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A Streetcar Named Desire – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
September 15, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Camden Michael Gonzalez (Stanley), Jennifer Berry (Blanche) and Anna Fagan (Stella) - Photo credit Matthew Randall

Camden Michael Gonzalez (Stanley), Jennifer Berry (Blanche) and Anna Fagan (Stella) – Photo credit Matthew Randall

Tennessee Williams’ South was a passionate, languorous, hotbed of emotion.  His characters were real, too real for some when it premiered on Broadway in 1947, but nonetheless part of the daily fabric of life – in high places and low.  In A Streetcar Named Desire Williams cracked open the Pandora’s box of life’s numberless miseries, shining a light on the destructive relationships women accept and the fantasies they concoct to get through the evil that men do.

Considered radical in its day for its themes of homosexuality, immigration, race, class and domestic violence, the subject matter is still searingly relevant today.  And though we have had major advances in women’s rights, we are still grappling with these issues.  How these overlying themes and intense emotions are explored in the play is riveting in a perverse sort of way.  It is poignant and tragic and relevant and grotesquely intimate.

When Southern belle Blanche arrives in New Orleans at her sister’s two-room apartment with a suitcase full of feather boas and heartbreaks, she encounters Stella’s low life of a husband, Stanley Kowalski, a Polish factory worker who is light years removed from the sisters’ highborn upbringing.  Blanche is shocked to see her sister married to a man as abusive and uncultivated as Stanley.  “He’s a different species,” Stella explains.

Blanche tries to charm Stanley with feminine wiles and upper class charm, but he doesn’t buy it, or her excuses of how she was forced to forfeit her family’s plantation home.  He threatens the sisters, demanding his inheritance according to Louisiana’s archaic Napoleonic Code.  Both Blanche, who uses fantasy and seduction to cope with life’s disappointments, and Stella, who confuses brutality with love, allow Stanley to dominate them.

Anna Fagan (Stella) and Jennifer Berry (Blanche) - Photo credit Matthew Randall

Anna Fagan (Stella) and Jennifer Berry (Blanche) – Photo credit Matthew Randall

Anna Fagan plays the submissive Stella, approaching the duality of her character’s Stockholm Syndrome-like condition with a blend of subtle poise and ferocity.  Yet it is Jennifer Berry’s Blanche who has the most quotable lines.  Berry does a fine job of portraying Blanche as both flighty and vulnerable, giving a creditable portrait of a woman clawing her way out of desperate circumstances.  “I haven’t been so good, these last few years,” she admits when accused of debauchery.

Camden Michael Gonzalez (Stanley) - Photo Credit Matthew Randall

Camden Michael Gonzalez (Stanley) – Photo Credit Matthew Randall

Unfortunately this triangle is not equilateral in emotion. Camden Michael Gonzalez seems miscast as Stanley.  In a role that demands more complexity than a one-dimensional portrait of a brute, his Stanley lacks pathos and gravitas.  Surprisingly, the lesser role of Mitch Mitchell, Blanche’s suitor, as played by Marshall Shirley, shows greater depth.

Marshall Shirley (Mitch) and Jennifer Berry (Blanche) - Photo credit Matthew Randall

Marshall Shirley (Mitch) and Jennifer Berry (Blanche) – Photo credit Matthew Randall

Baron Pugh’s clever set design of the apartment’s soulless interior is framed by a two-story muslin scrim that soft-focuses the outside world, yet lets in music and the sights and sounds of the mean streets – often easier to hear than the actors’ lines.  Another wrinkle in this production is the hurried pacing, which feels more industrialized North than unhurried South.  Yet for those who have never experienced a Tennessee Williams’ play, the searing action, plot twists and memorable lines are eternally delicious.

Limited engagement runs through September 28th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Spamalot – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
August 5, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Audience Alert: It became clear to me, when I was the only person howling with laughter, that the musical intro to Spamalot, The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s first show of the 2014-2015 season, that the audience failed to pick up on the musical cues that consist of every cockamamie intro passage in the known world played at the opening of an event.  The collection of tally-ho horns, magisterial foofaraws and sweeping orchestrations from famous film scores – had gone entirely unnoticed by the audience.  It goes on for a full five minutes.  Now that you’re in on it, you too can roar with delight.

