‘Once’ Set to Open at Omaha Community Playhouse

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Melissa King and Jay Hanson star as Girl and Guy in “Once”

Omaha, Neb.–Once will open Friday, Feb. 28, 2020 at the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP). The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Feb. 28 through March 22. 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 $18 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 eight Tony Awards® and based on the Oscar®-winning film, Once is the achingly beautiful tale of unexpected love between Guy, an Irish musician, and Girl, a Czech immigrant. The uplifting score—featuring the Academy Award®-winning single, “Falling Slowly,”—is performed entirely on stage, with the actors doubling as orchestra musicians. Equal parts touching and inspiring, Once reminds us of music’s unique ability to forge deep, unspoken connections in our lives.

Directed by:  Kimberly Faith Hickman

Cast

Nathaniel Belshan as Emcee

Jonathan Berger as Andrej

Jim Boggess as Eamon

Thomas Gjere as Bank Manager

Jay Hanson as Guy

Joey Hartshorn as Baruska

Ejanae Hume as Reza

Sean Johnson as Billy

Don Keelan-White as D.A.

Melissa King as Girl

Hannah McQuay-Ramsgard as Ex-Girlfriend

Jesse White as Svec

Anina Frey, Holly Hirsch and Brinlee Roeder as Ivonka

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

 

 

Rebel’s Heart

Rebel Randle P. McMurphy accepts a commitment to a mental ward to avoid a sentence to a work farm.  The charming ne’er-do-well quickly comes into conflict with Nurse Ratched, the dominating ruler of the ward.  His victories over the cold-hearted nurse begin to breathe new life into the ward, but when he learns his stay in the institution can be extended indefinitely, his personal war with Ratched takes on dire stakes where it becomes clear only one of them will be left standing.  This is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman and based off Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name.  It is currently playing at Florence Community Theater.

I’ve always been a big admirer of this show, not only for the strong story and compelling characters, but for its themes of societal views on mental illness, what it means to really live life, the triumph of the underdog and the corruption of power, just to name a few.  The themes and characters of this show are brought to vibrant life by a colorful, energetic and mighty cast that came out with all guns a blazing with some storytelling that does extreme justice to this tale.

Neal Herring provides some superlative direction for this piece.  Doing double duty with set design, Herring stages the story in the unfriendly, starched white walls of the mental institution where the patients live a monotonous and controlled existence under the thumb of Nurse Ratched.  Herring utilizes the space quite well as each patient carves out his own little nook in the ward.  He’s also led his thespians to well-developed performances as all characters have their quirks and tics which wonderfully create this little slice of purgatory.

I applaud the ensemble for giving its all to the show.  Each and every one remained involved in the story and had mannerisms and/or reactions that told me something about them which helped to build this little world.  Some notable performances in the ensemble came from JJ Davis who seems to have had one shock treatment too many with his take on the hallucinating Martini and Jim Watson who gives a very empathetic performance as Dale Harding, the patient ward’s president who is wrestling with his own sexual identity.

Brian Henning gives quite a moving performance as Chief Bromden, the show’s narrator.  Henning has a wonderful gift for pantomime and some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen on a performer.  His eyes often let me read his thoughts as Chief has buried his sense of identity so deeply that he rarely speaks (the narration is done via voiceover) and pretends to be deaf and dumb so he won’t have to react to anything around him.  It’s a joy to watch Henning’s Chief slowly blossom to life under the encouragement of McMurphy and his antics and his emotional breakdown during the play’s resolution is one of the finest heartbreaking moments I’ve seen in Omaha theatre.

I can’t say enough good things about David Frolio’s performance as Randle P. McMurphy.  It is a truly a nuanced, spellbinding interpretation and I foresee Frolio being in the running for some Best Actor prizes come awards season.  Frolio is just a force of nature.  He comes blowing into the asylum like a storm and is so animated and fun to watch.  His McMurphy is truly a rebel.  He cares little for rules and authority and loves to fight and f—k.  But he also has a heart of gold as he truly befriends the patients and fights for them even when he’s causing trouble for his own amusement.  Frolio carefully walks the line with McMurphy’s battles with Ratched as he expertly acts as the burr under her saddle while tempering his behavior so she is unable to counterattack with the resources at her disposal.  Frolio steadily builds and builds the tension until his McMurphy is finally forced to take drastic action when a beloved comrade falls victim in the war between he and Ratched.

