The Price of Family

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Upper row from L to R: Faushia R. Weeden, David Terrell Green, and Olivia Howard. Lower row from L to R: Karen S. Fox and Brodhi McClymont

A poor family in Chicago’s South Side gains a windfall of $10,000.  Amidst thoughts of dreams granted and a happier life, the money serves to deepen cracks in an already fractured unit and prove that the love of money is the root of all evil.  But the love of family still has the power to conquer all.  This is A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and it is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Hansberry’s script has its ups and downs.  It introduces powerful themes of family, racism, poverty, generational changes, personal identity, perseverance, hope, and self-respect, but also has some structural weaknesses.  The first act introduces several storylines for the show, but moves terribly slowly and doesn’t provide adequate build for the stories.  By the second act, the primary story of the money gains center stage, a potentially interesting subplot about a surprise, possibly unwanted, pregnancy is all, but forgotten, and a story about a young woman seeking her own identity gets a bit of short shrift.  On the other hand, the second act does provide some incredibly strong monologues and conversational moments that are a treasure trove for performers.

Tyrone Beasley’s direction is quite effective.  This show is driven solely by dialogue which can become quite dry, if not handled just right.  Beasley handles it well by having his actors make natural movements that animate the, often lengthy, conversations.  He understands the emotional beats and his actors always hit those moments subtly and organically.  He’s coached his actors to performances ranging from solid to deeply adept and I tip my hat to his superior guidance of the debuting Karen S. Fox.  That being said, I also thought the show could have benefited from a brisker pace.

Good supporting performances are given by Faushia R. Weeden who projects a spiritual weariness as Ruth Younger as she goes through the motions of life with a crumbling marriage and a hopeless future until the promise of a new home in a better neighborhood relights her candle.  Brodhi McClymont has a real naturalness for this work and provides some lighthearted moments as Travis Younger.  Christopher Scott provides a suitably subtle, polite, and slimy performance as a racist trying to engineer a buyout of the Younger’s new home in Clybourne Park so “those people” won’t move in.

David Terrell Green gives a gripping performance in his Playhouse debut as Walter Lee Younger.  At his core, Walter Lee is a good man.  He wants nothing more than to provide the best, possible life for his family, but has been so beaten down by life that he copes with his perceived failures with alcohol and sometimes takes reckless gambles in an attempt to provide that better life.  Green is dead on target with Walter Lee’s brokenness, but still shows that inner decency and drive to do better for his family.  He really sizzles in the second act when he makes an awful mistake in attempting to grab the brass ring and shows the depths of his love for his family with a performance demonstrating the utter humiliation he’s willing to undergo to rectify that error.

Karen S. Fox really dove into the deep end as she makes her acting debut with the heavy role of the Younger matriarch, Lena.  For someone who’s never performed before, Fox did an exceptional job.  She portrayed a good, Southern woman with strong faith in God and desperately fighting to hold her family together as it falls apart.  She hits the emotional beats well, reaching just the right level of anger when the bulk of her money is misused and being a bulwark for her son as she understands the impact of the blows life has dealt him.  Fox does need to make some minor fixes in volume, projection, and not upstaging herself.

Steven Williams has designed a dilapidated apartment whose spaces between the boards help to communicate the poverty in which the Youngers live.  Tim Vallier has composed a haunting score for the show which is sure to stir your heart.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes well display the social status of the various characters from the cheaper quality clothes of the Youngers to the more elegant wear of the wealthier Karl Lindner and the more educated Joseph Asagai and George Murchison.

This preview night performance did have some difficulties.  Pacing was quite slow.  Pickups for internal and regular cues needed to be much, much quicker.  Energy was sorely lacking for stretches, but when it was there, the dialogue sparkled and popped.  There was also an x factor missing from the performance.  Actors know that feeling.  It’s that magical something that causes the show to take on the fullness of its own life and it is an intangible.  It’s either there or it isn’t.  When it’s not there, the show feels like a rehearsal.  When it’s there, that’s when the show reaches maximum potential.

At the end, this is a story about family.  Its highs and lows.  Its joys and trials.  Its hopes and dreams.  A night with the Youngers just may give you a new perspective on life.

A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Feb 9.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $24 ($16 for students) and vary by performance.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the box office. Due to some adult language, parental discretion is advised.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

‘A Raisin in the Sun’ Launches 2nd Half of OCP Season

Omaha, NE.–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) production of A Raisin in the Sun will open Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at OCP from Jan. 17 through Feb. 9. Performances will be held Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $24 for adults and $16 for students, with ticket prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, located at 6915 Cass Street, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

SHOW SYNOPSIS

Winner of five Tony Awards®, A Raisin in the Sun confronts life in South Side Chicago through the eyes of the Younger family. After years of battling poverty and racism, the Youngers hope an unexpected insurance check will be their ticket to a better life. With the looming fear that this may be their only chance, the family is torn apart as they struggle to agree on the most effective way to use the money.

