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.

A Life Captioned

20180801_cc_9921

The Three Faces of Alison (From left to right: Analisa Peyton, Sasha Denenberg, and Angie Heim)

Alison Bechdel is a lesbian cartoonist drawing her life story.  As she draws, she struggles to remember something about her father.  And in her struggle she revisits her relationship with her dad through the course of her life and through the lenses of her adult eyes.  Join her on this journey through the halls of memories at the Omaha Community Playhouse in Fun Home with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori based on Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel.

I salute Ms Bechdel for opening herself to the world with this deeply personal tale.  In conjunction with Kron and Tesori, these three women have managed to create something beautifully original and eminently poignant.  The story does not follow an ordinary narrative track as it weaves back and forth between the present and the past, yet it is remarkably cogent and Ms Tesori’s music makes it blossom with magic.  This story is a true slice of life that is warm and witty and also raw and heartbreaking.

Roxanne Wach brings some true directorial splendor to this piece.  It’s the most unique piece of staging I’ve ever seen in a production and also some of the best as it is so precisely suited to the story.  Characters flit on and off the stage like living thought balloons as Adult Alison keeps a measured distance away from them as they are only her memories.  Her guiding of the piece is magnificent as each of her actors give their all and immerse themselves in their characters, drawing the audience deeper into Alison’s world.

Potent performances come from Julia Ervin who plays Alison’s first love and Jennifer Gilg who plays Alison’s mother, Helen.  Ms Gilg does an extraordinary job playing a woman who seems distant from her family, but is actually broken from carrying the burden of her husband’s secret.  Ms Gilg is especially impressive when she reveals all to Alison in “Days”.  Josh Peyton does admirable work playing the entire male ensemble altering his voice, attitude, and posture to suit each character.  He also has a nice, light tenor voice which shines brightly in “Raincoat of Love”.  Ryan Laughlin and Tyson Bentley provide vital energy as two of the Bechdel children and, along with Sasha Denenberg, brought the house down in the night’s best number “Come to the Fun Home”.

Michael Trutna excels in the role of Bruce, Alison’s father.  Trutna astutely shows the difficulty of being a closeted gay man in the 60s and 70s.  His inability to come to grips with his orientation causes him to adopt some dangerous sexual practices.  Indeed, his lack of control in this aspect of his life compels him to exercise extreme control over other aspects.  His family must always look perfect.  He personally restores his home to meet exacting specifications.  He’s willing to talk about anything and everything as long as it deflects from himself showing how sad and alone he truly is.

Trutna also has a wonderful tenor voice and uses it to fullest effect in “Edges of the World” where he finally takes a hard and honest look at himself.

In the case of Sasha Denenberg, big things really do come in small packages.  The theatre barely contained this little dynamo’s talent and energy and she gives a remarkable performance as Small Alison.  She is ever so much the imaginative child who wants to play airplane with her dad and draw cartoons.  And yet she shows wisdom beyond her years as she knows she’s different from other girls with her desire to wear pants and shirts, let her hair be wild, and her fascination with women shown when she humorously belts out “Ring of Keys” when she sees “a classic butch” for the first time.

Analisa Peyton creates a delightful coming of age character with Medium Alison.  Ms Peyton wonderfully essays Alison as she makes that awkward transition from childhood to adulthood as she enters college.  Along with the struggles of making the grade and making new friends, she believably wrestles with her burgeoning sexuality until she happily comes to terms with it in “Changing My Major”.  Then she just as easily plays the nervousness of sharing this truth with her parents as well as the shock of learning the truth about her father.

Through all of this looms the presence of Adult Alison as played by Angie Heim.  Ms Heim is spellbinding as she narrates the tale, makes wry and honest observations about herself and her family, or simply stays in the background reacting to her memories.  Ms Heim does a sensational job building to Alison’s epiphany about her relationship with her dad and the peace and sorrow that epiphany brings her.  Ms Heim also has a wide vocal range as she seems to be a natural alto who easily jumps to soprano when the need arises.  Her magnificent voice gets the night’s most thought provoking number, “Telephone Wire”.

