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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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 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
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
July 28, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
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
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
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
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
June 10, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
Heather Norcross (Anita Highland), Michael Gerwin (Dr. Grover Lockwood), and Ben Norcross (Porter) – Photo Doug Olmsted
There’s nothing like the sound of a collective gasp from the audience as when the curtain draws back to reveal a dazzling stage set. Co-Set Designers, John Downing and Bill Glikbarg, achieved this stunner after months of pouring over historic photographs of the 20th Century Limited, dubbed the “Most Famous Train in the World”. Their construction consists of three railroad cars decorated with Art Deco period furnishings in cool pearl gray tones that move on hidden pulleys as the action shifts wildly from private berths to a sitting car. Scrims inserted into the back windows of the cars allow the audience to catch sight of the passengers as they race back and forth in pursuit of each other – be it out of greed, lust or retribution.
For Roland Branford Gomez directing Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of 20th Century was a trip down memory lane. Not only had he ridden on the iconic train as a former child actor, but he had met and befriended a fellow dance studio student he had come to care for. Mary was the daughter of one of the play’s authors, Charles MacArthur and his lovely wife Helen Hayes, the “First Lady of the American Theatre”. Both parents frequently took the children to matinees in New York and so for Gomez it was a dream come full circle to direct this play for his adored playmate who died at the age of nineteen.
Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb), David James (Oscar Jaffe), Margaret Bush (Lily Garland), and James McDaniel (Owen O’Malley) – Photo Doug Olmsted
Meet Oscar Jaffe, a producer with three recent flops, buckets of bombast and a burning desire to get back in the game. Lily Garland is his muse – a glamorous actress flush off an Academy Award and eager to return to the stage. Along with their respective press agents, a cheating husband and his paramour, and an escaped mental patient they are all on the train to New York City. In between stations they serve up plenty of comedy, farce and whodunit in this delightful comic stew. And for that we should all be grateful.
David James plays failed producer, Oscar Jaffe, the self-described “Wizard of Broadway”, to the hilt in a flamboyance of zany, physical comedy that often out-emotes the rest of the cast. Margaret Bush as Jaffe’s former lover Lily, delivers in fine fashion, but as with the other terrific cast members she is often overshadowed by James.
Gary Cramer (Matthew Clark), Heather Norcross (Anita Highland), James McDaniel (Owen O’Malley), and Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb) – Photo Doug Olmsted
Heather Norcross as the coy sex kitten Anita Highland and Michael Gerwin as the adulterous doctor Dr. Grover Lockwood, make the most of their small roles, as does Kathy Fannon as Ida Webb, Jaffe’s assistant. And Gary Cramer does high anxiety to a T as the bible-thumping neurotic pill saleman Matthew Clark who convinces Jaffe he will underwrite his new play. I couldn’t get enough of their quirky well-crafted characters.
The second act picks up nicely when Max Jacobs, Jaffe’s rival for Lily, shows up on the train to thwart Jaffe and offer her a contract. That’s when Bob Cohen strides onstage and nearly steals the show with his portrait of the big time New York producer with a heart of steel.
Cal Whitehurst (Conductor) and Kathy Fannon (Ida Webb) – Photo Doug Olmsted
Sound Designer David Correia does a bang up job of recreating the glorious rumble and screech of a train streaking down the tracks. But, like a train that slows when it pulls into the station and speeds up to its next destination, this production has its fits and starts, moments of brilliance, and periods of static, still with plenty of high jinks and snappy repartee to go around.
Through June 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
April 29, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
Elliott Bales (Beethoven) – Photo credit Doug Olmsted
In 33 Variations, now playing at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, we embark on an intellectual exercise into Beethoven’s intent when he composed thirty-three variations on his music publisher’s mediocre waltz. Researcher Dr. Katherine Brandt (Sarah Holt) explores the cerebral territory of Beethoven’s sketches and gives us a window into the soul of the maestro. Playwright Moisés Kaufman’s storyline jumps back and forth from 1819 though 1823 in Vienna as Beethoven descends into deafness and ill health, to present day New York and later Bonn, Germany where Brandt’s research centers around the composer. This early period in Vienna where Beethoven (Elliott Bales) lived with his assistant Anton Schindler (Ken Gaul) is counterbalanced by a story set in the present of Brandt and her relationship with her daughter, Clara (Rebecca Phillips) and Clara’s boyfriend, Mike Clark (Matt Baughman).
Paralleling that Brandt too is dying having been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Against the wishes of her doctor, she departs New York for Bonn to study Beethoven’s musical scripts under the tutelage of Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger (Melanie Bates). “Here be dragons,” she exclaims defining the risky proposition. She is soon joined by Clara and Mike who care for her as she weakens.
Melanie Bales (Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger) and Sarah Holt (Dr. Katherine Brandt) – Photo credit Doug Olmsted
For a man that seeks” freedom and progress” and considers himself “an instrument of God”, it is a tumultuous time in Vienna where the composer resides in a police state. His contemporaries, Mozart, Hayden, Liszt and Schubert, are the reigning classical music luminaries of their time and competition among the musicians is fierce. It is under this shadow and with failing health and little money that Beethoven is pressured to compose the variations for profit. Soon he becomes obsessed with the waltz and its first four notes compel him to write ever more complicated and spectacular versions. Anton Diabelli (David Rampy) is the impatient publisher, urging then threatening Beethoven to complete his opus.
David Rampy (Anton Diabelli) and Ken Gaul (Anton Schindler) – Photo credit Paul Olmsted
As Brandt endeavors to intuit Beethoven’s reason for creating these works, she reveals much about herself, self-important and callously indifferent, and her relationship with her capricious yet devoted daughter, Clara is rocky.
It is an exciting moment in the theatre when the audience exits in a daze from the impact of such an emotionally charged tale and raves are coming from all sides. But that is what I heard on opening night after a standing ovation and thunderous applause for a play that is both moving and breathtakingly performed.
How do you credit everyone in a review? Let’s begin with the actors. Sarah Holt carves a sharp and affecting portrait of the dying woman, a pedant with little care for anyone or anything beyond her work. Her character is sharply contrasted by the charm and adorableness of Rebecca Phillips and Matt Baughman whose affectionate and hilarious interplay as the young lovers is so palpable that the audience roots for their love to succeed. Counter that with the mad genius of Beethoven played by Elliott Bales in a tour de force performance. It is the second time I have been awestruck by Bales in the past few months (most recently in The Drawer Boy at Port City Playhouse this February).
Beautifully directed by Joanna Henry with lighting from the team of Ken and Patti Crowley who have created an atmosphere that is both modern and mood setting. Special credit goes to Matt Jeffrey as the onstage pianist, who gives a stellar rendition of excerpts from all thirty-three of the variations.
Through May 18th 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