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Terminus: Abbey Theatre returns to Annenberg Center

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Terminus by Mark O’Rowe
Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s National Theatre)
Annenberg Performing Arts Center (U. of Penn)
February 16-20m, 2011
Review of Feb. 16 opening airs on WRTI, 90.1 fm, Feb. 18

A title like Terminus doesn’t suggest a happy end. As he’s’ done before Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe lets us confront grim, desperate lives over the course of one long day. Like his contemporary Connor McPherson, O’Rowe’s play Terminus at the Annenberg Center also takes a dive into the supernatural.

A mother seeks atonement, a daughter fulfillment, a serial killer spins tales. Declan Conlon plays this killer identified in the program as Character C. C thinks he’s a charmer; he’s the play’s weakest link. C has numerous chances at comedy – the killer thinks he can sing better than Betti Midler; many fall flat.

The women in Terminus are very strong. Olwen Fouere as character A, the mother out to rescue a former student is terrifically believable. A’s matter- of- fact delivery makes the story the more appealing. Her wit takes you by surprise. A’s energetic monologue compels until a point when the narrative crashes, turns to weepy sentimentality, becomes long-winded.

Something similar happens to the monologue of the young woman played by Catherine Walker, Character B. B has the most vulnerable, emotional role but an hour or so into her story’s unwinding – it begins to sound like the playwright is channeling William Blake. (Maybe The Marriage of Heaven and Hell?)

This is O’Rowe’s first play in verse.

There’s fat on the bones of these overlapping monologues, fat and gristle and it’s tiresome to chew. The rhyme scheme also adds to the redundancy.

On the positive side, there are (a few) surprises: I’ll leave you to them.

Terminus, produced by Ireland’s Abbey Theatre presented by Penn’s Annenberg Center for the Arts.

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Written by Lesley Valdes

February 18, 2011 at 1:54 am

The (opera) Houses of Capulet & Montague

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Romeo et Juliette, by Charles Gounod
Opera Company of Philadelphia
February 11, 13m, 16, 18, 20m, 2011
Academy of Music
Review of Feb. 13m, Airs on WRTI, 90.1 Fm. Feb. 16

Turning the rival families of Romeo et Juliette into fashion houses should work a lot better than it does in the Gounod opera at the Academy of Music., the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s collaboration with director Manfried Schweigkofler of Bolzano, Italy, needs clarity. And consistency if the conceit is going to stick.

If the production confuses, the musical values are very strong, Maestro Jacques Lacombe steering orchestra and chorus and Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez as the star- crossed lovers, make this production finer than worthwhile. Some secondary roles are nicely sung –from the larger role of Taylor Stayton’s alert Tybalt to the smaller of Elena Belfiore’s energetic Stephano. Several of these are debuts, newcomers lost in the shuffle and blocking of designer Nora Veneri’s set, a design way too traditional for those accustomed to cable TV’s “Runway” feuds or fans of “The Devil Wears Prada.”

This Romeo et Juliette feels like switching channels from teen fashion to a 19th century opera the way Veneri sets the stage — for which I also blame this company’s production house, which made the set.

The design rotates a giant white stairway to imply Juliette’s bedroom, balcony, the Friar’s cell, the lovers’ tomb. It’s ugly. A hip apartment for these youth might have been suggested with or without projections. Since fashion is the concept it’s odd the stairs are never worked as runways for the designer-models parading the Houses of Capulet and Montague.

This update views Juliette as a celebrity model who wants out, Gertrude is her confidant. Paris (Siddhartha Misra) is a magazine mogul– but you’d hardly know who the poor fellow is the way he’s blocked.

Worse is the silliness that passes for wit. EG: the fight scenes: Death by hammer for Tybalt (Taylor Stayton) who wields street signs.

After the infamous sleeping potion, this production has supernumeraries race through the Academy of Music hawking newspapers with “Juliette’s suicide!”

“Newspapers! I’d prefer CNN,” the man next to me said.
I thought about “Entertainment Tonight.”

Costello and Perez (who in real life are wed, and two more of the Academy of Vocal Arts’ triumphs, convey great longing. Costello forced some high notes at the Sunday matinee but the beauty of his tenor is in the tone and nuance. Perez spun a firmly radiant soprano; all of their duets persuaded, the final love scene was heart-rending despite the ill-conceived tomb. It was steeply raked toward the stage rear: unkind to sight and projection.

The Opera Company has a well-honed chorus. Its commentaries were finely delivered. A deft touch was robing them to conceal the evening attire, varied with finesse hair to heels by costumer Richard St. Clair. Supernumeraries have not looked so good in seasons here. If only the set had not been so level – so horizontally dull – to the eye.

The students from three design schools at Drexel, Moore College, and the Philadelphia University contributed good work and modeled their fashions. Next production, the company might consider PAFA or another art school for help with the set.