Directed By:  Tyrone Beasley

Cast

Brandon Williams as George Murchison

Brodhi McClymont as Travis Younger

Chris Scott as Karl Lindner

Darcell Trotter as Bobo

David Terrell Green as Walter Lee Younger

Donté Lee Plunkett as Joseph Asagai

Faushia Weeden as Ruth Younger

Karen Fox as Lena Younger

Olivia Howard as Beneatha Younger

Richard Borg as Moving Man

 

OCP Invites You to Join Peter Pan’s Party

Omaha Community Playhouse Announces Auditions for For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday

Dates:  1/11/2020 at 11am and 1/12/20 at 6pm

Location:  6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE  68132

Director:  Kimberly Faith Hickman

Written By:  Sarah Ruhl

Synopsis

For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday follows 70-year-old Ann and her four siblings as they face the loss of their father. As the siblings revisit their childhood and upbringing—including Ann’s adventures onstage as the star of Peter Pan—the audience gets a sentimental glimpse at what it truly means to grow up and a touching reminder that you’re never too old to fly.

Characters

Ann: Between sixty and seventy. Plays Peter Pan.
John: Late sixties. Plays John in Peter Pan.
Jim: Mid-sixties. Plays Captain James Hook in Peter Pan.
Michael: Early sixties. Plays Michael in Peter Pan.
Wendy: Late fifties. Plays Wendy in Peter Pan.
George: Eighties. In Movement One, a dying man; in Movement Two, a ghost; in Movement Three, himself.
Those auditioning will be asked to read from the script provided at auditions.

All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts with which to fill out an audition form.

To expedite the check-in process – please bring a recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.

 For additional information, please contact Tiffany, at (402) 661-8539.

Yesterday and Today. . .Forever

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It’s that time of year when Omaha’s greatest musical act teams up with history’s greatest band.  Yes, indeed, it’s Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience and it has returned for its twelfth season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

It’s amazing the massive effects one small change can have on something.  After twelve years, Billy McGuigan had felt the band had become a little too complacent with the show and were only playing their favorite requests and veering away from the original spirit of the production.  Lead guitarist Jay Hanson then hit upon an idea that would completely reinvent the show.

Why didn’t they just pick the songs live on stage and then play them?

As hard as it is to believe, that idea has evolved Omaha’s premier holiday tradition into something even greater.

The McGuigans (Billy, Ryan, and Matthew) and their band were energized in a way I’d never seen before due to the element of danger in walking this musical tightrope. Would they be up to the challenge of playing any Beatles song suggested?

The answer was a most emphatic YES!!!

I had wondered how well this new format would work as there are three kinds of Beatles fans.  You’ll have your casual fan who would know their biggest hits like “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude”; your more knowledgeable fan who will know their more successful works like “Eight Days a Week” and “We Can Work it Out”; and finally the hardcore megafans who have the library imprinted on their minds and want to hear “Dear Prudence” and “I’m Only Sleeping”.

Would there be enough variety to satisfy these three groups?

Again, a most emphatic YES as the night was filled with a plethora of famed hits and a few obscure delights that were picked right on stage or flashed directly onto monitors behind the band.

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Billy McGuigan

Billy McGuigan once again ruled the night with a supercharged performance.  Billy seemed imbued with an almost unearthly energy and that’s saying something for this indefatigable engine of talent.  Billy and his devastating tenor ripped through rockers such as “Roll Over Beethoven” and “The Night Before”, sweetly sang “Let it Be”, and was melancholically vibrant with “Things We Said Today”.

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Ryan McGuigan

Ryan McGuigan got to be the most versatile performer of the night as he and his other worldly raw tenor voice went through a mini-history of the Beatles library as he belted out classics like “Ticket to Ride”, nailed the 50+ year masterpiece that is “A Day in the Life”, and visited the Beatles’ flower power phase with “All You Need is Love”.

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Matthew McGuigan

Matthew McGuigan supported the numbers with his pluperfect bass playing and had his own impressive run when he came out roaring on “Revolution”, dominated the stage with “Hey Bulldog”, and revved up the crowd with a particularly peppy “Paperback Writer”.