Jim Othuse has crafted a small, but simple set of the Fun Home’s music room that evokes a real sense of elegance and is further enhanced by Darin Kuehler’s props of piano and antiques.  Othuse’s lights are also very emotional.  They change with the feelings of the characters from happy pink to melancholic blue to depressed black.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes not only capture the appearance of the real Alison Bechdel with Adult Alison’s glasses, shirt, and pants, but also the clothes of yesteryear with the late sixties style clothing of the Bechdel family and the 70s style outfits of “Raincoat of Love”.  Courtney Stein provides some clever choreography especially with “Come to the Fun Home”, a song and dance routine so fun and funny that I may come back again just to watch it.  John Gibilisco and Tim Burkhart team up to craft some subtle sounds to drive the tale, especially the sound of night traffic in New York City.  Jennifer Novak Haar and her orchestra bring their A game to the score adding crucial zip and pizzazz.

The Playhouse has kicked their latest season off with a red hot production and it is well worth your while to see it.  You’ll laugh.  You might cry.  But you won’t have a bad time.  Come to the Fun Home.

Fun Home plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Sept 16.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $24-$50 and can be obtained by calling the box office at 402-553-0800 or visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  This show contains strong language and mature themes and is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

OCP Welcomes You to a “Fun Home”

20180801_cc_9921

The Three Faces of Alison (From left to right: Analisa Peyton, Sasha Denenberg, and Angie Heim)

 

Omaha, NE–Fun Home–winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize–will be showing at the Omaha Community Playhouse in the Howard Drew Theatre from Aug 17-Sept 16.

Based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home is a story of self-discovery and navigating challenging family dynamics.  When Alison’s father dies unexpectedly, she explores her past to tell the story of their tumultuous relationship.  The brilliant storytelling moves between the past and the present, while Alison relives her unique childhood playing in her family’s funeral home and her discovery of her own sexuality.

Fun Home is a refreshingly honest and moving story that takes us on a cathartic journey of seeing our parents through grown-up eyes.

“It really does go over our expectations we sometimes have of our parents and how they can’t be superheroes,” said actress Angie Heim.  Heim’s character, Alison, leads the audience on an emotional journey told through the exchange of memories and present-day introspection.  “She goes through looking at these memories fondly, but also looking at the painful memories as well–and you get to see that through her experience on stage.”

The production is directed by Roxanne Wach, a theatre veteran who has been directing on Omaha stages for nearly fifty years.  Wach says audiences will find personal connections to the universal themes and experiences in the show.  “The story is not just Alison’s journey–it’s a quest we’re all on.”

Fun Home opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Aug 17 and runs through Sept 16.  Due to high demand, Wednesday shows have been added to this production.  Tickets are available at www.ticketomaha.com or through the OCP box office by calling 402-553-0800 or visiting 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.  For more information, please visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

In addition to the production itself, the Omaha Community Playhouse, in conjunction with Orchestra Sponsor, UNMC, have created a number of programming events surrounding the themes of the production such as suicide prevention, topics in LGBTQIA, and a discussion of graphic novels.  Special Events are as follows:

Aug 17-19

–Dundee Book Company will be on site selling the Fun Home graphic novel and other books relating to themes in the show.

–A graphic artist will be set up in the lobby drawing character sketches of attendees.  OCP will post these sketches on the walls of the Howard Drew Theatre as well as on social media.

–UNMC will be distributing information about topics in mental health.

August 19

–“Talk Back” discussion will be held after the performance on the topic of suicide.  Dr. Amanda Randall, Director of the Grace Abbott School of Social Work at UNO, Janae Shillito, Community Relations Director of the Kim Foundation and members of the Fun Home cast will discuss mental health related topics raised in the production.

September 9

–“Talk Back” discussion will be held after the performance on the topic of graphic novels and language.  Frank Bramlett, PhD, Professor in the English Dept at UNO and TESOL Program Director, along with members of the Fun Home cast will discuss the literary world of graphic novels.