Python-heads know this musical backwards and forwards.  It features King Arthur, King of the Britons and his Knights of the Round Table, Sir Robin, Sir Galahad and Sir Lancelot – all your adorable medieval heroes on a quest to find the Holy Grail. Remember the Lady of the Lake who armed Arthur with the Excalibur sword?  She’s there too – in full throttle.

So what’s not to like about Monty Python and his merry band of men?

Filled with quirky dance routines, twenty-five musical numbers, political spoofs, feather-brained high jinks and boundless double entendres, LTA’S production is high-powered hilarity on steroids.  

Part of the quest for Arthur and his men, as ordered by the “Knights Who Say Ni” aka “The Keepers of the Secret Word”, is to require them to put on a Broadway Show.  Alas, they are “Jew-less”, as in the number, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”, which merrily claims, “If it’s not kosher, there’s no show, sir.”  Nonplussed they rally the troops with “Hava Nagila”, and a righteously rendered Cossack dance.

Director Wade Corder has assembled a terrific cast starting with James Hotsko Jr. as Arthur, Patrick McMahon as Sir Lancelot, Dimitri Gann as Sir Robin, Matt Liptak as Arthur’s goofy sidekick Patsy, and Ashlie-Amber Harris as the Lady of the Lake, with cast members handling a number of parts.  But it’s Harris I want to scream about.  As magical as the dynamics are between the players and as rib-tickling as their antics, it is Harris that is volcanic.  Her supernaturally brilliant comic timing, boffo voice and knockout figure are the stuff superstars are made of.  

Scatting and soulful in Cher-like gold Lurex, she is electrifying.  “The Diva’s Lament (Whatever Happened to My Part)” in which she bemoans being off-stage for too long while our hapless knights gadabout seeking shrubbery (don’t ask) and bolluxing up the handy ruse of a Trojan rabbit (ask if you like), will have you in tears.  Harris actually got a huge ovation for this riotous number.  It’s no small wonder that after the run of this show the former American Idol contestant is headed straight to Broadway with agents already lined up.   See her now before you read about her in Variety.  Don’t make me say, “I told you so!”

So whether you drool over sexy chorus girls in red leotards and sequined shrugs, cheerleaders that bare their navels and French Cancan dancers or dancing knights in white satin, male Conga dancers in neon-colored ruffles or peasants in sackcloth, YOU WILL BE DAZZLED.

Grant Kevin Lane designed the costumes – all 200 of them, Grace Machanic did the amazing choreography, Rebecca Sheehy and Helen Bard-Sobola designed the 400+ props, one of DC’s finest Accent Coaches, Carol Strachan, taught the 20–person cast Scottish, English and French accents and the superb 14-piece orchestra is conducted by Paul Nasto.

Highly recommended.

Through August 23rd at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite Tickles the Funny Bone at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 16, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley escorts Elynia Betts as Mimsey Hubley to her wedding - photo credit to Matthew Randall

Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley escorts Elynia Betts as Mimsey Hubley to her wedding – photo credit to Matthew Randall

Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite is a series of three vignettes set in Room 719 at New York’s famed Plaza Hotel.  For this production Director Shawn g. Byers has chosen to represent three different eras throughout the hotel’s hundred-year history changing decors for each period.  To set the mood and showcase the hotel’s glorious past, vintage photos of celebrities living it up in the hotel’s famed Palm Court and Oak Room are projected across the stage while music of the era plays in the background.  It opens with the lovely lilting voice of songstress Alicia Keyes.

It is 2007 and Karen Nash (Amy Solo) greets her workaholic husband.  Though he doesn’t recall, it is their anniversary and she has excitedly booked the same room where they honeymooned.  Though they don’t even agree on that.  “We’re some lousy couple,” he concedes.

Amy Solo and Jack Stein as wife and husband Karen and Sam Nash celebrate their wedding anniversary at the Plaza Hotel - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Amy Solo and Jack Stein as wife and husband Karen and Sam Nash celebrate their wedding anniversary at the Plaza Hotel – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Preoccupied with her age and weight, she has become a doormat to her svelte husband, Sam (Jack B. Stein), pardoning his insults and ignoring his foibles while they bicker and flatter with equal measure.  Enter the sexy secretary, Jean McCormack played by Michelle Sumner.  She drops by with “important” papers for Sam to sign, but with a suggestive tossing of her locks lets us know what’s up between them.

