Playhouse Awards Night

Last night the Omaha Playhouse held its annual Awards Night to honor the contributions of its numerous volunteers on all sides of the stage.

Volunteer Awards

PRESIDENT’S AWARD:  Trish Liakos and Steph Gould, Act II

EDWARD F. OWEN AWARD:  Carter and Vernie Jones

TRUSTEES’ AWARD:  Mary Dew and Bob Fischbach

Acting Awards

FONDA-MCGURE AWARD (Best Actor)

Brennan Thomas for his performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Melanie Walters for her performance as The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot

MARY PECKHAM AWARD (Best Featured Actor)

Musical

Dave Wingert for his performance as Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone

(Tie)  Megan McGuire for her performance as the Drowsy Chaperone in The Drowsy Chaperone and Molly McGuire as Janet Van De Graaf in The Drowsy Chaperone

Play

Matthew Pyle for his performance as Jeffrey Skilling in Enron

Charleen Willoughby for her performance as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf?

BARBARA FORD AWARD (Best Supporting Actor)

Musical

Brian Priesman for his performance as Patsy in Spamalot

Rebecca Noble for her performance as Norma Valverde in Hands On a Hardbody

Play

Andrew Prescott for his performance as Caleb DeLeon in The Whipping Man

Megan Friend for her performance as Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

ELAINE JABENIS CAMEO AWARD (Best Cameo Performance)

Musical

Matthias Jeske for multiple roles in Spamalot

Roni Shelley Perez for her performance as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar

Play

Paul Schnieder for his performance as Kenneth Lay in Enron

Julie Fitzgerald Ryan for her performance as Felicia Dantine in I Hate Hamlet

BILL BAILEY DEBUT AWARD (Best Debut Performance

Nick Albrecht for his performance as King Arthur in Spamalot

Sarah Query for her performance as Cindy Barnes in Hands On a Hardbody

Brave Actors Buoy Bland Script

Andrew Rally, a former TV star, accepts the most arduous role in theatre when he is offered the role of Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park Production in Manhattan.  The trouble is that he is intimidated by the role and has no faith in himself as a stage actor.  Luckily, Andrew lives in the apartment once owned by legendary Hamlet performer, John Barrymore, whose ghost arrives to help mentor him in the role in the comedy I Hate Hamlet opening tomorrow at the Omaha Playhouse.

Paul Rudnick’s idea had a tremendous amount of potential.  Regrettably, his script fails to make any use of that potential.  It is incredibly slow, never really gets anywhere, and is frightfully dull.  Occasionally a good one liner pops up, but this is a script that really forces a director and cast to work to get anything out of it.  Guest director, Ablan Roblin, and his troupe of artists deserve a standing ovation for milking the few precious drops of comedy out of this yawner.  Roblin especially deserves praise as he made the most out of this script by cutting as brisk a pace as possible and coaching some solid performances out of his cast.

Ben Beck gives one of the most honest performances of his career as Andrew Rally.  With a nice, simple straightforward delivery, Beck imbues Rally with warmth, honesty, and sincerity.  This is especially impressive as Rally actually has some unlikable qualities.  He got into acting solely for the fame and money and not for its artistry.  Beck’s Rally is also a bit obsessed with having sex with his virgin girlfriend, Deidre, but demonstrates his basic decency as he genuinely wants to marry her and refuses to cheat on her despite his dislike for the chaste lifestyle.  Beck also does some nice work in showing the fears and insecurities of Rally as he does not believe himself to be a good actor.  He sees himself as just a pretty face.  But in playing up that self-doubt, Beck is able to make Rally’s final choice of a career on stage vs a return to TV very believable.

Kevin Barratt’s work as John Barrymore is quite exceptional.  He does a marvelous job playing up Barrymore’s drinking, theatricality, and womanizing, but it is always so natural and real.  Especially impressive was Barratt’s delivery of a monologue in Act II where Barrymore laments escaping from the stage to sell himself out to Hollywood and the sad moment when he realized he was no longer capable of acting.  It was a heartbreaking moment and the most beautiful of the show.