September 18

–A Science Cafe will be held at 7pm at The Slowdown to discuss mental health and suicide.  The speaker will be Jonathan Sikorski, PhD, department of Psychology at UNMC.

Production:  Fun Home (Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel)

Music By:  Jeanine Tesori

Book and Lyrics:  Lisa Kron

Show Dates:  Aug 17-Sept 16 (Wed-Sun in the Howard Drew Theatre)

Director:  Roxanne Wach

Cast

Sasha Denenberg as Small Alison

Analisa Peyton as Medium Alison

Angie Heim as Adult Alison

Michael Trutna as Bruce

Jennifer Gilg as Helen

Julia Ervin as Joan

Tyson Bentley as John

Ryan Laughlin as Christian

Josh Peyton as the Male Ensemble

 

The Death of Innocence

A group of youths in provincial Germany experience the thrill of their emerging adulthood and the pain of losing their childhood innocence.  This is Spring Awakening with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik based off of Frank Wedekind’s original play of the same name.  It is currently playing at the UNO Theatre.

I’m not familiar with Wedekind’s original play, but have read praise for Sater remaining reasonably faithful to the original work.  Wedekind’s tale poses some very challenging ideas and themes that still resonate today.  The theme of emerging adulthood takes the form of their sexual awakening and the youths are thrilled and unnerved by the changes taking place within them.  However, this awakening comes at a price.

The change into adulthood comes at the cost of their innocence and hope.  Even worse, they are ill equipped to handle these changes due to a society of adults which refuses to educate and help them cope with these changes.  Instead they label the youths’ burgeoning desires as evil and hypocritically hide their own evil and cruelty to maintain a world that suits their vision.

Sater does a fine job updating Wedekind’s work for a modern audience and Sheik has written a punchy score full of catchy, memorable tunes.

It’s unusual to see two directors at the helm of a show, but Doran Schmidt and Wai Yim do quality work in guiding this musical.  Clearly both are on the exact same page with their vision, fusing their unique talents to create a strong show.  Their performers know what they are doing with their roles and where they are going.  Ms Schmidt’s musical direction is spot on and Yim’s gift for designing movement keeps this story going as there is never a static movement.  The actors make full use of the performance space in an effortless and unceasing flow of movement and action.

The supporting cast is skilled and unified.  They harmonize well.  They play well off each other.  All manage to find the ebbs and flows and the humorous and serious moments of the production.  But I’d like to single out Bethany Bresnahan for a memorable cameo performance as Ilse.  Ms Bresnahan’s Ilse is the lone character who seems to retain her childhood innocence as she transitions into adulthood.  She had a dynamic presence, beautiful animation, and a haunting sequence in “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind”.

Ryan McCann is wonderful as Melchior.  McCann well plays the duality of this character as Melchior is both the angel and the devil.  He is a playful, intelligent wit and loyal friend.  But he also has the makings of a fiend within him with his whipping (albeit requested) and possible raping of a childhood friend.  Truly, he seems to be the character in the most danger of becoming part of the cruel, hypocritical society he lives in until he finds the strength to overcome it with a little help from his spiritual friends.

McCann’s tenor was in fine form all night.  His voice captured all of the important nuances both musically and orally.  He especially shone in “The Guilty Ones”, “Those You’ve Known”, and the night’s best number, “Totally F@!#ed”.

Seldom have I felt the kind of empathy for a character as I did for Nick Jansen’s Moritz.  Moritz has pressures on him that few adults could be expected to handle, let alone a child.  His parents demand perfection from him.  He studies beyond the point of exhaustion.  He’s uncomfortable with his new “sticky dreams”.  Jansen does superior work in communicating the ever mounting weight on Moritz’s shoulders until he collapses under the pressure.  Jansen also has a fine tenor and falsetto best utilized in “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” and “And Then There Were None”.

Roni Shelley-Perez soars as Wendla.  Wendla may be the show’s most tragic character as her innocence makes her truly childlike.  An overprotective mother refuses to help her understand her transition into adulthood.  Her safe lifestyle has rendered her unable to feel, pushing her to request to get whipped by Melchior so she can empathize with a classmate who is routinely beaten by her father.  Due to her safety and immaturity, Wendla simply does not know how to protect herself and those who should protect her fail utterly.

