September 8, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
(left to right) Natalie Fox as Daisy Coates, Tom Flatt as Vernon Volker (in the back in green), Kat Sanchez as Susannah Huntsmen, Ted Culler as Richfield Hawksley, and Abigail Ropp as Mary Pierre (on knees). Photos by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography
Laughing Stock is Charles Morey’s comic love story to summer stock and the actors and crews that make up these “little families”. For those who have ever attended a production in a barn turned theater, volunteered to work backstage or were talented enough to perform at their local playhouse, this comedy is sure to spark fond memories. Shawn g. Byers does a handy job of directing this paean to seasonal theatre – – an incestuous platform where summer romances bloom, show biz careers are launched and lifelong friendships are formed – – or not.
(left to right) Michael Dobbyn as Jack Morris, Kat Sanchez as Susannah Huntsmen, and Richard Isaacs as Henry Mills. Photos by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography
The setting for our story is a 200-year old cow barn where the Director, Gordon (Lars Klores) and his Casting Director Susannah (Kat Sanchez) are getting ready for auditions for their 82nd season and the cast-to-be is introduced in a series of hilarious vignettes referencing their experience or lack thereof: Mary (Abigail Ropp), an ingénue who seduces the Director for the part; Vernon (Tom Flatt), an aging fop with a long list of theatre credits; Richfield (Ted Culler), a seasoned actor who consistently bobbles his lines; Jack (Michael Dobbyn), the handsome, romantic lead who’s passing the summer before starting law school; Daisy (Natalie Fox), who brings along her mystic sensibilities; and Tyler (Will MacLeod), a cheery lad who is bent on pursuing Mary. Together they neatly represent your garden-variety summer stock actors.
(left to right) Tom Flatt as Vernon Volker, Ted Culler as Richfield Hawksley, Michael Dobbyn as Jack Morris, Abigail Ropp as Mary Pierre. Photos by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography
Gordon’s struggling little troupe is under the thumb of Barbara DeMartineau, a financial backer who insists he mount a production of The Sound of Music. But Gordon has his season planned for King Lear, Dracule (a ghoulish mystery based on Dracula which he himself has penned) and the farcical Charley’s Aunt, and he tries to dissuade Barbara from her conditions of support while sweet-talking her into mailing in her annual check.
(left to right) Will MacLeod as Tyler Taylor, Abigail Ropp as Mary Pierre, Michael Dobbyn as Jack Morris. Photos by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography
As for management, the theater’s tiny budget is controlled by Craig (Larry Grey), an endearing martinet who is the Office Supply Overlord and whose chief concerns are the disappearance of script marking pencils and an ancient Coke machine. Sarah (Melissa Dunlap) is Gordon’s love interest and the troupe’s Stage Manager, and Henry (Richard Isaacs) is the harried Set Designer.
(left to right) Lars Klores as Gordon Page, Michael Dobbyn as Jack Morris, Kat Sanchez as Susannah Huntsmen, Ted Culler as Richfield Hawksley, and Will MacLeod as Tyler Taylor. Photos by Matthew Randall, Allrand Photography
This comedy is certain to resonate with anyone who has ever taken an acting class, performed in even the smallest production, or known anyone that has. You’ll revel in the egotism, melodrama and backstage antics. In one hilarious bit, Susannah, who is directing their production of Charley’s Aunt, gets the cast to pretend to be animals, a well-known acting exercise that draws on physical realization. “Stay within your bubble,” she exhorts the odd collection of orangutans, gazelles and wildebeests. In another she absurdly insists the lead character in Charley’s Aunt is experiencing a modern-day gender crisis because he sports a skirt. Vernon declares the playhouse to be “the Dachau of summer theatres”. But, as Sarah insists, “it’s just another playhouse season.”
When at last the hinted-at audience takes its seats in the steamy, dung-filled barn, we view the plays in fast-forward sequence. Slapstick ensues in spades as we witness the whatever-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong production of the three plays. Actors bump into each other, exits and entrances are bolluxed up, lines are muffed, props go missing, sound effects go haywire, fog machines misfire and actors miss their cues. Kudos to the actual Stage Managers, Charles Dragonette and Margaret Evans-Joyce for getting things exquisitely discombobulated.
Tons of fun for anyone who loves theatre and the absurd.
