A Well Acted Puzzler

A man mourns the loss of his family and friends.  This is the plot of The Designated Mourner by Wallace Shawn and currently playing at the Circle Theatre.

This play is much, much more than my simple one sentence summary.  This is the most perplexing play I have ever watched.  There is a narrative thread, but due to the disjointed and fragmented nature of Shawn’s writing, it takes the focus of a Sherlock Holmes to locate and grasp it.  The play was about ¾ of the way over before I had enough clues to put things together.

The play takes place in a totalitarian society where being an intellectual is a crime.  The play is presented as a triologue between the characters of Jack, Judy, and Howard as they share their broken and unconnected memories with the audience.  Pay very close attention to what each character says as their stories and thoughts weave in and out from the present and the past, leading the audience on a very convoluted path to the endgame of this story.

Ryle Smith plays the role of Jack and directs the play.  As director, he has chosen to present the play as a reader’s theatre production.  I found this to be a very wise choice as this is a very static play.  It is completely dialogue driven with zero action and presenting it as a narration gives this play the best possible chance for success.  He has also guided himself and his other two thespians to strong performances which is absolutely vital to holding the audience’s interest in this talky production.

As Jack, Smith serves as the chief narrator of the story and is the designated mourner.  Smith does a good job of presenting Jack as a wannabe intellectual.  He is intelligent and has an appreciation for fine literature, but cannot converse about it on the same level as his wife, Judy, and father-in-law, Howard.

Though Jack has the veneer of a laid-back personality, it covers a much darker side.  Jack is a coward, has utter contempt for his father-in-law due to his being highbrow while Jack is lowbrow, cheats on Judy, and runs with his tail tucked between his legs when the government begins to threaten Judy and Howard.  As unlikable as Jack is, Smith’s interpretation does permit an understanding of, if not sympathy for, Jack.  He is somewhat pitiable as he loses his sense of identity for the sake of his survival and there is a gleam of hope for him as he recognizes the poetry of beauty in the simple things of life at the play’s end.

I found the character of Judy to be the most baffling of the play and that is not a negative criticism.  Due to the esoteric nature of Wallace’s writing, I simply had trouble getting a grip on Judy’s function in the story as her stories and memories are the most ethereal of the three characters.  Luckily the acting of Laura Marr makes up for the rather ghostly nature of Judy.

Ms Marr always remained fully engaged in the action and I was enthralled as I watched her reactions to the stories told by Howard and Jack as her expressions told a story all their own.  She was also a master of the beats as she altered tone, expression, and body language with each shift of the story.  Most compelling was her storytelling when Judy was dying of an unknown illness as her body seemed to deteriorate before my eyes to coincide with the sickliness of Judy.

David Sindelar once again proves himself to be one of the city’s underrated talents with a rare, and excellent, dramatic turn as Howard.  As Howard, Sindelar breathes a rather lofty air into his performance.  He is the intellectual’s intellectual.  Howard is a master of prose and wrote several political essays which may play into the woes he eventually suffers during the course of the show.  He truly enjoys a good debate and comes off as a bit of a snob.  This trait was most telling during a conversation with Jack about a mutual friend.

When Jack says he would have done things differently than this friend about a certain event, Sindelar’s Howard persuasively argues that if Jack had been the friend he would have been motivated by the same thoughts and reactions as that of the friend and, therefore, have done exactly the same thing.  Sindelar did this with a wonderful superior attitude that made me wonder if the contempt between Jack and Howard were equal on both sides.  Sindelar could also give lessons on projection and voice control as his powerful speaking voice filled the theatre space.

While the acting was quite strong, I felt that the pace could have been picked up quite a bit.  Ms Marr and Smith also need to project a little bit more into the microphones as they were a little quiet at the start of the show.

It’s hard to write a proper conclusion to this review due to the mysterious nature of the show.  I believe this play will be quite polarizing.  You will either love it or you will hate it.  Buckle yourself in for a long ride as a lot will be thrown at you in a short period of time, but the performing abilities of the trio of actors will go a long way in bolstering the peculiarities of the script.

The Designated Mourner plays for the Circle Theatre through February 27.  Showtimes are 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays and this production is playing at the Urban Abbey located at 1026 Jackson St in the Old Market district of Omaha, NE.  For reservations, contact the Circle at 402-553-4715 or via e-mail at dlmarr@cox.net.  Tickets cost $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $10 for students, active military, and T.A.G. members.  This play contains strong language and mature themes and is not suitable for children.

Gabriel Iglesias Brings His #FluffyBreaksEven Tour to Omaha

GABRIEL IGLESIAS BRINGS HIS #FLUFFYBREAKSEVEN TOUR TO OMAHA ON APRIL 14, 2016

Tickets To Comedian’s Show At The Holland Center Go On Sale December 18

Omaha, Neb. (Monday, December 14) – Born in Chula Vista, Calif., Gabriel Iglesias is the youngest of six children, raised by a single mother. Growing up, the family lived in Section 8 housing in Long Beach, Calif. It was during his childhood that he developed a strong sense of humor to deal with the obstacles he faced. In 1997, he set out to hone his comedic skills, and performed stand-up anywhere he could find an audience; including biker bars and hole-in-the-wall joints. Iglesias’ stand-up comedy is a mixture of storytelling, parodies, characters and sound effects that bring his personal experiences to life.

His unique and animated comedy style has made him popular among fans of all ages.

Iglesias brings his #FluffyBreaksEven tour to the Kiewit Concert Hall at the Holland Performing Arts Center on April 14, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. Fans can purchase tickets before the public on-sale by using promo code FLUFFY at TicketOmaha.com on December 16. Tickets go on sale to the public Friday, December 18, at 10 a.m., and will be available through Ticket Omaha at 402.345.0606.

TicketOmaha.com or the Ticket Omaha office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center at 13th and Douglas streets.

Iglesias is one of America’s most successful stand-up comedians, and performs to sold-out concerts around the world. He recently had the distinct honor of being one of the few comedians to headline and sellout Madison Square Garden in New York, The Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, and The Honda Center in Anaheim. This fall, Iglesias will be launching The Fluffy Breaks Even! concert tour.

Iglesias stars in Fuse TV’s “Fluffy Breaks Even!” (premiered Oct. 1), a non-scripted comedic docu-follow series co-starring his eccentric tour mates and fellow comedians Martin Moreno and Rick Gutierrez. Audience members will have an opportunity to see what it’s like for Iglesias to eat on the road, add up the calories and then try to burn it off and “break even” with a different restaurant and workout in every episode.

Iglesias co-stars with Channing Tatum in Warner Bros’ “Magic Mike XXL,” reprising his role as Tobias. Earlier this year, he lit up the small screen on the ABC sitcom “Cristela.”

Feature film credits include co-starring roles in 20th Century Fox’s animated film “The Book of Life,” “A Haunted House 2,” and the hit animated films “The Nut Job” and “Disney’s Planes.” Iglesias also starred in the theatrical stand-up concert comedy film, “The Fluffy Movie.” For the past three years Comedy Central has aired Iglesias’ hit series “Stand-Up Revolution.” The cable network also premiered

“Gabriel Iglesias: Aloha Fluffy” in an unprecedented two-night comedy special to over 15 million viewers. The special was a follow-up to his previous DVD specials, “Hot & Fluffy” and “I’m Not Fat…I’m Fluffy,” which have sold a combined total of over 2 million copies.

Bonding

Sometimes it’s just the little moments away from the stage that one appreciates the most.

Last night had been a long rehearsal for me.  I do a hard workout 5-6 days a week and last night was the day for my absolute hardest workout.  Combine that with a long day at the office and just enough time to shower and eat a salad after the workout and you’ve got yourself one weary consulting thespian.

I’m a very active person.  On a physical level, I’m on the go a lot and I like to do things and have adventures (hence, my love of travel).  My mental activity probably outstrips my physical activity because I am almost constantly thinking (which has its highs and its lows).  Like Sherlock Holmes, doing nothing wears me out more than doing something.

As my friends will gladly testify, I am usually not much of a night owl.  They usually know when I’m working on a show because I will sometimes doze off because I work sunup to sundown.  It also happens when I’m doing a passive activity like watching TV.  As long as my brain is engaged, I can be capable of staying up into the wee hours of the morning.  If I’m doing nothing, my body’s response is, “Ah, to heck with this.  Lights out!!!”

After the heavy workout and then just sitting and observing the cast work, I was starting to feel a little sleepy towards the end of rehearsal.  Then the actors decided they wanted to run the act from the top which meant I had to leap into action as one of our actors was not called last night.  It was like a switch had turned on in my mind and I instantly became alert.  But I was so stiff from my workout that I simply read the lines from where I sat.

When we finished for the night, I was ready to head for home and read a little before turning in, but our Bogle (Bill Grennan) decided he wanted a glass of wine and asked me if I’d join him.  I decided, “Why not?” 

And I was glad I made the choice because it’s the little moments spent away from the stage with your acting family that really builds the camaraderie, friendships, and, dare I say, a stronger show.

I’ve been friends with Bill since that wonderful experience with Biloxi Blues, but I think this is the first time we’ve ever really been able to talk and I was amazed to discover just how much we had in common.

Bill and I actually have similar ideas when it comes to acting and interpretation.  We actually share nearly identical views on the characterization of the Bogle, although Bill admits that he hasn’t quite found him yet.  I think he’s a lot closer than he realizes as he’s made some really great discoveries.  But I do understand the challenge in discovering the character.  There is nothing quite as sweet as the moment when the character reveals himself to me and that’s when the real excitement of acting begins.

We discussed our experiences in The 39 Steps for him and Leaving Iowa for me and I was able to share what a transformative and relieving experience that show was for me.  I was surprised to discover that Bill related a bit better than I thought.  Like myself, he had experienced a long drought at the beginning of his career.

Bill began auditioning at the age of 14 and did not get cast until he finally gained a bit part towards the end of his high school career.  From there he finally graduated to better roles in college and then to the success he’s enjoyed on the community theatre circuit in recent years.  Both of us also credit Susan Clement-Toberer with giving us that first really big breakthrough role.

He also managed to make me feel better about my audition for Every Christmas Story Ever Told a few years back.  As my regular readers know, I was the only person to audition for that show on the first night of auditions and I had long feared that I had literally lost to nobody.  Bill told me he had auditioned with a few other people on the second night and I felt immensely better because I had at least lost to flesh and blood opponents.

Bill did think losing to air was hilarious and encouraged me to write a comedic monologue about that idea because it would be “comedic gold” as he stated.  I just may accept that challenge.

But it’s really the simple moments like those that add to the magic of the theatre experience.  Rediscovering that last night has made this whole experience as the show’s consulting thespian worthwhile indeed.