Ms Shelley-Perez brilliantly essays the confusion and innocence of Wendla.  I was especially impressed with her facial expressions during her moment of intimacy with Melchior which left it beautifully ambiguous as to whether or not it was rape.

Ms Shelley-Perez can also belt out a tune with a monstrously strong soprano in “Mama Who Bore Me” and “The Word of Your Body”.

Steven Williams has designed a simple, yet imposing set of black pillars and balcony with chalk drawings all over it.  Audrey Wardian’s lights were incredible with strobe flashes and emotional colors which were all variations of the rainbow leading to subtler shades of meaning.  Valerie St Pierre Smith’s costumes invoked the sedate elegance of 19th century school uniforms and clothing.

At this preview night performance, the cast started off a bit hesitantly and quietly.  Once they reached “Totally F@!#ed” they were firing on all cylinders and the theatre was overflowing with their confidence and I do believe they are on to something quite magical.  Sound also suffered a touch from either microphone issues or dead spots on the stage.

Growing up is hard to do, especially when there isn’t an instruction book or a person with experience to lend a helping hand.  Spring Awakening does a dandy job in sharing the difficulty and pain of growing up, but it also leaves a glimmer of hope that the current generation will fix the mistakes of the previous.

Spring Awakening plays at the UNO Theatre in the Weber Fine Arts Building through Dec 2.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  Tickets cost $16 (a 2nd preview night performance on Nov 16 will be $6).  UNO students can attend the show for free.  For tickets, call 402-554-PLAY or visit www.unomaha.edu/unotheatre.  Due to strong language and sensitive themes, Spring Awakening is not suitable for children.  The UNO Theatre is located at 6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

It is a Brilliant Thing

After his mother attempts suicide, a little boy decides to write a list covering every brilliant thing in life.  This list follows the boy as he grows into a man and experiences the highs and lows of life.  This is Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan and it kicks off the Blue Barn Theatre’s 29th season:  Connect.

MacMillan has written a pretty potent script “based on true and untrue stories” and it has a little bit of something for everyone.  It’s funny.  It’s poignant.  It’s thoughtful.  It’s relevant.  The play centers around the theme of suicide and provides a hopeful message:  things will get better.  This message is laid out with facts, stories, and audience participation.  I thought the audience participation element was positively inspired because this is a story that we are all part of as all of us have felt down in life and needed a little picking up.

An interesting thing about casts is that the smaller they are, the stronger they have to be.  When dealing with a one person show, not only does the actor’s talent have to be of phenomenal quality but he or she needs an almost symbiotic relationship with an equally talented director in order to find, develop, and relate the innumerable beats of the story.  Fortunately this show illustrates just such a relationship as the impeccable direction of Susan Clement-Toberer combined with the acting chops of Hughston Walkinshaw result in a night of theatre that is somber, moving, light, funny, and strong.

Ms Clement-Toberer’s staging is of superior quality as she breaks down the barriers between actor and audience.  Walkinshaw performs in the round and is centimeters away from the audience. Never is there a static moment as Walkinshaw constantly moves around the room and engages the audience, bringing them deeper into the world of this tale.

So natural and extemporaneous is Walkinshaw that it almost doesn’t seem like he’s acting.  It’s almost as if he’s telling his own life story.  But it is an arduous and triumphant performance as Walkinshaw has to constantly be on his toes and be aware of every moment as he may have to fill in the blanks or gently move things along during the audience participation moments.

Walkinshaw’s interpretations are so spot on and precise.  At one moment, he is an innocent little boy facing death for the first time when his beloved dog is put to sleep.  In a flash, he’s a college student finding love for the first time.  In the blink of an eye, he’s a jaded adult facing his own battle with depression which causes his marriage to crumble while he deals with the hideous reality of suicide in his own family.  Yet, through it all, he maintains his grip on hope with the ever growing list of brilliant things.

