Broken Dreams

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From left to right, Tony Schik as Lennie and Josh Peyton as George

George and Lennie have a simple dream.  They just want a piece of land of their own where they can grow some vegetables, tend some rabbits, and live life as they please.  On the cusp of realizing that dream, the ground suddenly threatens to fall away from under their feet with the most cataclysmic reality.  This is John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men currently running at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Reviewing this show is a true pleasure as it is not only the best show I’ve seen this season, but also the best local show I’ve seen in the past few years.

I’m truly grateful that Steinbeck chose to translate his classic novel to the stage himself as I do not think any writer would have been able to properly communicate his ideas and themes as well as he could.  What made Steinbeck’s writing so beautiful is that he was able to present an incredible amount of themes and power, but kept it wrapped up in a relatively simple story.  At its heart, this is a story of friendship and loyalty, but Steinbeck also introduces themes of greed, poverty, infidelity, hope, frustration, love, and racism.  And he presents these ideas through ordinary, realistic conversation.

A great work needs great direction to properly relay the story to an audience and Ablan Roblin’s direction is a piece of art.  Rarely have I seen such skillful handling of a dialogue driven play.  Roblin keeps the words energized and moving.  He never allows the scenes to become static as he inserts just enough movement and animation to keep them lively and real.  His understanding of the turns and twists of the plot allows him to make sequoias bloom from the tiniest moments.  And the coaching of his cast is championship caliber.  Each actor is fully aware of her or his function and utterly confident in his or her abilities.  This allows them to come together as a whole and create something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

There isn’t a weak link in this cast, but some exceptional performances from the supporting cast include Donte Plunkett as a broken, acerbic ranch hand forced to live separately from his working class brethren due to the color of his skin; Mallory Vallier as the lonely, man-hungry wife of The Boss’ son, Curley; and Nick Zadina as the tough, but level headed bunkhouse leader, Slim.

Dennis Collins has a powerful turn as the one handed ranch hand, Candy.  Collins well essays the loneliness and feelings of uselessness of this character.  He’s an older man approaching the end of his days, barely able to work due to his missing appendage, and friendless except for his beloved hound.  The utter joy Collins displays through his eyes and inflection when he is allowed the opportunity to share in George and Lennie’s dream is a true treat for the audience.

Josh Peyton’s handling of George is so effortless that it almost doesn’t seem like he’s acting.  One can actually feel his bond of brotherhood with Lennie and all that entails.  Yes, you can see George’s love for Lennie as he cares for him and stands up for him, but you can also really feel his frustration at the difficulties of caring for Lennie.  Peyton’s emotional choices with his words and body language are always spot on and he is especially compelling when he has to make a crucial decision about Lennie in the play’s final moments.

I was leveled by Tony Schik’s portrayal of Lennie.  It is truly a revelatory performance that’s certain to place him in the running for the Playhouse’s prestigious Fonda-McGuire Award.  He is so utterly believable as the simple, childlike man whose intelligence and maturity is incapable of handling his incredible strength.  Shick brilliantly communicates Lennie’s essence with a slack jaw, veiled eyes, constant excited giggling, and a delivery that shows that Lennie really has to think about what he wants to say before he can say it.  You can’t help but love this big kid, yet ache at the fact that his immaturity and unpredictability make him hard to handle, though life is certainly never dull with him around.

Jim Othuse has crafted another winner with his bunkhouse set.  It is exactly what it needs to be:  simple, dilapidated, but functional for working men.  His lights enhance the moments from darkening at climactic moments to the night sky in the opening scene.  Darin Kuehler’s props add to the effect with his bunk beds and authentic bales of hay.  John Gibilisco’s sounds strongly support the work with sounds of ranch hands talking and the clink of horseshoe playing.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are perfect from the elegant dress of Curley’s Wife to the rich clothing of The Boss to the gear of the ranch hands and the poor, common clothing of George and Lennie.  An original score by Timothy Vallier helps to sweep the audience into this world.

John Steinbeck was truly one of America’s greatest writers and this is one of his finest works.  It may not be the feel good play of the year, but it could very well be the best play of the year.

Of Mice and Men plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through March 17.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $40 ($24 for students) and can be obtained at the OCP box office, online at www.omahaplayhouse.com, or by calling the box office at 402-553-0800.  Parental discretion is advised due to some strong language and a few scenes of violence.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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The Big Bad Woolf

A late night party between a pair of couples begins civilly.  As the couples continue to imbibe, old wounds and frustrations begin to manifest, resulting in a hideous game of oneupsmanship between the older couple that threatens to tear both pairs apart.  This is Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? currently playing at the Performing Artists Repertory Theatre.

Edward Albee had a real talent for revealing the unsavory underbelly of humanity.  And he does it so subtly and with a tragic poetic beauty.  What starts out as good natured jabbing between an older couple while hosting a young couple transforms into something much darker as the ripostes and reactions become a little more cutting and a bit more brutal.  Suddenly the younger couple gets dragged into the tidal wave of verbal sewage until the disaster hits its peak.  Then it drains slowly away and under all the bilge is still a touch of hope and beauty.

Gordon Cantiello does quite superlative work with his direction.  He makes wonderful use of the theatre in the round space with highly animated staging which allows the actors to keep up the energy of the show and play to all sides of the theatre.  He also thoroughly did his homework on this piece as he understands the numerous twists, beats, and climaxes of each scene and has his insanely talented cast play them to perfection.

Delaney Driscoll rules the stage as Martha.  Ms Driscoll’s Martha is truly a vile piece of humanity.  At one point she says she wears the pants in the family and that’s certainly true as she rules with a iron fist.  She derives a sadistic pleasure out of torturing her husband with vicious comments about his failures and embarrassments or just simply ogling and seducing the young new faculty member visiting their home while guzzling booze and snacking on liquor soaked ice cubes.

Ms Driscoll’s presence defies belief and fills the entire theatre as she charmingly essays a bag of human misery.  And yet, she still is able to make you feel a bit of sympathy towards her when you finally understand what fuels her vicious behavior.

Brent Spencer gives a nuanced, well-balanced performance as George, Martha’s husband.  The best way to describe Spencer’s George is if Machiavelli were a spineless weakling.  Nobody with an ounce of self-respect would put up with the abuse with which Martha subjects George.  Not that he’s a wimp.  He can give as good as he gets with his verbal shots and Spencer’s understated delivery allows him to spout insults that leave people wondering if they have just been zinged.  But when he’s pushed too far, watch out!

When this worm finally turns, he does so with devastating effect.  Spencer’s George gleefully develops horrific games such as “Get the Guests” and “Bringing Up Baby” to inflict maximum punishment on his wife and guests.

Mark Booker underplays Nick so beautifully.  He is clearly the parallel to Martha as he is the boss of his family unit and also trapped in a unsuccessful marriage.  Unlike Martha, he can be kind as he does defend his wife, Honey, from some of the verbal fusillade spewing from George’s mouth.  My favorite part of Booker’s interpretation was how he slowly revealed the spiteful, vengeful side of his personality as he got further into his cups.  This is not a man I would want to cross as he delivers double the punishment for every blow he gets.  Not only can he stand toe to toe verbally with George, he unabashedly makes love to Martha just to twist the knife a bit further.

Katie Otten broke my heart with her take on Honey.  She is the lone, wholly sympathetic character in the piece.  Her ramrod posture indicates the constant level of tension she lives with and is only able to cope with copious amounts of alcohol.  When she’s blitzed her real personality of a fun-loving, uneducated party girl shines through. Miss Otten’s Honey seems a poor match for her genius husband until the truth of their relationship is revealed.

One of my friends once described watching this show as the verbal equivalent of having the skin flayed off his body.  That seems a rather apt description as the power of Albee’s words combined with a superior cast will take the audience along on a bitter, intense roller coaster ride that will leave you feeling beaten and wearied by the end.  That feeling is further enhanced by the skillful sound effects of Doug Huggins as his noises buoy the show’s most powerful and key moments.  It is not an easy show to watch, but it is enthralling.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? continues at the PART through Feb 17.  Showtimes are 7pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $35 ($30 for seniors (60+) and $25 students.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-706-0778.  Due to mature themes, the show is not recommended for children.  The PART is located inside of Crossroads Mall next to Target at 7400 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

 

American Classic on Tap for OCP

Of Mice and Men Opens Feb 15 at Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, NEOf Mice and Men will open Friday, Feb 15 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre from Feb 15-Mar 17, 2019.  Performances wil be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression, George–an intelligent, but uneducated man–and Lennie–a large man with the mind of a child–dream of making enough money to buy their own land.  When a crime is accidentally committed, the two men are faced with a moral predicament in one of the most powerful and devastating stories of the 20th century.