Shelly Gushard gets an awful lot right with her take on Nurse Ratched.  Gushard’s Ratched is the god of this little world and woe betide any who thwart her commandments.  She’s also clearly the yang to McMurphy’s yin, not just in personality, but physicality as she is clearly the stronger of the two which added to her aura of power.

I liked how controlled she was and never allowed Ratched to get overly emotional.  With a look and a glare, Ratched is even able to cow and bend the asylum’s doctor to her steely will.  I also enjoyed how she would take little moments to exert control over her emotions when McMurphy pushed her buttons.  But I think she’s got the room to be even colder, downright frigid I dare say, which would well suit the machinelike Ratched who genuinely believes her routines and rules and morality will help cure the patients.

Tim Mantil gives an extremely moving performance as Billy Bibbit.  Mantil nails Billy’s shy nature with his soft-spokenness and believable, naturalistic stuttering.  He also brilliantly communicates Billy’s constant thoughts of suicide with his twitchy movements, distressed expressions and persistent touching of his bandaged wrists.  He just needs to be a little careful with his voice as it sometimes went into too high a register which made Billy seem more childish instead of childlike.

Cecelia Sass and Syrian Black did a pretty good job with the costumes from the classic nurse’s outfits to the T-shirts and dark sweats of the patients to McMurphy’s leather jacket and trademark hat.  I did think the costumes for McMurphy’s female friends could be a bit trashier as they seemed a little too elegantly garbed for the crowd he’d likely run with.  Derek Kowal and Stuart Anderson provided some lovely sounds for the show with ducks quacking during a morning sunrise to the ominous sounds of electro shock therapy when McMurphy and Chief are dragged away for treatment after a brawl with the orderlies.

It is a story of a battle of wills and this cast takes you on the emotional roller coaster ride of this slugfest with a strong, measured hand.  You’ll laugh.  You’ll cry.  You may even be in stunned silence at some moments.  But you’ll definitely be hooked from beginning to end.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest runs at Florence Community Theater through Feb 23.  Showtimes will be Fri-Sat at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets cost $12 ($10 for TAG members/60+/groups of 8 or more).  For reservations, call 531-600-8634 or visit www.florencetheater.org.  Due to some strong language and sensitive subject matter, this show is not recommended for children.  Florence Community Theatre is located inside of Florence City Hall at 2864 State St in Omaha, NE.

Turf War

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From left to right: Giovanni Quezada, Alyssa Gonzalez, Dennis Collins and Mary Kelly

A property line dispute between an older white couple and a young Hispanic couple gets blown grossly out of proportion.  The feud between the neighbors unleashes a barrage of pent up frustrations, perceptions, and biases in Native Gardens by Karen Zacarias which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Zacarias has written what I shall dub an intellectual comedy.  It’s not only funny, but it gives the viewer quite a bit of food for thought.  It’s certainly a play for the current political climate and makes reference to walls and illegal immigration.  But it also focuses on negative isms like racism and ageism as well as white privilege, perception and entitlement.  However, it often does this by turning a lot of these negative themes on their heads as it is the Hispanic couple operating from a position of power in this show.

I was especially impressed as to how the two couples are presented as mirror images of each other.  Given the similarities in terms of personality, desires and even who wears the pants in the two units, the couples should get along famously.  However, their world views are what ultimately bring them into conflict.  This makes for a very interesting story as both sides have valid viewpoints for their skirmish.

Ablan Roblin supplies a commendable piece of direction for this comedy.  The staging is admirable and reflects the mirror image of the couples with the rather luxurious home of the Butleys and the somewhat ramshackle house (it was derelict for years) of the Del Valles.  He keeps the pace brisk and animated with his actors constantly moving about which was actually a bit of a feat due to the actors having to be confined to their yards.  He’s coached his thespians to effective and potent performances and knows how to hit the funny even when it touches upon sensitive subject matter.

It was truly a treat to watch the performance of Giovanni Quezada who makes quite the splash with his Playhouse debut.  Quezada is one of the most naturalistic actors I’ve ever seen.  So credible and believable.  And his gestures are fluid and effortless.  He brings a real intelligence to his portrayal of Pablo Del Valle.  He’s young and hungry and determined to be the best lawyer possible.  But his confidence can sometimes border on arrogance and he shows a bit of immaturity by focusing on what’s legal instead of what’s fair.

Mary Kelly’s take on Virginia Butley can best be described as a rock-hard center covered in a sweet candy shell.  She’s kind and neighborly, but not someone you’d want to cross as she’s tough as nails, having been a success as a defense contractor during a time when women in that position were few.  She’s considerably more level headed than her husband and certainly the dominant spouse as she leads the charge against the Del Valles when their garden is threatened.

Dennis Collins is a scream as Frank Butley.  Frank is definitely the most childish of the four adults.  All he cares about is his yard and garden and obsesses about winning a gardening competition and finally besting a perpetual rival.  Collins’ phrasing is so strong and allows him to maximize his punchlines.  His whining and tantrums are truly a joy to watch and his meek delivery of “Why are you yelling at me?” managed to get a loud, hearty guffaw out of a chuckler like me.

Alyssa Isabel Gonzalez is very solid in the role of Tania Del Valle.  Tania is the most mature of the adults as she initially wants to handle the property line dispute diplomatically, but even she has her foibles with her snooty views on native gardens and can be quite immature when she allows her emotions to get the better of her.  Gonzalez’s Tania is also the rock in her relationship as she comes from a poor family which helped her to be strong as she is a step away from earning her PhD and has taught her husband not to run away from a fight. I did think Gonzalez could play with her words a bit more as her delivery seemed a touch too controlled and cadenced at some points.

Jim Othuse’s set was one of my favorites with the elegant home and lovingly maintained yard of the Butleys juxtaposed with the grassless lawn and worn-down house of the Del Valles though they do have a mighty oak tree.  I liked Aja Jackson’s use of shadows and the glow of rear porch lights to emphasize the nighttime scenes.  Jenn Sheshko’s costumes well suit the characters especially with the elegant suits for Pablo and the frumpy polos and shorts for Frank.  John Gibilisco’s sounds enhance the neighborhood whether it be the song of birds or the roar of chainsaws.  Timothy Vallier has composed a nice score for the show and I very much enjoyed the opening theme with its driving bass and backbeat of bongos.

There were some minor blips in the preview night performance with some line bobbles, stepping on cues and lack of projection at some moments.  That being said, with the combination of a well-thought out script and humorous, skilled storytelling from the actors, Native Gardens can teach us all a lesson that a lot of difficulties can be solved when people talk to each other instead of at each other.

Native Gardens plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through March 15.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $36 ($18 for students) and vary by performance. Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the box office. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

‘Playboy of the Western World’ On Tap for Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company

Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company Presents:

Playboy of the Western World by J M Synge

Synopsis

In the dead of night in a rural Irish town, a young man turns up claiming to have killed his own father. The locals, more interested in vicariously enjoying his story than in condemning the immorality of his deed transform him into a living legend—something larger than life… until life shows up to settle the score.

Performance Dates

Feb 14-Mar 1.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Location

First Central Congregational Church (421 S 36th St in Omaha, NE)

Ticket Prices:  $30 ($25 for Student/Military/65+)

Brigit Saint Brigit’s 27-season long tradition of featuring Irish culture spotlights playwright and director at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, John Millington Synge’s (1871–1909) most celebrated work, Playboy of the Western World. Synge remains one of the most important figures in Irish drama and Playboy of the Western World one of the most important works in the Abbey’s long and storied existence. When first performed in 1907, Playboy caused riots due to the boldness of its storytelling and remains a vibrant, hilarious and poignant tale to this day as is evidenced by its myriad of revivals that have persisted around the world. View this Arts & Culture Link for background on Synge, ‘Playboy’ and much more…

Director:  Cathy Kurz

Cast:  Josh Ryan, Anna Jordan, Matt Cummins, Eric Griffith, David Landis, Eric Grant-Leanna, Eric Salonis, Hannah Clark, Emma Johnson and Daisy Friedman