Shea Saladee softly lights the performance space with a series of vintage chandeliers.  Craig Marsh’s sounds take the form of music which plays an important emotional role in this show.  And the final number will be the “happiest sad song” you ever heard.  Amy Reiner’s properties of bits of the list truly enhance the spontaneous nature of the unnamed character’s writings.

This is theatre at its purest.  At its most intimate.  At its most beautiful.  At its peak.  It’s a masterful opening for the Blue Barn and you will regret it if you miss this one.

Every Brilliant Thing plays at the Blue Barn Theatre through Oct 15.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm (The Oct 8 show will be at 2pm.).  Tickets cost $35 for adults and $30 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of 10 or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

“A Steady Rain” is an Emotional Storm

How far would you go to protect your best friend?  Would you lie for him?  Would you cover for him?  Would you betray him?  These are the themes explored in Keith Huff’s heavy drama A Steady Rain to be presented at the Omaha Community Playhouse on November 9 as part of their Alternative Programming Series.

Huff’s script is one of the most inventive pieces of drama I’ve come across.  It’s designed as a duologue with its two actors sometimes talking to the audience and sometimes to each other.  It’s also one of the mightiest pieces of drama I have ever seen.  Huff starts this story in a pretty rough spot and proceeds to drag it into darker and bleaker places using the metaphor of rain that gets heavier and harder as the tribulations pile on the two characters.

Christina Rohling’s direction is pluperfect.  This show has a large number of beats and Ms Rohling fully understands each and every one intimately.  She has mined this show and discovered a treasure trove of emotion and storytelling to share with the audience through the 2 dynamite performances she has shaped with her two actors.

Out of the many characters Nick Zadina has created for the Omaha public, I truly believe his portrayal of Denny eclipses them all.  Zadina has all of Denny’s complexities firmly in the palm of his hand and presents them in a piece of acting majesty.  When the play begins, Zadina’s Denny appears to be a jokey, lighthearted police officer who is helping his best friend and partner, Joey, beat the bottle.  A noble act, to be sure, but Denny is not a good man.  Yes, he does love his family and friend, but he is abusive, corrupt, a philanderer, and arrogant.

Zadina’s mastery of the beats is jaw dropping as his delivery just drips nuance from moment to moment.  Zadina remains engaged in the performance for the duration and some of his best moments occur when he isn’t speaking and is simply reacting to the things Joey says.  Zadina paints a masterpiece of a man on top of the world who slowly devolves into a shadow of his former self due to 2 tragic events.

Aaron Sailors is equally up to the challenge as Denny’s partner, Joey.  When the play begins, Joey is at rock bottom due to alcohol addiction.  Thanks to Denny “adopting” him, he’s been able to overcome the addiction and begin building a better life for himself.  Sailors brings a fierce loyalty to Joey which is rather surprising considering that Denny roughed up Joey quite a bit as a child.  But he has remained staunchly loyal to Denny.

At first, Joey seems a bit similar to Denny as both seem slightly racist and are frustrated with their inability to get promoted to detectives.  After attending a race seminar, Joey proves he was always a better man than Denny.  Sailors gives Joey an inherent decency which is sometimes misguided as he covers Denny’s more sordid doings, but he also proves himself a better father and companion to Denny’s wife and children than Denny himself.

What I found most intriguing about the show was that, whether by design or coincidence, Zadina and Sailors bear a very strong resemblance to each other.  This aids the story as it shows how remarkably similar they are and makes the parallel roads they travel more marked when Joey rises as Denny falls.  I wish this could be a full scale production as this show is truly something special.  Do not miss out on your chance to see this production as it will be a highlight of the season.

A Steady Rain plays at the Omaha Playhouse for one night on November 9.  Showtime is at 7:30pm and admission is free.  This show contains extremely strong language and mature subject matter and is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

In Search of the Truth

September 11, 2001 was one of the most horrific days in American history.  But what if there was a deeper, darker truth to what happened on that sad day?  What are the ramifications of knowing the real truth?  This is the thrust of Yankee Tavern by Steve Dietz and currently playing at the Circle Theatre.

