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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.


Written by Lesley Valdes

February 18, 2011 at 1:54 am

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

Macbeth: The Wilma’s first Shakespeare

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The Wilma
Oct. 7-Nov. 7, 2010

The Wilma‘s first foray into Shakespeare is Macbeth, The theatre has done itself proud with a production that features a handsome score by Czech composer Pavel Fjat (pronounce Fight) and sound design by Daniel Perelstein (it includes birds, street and battle noises.) There is aerial choreography Philly’s gifted Brian Sanders. Mimi Lien’s two-tier set evokes the menace and modernity that suits a monarchy edging toward its doom.

C.J. Wilson as Macbeth is convincing in his ambivalence; the warrior’s ambition at war with his morality and fear. As the play moves forward, the evil of his seductive spouse takes hold. I found Jacqueline Antaramian compelling as the self- centered Lady Macbeth, a character as determined in joy with evil – and sadly truer than even the wonderful Iago of Mark Delavan heard recently at the Opera Company’s Otello. These Macbeths are very modern. The interpretations are fascinating: the way the couple switch gears, his growing misdeeds give him power –and madness. Her evil dissolves into a lunatic despair.

The women who play the three weird sisters – or witches – are riveting. Some silly supernatural masks could go in the boil- and- bubble scene; the Sixties’ references in London seems unnecessary whimsy. But the handling of the ghost of Banquo is well done and Macbeth’s hallucinations; also the battle in the Burnham forest.

Least successful is the inconsistent delivery of the iambic pentameter: A challenge for the ensemble unpracticed in Shakespeare. The Bard must not be stilted or sound like poetry. Still: more lines and characters work than don’t: MacDuff, Banquo and Duncan also held my interest.

The beauty of this production is its momentum; the dramatic thrust. Director Blanka Zizka has made a good and oddly suitable operatic start with her first Shakespeare. The Wilma’s Macbeth until Nov. 7.

Written by Lesley Valdes

October 11, 2010 at 3:42 am

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

Henry V on Sansom Street

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Henry The Fifth
Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre
Classical Academy
August 4-15, 2010

The English are better at their history than we are. They have Shakespeare to thank for making leaders human. If you have trouble keeping the Henry Plays Straight, you may want to try Henry Fifth at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre through Sunday. The Classical Academy run by the Theatre is doing a nice job with a complicated play. The academy is summer session for emerging theatre professionals. The performances at 21st and Sansom are free; best to call ahead for tickets or email.

Director Aaron Cromie uses the conceit of a classroom and it works. A teacher takes the role of Chorus. Fazeeh Fazeehpour’s simple classroom design becomes tavern, battlefield, and court. It is hard to keep the nine actors straight, in their school uniforms and backpacks since most of the cast takes multiple characters.

Fortunately Michael Gregory takes only the role of King Harry, or Henry the Fifth, who learns to battle royal insults from France before his ultimate great victory at Agincourt.

Gregory, who trained at the Hartt School, in Hartford, brings many colors to the role, he is at his strongest showing the pulls upon the crown; the qualms that rarely mean a good night’s sleep in a soliloquy that’s quite persuasive.
Nick Martorelli functions as the chorus.

Victoria Bonito is an engaging Lord Exeter, amusing Lady Katherine’s maid. Bethany Ditnes distinguishes her roles as Katherine and Montjoy. Amanda Bernhardt, Meredith Mitchell, Eric Wunsch, B.K Elam, Shaun Fury, complete assignments both serious and comic.

The confusions as to whom plays whom will not be unraveled until the conclusion of the second half but the Classical Acting Academy’s delivery of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter is well done. Henry V on Sansom Street is not as much theater to watch as theater to listen to. Bravo to text coaches J. J. Van Name and John Peakes; bravo Aaron Cromie. The spoken lines are not self-conscious but they don’t lose the poetry or the music.

