Age in the Cage

Ladies and gentlemen!  This is it.  The battle for the heavyweight championship of the room.  In the house right corner, wearing the muted colors, she is known as the Brooding Brawler. . Abby!!!!  Her opponent, fighting out of house left, wearing the light, bright colors, she is called Sinfully Sweet. . .Marilyn!!!  And now. . .LET’S GET READY TO RIPCORD!!!!!!!! at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

David Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord tells the story of two senior home roommates who mix about as well as oil and water.  Curmudgeonly Abby is used to having the room to herself and cannot stand her new perky roommate, Marilyn.  When Marilyn claims never to get angry and Abby claims never to get scared, the two ladies make a bet.  If Abby angers Marilyn, then Marilyn will move to a different room.  If Marilyn scares Abby, she gets Abby’s bed by the window.  The result is an escalating war of pranks between the two women as they pull out all the stops to win the bet.

Lindsay-Abaire has written a clever script reminiscent of The Odd Couple with the exception that the two main characters are not friends, giving their interactions a bit more of an edge.  The script moves quite fast and is seasoned with hot zingers, sautéed with some well placed over the top moments, has a dash of drama and sensitivity, but has a peculiar palate cleanser of an ending.

Kimberly Faith Hickman has gathered a gaggle of comedic talent which she leads to solid and uproarious performances.  Ms Hickman has mastery of the beats as she knows when to let her performers go huge, be normal, or pluck the heartstrings.  The staging of the show is quite strong as, even in the slower moments, there is always a bit of movement from the actors to keep the scenes animated.

Three character actors playing multiple roles support the action of the play, but each also has a particular role that allows them their best moment in the spotlight.  Matt Tarr’s towering presence and rich voice serve him best as a zombie butler in a haunted house.  Kaitlyn McClincy serves up some laughs as Marilyn’s somewhat devious daughter who gleefully assists her mother in winning the bet.  Kevin Goshorn shines in the show’s most poignant scene as the estranged, recovering addict son of Abby who visits her for the first time in years.

For a debut performance, Sahil Khullar is quite capable in the role of Scotty, the aide at the senior living center.  Khullar definitely has the personality for the kindly Scotty who is implied to be a struggling actor.  He also has a good instinct for timing, though his gestures need to be a bit more economical and precise.

But this show does indeed rest on the shoulders of its leading ladies.  Rest assured that Charleen Willoughby and Judy Radcliff are more than up to the task as the pair deliver gutbusting performances and have a chemistry and repartee bordering on the symbiotic.

Charleen Willoughby is a bitter delight as Abby.  Ms Willoughby well communicates Abby’s cynicism with a stony, stoic expression and bearing that says, “Just let me read and leave me alone”.  She always has a quiet sense of mourning about her, lamenting the things she either lost or never had.  Despite this downer description, Ms Willoughby does make this stick in the mud quite entertaining as her sense of delivery always makes Abby’s retorts and put-downs funny.  Ms Willoughby also allows Abby’s long buried decent heart peek out from time to time with her love of her plants and the wistfulness of wanting grandchildren.

Judy Radcliff is a darling scream as Marilyn.  Ms Radcliff makes Marilyn so sweet and sunshiney that one could probably spit in her face and she would laugh it off.  Ms Radcliff brings an incredible sense of fun and kindness to the chatty Marilyn who just wants to bring a little brightness to the days of others.  But a bit of orneriness lies beneath the sweetness as Marilyn dreams up the more dangerous pranks played in her war of oneupmanshp with Abby and the fact that she does it with a smile on her face makes it all the funnier.

Paul Pape has designed a fluid, open set bordered by ropes that easily transforms into the bedroom at the senior living facility to an airplane and to the airiness of a haunted house and the outside.  Jim Othuse’s lights are some of the best I’ve seen in a Playhouse show as they really help define the scenes with the eerie greens and reds of the haunted house to the shadows of trees and sunlight outside of Abby’s window.  John Gibilisco delivers on sound once again, especially with an impressive propeller sound effect in the skydiving scene.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes well define the personalities of the leading ladies with Marilyn’s bright, pretty dresses and Abby’s muted, sedate pantsuits.  I also was quite pleased with the original score composed by Timothy Vallier.