I don’t usually go into a play blind.  By that I mean I know the general story before I sit down to watch it.  But the only knowledge I had of Yankee Tavern was that it centered around 9/11 and conspiracy theories.  This play is far more than that.  This play is an exciting mystery thriller with comedic undertones that will keep you on the edge of your seat as it twists and turns with compelling characters and electric dialogue until the final moment.

Ryle Smith’s direction is a superior piece of work as he expertly navigates the ebbs and flows of this story, builds beautiful tension, and sets a firecracker pace.  Smith has also directed fantastic performances from his cast of four with each having a sizzling chemistry with the others, making for a sensational ensemble experience.

Smith also does double duty by playing the role of Adam Graves, an adjunct instructor and political writer who also owns the titular Yankee Tavern.  Smith’s Adam is an incredibly multifaceted character.  He’s a bit of a prankster as he messes with his wife, Janet (played by Rose Glock), by making up fake guests to invite to their upcoming anniversary party.  Smith also bestows a wonderful intelligence and logic on Adam which is best demonstrated in his verbal spars with his late father’s best friend, Ray (played by David Sindelar) as they debate about what really happened on 9/11.

But Adam also carries his share of darkness and secrets as he is unable to accept his father’s suicide and has a connection with a former female boss which may be far more than employer/employee.  Smith handles these heavier moments with equal sureness, especially in a climactic argument with Janet in Act II.

David Sindelar gives an award worthy performance in the role of Ray.  A self-professed “itinerant homesteader”, Ray, at first, seems like he’s going to be the kooky comedy relief as he lives in the abandoned Yankee Hotel, talks with ghosts, and sees conspiracies everywhere.  But once Ray and Adam start arguing over 9/11, that’s when you see this character’s true intellect.

Ray’s arguments are amazingly persuasive because they are grounded in logic and verifiable facts.  You may not necessarily believe them, but it does give you something to think about.  The arguments are helped by Sindelar’s sincere delivery.  Sindelar also gets to show some pathos and depth when he talks about why his wife left him and the events of his best friend’s last day of life which demonstrate why Ray’s world is preferable to real life.

It is an arduous role because Ray likes to talk, dissect, analyze, and expound.  The sheer bulk of the dialogue caused Sindelar to trip on his lines on a couple of occasions, but he didn’t let it slow him down or get him off track.

Rose Glock is, at turns, sweet, harried, and haunted as Janet.  Janet is on the same intellectual plane as Adam and Ray and is able to hold her own in their conspiracy theory debates.  But she also has a peculiar form of survivor’s guilt because she didn’t lose anybody in 9/11 which leads to a relationship with an unseen character that causes Janet to have an intense loathing of secrets.  Ms Glock handles the emotional beats of the character well and really gets to shine in Act II with intense showdowns with Adam and the mysterious Palmer.

Kevin Barratt’s interpretation of Palmer is underplayed mastery.  He rarely speaks in Act I, but has a hypnotic presence.  He sits quietly at the bar with two Rolling Rocks, toasts an unseen companion, and seems to be grappling with a heavy burden.  Barratt has tremendously animated eyes that let you watch his shifting emotions without him uttering a single word.  When he finally does speak, he is so soft spoken and earnest that it’s hard to determine if he’s a crackpot or if he truly does know things that he probably shouldn’t know.

Barratt really ramps things up in act II during a prolonged verbal battle with Janet over Adam and his possible connection to a potential key figure in 9/11.  What I found utterly fascinating about Barratt’s take on Palmer is that he is looking for absolution, not revenge.  He has knowledge that he would rather not have, but must seek the truth out to the end for the sake of his soul.

There are few things I love more than a good mystery and this play gave that to me and then some.  This show is about so much more than whether there was more to 9/11 than met the eye.  It is a show about the secrets we keep from each other and that is something that will strike the heart of anybody who watches this play.

Yankee Tavern has one final performance on October 30 at 8pm.  The Circle Theatre is producing this show at First United Methodist Church at 7020 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.  For reservations, contact the Circle at 402-553-4715 or via e-mail at dlmarr@cox.net.  Tickets cost $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $10 for students, active military, and T.A.G. members.