‘Native Gardens’ Set to Open at OCP on Valentine’s Day

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From left to right: Giovanni Quezada, Alyssa Gonzalez, Dennis Collins and Mary Kelly

Omaha, Neb.–Native Gardens will open Friday, Feb. 14, 2020 at the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP). The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre from Feb. 14 through March 15. Performances will be held Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $36 for adults and $18 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

When Pablo and Tania purchase a new home in a well-to-do white neighborhood, the couple next door initially offer a friendly welcome. But when a laughable property line disagreement dissolves into an all-out turf war, the dirt begins to fly. Packed with witty quips—and plenty of back-and-forth mudslinging—Native Gardens is a side-splitting reminder that, despite our differences, we all share a much larger common ground.

Director:  Ablan Roblin

Cast

Alyssa Gonzalez as Tania Del Valle

Giovanni Quezada as Pablo Del Valle

Mary Kelly as Virginia Butley

Dennis Collins as Frank Butley

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

Mamma Mia, Here I Go Again

Harry Bright, Sam Carmichael and Bill Austin are invited to the wedding of the daughter of their former paramour, Donna.  The trouble is that the invitations came from Donna’s daughter, Sophie, who is bound and determined to find out which of these men is her father.  This is Mamma Mia! and it is currently playing at the Performing Artists Repertory Theatre.

This is my third go-around reviewing this show and this, hands down, was the best version I’ve seen.  I’ve always considered this show to be kitschy fun due to its near lack of a story which is solely meant to serve as a backdrop to ABBA songs.  But, this time, I had an absolute blast due to the complete commitment of the cast, precision direction and a band that nailed the music to the floor.

Gordon Cantiello’s direction couldn’t be any more on target.  The staging is right on the mark with the little seaside hotel/tavern and makes use of the entire theatre.  His pacing is precisely on point.  Not only has he guided his actors to pitch perfect performances, but he also found beats which I didn’t think existed in this show and were believably played by a stellar cast.

The ensemble was one of the best I’ve seen.  Each was thoroughly committed to the show and it added such a wonderful, vital dimension to it. And many added little bits of business that made the show just that much more realistic. Strong supporting performances were supplied by Marcus Benzel and Analisa Peyton.  Benzel shines as the uber macho travel writer, Bill Austin, and he plays him with maximum gusto.  Peyton is equally mighty as the no-nonsense chef, Rosie Mulligan.

I admit I was blown away by Evelyn Hill’s performance as Sophie, even more so when I learned she was only a high school junior because she has a natural talent that can go toe to toe with actors who have many years of experience.  Her Sophie is an energetic innocent.  You completely buy into her joy of getting married, her love of her mother and her determination to discover the identity of her father.  Hill has amazing facial expressions and I was utterly enthralled by her reactions to others and the events swirling about her.

Hill also has, as a Southern friend of mine would say, “a high roof to her mouth” (big vocal range).  Her high alto powered through such numbers as “Honey, Honey”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Under Attack” where she shows that not only can she sing, but also knows how to emote through a song.

Chris Berger is right on the money with his take on Sam Carmichael.  Berger strikes just the right balance of kindness, nervousness, sadness and courage.  Indeed, this blend is crucial for dealing with the volatile Donna and showing the regret of not staying with her when he originally had the chance.  Berger also is in fine fettle as a singer as he nails the show’s saddest number, “SOS” and is equally as good when he tries to advise Sophie on the bumps and trials of marriage in “Knowing Me, Knowing You”.

Mackenzie Dehmer is a pistol as Donna.  She hooks in the audience from the beginning with her independent, blue collar nature and her initial animosity at Sam returning is so palpable it can be cut with a knife.  And such lovely expressions of her own.  She can shoot a glare or sneer that shouts volumes and sheds some real tears during the show’s more serious moments.  Dehmer also has her own powerful alto which will thrill the audience with renditions of “One of Us”, “Slipping Through My Fingers”, “Mamma Mia” and “Our Last Summer”.

Jennifer Novak Haar and her band might as well be ABBA as they played the numbers so perfectly.  Tom Bertino designed a simple set of boxes and turquoise shutters which make for a quite convincing hotel.  Amber Wilson’s choreography is snappy and fun and immaculately executed by the cast.  I truly loved each and every one of the group numbers.  Ernie Gubbles’ lights add just the right bit of panache to the production.

