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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

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Ragtime at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 27, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

“Crime of the Century” featuring Dana Cass, Sarah Gale, Claire O’Brien, Holly McDade, and Rebecca Phillips - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

“Crime of the Century” featuring Dana Cass, Sarah Gale, Claire O’Brien, Holly McDade, and Rebecca Phillips – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Thirty-seven performers make up the tremendous ensemble in this touching story of intersecting lives.  Set in the early part of the 20th century author E. L. Doctorow focused his novel on three distinct elements of American society – - Black America, on the rise as a strong middle class in Northern cities, middle and upper class White America, and Jewish immigrants bent on hard work and assimilation to their new found country.  The Little Theatre of Alexandria has chosen Director Michael Kharfen to express a story where Terrence McNally’s book blends so beautifully with Lynn Ahrens lyrics and Stephen Flaherty’s music.

The characters here are familiar to us all.  There’s capitalist foe and union organizer, Emma Goldman, a reformer from the days when child labor was the norm and harsh working conditions prevailed; Harry Houdini, the Jewish immigrant who became the world’s most famous magician; and Evelyn Nesbitt, the great beauty who carved out her vaudeville career on a velvet swing while paramour to a millionaire.  Iconic Americans Booker T. Washington, the great African-American orator and Presidential advisor, the financier J. P. Morgan and even Henry Ford make cameos in this story too.  In Doctorow’s sweeping saga of the landscape of America, ordinary people become extraordinary people as their lives intersect and they are tested for their capacity to love.

It harkens back to the turn of the 20th Century, a time when ladies of a certain class carried parasols and wore stiff corsets under voluminous dresses.  Ragtime music was sweeping the country and a certain Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Malcolm Lee) a Scott Joplin avatar, was creating a new sound that crossed over into White high society.

Father is off on a polar expedition with Admiral Peary when Mother discovers a Black newborn abandoned in her garden and goes about finding the boy’s mother.  “I never thought they had lives besides our lives,” she confesses while searching for the indigent unwed mother.  When at last she and her son Edgar find Sarah (Aerika Saxe), she offers Sarah the comfort of their home – - allowing her humanity to overtake her Victorian rigidity.

“Harlem Women” featuring Kadira Coley, Tiara Hairston, Corisa Myers, and Jessica Pryde - Photo credit

“Harlem Women” featuring Kadira Coley, Tiara Hairston, Corisa Myers, and Jessica Pryde – Photo credit Keith Waters

Shaun Moe plays the stiff Victorian era “Father” secure in his position and his marriage.  Jennifer Lyons Pagnard is “Mother”, a wife learning to have her own say.

Scenic designer J. Andrew Simmons has created a dramatic Industrial Age backdrop of massive connecting clock gears to express the passage of time, while scene changes are cleverly accomplished by painted panels that unfurl from the rafters to denote a sense of place.  The Lighting Design team of Ken and Patti Crowley sets the tone with a wide array of colors and effects to change the mood and heighten the drama.

Known as one of the most important musicals ever to grace Broadway, this production does the author’s material (twenty-eight brilliant tunes!) justice with a strong and interconnected cast who sing their faces off.  Jennifer Lyons Pagnard demonstrates that she can infuse a leading role with fresh vigor much as she did as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd for which she won “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” with a WATCH Award last year.  The ensemble’s voices reflect the powerful emotions of this poignant story of hope, redemption, human rights and a call for justice. Of particular note is the exquisite voice of “Sarah’s Friend” played by Corisa Myers who does a brief but deeply affecting solo turn in “When We Reach That Day”.

There is a beautiful flow to the dancing choreographed by Ivan Davila.  Keep an eye peeled for Sherrod Brown who is a standout.

The Little Theatre has taken on one of its most ambitious productions to date with Ragtime and from the “Sold Out” sign on press night, it’s already proven to be a great success.

Through February 15th 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

The Ragtime Cast Photos credit Keith Waters

The Ragtime Cast Photos credit Keith Waters

 

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The 39 Steps – Murder and Comic Mayhem Done in Classic Hitchcock Style -The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 29, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

The 39 Steps is a rollicking send up of and tribute to Alfred Hitchcock.  References to his classics abound – - The Birds, Dial M for Murder, North by Northwest, Psycho, Rear View Window and more.  You’ll have fun picking out some of your faves.

Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison (Everyone else) with Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) - Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison (Everyone else) with Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

We come upon our hapless hero, Richard Hannay (Jeff McDermott) in a state of high anxiety.  His life is worthless, he claims, because nothing exciting ever happens to him.  “Find something mindless,” he suggests to himself aloud.  “I know – - a trip to the theatre!”, a remark which gives the audience their first clue that this is going to be a night of cooked-up hilarity. “It’s music hall and vaudeville – - pure theatricality,” Ted Deasy told me in March of 2010 when I interviewed him at DC’s Warner Theatre where he played the lead.

Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) - Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

At the theatre Hannay sits beside a glamorous lady in red (Elizabeth Keith) who quickly insinuates herself into his uneventful life with a beguiling tale of German spies, an unsolved murder and a clandestine rendezvous in a castle on the Scottish moors.  Intrigued he takes her back to his flat for a nightcap, where she is stabbed by a mysterious stranger.  It becomes our hero’s challenge to solve this wacky whodunit.

The play is an adaptation of the eponymous Hitchcock classic.  Borrowing on the 1935 film, writers Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble came up with a version to be played by four actors who perform between 130 to 150 roles.  Some “roles” are actually inanimate objects and some of the actors change characters over and over, often playing three characters simultaneously.

The trick is to make the mayhem look effortless.  The effect is achieved by piling on schticks from vaudeville, comedia and slapstick using old theatrical styles and even Shakespearean asides.  The physical part is done in a supersonic pace that leaves the audience breathless.

Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Bob Cohen (Everyone else) - Photos by Keith Waters/Kx

Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Bob Cohen (Everyone else) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

McDermott is on stage throughout giving the play its anchor, while Elizabeth Keith plays the three female roles (though there is a bit of cross-dressing in some of the roles) quite handily.  Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison, whose comic timing is, shall I say, “drop dead” perfect, manage to portray the dozens of others.

The 1930’s mood is cleverly set by lighting designers Ken and Patti Crowley who created over 150 evocative atmospheres for this electrifying production using both a flat-screen TV and a projection screen for some of the images.  How they manage to suggest bi-plane bombadiers is for me to know and for you to find out.

Elizabeth Keith (Pamela), Bob Cohen (Everyone else) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) -  Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Elizabeth Keith (Pamela), Bob Cohen (Everyone else) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) -
Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Through November 16th 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

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Caught in the Net – A British Comedy on Steroids at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
September 9, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

What’s The Little Theatre of Alexandria without a Brit Wit comedy in its repertoire?  For its 2013 fall season opener it has chosen Caught in the Net, a rollicking romp by the wildly successful British playwright Ray Cooney about a husband’s marital deception.  And this one’s a doozy.

Mike Baker as John Smith, Annie Ermlick as Barbara Smith (Center) and Tricia O’Neill-Politte as Mary Smith - Photo credit Tabitha Rymal - Vaughn

Mike Baker as John Smith, Annie Ermlick as Barbara Smith (Center) and Tricia O’Neill-Politte as Mary Smith – Photo credit Tabitha Rymal – Vaughn

John Smith (Mike Baker) has spent his marital life leading two lives with two wives – one in Streatham, the other in Wimbledon.  He has a teenage child with each.  Gavin Smith (Luke Markham) lives with his mother Barbara (Annie Ermlick), while Vicki Smith (Eliza Lore) resides with her mother Mary (Tricia O’Neill-Politte).  John races back and forth between the two families, juggling his affections like a Chinese plate twirler.  The trouble begins when the teens find each other on the Internet and uncover an odd coincidence.  Each has a father named John Leonard Smith, age 53, taxi driver.

 Luke Markham (Gavin Smith) and Eliza Lore (Vicki Smith - Photo credit Tabitha Rymal - Vaughn

Luke Markham (Gavin Smith) and Eliza Lore (Vicki Smith – Photo credit Tabitha Rymal – Vaughn

The teens become fascinated by their shared knowledge and Vicki invites Gavin to tea at her home.  John is appalled, or as he puts it, “horrified, mortified, petrified and crucified,” should they meet.  He tells Mary that Gavin must be a sexual pervert and locks Vicki in her room.  Thus begins the farcical shenanigans of John’s subterfuge and many disguises, as he tries to keep his family members from running into each other.  Little white lies lead to evasions and outright fabrications as John digs his self-imposed grave.

Mike Baker (John Smith) and Paul Tamney (Stanley Gardner) - Photo credit Tabitha Rymal - Vaughn

Mike Baker (John Smith) and Paul Tamney (Stanley Gardner) – Photo credit Tabitha Rymal – Vaughn

Mike Baker presents us with a pitch perfect portrait of the harried husband caught a web of lies.  In one particularly brilliant scene, faking a wrong number to conceal his identity from one of his wives, he puts on a Chinese accent, rattling off countless dishes at a furious clip to keep Barbara at bay.  In another phone call Baker employs a German accent all to the relentless pace of sight gags, pratfalls and a stream of hilarious one-liners.  Mary, “He’ll kill himself.”  Stanley (Paul Tamney), their longtime boarder and John’s comrade-in-tomfoolery, “That would solve all our problems!”

When Stanley’s doddering, half-blind and senile grandfather, played handily by Richard Fiske, is enlisted in the scheme to keep the beautiful Barbara at bay, he rises to the occasion.  “I have a curious urging in my loins,” he exclaims while lusting after her with arms outstretched.

