Two Plays & a Place to Stay: Macon, MO & Phillips Place Bed and Breakfast

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Summer has arrived which means it was time to answer the call of the road once more.

This time my journeys took me to the small town of Macon, MO where I would be reviewing a pair of shows for the Maples Repertory Theatre and staying at Phillips Place Bed & Breakfast.  And, no, to those of you who may be remembering my misadventures in Arlington, TX, I had no difficulty finding the theatre.  Everything I needed was within walking distance.

I enjoyed a rather pleasant drive through Missouri.  Traffic was light and the foliage was lush.  I pulled off the road in the little burg of Cameron for a bite of lunch at Wendy’s.  I ate a Spicy Chicken sandwich while Ellery Queen puzzled over the murder of Abigail Doorn in The Dutch Shoe Mystery, my latest novel.  After my lunch I noticed a machine that dispensed lottery tickets at the rest stop and bought tickets for Powerball and Mega Millions.  Then I looked for my change and found that the machine did not dispense change.  I then proceeded to buy 2 Monopoly scratch-offs and a Win It All scratch-off.  I won enough money off one of the Monopoly games to offset my forced expenditures.

About 4pm, I arrived in Macon and easily found my way to Phillips Place, owned and operated by Carol Phillips.  I met Carol’s assistant, Michael, and his feisty dog who led me to me to the Turner Suite, my temporary home.

Phillips Place is a rather large Classical Revival home that only has 2 rooms for rent (Turner and Rubey Suites), but they are large and comfortable.  In fact, I consider the Turner Suite to be the most comfortable room I have enjoyed as my three room suite contained a bedroom with a very soft bed, a spacious bathroom, and a rather quaint sitting room.

After I took a quick turn about the place, I met Carol Phillips who brought me a glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon.  Like myself, she was a big theatre buff and would also be attending the production of Of Mice and Men that I was reviewing.  The next day she and a friend, Chuck Koopmann (also a theatre buff and treasurer of Maples Repertory Theatre) were going to head to the Amana Colonies to watch a performance of Million Dollar Quartet featuring some past Maples Rep performers.

After the tea and talk, I took a constitutional around the neighborhood and downtown area to find the theatre and Immaculate Conception Church where I would be attending worship services the next night.  When I returned to the inn, I met Chuck who invited me to share dinner with himself and Carol.

I enjoyed a fine dinner of BBQ ribs, potatoes, salad, and some green beans.  It was a lovely meal with the conversation equally so as we talked theatre, the history of Maples Rep, and my various adventures in travel and theatre.

Upon dinner’s completion, I spruced myself up for the night’s entertainment.  Maples Repertory Theatre is a well hidden jewel in Missouri.  It attracts theatrical talent from all over the country and they put on one terrific production.  You can read my review of the show here.

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On opening night, Maples Rep hosts an event called Afterglow where they serve drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and have a little cabaret production.  I watched a little of the cabaret and had a conversation with Brandon McShaffrey who directed the play.  Then I returned to the inn to write the review and sleep soundly through the night.

The next morning, I had breakfast with Carol and Chuck where I enjoyed biscuits basted with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar with sausage gravy, bacon, cheesy eggs, fried potatoes, milk, and orange juice and another great conversation.  Afterwards I returned to my room to do a little work and grab a quick catnap as my sleep the previous night had been sound, but not long due to my being up late to write.

At noon, I settled my bill with Carol due to her leaving for the Amana colonies and I took another walk around the area.  I stopped at a Rexall’s Drugstore which actually had an old-fashioned soda fountain.  I ordered a vanilla ice cream soda which was delicious and then returned to the inn to get out of the heat.  I spent the afternoon writing up this article and watching Lt. Columbo capturing killers.

In the late afternoon, I got dolled up for church and the show.  I attended evening services at Immaculate Conception Church where the service was said by Father Kevin Gormley, a lovable Irishman, now retired, who subs for priests all over the state.  As he says, now he is truly a “Roaming” Catholic.

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Immaculate Conception Church

After worship had ended, I walked a few blocks up the road to the Apple Basket Café for dinner.  It’s a quaint little diner and I was very tempted to indulge in the Saturday night special of a 12 oz ribeye steak.  But, with the show starting in less than an hour, I opted for something that could be prepared and eaten a little more quickly.  I had a turkey club sandwich on sourdough with a side of fries and a cup of chili.  It filled the cavity nicely.

Feeling satiated, I returned to Maples Rep for another fantastic production.  You can read my review for Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash here.

During intermission, I met Todd Davison, the artistic director for Maples Rep.  I was quite shocked to learn that I was the first critic in the theatre’s 14 year history.  That morning, Chuck had asked for permission to send my first review to the town’s local newspaper, so I hope my words drum up some business.  This theatre is such a fine little jewel that I may send them an audition for next season.

At the show’s end I returned to Phillips Place where I wrote up the review and conked out for the night.

Breakfast was a more subdued, quiet affair this morning.  Carol had prepared a frittata with cheese, eggs, spinach, and yellow peppers along with milk, orange juice, a lemon puff, and a croissant.  Michael had heated up my meal and I ate a quicker meal than normal for me.

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And that wraps up this article.  Macon is truly a nice, friendly little town.  It’s the type of town where everybody knows everybody.  You’ll enter a stranger and leave as a friend.  And I would make it a strong recommendation to visit this little town.  You won’t find a better inn than Phillips Place in terms of comfort and hospitality and you’ll do yourself a favor by taking in a night at Maples Repertory.  I guarantee it.

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Cursed Are the Meek

It’s a story of friendship and the American dream.  George and Lennie are itinerant workers hoping to save enough of a stake to get a small piece of land to build a small house, plant a vegetable garden, have some pigs, and build some pens for chickens and rabbits.  On the cusp of achieving that dream, a tragedy threatens to end it once and for all.  This is the story of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Steinbeck’s novel is one of the great classics of American literature touching on numerous themes such as the class system, hope, dreams, perseverance, self-pity, and frustration.  The theatrical world benefited from Steinbeck’s decision to translate the novel into a play as only his unique skill was capable of bringing these themes to life with powerful dialogue and subtle foreshadowing.  The play is indicative of its time due to its talky nature, but Steinbeck’s talents make each monologue a gripper from beginning to end.

In the 20 years I’ve been involved with theatre, this play ranks within the top 5 that I’ve reviewed.  I give hearty congratulations to Brandon McShaffrey and his cast and crew for their sensational work with this show.

McShaffrey’s direction is an awe-inspiring piece of work.  He has probed every tiny nuance of the script and brought it to glorious life through the work of his cast who execute each moment with the precision of a finely tuned military squadron.  Each member of the cast has such presence and stays involved in the action of the play with pieces of business that ring true to their characters.  Even more impressive is the fact that the cast had only 10 days of rehearsal and somehow have polish and pizzazz that surpass shows with a proper rehearsal period.

Every performer shines at one point or another, but particular notice goes out to Tyler Breeding who breathes ugly life into Curly, the violent, bullying son of the ranch owner whose itch to pick a fight at the drop of a hat only increases with his jealous possessiveness of his new wife.  Josh Bernaski, as the tough, but kindly team leader, Slim.  Bernaski does need to slow down his delivery, though his excellent diction still kept him understandable.  Shonn McCloud as Crooks, the bitter, black ranch hand who hides a decent heart.  McCloud’s fine sense of timing led to some of the show’s more humorous moments.

In supporting roles, Dan Coons soars as Candy, the one handed ranch hand looking for some hope.  Coons’ body language show a man who leads a sad and lonely existence, yet is given one last chance for redemption when he is allowed to share in George and Lennie’s dream.  Lisa Egan Woods nails all the right notes as Curly’s unnamed floozy of a wife as she attempts to flirt and seduce the ranch hands to assuage her own loneliness.

Ultimately, this show succeeds or fails based on the work of the actors who play George and Lennie.  McShaffrey’s casting of Kyle Downing and Jeremy Proulx helped to make this show a rousing success.

Downing’s George is the proverbial everyman.  He has nothing more than a dream for a place of his own and a safe haven for Lennie and he pursues it relentlessly.  Downing’s animation is a thing of beauty and he changes emotional beats on the turn of a dime.  Whether he’s gleefully sharing his story of their future home, charmingly ranting about being saddled with Lennie, or steadfastly trying to get Lennie to remember items crucial to their survival, Downing is simply a joy to watch.  His final scene with Lennie bursts with an emotional power guaranteed to haunt you.