Through September 26th 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, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
“Carnival Del Barrio” (Cast) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography
Do you speak Spanish? No problemo. I’ll bet you can translate most of the words and phrases that have found their way into our everyday lexicon. Gracias, te amo, buenos dias, piragua (a shaved ice treat. Okay, that one was new to me.) and dozens more that you didn’t know you knew. Be prepared to test your skills at In the Heights, now at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. It’s Latino immersion served up in high energy by a fantastic cast. Quiara Alegria Hudes, who wrote the book for Conceptualist/Composer/Lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, allows us a heart-warming glimpse into the lives of Latino immigrants and their assimilation into American culture – New York style. It’s a tale familiar to every immigrant who has faced the frustrations and hardships that beckoned them to American shores and a show that achieved four Tony Awards and one Grammy for Best Musical Show Album.
Set in the barrio of Washington Heights on the northern tip of Manhattan, a community settled over the past half century by immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba and assorted Hispanic Caribbean islands, the musical is written in hip-hop, rap and rhyme – en Español, pero con Inglés, tambien. Spanning the three-day Fourth of July weekend, it tells the story of a determined, close-knit culture and the love stories of Benny (Carl Williams) and Nina (Christy Fischer) and Usnavi (Andres Alejandro Ponce) and Vanessa (Chelsea Crane). Think West Side Story without the gangs.
Left to Right: Carl Williams (Benny), Andres Alejandro Ponce (Usnavi De Le Vega), Chelsea Crane (Vanessa), Joey Ledonio (Sonny), Patricia Targete (Female Community), Jacqueline Salvador (Carla) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography
Living under the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, Usnavi, the owner of a small bodega that serves the neighborhood, works alongside his cousin, Sonny (Joey Ledonio). Together they dream of a better life for themselves and their adored Abuela Claudia (Mary Ayala-Bush), matriarch of their family. Down the street Daniela (Tahara Robinson), Carla (Jacqueline Salvador) and Vanessa ply their hairstyling skills in the Unisex Salon while Vanessa dreams of escaping to the West Village. Across the way husband and wife, Camila (Janice Rivera) and Kevin (Sean Garcia), run the struggling Rosario’s Car and Limousine service. Benny, who eloquently raps road conditions to the drivers on the two-way, falls hard for their daughter, Nina, a scholarship student at Stamford and the hope of the neighborhood. It’s a “beans and rice” life for most of them.
Twenty-five musical numbers underpin this high-energy production, punctuating the action with breakdancing, rhumba and catchy Latin rhythms. LTA has done a tremendous job casting all 22 super-talented dancers and singers, more than a few of whom raised the roof – – most especially the riveting and hugely talented, Ponce; the powerhouse voice of the diminutive Crane, Usnavi’s love interest; the sass and comedic timing of Robinson who kills it in “Carnival del Barrio”; the cool hipster vibe and beautiful voice of Williams, who duets with Fischer’s dulcet tones in “Sunrise”; and Garcia, who lends operatic pathos to “Alabanza”.
Left to Right: Joey Ledonio (Sonny), Andres Alejandro Ponce (Usnavi De La Vega) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography
Raves for Choreographer Stefan Sittig, a veteran of over 60 productions and multiple WATCH Award nominee, who drives the cast to nearly pop the floorboards in “The Club” an all-out dance-a-thon brilliantly lit by Ken and Patti Crowley to echo a Diego Rivera painting; and Director, Frank D. Shutts, who bravely takes on a musical that stretches LTA’s typical audience to embrace the edge.
Through August 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
June 8, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
Alexandria Guyker (Jo) & Daniel Doeuk – Photos by Matt Liptak
It took more than fluff and fizz to create an icon like Mae West. An iconoclast in the art of sex appeal (even the term was taboo when she started performing on the vaudeville circuit in 1911), West was the naughtiest of the naughty girls, a role she cherished and perfected throughout her lengthy career.
Jennifer Lyman directs Claudia Shear’s Tony-nominated story about an impressionable young fan, Charlie (Daniel J. Calderon), who becomes deeply affected by his meetings with the seductive actress. She teases and woos him and they develop an ongoing, though unconsummated, affinity for each other. As an adult he meets and is attracted to, Jo (Alexandra Guyker), another adoring Mae West fan, but his obsession with the movie star affects his ability to have more than a superficial relationship.
