Familial Follies

Today should be the greatest day of Tom Kerwood’s life.  He and his wife, Linda, are a step away from adopting a baby.  Then Tom’s two brothers, Dick and Harry, decide to help.  Dick wants to share the proceeds of smuggled cigarettes to help support the child while Harry plots to get them a killer deal on a house by planting cadaver bits in the backyard.  Then the illegal immigrants show up.  Oh, and the police are expressing an interest in the goings-on at Tom’s house.  And time inexorably ticks forward to the appointment with the social worker, Mrs. Potter.  How will it all work out?  Find out in Tom, Dick, and Harry by Ray & Michael Cooney and playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

This is, without question, one of the funniest scripts I have ever had the privilege of watching.  The Cooneys’ script is a bit of comedic genius as it manages to fuse two very disparate types of comedy:  the farce and the traditional English comedy.  These seem like two styles that wouldn’t gel as one depends on action and hijinks while the other is driven by dialogue, but it works incredibly well.  The dialogue is so sharp and witty and carefully builds into the manic comedy and action.  The play is further enhanced by a director and cast who are clearly masters at the craft of comedy.

Trevor Belt’s direction is absolutely pluperfect.  The staging of the show is magnificent as it makes use of the entire stage with especially clever use of any and all types of orifices:  doors, windows, even hide a beds.  He knows how to find the funny in each and every line and dreamed up some incredibly funny bits as well.  He’s also led his thespians to grand performances.  Belt’s pacing is spot-on as it starts out careful and methodical and picks up speed as the insanity unfolds.  Cue pickups were also done on the turn of a dime.

The play is a wonderful little ensemble piece and some stellar performances come from Kat Walker-Hill who plays Tom’s very proper wife, Linda, who is capable of unleashing an extraordinarily violent temperament when pushed to the limit; Michael Davis as the persistent, if not overly bright, Constable Downs; and Alex Vinh who gives a scene stealing performance done mostly through pantomime as Andreas, an illegal immigrant searching for his daughter.

Luke Bridges nails the role of Tom Kerwood.  Bridges’ work is exemplary as he plays Tom as the reformed con artist turned happy family man thrown into the most bizarre of situations.  The role is unique as it requires someone who can play a straight man, but also be a good physical comic as well.  Bridges handles the straight man with ease with precise and potent facial and physical reactions to the lunacy swirling around him.  He’s also an impressive physical comic culminating in the most epic meltdown I’ve ever seen on the stage.  Bridges also has a good grip on the nuances of language as he often has to say the same phrases over and over, but alters his inflection each and every time to change the meaning and tone of the phrases.

Troy Bruchwalski is the epitome of a con artist as the middle brother, Dick Kerwood.  Bruchwalski’s Dick is always looking for the next score, but gives the sense that he is rarely, if ever, successful.  He is a charmer and he is likable, essential tools in the arsenal of a con artist.  However, his charm and likability are clearly part of Dick’s personality.  He’s not out to hurt people, just earn a little illicit money.

Bruchwalski is also a tremendous physical comic, best displayed when he tells his brother the story of the illegal immigrants by deciphering their sign language in one of the show’s best moments.  He also possesses a mighty operatic tenor used during a “rehearsal” for a fake reality TV show.

Kyle McCaffrey does some skillful work in his portrayal of the youngest brother, Harry Kerwood.  I was particularly impressed by the fact that he lifts personality traits from his “brothers” to form his own character.  McCaffrey’s Harry has the kindliness of Tom, but the scamming instincts of Dick.  Regrettably, his scamming instincts are less honed than Dick’s as he never thinks his cons completely through.  McCaffrey is also a good physical comic especially a prolonged bit with a hide a bed and his ability to be repeatedly shoved out of a window.

