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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

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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

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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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