Alexandria Guyker (Jo) – Photos by Matt Liptak
Janette Moman plays the voluptuous siren, breathing new life into the legend that drove Hollywood’s glamour machine for decades. Moman’s voice and movements mimic the star’s singular appeal, and her ability to portray her vulnerability, as well as her sexuality, contributes to a convincing performance.
Janette Moman (Mae West) & Chris Gillespie – Photos by Matt Liptak
Two consummate actors, Chris Gillespie and Daniel Doeuk, play all the other males that weave in and out of Mae’s life – – her husband, Frank Wallace, co-stars, assorted agents, beaus, dance partners and a judge and court clerk. Set primarily in New York and Los Angeles from 1911 to 1984, the show features seven of West’s greatest musical numbers including “I’m No Angel”, “Oh My, How We Posé”, “A Guy What Takes His Time” from She Done Him Wrong, and “Dirty Blonde” from her Vegas act in the late 1990’s.
West broke every convention of the day with her racy behavior and scandalous stunts, and the show is as informative of her history as it is entertaining, often weaving her famous quotes into the dialogue. “Are you shakin’ my hand or takin’ my pulse,” she asks a potential backer. Later we learn she borrowed femininity advice from her fellow performers, a close-knit group of drag queens. She also appropriated the “Shimmy She Wobble” from Black acts of the day.
Daniel J. Calderon (Charlie) – Photos by Matt Liptak
Mae’s story runs alongside the tale of Charlie and Jo, their tender friendship and mutual admiration of Mae, and his inability to free himself of his fixation with Mae long enough to let real love into his life. “She never really let herself learn to love anyone but herself,” Charlie tells Jo. Calderon captures Charlie’s transformation from awkward youth to awkward adulthood, and Guyker proves to be the perfectly cast matchup. Complex emotional themes weave in and out of the jokes and the cast rises to the challenge. Plus the production has a lot to recommend.
Costumes by Beverley Benda, Wardrobe by Jean Coyle, and fabulous hair and wigs by Rebecca Harris capture the decades of glamorous gowns, platinum blonde bouffant styles, and mountains of feathered accessories. David Dender on piano and David Burrelli on bass bring the story and songs to life.
As far as the staging goes, I found it distracting to watch props handed off to the actors as they delivered their lines, and furnishings being shuffled on and off stage by clearly, visible stagehands. Something you might expect in a black box production, but here, unnecessary.
Through June 27th 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 Little Theatre of Alexandria
April 27, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
Brendan Quinn (Jesus), Jennifer Lyons Pagnard (Florence), Gayle Nichols-Grimes (Olive), and Philip Krzywicki (Manolo) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography
Neil Simon’s long-running, ever-popular play The Odd Couple has had more reincarnations than an Indian mystic. First there was the Broadway premiere in 1965. Art Carney of The Honeymooners fame was the obsessive-compulsive neat freak, Felix Ungar, and Walter Matthau the slovenly, devil-may-care, Oscar Madison. (You’ll recall Jack Klugman later replaced Matthau in the TV role.) In 1968 Matthau was brought back for the film version with Jack Lemmon, the two reprising their roles in 1998 for The Odd Couple II. Meanwhile The Odd Couple TV series starring Randall and Klugman ran for five years in the early to mid-70’s.
In the 80’s another TV version came onto the landscape – – The New Odd Couple with two black actors, Ron Glass and Demond Wilson. And, drum roll please. This February, in its latest television reincarnation, Matthew Perry plays Oscar. People just can’t seem to get enough of this disparate duo.
Backgrounding these many productions was Simon’s female version for the stage. Written in 1985 he cloned the personalities of Oscar and Felix, breathing new life into them as Olive Madison (the female Oscar) and Florence Ungar (the female Felix). The play too is set in 1985, a time of women’s liberation, the re-examination of traditional female roles and changing sexual mores. It all seems so old hat now.
Elizabeth Replogle (Renee), Michelle Fletcher (Mickey), Kat Sanchez (Sylvie), and Natalie Fox (Vera) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography
I must confess that the stuff of American sit-coms is not really my cup of tea. Friends insulting friends in the most jovial sort of way, and gleefully backstabbing them when they leave the room, is not my idea of charming and witty humor. I didn’t like The Three Stooges either, if that tells you something. But if The Golden Girls gave you belly laughs, then this will be right up your alley.