Star Turner provides a dandy less is more set with a simple, but comfortable house full of the doors needed for farce.  Jimmy O’Donnell’s costumes suit the play’s characters from the suburban wear of Tom and Linda to the cheap clothing of the immigrants.  Mariah Yantz’s props really add to the play, especially a wall clock that runs in real time which is crucial to the play’s time element.

This is what a comedy should be.  There’s no moral.  There aren’t any deep thoughts.  It’s just pure unmitigated fun from start to finish and is guaranteed to chase the blues away with a night of deep and hearty belly laughs.

Tom, Dick, and Harry plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 27.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on June 27, 30 and July 6, 11, 13, 21 and 2pm on June 23 and July 1, 3, 11, 13-15, 17, 22, 24-25, 27.  Tickets cost $31 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Lead On, “Ladies”

Two broke, out of work Shakespearian actors hatch a plan to steal an inheritance from a wealthy old maid by pretending to be her long lost nieces.  Wrenches start to get thrown into the plan when the two cross dressing con artists fall in love with a pair of women and word comes that the real nieces are on their way.  This is Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Ludwig is a masterful writer who knows all the ins and outs of good farce.  You’ve got the slamming doors, the over the top characters, the mistaken identities, and the ludicrous scenarios.  But Ludwig also adds a story that has got quite a bit of heart and includes a couple of surprising plot twists before the tale ends.  His terrific script is supported, nay, enhanced by a sterling cast that runs like a well oiled machine and obtains the maximum amount of yuks possible.

Jeff Horger paints a beautifully funny picture with his direction.  He clearly has an excellent grasp on farce with his use of broad, comedic strokes on the canvas.  Horger’s staging is top notch with his actors constantly moving about the performance space and his sight gags are completely organic and always apropos to the situation.  He’s also led his actors to strong, humorous performances and they made nary a misstep throughout the production.  Horger’s use of a melodramatic score composed and arranged by Vince Krysl is a positively inspired touch.

The supporting cast provides an excellent foundation for the comedy as each has developed a unique, zany character with his or her own particular quirks that brought vivid life to this world.  This includes Catherine Vazquez as a not overly bright waitress who builds a more complex vocabulary one word at a time, Sue Mouttet as the acid tongued matriarch with a heart of gold, and especially Don Harris and Christopher Scott who provided me with some deep belly laughs as the inept and lusty Doc Myers and his dopey son, Butch.

Will Muller stuns with his portrayal of Rev. Duncan Wooley.  With his unyielding posture, monotone voice, and limited, robotic movements, Muller has crafted one of the funniest characters I’ve seen in quite some time.  Muller’s Wooley may be a man of God, but he isn’t very likable as he is a stick in the mud’s stick in the mud who never wants to have any fun, plans a dull, businesslike wedding, and schemes to do God’s work using his fiancée’s wealth.  Muller is at his comedic best when his buttons get pushed to the point where his emotions finally explode out of him.

Victoria Luther is absolutely darling with her interpretation of Meg Snider, Wooley’s fiancée and heiress to a large fortune.  In many ways, Ms Luther is the glue of this cast as her character fuses the play’s unreality to its reality.  She is the most natural character in the show and brings a bright vibrancy with her character’s love of theatre and life.  Ms Luther shows impressive versatility as she easily switches from believable, grounded moments to over the top reactions when the need arises.

As important as the other characters are, the heaviest burden of this show lies on the shoulders of its “leading ladies” and the burden is well and ably carried by Kevin Goshorn and Michael Judah making their Playhouse debuts.

Michael Judah arguably does the most heavy lifting with his rendition of Leo Clark.  Clark is not only a sucky, over the top actor, but he is always on and has a mouth with an inexhaustible energy source.  Judah’s energy is unbelievably phenomenal as he rises to the challenge of this role with a feat of skillful overacting that would make John Carradine proud.  How he maintains that energy without collapsing is beyond me as he easily transitions from the theatrical Clark to the equally over the top “Maxine”.  Yet the over the topness of the character still seems completely natural.  It’s as if Clark doesn’t know how to just be himself until he falls in love with Meg and FINALLY drops his defenses and is able to engage in some lovely softer moments with her.