The McGuigans were once more aided by their incredibly talented band who each got their moments in the spotlight.  Jay Hanson had the audience riveted with his phenomenal guitar work and was in fine voice on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the obscure gem, “For You Blue”.  Rich Miller was the rock with his flawless rhythm on the drums and on a simple box during a segment where the band performed Beatles songs acoustically.  He also shone in a solo as his strong baritone entertained the crowd with “Yellow Submarine”.  Tara Vaughan masterfully played the keyboards as only she can and dazzled with a musical solo mimicking the piccolo trumpet part in “Penny Lane” and she belted out “Oh Darling!” with an alto that would have had Paul McCartney’s jaw dropping.

I’d also like to salute the guitar genius of Max Meyer as he warmed up the crowd with soft instrumental versions of the Beatles’ songs.  Eleven year old Ciaran McGuigan also showed he will be more than capable of leading the next generation of this show as he showed some potent skill with his own guitar playing on instrumental versions of “Blackbird” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” as well as supporting his dad, Billy, with pitch perfect playing on “Yesterday”.

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The present and future of Yesterday and Today

It was obvious that the crowd hungered for more as they lingered about after an encore hoping that the band would return to grace us with another tune or twenty, but they and you can certainly get another dose of the one of a kind talent of this group as the show will run through New Year’s Eve.  But I’d get tickets mighty quick if I were you as the sellouts have already started.

It’s hard to believe that Yesterday and Today has been going strong for twelve years and continues to strengthen with each passing year.  With the talent of the McGuigans and their all-star band and the blossoming skill of the next generation, we may very well see Yesterday and Today. ..forever.

Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Dec 31.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets begin at $40 and can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the box office.  On New Year’s Eve, a double performance will be held with shows at 7pm and 10pm.  Tickets for these shows will be $60 for the 7pm show and $80 for the 10pm show.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

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Yesterday and Today. . .Forever

OCP Prepares to Ring in the Holidays with ‘A Christmas Carol’

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Omaha, NE–The Omaha Community Playhouse production of A Christmas Carol will open Friday, November 15, 2019.  The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at OCP from Nov 15 through Dec 23.  Performances will be held Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm and 6:30pm, Wednesdays beginning in December at 7pm and Monday, Dec 23 at 7:30pm.  There will be no performance on Thanksgiving Day (Nov 28).

Tickets are on sale now starting at $40 for adults and $26 for students with ticket prices varying by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Synopsis

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 of the power of redemption and the generosity that lies at the heart of the Christmas holiday.

Directed by:  Kimberly Faith Hickman and Ablan Roblin

Cast

Jerry Longe as Ebenezer Scrooge

Steve Krambeck as Bob Cratchit

Brinlee Roeder as Tiny Tim

Joshua “Makana” Yamasaki-Crail as Fred

Lori Lynn Ahrends as Ghost of Christmas Past

Chris Berger as Ghost of Christmas Present

Don Keelan-White as Jacob Marley

Christina Rohling as Mrs. Cratchit

Plus an ensemble featuring Mark Haufle, Carrie Trecek, Rachel Fox, Allison Helligso, Jake Parker, Brandon Fisher, Dale Hartshorn, Almeda Lopez, Roz Parr, Jen Dillon, Enrique Madera, Isabelle Rangel, Elliot Kerkhofs, Will Seim, Jane Rohling, Dominic Torres, Pieper Roeder, Anna Krambeck, Meghan Essner, Amina Teri, Cal Hernandez, Judson Cloudt, Obi Rangel, Benjamin Rohling, Emma Johnson, Ella Walker, Atticus Waler, Riya Kumar, Lily Sanow, and Madison White

Photo courtesy of Robertson Photography

It’s Almost Time for Omaha’s Premier Holiday Tradition: Yesterday and Today

“If you’re not having fun, it’s your own fault.”–Billy McGuigan

The holidays will soon be upon us which means it’s nearly time for one of Omaha’s great traditions as Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience is poised to begin its twelfth year at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Spearheaded by the McGuigans (Billy, Ryan, and Matthew) and their all-star band, Yesterday and Today is a joyful, sometimes raucous, romp down memory lane as these multi-talented musicians pay tribute to the Beatles with a series of high energy concerts guaranteed to have you clapping, snapping, sighing, screaming, and singing along before the night is through.

What is this show?

Anything you want it to be.

This is like no concert you’ve ever attended because the set list will be chosen by you from start to finish.  No two shows will ever be the same.

Feel like some classic Beatlemania?  They can do that.  Do you want to hear “Yesterday”?  They can do that, too.  Care to challenge them with an obscure number like “Only a Northern Song”?  Consider that challenge accepted.  They know them all.

