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.

Full Circle: A Tribute to Doug Marr

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Last night, Omaha lost a talented playwright, a genuine wit, and an all around great human being.

I lost a good friend.

When I think of Doug I think of a genuinely good man with a phenomenal sense of humor and a truly giving and supportive heart.  Doug was responsible for giving my theatre career one of its biggest boosts and for keeping it alive when it was on life support.

I first met Doug back in 2003 when I auditioned for the Circle Theatre’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I had high hopes that I would be able to net the role of Billy Bibbit, but received a surprise when I got a letter notifying me that the whole production was being postponed due to the theatre being unable to fill the key role of Chief Bromden, but Doug hoped to mount the show later that summer.

As summer closed in I asked him if Cuckoo was going to be mounted and he wrote back and said Circle would be doing Our Town and immediately offered me the role of Doc Gibbs.

I was stunned by his generosity as I was relatively an untested talent as I only had 4 small roles under my belt and this would be the first time I had something with a bit of meat.  Though he didn’t direct the production, he was present every day at his trusted post at the light and sound board.  He often regaled the cast with his off the cuff jokes and we would spend quite a bit of time talking about our mutual love for classic rock, Sherlock Holmes, and he would share with me ideas he had for future plays and stories.

I experienced a bit more of his generosity when he handed me a small check at the end of the run.  Doug always believed in paying a tiny stipend to the performers and I’m proud to have had my first paying gig under his watchful eye.

It would be nearly a decade before I crossed paths with Doug again.  At that point, I had been going through a dry spell and then he announced auditions for An Inspector Calls.  After my audition, Doug offered me the choice of either of the two young men.  Now one was a decent, level headed sort close to my real personality and the other was a drunken lout.  I opted for the lout.  Doug agreed to that as he thought that was the better of the two reads.

Doug often said that he wasn’t a director, but I think he underestimated his talents in that realm..  For starters, he was a gifted writer with an instinct for beats so he knew what points in a story needed to be hit to get maximum effect.  More importantly, he had an incredible eye for talent.  Doug intuitively understood a performer’s strengths and weaknesses and not only knew where to slot them, but also trusted their instincts so he’d only have to give slight notes to smooth out the rough edges.

I was always grateful that he let me test my range with Eric Birling and it still ranks as one of my favorite roles.

Shortly after that show, my dry spell became an arid desert.  I had grown so disheartened with the constant rejections that I made the decision to step away from theatre for a while.

Trust Doug to get me back into the swing of things.

Six months into my hiatus, Doug sent word through a mutual friend of ours asking if I would consider doing the Circle’s annual Christmas show.  I was a little hesitant because my confidence had been so battered, but he was a really hard guy to say no to so I agreed.

With his trust and support, I began to remember the things I loved so much about theatre and managed to breathe life into his creation of Gunar, the hippie elf which would become another of my favorite roles.  His kindness gave me the shot in the arm I needed and I would bag my biggest role later that season thanks to him restoring my heart.

Many in our community have shared their stories about Doug.  He was a treasure and he will be missed.  I’ll always remember him for his warmth, his good humor, his gift for wordplay, and his goodness.  Most of all, I’ll remember him for being my friend.

Rest in peace, my friend.

 

Rebel’s Heart

Rebel Randle P. McMurphy accepts a commitment to a mental ward to avoid a sentence to a work farm.  The charming ne’er-do-well quickly comes into conflict with Nurse Ratched, the dominating ruler of the ward.  His victories over the cold-hearted nurse begin to breathe new life into the ward, but when he learns his stay in the institution can be extended indefinitely, his personal war with Ratched takes on dire stakes where it becomes clear only one of them will be left standing.  This is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman and based off Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name.  It is currently playing at Florence Community Theater.

I’ve always been a big admirer of this show, not only for the strong story and compelling characters, but for its themes of societal views on mental illness, what it means to really live life, the triumph of the underdog and the corruption of power, just to name a few.  The themes and characters of this show are brought to vibrant life by a colorful, energetic and mighty cast that came out with all guns a blazing with some storytelling that does extreme justice to this tale.

