A ‘Hare’y Case

Elwood P. Dowd is a heck of a guy.  His manners are impeccable.  He always has a smile and a kind word for you.  He’ll meet you as a stranger and leave you as a friend.  Speaking of friends, his best friend is an invisible six-foot, one and a half inch tall white rabbit which deals fits to his family. Find out why in Harvey which is currently playing at the Lofte Community Theatre.

In Dowd, Mary Chase has created a true disciple to Cervantes’ beloved madman, Don Quixote de La Mancha.  Not only does Dowd see life as it should be instead of as it is, but he takes it one step further by making life as it should be the reality of his little corner of the world.  It’s quite a powerful theme and it’s truly a joy to watch the magical effect that Dowd’s philosophy of just “being pleasant” has on the world.  Had Chase focused solely on the idea of Dowd’s philosophy and madness, she’d have had a nearly perfect story.  But her use of several subplots that never really get fully developed or settled waters her work down a bit and turns a nearly perfect story into a pretty good story.

Kevin Colbert’s direction is fairly effective.  I loved his staging and use of space in the mammoth set.  His actors are precisely placed so you not only always see their faces, but it makes the cavernous library and sanitarium feel full.  Colbert also has a firm grip on the show’s primary theme and gives it the proper focus throughout the production.  He’s also guided his actors to some sweet and charming performances.  As the show does have elements of a farce, I thought the pacing could have been picked up at points and the cue pickups needed to be tighter, but I’ll qualify that by saying I did catch this show on its penultimate night and I may have just been seeing the performance fatigue that sometimes hits at the end of a run.

In this solid ensemble, you’ll see some entertaining performances from Matt Jarvis and Natalie Christina McGovern.  Jarvis makes the most of his brief time on stage by being the physical embodiment of Dowd’s philosophy.  He’s very irritable when he enters, but is transformed into a friendly, garrulous man after meeting Dowd.  Jarvis also gets one of the night’s best monologues as he tells the story of taking patients to and from the sanitarium which paints the difference between happiness and reality.  McGovern provides some laughs as a slightly snobby and man hungry high society elitist.

Neal Herring was sublime as Elwood P. Dowd.  When he first entered, I was struck by his physical similarity to Dan Duryea and his Dowd has a personality to match (Duryea was known as the nicest guy in Hollywood in massive contrast to the vicious villains he brought to life on screen).  Herring underplays the role beautifully.  He is just charming and likable and one cannot help, but be a better person just by being in his presence.  This guy isn’t crazy, he’s simply “conquered reality” which makes him saner than most.

Scott Clark is very clinical as sanitarium head, William Chumley.  This man is practically a robot, staying in his office and never interacting with patients which explains how he’s lost touch with his humanity.  Clark is truly amusing as he starts to disintegrate when dealing with the curious case of Dowd and Harvey and has a truly shining moment when he throws off his shell and you realize Chumley is a man who has merely forgotten the simple pleasures of life.

Rosalie Duffy has all the right elements in place as Dowd’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons.  Duffy’s Veta has got a good heart, but also is a little more concerned with her ranking in high society and how she’s perceived by others instead of just being happy.  Duffy also does a fine job of slowly peeling the onion of her relationship with Harvey and you learn there may be more than madness at play.  This is a truly fun role and I think Duffy has the space to go a bit bigger with some of her interpretations and reactions with some of the show’s more farcical moments.

Colbert has designed the best set I’ve seen this season.  It breaks apart and rotates like a jigsaw puzzle with one side being the library in the Dowd home with its fine stained wood, gorgeous window, bookshelves, and looming fireplace and the other being the front office of the sanitarium with powder blue walls, office doors, phones, and desk.  The sanitarium actually has a homey feeling which would put patients at ease.  Janet Sorensen’s costumes are on the mark with elegant suits for the men, splendid dresses for the wealthy women, the sterile uniform of the sanitarium orderly, and the practical nurse uniform of Ruth Kelly.  I also want to take a moment to praise the wonderful portraits Cindy Mumford has painted of Marcella Dowd plus the one of Elwood and Harvey.

And what of Harvey?  Is he delusion?  Reality?  Or that little spark of happiness that many of us tend to lose?  I have my thoughts, but I’d rather you watch it and come up with your own theories.

Harvey has one final performance at Lofte Community Theatre on April 10 at 2pm.  Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 402-234-2553, or visiting www.lofte.org.  Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road in Manley, NE.