The show well and truly got its hooks into me this time around and it gets my highest recommendation.  It truly is one of the season’s best productions and is a treat for all who watch it.

Mamma Mia! runs at Performing Artists Repertory Theatre through Feb 16.  Showtimes are 7pm Thurs-Sat and 2pm Sat-Sun.  Tickets cost $35 ($30 for seniors and $25 for students).  For ticket information, contact 402-706-0778.  PART Theatre is located inside Crossroads Mall at 7400 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

Being Alive

“You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”—Paul McCartney

I think this quotation best sums up Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey which is currently playing at the BlueBarn Theatre.

Normally, I open my reviews with a brief synopsis of the play’s story.  This time I’m going to wait until the end as this particular show completely eschews the normal narrative style.  From my experience, Eno seems to have a knack for creating an everyman character to communicate with the audience.  Perhaps this everyman is the audience or at least its conscience.  Ostensibly the play’s unnamed central character is here to say good-bye, but shares a far more powerful message in a story that truly fits BlueBarn’s season-long theme of memory.

Barry Carman offers up a stunning piece of direction in this show.  Every single word.  Every single pause.  Every single look.  Every single breath.  Every single move has purpose.  Seldom have I seen such a meticulous piece of direction or staging.  Carman has also led his two performers to extraordinary performances and I was particularly keen on his “less than more” animation of his actors.  They neither move a lot nor need to.  As I said earlier, when a movement is made, a definite purpose is behind it.

Aaron Zavitz plays the unnamed central character (listed simply as Guy).  Who is Guy?  Unknown.  But tonight he is apparently a talk show host as that’s the vibe he gives out, further bolstered by a hanging “No Applause” sign and a reference to a special guest.  From the get-go, Guy seems to be marking time to an ending and is talking with the audience solely to pass that time.

Zavitz is a marvel in the role.  His rich, mellow baritone filling the theatre as he talks with us about anything and everything, but mostly about life.  Zavitz’s delivery is exceptionally extemporaneous.  He truly sounded like he was making everything up as he went and this is well-suited for his character who seems a trifle disorganized with his out of order note cards and his unseen help who sometimes goof up his audio and visual cues, if not outright pranking him on word jumbles.

Zavitz is quite likable and is, at turns, funny, nervous, serious, happy, melancholic, even slightly desperate as he tries to teach the audience about being alive.  Most impressive is his character’s deterioration over the course of the show.  Guy is sick and weak and gets progressively more so over the course of the show as Zavitz’s chest begins to collapse in on itself, his mobility decreases, and his mental focus falters.

Echelle Childers is equally wonderful as the mysterious helper, Lisa.  There is something otherworldly, dare I say, angelic about this character.  Childers is so gentle and loving as Lisa as she carefully massages and soothes the wearied Guy, offers him hibiscus juice, and tidies him up before wheeling him offstage and she does it all with a beatific smile on her face.  I was moved by her soft-spoken nature which permeated her entire being up to and including a little dance she performs while Guy takes a brief catnap.  Her character seems to hold a vast store of wisdom as she shares a few of her own stories and outlooks with the audience.

Craig Lee’s set adds to the ethereal nature of the show with a seemingly abandoned room save for a few boxes that is dominated by a large screen, massive windows in the rear, and never used door on house left.  Lights and sounds are absolutely critical to this piece and Bill Kirby rises to the occasion with his lights suddenly clicking on and off, soft music, flashy disco lights, and a moment simulating sunrise.  Kirby is also responsible for the projections which ranged from the sweet to the amusing.  Susan Clement-Toberer has costumed the actors well with the ordinary shirt and jeans for Lisa and the bedrobe and rumpled clothes/pajamas for Guy.

So what is the story of Wakey, Wakey?  It’s simply YOUR story.

Wakey, Wakey plays at BlueBarn Theatre through Feb 23.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm except for a 6pm show on Feb 16.  Tickets cost $35 ($30 for seniors) and can be obtained at www.bluebarn.org or by calling 402-345-1576.  The BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.