Neal Herring provides some superlative direction for this piece.  Doing double duty with set design, Herring stages the story in the unfriendly, starched white walls of the mental institution where the patients live a monotonous and controlled existence under the thumb of Nurse Ratched.  Herring utilizes the space quite well as each patient carves out his own little nook in the ward.  He’s also led his thespians to well-developed performances as all characters have their quirks and tics which wonderfully create this little slice of purgatory.

I applaud the ensemble for giving its all to the show.  Each and every one remained involved in the story and had mannerisms and/or reactions that told me something about them which helped to build this little world.  Some notable performances in the ensemble came from JJ Davis who seems to have had one shock treatment too many with his take on the hallucinating Martini and Jim Watson who gives a very empathetic performance as Dale Harding, the patient ward’s president who is wrestling with his own sexual identity.

Brian Henning gives quite a moving performance as Chief Bromden, the show’s narrator.  Henning has a wonderful gift for pantomime and some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen on a performer.  His eyes often let me read his thoughts as Chief has buried his sense of identity so deeply that he rarely speaks (the narration is done via voiceover) and pretends to be deaf and dumb so he won’t have to react to anything around him.  It’s a joy to watch Henning’s Chief slowly blossom to life under the encouragement of McMurphy and his antics and his emotional breakdown during the play’s resolution is one of the finest heartbreaking moments I’ve seen in Omaha theatre.

I can’t say enough good things about David Frolio’s performance as Randle P. McMurphy.  It is a truly a nuanced, spellbinding interpretation and I foresee Frolio being in the running for some Best Actor prizes come awards season.  Frolio is just a force of nature.  He comes blowing into the asylum like a storm and is so animated and fun to watch.  His McMurphy is truly a rebel.  He cares little for rules and authority and loves to fight and f—k.  But he also has a heart of gold as he truly befriends the patients and fights for them even when he’s causing trouble for his own amusement.  Frolio carefully walks the line with McMurphy’s battles with Ratched as he expertly acts as the burr under her saddle while tempering his behavior so she is unable to counterattack with the resources at her disposal.  Frolio steadily builds and builds the tension until his McMurphy is finally forced to take drastic action when a beloved comrade falls victim in the war between he and Ratched.

Shelly Gushard gets an awful lot right with her take on Nurse Ratched.  Gushard’s Ratched is the god of this little world and woe betide any who thwart her commandments.  She’s also clearly the yang to McMurphy’s yin, not just in personality, but physicality as she is clearly the stronger of the two which added to her aura of power.

I liked how controlled she was and never allowed Ratched to get overly emotional.  With a look and a glare, Ratched is even able to cow and bend the asylum’s doctor to her steely will.  I also enjoyed how she would take little moments to exert control over her emotions when McMurphy pushed her buttons.  But I think she’s got the room to be even colder, downright frigid I dare say, which would well suit the machinelike Ratched who genuinely believes her routines and rules and morality will help cure the patients.

Tim Mantil gives an extremely moving performance as Billy Bibbit.  Mantil nails Billy’s shy nature with his soft-spokenness and believable, naturalistic stuttering.  He also brilliantly communicates Billy’s constant thoughts of suicide with his twitchy movements, distressed expressions and persistent touching of his bandaged wrists.  He just needs to be a little careful with his voice as it sometimes went into too high a register which made Billy seem more childish instead of childlike.

Cecelia Sass and Syrian Black did a pretty good job with the costumes from the classic nurse’s outfits to the T-shirts and dark sweats of the patients to McMurphy’s leather jacket and trademark hat.  I did think the costumes for McMurphy’s female friends could be a bit trashier as they seemed a little too elegantly garbed for the crowd he’d likely run with.  Derek Kowal and Stuart Anderson provided some lovely sounds for the show with ducks quacking during a morning sunrise to the ominous sounds of electro shock therapy when McMurphy and Chief are dragged away for treatment after a brawl with the orderlies.

It is a story of a battle of wills and this cast takes you on the emotional roller coaster ride of this slugfest with a strong, measured hand.  You’ll laugh.  You’ll cry.  You may even be in stunned silence at some moments.  But you’ll definitely be hooked from beginning to end.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest runs at Florence Community Theater through Feb 23.  Showtimes will be Fri-Sat at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets cost $12 ($10 for TAG members/60+/groups of 8 or more).  For reservations, call 531-600-8634 or visit www.florencetheater.org.  Due to some strong language and sensitive subject matter, this show is not recommended for children.  Florence Community Theatre is located inside of Florence City Hall at 2864 State St in Omaha, NE.