Suzanne Withem delights as Deirdre McDavey, Andrew’s innocent girlfriend.  Ms Withem was amazing as her Deirdre had a heart nearly as pure as a crystal.  Ms Withem’s Deirdre is an old soul trapped in a young woman.  She has a love for the classics and dreams of saving herself for her knight in shining armor.  For all of her decency, Ms Withem was also able to slip a tiny bit of the temptress into her character as she does wonder what sex with the wrong man would be like and is ready to pounce on Andrew after his failure on opening night gets her engine running.  Ms Withem does need to be certain to hold for laughs as I lost bits of her dialogue when she would speak during the audience’s merriment.

Dave Wingert brings quite a bit of energy to the role of Gary Peter Lefkowitz.  As Andrew’s TV director friend, Lefkowitz schemes to get Andrew away from the stage and back into television.  Wingert portrays Lefkowitz with a polite snideness as he completely disdains theatre since he doesn’t understand it and loves television as one doesn’t really need to think while watching it and likes the fact that tons of money can be made from the most banal pap.  I especially liked the opportunistic nature Wingert gave Lefkowitz, particularly when he uses Andrew’s determination to play Hamlet to negotiate a better deal for the TV series he is trying to sell.

Kim Jubenville and Julie Fitzgerald Ryan shine in smaller roles.  Ms Jubenville plays Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy.  Ms Jubenville gets everything she can out of this role and demonstrated some remarkable versatility as she transitioned from the slapstick comedy of hacking up her lungs due to a heavy smoking habit to a sweetly dramatic moment with Barrymore, whom she can see, as they rekindle an affair they had when Barrymore was alive.

Ms Fitzgerald Ryan was quite entertaining as Felicia Dantine, Andrew’s real estate broker and psychic.  Her New Yorker accent is spot on and her eccentricities are wonderful as she can literally smell supernatural activity, yet somehow cannot sense or see Barrymore.

Jim Othuse’s set is of tremendous quality and perfectly duplicates the Jacobean furnishings of Barrymore’s apartment and his lighting design is quite ingenious with its use of candlelight and lightning.

The hard work, dedication, and talent of the actors and directors go a long way in overpowering the weaknesses of the script and I believe I Hate Hamlet will provide some lighthearted enjoyment to its audiences.

I Hate Hamlet runs from April 17-May 10 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Tickets prices are $36 for adults and $22 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cast Street in Omaha, NE.  The show does contain a little strong language and some adult situations.  Parental discretion is advised.

Supernatural Comedy Opening On Omaha Playhouse’s Main Stage

I Hate Hamlet

Show Dates:  Apr. 17–May 10, 2015

Showtimes:  Wed-Sat at 7:30pm.  Sundays at 2pm

By Paul Rudnick

Andrew, an aspiring actor, has landed the role of a lifetime as Hamlet. There is just one problem…he hates Hamlet. As fate would have it, Andrew’s new Manhattan residence is the former apartment of the brilliant actor John Barrymore, whose portrayal of Hamlet was legendary. When Barrymore’s ghost appears to Andrew, he mentors Andrew on all the tricks of the trade. Will Andrew’s debut be a triumph or a tragedy? Find out in this fast-paced, fencing-packed and funny play.

Tickets prices are $36 for adults and $22 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cast Street in Omaha, NE.

sponsor: Carter & Vernie Jones
media sponsor: Q98.5

Directed by Ablan Roblin

Cast

Andrew Rally – Ben Beck
John Barrymore – Kevin Barratt
Deirdre McDavey – Suzanne Withem
Lillian Troy – Kim Jubenville
Felicia Dantine – Julie Ryan
Gary Peter Lefkowitz – Dave Wingert

Soaring, Part 3

Biloxi Blues still ranks as one of the greatest experiences of my theatrical life.  Just like my very first show, I had an incredible cast that all liked each other and all egos were checked at the door.  Susan had the most amazing directing style I had ever seen.  It’s so subtle that you don’t always know that you’re being directed, but then. . .BOOM!  You’re right where she needed you to be.

