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
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 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
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