To Kill a Mockingbird ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
April 25, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Richard Fiske (Atticus) and Larry Boggs (Tom Robinson) - Photos by Matt Liptak

Richard Fiske (Atticus) and Larry Boggs (Tom Robinson) – Photos by Matt Liptak

It’s been fifty-six years since Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird was published and less than one year since its re-conceived version Go Set a Watchman hit the bestseller lists to a flood of controversy.  Much has changed since 1960.  Or has it?  A quick glance at today’s headlines reveal that bigotry, the murder of unarmed Black men, and racial intolerance continue unchecked both on the streets and in certain presidential campaigns.  Given the current political climate and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is particularly timely that we find opportunities to re-examine the role of racism in America.  And how better to revisit these issues than with this cautionary tale?  To that end LTA’s Producers, Rachel Alberts, Bobbie Herbst and Robert Kraus, have chosen well to select Frank Pasqualino to direct this well-crafted and impressively cast production.

As you may recall, the story, narrated on stage by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch as Scout thirty years later (Melissa Dunlap), is set in a small town in the Deep South, where Jim Crow laws were still firmly set in stone.  Black families lived on one side of town and whites, another.

Courtroom scene with cast. Photos by Matt Liptak

Courtroom scene with cast. Photos by Matt Liptak

Atticus Finch (Richard Fiske), a liberal lawyer in a town of bigots, nosy parkers and those best described as adherents to the Klan, is a wise and calming presence in an otherwise lightning hot moment in time.  His young daughter, Scout (Olivia McMahon), is an outspoken child with a wealth of curiosity about everything, especially the peculiar nature of prejudice and intolerance.  Her slightly older brother Jem (Jack Kearney) does his best to keep her innocent queries in check as does their trusted housekeeper, Calpurnia (Brenda Parker), who cares for them with a no-nonsense attitude and a guiding hand.

When their young friend, Dill (Nathaniel Burkhead), comes from Mississippi to live with them their world grows a little larger and their adventures a little bolder.  As they roam the town together the children become targets of racist slurs about their father, who is defending a field hand against the rape of a white woman.  Atticus urges them to turn the other cheek.  “If you want to understand someone, you gotta walk around in their skin,” he cautions them.

Brenda Parker, Olivia McHahon and Richard Fiske.  Photo by Matt Liptak

Brenda Parker, Olivia McHahon and Richard Fiske. Photo by Matt Liptak

The first act explores their small family, the mysterious “Boo” Radley (Derek Bradley), an elusive neighbor who’s been holed up in his house for thirty years, and their relationships to the townspeople of Maycomb, setting the stage for the trial, and attempted railroading, of Tom Robinson (Larry Boggs) that unfolds in Act Two.  The townsfolk present a polyglot of opinions on race – those that are educated and liberal, those of the hardworking Black families, and, in sharp contrast, their antagonists who are White, poor, uneducated and bigoted.  Bob Ewell (Paul Donahoe), Tom’s accuser, and his daughter Mayella, the presumed victim (Skye Lindberg), fall into the category of the latter.

The trial and its aftermath are the most gripping aspects of this story.  It is here in a small, segregated courtroom that the viciousness and brutality of racism is revealed in the cold, harsh light of day.

An excellent cast delivers humor and pathos with brilliance and dignity.  Especially outstanding are Olivia McMahon, Brenda Parker, Richard Fiske, Paul Donahoe, Tony Gilbert as Judge Taylor, and Skye Lindberg.

Highly recommended.

Through May 14th 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 Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 7, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Dave Wright - Photos by Matt Liptak

Dave Wright – Photos by Matt Liptak

If you ignored the word “Abridged” in the title of this comedy, actor Dave Wright is keen to impress it upon you – multiple times while waving a weighty leather-bound collection of The Compete Works of Shakespeare.  You tell yourself, there’s no way three actors can get through all those plays.  But, ah!  There’s the rub.  They do!  Well, sort of, and in ways unexpected.