A Season of Change, Part IV: Is There a Woolf at the Door?

“The wonderful joy at being able to say ‘yes’ to a talented artist is often undercut by the horrible responsibility of having to say ‘no’ so many more times to equally talented artists.”—Unknown

I don’t envy the lot of directors when it comes to casting.  As difficult as things are on the acting side, there is also a tremendous amount of difficulty on the casting side.  Getting just the right blend of performers to tell the best possible story is truly an art form and I believe the above quotation best reflects the plight of directors.

Having to break a lot of hearts is not fun.  I’m also certain the criticism for doing so is even less enjoyable.

“It’s not fair.”

“He/she hates me.”

“It’s all politics and favoritism.”

I’m certain directors have heard variations of the above remarks and then some on numerous occasions.  Sometimes the criticism may be well founded and true.  But, by and large, I believe a director’s choices are impersonal and rejection simply comes from the fact that you did not suit the director’s vision.  This is something I’ve grown to understand and appreciate more over the last year and a half since I became an independent theatre critic.  I’ve grown to appreciate it so much that I’m thinking about trying my hand at direction one day, so if any of my director friends are reading this and are interested in letting me shadow them for a show next season, drop me a line.

I once read an article by a director who said, “I hate that experienced, talented actors can see whether or not they get cast as a measure of their intrinsic worth as actors”.  Truer words were never spoken.  This is the only business I know where you can be a failure and a success all at the same time.  But I’d also like to take a moment to try to respond to that statement.

The reason actors see the casting as the yardstick of their worth as performers is that it is the only validation we have of our skills.  Sometimes a rejection can be done in such a way that it almost completely salves the disappointment of not getting the job.  But the bottom line is if we’re not the ones on stage or in front of the camera telling the story, we instinctively feel as if we failed even if we intellectually know that the work we did in the audition was good.  After all, everyone likes to taste the fruit of their labors.

Now I’ve told you all that to set the stage for my latest theatre tale.

After the victorious defeat of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I began preparing for a return to the Playhouse with an audition for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  For me, it would be my first audition under the new Playhouse artistic director, Hilary Adams.

I knew the odds would be long going into this show.  The show is only a 4 person cast and there is only one role for a younger man.  Knowing that up front actually took a considerable amount of pressure from my shoulders.  I headed into the audition solely with the intention of making a good showing and leaving with my head held high.  Anything else would simply be icing on the cake.

The turnout was smaller than I expected, but still more than enough to be able to cast the show from our night alone.  As I glanced around the room, I knew the role of Nick (the one I was eligible for) could be cast three times over at a minimum as I noticed both Nick Zadina and Sean, who read so well for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in attendance along with myself.

Under Hilary’s leadership, auditions have changed at the Playhouse and I would say for the better.  Now pictures of the actors are taken to go along with their audition information sheets.  Hilary also prefers to bring the performers in as small groups.  I think this brings a double edged advantage to the actors as they not only know that they have the director’s full attention, but I think it unleashes their creativity to the Nth degree.  They do not have to worry that their interpretation is similar to another performer’s.  Every actor can be secure in the knowledge that everything done in the audition will be perceived as completely original.

I ended up being in the second group called in to audition.  It was an older gent named Lance and myself who would be reading the roles of George and Nick.

This first read presented one of the interesting challenges of the audition process as actors of varying levels of talent are often paired together.  My partner was very inexperienced and it showed.  When experienced/naturally talented performers work together, the energy of the performance is like a ball that’s tossed around in a game of hot potato.  Toss in an inexperienced/less talented person and it’s like throwing a ball against a wall and watching it drop.

Before we began reading, Hilary made the interesting request for us not to block anything.  Another hurdle removed as some performers are so intent on the words that movement sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

The pressure was really on George in this side as he has the bulk of the dialogue and gets the ball rolling.  Lance read and it sounded like reading as well.  For my own part, I was pleased with my work.  I fired the ball with energy, made some decisive choices about Nick, and presented a character I liked.  I did find it humorous that in the back of my head I kept thinking, “Oh, this feels like a movement line.  That feels like another.  There’s a third.”

