In the Garden of Evil

One girl’s lie to avoid trouble for dabbling in a voodoo ceremony unleashes a swathe of evil upon the city of Salem.  Under the hysteria of witchcraft, secret hatreds and jealousies are vented through baseless accusations sending innocent victims to the gallows.  Will a farmer burdened by his own secret sin be able to halt the onslaught?  Find out in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible currently playing at the Barn Players.

I have been involved with theatre for nearly 22 years.  I’ve acted, directed, stage managed, worked on crew, run lights and sounds, and reviewed shows.  Having experienced all of these different aspects of theatre has helped me to develop a sixth sense about plays and I’ve usually got a good feel for the quality of a show as I head into it.  As I walked into the theatre for tonight’s production of The Crucible, I had a feeling that this was going to be a pretty good show.  However, I must admit that my sixth sense was wrong.

This show wasn’t “pretty good”.  It was beyond amazing!!  It may very well be the very best drama I’ve ever seen staged.

Few writers could pen a tragedy as well as Arthur Miller due to his understanding of the human condition.  In The Crucible, he presents humanity at its basest and its stupidest.  It’s hard to fathom people being depraved enough to lie about their neighbors in order to steal their property or to satisfy a hidden grudge.  But it’s even harder to realize that supposedly intellectual judges could fail to see through such a farrago of nonsense and deception and forget that justice means innocent until proven guilty and not the other way around.

The Barn Players was fortunate to have David Martin helming this show because his direction was transcendent.  He brought Miller’s story to life in its full glory.  He not only understood the story’s darkness, but he also found the glimmers of hope and humor buried in the tale and brought them to light as well.  His staging was impeccable and made full use of the entire theatre.  You couldn’t punch a hole in the quality of his cast’s acting.  He also did double duty on sound design which was so apropos from the creepy, haunting music heading into the first scene to the relentless drumbeat to close out the show.

This is one of those shows where I’d like to do a write up on every single actor, but, for the sake of brevity, let me assure you that there wasn’t a weak link in the lot.  Each and every one was fully immersed in the story which only brought the audience deeper and deeper into it.  But I want to especially note the work of Charles Christesson who brought intelligence, levity, and heartbreak into the character of Giles Corey; Scott Shaw’s Rev. Samuel Parris, the “man of God” more concerned with power and reputation than faith; and Emma Cook’s portrayal of Mary Warren, a servant stretched to the edge of sanity due to being the rope in a spiritual tug of war between John Proctor and Abigail Williams.

I was particularly impressed with what Michael Juncker dug out of the role of Deputy Governor Danforth.  He plays Danforth as a man of strong, if misguided, character.  He truly believes in the cause of justice and honestly believes he is doing his part to rid Salem of witchcraft.  Yet his appalling cluelessness is sickening as he can’t see through the histrionics of the accusers, puts the letter of the law above its spirit, and claims to be doing the will of God, yet ignores the undisputed expert on witchcraft and true man of faith, John Hale.

Jessica Franz’s take on Elizabeth Proctor is as strong as it is tragic.  Ms Franz well communicates the sickliness of the recovering Elizabeth and ably portrays the duality of warmth and iciness in the character.  Elizabeth wants to love and trust her husband, but has difficulty doing so due to an infidelity on his part.  When her warmth finally wins out, it makes her horror at dooming John Proctor due to a lie she concocts to protect his honor all the more believable and heartrending.

I loved Phil Howard’s take on Rev. John Hale.  Howard’s Hale is a good man.  He is a decent man.  Sadly, when all is said and done, he is also a broken man.  Howard presents Hale as a truly devout man dedicated to God and ending the scourge of witchcraft.  But he is also an intelligent and just man who is dedicated to discovering the truth more than anything.   Howard’s anguish is palpable when he realizes the truth behind the Salem witch trials and tries to mitigate the damage by persuading accused witches to give false confessions which will preserve their lives, but excommunicate them.