Yesterday and Today runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse from Nov 22-Dec 31.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $40 and can be obtained at http://www.omahaplayhouse.com or visiting the Box Office located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE or calling 402-553-0800.  On December 31, 2019, join the band as they ring in the New Year with performances at 7pm and 10pm.  Cake and punch are served before each of these two performances with a champagne toast at midnight.  Tickets for the 7pm show are $60 and $80 for the 10pm show.

See it once.  See it twice.  Heck, see the whole run.  You’re in for a “Magical Mystery Tour” because “It’s All Too Much” when the McGuigans and their band hit the stage and blow the roof off.

 

Seasons of Returning to My Roots

“When are we going to see you on stage again?”

You’d be surprised at how often I’ve heard that question recently.

“The next time I audition” is what I would like to say, but, as my regular readers have learned, we actors have very little control over when we get our next role.

“When a role I want intersects with a director seeing me in said role,” might be a little closer to the mark, but I still don’t think it’s the right answer.  It’s also a mouthful to say.

I have the answer, but I’ll wait until the end to reveal it.

It’s been a while since I’ve had enough tales built up to merit writing an entry, but this season and the close of last season have provided some pretty interesting fare.

It began late last season with auditions for One Man, Two Guvnors over at the Omaha Community Playhouse and guest directed by Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek.

This is a modern day rewrite of A Servant of Two Masters and tells the story of Francis Henshall, a minder (British slang for bodyguard), lackey, and all around gofer for two criminals and his desperate shenanigans to prevent the two bosses from ever meeting.

There was only one role I really wanted in this show and that was Alan Dangle, a wannabe actor who is constantly on and a pretty poor performer to boot.  With a lot of Omaha’s finest auditioning for this one, I figured there would be a lot of good playing around at this audition.

While that may have been true, it simply wasn’t going to be true for me.  My instincts were on target.  A sad pity that my execution was not.  The vision in my head did not match the interpretation coming out of my mouth.  I had stumbled getting out of the gate and never managed to regain lost ground.

I didn’t even hold a faint glimmer of hope about this one.  I actually had a weird sense of satisfaction being able to look into a mirror and saying, “Hey, buddy.  That one was all on you” after I got the rejection.  After years of being rejected for reasons other than my prowess, it was almost refreshing to know I was the cause of my own downfall.

Then came this season.  My defeat in One Man, Two Guvnors was a return to my roots in the wrong way albeit an oddly satisfying wrong, but now I was getting back to the right way with the most auditions I had done in quite a long time.

I would begin with the OCP’s season premiere of Sweat which would be guest directed by Susie Baer-Collins.

Sweat is inspired by the story of Reading, Pennsylvania.  This steel mill town went from being one of the most prosperous in the country to one of the poorest due to the Great Recession.  The play focuses on the employees of a steel mill and the bar where they enjoy hanging out.  The steel mill employees are lifers looking towards fat pensions at their retirements.  When the recession strikes, the employees go from looking at lucrative pensions to unemployment.  As things go from bad to worse, tensions rise and racism rears its ugly face until the show’s devastating conclusion.

Now this sounded like a great show.  But I was up against stiff circumstances.  There were only roles for 2 Caucasian actors and I fell right in between their ages.  The younger one was completely out of the question.  Even with my unusually youthful features, my hair and hairline were going to put me out of the running.  However, I hoped they might prove helpful in playing the older man who was suggested to be in his fifties, but I was hoping that maybe he could be bought as a man in his mid to late 40s at a push.

That idea was quickly blasted when I read the line that stated he had been on the floor for 28 years before an injury ended his mill career.  I still had fun with the read as it was a different character from my real personality:  rougher and coarser.  I think I even stunned Susie a bit with my take as she looked at me with a surprised look in her eyes as she walked me out of the room and said, “Good job!” with a bit of wonderment in her voice.

To no shock at all, I wasn’t cast.

Next on my list was the Blue Barn Christmas show, A Very Die Hard Christmas which would mark my first audition with the theatre and Susan Clement-Toberer in five years.

Believe it or not, I have never seen Die Hard in its entirety, though I have seen enough of it to know the story.  Not that it mattered because the character I wanted to play was original to the script and that was the Narrator.

Imagine a role where you just rattle off variations of Twas the Night Before Christmas, sing at inappropriate moments, and just react to the lunacy going on around you while being somewhat separate from it.  This would be a role of great fun.

Even better, the Blue Barn was planning something a bit different this time.  Not only did they want you to sign up for an audition time, but they were encouraging actors to bring monologues.  At last!!  The moment for which I had been waiting.

I’ve long kept a secret weapon for just this opportunity.  A monologue from one of my favorite plays that’s guaranteed to make any director who knows me see me in a brand new way.  To make sure the monologue would be in top form, I revealed the weapon to my friend and ace director, Lara Marsh, who spent an afternoon helping me to polish and refine it.  I was even amazed by the new discoveries made during the process.