About a half hour later, I was called in again.  This time I read with two people.  A man named Jeremy would read as George and Sydney Readman would read as Nick’s wife, Honey.  This time I felt that ball being tossed around.  Jeremy had some nice chops and instincts and had a really rich speaking voice.

Again I was pleased with my work and really enjoyed the byplay between the three of us in the scene.  After we had read it once, Hilary asked us to read it again, but gave some direction to Sydney and me.  For Nick, she wanted me to make him “more beta and less alpha”.  She explained that at this early stage, Nick wouldn’t be standing up to George quite so much.  This was a business meeting and Nick is trying to make a good impression.  She also asked me to be a bit more loving towards Honey.  I processed these changes and gave a more beta interpretation.  Though in hindsight, I think I should have kissed Sydney’s hand to seem more loving.  The words had the right intention and I did tenderly clasp her arm, but my gut says a stronger action should have been used.

Twenty minutes after the read, Jeannine Robertson, the Playhouse’s Artistic Administrative Assistant, told me that Hilary had seen all she needed from me and that I could go home.  I had been there for 2 ½ hours, read three times, and took some direction.  All in all, the signs of a very positive audition.  Callbacks would be on Saturday so I knew if I didn’t get notification by the end of Friday, I could officially consider myself out of the running.  I had nothing to be ashamed of as I accomplished my main task.  I had a good showing and, hopefully, gave Hilary something to remember for future auditions.

Regrettably, I did not receive that callback.  Fortunately, I was braced for it, but it’s still a mild disappointment.  But I did the best I could with the material I had.  The only regret, as it were, was that I would have liked to have read a meatier side for Nick.  Then I would have known that I had truly given it all that I had.

With such a small cast, other good actors also, unfortunately, heard the word, ‘no’ for this one, too.  And, believe me, there was some heavyweight talent that did not make it in.  Let me see if these numbers put it in perspective.  Four people heard the word ‘yes’.  At least twenty others heard the word ‘no’.  Chew on that for a bit.

While there’s no Woolf at the door for me, I do remain content that there will be something for me in the future.  A friend once told me that becoming a stronger actor doesn’t mean the number of roles you obtain goes up.  It just means that the quality of your rejections goes up.  With some of my adventures over the past couple of years, I think there’s quite a bit of truth to that statement.  But, if I may add to his statement, I think the quality of the rewards goes up, too, and that’s something all actors should keep in mind.

Until the next time.

A Morality Play for Madmen

In the sterile ward (nicely designed by Josh Mullady, Dan Whitehouse, and Bob & Denise Putman) of a mental institution, a war is waged for the souls of the patients.  On the side of the angels is Randle P. McMurphy, an inmate who likes to fight and f—k.  The demons’ champion is the cold-blooded Nurse Ratched who rules the ward with an iron fist.  Their intense battle of wills makes up the story of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman based off of a novel by Ken Kesey and currently playing at the Chanticleer Community Theatre.

Director Ron Hines has done a nice job mining the script for both comedic and dramatic moments and has cast a unique blend of characters for this show.  Aside from the two leads, the success of this show depends on casting a strong ensemble of patients to bring the necessary flavor to the piece and Hines’ casting was right on the money as each patient breathed a beautiful bit of life into the show.

Particular notice needs to be given to Joseph Edie, making his stage debut, who takes the nearly catatonic role of Ruckley and runs with it for all its worth, Jim Farmer who brings a twitchy awesomeness to the role of the hallucinating Martini, Gary Lee Jungers who is a riot in the role of the lazy drunkard, Aide Turkel, David Sindelar as the all bark, no bite Charles Cheswick III who gravitates towards the strongest person in the room, Randy Vest who brings a touching intelligence to the role of Dale Harding, a repressed homosexual who is also president of the patients’ union, Mark Reid as the timid, but fair, Dr. Spivey, and Meganne Rebecca Storm who brings a vampy sweetness to the role of Candy Starr, a hooker friend of McMurphy.

Craig Bond commands the stage in the role of Randle P. McMurphy.  Bond does a fantastic job portraying McMurphy as a happy-go-lucky troublemaker who has submitted to being committed in order to avoid a hard prison sentence for statutory rape.  From the moment, Bond appears on stage, the audience knows things are going to be shaken up.  Bond’s McMurphy gleefully warbles songs, gambles with the patients on just about anything, plays cards with a deck pictured with naked women, hassles a God fearing nurse, and flouts authority at every available opportunity.