Directed by Ablan Roblin, the play based on the critically acclaimed classic American novel by John Steinbeck explores the ultimate meaning of friendship.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $40 for adults and $24 for students ticket prices varying by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Production:  Of Mice and Men

Written By:  John Steinbeck

Directed By:  Ablan Roblin

Cast

Josh Peyton as George

Tony Schik as Lennie

Dennis Collins as Candy

Nick Zadina as Slim

Mike Leamen as Carlson

Steve Catron as Curley

Mallory Vallier as Curley’s Wife

Donte Plunkett as Crooks

Randy Vest as The Boss

Benjamin Battafarano as Whit

 

A, E, I and You

Caroline and Anthony are partners on a project analyzing the use of I and you in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”.  On the surface the two have little in common as Anthony is cheerful, laid back, and outgoing while Caroline is sickly, angry, and seems unable to communicate outside of social media.  As they analyze Whitman’s poem, they begin to peel back their own layers to fully reveal each to the other and a friendship grows between them. . .and perhaps something far more.  This is I and You by Lauren Gunderson and currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Lauren Gunderson has crafted something truly original with this play.  It is a slice of life in its purest sense.  The play eschews the normal narrative style.  Instead it relies on a powerful sense of voice as the construction of the dialogue is purely conversational.  There doesn’t seem to be a plot as the two characters engage in ordinary conversation.  Yet through this conversation you see the bonds of friendship come into existence and strengthen.  A nice touch to the story is how Ms Gunderson makes the two characters two sides of the same coin.  Each is nearly a polar opposite in terms of personality, height, gender, race, and philosophies.  In spite of these surface differences, one finds they have much in common as they slowly show their real selves to the other.  The play also contains one of the most satisfactory endings I’ve seen in almost any show.

Barry Carman provides a very fine piece of direction to this work.  His staging is of superlative quality as his actors stay pretty far apart from each other when the show begins to show the gap between them.  But they physically move closer and closer to each other as their friendship grows.  His understanding of the script is both deft and delicate as he knows how to get his actors to hit the beats just right so the discoveries always pop with surprise.  Carman has also led his two performers to sterling characterizations.

Early in the show, the character of Caroline refers to herself as “small, but mighty”.  However, small, but fierce might be a better descriptor.  In the hands of Anna Jordan, the character is simply acting gold.  Ms Jordan brings a real sense of anger, distrust, and determination to the role.  Caroline suffers from a bad liver which has kept her a virtual shut-in for most of her life.  Being cut off from the outside world has kept her away from a lot of joys in life.  The nuances of face to face conversation elude her as social media is her primary means of communication.  Pleasures like reading seem to be anathema to her as she’d rather google things.  She’s resigned herself to being alone and dying young, though what she wants is to be out in the crowd and living life.

Ms Jordan’s physicality is tremendous as her anger manifests in her rigid, rodlike posture and body language.  So ever present is her anger that this physicality is used even when she is having fun like dancing in her room which was one of the show’s highlights.  As Anna loosens and opens up, so, too, does her physicality.  Her movements become more fluid and culminate in a rocking air piano solo to Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”.

Jordan Isaac Smith keeps pace with Ms Jordan with his own excellent portrayal of Anthony.  Where Caroline is tight and withdrawn, Anthony is completely loose and open.  Smith’s physicality is almost gliding as he practically floats around the room, especially when he is gushing over the work of Walt Whitman.  He gives a very convincing portrayal of being a good kid.  He’s close with his family, gets good grade, and is popular.  But he also does fine work in playing typical teenage behaviors such as his sheepish looks and delivery when he confesses to Caroline that he’s put off this project until the last minute.

Smith is equally skilled at playing the heaviness of Anthony as well as his lightness.  Though Anthony is a pretty happy person, he does carry his own well of sadness that he slowly reveals to Caroline as their friendship grows.