Abigail Williams truly is a witch, but not in the magical sense.  In Lauren Hambleton’s capable hands, you will experience one of the greatest villains I have seen on stage.  Ms Hambleton’s Abigail is unspeakably disgusting and diabolically clever.  What begins as a simple lie to avoid punishment for participating in a voodoo ceremony evolves into a cunning plan to rid herself of her perceived rival in Elizabeth Proctor for the love of John Proctor, with whom she had an affair, and a chance to revenge herself on the “hypocrites” (though some truly are) of the town.  Evil just oozes from Ms Hambleton’s pores and I really appeciated the smarts she brought to Abigail who enhances her lies through information she gleans from Rev. Hale’s questions and books.

Andy Penn’s work as John Proctor is a tour de force performance.  Penn brilliantly essays the walking paradox that is Proctor.  He is a good man, but is bowed by the guilt of his infidelity with Abigail Williams.  He believes in God, but hates the hypocrisy of his church.  He is willing to make a false confession to save his life partially because he doesn’t want to have his death be a lie about him being a saint.  Penn provides a clinic in acting as he finds beats within beats within beats as he creates a man you will admire for his strength and pity for his weakness.

Steven Ansel James has prepared a wonderful bare bones set with its extended stage, docks, and chalk drawings of trees, heretical words, and occult symbols.  Chuck Cline’s lights gorgeously animate all of the emotional moments of the show.  Jenny Knecht’s costumes perfectly reflected the Puritan time period.

At one point, Rev. Hale wonders if the devil has come to Salem.  The sad truth is that he did because the people of Salem opened the doors and invited him in by succumbing to their own evil desires.  But even in all the darkness and mayhem, Arthur Miller still manages to show where there is a kernel of faith, hope, and decency, the devil can still be overcome.

This play is storytelling at its zenith.  If you want to see compelling, powerful, thought provoking drama, then you need to buy a ticket and see The Crucible.  It’s the best thing going in theatre this summer.

The Crucible plays at the Barn Players through July 30.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $18 ($15 for seniors 65+ & $12 for students with ID and groups of 10 or more).  There will be an Industry Night performance on July 24 at 7:30pm.  All tickets for this performance will be $12 at the door.  For tickets, visit the Barn Players at www.thebarnplayers.org or call 913-432-9100.  The Barn Players is located at 6219 Martway in Mission, KS.

Adult Auditions for Nebraska Shakespeare Festival

Nebraska Shakespeare will hold auditions for the professional company of artists to perform in its 30th Anniversary Season of Shakespeare On The Green:

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and MACBETH
Residency Dates: May 23-July 10
Performance Dates: June 23 – July 10
Audition Dates (Adult): February 13, 4:00 – 9:00 PM, by appointment.

Location:  Lied Education Center for the Arts (2500 California Plz #1, Omaha, NE)

This year’s On The Green company will consist of at least 12 men, 6 women, as well as 1-2 male youth (10-16 years of age) and 1 female youth (8-14 years of age). There are Equity and non-Equity contracts available. Those interested in auditioning for Shakespeare On The Green should prepare two contrasting monologues. One comedy and one dramatic piece are preferred. Youth auditioning should prepare one Shakespearean monologue and sides will be made available. Total audition time is 3 minutes. All actors are encouraged to audition.

To schedule an audition, contact Wesley A. Houston, Director of Production at whouston@nebraskashakespeare.com

Nebraska Shakespeare’s production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, directed by Amy Lane, will utilize traditional practices, combining Elizabethan casting practices with Commedia performance techniques. An all male cast will explore role-playing and traditional gender perception in The Taming of the Shrew.

Available Roles Include:
Baptista 50’s-70’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Father of Kate and Bianca, and a Lord in Padua. Pompous, pedantic, and fraudulent. Inept, long-winded, and ineffectual in most situations. [Likely doubles as Duncan in Macbeth]

*Katherine 30’s. Female played by a male. Any ethnicity. The “shrew” of the title. Seemingly bold, pretentious, and swaggering. Notorious for her temper and sharp tongue. Beneath it all, Katherine is a lover at heart. [Likely doubles as Malcolm in Macbeth]

Bianca Early 30’s. Female played by a male. Any ethnicity. Sister of Kate. Innocent and wholesome. Extremely egotistic and eloquent. Having a singular focus on the one she loves, she often speaks with grand declarations of love. [Likely doubles as Banquo in Macbeth]