But McMurphy is also an antiheroic angel who brings the gift of hope to the downtrodden patients of the ward.  His antics and zest for life slowly remind the patients of what it means to be strong, especially as McMurphy is bound and determined to break the spirit of the iron willed Nurse Ratched who keeps the patients under her thumb with her rules and “therapy”.  When McMurphy learns that his stay could be indefinite as he is committed, it raises the stakes of his private war with Nurse Ratched to the ultimate level.

Debbie Bertelsen plays the role of Nurse Ratched, the domineering ruler of the ward.  In a battle between good and evil, the demon must be just as powerful as the angel in order to have an exciting conflict.  Unfortunately, Ms Bertelsen’s performance falls short of that standard and I fear she is miscast in the role.  The character of Nurse Ratched is truly a force to be reckoned with.  She is icy cold, stern, unyielding, and has a presence that should make your blood freeze in its veins.  Nurse Ratched is also the worst kind of evil as she is evil who honestly believes she is working on the side of good.  It is truly a difficult role to play.

Ms Bertelsen lacked the terrifying presence needed for the character and her fluid body language and line interpretation did not convey the sense that she was the “god” of this little world.  At points, she almost seemed like she was enjoying the cruelty of the character and that rang a little false as Ratched is genuinely committed to rehabilitating people.  It’s her execution of that commitment and unflinching belief that her way is the right way that makes her a bad person.

Brandyn Burget does a serviceable job as Bily Bibbit in his community theatre debut.  As the childlike, stuttering Bibbit, Burget has some very beautiful body language as he tries to hide within himself and has nice reactions in scenes where he does not speak much.  His line interpretation needs some more dramatic oomph at certain key moments, especially towards the end, but a very worthy effort overall.

Frank Insolera, Jr. gives a stoically mesmerizing performance as Chief Bromden.  Ostensibly, the narrator of the play, Insolera is an incredible physical presence as the towering Native American.  Pretending to be deaf and dumb, Insolera’s Chief Bromden silently observes the goings-on of the ward while pushing a broom around the stage.  His blank facial expressions and minimal movement are spot-on for the withdrawn Chief who slowly opens up to the renegade McMurphy.

Insolera imbues Chief with a wonderful weakness as he believes he is not strong enough to exist in the outside world.  That gradually changes as the ward realizes he can be reached and he finds an amazing strength in the aftermath of the final battle between Ratched and McMurphy.

In the end, this story is an interesting twist on the morality play.  It is at turns funny, tragic, happy, sad, but always hopeful.  It will give you a lot to think about and already seems to be shaping into a hit for the Chanticleer.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest continues at the Chanticleer Community Theatre through March 15.  Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $16 for senior citizens, and $10 for students.  Contact the theatre at 712-323-9955 for tickets.  The Chanticleer Community Theatre is located at 830 Franklin Ave in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

A Season of Change, Part III: Waving Good-Bye to the Cuckoo’s Nest

Nearly twelve years after my first opportunity at the role, I received a second, and final, chance at playing Billy Bibbit from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Sunday night.

For those of you new to my blog, I had originally auditioned for this role back in 2003 when the Circle Theatre was going to try to mount it.  Unfortunately, the whole show got canceled when the theatre was unable to cast the key role of Chief Bromden.  Even more unfortunate was the fact that I later learned I would have played Bibbit had the show been produced.

When I learned that the Chanticleer Theatre in Council Bluffs, Iowa was going to mount the show this season, I hoped I would have one last crack at the role.  I knew that the Bibbit of the novel by Ken Kesey was a man in his mid-thirties so terribly repressed that he comes off as much younger.  But, for whatever reason, he is usually cast as a man in his twenties, so I was concerned that, at the age of 37 with rapidly silvering hair, I might not be seriously considered for the part.  Not that the lead role of Randall McMurphy was a bad one to get, but I really wanted to play Billy.  I breathed a massive sigh of relief when the Chanticleer released character descriptions and it appeared that they were looking for someone closer to the novel’s depiction of the character.

So it was on Sunday that I found myself at the Chanticleer ready to give the performance of my life.  I was a bit surprised, but more than pleased to find my good friend, David Sindelar, at the auditions.  I had been twisting his arm a bit to get him to go as I knew there were a couple of great roles for him.