Luke Markham (Gavin Smith), Annie Ermlick (Barbara Smith), Tricia O’Neill-Politte (Mary Smith) -  Photo credit Tabitha Rymal - Vaughn

Luke Markham (Gavin Smith), Annie Ermlick (Barbara Smith), Tricia O’Neill-Politte (Mary Smith) – Photo credit Tabitha Rymal – Vaughn

Director Eleanore Tapscott, who recently returned to the DC area from New York where she directed Shakespeare and Moliere for the Westside Repertory Theatre, and her Co-Producer, Alan Wray, steer a terrific cast in this masterful comedy of sex, lies and mistaken identities.

Special mention to Set Designer, Michael deBlois, for the seven-door set lending the production a note of mass hysteria as the characters alternately chase and avoid each other across a central living room.

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

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Can You Tell Me How to Get to Avenue Q? Only If You’re an Adult! at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 28, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times

Bad Idea Bears (puppets), Matt Liptak and Charlene Sloan - Photos by Keith Waters

Bad Idea Bears (puppets), Matt Liptak and Charlene Sloan – Photos by Keith Waters

 With the presentation of Avenue Q The Little Theatre of Alexandria continues its successful leap into the 21st century, with productions that a few years ago would have seemed, well, unseemly to their faithful supporters.  My, how times have changed.  No longer content with a steady diet of British farce, show tunes and murder mysteries, the theater has branched out this year to include complex religious themes in the sensitive and brilliantly crafted Cantorial, racy topics with a splash of nudity in the hilarious The Full Monty, and now X-rated humor with the uproarious musical Avenue Q.   It’s taken some adjusting from the Old Guard benefactors.  Overheard – “If they say a bad word, I told him I’d cover his ears.”.  Even the director’s notes encourage playgoers to loosen up with this comment, “Let political correctness and sexual and social propriety take a back seat…” But all theaters know they must attract newer, younger audiences and in this day and age swear words and sex talk is everyday TV fare.

Avenue Q picks up where Sesame Street left off.  It centers on the generations of kids who grew up with the furry puppets and kooky TV characters that cheered them on, mollified their fears, and taught them the alphabet and, who now as young adults entering the work force, struggle to realize their dreams.  The actors, who are quite visible to the audience and mimic the puppets’ emotions, manipulate the twelve furry creatures in a set-to-music guide to the galaxy filled with lessons on love, sex and the Internet.

James Hotsko Jr., Kate Monster (puppet), and Kristina Hopkins - Photos by Keith Waters

James Hotsko Jr., Kate Monster (puppet), and Kristina Hopkins – Photos by Keith Waters

Everything takes place on Avenue Q.  Princeton (Sean Garcia) is new to the neighborhood.  He’s just graduated college but his life has no purpose, “What Do You Do With a B. A. in English”, he posits.  Kate Monster (Kristina Hopkins) is the girl-next-door, an aspiring teacher that Princeton falls madly in love with.  Unfortunately he thinks love is not fulfilling enough in his self-absorbed world of job searches and grown-up responsibilities.  Christmas Eve (Stephanie Gaia Chu) is the neighborhood’s crazy Japanese lady and psychotherapist, who doesn’t care if she is perceived as Chinese or Korean, but won’t abide by the term Oriental, her significant other is Brian, an out of work Caucasian who wants to be a stand-up comedian.

Princeton (puppet) and Sean Garcia - Photos by Keith Waters

Princeton (puppet) and Sean Garcia – Photos by Keith Waters

Nicky (Matt Liptak) and Rod (Sean Garcia) are roommates.   Rod, who is still in the closet, hopes to convince everyone otherwise with the song, “My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada”.   And then there are the cuddly cute Bad Idea Bears (Charlene Sloan and Matt Liptak), who try to undermine everyone’s better judgment by sobbing uncontrollably when their devilish advice is not taken.

Gary Coleman (Aerika Saxe) is the street-smart African-American superintendent who balances out the yuppies’ dilemmas with real life issues in the number “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”.  But they all agree on one thing, including Trekkie (Matt Liptak), the kindhearted but scary monster, in “The Internet Is for Porn”.  “He a pervert,” Christmas Eve suggests, but he’s no match for Lucy the Slut (Claire O’Brien), whose Mae West allure has Princeton in her thrall.

Lucy the Slut (puppet) and Claire O’Brien - Photos by Keith Waters

Lucy the Slut (puppet) and Claire O’Brien – Photos by Keith Waters

In a show where puppets rule, the actor’s expressions, as they mirror the speaking parts of their hairy avatars, are crucial.  Each actor must take on their puppet’s personality and dialogue, both physically and verbally.  To say that this troupe excels in their character’s puppet persona, is an understatement and a tribute to Director Frank D. Shutts II’s superb casting as well as Puppet Master Kristopher Kauff and Puppet Wrangler Katherine Dilaber, who taught eight neophytes the art of puppeteering.

Highly recommended.  For adults only.

Through August 17th 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

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