Michelle Sumner as Jean McCormack and Jack Stein as Sam Nash - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Michelle Sumner as Jean McCormack and Jack Stein as Sam Nash – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

If you think this is a clone of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, you may not know Simon, a playwright fond of exploiting everyday human frailties with a massive dose of one-liners, sarcasm and slapstick more akin to the Marx Brothers and their style of physical comedy.

The second act takes place in the 1960’s.  Photos of the Beatles, the Rat Pack and that most celebrated of all couples from the jet setter days Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, blaze across the stage.  Slick Hollywood producer, Jesse Kiplinger (Richard Isaacs), tries to reignite a high school romance with 30-something Muriel Tate (Shelagh Roberts).  Fueled by multiple vodka stingers and Muriel’s single-minded fascination with gossip about Jesse’s movie star cronies, an elaborate cat-and-mouse game ensues with the Lotharian Jesse trying every trick in the book to stop Muriel from leaving.

Richard Isaacs as Jesse Kiplinger romances Shelagh Roberts as Muriel Tate - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Richard Isaacs as Jesse Kiplinger romances Shelagh Roberts as Muriel Tate – photo credit to Matthew Randall 

The final act references suite 719 at the turn of the 20th century – the hotel’s centennial.  The very Victorian Norma Hubley (Anne Paine West) and husband Roy (Bernard Engel) have booked the Plaza’s Grand Ballroom for a posh wedding for their daughter, Mimsey (Elynia Betts).  But the young woman has locked herself in the suite’s bathroom with a fierce case of wedding jitters.  “Think about my life,” Norma pleads to her daughter through the keyhole.  “Your father will kill me!”

Anne Paine West as Norma Hubley and Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley explains their daughter’s wedding day jitters to fiancée Bordon Eisler played by Erblin Nushi - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Anne Paine West as Norma Hubley and Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley explains their daughter’s wedding day jitters to fiancée Bordon Eisler played by Erblin Nushi – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

In the film version Walter Matthau played all three male leads, and you will see echoes of his bumbling everyman style in Roy Hubley, whose approach to Mimsey vacillates between sweet talking to pounding down the door.

Set Designer Marian Holmes along with Set Dresser Larry Grey nail the changing décor of Suite 719, complementing the vintage “mod” fashions designed by Heather Norcross and Ashley Adams Amidon.

The entire ensemble gives solid performances throughout, delivering a tidily crafted version of the long-running Broadway show.

Through July 5th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Come Fly with Me to Boeing, Boeing at The Little Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 5, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Joshua Rich (Bernard) and Kathleen Doyle (Gloria) - Photo credit Doug Olmsted

Joshua Rich (Bernard) and Kathleen Doyle (Gloria) – Photo credit Doug Olmsted

Boeing Boeing is a riotous tale about Bernard, an American architect whose Paris flat has become a way station for his “international harem” of flight attendants or, as they were once called, “stewardesses”.  That may seem a slight distinction but I assure you it is not.  When it was written in 1962 by French Playwright Marc Camoletti flight attendants were young women, no men allowed.  Hired on the basis of their looks and the ability to speak at least two languages, they were monitored under a Draconian demerit system that kept them accountable for having picture perfect makeup and hair and model-like figures.  It was considered a very glamorous profession for a young (oh yes, they aged them out in those days) woman.

They wore stunning uniforms created by top fashion designers like Emilio Pucci and Oleg Cassini, and turned heads in their miniskirts wherever they went.  Men went wild trying to get a date with these beauties, who were urged to stay single.  Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley’s fabulous early “Mod” look reflect the designers of the period.

Gabriela Coro (Gabriela), Kathleen Doyle (Gloria) and Jennifer Patton (Gretchen) - Photo credit  Doug Olmsted

Gabriela Coro (Gabriela), Kathleen Doyle (Gloria) and Jennifer Patton (Gretchen) – Photo credit Doug Olmsted

Bernard (Joshua Rich), a rich playboy who sports loud plaid pants, has three adorable “stews” on a string.  He keeps them from running into each other with the aid of his trusty International Flight Timetable and his ditzy maid Bertha (Margaret Bush) whose job it is to rotate out their photos in anticipation of their arrival.  When Bernard’s old schoolmate Robert (Patrick M. Doneghy) arrives from Wisconsin, he convinces him that having three fiancées at the same time is the ideal bachelor life.