From the moment I first got onstage, I knew it was going to be a magical night.  I was fully in the auditioning frame of mind and I was hungry for a role.  I ended up being the second reader of the night in the role of McMurphy and was pleased with what I did.  But the real magic began about an hour into the night.

Director, Ron Hines, asked anybody if there was a role they wanted to read for before we moved on and I said I’d like to take a crack at Billy.  The second I opened my mouth, I was off to the races.  I can’t remember the last time I had been that supremely confident.  I had zero self-consciousness.  I was making bold choices.  I was animated and it was probably some of the very best acting between the lines I had ever done for an audition.  In all honesty, I felt I had finally given an audition that matched the quality of my read as John Merrick back in 2002.

For the rest of the night, all I did was alternate between reading for Bibbit and McMurphy.  There was another young man there (I believe his name was Sean Kelley) and we would pretty much trade the roles in the same scenes.  I thought he was a terrific McMurphy and had a good look for him.  He had a blocky build suitable for a brawler and, whether intentional or unintentional, wore a stocking cap just like McMurphy.  My only concern is that he might have been too young for the role.  My build was more suited to Billy, but there was that concern that I might be a touch too old.

The producers and the director gushed over my reads.  Producer, Terry Debenedictus, said she loved my reads while Ron Hines said he had written, “I like this guy!” at the top of my audition sheet to remember me.  I was actually getting a little embarrassed from the notices.

Intellectually speaking, I knew this praise in no way guaranteed my getting cast.  On an emotional level, my head was somewhere in the clouds.  I knew I was rock solid and hoped beyond hope that this was leading to something great.  I was asked to stay at the end of the night for physical analysis and a final 2 reads.

After the audition, Dave and I had a post-audition analysis meal at Burger King.  Dave didn’t get to read a whole lot, but he gave a pitch perfect reading as Cheswick at the end of the night.  That read plus his physical appropriateness for the role gave me a good feeling for him.  (With good reason, for he won that particular role.)

While on a conference call at work, I received a call from Jerry Abels, the stage manager of the show.  Needless to say, I was beyond excited.  Like most theatres, the Chanticleer sends out a form letter if you’re not cast in the show.  So I took it for granted that I was cast as somebody.

As soon as my meeting ended, I called Jerry on the phone and he told me that they had a great turnout for the show with about 46 people auditioning and that leads to the good problem of having too much choice which means that some good people don’t get in.  In my mind I thought, “Yeah, that is a tough thing.  So who am I playing?”  And then Jerry said, “With that being said, unfortunately you were one of the people who didn’t make it in.”

I was stunned to silence.  I actually dropped the pen I was holding because I was so taken aback.  “If I wasn’t cast, why are you calling?” I thought to myself.  Jerry answered my unspoken question as he continued.  “We wanted you to know that it had absolutely nothing to do with your talent.  Please, and we really mean this, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please come back to read for us again.  This theatre can always, ALWAYS, use a talent like yours.”

The words were kind, but I won’t lie to you, they hurt.  A lot.  For those of you who have read my theatre tales, you know I’ve often said the acting part counts for precious little in the casting process and this is a classic example of that lesson.  But it stings nonetheless.  I realized that, short of a miracle, this was the last time I could conceivably play Billy as next time, if there is one, I will simply be too old for the role.

On a sort of upside, not getting cast in this show did solve my problem of how to audition for another show as its audition dates were going to take place during tech week.  But now I bid a final good-bye to the role of Billy Bibbit and move my eyes to the future.

POSTSCRIPT:  In one of the biggest shocks of my life, I received a phone call from the Chanticleer on January 27.  At first, I thought I simply hadn’t deleted my old voice mail which led to my being told about my rejection.  I thought, “Well at most I’ll just look like a dope if I call and make certain it wasn’t a new message.”  I called Jerry Abels and cautiously asked if he had left me a message.  He said that he had.  It turns out one of the actors had dropped out of the show and now they wanted to offer me the role of Aide Warren.  I mulled it over for a little bit, but taking this role would have meant losing out on the opportunity to audition for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so I declined the opportunity, but told Jerry I very much appreciated the phone call.  So defeat becomes a victory, after all.