‘Ladies’ Leave ‘Em Laughing in the Aisles

Meet Leo Cark and Jack Gable.  They are 2 struggling Shakespearian actors of dubious talent and meager means.  When they stumble onto a chance to steal 2/3 of a multimillion dollar fortune by posing as the long lost relatives of a dying woman, they throw caution to the wind and put their acting skills to the test.  And it is a mighty difficult test as the missing relatives happen to be women.  This is Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

A big part of the magic of theatre is that if you change a few elements of a production it becomes brand new all over again.  Just a few months ago I reviewed this show for the Omaha Community Playhouse.  With that performance still fresh in my memory, I got to see an exciting, rib tickling new take on it due to a simple change of director and cast and crew.  This is why one can see the same show over and over and over again and it is still something unique and original.

Brandon McShaffrey truly knows what makes for good farce.  His direction of tonight’s show was genius as he not only knew where and when to add the ludicrous elements, but he also managed to add a sizable amount of realism to the production.  His actors were honest to goodness people as opposed to caricature and he led the lot of them to sterling performances that left the audience rolling in the aisles.

This show is truly an ensemble piece with every actor getting a chance to shine.  Madeline Thomas is simply cute as a button and deliriously ditzy as Audrey.  She may not be too bright, but she’s building her brain one complex word at a time.  Todd Davison and Sean Powell make for a great father/son act as the talentless physician, Doc Myers, and his nerdy, willowy son, Butch.  Andy Brown provides some laughs as Rev. Duncan Wooley, the cheapskate, milquetoast fiancée of the play’s leading lady.  But watch out for Jonna Wiseman as barbed tongued Aunt Florence as she steals every scene she’s in with her acidic antics.

With the supporting cast providing such a strong foundation, it would be nearly impossible for this show to fail and it gets a further boost from its three leads, Michael McIntire, Sean Riley, and Kara Overlien, who admirably carry the bulk of the show on their formidably talented shoulders.

I was extraordinarily impressed with Kara Overlien’s portrayal of Meg.  Ms Overlien is just so. . .genuine as the young heiress.  She plays Meg as a decent woman with a strong streak of integrity as she plans to marry Rev. Wooley for taking care of her after the death of her parents.  But she also gets a lot of joy out of life.  She has passion for the theatre and has a surprising amount of potential as a performer.  She loves music and is a skilled dancer.  In fact, her solo dance number to a radio song is one of the best moments of the night.  Ms Overlien also has incredible facial animation as her reactions to the events swirling about her were always extemporaneous and spot-on.

Sean Riley does so much with so little in his interpretation of Jack Gable.  A slight grin here and a little gesture there had the crowd eating out of Riley’s hand.  Riley’s Gable may be the less talented member of the acting duo, but he might be the mentally swifter of the two.  Riley comes up with absurd sign language as the deaf and dumb “Stephanie” and also knows how to sneak hugs out of Audrey.  He’s also got a bit of the devil in him as he makes Leo’s wooing of Meg more difficult with his insinuations about why we never seem to see Leo and “Maxine” together as well as messing with Leo during their performance at the Moose Lodge.  Riley clearly had a ball with the role and it showed with a stellar performance.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a skilled blending of over the topness and realism as the one provided by Michael McIntire’s rendition of Leo Clark.  McIntire’s Clark is truly a good actor, but can’t seem to catch a break.  When he hatches the plan of stealing the fortune he throws, and I mean THROWS, himself in the role of “Maxine”.  McIntire is larger than life as Clark playing Maxine and he dazzlingly moves between the over the top “Maxine” to the natural Leo without missing a beat.  His howlingly funny reactions and expression asides to the audience only further fueled his dynamic performance.

Outstanding technical elements further helped create the world of this show including Charles Johnson’s set which creates the illusion of a well to do home without being ostentatious.  Jack Smith’s costumes were snappy and elegant from the suits and tuxes for the men and the gowns and dresses for the ladies and the “leading ladies”.

Tighter cue pickups and a faster pace would have further bolstered tonight’s production, but it is still one terrific night of comedy.  The best stamp of approval I can give is that this show caused me to laugh myself into a coughing fit at several points and I saw many members of the audience doubled over in hysterics at numerous moments.  But, hey, don’t take our words for it.  Buy a ticket and experience the mirth for yourself.

Leading Ladies plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 22.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on July 1, 5, 15, and the 21 and at 2pm on June 24, 28, July 2, 7, 16, 18, 21-22.  Tickets cost $29 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.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

OCP Announces Summer Show

Omaha Community Playhouse Announces Summer Show
Girls Like Us: The Music of Carole King, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell

June 15 – 25, 2017

Omaha, Neb.— The Omaha Community Playhouse will present Girls Like Us: The Music of Carole King, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell as its summer show June 15 – 25, 2017 in the Howard Drew Theatre. Girls Like Us is inspired by the book of the same name by Sheila Weller and features performers Laura Freeman, Beckie Menzie and Marianne Murphy Orland.  Tickets for Girls Like Us go on sale to the public Tuesday, March 7 at 10 a.m. through the OCP box office.

The trio of performers banded together in 2010 for a humorous look at Broadway and roles they were never destined to play (Miss Cast) and found that not only did their voices blend but so did their senses of humor. Starting with the laughs and the harmonies, the ladies discovered that creating arrangements unique to them was something they all enjoyed. After reading Weller’s book Girls Like Us and discussing how Carly Simon, Carole King and Joni Mitchell had made such a huge impact on them and their artistry, Girls Like Us: The Music of Carole King, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell was born.

The three women blend their unique performing styles into a delightful evening dedicated to showcasing the music and stories of three singers who dared to break tradition and become what none had been before them – female confessors in song, rock superstars and adventurers of heart and soul. Songs include: “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Natural Woman,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “You’re So Vain” and more.

Production:      Girls Like Us:The Music of Carole King, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell

Show dates:     June 15 – 25, 2017; Thursday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m.

Tickets:            At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $40. Tickets are $32 for current Omaha Community Playhouse subscribers and for groups of 12 or more.

Location:          Omaha Community Playhouse, Howard Drew Theatre (6915 Cass Street Omaha, NE 68132)

A Belle of a Good Time

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Timothy Vallier as Beast & Leanne Hill Carlson as Belle

A classic fairy tale comes to life.  A vain and cold hearted prince is transformed into a hideous beast by an enchantress when he fails to show her hospitality.  The only way to break the curse is for him to finally love and be loved in return before the enchantress’ rose sheds its last petal.  When circumstances bring the lovely Belle to the castle of the Beast, will the curse finally be brought to an end or is the afflicted prince doomed to his fearsome shape for all time?  Find out in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, closing the season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I’m going to make a confession. . .I have never seen any version of Beauty and the Beast nor have I ever read the fairy tale.  I share that confession with you because I want you to understand that I walked into this show with a completely unbiased pair of eyes and no influences to alter my expectations.  Having said that, I now need to tell you that this was an entrancing and beautiful production, one worthy to be viewed by every man, woman, and child in this city.

Kimberly Faith Hickman works an incredible bit of magic with her direction.  Not only did she lead her actors to a string of dynamite performances, but she also flawlessly paced the show.  So smooth was its running that I was honestly taken aback when it came to an end for it only felt like a few minutes had passed.  Her staging is pluperfect and makes use of the entire theatre and the scene changes were satin slick.

From a technical standpoint this was, bar none, the finest show I have ever seen.  The costumes of Georgiann Regan, Travis Halsey, and Amanda Fehlner are so elegant and eye catching from Belle’s simple blue dress to her opulent yellow gown to the rich oddity of the servants’ garments (they are humans transforming into household objects) to the make-up of the Beast.

Jim Othuse continues to pull from his neverending bag of tricks with his sets, lights, and special effects for this show.  You will travel from a simple, homey village to a dark and foreboding forest to a sprawling, cavernous castle.  John Gibilisco’s sounds help animate every moment and Darin Kuehler’s properties give life to the audience’s imaginations.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra never miss a note of the epic score and Michelle Garrity nails the choreography with lavish dance numbers and I must say that “Be Our Guest” is the single best bit of dancing I have seen in nearly 21 years of theatre.

And the acting?  Well, where does one begin?  Such a universally marvelous cast makes it very, very difficult for me to center on select performances.  But kudos go out to Kyle Wright who is delightfully dorky as Gaston’s lackey, Lefou and Brian Priesman as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, and he especially shines with his melodic tenor in “No Matter What”.

However, I would be sorely remiss if I failed to mention the fantastic work done by the actors playing the Beast’s servants.  These include Bob Gilmore as the too tightly wound Cogsworth, the castle’s major-domo; Steve Krambeck as Lumiere, the charming candelabra with an eye for the ladies; Dawn Buller-Kirke as Mrs. Potts, the castle’s cook who also dazzles with her sweet and moving rendition of the title song; and Joey Galda as Madame De La Grande Bouche, the diva wardrobe.

The role of Belle seemed to be tailor made for Leanne Hill Carlson.  She brings intelligence, warmth, sensitivity, and strength to the part.  Ms Hill Carlson well communicates Belle’s outsider status due to her peculiar pater and her love of reading while also bringing nobility when she selflessly volunteers to take Maurice’s place as the Beast’s prisoner.  With expert ease, she carefully undergoes the transformation from fearing and detesting the Beast to falling in love with him.  Her beautiful soprano will keep you mesmerized all evening with such numbers as “A Change in Me”, “Belle”, “Is this Home?”, and “No Matter What”.

Timothy Vallier makes a triumphant debut at the Playhouse with his interpretation of the Beast.  Vallier has a phenomenally well modulated voice, capable of a wide range of nuances ranging from animalistic snorting to cold anger to desperate loneliness to tender love.  He excellently executes Beast’s transformation from his temperamental, arrogant old self to his emergence as a kind and loving man.  Vallier also has a honey sweet tenor which is well utilized in “If I Can’t Love Her” and “How Long Must this Go On?”

Ryan Pivonka rounds out the three leads with his own worthy performance as Gaston.  Gaston isn’t your typical villain as he really isn’t evil.  He’s simply full of himself and his need to win Belle’s heart does drive him to a few dirty deeds.  Pivonka brings a macho swagger to Gaston who routinely roughs up the sycophantic Lefou while singing his own praises in “Gaston”.  He also manages to bring a small touch of sympathy to the role as he does genuinely love Belle, it’s just become twisted due to his overwhelming arrogance and selfishness.

I thought the pratfalls and violence could be smoothed out and punched up a bit, but that did little to dampen a magical night of theatre.  There are tickets still available, but I highly suggest ordering yours right away as I’ve heard they are rapidly dwindling.  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is fun for the whole family and I promise you a Belle of a good time.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 25.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

OCP Audition Announcements

Omaha, NEOmaha Community Playhouse will hold auditions for all five musicals for the 2017-2018 season, including adult auditions for A Christmas Carol, on Monday, June 5 and Tuesday, June 6 at 6:30 p.m. Actors 16 years and older, of all genders and ethnicities, that are interested in Mamma Mia!, A Christmas Carol, Parade, James and the Giant Peach and Singin’ In the Rain should plan to attend. Youth auditions for A Christmas Carol and James and the Giant Peach will be held at later dates.

What:   2017-2018 Season Musical Adult Auditions

When:  Monday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday, June 6 at 6:30 p.m.

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse | 6915 Cass Street | Omaha, NE

Actors attending season auditions who are interested in Mamma Mia! – Callbacks for Mamma Mia! will be held on June 12 and 13.

Requirements:
Actors please be prepared with the following:

  • Sheet music with 16 bars ready to sing (an accompanist will be provided)
  • There will be a dance audition, so actors should be dressed to move (no boots, sandals, flip-flops, etc.)
  • There will be a second dance call specifically for tap dancers. Actors wishing to participate in the second dance call should bring tap shoes or hard sole shoes.
  • You will be asked to fill out an audition form, please have all necessary contact information and schedules available to complete the form.
  • A recent photo to attach to your audition form. Please note, the photos do not need to be professional and will not be returned.