Patrick Doneghy (Robert) and Margaret Bush (Bertha) - Photo credit Doug Olmsted

Patrick Doneghy (Robert) and Margaret Bush (Bertha) – Photo credit Doug Olmsted

Gretchen (Jennifer Patton) works for Lufthansa, Gabriela (Gabriela Coro) for Alitalia, and Gloria (Kathleen Doyle) for American Airlines and never the three shall meet – – at least that’s Bernard’s scheme.  In the beginning all goes smoothly.  The women come and go according to their rigid flight schedules.  But as aviation advances and the planes get faster, Bernard is in for a bumpy ride as the women’s layovers coincide.  John Downing and Bill Glikbarg’s cleverly designed six-door set with a charming terrace looking out over the lights of Paris, portends the shenanigans to come.

In the meantime the beleaguered Bertha, who has perfected of the art of the stink eye, “This is NO life for a maid!” she howls, must keep up the charade with a constant change of cuisine (frankfurters and sauerkraut for Gretchen) to appease the revolving door of Bernard’s paramours.

Notable performances by Patrick Doneghy who is absolutely superb as Robert (Rethink Jerry Lewis as a black comedian) and whose exquisite comic timing and zany mugging make this farce a total hoot; Jennifer Patton, as the feisty fräulein; and Gabriela Coro as the fiery signorina.  Kudos to Director Roland Branford Gomez for a rollicking romp.

Through May 24th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Kathleen Doyle (Gloria), Jennifer Patton (Gretchen) and Gabriela Coro (Gabriela - Photo credit Doug Olmsted

Kathleen Doyle (Gloria), Jennifer Patton (Gretchen) and Gabriela Coro (Gabriela – Photo credit Doug Olmsted

Proof – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Chuck Leonard (Robert) -   Photos by Matt Liptak

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Chuck Leonard (Robert) -
Photos by Matt Liptak

Catherine (Anna Fagan) lives with her professor father in an unsettling world of mental illness somewhat reminiscent of the film A Beautiful Mind.  Robert (Chuck Leonard), a brilliant mathematician whose elegant formulas and research on prime numbers have dazzled his peers, believes aliens are sending him messages through the Dewey Decimal System.  He suffers from major depression and psychotic episodes that Catherine fears could be genetic.  “Crazy people don’t ask each other if they’re nuts,” he explains when she holes up in her room reading fashion magazines.

When Hal (Josh Goldman), a former student of Robert’s, “He’s on the infinite program,” Robert jokes, comes to their home in hopes of discovering publishable formulas, Catherine, a math whiz in her own right, gets suspicious that Hal might be stealing the material to self-attribute and we watch as she spirals into a depression of her own.  But the pair needs each other.  Their discussion of Sophie Germaine, an actual 18th C mathematician who hid her genius by writing under a man’s name, portends things to come.  Could Catherine be as brilliant as her famous father?

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Elizabeth Keith (Claire) - Photo Matt Liptak

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Elizabeth Keith (Claire) – Photo Matt Liptak

When her sister Claire (Elizabeth Keith) shows up at the family’s suburban house to make funeral arrangements, she insists her Catherine cannot handle life alone and determines to take her sister back with her to New York City to seek psychiatric help.

Proof, set in the 1990’s, switches back and forth over a four-year period and covers Catherine’s close relationship with her father, her testy but compliant relationship with Claire, and her curious partnership with Hal.  The tidy four-person cast handles complex emotional turns with ease in this Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play written by David Auburn.

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Josh Goldman (Hal) - Photo Matt Liptak

Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Josh Goldman (Hal) – Photo Matt Liptak

In a deeply engrossing script tinged with wry comedy, the play explores mental illness as related to genius and presents a storyline as complicated as it is uplifting.  Susan Devine, who consulted with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Flint Hill School teacher William VanLear to gain insight on the topic, directs an impressive cast that has both the strength and confidence the story demands.  Leonard, who himself is a director and reminds this reviewer of John Cleese, captures the humor and subtleties of his role, while Fagan demonstrates her total immersion in a tricky role that swings from upbeat to somber at the drop of a hat.  Goldman, who has appeared in several LTA productions, proves he has an impressive range – – while Keith, another LTA alum, gives a shining performance as the self-centered sister.

Through March 29th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com