There were a few blips in this preview night performance.  Actors broke character on a few occasions with some of the jokes.  There also seemed to be a bit of a dead spot on house left as microphones didn’t seem to work quite as well there as they did on house right.  But these are easily fixable items.

I also thought the leading ladies were a little young to be in a senior living facility, but I also recognize the tough balancing act as I’m not certain older ladies would have been capable of handling the needed physicality for the roles.

This show has all the right ingredients for a most amusing night of theatre.  It’s got laughs.  It’s got heart.  It’s got sensitivity.  Get a ringside seat and watch the comedy brawl to win it all.

Ripcord plays at the Omaha Playhouse from Jan 19-Feb 11.  Showtimes are Wed-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.  A little discretion is advised due to some coarse language and inappropriate gestures.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

OCP Begins Second Half of Season with ‘Ripcord’

Omaha, NE–Ripcord, a comedy of one-upmanship as two feisty senior ladies fight for their rightful place, will run at the Omaha Community Playhouse January 19-February 11, 2018 in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre.

Pranks and practical jokes abound when cantankerous Abby and chipper Marilyn are forced to share the nicest room at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility.  As Abby attempts to get rid of her unwanted new roommate, a series of bets soon escalates into a hilarious game of one-upmanship as the two women try every trick in the book to claim their space in the apartment and their place in the world.  Ripcord is a hilarious tale with a lot of heart.

Disclaimer:  Contains adult language spoken by a cantankerous old lady.

Ripcord is written by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play, Rabbit Hole, and who wrote the book and lyrics for Shrek the Musical (nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical).

ProductionRipcord

Credits:  By David Lindsay-Abaire

Director:  Kimberly Faith-Hickman

Cast

Charleen Willoughby as Abby Binder

Judy Radcliff as Marilyn Dunne

Sahil Khullar as Scotty

Kevin Goshorn as Benjamin/Lewis/Clown

Kaitlyn McClincy as Colleen/Woman in White

Matt Tarr as Derek/Zombie Butler/Masked Man

Show Dates:  Jan 19-Feb 11, 2018 (Wed-Sat performances with Sunday matinees)

Tickets:  Available now at the OCP Box Office.  Please call 403-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Tickets cost $24 (Wed) or $30 (Thurs-Sun) for adults; $16 (Wed) or $18(Thurs-Sun) for students; $20 for adult groups of 12 or more; $14 for student groups of 12 or more.

Sponsored By:  Immanuel Communities (Series Sponsor), Security National Bank, Gale and Judy Wickersham (Producing Partners), and Waitt Outdoor (Media Sponsor).

Location:  6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE

A Season of Deja Vu

Déjà vu:  The sensation that you are doing something that you have done before.

It’s almost eerie how much this season mirrored the last one.  Like last year, it ended quite early and I only was able to audition for a couple of shows.

This season actually began unusually early.  Back in March, to be precise.

I had attended the Omaha Playhouse’s announcement of the 2017-18 season and they announced the season premiere would also be a world premiere as they would kick off with an original play called Eminent Domain written by local actress/playwright, Laura Leininger-Campbell.  They further announced that the auditions for this show would take place the next week as the actors would be helping to refine the show.

I managed to get a PDF of the script from Laura and found it to be a fascinating read.  The play explores themes of family with the framing device of a Nebraska farm family being threatened by an oil company claiming eminent domain to annex part of their property to lay a pipeline.

I was especially drawn to the character of the autistic Evan MacLeod whom I found to be a deep well of character acting.  I spent the next week taking a crash course in autism in order to properly present my take on Evan.

When I went to the auditions next week, I found that Laura’s play had really struck a chord with the community.  It seems as if the entire theatre community had come out to audition.  Not only was I up against some of the brightest names in Omaha theatre, but I was also up against much of the original cast who had been part of the show back when it was a staged reading.

My old shipmate, Frank Insolera, was one of the hopefuls and we started catching up on old times.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Christina Rohling, whom you might remember as the director of Elephant’s Graveyard and A Heavy Rain, heading in our direction.  Frank and I reached a pause in our conversation and both looked her way.

Addressing me, she said, “I just want you to know that you made my job (for Elephant’s Graveyard) very difficult.  It just came down to the 2 different energy levels between you and the guy I chose.”

Once more, I felt that strange mixture of pride and melancholy as I added another story to my ever growing pile of “good” rejections.  It only lasted for a moment as I thanked her for the compliment and then found out I would actually be reading with her when I made my stab at Evan.

Christina also happens to be one of the top talents in Omaha, so I was glad for the opportunity to bounce ideas of the scene as I explained to her my vision of Evan.  She seemed surprised at my attention to detail as she said, “It sounds like you’ve done some serious homework.”

We walked into the conference room on the 2nd floor of the Playhouse under the scrutinizing eyes of director Amy Lane and Laura.  Christina and I sat on the floor and I immediately started becoming Evan.  From my research, I decided that Evan was on the more severe side of the autism spectrum and had developed physicality and vocal patterns to suit that.  I adopted an awkward sitting position as I twisted my legs together and thrust my right hand between them, resting my hand on my left knee.  I slightly tilted my head and avoided any eye contact with Christina.  I also adopted a monotone, sing-song cadence for my speech.

I was actually extremely pleased with my take and felt as if I were hitting the right notes.  It also ended up being my best bite at the apple as my second read was for a different character who didn’t have a lot to do in that side.

Intellectually, I knew that I was up against a formidable challenge, but I still hoped against hope that I mustered up enough magic for a callback.

Alas, that hope was dashed shortly afterwards.

For the first time in a long while, I really felt the bitter disappointment of defeat.  I was surprised, yet not surprised at the same time.  With the extra effort I had put into it and with the full power of my heart behind it, I think it would have been more of a surprise had I not felt stung by the rejection.  And, of course, the lack of a callback made me wonder, “Did my efforts make any sort of an impact?”

Nowadays, I don’t dwell on those moments for long and I was quickly back to my old self.

I would next read for the staged readings of Angels in America and In the Heat of the Night, but there isn’t much of a story there.  Solid reads and no casting.  Que sera, sera.

Then came Ripcord.

I knew that I had to read for this show from the moment I read the synopsis.  The thrust of the story is that Abby and Marilyn share a room at the nursing home.  Abby had had the room to herself for a long while and wasn’t particularly keen on getting a new roommate.  Even worse, Marilyn’s sunshiney nature really grates on Abby’s curmudgeonly personality.  When Marilyn claims never to get angry and Abby claims never to get scared, the two women make a bet.  If Abby can anger Marilyn, Marilyn will get another room so Abby can be on her own again.  But if Marilyn can scare Abby, then Marilyn gets Abby’s bed because she likes it better than hers.  The result is an increasingly dangerous game of one-upsmanship.

There were 3 roles for men which included the nurse, Scotty, and two character actors who would play 3 distinct characters apiece.  I felt a little too old to play Scotty and relished the idea of the two character roles as I would get the rare opportunity to go completely over the top.

This play would mark my second reading for Kimberly Faith Hickman, the new artistic director of the Omaha Playhouse.  The first had been Angels in America.

I was surprised when my first side was for Scotty, but figured it was because not many men showed up to that first day of auditions.  Then I stepped inside the dance hall and it happened.

I felt the magic.

This was my most enjoyable audition in several years.  I didn’t care about getting cast.  I just wanted to go in and have some fun and I did just that.  I understood Scotty from the get-go and felt strong as I read the role.

When I finished the read and went back outside, I was given a side for one of the character actors.  After reading this side, I have come to the conclusion that I must project a natural aura of niceness as my side was for one of the regular roles performed by the character actors.  I actually felt a twinge of disappointment as I had been hoping to sink my teeth into one of the broader sides.

Not that the side I had was dull, but it was the same type of character I often find myself reading for and I just wanted to show that I could do more than essentially play myself.

Imagine my surprise when I was asked to stick around for a third read.  Once more I read as Scotty and varied my performance a bit from the first read.  After this read, I was let go, but there was also only one more group to read after I had finished.

Needless to say, I had quite a bit of hope as it had been ages since I had been at an audition from start to finish.  A few days later, my hope was rewarded when I got the call asking me to come to callbacks where I would be considered for the role of Scotty.  I laughed at the irony as the role I thought I had the least chance for ended up being the only role I would be considered for. . .or so I thought.

At the callbacks, I was given a side for Scotty that would FINALLY allow me a chance to go over the top.  I felt so giddy, I nearly broke into a soft shoe routine.  I had been chomping at the bit for this for eons and I let loose for all I was worth when I read the side.  I won’t spoil the scene, but I will say that I unleashed a scream not unlike the one emitted by Daniel Stern when he was mugged by the pigeons in Home Alone 2.

Immediately after finishing the read, Kimberly said, “I know I said I was only considering you for Scotty, but I want you to read this side for Benjamin.”

I was floored by the side.  It was a tremendously powerful and poignant scene as Benjamin is the estranged son of Abby and this was a complete 180 from the previous side and I looked forward to performing it.

When I went back in, I gave the most honest and heartfelt read I could muster and was really feeling Benjamin’s angst and heartache.  Shortly after this read, I was dismissed.

A few days later, I found an e-mail waiting for me from Kimberly.  The fact of the e-mail told me I did not make it in, but the fact that it was from the director told me that it was also something more.  I opened it up and read the following message:

Hi Chris!

I wanted to personally thank you for attending auditions and callbacks for RIPCORD.  I really enjoyed watching you and your work throughout the process.  This was a very difficult play to cast as so many talented people came to the auditions.  I ended up going with another actor for the roles of Scotty/Benjamin, but I wanted to let you know of that decision from me personally rather than a general notification e-mail.  I also want to encourage you to continue auditioning at OCP.  You have tremendous talent and I look forward to the next opportunity we may have to work together.

I was proud of this message and moved it to my scrapbook.  I had no regrets and had thoroughly enjoyed myself and I had made an impact.  You can’t ask for more than that.

We’ll talk again next season.

OCP Announces 93rd Season

BILLY MCGUIGAN’S ROCK TWIST
Billy McGuigan and the Steve Gomez Band
By Rave On Productions
July 12 – 23, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

World Premiere

See Billy McGuigan as you’ve never seen him before. Classic rock tunes with a big band twist; big band standards with a rock and roll twist. Backed by a full horn section and an all-star lineup of Omaha’s finest musicians, Billy’s brand new show will have Playhouse audiences rocking like never before. Frank Sinatra? Check. The Beatles? Check. Harry Connick, Jr.? Check. Billy Joel? Check! Fresh re-arrangements of rock and jazz standards performed as only Billy can. It’s rock with a twist. The world premiere is coming to the Omaha Playhouse in July 2017.

EMINENT DOMAIN
By Laura Leininger-Campbell
Directed by Amy Lane
Aug. 25 – Sept. 17, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

World Premiere
Does oil run thicker than blood? Or will a pipeline splitting the prairie tear a family apart? A 2016 Eugene O’Neil National Playwrights Conference finalist, originally conceived for Shelterbelt Theatre’s Before the Boards series, Eminent Domain tells a relevant story of a Nebraska family farm threatened by the construction of an oil pipeline and the ensuing conflict that emerges within. On the surface, Eminent Domain exposes the hard-fought battle between Nebraska farmers and corporate energy. Dig deeper and the greater struggle is revealed: the fight to preserve our Heartland’s farms and the livelihood of the people who live here. Our most crucial resource is not just the land we are privileged to attend with cracked and calloused hands—it is our kin, our clan and our heritage. Join us for this world premiere of an Omaha playwright’s work. Disclaimer: Contains adult language.

MAMMA MIA!
Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson | Book by Catherine Johnson | Based on the songs of ABBA
Directed by Jeff Horger
Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

This smash-hit musical featuring the songs of ABBA is one of the top 10 longest-running Broadway musicals. Mamma Mia! is a delightful tale of love, laughter and friendship. Donna is slowly warming up to the notion of her daughter Sophie’s impending wedding when her life is upended by the unexpected arrival of three former beaus, all possible candidates to walk Sophie down the aisle. With all your favorite ABBA hits such as “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance On Me,” “Honey, Honey” and more, find out why Mamma Mia! has become an audience favorite! Disclaimer: Contains spandex, strobe lights and disco dancing.

STUPID F@#%ING BIRD
By Aaron Posner
A sort-of adapted from The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Suzanne Withem
Oct. 13 – Nov. 12, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

This “sort-of adaptation” of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov tells a story in which an aspiring young director battles against the art created by his mother’s generation. A young actress competes with an aging Hollywood star for the affections of a renowned novelist and everyone discovers just how complicated life, art and success can be. This irreverent, modern and very funny remix of a classic play will incite you to consider how art, love and revolution fuel your own pursuit of happiness.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language and sexuality.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Special Event)
By Charles Dickens | Adapted by Charles Jones | Musical orchestration by John J. Bennett
Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Nov. 17 – Dec. 23, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. 7:00 p.m., Thurs. – Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.)