Martin Scott Marchitto has designed a stellar set for this show.  It truly looks like a typical teen’s bedroom.  His set is further enhanced by the properties of Amy Reiner.  Few can dress a stage like Ms Reiner as her properties of books, toys, records, computer, and furniture add to the messy, lived in quality of this room.  Josh Mullady’s lights add their own brilliant life to the show.  Especially impressive are his use of planetarium lights from Caroline’s toy turtle and the subtle transition from light to dark to light during a moment of awakening in the show.  Molly Welsh’s sounds blend so smoothly into the show that you are sometimes unaware of their presence until powerful moments end and you realize the sound was adding to the moment.

The play’s narrative style may catch a few off guard as it doesn’t follow the ordinary path of a story, but its utter realism and naturalism are crucial to the unfolding of this tale.  With sure and stable direction combined with a pair of potent performances, I and You is another winner in the Blue Barn legacy.

I and You plays at the Blue Barn through Feb 24.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm with the exception of a 6pm performance on Feb 17.  Tickets are $35 for general admission and $30 for seniors.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

The Game Will be Afoot at BLT

BELLEVUE LITTLE THEATRE PRESENTS
“BASKERVILLE” AUDITIONS

Saturday, February 9, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm
Sunday, February 10, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm

Interested parties need only attend one day of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you.

Actors should come prepared to move (not dance), demonstrate a variety of accents and dialects, and read from the script.

Please bring a resume and head shot if you have them and a list of conflicts between March 18 and May 19. Excessive conflicts and conflicts after April 19 may affect casting decisions.

Callbacks: Sunday, February 17
Rehearsals will begin February 18 (evenings and weekends)
Performance Dates: May 3 – 19, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Questions? Contact Director, Suzanne Withem at suzannewithem@gmail.com

“Baskerville,” by Ken Ludwig, is a comedic retelling of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In Ludwig’s version, three actors play nearly 40 supporting characters to the leads, Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Actors of all genders will be considered for all roles, and actors of any gender, race, or ethnicity who are 18 or older are encouraged to audition. All actors will utilize various dialects, but a strong standard British dialect is required.

Characters:
* Sherlock Holmes: (any age; any gender) The world’s greatest detective is sophisticated, quick-witted, and passionate. He is an English gentleman who is very precise in speech and manner. This actor plays only one role.
* Dr. John Watson: (any age; any gender) A kind amiable doctor and Sherlock Holmes’s faithful sidekick. A man of action, intellect and deep emotion. He is also very British.
* Actor 1: (any age; any gender) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily the villains and baddies. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 2: (any age; any gender – though likely male identifying) Plays nearly a dozen characters – primarily heroes and gentlemen. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 3: (any age; any gender – though likely female identifying) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily maids, nurses, and damsels in distress. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects and willing to challenge traditional gender roles.
* Roustabouts and Foley Artists: (any age; any gender) – These two or three nonspeaking roles will be cast and treated as members of the acting company. They will assist with scene changes, participate in comedy bits, and serve as Foley artists providing live sound effects for the production from onstage. They should be creative problems solvers adept at physical comedy and familiar with silent storytelling. They are vital to the success of keeping the “trunk show” design of the production moving forward and creating the world of the theatre in which the play is performed.

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.

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

“I and You” to Open at Blue Barn

I and You

by Lauren Gunderson

January 31st – February 24th, 2018

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 2/10 & 2/24 at 2pm | 2/17 at 6:00pm

About the play:  One afternoon, Anthony arrives unexpectedly at classmate Caroline’s door bearing a beat-up copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and an urgent assignment from their English teacher. As these two let down their guards and share their secrets, they unlock a much deeper mystery that has brought them together. I and You is an ode to youth, life, love, and the strange beauty of human connectedness.

About the production: I and You features Anna Jordan and Jordan Smith. Directed by Barry Carman, with scenic design by Martin Marchitto, sound design by Molly Welsh, lighting design by Josh Mullady, and properties by Amy Reiner.

The production is generously sponsored by Jannette Davis, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Mutual of Omaha.

Tickets:

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org. Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

Engage:

Whitman Exhibit

Jan 31st-Feb 24th: Visit the Mammel Lobby at the BLUEBARN to peruse a display on the legacy of Walt Whitman curated by UNL’s Whitman Archive.