*Petruchio 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Suitor of Kate. A self-appointed soldier, who is seemingly bold, pretentious, and swaggering. Loud, boisterous, and quick-witted. [Likely doubles as Macduff or Mentieth in Macbeth]

*Grumio Late 30’s/Early 40’s. Male. Any ethnicity. (Asian or African-American if doubled with Macbeth). Petruchio’s servant and the fool of the play. With Petruchio he is playful, witty, childlike, and passionate. To other servants, he is Sophisticated, but arrogant, quick-witted, and opportunistic. [Likely doubles as Macbeth in Macbeth]

Nathaniel 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Petruchio’s servant. Physically adept, witty, childlike, and passionate. Doubles as Vincentio and Musician in The Taming of the Shrew. [Like doubles as Lennox in Macbeth]

Curtis 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Petruchio’s servant. Physically adept, witty, childlike, and passionate. Doubles as Officer, Widow, and Musician in The Taming of the Shrew. [Likely doubles as Seyton or Donalbain in Macbeth]

*Gremio 50’s-60’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Gentleman of Padua. Elderly suitor of Bianca. Able-bodied/athletic. Rich, retired, and miserly. Though he is in control of the money and is quite cunning, he is often deceived and disobeyed. [Likely doubles as Hecate in Macbeth]

*Hortensio Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Gentleman of Padua. Suitor of Bianca. Pompous, pedantic, and fraudulent. Inept, long-winded, and ineffectual in most situations. [Likely doubles as Stadlin, Seyton, or Ross in Macbeth]

Lucentio Early 20’s.. Male. Any ethnicity. Young student from Pisa. Good-natured, adventurous. Extremely egotistic and eloquent. Having a singular focus on the one he loves, he often speaks with grand declarations of love. [Likely doubles as Menteith or Macduff in Macbeth]

*Tranio Late 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Lucentio’s servant. Physically adept, witty, childlike, and passionate. [Likely doubles as Ross, Stadlin, or Seyton in Macbeth]

Biondello 10-16. Male. Any ethnicity. Lucentio’s young servant. Simpleminded, honest, young, and personable. Loves intrigue, which usually lands him in difficult situations. [Possibly doubles as Fleance in Macbeth]

Tailor 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Doubles as Merchant and Musician in The Taming of the Shrew. Simpleminded, honest, young, and personable. [Likely doubles as Donalbain in Macbeth]

MACBETH, directed by Vincent Carlson-Brown, takes place in an imagined world. Where the Thanes of Scotland reside, juxtaposed, next to the ghosts of Japan. Where the tenets of tribal warfare mix with the principles of the samurai. Where the monarchy of Shakespeare’s created history mingles its tale with Eastern mysticism. Six Sisters, led by the Priestess, Hecate, will witness Macbeth’s ambitious rise and tragic fall. Each Weyward Sister will play multiple characters throughout.

Available Roles Include:
Duncan 50’s – 70’s. Male. Any ethnicity. The King of Scotland. [Likely doubles as Baptista in The Taming of the Shrew]

*Malcolm 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Duncan’s eldest son and Prince of Cumberland. [Likely doubles as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew]

Donalbain 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Duncan’s younger son. [Likely doubles as Curtis or Tailor in Macbeth]

*Macbeth Late 30’s/Early 40’s. Male. Asian or African American. A general in Duncan’s army. Brave,powerful, and ambitious. [Likely doubles as Grumio in Shrew]

*Seyton Late 20’s/ Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. A porter. [Likely doubles as Hortensio, Tranio, or Curtis in The Taming of the Shrew]

Banquo Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. A Thane of Scotland. A brave and noble general. [Likley doubles as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew]

Fleance 10-16. Male. Any ethnicity. The son of Banquo. [Possibly doubles as Biondello in Shrew]

*Macduff 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Thane of Fife. Hostile to Macbeth’s kingship. [Likely doubles as Petruchio or Lucentio in Shrew]

Lady Macduff 30’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. Macduff’s wife. Angry and prideful.

*Ross Late 20’s/ Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. A Thane of Scotland. [Likely doubles as Hortensio or Tranio in Shrew]

*Menteith 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Thane of Scotland. [Likely doubles as Petruchio or Lucentio in Shrew]

Lennox 20’s. Male. Any ethnicity. A Thane of Scotland. [Likely doubles as Nathaniel in The Taming of the Shrew]

*Hecate 50’s-60’s. Male. Any ethnicity. Goddess of witchcraft. Able-bodied/athletic. Participates in stage combat. Doubles as Macdonwald, Priestess, Old Man, and Doctor in Macbeth. [Likely doubles as Gremio in Shrew]

*Stadlin Late 20’s/ Early 30’s. Male. Any ethnicity. One of the Weyward Sisters. Doubles as Soldier, Norway and Thane in Macbeth. [Likely doubles as Hortensio or Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew]

Puckle 20’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. One of the Weyward Sisters. Doubles as Groom, Murderer, and Soldier in Macbeth.

Hellwain 20’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. One of the Weyward Sisters. Doubles as Groom, Thane, Woman, and Soldier in Macbeth.

Greymalkin 20’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. Stadlin’s Genius (guardian spirit). Doubles as Captain, Murderer, and Soldier in Macbeth.

Paddock 20’s-40’s. Female. Any ethnicity. Puckle’s Genius (guardian spirit). Doubles as Soldier, Cawdor, and Thane in Macbeth.

Harpier 8-14. Female. Any ethnicity. Hellwain’s Genius (guardian spirit). Doubles as Macduff ‘s daughter in Macbeth.

The role of Lady Macbeth has been cast.

*denotes potential AEA role.

Sleeping Beauty to Grace Orpheum

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY FAIRYTALE COMES TO LIFE IN PERFORMANCE BY THE MOSCOW FESTIVAL BALLET

Tchaikovsky’s Classic Ballet Is At Omaha’s Orpheum Theater On January 23

Omaha, Neb., (December 18, 2015) – A cherished ballet featuring fairytale princesses and malevolent witches in a storybook kingdom will be performed one-night-only at the Orpheum Theater. Omaha Performing Arts presents The Sleeping Beauty featuring the Moscow Festival Ballet on Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. The performance is sponsored by Bank of the West.

The Sleeping Beauty is part of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s glorious repertoire of storybook ballets, which includes The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. The Sleeping Beauty is a cherished ballet that transports audiences to a kingdom of fairytale princesses, malevolent witches, and a true love’s kiss.

One of the most renowned ballets in the classical repertoire, the Moscow Festival Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty is enjoyable for all ages.

Founded in 1989 by legendary principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet, Sergei Radchenko, the company brings together elements of the great Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies. Russian dancers under Radchenko’s direction have staged new productions of timeless classics including Giselle, Don Quixote, Paquita and Carmen, as well as commissioned new works. Their last performance in Omaha was Swan Lake in April 2014.

Tickets start at $20, and are available through Ticket Omaha* at 402.345.0606,

TicketOmaha.com or the Ticket Omaha office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center at 13th and Douglas streets.

Double Bill Christmas Show Provides Mixed Bag of Gifts

In one night, you’ll get the gamut of Christmas with a story about the birth of Christ and a story about jolly old St. Nick in the Circle Theater’s productions of Waiting for Gordy and Bang!  Zoom!  To the Moon!

The night opens with Doug Marr’s brief one act play, Waiting for Gordy.  This is a very sentimental, sweet, holiday take on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  Two men, Earl and Vic, have been waiting on the steps several times a week for 4 weeks waiting for Gordy to come and tell them when it’s time to leave.  During their conversation, a star appears and we get a modern take on the birth of the Savior.

As Earl, David Sindelar gives a remarkable, beautifully underplayed performance.  With a serene, confident delivery, Sindelar’s Earl exudes a warm assurance that Gordy will, in fact, come.  He is quite clearly the rock in his friendship with Vic, gently persuading him to wait with him for the mysterious Gordy.

Matt Allen’s Vic provides a fine foil to Sindelar’s solid Earl.  Far more animated, sensitive, and a tad scatterbrained, Allen’s Vic comes off as very childlike.  He’s impatient, forgets what they’re waiting for, and takes offense at perceived slights.  Yet that slightly vinegary interpretation provides a needed dynamic with Sindelar’s sweetness.