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 filled with lovely costumes, exquisite music, beautifully crafted sets and special effects second to none. Perfect for the whole family!

YESTERDAY AND TODAY – 10th Anniversary (Special Event)
An Interactive Beatles Experience Featuring Billy McGuigan
©2007 By Rave On Productions

Nov. 24 – Dec. 31, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun. eve)

Billy McGuigan and his brothers are back for the 10th consecutive year at Omaha Community Playhouse! This all-request Beatles tribute show will have you dancing in the aisles and singing along to every song. Share your stories and relive your memories with your favorite Beatles songs. No two shows are the same, and every show is a guaranteed exhilarating time!

RIPCORD
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
Jan. 19 – Feb. 11, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

Pranks and practical jokes abound when cantankerous Abby and chipper Marilyn are forced to share the nicest room at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility. As Abby attempts to get rid of her unwanted new roommate, a series of bets soon escalates into a hilarious game of one-upmanship as the two women try every trick in the book to claim their space in the apartment and their place in the world. Ripcord is a hilarious tale with a lot of heart.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language spoken by a cantankerous old lady.

PARADE
Book by Alfred Uhry  |  Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown  |  Co-Conceived and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Directed by Jeff Horger
Feb. 9 – March 11, 2018 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

Parade is the Tony Award-winning musical based around the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish man wrongfully accused of murder in Marietta, Georgia in 1913. Religious intolerance, political injustice and racial tensions are already prevalent in this small Southern town, and when reporters begin to sensationalize the case, the likelihood of a fair trial is put in jeopardy. With a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and music by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges Of Madison County), this true story reveals the beauty of the human condition, even when faced with tragedy. Disclaimer: Contains language and situations related to racial tension and mob violence.

Roald Dahl’s JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
Words and Music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul | Book by Timothy Allen McDonald | Based
on the book by Roald Dahl
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
March 2 – March 25, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

James and the Giant Peach is a brand-new musical guaranteed to mesmerize theatregoers of all ages. A compelling story by beloved author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda) and music composed by the award-winning team of Pasek & Paul (La La Land, A Christmas Story, television’s Smash), a young orphan named James accidentally drops magic crystals by an old peach tree. Strange things start to happen and James soon discovers a world of magic and adventure full of friendly insects and learns that love and family can be found in unexpected places.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Based on the Screenplay by Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard  |  Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall  |  Music by Paddy Cunneen  |  Based on the Academy Award-winning film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes
Directed by Jeff Horger
April 13 – May 6, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

Based on the Academy Award-winning film by Tom Stoppard and adapted by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), Shakespeare in Love is a love letter to the stage and a celebration of theatre, music and human connection. While the government threatens to close all theaters, young Will Shakespeare suffers from writer’s block, as his muse Viola disguises herself as a man to pursue her dreams of being an actor. Amidst mistaken identities, ruthless scheming, backstage theatrics and a misbehaving dog, Will’s love for Viola quickly blossoms and inspires him to write his greatest masterpiece.
Disclaimer: Contains scenes of sexuality.

THE MOUNTAINTOP
By Katori Hall
Directed by Denise Chapman
May 4 – May 27, 2018 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

An Olivier Award-winning play of historical fiction, The Mountaintop imagines the final night in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After giving his speech, “The Mountaintop,” Dr. King returns to his room at the Lorraine Motel. When a mysterious woman with a secret agenda pays a visit to Dr. King, the resulting confrontation imaginatively explores destiny, legacy and mortality.
Disclaimer: Contains dialogue related to racial tension and adult language.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green | Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed | By special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Inc. | Music published by EMI, all rights administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC | Based on the Academy Award-nominated MGM film starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
June 1 – June 24, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

The beloved movie musical Singin’ in the Rain comes to life on stage with charm, humor and stormy weather that has made it an enduring classic. This tale of a famous on-screen couple from the silent films who prepare to transition to the age of “talking pictures” combines the best of Hollywood and Broadway with music that will keep you smiling, dances that will keep your toes tapping and special effects that will take your breath away. Songs such as “Make ‘Em Laugh,” “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Good Mornin’” and of course “Singin’ in the Rain” will whisk you away to a simpler time.