The Frailty of the King

An aging king decides to retire and divide his land between his three daughters, but first requires his daughters to make a declaration of love to him in order to determine which one loves him best.  This requirement triggers a series of events that cause the land to descend into chaos, war, betrayal, madness, and death.  This is King Lear and it is currently playing at the BlueBarn.

It’s been said that the tragedies of William Shakespeare laid the blueprint for the modern-day soap opera and that’s very believable as all of the Bard’s tragedies tend to follow certain patterns and contain similar themes prevalent in that genre of entertainment.  You have protagonists with fatal flaws, warring families, backstabbing (sometimes in a very literal sense), betrayal, intrigue, alliance, and complex schemes, just to name a few.  Great elements for an engaging spectacle, but BlueBarn’s King Lear has an x factor that raises it to another level.

It’s a masterpiece.

Believe me, I don’t bandy that word about very readily.  But this show is virtually perfect.  Direction that is spot on.  Acting that held nary a flaw.  Beautiful costumes.  Atmospheric lighting.  A transcendent set.  And a story that will have you heart aching at the folly and depravity of man.

I’d known of Jill Anderson’s sterling reputation as an actress, but she proved that she is equally golden as a director.  Anderson truly understands the complexities of Shakespeare’s writing and language and easily guides the audience through its labyrinthian path.  She knew when to punch up a moment with just the right amount of big emotion and when the subtlest of subtlety was needed.  The pacing was sure.  The staging was immaculate.  Anderson’s grip on the language was so ironclad that she had an entire cast tossing it off as if it were their natural tongue.  Her coaching of the actors was championship quality as they worked like a well-oiled machine with hardly a blip in their work.

 I could easily wax poetic on the work of the entire cast, but for brevity’s sake, let me simply say that some of the truly excellent performances you’ll see come from Josh Peyton who shines in my favorite role of The Fool, who just may be the wisest person in the show.  Matthew Kisher is stellar as Edgar, a good and innocent man who is compelled to accept the heavy mantle of avenger and hero when he finds himself and his father the target of a conspiracy.  Ashley Kobza and Melissa King kill it as Goneril and Regan.  Kobza is particularly impressive as the brutish, more military minded Goneril while King’s Regan is a bit more Machiavellian, yet is capable of a frightening level of viciousness as when she claws out the eye of an ally of her father, Lear.  Delaney Jackson is haunting as the gentle Cordelia who is disinherited by Lear simply because she is sincere about her love for him.

I’ve seen Thomas Becker essay many a fine role over the years, but his King Lear might just be his crowning achievement (pardon the pun).  This is a very difficult role to perform as the actor needs to play a man who is both strong and weak.  Lear is very much the warrior king, yet is cursed with the fatal flaws of arrogance, stupidity, and ability to be easily manipulated due to his ego.  Becker is incredible as a ruler whose age and ego make him quite irascible, but whose behavior may also indicate the onset of dementia and certainly madness as his eldest daughters break his spirit after they get his land which is all they wanted from him.

Becker makes massive emotional changes on the turn of a dime as he can go from being explosively angry to childishly humorous in the blink of an eye.  Some of Becker’s best scenes are his moments of clarity when he realizes what he has done to himself and to the daughter that truly loved him and you see a glimpse of the good man who got lost somewhere along the way.

Shane Staiger is evil personified as Edmund.  While one can have sympathy at his inability to inherit his father’s lands due to his illegitimate status, his plan to bypass that is reprehensible.  This is truly one of the most selfish people I’ve seen portrayed on stage and Staiger is phenomenal.  In the presence of others, he assumes a gentlemanly and honorable persona, but removes that mask in his monologues where his derisive sneers and demonic smirks fully make you buy into his evil.  This man truly looks out for number one and he will lie to, kill, and seduce whomever he has to in order to obtain the power he desperately craves.

Ryan Kathman is a truly noble man as Kent.  This is a man who truly loves his king and because of that love can’t be anything less than honest with him.  Kathman’s Kent boldly and bluntly tells the king when he does wrong even when that directness results in his exile.  Yet so great is his love that he continues to serve his king in disguise in order to protect him from himself.  Not only does Kathman project that needed sense of decency and loyalty, he also shows some dandy comedic chops with his hilarious abuse of the servant, Oswald.

