January 20, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
Front Row (L to R) – Aggie Wheeler (Maureen R. Goldman), Daria Chase (Melissa Dunlap), Martha Gillette (Patricia Spencer Smith), and Madge Geisel (Pam Kasenetz). Back Row (L to R) – Simon Bright (Joe Quinn), William Gillette (John Henderson), Inspector Harriet Goring (Michelle Fletcher), and Felix Geisel (Chuck Leonard) – Photo credit Matt Liptak
Sherlock Holmes portrayer William Gillette (John Henderson) lives with his dowager mother Martha (Patricia Spencer Smith) in his newly acquired mansion on the Connecticut River near East Haddam, Connecticut. He is at home nursing a gunshot wound he sustained from an unknown assailant while performing at his Palace Theatre. It is Christmas Eve and he has invited the cast in his long-running, self-produced play to dine and dish. Gillette describes his portrayal of Holmes as, “A play about a man of reason who stands up for the cause of justice.” All very high-minded stuff.
Actors-as-actors in a whodunit is playwright Ken Ludwig’s premise in The Game’s Afoot at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. Now you can always expect high hat hijinks from a Ludwig play, but when the characters are actors you are effectively doubling down. Gillette’s sophisticated troupe are “Class A” emoters who swan around quoting Shakespeare, Keats, FDR and dozens of writers and notable actors throughout the course of the action. Add to that tons of snappy repartee, snide asides, glamorous gowns from Costume Designers Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley, and murder. Oh yes, there is murder most delicious, and mayhem galore.
Simon Bright (Joe Quinn), Aggie Wheeler (Maureen R. Goldman), William Gillette (John Henderson), Felix Geisel (Chuck Leonard), Madge Geisel (Pam Kasenetz) – Photo credit Matt Liptak
Simon (Joe Quinn) and Aggie (Maureen R. Goldman) and Felix (Chuck Leonard) and Madge (Pam Kasenetz), two couples who are dinner guests, are shocked when renowned theater critic and columnist Daria Chase (Melissa Dunlap) arrives under the guise of doing a puff piece on Gillette. “Everyone wants publicity!” she declares. As Martha describes Daria to her son, “She was ruthless. She was evil. She was a theater critic, for God’s sake!” I’ll admit that was my favorite line of the play and Ludwig’s plum chance to get in a dig. In one of the most hilarious scenes Daria conducts a séance to intuit the murderer, which only convolutes the entire purpose and draws the others’ motives into question.
William Gillette (John Henderson) and Aggie Wheeler (Maureen R. Goldman) – Photo credit Matt Liptak
Frank Pasqualino directs a crack cast in this tidy comedy filled with outstanding performances by Henderson (absolutely brilliant), Kasenetz, Dunlap and Smith. Set Designer John Downing draws on the original Gillette castle (Yes, Gillette was a real actor!), using medieval armaments as décor and a clever “magic” door. How LTA’s compact stage affords the sense of being in a mansion is anathema to everything conceivable about a small theater! Yet Downing achieves the impossible. Heads up: Watch for Michelle Fletcher who enters during a snowstorm to give a scene-stealing performance as Inspector Goring, a star-struck wannabe actor.
Inspector Harriet Goring (Michelle Fletcher) – Photo credit Matt Liptak
Highly recommended for hilarity.
Through February 7th 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
October 28, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Adam Newland (Brad) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead
When Janet and Brad’s car gets a flat tire on a deserted road in the middle of the woods on a spooky evening they wind up at Frank-N-Furter’s castle where all hell breaks loose in this wacky, androgynous, rock n’ roll spoof of B-movies where things go bump and grind in the night. You’ll begin to catch the theme of The Rocky Horror Show when your program is presented along with 3-D glasses by ushers garbed in steampunk fashion. As Janet tells Brad, “This isn’t the Junior Chamber of Commerce!”
For those unaware of this campy cult classic, my best advice is not to resist the experience. Since it’s a live performance, theatregoers (unlike fans who attend the film version) are not permitted to bring rice, prunes, water pistols, candles, lighters, matches, noisemakers, confetti, toilet paper, toast, cards, or hot dogs. The list of props not to bring, should tell you everything you’ll need to know about where this kinky show is going. Notwithstanding the theatre’s directive, dressing up as your favorite character, or just “in theme”, is encouraged, especially given the Halloween season. Just think of it as fright night in drag with enough dry ice, monsters in garter belts wielding whips, and laser guns to cheer up even the most hardened of horror story lovers. Poor Edgar Allan Poe. He is spinning in his proverbial grave.
Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Matt Stover (Phantom) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead
Seventeen musical numbers heighten the hilarity, the best known being “The Time Warp” dance and “Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me”. And there is plenty of lurex, leather, feather boas and sequins provided by Costume Designers Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley to dazzle any drag show fan. In the number “Floorshow/Rose Tint My World”, they pull out all the stops for Frank-N-Furter’s love fest. “Don’t dream it. Be it!” he urges, vamping about in towering red patent leather platform boots.
Unfortunately some of the performances are uneven and the energy level ratchets up only when Patrick M. Doneghy as Frank-N-Furter, Malcolm Lee in dual roles as Eddie and Doctor Scott, Ricardo Coleman as the muscle bound Rocky, Paige Taylor with her terrific voice as Magenta, and Matt Liptak as her brother the evil Riff-Raff, are on stage. The lackluster chorus never seems to rise from the dead.
Most of the cast of The Rocky Horror Show – Malcolm Lee (Eddie / Dr. Scott) Katie Mallory (Phantom) Allie Cesena (Columbia) Adam Newland (Brad) Patrick M. Doneghy (Frank-N-Futer) Chris Galindo (Phantom) Kimberly Braswell (Phantom) Melissa Berkowitz (Janet) Cameron Vakilian (Phantom) Ricardo Coleman (Rocky) Tahara Robinson (Phantom) -Photo credit Doug Olmstead
Ken and Patti Crowley kick up the effects with clever silhouetted projections during Brad and Janet’s sexcapades, but the sound is maddeningly ineffective even with a live orchestra.
In the immortal words of Frank-N-Furter, “It’s not easy having a good time!”
Through November 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
September 15, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
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 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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