Written by Lesley Valdes

August 9, 2010 at 3:07 am

Tolomeo at Glimmerglass

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By George Frideric Handel
Glimmerglass Opera
Cooperstown, NY

Friends are driving to Saratoga and Cooperstown. I’m envious. I’ve seen two of the four new productions in Glimmerglass Opera’s repertory this summer and I’m ready to see Handel’s Tolemeo again. If you can manage it, don’t miss the Handel opera
which is being staged only 1 hour 40 minutes west of the Philadelphia Orchestra performances at SPAC. This is the first professional production in the U.S. and it’s winsome: singers, staging, orchestra.

Countertenor Anthony Roth- Costanzo takes the lead: He’s the son of Cleopatra III. A family conspiracy has deprived Tolomeo of his right to the throne and he’s also in danger of losing his beloved wife, Seleuce. He’s that rare breed a one-woman man.
Donald Eastman’s nonlinear staging supports the sense and nonsense of Chas Rader -Sheiber’s witty direction.

Young Scots Christian Curnyn leads a modern band that incorporates baroque continuo. Michael Leopold’s theorobo pokes its long neck up from the pit like a periscope. Leopold also plays baroque arch lute and there are the pleasures of Ruth Berry’s baroque cello and David Moody’s harpsichord.

Tolomeo and his Seleuce are exiled from Egypt to Cyprus where neither can find either other. They’re pursued by nasty royal siblings: Steven LaBrie as skulky King Araspe, Julie Boulianne as the virtuoso Queen in wily boots. Boulianne has a coloratura like a tarantula’s. It is that GOOD. Joelle Harvey plays the beautiful Seleuce and the voice floats.

Tolomeo is a comic and convoluted love story made poignant because of Handel’s da capo arias. There is no chorus. Roth- Costanzo beguiles as the steadfast husband.

The faux baroque production beguiles with its own swerves and surprises. A lovely moment: when Seleuce sings of gentle breezes wafting thoughts to her missing husband the soprano switches on series of electric fans.

There are others: The use of supernumeraries, stooped, as valets for King and Queen, as prep school boy assistants for Alessandro Tolomeo’s rival brother. (Mezzo-soprano Karin Mushegin tales the trousers role of Allesandro.)

Tolomeo’s final performance is August. 23. Also in repertory at Glimmerglass Opera: Tosca, Marriage of Figaro and Tender Land.

Written by Lesley Valdes

August 6, 2010 at 4:30 am

Sunday at the Arden

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Sunday in the Park with George
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Arden Theatre new production
June 2 – July 4, 2010

Arden director Terry Nolan’s got a way with Sondheim. His second time out with Sunday in the Park with George at the Arden now is a top notch. Music Director Eric Ebbenga (PRO: Ebb-an-gay) does well by the full out original orchestra and the 15-member cast of singing actors works like a true ensemble. They don’t shout or screech as happens at several houses here where the amplification is routinely over the top and (still) doesn’t disguise inferior singing.

Sunday in the Park at the Arden is not Sondheim at the top of his game no matter that it’s the one for which he got the Pulitzer. It is a sweet musical making good points and platitudes. Given all the ones we love, you come away feeling this Sondheim doesn’t have enough music.

Jeff Coon’s the perfect lead as George Seurat he really can sing and he looks the right age and painterly

As Dot, Kristine Freilich’s singing is superb, superior to her acting. She’s a pretty woman but the mousey wig and makeup scream for a makeover. This role walks in the shadow of Bernadette Peters and Dot’s supposed to be the face George paints on every woman!

As Jules, a Seurat rival, Scott Greer is capable of stealing any scene he’s in and almost does as. Greer’s a marvel of tone and gesture. Maureen Torsney -Weir does well with the role of Seurat’s mother; later the imperious critic. Michael McKinsey makes a salty boatman. It’s a pleasure watching all these characters come to life on the Grand Jatte on the Arden stage. Sound and video designer Jorge Coiseneau ‘s hard-working projectors and laptops accomplish a feast for ear and eye. Images not of Parisians’ Seine but ours – on Kelly Drive. Sunday in the Park with George runs until 4th of July.

Written by Lesley Valdes

June 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm