A Blaze of Talent

TammyRa’ stars as Charlayne Woodard in Pretty Fire

Join Charlayne Woodard as she reminisces about her childhood in Pretty Fire which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Autobiographical plays present a unique challenge in the usage of voice.  A good play must have that sense of voice, but an autographical play is literally the author’s own voice.  Sharing that is trickier because the author has to lay bare his or her soul and be supremely honest.  It’s an extraordinarily difficult task and Woodard delivers with flying colors.

Her reminisces are rich and detailed and Woodard has no fear in sharing the good, the bad, the silly, and the tragic.  Now you might feel a bit thrown as Woodard only discusses her childhood and you might feel there’s more to the story.  And you’re right, there is.  Woodard has written several plays covering her storied life and Pretty Fire is merely the first chapter.

Breanna Carodine provides a flawless piece of direction for the piece.  When your cast is one person, there is always a danger of the show becoming static.  Carodine avoids that danger by having her lone performer constantly on the move.  Even when she is still, she is frequently gesturing or using vivid facial expressions which make her incredibly fun to watch.  Carodine also has great control over the flow of the story, knowing which beats to emphasize and knowing when to slow things down or pick up the pace.  She has guided her actress to a stellar performance and has well shaped the multiple characters she plays.

TammyRa’ is a bonfire of talent and has a searing performance as Charlayne Woodard.  As previously stated, her animation is off the charts and her energy seems limitless.  What I found particularly impressive about TammyRa’s performance was her use of voice to create characters.  Outside of slight alterations to the timbre of her voice, she created characters through body language and the manipulation of her energy.  As Woodard the child, she seemed physically smaller and her energy crackled like lightning.  As her mother, she seemed to physically grow into an adult and had a quiet, strong energy.  As a neighborhood bully, her eyes went cold and her aura simmered with violence.  TammyRa’ has an incredible gift for phrasing as she knew what words to hit for maximum impact and I even found myself responding to her rhetorical questions as I so completely bought into the reality she had built.

Jackie Fox has designed a parklike setting with artificial grass, a couple of benches, and the hint of a living room with a coffee table and a record player.  I especially liked her suspended flowery background which reminded me of changing clouds as I kept seeing a different picture each time I looked at it.  Fox’s lights ebbed and flowed with the emotions of the scene with the midnight blue of Woodard’s most tragic story being of singular quality.  John Gibilisco provides some nice ambient sounds to support the story.  J. Isaiah Smith wraps the piece with a fine and subtle score.  Lindsay Pape provides a colorful costume with a white shirt, green jacket, and tan pants.

There’s no theme to this play. It’s just the fascinating childhood story of one of the stage’s most lauded performers and playwrights.  If you want a night of mesmerizing storytelling, this is it.

Pretty Fire runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 21. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $36 and may be purchased at the Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800, or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. Due to some mature content and language, discretion is advised. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse

Full Circle: A Tribute to Doug Marr


Last night, Omaha lost a talented playwright, a genuine wit, and an all around great human being.

I lost a good friend.

When I think of Doug I think of a genuinely good man with a phenomenal sense of humor and a truly giving and supportive heart.  Doug was responsible for giving my theatre career one of its biggest boosts and for keeping it alive when it was on life support.

I first met Doug back in 2003 when I auditioned for the Circle Theatre’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I had high hopes that I would be able to net the role of Billy Bibbit, but received a surprise when I got a letter notifying me that the whole production was being postponed due to the theatre being unable to fill the key role of Chief Bromden, but Doug hoped to mount the show later that summer.

As summer closed in I asked him if Cuckoo was going to be mounted and he wrote back and said Circle would be doing Our Town and immediately offered me the role of Doc Gibbs.

I was stunned by his generosity as I was relatively an untested talent as I only had 4 small roles under my belt and this would be the first time I had something with a bit of meat.  Though he didn’t direct the production, he was present every day at his trusted post at the light and sound board.  He often regaled the cast with his off the cuff jokes and we would spend quite a bit of time talking about our mutual love for classic rock, Sherlock Holmes, and he would share with me ideas he had for future plays and stories.

I experienced a bit more of his generosity when he handed me a small check at the end of the run.  Doug always believed in paying a tiny stipend to the performers and I’m proud to have had my first paying gig under his watchful eye.

It would be nearly a decade before I crossed paths with Doug again.  At that point, I had been going through a dry spell and then he announced auditions for An Inspector Calls.  After my audition, Doug offered me the choice of either of the two young men.  Now one was a decent, level headed sort close to my real personality and the other was a drunken lout.  I opted for the lout.  Doug agreed to that as he thought that was the better of the two reads.

Doug often said that he wasn’t a director, but I think he underestimated his talents in that realm..  For starters, he was a gifted writer with an instinct for beats so he knew what points in a story needed to be hit to get maximum effect.  More importantly, he had an incredible eye for talent.  Doug intuitively understood a performer’s strengths and weaknesses and not only knew where to slot them, but also trusted their instincts so he’d only have to give slight notes to smooth out the rough edges.

I was always grateful that he let me test my range with Eric Birling and it still ranks as one of my favorite roles.

Shortly after that show, my dry spell became an arid desert.  I had grown so disheartened with the constant rejections that I made the decision to step away from theatre for a while.

Trust Doug to get me back into the swing of things.

Six months into my hiatus, Doug sent word through a mutual friend of ours asking if I would consider doing the Circle’s annual Christmas show.  I was a little hesitant because my confidence had been so battered, but he was a really hard guy to say no to so I agreed.

With his trust and support, I began to remember the things I loved so much about theatre and managed to breathe life into his creation of Gunar, the hippie elf which would become another of my favorite roles.  His kindness gave me the shot in the arm I needed and I would bag my biggest role later that season thanks to him restoring my heart.

Many in our community have shared their stories about Doug.  He was a treasure and he will be missed.  I’ll always remember him for his warmth, his good humor, his gift for wordplay, and his goodness.  Most of all, I’ll remember him for being my friend.

Rest in peace, my friend.


Shelterbelt Announces 24th Season


Shelterbelt Theatre, Omaha’s home for new plays, is thrilled to announce their 24th Season including ALL playwrights living in Omaha, Lincoln and Council Bluffs. “I am really excited about our 2016-2017 season, as it is truly local — a nice mix of familiar faces and new collaborators that will allow us to continue challenging ourselves creatively to bring new works from page to stage,” said Shelterbelt Artistic Director, Elizabeth Thompson.

“Having a season of high-quality, local works deepens the cultural landscape of Nebraska and allows us to provide our local artists with the opportunity to showcase their work where they live. This is something I love about working with Shelterbelt. It’s really fulfilling to be a part of something so rooted in home,” said Shelterbelt Executive Director, Rox-anne Wach.

Shelterbelt Season 24, 2016-2017 will feature:

REVELATION by Samuel Brett Williams

October 6 – 30, 2016

Brandon’s Southern Baptist father always taught him to be prepared for the Rapture. Rebecca is a pre-med student who was raised as an atheist. All of a sudden, people begin disappearing, the Hudson River turns to blood, and the entire state of Ohio comes down with a bad case of the boils. Brandon grabs Rebecca and tries to make it from New York City to Arkadelphia, Arkansas in hopes of finding the New Jerusalem. Revelation explores faith, love, and the American landscape in a pitch black comedy about the End Days.


January 27 – February 19, 2017

A series of women, scattered across time and space, search for their own perfect understanding of what it means to mother: one writes a letter to her unborn daughter on yesterday’s Burger King napkins // another delivers a motiva-tional speech about learning how to accept grief and knowing when the mothering stops // another prepares a Power-Point presentation about what it means to love someone other than herself // another raises a glass and toasts to her daughter’s new bride // and so on. The Motherhood Almanac is a fiercely passionate tapestry of stories about the life inside of each us, as told by women and the women who raised them.

CATHERLAND Book and lyrics by Becky Boesen, music by David von Kampen April 21 – May 14, 2017

Susan is an emerging writer, living the life of her dreams, complete with an adoring husband and nearly-completed first novel. When tragedy strikes, and the trajectory of her life changes, she must decide how to move forward. Searching for answers, she flees to Red Cloud, Nebraska, the childhood home of novelist Willa Cather. Guided by her curiosity and the presence of a mysterious guest, Susan discovers that life is more about beginnings than endings. A lesson in embracing the unexpected, Catherland reminds us that “where there is great love, there are always miracles.”

NEIGHBORS, LOVERS AND ALL THE OTHERS by Marie Amthor Schuett July 14 – August 6, 2017

Loyal Guerre lives a life of blue kimonos, Judy Garland, and Pavarotti. Facing a serious bout of composers block, he finds inspiration in an unlikely source – his handsome, talented neighbor who has no idea that he needs a set of curtains to separate his apartment from the rest of the world. When fate brings them together and their lives intertwine, Loyal realizes that as his fantasy becomes reality, there is much more to his neighbor than the window to his world originally revealed.

Shelterbelt is Omaha’s home for new plays – Omaha’s only theatre dedicated exclusively to producing new and unpub-lished plays. Performances are Thursday/Friday/Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 6pm (final Sunday performances at 2pm.) ($15 | general • $12 | students/seniors/TAG • $20 | musicals). Tickets will be available at http://www.shelterbelt.org (click box office), or boxoffice@shelterbelt.org or 402.341.2757.  Shelterbelt is located at 3225 California St in Omaha, NE.

Shelterbelt to Hold Auditions for “Shattering the Glass: A Celebration of Omaha Women in Theatre

The Shelterbelt Theatre is pleased to announce auditions for Shattering the Glass:  A Celebration of Omaha Women in Theatre, organized by Elizabeth Thompson

Playwrights: Laura Leininger–Campbell, Moira Mangiameli, Kaitlyn McClincy, Marie Schuett, and Daena Schweiger

Directors: Sonia Keffer, Moira Mangiameli, and Jayma Smay

Production Dates: July 8–31, 2016
Performances Thursday–Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 6pm

Auditions: April 26 and 27 at 7pm
Location: Shelterbelt Theatre (3225 California Street in Omaha, NE)

An array of actresses and actors will be needed for this production. More details will be posted soon.

The Shelterbelt Theatre believes in non-traditional casting and will cast the best performer for a role, regardless of race or disability.

Shattering the Glass is a new collaborative project featuring Omaha’s female playwrights, directors and actresses. Showcasing the remarkable talent Omaha’s pool of XX-chromosomed theatre artists possess, the Shelterbelt is thrilled to give their voices a platform in which to present their newest works.

For questions, please contact Elizabeth Thompson at artistic@shelterbelt.org.