Kevin Goshorn’s Jack Gable is a worthy sidekick to Leo Clark.  Goshorn marvelously plays the loyal friend who gets caught up in Clark’s machinations.  Forced to impersonate Stephanie, the deaf and dumb niece, Goshorn has stupendous facial expressions and body language as he invents his own sign language to communicate with others and is especially amusing when he uses that sign language to tell “Maxine” he’d like to throttle “her”.  But he’s no shrinking violet.  As decent a person as Gable is, he isn’t above worming hugs out of the lady he likes or standing up to Clark by manipulating him to become “Maxine” just to screw with him.  Goshorn also gets the play’s funniest moment when he tries to bait Wooley into seducing him in order to help Clark get Meg.

The Snider estate, designed by Steve Wheeldon, is absolutely gorgeous with its soft blue walls and fancy double doors.  John Gibilisco’s sounds almost become extra characters with Clark’s idea moments and Meg’s entrance theme.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are extremely elegant, especially the gowns worn by Ms Luther, Judah, and Goshorn.  Darin Kuehler’s properties, especially the furniture, really liven up the stage.

This is the type of show that’s sure to take you out of yourself for a little while.  It’s not only laugh out loud funny, but it’s also got just the right touch of warmth and heart.

Leading Ladies runs at the Playhouse through May 7.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $36 for adults and $22 for students Thurs-Sun.  Wednesday show tickets are $28 for adults and $18 for students.  For tickets, contact the box office at 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.

‘Leading Ladies’ is Next on OCP’s Mainstage

Omaha, Neb. – Leading Ladies, running April 14 – May 7, 2017 in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at Omaha Community Playhouse, is a hilarious comedy by Ken Ludwig.

The story centers around two English Shakespearean actors, Jack and Leo, who find themselves so down on their luck that they are performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. When they hear that an old lady in York, PA is about to die and leave her fortune to her two long-lost English nephews, they resolve to pass themselves off as her beloved relatives and get the cash. The trouble is, when they get to York, they find out that the relatives aren’t nephews, but nieces! Romantic entanglements ensue, especially when Leo falls madly in love with the old lady’s vivacious niece, Meg, who’s engaged to the local minister.

Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig is known for such comedies as the Tony Award-winning Lend Me a Tenor, the Tony Award-winning Crazy For You, Moon Over Buffalo and Shakespeare in Hollywood. Leading Ladies falls right in line with his other titles, where cross-dressing, impersonating and falling in love lead the way.

Production:        Leading Ladies

Credits:                Book by Ken Ludwig

Director:              Jeff Horger

Cast

Michael Judah as Leo Clark

Kevin Goshorn as Jack Gable

Victoria Luther as Meg Snider

Catherine Vazquez as Audrey

Don Harris as Doc Myers

Sue Mouttet as Florence Snider

Will Muller as Duncan Wooley

Christopher Scott as Butch Myers/Frank

Show Dates:       April 14 – May 7, 2017 (Wednesday – Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2pm)

Tickets: At the OCP Box Office at 69th & Cass, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $36 for adults and $22 for students (Thursdays – Sundays) and $28 for adults and $18 for students (Wednesdays). Tickets for groups of 12 or more are $24 for adults and $16 for students (Thursdays – Sundays) and $20 for adults and $14 for students (Wednesdays).

Twilight Tickets – A limited number of tickets are available at half price after noon the day of the performance at the Box Office. Cash or check only. Subject to availability.

Wednesday Performances – Discounted tickets are available for Wednesday performances only at $28 for adults and $18 for students

Whatta Deal Wednesday–Discounted tickets for $10 will be available for the first Wednesday performance on April 19, 2017.  $10 tickets will be available in person at the box office starting at 4pm the day of the show.

Sponsored by:   Carter and Vernie Jones

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE

 

 

The Madness Begins

BLUE BARN THEATRES WALK THE NIGHT RETURNS

The BLUEBARN Theatre is proud to present Walk the Night…Where Madness Lies. The next installment of its immersive event series is located within a converted century-old convent at 1310 N.29th Street (called “The Starlight Chateau”).  Walk the Night creator, Spencer Williams, co-directs with founding company choreographer, Wai Yim;with set design by Homero Vela and Hilary Williams, lighting design by Homero Vela, costume design by Lora Kaup, sound design by Bill Grennan, and properties design by Spencer Williams.

Shows run Oct. 28 – Nov. 21; Wednesday-Saturday, twice nightly at 7:00 p.m. and again at 8:30 p.m.  Preshow begins at 6:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Single tickets for Walk the Night: Where Madness Lies are $20 for a single performance; $35 for both performances each night. Discounts can be discovered in the pre-show and throughout the city at one of two participating locations: House of Loom (1012 South 10th St.); and Spielbound (3229 Harney St.).

About WALK THE NIGHT: WHERE MADNESS LIES

 Walk the Night: Where Madness Lies is an alternate, edited interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear. In the story, Lear (played by Moira Mangiameli) begins to enter retirement, by dividing her assets between her three daughters, proceeding to announce so publicly. Cordelia, her only trustworthy daughter, denies an oath of complete and utter submission to Lear. The matriarch casts Cordelia out, ostracizing herself from her true friends and laying trust in plotting elder daughters, Goneril and Regan. Lear’s world unravels as the two daughters betray their oaths, and the world descends into destruction with only a handful of survivors. This rendition is a story of people haunted by elements known and unknown, blurring the lines between flaws and demonic possessions, reality and fantasy; it is the story of a descent into madness.

About the Format for WALK THE NIGHT: WHERE MADNESS LIES

The venue is the virtual entirety of a convent, built in 1903. The events occur in real time, throughout the rooms. There are no theatre seats. Audiences are free to explore and follow any of the fifteen stories as they happen. Masks are required and provided at the door. Comfortable footwear is recommended.

About the Stars of WALK THE NIGHT: WHERE MADNESS LIES

Walk the Night: Where Madness Lies features a diverse cast, playing against cultural expectations.  Leading the company as Lear (traditionally played by a man) is award-winning actress Moira Mangiameli. Others members are Josh Doucette, Teri Fender, John Hatcher, Regina Palmer, Cassi Moucka, Aaron Ellis, Andre McGraw, Regina Palmer (all returning company members), as well as Ben Beck, Jenna Briggs, Raydell Cordell III, Britta Tollefsrud, Ryann Woods, Cara Walters, and Nick Zadina.

About The BLUEBARN Theatre

The BLUEBARN Theatre has been bringing professionally-produced plays to area audiences since 1989. Since its inception, BLUEBARN has produced over 100 plays and has established itself as Omaha’s professional contemporary theatre company. Striving to bring artistically significant scripts and professional production values to Omaha and the surrounding region, BLUEBARN is known for high-quality entertainment and the fearless pursuit of stories that challenge both theatre artists and patrons.

Brave Actors Buoy Bland Script

Andrew Rally, a former TV star, accepts the most arduous role in theatre when he is offered the role of Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park Production in Manhattan.  The trouble is that he is intimidated by the role and has no faith in himself as a stage actor.  Luckily, Andrew lives in the apartment once owned by legendary Hamlet performer, John Barrymore, whose ghost arrives to help mentor him in the role in the comedy I Hate Hamlet opening tomorrow at the Omaha Playhouse.

Paul Rudnick’s idea had a tremendous amount of potential.  Regrettably, his script fails to make any use of that potential.  It is incredibly slow, never really gets anywhere, and is frightfully dull.  Occasionally a good one liner pops up, but this is a script that really forces a director and cast to work to get anything out of it.  Guest director, Ablan Roblin, and his troupe of artists deserve a standing ovation for milking the few precious drops of comedy out of this yawner.  Roblin especially deserves praise as he made the most out of this script by cutting as brisk a pace as possible and coaching some solid performances out of his cast.