Combined, these 2 characters are the everyman.  The faith and the doubt.  And the work of these 2 fine actors made for one of the most moving stories I’ve seen in many a moon.  The play may seem static as neither actor moves much, but that is absolutely critical for this tale as it’s truly about what they say and not what they do.

From there, it was on to the featured play, Bang!  Zoom!  To the Moon! written by David Sindelar.

In this story, it’s Christmastime again, and Santa is getting ready to deliver presents.  However, when his GPS system is broken by a klutzy elf, Santa ends up on the moon where he is held captive by the Moonians who are upset that their Christmas wishes have long been ignored.  It takes the help of Santa’s witchy (literally) wife, daughter, elves, and inventor to save Father Christmas and preserve Christmas for Earth.

Sindelar’s script is full of zingy one liners and is a cohesive, well planned story with some amusing bits.  One of the more entertaining moments is that the moon is so barren that the Moonians don’t even have a proper cell to hold Santa.  They have a cell door which they force Santa to carry around which provides for some good, physical comedy.

Real life mother and daughter, Stephanie Anderson and Stella Ehrhart, play the Moonians, Difray and Angon.  Anderson, in particular, is a hoot with alien, staccato speech patterns, robotlike movements, and a monotone laugh.  Yet, she also is able to mine the role for some sympathy with her sad tale about Santa never granting any of her Christmas wishes.  Ehrhart manages to match her mother for delivery and humor, especially with her attempts at trying to hijack this tale with a telling of Zippy, the Christmas Narwahl, though at times she slips out of her Moonian accent and does not cheat out enough to the audience.

Sarah Ervin nearly steals the show as Oopzit.  Oopzit means well, but she is an unintentional force of nature that breaks everything she touches and constantly injures herself.  Displaying an excellent sense of timing and physicality, Ervin is an absolute scream as the klutzy elf as she politely swears (Cheese and rice!!) and flops around the stage.  Adding to the realism of this character is the fact that Oopzit is noticeably more banged up each time she appears on stage.

Dylan Marr gives an exceptional performance as Quinn, Santa’s absent-minded genius inventor.  With good use of voice and body language, Marr’s Quinn has genius and uncertainty all rolled into one and makes for some delightful moments.

Laura Marr and Matt Allen play Weeble, Santa’s chief elf, and Gunar, Santa’s inept #2 and reindeer wrangler.  Laura’s Weeble is tough as nails and always ready to take charge.  Her inability to call a GPS by its proper initials is the best running gag in the show.  Allen’s Gunar is a lisping, cowardly buffoon, though he does have toughness when the chips are down.  Allen’s performance needed to be reined in as he was a bit too over the top for the show and his awkward gestures and poses often distracted from the show.

Another real life mother and daughter team, Christa and Katya Reason, played Santa’s wife, Driselda, and his daughter, Lisbeth.  These two are witches and Driselda handles the magic side of Santa’s operation while Lisbeth just wants to learn more spells from her mom who is too busy to teach her.  Christa Reason’s Driselda is a bit ill tempered, easily frustrated, and slightly arrogant.  But underneath beats a heart of gold and a person who can admit her mistakes.  Katya Reason’s performance as Lisbeth is a little rough around the edges.  She needs to be a bit more animated and broke character on a few occasions, but still had a nice, bratty charm.

As Santa, David Sindelar plays the straight man of this group of loons and does it very well.  Santa is clearly the boss of the operation as proven when he orders a mandatory Hawaiian casual week when the others at Santa’s Workshop laugh at the only garments he has left after Oopzit destroyed his wardrobe.  But being the kind soul that he is, Sindelar also shows a warm heart and loving nature with this character as he listens to the plight of the Moonians and vows to do better by them.

Waiting for Gordy and Bang!  Zoom!  To the Moon!  runs through December 21 at the Circle Theatre.  The show begins at 8pm with an optional dinner starting at 7pm.  Performance days are Thurs-Sat with one matinee performance at 2pm (lunch at 1pm) on December 15.  Ticket prices are $25 for dinner and show for adults, $23 for seniors, $20 for students, and $16 for children.  For just the show, prices are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $8 for children, and $10 for active military and TAG members.  Reservations can be made at 402-553-4715.  The Circle Theater is located at 726 S 55th St, Omaha, NE  68106 in the basement of Central Presbyterian Church.