Strong singing actors and musicians deserve an update that’s really up to date.

I’d like to see what Chas Rader- Scheiber could do with this concept.

——
This commentary was expanded from the two minute review for Temple Radio, WRTI. org.
http://www.wrti.org/criticatlarge

Photo Credits: Kelly and Massa Photography

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Race (Mamet by Phila. Theatre Company)

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Race by David Mamet
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Extended Through Feb. 20, 2011
Review of Feb. 5 matinee
WRTI, 90. 1 FM., Feb. 9

If you’ve seen David Mamet’s Race on Broad Street you’ll be talking about the Philadelphia Theatre Company production. If you haven’t, the play has been extended so there’s time for more talk on a topic that’s always prickly and always worth our time. The production is a fine achievement by actors able to take on the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright.

A white man is accused of raping his black girlfriend. A three- member firm, consisting of one white and two black lawyers, deliberate, then take the case. The dialog is punchy- smart with scene breaks swift as Law & Order. Mamet aims for the funny bone with his ugly- slick disturbances. Jordan Lage as Jack, the white defense lawyer is a brilliant cynic. Henry, his black partner, has that been-there-done-that-weariness and suppressed anger. Ray Anthony Thomas shines in his Seer role. During the first half, Jack’s cynicism reigns. He instructs Susan, the black associate to forget about guilt with Charles (played with depth by John Preston, who reveals layer after layer of privilege, cluelessness and conscience.)

The right defense will entertain the jury, Jack says. “Distract them.”

But Jack talks three and four sides of his mouth. Challenged by Susan, suddenly he’s talking about the white man’s innocence. Do all whites stand together?

It’s a Rubik’s Cube, a friend said. You think you have the point, the point changes. Prejudice is like that. We’re complex. When the play opens, it’s hard to like any of the men. By the play’s end, there have been so many revelations, you may find these guys human. Ah, but there’s the bad apple. That surprise.

Race, the play is ugly and poignant and comic. It’s also a polemic. Mamet plays loose with some with legalities. And he doesn’t know much about a woman’s sequined dress. Mostly it’s all too real about the lies we tell ourselves. Race presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company does a good job showing our shame.

Written by Lesley Valdes

February 8, 2011 at 9:11 pm

A Skull in Connemara

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A Skull in Connemara (Martin McDonagh)
Lantern Theater (part of the Philadelphia Irish Festival)
Jan. 19-Feb. 13, 2011 (run has been extended)
Review Airs on WRTI, 90. 1 fm beginning Jan. 21

Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara at the Lantern Theater comes in the middle of the English-Irish playwright’s first trilogy between The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West.

Like all three McDonagh plays it’s set in the village of Leenane, County Galway, where people too easily fall through the cracks: gossips, oddballs, troublemakers. The main man is old Mick, who is paid to exhume skeletons when the cemetery needs room for fresh bones. Mick, played by the stellar Stephen Novelli, has the tough task of digging up the wife some accuse him of killing.

Did he? Novelli’s over -due Lantern debut is as believable and down- at- heart as a Becket character. McDonagh, born in 1970, is heir to that master: the work has a grisly hilarity

Dirk Durosette’s design for A Skull in Connemara is one of the best I’ve seen in this venue, the interior of the Galway wood and stone cottage – abutted by open graves. Larry Fowler’s sound is a merry juxtaposition.

Masterful is the opposing force of Mick’s nosy neighbor Maryjohnny, played by the superb Ellen Mulroney. Marryjohnny, bringing nightly weather and Bingo reports as she cadges spirits, is Mick’s true North. When they spar, the production is at its height.

Lesser forces in this production are the thick-witted bumblers who drive the action: Mairtin, a youth who taunts more than he helps the grave digger and is acted by Jake Blouch; Thomas, the pompous village cop is performed by Jered McLenigan. Both relied on odd gesture and diction than seemed necessary opening night, though the drew a lot of laughs. Catch the bizarrely moving A Skull in Connemara at the Lantern through Feb. 13.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Drama

Ghost-Writer

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Ghost-Writer
Michael Hollinger
The Arden Theater
Sept 15 –Nov. 7, 2010

In his seventh world premiere for the Arden, Michael Hollinger probes deeply and quietly into the mysteries of love and writing. Ghost-Writer, Hollinger’s new play is also a gift to his wife Meghan Bellwoar, who returns the gift with an accomplished and moving performance.
Bellwoar plays Myra Babbage, devoted secretary to novelist Franklin Woolsey, a role that demands her active presence on stage for Ghost-Writer’s entire ninety minutes. Myra is interviewed by an unseen interlocutor to determine if she is channeling or mimicking the words of the novelist who died in July with a manuscript near completion. It is November, 1919, in Manhattan. Myra insists she is not writing “only typing” and that she doesn’t believe in ghosts. “What is a ghost… a vivid memory?”

Douglas Rees as Mr. Woolsey also remains on stage throughout Ghost-Writer. He has less to say but the subtleties of gesture and inflection he employs convey meaning and express a period steeped in restraint. Bellwoar and Rees are very compatible. Bellwoar catches the complexities of a young woman of the last century and the wit, irritation and lively passion. Hollinger catches the tenor of language steeped in psychological nuance, wit and word play. Language to be savored for its quiet explosions.

The interpretation is beautiful in its movement from obsession to understanding into grief. Woolsey, upright, self-critical, belatedly unlocks forbidden feelings for his amanuensis. He has come to rely on Myra’s punctilious punctuation nor can the words come without the sound of her typewriting on only her instrument. She has been “tamed” of her jiggling, she reveals, attending over the years to his relaxed attentiveness to inspiration.

Theirs is a marriage of true minds. Since he is married, there are strictures. Once they dance, once he unburdens his heart then freezes. “We kissed and kissed,” Myra tells the interviewer. Then: clarifies “We would have kissed.” This is a true romantic.

Patricia Hodges as the overlooked Mrs. Woolsey appears and sounds imperious, vain, touchingly ignored, in short, ideal for the part but opening night her swift delivery and zig-zag movements were distracting and caricatured. She may need time to relax in the role. Mrs. Woolsey is given some of the play’s sharpest insights.

And if the words aren’t his? Myra alone with Mrs. Woolsey, struggles with this question.
“Well, then it’s just you alone in a room,” Mrs. Woolsey says. That’s called being a writer.
Ghost-Writer at the Arden through Nov. 7.

Written by Lesley Valdes

September 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Beckett’s First Love: Bravo Live Arts

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Live Arts….
First Love by Samuel Beckett
Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Sept. 3-5, 2010

Conor Lovett, of The Gare (pronounce: Gair) St. Lazare Players, Ireland, gave a brilliantly devastating depiction of Samuel Beckett’s rarely seen First Love opening weekend of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. The work, from 1946, (but not published in 1971*) is so bleakly comic, the audience howled aloud. Artistic director Judy Hegearty-Lovett directed. In First Love, Lovett, portrays a man who hangs out in cemeteries and associates his marriage with the death of his father. Lovett, shaved head, poker face and short jacket immediately triggers a misunderstood, lost soul – ah, a Beckett man.

Lovett’s played most of them. He’s considered an imminent interpreter. (The performance told why.) The second half of the intermission-less First Love could have you gasping if you’re a woman who has loved a damaged man though there is no physical violence. The writing though uneven holds quirks and terrors. Love and freedom, this play asks: Are both possible?

*Why did the playwright wait so long? Speculation Beckett wanted to protect an acquaintance. There are two in this one-man play. The question that will stick once you’ve seen First Love. Which one.

Written by Lesley Valdes

September 8, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Mauckingbird’s “Dream”

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file0580Midsummer Night’s Dream
Mauckingbird Theatre Company
Aug. 20-Sept. 12, 2010
Randall Theater at Temple University

Mauckingbird Theatre Company views the classics through “a queer lens,” says co-founder and artistic director Peter Reynolds, who is (among other titles) also assistant chair of Temple’s theatre department. Mauckingbird, usually at the Adrienne, has new endeavors underway at Temple, including Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Temple professor Lynne Innerst joins Reynolds as co-director. One pleasure of this large scale but intimate production is casting Temple students as the mechanicals and fairies. Danielle Pinnock has a key role as Nick Bottom and Pyramis in the play within the play.

The staging also benefits from Mike Long’s video design and Chris Colucci’s invigorating sound track. The story’s been updated to Athens Academy where everyone’s texting. The Duke about to get married is a headmaster; a patron wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius. But Hermia has eyes only for Lysander, who in this production is a girl. And unlike the original, Helena, is a boy, which at first is unsettling. However, actor Patrick Joyce does so well with the role he overcomes even the confusing name. Times have changed! Mauckingbird’s mission with a few surgical incisions to the script makes it easy to see Shakespeare’s jousting love struck couples in the magic forest as two girls and two guys together and why not.

The play runs without intermission.

Unfortunately, the fairy queen and king are not so well matched as their attractive statures. Charles Illingworth’s Oberon exudes authority and compassion. Not so, Sean Thompson’s Titania who starts with a snippy attitude that ultimately undercuts the persuasion (and magic) of his better lines during Titania’s extraordinary dream scene with Bottom.

Pinnock’s Bottom overplays the comedy; the girl has promise; we’ll be seeing her again. She lights the black box.
Shakespeare’s Dream foreshadows The Tempest. He’s juggling imagination, the highs and lows of love, life, art. Bravo to Emily Letts and Erin Mulgrew; Brent Knobloch who plays Puck. Lauren Perigard’s costumes enhance the nonsense.

Written by Lesley Valdes

August 30, 2010 at 3:06 am