Ben Beck gives one of the most honest performances of his career as Andrew Rally.  With a nice, simple straightforward delivery, Beck imbues Rally with warmth, honesty, and sincerity.  This is especially impressive as Rally actually has some unlikable qualities.  He got into acting solely for the fame and money and not for its artistry.  Beck’s Rally is also a bit obsessed with having sex with his virgin girlfriend, Deidre, but demonstrates his basic decency as he genuinely wants to marry her and refuses to cheat on her despite his dislike for the chaste lifestyle.  Beck also does some nice work in showing the fears and insecurities of Rally as he does not believe himself to be a good actor.  He sees himself as just a pretty face.  But in playing up that self-doubt, Beck is able to make Rally’s final choice of a career on stage vs a return to TV very believable.

Kevin Barratt’s work as John Barrymore is quite exceptional.  He does a marvelous job playing up Barrymore’s drinking, theatricality, and womanizing, but it is always so natural and real.  Especially impressive was Barratt’s delivery of a monologue in Act II where Barrymore laments escaping from the stage to sell himself out to Hollywood and the sad moment when he realized he was no longer capable of acting.  It was a heartbreaking moment and the most beautiful of the show.

Suzanne Withem delights as Deirdre McDavey, Andrew’s innocent girlfriend.  Ms Withem was amazing as her Deirdre had a heart nearly as pure as a crystal.  Ms Withem’s Deirdre is an old soul trapped in a young woman.  She has a love for the classics and dreams of saving herself for her knight in shining armor.  For all of her decency, Ms Withem was also able to slip a tiny bit of the temptress into her character as she does wonder what sex with the wrong man would be like and is ready to pounce on Andrew after his failure on opening night gets her engine running.  Ms Withem does need to be certain to hold for laughs as I lost bits of her dialogue when she would speak during the audience’s merriment.

Dave Wingert brings quite a bit of energy to the role of Gary Peter Lefkowitz.  As Andrew’s TV director friend, Lefkowitz schemes to get Andrew away from the stage and back into television.  Wingert portrays Lefkowitz with a polite snideness as he completely disdains theatre since he doesn’t understand it and loves television as one doesn’t really need to think while watching it and likes the fact that tons of money can be made from the most banal pap.  I especially liked the opportunistic nature Wingert gave Lefkowitz, particularly when he uses Andrew’s determination to play Hamlet to negotiate a better deal for the TV series he is trying to sell.

Kim Jubenville and Julie Fitzgerald Ryan shine in smaller roles.  Ms Jubenville plays Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy.  Ms Jubenville gets everything she can out of this role and demonstrated some remarkable versatility as she transitioned from the slapstick comedy of hacking up her lungs due to a heavy smoking habit to a sweetly dramatic moment with Barrymore, whom she can see, as they rekindle an affair they had when Barrymore was alive.

Ms Fitzgerald Ryan was quite entertaining as Felicia Dantine, Andrew’s real estate broker and psychic.  Her New Yorker accent is spot on and her eccentricities are wonderful as she can literally smell supernatural activity, yet somehow cannot sense or see Barrymore.

Jim Othuse’s set is of tremendous quality and perfectly duplicates the Jacobean furnishings of Barrymore’s apartment and his lighting design is quite ingenious with its use of candlelight and lightning.

The hard work, dedication, and talent of the actors and directors go a long way in overpowering the weaknesses of the script and I believe I Hate Hamlet will provide some lighthearted enjoyment to its audiences.

I Hate Hamlet runs from April 17-May 10 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Tickets prices are $36 for adults and $22 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cast Street in Omaha, NE.  The show does contain a little strong language and some adult situations.  Parental discretion is advised.