I looked forward to rehearsal each and every night and when opening night rolled around, all of us were just white hot and ready to tear it up.  We were so skilled, that we could have swapped roles around amongst our group and our show would have been just as strong, I kid you not.

Biloxi Blues was considered one of the top shows of the season and the reviews were glowing.  One paper called our cast “the next vanguard of theatre”.  I garnered a tremendous amount of praise both in the papers and within the theatre community and I was riding Cloud 9.  Thanks to Susan’s direction, my game had been advanced to a whole new level and I was finally able to win over the 2 artistic heads of the Playhouse (Carl Beck & Susie Baer-Collins).  Susie gave me a big hug after she saw the show and told me I had been absolutely wonderful.  That show accomplished for me with those two what might have taken 20 auditions apiece ordinarily.

At the Playhouse Awards that year, Biloxi Blues won every actor award on the non-musical side of things.  The show would go on to garner a Best Show nomination at that year’s Theatre Arts Guild Awards as well as another in the inaugural Omaha Entertainment Arts Awards Show.  And then Hamlet got nominated for Best Show in the OEAs as well.  So I had been in two highly regarded shows in the same season and I had helped them gain that acclaim.  All of my trials, perseverance, work, and hope were finally paying dividends and, man, did it feel good.

During the run of Biloxi Blues, I even found time to gain a feeling of redemption from The Elephant Man.  Kevin Lawler was returning to town to guest direct a one man show for SNAP Productions called I Am My Own Wife.  This appealed to me on several levels.  Not only would a one man show really allow me a chance to test my ever increasing abilities, but it felt like a way I could close the book on The Elephant Man.

Despite the crushing blow I received from that audition, I never bore a grudge or any anger towards Kevin.  I understood that he did what he felt was right for the show based on what he saw and thought at the time and I respected that.  By just showing up for this audition, it felt like I would be saying, “Everything is fine between us.”

I ended up using a monologue from a one man musical called Cotton Patch Gospel and. . .What’s that?  You’ve never heard of Cotton Patch Gospel

Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised.  The show was a big hit when it was released in 1982, but has fallen into obscurity over time.  It’s the story of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew told southern style.  It’s one of my favorite plays and I often use it when I need to perform a monologue as most directors will not be aware of the show.

Due to having to perform in Biloxi Blues that afternoon, I signed up to be the first person to audition.  And I was quite nervous.  Kevin came out of the performing area, said hello, and we shook hands.  And I thought everything would be cool after that.

I walked into the theatre and did a double take at the set which was decked out like a Catholic Church for their production of Defending Marriage.  Kevin asked me about my acting work since the last time we met and I had told him I had done 11 more shows and was currently working on Biloxi Blues.  He asked me what I thought about working with Susan and I sang her praises.

Then he asked me to do my monologue and I nailed it exactly the way that I wanted to hit it.  When I finished, Kevin said, “That was really good, Chris.  I can really see the growth you’ve made, even from The Elephant Man which I think was the last time you auditioned for me.  It’s obvious you’ve been doing a lot more of this.  That was such an interesting piece.  Where the hell did you find it?”

And I told him the story of how the show had been produced when I was in high school and it had always stayed with me and I found a copy of the original production and bought it.

Kevin then asked me if I could do the monologue again, but do it as if I were really bored.  I thought for a moment, then did a sleepy take on the passage.  Kevin stopped me and said I was doing it, but on a scale of 1-10, I was at a 4 and he needed me at an 8.  I tried again and really slathered on the boredom.  I’m not sure if I was at an 8, but I think a 6.5 might be accurate.

Then he asked me to do it again as a fire and brimstone preacher.  I thought back to televangelists I had seen and did my best to emulate them, feeling I had done a respectable job.  Partway through the read, Kevin stopped me and asked me to try my strongest Southern accent.  Fortunately, I’ve got a pretty good ear for accents and had a fairly decent Southern preacher going.  When I finished, Kevin thanked me for my time and said I would hear something either way.

It took five weeks, but I was finally called and informed that another actor had won the role.  But I had gained peace of mind.  And I must have made it down to the final cut if it took that long to finally be rejected.

But even that wasn’t the end of the saga of The Elephant Man.  The true end actually came two years later when I bumped into Kevin at the inaugural Mid-Plains Theatre Conference.  We chatted a bit and then he floored me when he said:

“You know you had a really wonderful audition for The Elephant Man.  It was amazing to see an actor come in with that type of heart and passion.  I’m really sorry I couldn’t cast you.”

That’s when I closed the book because I knew that the audition had meant something if he still remembered it so vividly after six years.  And that is why I suspect I really might have been the runner-up for the role.

Still riding high from my banner year in theatre, I started off the 2006-07 season with an audition for The Talented Mr. Ripley for Susie Baer-Collins at the Playhouse.  My string of really good auditions stayed intact as I had another solid showing.  I managed to differentiate my Ripley from other actors by emphasizing his ability to think on his feet and not backpedaling whenever caught in a lie.  I would just cover the lie with another lie.

When the audition ended, Susie told me I had given an excellent audition and I earned another callback.  That was exciting enough, but when Susie told me she was considering me for the role of Tom Ripley, my jaw hit the floor.  The title role.  That’s when I knew I had come a really long way.

Eight of us were called back for the show and seven of us could have easily played any of the roles.  I ended up coming up on the short end of the stick, but got a novella of a rejection from Susie who praised my audition to the heavens.

Change was definitely in the air.

Soaring, Part 1

After the awakening and having sampled a taste of Shakespeare, I was ready to tackle what is widely considered the greatest play ever written:  Hamlet.

I had decided to pursue the role of Laertes, the brother of Ophelia and the son of Polonius.  This character is a bit of a hothead and somewhat arrogant which made him the perfect character in my mind because his personality was so drastically different from my own.  A friend of mine suggested I would make a good Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend.  I really wanted Laertes, but decided I would take a look at Horatio.

As I prepared for the audition, I got more and more into the character of Horatio.  He was so intelligent, loyal, and deep that I thought I could really do a lot with him.  I ended up changing my focus to Horatio, but kept Laertes prepared as I would then be able to display some versatility at the audition.  I also made a fateful decision.  Prior to this audition, I had always been willing to take any role in a production.  Now I had been in theatre for nearly 10 years and many of my roles had been small or bit parts.  I felt it was time to view things from a business perspective.  If directors saw that I was only doing unchallenging roles, there was a real danger that they may begin to think I was not capable of handling anything with some heft.  So I stated that I only wanted to be considered for Horatio and Laertes.  I knew I was taking a colossal chance, but I felt it to be well worth the risk.

Audition night came and I ended up reading first and as Horatio.  And I started off very strongly.  I had a great read with Scott as Hamlet and I felt natural and believable.  When I finished my turn, I noticed a lot of people in the theatre looking impressed, but my biggest badge of honor came from my friend, David Sindelar, who smiled and nodded at me.  Dave has always told things as he sees them, so to have won him over was a well earned prize, indeed.

I did get to read as Laertes and I didn’t do too badly, but there were a few others who I thought had a better attitude for the character as well as being a better fit physically.  Still, Cathy asked us to return the next time to be read some more.  Strangely, I was not asked to read as Horatio again, but read several times as Guildenstern which I found peculiar because I was very clear on whom I wanted to play.  And I also vowed that I was going to stick to my guns.  At this point, being take seriously was more important than getting cast.

That Friday, July 15, I received a call from Cathy at 6:30pm.  I’ve always found this to be a little eerie and ironic because it was exactly three years to the minute I had stepped foot in the Playhouse for The Elephant Man three years prior.  Our conversation went as follows:

“Chris, I’d like to talk to you about Hamlet.”

“All right.”

“Before I begin, I just want you to know that I think you are tremendously talented and that you have a very bright future in theatre, but at this point I just don’t think you’re experienced enough to play Horatio.” 

“I see,” I replied as I sat on my couch and felt my heart plummet to the pits of my stomach.

“I really want you in this play, but you have such a young look and I just envision Horatio as being older and more settled than you are.”

“I understand,” I said, feeling my face flush white as a sheet.

“I just haven’t worked with you enough yet.  But I still really want you to be part of this production because it would be a tremendous loss if we didn’t have you, but I’d like to give you a different role if you’re still interested.”

(Pause)  “All right.  I’ll play somebody else,” I said in a very soft voice.

“I’m really glad to hear that.  I won’t be casting the show for a few more days because I’m holding callbacks for Polonius and Claudius, but I’ll be in touch soon.”

As I suspected, I ended up with the role of Guildenstern and I don’t regret taking the part.  For one thing, it began my acting partnership with David Sindelar who played Rosencrantz.  Although we shared a scene in Dracula, I felt this was the first time I was really working with him as my skills had now evolved dramatically and could now experiment a bit with him.

One of my fondest memories of the show actually began 2 years prior in His Girl Friday.  Cathy and Scott are very big on what they call “walla wallas” which is actors improvising dialogue in crowd scenes to make it more believable.  On the last day of the show, I asked Dave’s character where the editor of the newspaper was and he looked at me and, with a deadpan expression, said, “You go to hell.  Go straight to hell.  Don’t pass Go.  Don’t collect $200.”  I had to pull my hat over my face to cover the laugh that was threatening to bust out.

In Hamlet, I got a bit of payback.  There is a scene where a troupe of actors arrives at the castle and Hamlet tells me of a monologue he once heard and begins to recite it.  I forget the exact line, but it had to do with the color of some item.  Dave took to saying that he remembered this monologue and kept trying to remember the color.  During rehearsals, I kept supplying normal colors.  On opening night, I said the first color which popped into my head which was, “Periwinkle”.  Dave’s expression told me I caught him somewhat off guard, but he recovered with the beautiful comeback, “It’s not periwinkle”.

Another fond moment is when Hamlet was talking to the leader of the acting troupe and, in the background, Dave and I improvised a story about why we came to Denmark.  It was something about Rosencrantz losing all of our money when he bet on a horse named Sloth.  This story grew bigger and bigger every night, but the best thing is that nobody in the cast or audience knew what we were saying.  We both were skilled enough and subtle enough that we were able to do this in a way that did not distract from the primary action.

I gained a great sense of satisfaction from this role.  One actor, David Dechant, praised Dave Sindelar and myself for being able to add a third dimension to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern just through sheer strength of acting ability.  We even gained notice in the review in the Omaha World-Herald which cited us as being good.  My greatest compliment came from the mother of one of the BSB regulars.  She was an actor, herself, and when she came to the show, she walked up to me afterwards and said, “Young man, you have shot up miles.”  I felt real pride after that praise.

Unfortunately, I hit a major stumbling block after Hamlet.  Scott asked me if I would play the role of Paul Trochard in the BSB’s second production, My Three Angels.  I accepted and looked forward to playing a sort of villainous role.  The show was plagued with trouble from the start.  We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time.  We lost an actor partway through the rehearsal process due to a death in the family and he had to be replaced.  And I think Hamlet took a toll on Scott’s directing and certainly on my acting. 

Hamlet had been a grueling show.  It’s very long and we had a 2 month rehearsal process as opposed to one, plus the 4 week run of the show.  And then we jumped straight into rehearsing for My Three Angels.  Playing the title role was undoubtedly arduous for Scott and I think it dulled his creativity a smidge when directing this show, especially when he was compelled to take a role in it and have his focus split.  My acting, to be blunt, sucked. 

I simply could not get a firm grip on the role.  I had some moments that weren’t too bad, but for the most part, I just didn’t believe myself and it showed in the reviews.  Although I wasn’t mentioned by name, references were made to “wooden” and “uneven” acting and I knew the references were about me and I carried it like a weight on my shoulders.

It was my first real failure as an active performer. . .but the breakthrough was soon to follow.

To be continued. . .