Florence is in the throes of a divorce and Olive has already been-there-done-that when she takes her in as a roommate. The unhappy duo is oil and water, struggling to maintain their friendship through the hard times and hysteria, of which there is entirely too much to bear. Are we bonding yet?
Gayle Nichols-Grimes (Olive) and Jennifer Lyons Pagnard (Florence) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography
In addition to Olive (Gayle Nichols-Grimes) and Florence (Jennifer Lyons Pagnard), there are Mickey (Michelle Fletcher), Sylvie (Kat Sanchez), Renee (Elizabeth Replogle) and Vera (Natalie Fox). Later on we meet Olive’s two hot-to-trot Spanish neighbors, brothers Jesus (Brendan Quinn) and Manolo (Philip Krzywicki) – – one sloppy, one neat – – what a surprise.
All in all the cast throws out some lively, if stale, one-liners, “Everything you do irritates me”, “I can’t even have dirty dreams! You clean them up”, and “She’s changed our nice game into the Christian Science Reading Room”. It keeps the audience happy and the actors working.
As to weighing this production on its merits, I give kudos to Set Designer MYKE for creating a believable 1980’s era living room for Olive’s Manhattan apartment, the scene of all the action; Costume Designer Ceci Albert who has dug deep into the wardrobe trunks for plenty of polyester and pearls for the six women in the cast; and note another fine performance by Michelle Fletcher, this time as the tough-talking cop.
Through May 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
March 3, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
Chuck Dluhy as Michael Novak, Jack B. Stein as Alan Raleigh – Photo credit Keith Waters
Sharon Field and Rance Willis produce this tidy rendition of French playwright and social satirist Yasmina Reza’s 2009 Tony award-winning play God of Carnage. It’s a kind of “Thinking Man’s Guide on How to Raise Bullies”. Reza introduces us to two New York couples whose sons have gotten into a bloody scrap in a neighborhood park. At a meeting in the apartment of the victim’s parents to discuss the incident, the couples seem to agree on how the incident unfolded and Annette (Allison Block) and Alan (Jack B. Stein) appear to take the blame for their son’s aggressive actions. All is sweetness and light as they exchange pleasantries over coffee and Veronica’s homemade clafouti..
Initially the well-mannered grownups appear to take responsibility for their children’s actions resolving to discipline the boys and urge them to make up. Veronica (Karen Shotts), a writer on the atrocities in Darfur, has high-minded principles and tries to present a united front with her husband Michael (Chuck Dluhy) to lay the blame on Annette and Alan’s son. But Michael lets slip that, “It could have been the other way around. Our son is a savage.”
Annette is a buttoned-up career woman married to Alan an evidence-suppressing spindoctor of a lawyer who’s more wedded to his business than his wife. His incessant cell phone calls punctuate the couples’ mounting diatribes and show his pugnacious nature.
Jack B. Stein as Alan Raleigh, Allison Block as Annette Raleigh – Photo credit Keith Waters
Initially the prim Annette tries to stay above the fray, pleading with her husband not to escalate the situation, but with her one small remark, “How many parents standing up for their kids become infantile?” the play’s direction is revealed.
Soon all decorum is tossed aside as the confab turns into a verbal slugfest with the couples pushing each other’s emotional buttons and quickly devolving from respectable middle class professionals into screaming bullies. After Michael confesses to tossing his daughter’s hamster out into the street, his credibility as the nice guy is compromised and the women bond in their anger against him. Soothing his bruised ego he shares a bottle of his “well-aged Antiguan rum” and with that the civilities dissolve, allegiances shift and the couples re-bond. “You keep vacillating. Playing both ends against the middle,” Veronica accuses her husband. Director Christopher Dylton keeps the constant carousel of alliances fascinating – – like watching an elegantly choreographed train wreck in Scenic Designer Grant Kevin Lane’s stylishly modern set.
Chuck Dluhy as Michael Novak, Karen Shotts as Veronica Novak – Photo credit Keith Waters
Reza wields humor with a surgeon’s scalpel. Her observations of couples’ conflicts, and their ability to emotionally destroy each another, are just as incisive. Yet our ability to laugh at their infantile antics is a universal response to the belief that we are all born into a culture of violence. “The God of Carnage has ruled since the beginning of time,” Alan reminds them.
Enjoy this fine cast that rewards the audience with a well-drawn plot of controlled mayhem and insightfully drawn hilarity. Adult language.
Through March 21st 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