Show Dates:       Mamma Mia!September 15 – October 15, 2017 (Hawks Mainstage Theatre)
A Christmas Carol November 17 – December 23, 2017 (Hawks Mainstage Theatre)
Parade – February 9 – March 11, 2018 (Howard Drew Theatre)
James and the Giant Peach – March 2 – 25, 2018 (Hawks Mainstage Theatre)
Singin’ In the Rain – June 1 – 24, 2018 (Hawks Mainstage Theatre)

There will be additional auditions held throughout the season for the following productions:

Alternative Programming productions – Auditions held June 28 & 29, 2017 for all of the following:

1776

Cry-Baby

Angels in America

In the Heat of the Night

Appropriate (separate auditions at a later date for this title only)

Stupid F@#%ing Bird – Auditions held July 31 and August 1, 2017

A Christmas Carol Youth Auditions – Auditions held August 2017 (specific date TBD)

Ripcord – Auditions held October 14 and 15, 2017

James and the Giant Peach Youth Auditions – Auditions held November 18, 2017

Shakespeare in Love – Auditions held February 12 and 13, 2018

The Mountaintop – Auditions held February 26 and 27, 2018

For more information, contact Jeannine Robertson, jrobertson@omahaplayhouse.com, at (402) 553-4890, ext. 164.

OCP Announces New Alternative Programming Season

Omaha, Neb.—The Omaha Community Playhouse is announcing its Alternative Programming series for the 2017-18 season. Alternative Programming includes a series of staged readings, special events and play development collaborations. All events are held at OCP.

The 2017-18 Alternative Programming schedule includes:

1776

Book by Peter Stone, Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Based on a concept by Sherman Edwards
(1969 Tony Award winner for Best Musical)
July 17, 2017
Staged reading of a musical, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Ashley Laverty

It’s the summer of 1776 and the nation is ready to declare independence… if only our founding fathers can agree to do it! 1776 follows John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia as they attempt to convince the members of the Second Continental Congress to vote for independence from the shackles of the British monarchy by signing the Declaration of Independence.

In an effort to provide more performance opportunities for women actors and to look at familiar works of theatre through a different lens, this staged reading will be fully cast with women playing all roles.

CRY-BABY
Book by Thomas Meehan & Mark O’Donnell
Music and Lyrics by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum
Based on the Universal Pictures film written and directed by John Waters
July 31, 2017
Staged reading of a musical, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Andrew Saladino

It’s 1954. Everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism and Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore. He’s a bad boy with a good cause – truth, justice and the pursuit of rock and roll. Cry-Baby and the square rich girl, Allison, are star-crossed lovers at the center of this world. Based on the cult classic 1990 John Waters film, Cry-Baby features a delightfully demented book from the writers of Hairspray and a rockabilly score from the co-founder of Fountains of Wayne and the executive producer of “The Daily Show.”

ANGELS IN AMERICA

Written by Tony Kushner
TWO DATES: August 7 and 28, 2017
Staged reading of a play, Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman

Part One: Millenium Approaches
In the first part of Tony Kushner’s epic story, set in 1980s New York City, a gay man is abandoned by his lover when he contracts the AIDS virus and a closeted Mormon lawyer’s marriage to his pill-popping wife stalls. Other characters include the infamous McCarthy-ite lawyer Roy Cohn, Ethel Rosenberg, a former drag queen who works as a nurse, and an angel.

Part Two: Perestroika
In the second part, the plague of AIDS worsens, relationships fall apart as new ones begin and unexpected friendships take form.
Contains adult content.

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Written by John Ball, Adapted by Matt Pelfrey
September 18, 2017
Staged reading of a play, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Marie Amthor Schuett

It’s 1962. A hot August night lies heavy over the small town of Argo, Alabama. A dead white man is discovered and the local police arrest a black stranger named Virgil Tibbs. The police discover that their prime suspect is in fact a homicide detective from California. As it happens, Tibbs becomes the racially-tense community’s single hope in solving a brutal murder that is turning up no witnesses, no motives and no clues.
Contains adult content.

FROM THE GROUND UP
Written by Denise Chapman
October 30, 2017
Special Event, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Kevin Lawler

Come share in the experience of seeing a workshopped performance of a brand new script. This community-based play will focus on North Omaha in the 1970s and the effect of the North I-75 Freeway being built in and running through the heart of the community.

An official collaboration with the Great Plains Theatre Conference, From the Ground Up is a workshop that provides a safe and nurturing playground for artists to develop new work for the theatre. The playwright’s material will be shared with an audience while still in the developmental phase then will continue to be developed to be included in the next Great Plains Theatre Conference.