Proulx’s talent is a rare one, indeed.  His command of body language and gestures is unlike any I’ve ever seen in his interpretation of the gentle giant.  Lennie is actually the play’s most tragic character.  A childlike innocent who lacks the wisdom to handle his fearsomely strong body.  Proulx well communicates Lennie’s simpleness with subtle hand gestures and a spot on delivery.  Although Proulx’s delivery hits the marks on intention, he does need to be careful not to sacrifice diction for sound as his speech was mushy at several points.  As tragic as Lennie is, he also is the play’s most inspiring character as his good nature brings out the better qualities in those around him.

The play’s technical aspects were also bits of mastery.  Tricia Hobbs’ bunkhouse set has a poignant fragility about it.  Shon Causer’s lighting design was some of the best I’ve seen as the lights subtly and surely showed the passage of time from day to night and back again.  Jacob Kaufman’s sounds immensely aid in the immersion of the audience into the play.

This is what theatre is all about.  Of Mice and Men both entertains and educates.  It may make you rethink a thing or two about your own life and that is the power of a good drama that needs to be seen by one and all.

Of Mice and Men plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 17.  Showtimes are 2pm on June 25, 28, 29 and July 3, 9, 12, 17 and 7:30pm on July 2, 8, and 16.  Tickets cost $27 for the main floor and $22 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Parental discretion is advised due to some strong language and a few scenes of violence.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

A Season of Heroes

A SEASON OF HEROES AT THE MAPLES REP

Heroes come in many forms. 

            Some are musicians who tell stories with their songs that save people going through hard times.  Some are little old ladies working in the church basement, providing delicious food and uplifting the spirits of their community.  Some criminals can even be heroes when given the right circumstances.  These are just a few examples of the heroes you’ll see during the Maples Rep 2016 season.

 

            Of Mice and Men is a serious play, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining.  Audiences certainly enjoyed Love Story, The Way We Were, Ordinary People, Million Dollar Baby and The Revenant?  So, if you like –admittedly non-traditional– love stories with heroes and villains, you need to see the Maples Rep production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.”  Todd Davison-Artistic Director, Maples Rep.

 

Of Mice and Men opens Friday, June 24th on the main stage at Maples Rep in Macon, MO.  This American classic is a snapshot of Depression-era migrant workers and a tale about a tragic friendship. Two drifters, the opportunistic George and his friend Lenny, the gentle giant, travel the roads of northern California with delusions of living off the “fat of the land.” John Steinbeck wrote the novel and adapted it for the stage in 1937. It was a slice-of-life drama in its time and continues to resonate with students, readers and playgoers as a universal meditation on power, hope and consequences.

 The play shows us real people, good and bad, and this mixture lets the audience know that the world portrayed in Of Mice and Men is real. Steinbeck does not fall into the trap of describing all those with power as evil. He has created characters with serious weaknesses and with great strengths but his real interest is in people who are oppressed and weak, yearning and failing to take control of their lives.

 “The Royal Theatre is a great, intimate space to see such a moving story” says Maples Rep Artistic Director Todd Davison, “even if people are very familiar with this story, they will experience it in a new way.  With actors from New York, Chicago, Orlando, Missouri and Alberta the cast of this production, under the direction of Maples Rep veteran, Brandon McShaffrey, has wide experience to bring to their portrayals.”

 Of Mice and Men runs through July 17 in rotating repertory with Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash, a musical about love and faith; struggle and success; rowdiness and redemption; and home and family. On July 15th one of heroes of the Bible–Joseph–takes the stage in the hit show Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Biblical saga of Joseph and his coat of many colors comes to vibrant life in a delightful musical parable for the whole family.

In between and after the Maples Rep main stage productions are: Afterglows, Sunday Dinners, Cabarets, Kid’s Shows and Kid’s Theatre Camps.  For more information and to order tickets call the Maples Rep Box Office at 660-385-2924, order online at http://www.maplesrep.com/, or go by the theatre located on the corner of Rubey and Vine in Macon, Missouri.