The day of the audition arrived and I was practically bursting with excitement though I kept a cool exterior.  I arrived in plenty of time for my 3pm audition which allowed me to engage in some small talk with friends and acquaintances and then the auditions started.  Though I had been expecting to read at 3pm, I didn’t actually get to read until 4:10pm.  But the extra time gave me an opportunity to run through my monologue again and center myself.

When I was on deck to audition, I was handed a side for the Narrator by Blue Barn’s dramaturg, Barry Carman.  I was surprised as I thought they wanted monologues.  But I figured I’d be asked about it once I got inside.

I entered the theatre and met a group consisting of Susan, Susie Baer-Collins, Barry, and Hughston Walkinshaw who would be playing the role of Hans Gruber in the play.  I nailed the read to the floor, managing to infuse a bit of my sheepish humor into the character.  Susan said, “That was really awesome, Chris (pause as she thinks for a moment).  I may or may not be having callbacks for this one.  But you know how things run here and you know I know you” before thanking me for coming.  For a brief moment, I thought I should ask if she would like to hear the monologue, but I pushed it aside, deciding that the idea must have been scrapped.  I was happy with my read and thought I had a good chance based on its strength.

In hindsight, I wish I had obeyed my instinct.

That Friday, I had a thoroughly wretched day.  I mean it was foul!  When I got home, I started to open my mailbox and stopped.  I just had this terrible notion that my day was about to end on an awfully sour note.  I told God that I feared my rejection was in there and asked if it were possible to please hold off for one day if I was rejected just so I could end the day somewhat easier in mind.

I opened the mailbox and saw one letter.  I grabbed it and slowly turned it to face me to see the Blue Barn stationery.

I exhaled a mighty sigh.  I really didn’t want to open the envelope, but did in the faint hopes that maybe it would be a personalized rejection to help cushion the blow.  It wasn’t.

“That’s it.  I’m going to bed,” I thought to myself.

I admit it.  This one got to me.  I really wanted to be part of this project and thought I had a good chance of being involved and the rapidity of my defeat got me in the breadbasket.  As I laid down on my bed, I wondered what might have happened had I brought up the monologue.  Getting to perform it may not have altered the result.  Heck, I may not have even been permitted to read it. But, in either case, at least I would have known that I had my biggest and best bite at the apple as dictated by the circumstances.  On the plus side, I do have it in my back pocket for the future.

My next audition (more than likely, my last of the season) was a real return to my roots.  It marked my first audition for the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company in. . .I couldn’t tell you how long.  It also marked my first audition for Scott Kurz since he originally read me for Dracula all the way back in 2003.

BSB’s holiday show was going to be a night of one acts capped with an original version of The Monsters are Due on Maple Street which was being reimagined by Scott.  I was looking forward to this one as I’m a big fan of the works of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone.

My audition night came and I was up for the game and feeling good.  I shook Scott’s hand and began filling out the audition form.  As I scanned the top, I did a double take.  I looked away and blinked.  Then I looked at the form again.

According to the website the show was supposed to end on December 15, but the form said the last day was going to be Dec 22.  I asked Scott if the dates had been changed.  He said there had been an issue scheduling the show with the venue holding it and it had to be pushed back a week.  Internally, I crumbled.  I had to sheepishly admit that I had to fly out to Phoenix at 8am on Dec 22.  Scott seemed just as bummed as I felt.  I offered to stay as an extra body so Scott could have another reader and he thought that was a good idea.

With no stakes to speak of, my reads lacked the full power of my heart.  Not to say they were bad.  On the contrary, technically I was solid.  There were a few characters that didn’t feel quite right, but I loved my takes on Tommy who I reimagined as an autistic man and as the mysterious boss figure to whom I gave a quiet malevolence and a slight edge of insanity.

Scott had said he’d send e-mails out by the end of the week, but it ended up being two weeks later.  A lot had changed in that interim as Scott had informed us that The Twilight Zone was experiencing another burst in popularity and ten classic episodes were being released to the big screen in November, one of which was “Monsters”.  As such, CBS would not release performance rights.

Scott spent that two weeks searching for a new show and found it, but wanted to ask if actors still wanted to be part of it.  Due to my inescapable conflict, I formally took myself out of the running though I suspect my conflict had outed me anyway.

And so my season has come to an end.  It didn’t quite work out the way I planned, but it did open the doors to pleasurable non-theatre activities that would not have been possible had I been doing one of the Christmas shows.  And, of course, it raises the question:

“When are we going to see you on stage again?”

When the time is right.