WHITE RABBIT, RED RABBIT
by Nassim Soleimanpour
THREE DATES: November 6, 2017; February 19, 2018 and May 14, 2018
Special event, Howard Drew Theatre

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit has been called a play. But it’s a lively, global sensation that no one is allowed to talk about. Its award-winning playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, is Iranian. His words have escaped censorship and are awaiting your audience. Slyly humorous and audaciously pointed, this ‘theater-entertainment-meets-social-experiment’ is unlike anything, and will make you question everything. This show is always performed by a single actor who has never read the script before and has no idea what it’s about. Come experience a truly unique piece of theatre, then come back to see it again with a different performer.

 
EMOTIONAL CREATURE
Written by Eve Ensler
February 17, 2018
Special Event, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Emma Rasmussen

Performed by an ensemble of young women, Emotional Creature is made up of original monologues—and irresistible songs—about and for girls. Placing their stories squarely center stage, it gives full expression to their secret voices and innermost thoughts, highlighting the diversity and commonality of the issues they face. Emotional Creature is a call, a reckoning, an education, an act of empowerment for girls and an illumination for parents and for us all.
Contains adult content.

APPROPRIATE
Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
March 26, 2018
Staged reading of a play, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Christopher Scott

Every estranged member of the Lafayette clan has descended upon the crumbling Arkansas homestead to settle the accounts of the newly-dead patriarch. As his three adult children sort through a lifetime of hoarded mementos and junk, they collide over clutter, debt and a contentious family history. But after a disturbing discovery surfaces among their father’s possessions, the reunion takes a turn for the explosive, unleashing a series of crackling surprises and confrontations.
Contains adult content.

THE PATCHWORK PLAY PROJECT
April 23, 2018
Special Event, Hawks Mainstage Theatre

A completely original piece of theatre with a twist! Omaha is home to many talented playwrights, both well-established and up-and-coming. A group of local talent will be teaming up to write an original play—one piece at a time. Where the story goes… nobody knows! Come watch a staged reading of the final project to find out what the creative minds of Omaha can concoct.
Contains adult content.

Alternative Programming events are free and open to the public with an opportunity for donations. No tickets or reservations are necessary. Some events may be intended for mature audiences. For more information on Alternative Programming, contact Jeff Horger at jhorger@omahaplayhouse.com or (402) 553-4890, ext. 158.

 

Be Their Guest

Beauty and the Beast_4

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Themed Events

Opening Night Celebration and Sunday Tea Parties

Omaha, Neb.— In celebration of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Omaha Community Playhouse’s first  Disney production running in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre May 26 – June 25, 2017, OCP will host several themed events for ticket holders, including an Opening Night Enchanting Extravaganza on Friday, May 26 with free pre-show activities for ticket holders beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Pending weather and availability, opening night activities will include a “provincial village” mini-petting zoo outdoors featuring small farm animals; “Gaston’s Strength Challenge” high striker game; and “Belle’s Beauty Boutique” hair styling for boys and girls. Complimentary desserts and beverages will also be available. Activities take place from 6:00 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. for ticket holders of that evening’s performance. No separate registration is required for these activities, which are generously supported by Great Western Bank.

Omaha Community Playhouse will also host Beauty and the Beast Royal Teas before all Sunday matinee performances May 28 – June 25, 2017 beginning at 12:45 p.m. Guests will enjoy a dessert and beverage, participate in a themed craft, and be visited by a special guest before attending the 2:00 p.m. performance. Space is limited to 30 people per date and advance registration is required for these events  at $15 per guest. The May 28 Royal Tea is sold out and there is limited seating for the June 11 event. For questions, contact Jana Coburn at (402) 553-4890, ext. 147 or jcoburn@omahaplayhouse.com.

Additionally, 20 minutes prior to the start of each performance an actor from the show will lead the children in the audience in educational warm-ups. Children in the audience will also receive a child-friendly printed program with activities. This is in conjunction with OCP’s educational wing, the Henry Fonda Theatre Academy.

Production: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Show Dates: May 26 – June 25, 2017 (Wednesdays – Sundays)

Director: Kimberly Faith Hickman

Step into the enchanted world of the beloved musical, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. This classic story of Belle, a young woman in a provincial town, and the Beast, a young prince trapped under the spell of an enchantress, is guaranteed to entertain all audiences.  If the Beast can learn to love and be loved, the curse will end and he will be transformed to his former self — but time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his household will be doomed for all eternity. This “tale as old as time” is filled with spectacular costumes and sets and is a must-see for the whole family.

Show dates: May 26 – June 25, 2017; Wednesday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m.

There will be two Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. on June 17 and June 24, 2017 only.

Tickets: At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $42 for adults (Thursdays – Sundays) and $25 for students (Thursdays – Sundays). Wednesday prices are $32 for adults and $20 for students. Tickets are $32 for groups of 12 or more. Single ticket discounts do not apply to this show

Location: Omaha Community Playhouse, Hawks Mainstage Theatre (6915 Cass Street Omaha, NE 68132)

‘Superior Donuts’ Has No Holes

Arthur Przybyszewski has given up on life.  The aging hippie works his family’s 60+ year old donut shop whenever he feels like opening it, mourns the recent death of his ex-wife, and is estranged from his daughter.  Then Franco Wicks enters the picture.  This ebullient, confident young man takes a job as Arthur’s assistant and slowly helps him rediscover the joy of living.  When demons from Franco’s past return to stalk him, will Arthur help his new friend or run away again?  Find out by watching Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Prior to tonight’s production, I had never seen a Tracy Letts play.  Now I’d like to see more of them.  Letts has a genuine gift for dialogue, skillfully blending comedy and drama, and a real knack for character development as every role from supernumerary to lead has a story arc that gives each a chance to shine.  It also didn’t hurt that he also happens to tell a great story with Superior Donuts.

Susie Baer-Collins returns to the Omaha Playhouse to direct this production and brought her A game to the table.  She nimbly fleshed out all of the individual story arcs and led her actors to strong performances, deftly guiding them from comedy to drama and back again.

As stated earlier, Letts has created a nice little microcosm which is a dream for character actors as each role has its wonderful little quirks.  Some sterling performances include Mary Kelly as an alcoholic street lady with a major sugar addiction and wisdom that either defies or results from the fact that she doesn’t live in the greater construct called reality; Devel Crisp as a dedicated and Trekkie police officer; Mark Thornburg as a gregarious Russian businessman hoping to buy Arthur’s donut shop; and Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as the cop with a crush on Arthur.

My socks were knocked off by the performance of Jeremy Estill as Luther Flynn.  Making his Playhouse debut, Estill brought an incredible sincerity and a palpable sense of danger to the neighborhood loan shark.  You really believe him when he says he doesn’t want to rough up Franco who is having difficulty repaying his sizable debt, but you also don’t doubt him when he promises harm to Franco if he can’t come up with the cash.  Estill’s well chosen gestures wonderfully animate Flynn and made him one of the night’s treats.

Aaron Winston has a stellar Playhouse debut as Franco Wicks.  Winston brings a real joie de vivre to Franco who has a lot of wild ideas for updating and upgrading the hole in a wall donut shop such as adding music, holding literary events, and upselling pastries.  Winston’s Franco eats life with shining teeth and is such a dreamer that Arthur (and the audience) can’t help but be buoyed by his enthusiasm and energy.  That infectious energy works just as well in Wicks’ more dramatic scenes as you’ll crash with Franco as he pays an awful price for his failure to repay Luther Flynn.

It is an excellent performance, but I would recommend that Winston pick up the pace a bit as it will add some more zing to his fine work.

Kevin Barratt’s work as Arthur Przybyszewski is a tour de force.  He begins the play as an utterly defeated man going through the motions of life.  He barely talks, shows little emotion, and seems resigned to the fact that his life has derailed.  When Franco’s zest begins to rub off on him, you see Arthur begin to lighten up and start rediscovering the joys of life.  He becomes more animated, has fun, and dances badly.  But Barratt’s best moments occur during his numerous monologues as he recounts his life up to the present moment and you really feel the joy of his childhood, the regret of his teens when he makes a cowardly choice, and the pain of watching his family disintegrate.  And it is through those stories that you’ll understand why he takes the steps he does to help Franco at the show’s climax.

I was rather impressed with Matthew D. Hamel’s set.  It has the perfect look of a hole in the wall donut shop from its aged racks, to its ancient cash register, to the old, but functioning Superior Donuts sign.  John Gibilisco’s sound strongly supported the story and Lindsey Pape’s costumes were an excellent fit (no pun intended) for the characters.

The pacing and cue pickups needed a bit of tightening, but it truly was a pleasant night of theatre with a show that has a lot of heart and soul and teaches the importance of friendship and simply being alive.

Superior Donuts plays at the Omaha Playhouse through June 4.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language, the play is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.