Steven Williams’ set transports you back to a long-ago time with its wooden outline shaping into elegant castle doors and staircases as frilled sheets decorate the ceiling and descend into tapestries.  His lighting is so atmospheric especially during the monologue scenes when the lights go low except for a lone light on the speaker with the color matching the speaker’s personality such as the sadistic red of Edmund’s speeches.  His lighting for the storm sequence combined with Bill Kirby’s booming thunder made for one of the best technical scenes I’ve ever seen on stage.  And speaking of sounds, Kirby’s are top notch from the relentless drumbeats that drive the story to its finale to the definitive thump of a drawbridge closing, effectively imprisoning Gloucester in his own home.  Jill Anderson did double duty as she was also costume designer and they are dynamite with their medieval look from the knights to the Fool’s jester outfit to the elegant dresses of the ladies and the robes of the men.

This is an extremely worthy night of entertainment and don’t be concerned that you might not understand the classical language.  The program contains a synopsis of the story so you’ll understand what’s going on and then can merely immerse yourself in the language, acting, and tragic story of a land’s downfall due to a foolish king.

King Lear runs at BlueBarn through April 16.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm with a performance on April 3 at 2pm and April 10 at 6pm. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased by calling 402-345-1576 or visiting www.bluebarn.org. BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

BLT Announces Auditions for “Arsenic and Old Lace”

Bellevue Little Theatre presents
Arsenic & Old Lace Auditions

Sunday, November 11 @ 7:00 PM
Monday, November 12 @ 7:00 PM

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

Interested parties need only attend one evening of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you. Those auditioning will be asked to read sections from the script. These will be provided at auditions.

Actors should bring:
• All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts to complete the audition form.
• A recent photo to attach to audition form. Photos do not need to be professional and will not be returned. Should you not have a photo, one will be taken at the time of the audition.
Casting decisions will be completed and all parties notified no later than Sunday, September 16th.

Rehearsals: expected to begin in late November
Performance Dates: January 18-February 3, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Mortimer Brewster is living a happy life: he has a steady job at a prominent New York newspaper, he’s just become engaged, and he gets to visit his sweet spinster aunts to announce the engagement. Mortimer always knew that his family had a bit of a mad gene — his brother believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt and his great-grandfather used to scalp Indians for pleasure — but his world is turned upside down when he realizes that his dear aunts have been poisoning lonely old men for years! When Mortimer’s maniacal brother, Jonathan. (who strangely now resembles Boris Karloff) returns on the night that the aunts were planning to bury the newest victim, Mortimer must rally to help his aunts and protect his fiancé — all while trying to keep his own sanity. as well. An uproarious farce on plays involving murder, Arsenic and Old Lace has become a favorite.
Todd Uhrmacher will be director for this classic.

Adults are required for this production. Cast requirements are as follows.  For information contact the director at uhrmne@gmail.com.

Available Roles:
* Abby Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered– murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Martha Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered–murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Elaine Harper: A sweet young lady who knows what she wants. She is in love with Mortimer and she is not about to let him talk her out of their engagement. (18-25)
* Mortimer Brewster: A young theatre critic who has a bunch of crazy people in his family tree. He himself is afraid of becoming crazy as well as what may happen if people find out about the skeletons in his families cellar. (25-30)
* Teddy Brewster: A bit on the crazy side; Teddy Brewster thinks that he is president teddy Roosevelt. He buries all of Martha and Abby’s “gentlemen” in the basement. (25-35)
* Jonathan Brewster: He was troubled as a child and is even more so as an adult. He has escaped from a mental institution and has murdered multiple people. In order to hide from the law Johnny has had to turn to plastic surgery to alter his face, leaving him disfigured. (30-40)
* Dr. Einstein: A plastic surgeon who is often drinking. He has also escaped from a mental institution. He has a German accent (30-50)
* The Rev. Dr Harper: A protective father to Elaine. (40-60)
* Mr. Gibbs: A nice elderly man who lives alone and has no family. (60-70)
* Officer O’Hera: A officer who doesn’t really want to be an officer. He wants to write plays and is eager to tell the renowned critique Mortimer about his plot. He’s not very good at reading the room or knowing when now is not a good time. (20- 40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Brophy: An officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Klein: Another officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Lieutenant Rooney: All bronze and no brain. An officer of the law. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Mr. Witherspoon: Superintendent of Happy Dale sanitarium. (40-60) (This character may be male or female.)

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.