Louder than a Bomb: Songs of Ourselves

Sunday, Feb 10th @ 6:30 pm: Join us as we host Nebraska Writer’s Collective presenting spoken word poets from their Louder Than a Bomb program. Four high school teams  (Central, Abraham Lincoln, Mercy and Skutt) will compete on the Blue Barn stage in celebration of poetry, theater, Walt Whitman and young writers.

Gifts of Life

Sunday, Feb 17th, Post-Show: Following our 6pm performance, BLUEBARN convenes a forum of transplant donors, donor family members, recipients, and professionals in partnership with the UNMC Transplant Team and Live On Nebraska. Join us for a discussion on the powerful impact of organ donation and the misconceptions that may prevent some from becoming donors.

AfterWords

Thursday, Feb 14th and 21st, Post-Show: Following the show, stay for a revealing conversation with the stars of I and You, Anna Jordan and Jordan Smith. He and she will be ready and willing to answer any and all questions about I and You for you and yours.

Engagement events are free and open to the public.

The McGuigan Invasion

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On Feb 9, 1964, a group known as The Beatles made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Their triumphant American debut not only forever altered the course of American music, but triggered an event known as The British Invasion as a slew of English bands would find their way to our shores to dominate the pop charts.  Last night at the Wilson Performing Arts Center in Red Oak, IA, people got a chance to either relive that era or experience it for the first time with Billy McGuigan’s latest show, The British Invasion.

Like the Beatles, Billy McGuigan continues to churn out hit after hit and his latest show is certainly no exception.  With his one of a kind energy and ability, Billy and his band, the Downliners, took the audience on a blitzkrieg tour of the British Invasion as they snapped out a wide arrangement of songs from a variety of bands such as The Who, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Petula Clark, The Dave Clark 5, Herman’s Hermits, Cream, Them, The Rolling Stones, and, of course, The Beatles.

Billy McGuigan was in especially good voice last night and set the tone for the night with his opening number of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” complete with some pinwheel guitar playing ala Pete Townshend. From there, he gave his rich tenor quite the hefty workout.  Whether he was belting out hard rocking numbers such as “Under My Thumb” and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones complete with Mick Jaggeresque dancing and strutting to singing lighter rock numbers such as Herman’s Hermits’ “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good” to gently emoting tender tunes like Peter and Gordon’s “I Go to Pieces”, McGuigan could simply do no wrong.

McGuigan also proved his remarkable versatility by tackling The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” with a take that would make Eric Burdon proud.  And he actually made me like a Van Morrison song (my favorite number of the night, actually) with his interpretation of Them’s “Here Comes the Night”.

Billy McGuigan was powerfully supported by his multitalented band, the Downliners, including his brothers, Ryan and Matthew McGuigan, on percussion, bass, and backing vocals who shined in their own numbers.  Matthew worked some magic with The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting of You” while Ryan was in full John Lennon mode with The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” before the two joined forces on the awesome “Revolution”.  Tara Vaughan tickled the ivories as only she can and was featured in several numbers as her, oh so gorgeous, alto attacked Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown”.  Omaha’s answer to Pete Townshend, Max Meyer, dazzled the audience with skillful lead guitar playing and solos while Adam Stoltenberg’s drumming was the unbreakable foundation for these numbers.

Early in the night, Billy told the audience that for a fraction of the cost of a Rolling Stones ticket we were actually hearing the same songs complete with lyrics and sung in tune.  Well, the ticket may have been a fraction of the cost, but the talent is absolutely priceless as Billy and the Downliners make these classic songs their own and you should certainly get a ticket the next time you hear that Billy McGuigan and The British Invasion is coming your way.

Locally, Billy McGuigan will be back in action on March 30,2019 when he teams up with the Omaha Symphony at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, NE with yet another new show, America Rocks the 60s.  Ticket prices start at $19 and can be purchased at Ticket Omaha.

This summer, Billy’s keyboardist, Tara Vaughan, formally debuts her own show, She Rocks!, over at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  This production features the legendary hits of female singers and songwriters and will run for 3 weeks beginning on June 13, 2019.  Tickets begin at $30 and can also be purchased at Ticket Omaha.