Joanna Henry takes the helm as director keeping up the lickety-split pace both on- and off stage as the actors race through the aisles and at one point leap up on a handrail to deliver a speech.  I won’t be enumerating how many, or which, roles each actor portrays, since I lost count before the end of the first act as the quick-change artists morphed into male and female roles.  But the stout-figured Wright, along with the lanky, deer-in-the-headlights wide-eyed, Hans Dettmar and the diminutive Sean g. Byers, who rhapsodizes that “this book will be found in every hotel room in the world”, make up the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s entire cast.  They are keen to remind us that Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and 37 plays which the actors, nay, comedians, merrily condense into one.  To prove they are up to the challenge, they announce, “We don’t have to do it justice.  We just have to do it!”

Hans Dettmar - Photos by Matt Liptak

Hans Dettmar – Photos by Matt Liptak

Using every trick in the book, the trio combine pratfalls, spoofs, rap lyrics and a ton of crazy props as they speed dial their way through all 37 of the bard’s classics including, but not limited to, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra and of course Macbeth, which they point out to the uninformed, is the one word you can NEVER say in the theater.

To make it more relatable they toss in topical references like The Real Housewives of Potomac to describe a scene in Romeo and Juliet, and call on the recently uttered words of Donald Trump to express the size of a wall, “It’s gonna be huge!”, to keep the lovers apart.  But for the most part the process is achieved through costume changes and hilariously bastardized lines.  Somehow a blow-up dinosaur figures in.  It’s Cliffs Notes on a runaway horse.

Hans Dettmar, Dave Wright, and Shawn g. Byers - Photos by Matt Liptak

Hans Dettmar, Dave Wright, and Shawn g. Byers – Photos by Matt Liptak

Straight out of the blocks the audience roars at the blaze of high voltage activity.  It’s utterly contagious, more so when a member is plucked from their seat and invited to participate in some of their shenanigans.  How they squeeze, scrunch and slap together all these comedies tragedies and histories, is a wonder in and of itself.  In one particularly silly scene Punch and Judy are employed to express Ophelia’s plight.  The frustrated Ophelia cries out, “Cut the crap, Hamlet, my biological clock is ticking and I want babies now!”, which pretty much (colloquially) sums up her dismay.  And this comic turn from King Lear which is realized as a football game, “quarterback gives it to the hunchback”.

To borrow from Hamlet’s old chatterbox, Polonius, “Brevity is the soul of wit”.  And these three have it down to a science.

Highly recommended for a night of pure, unadulterated (Oh, alright, there is some adulteration. Massive amounts, if you will.) hilarity.

Through March 19th 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

Grey Gardens – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 19, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Nicky McDonnell as Little Edie - Photos by Matt Liptak

Nicky McDonnell as Little Edie – Photos by Matt Liptak

For those of you who saw the 1976 Maysles brothers’ documentary of the two Bouvier family women – – mother, Edith Bouvier Beale, and her daughter, Little Edie, who lived in squalor in a decaying 25-room mansion in Easthampton, NY, this story will be familiar.  Aunt and cousin to former First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, the two society women grew up with Jackie, but took distinctly separate paths.  Their shocking story and the decaying of Grey Gardens was chronicled in New York Magazine in the early 1970’s while I was living in a nearby town and I remember it well.

Composer Scott Frankel and Lyricist Michael Korie have turned Doug Wright’s book into a riveting musical, bringing to life the tragic tale of a mother, who kept her daughter from leaving home and a debutante daughter, whose guilt-ridden dreams of fame kept her at her eccentric mother’s side.  It’s a tale with a dark side, told by two recluses whose artistic leanings lead them down a rocky road to despair.

Penelope Gallagher (Lee Bouvier), Kate Brown (Little Edie), Dick Reed (Major Bouvier), and Cassie Cope (Jaqueline Bouvier) - Photos by Matt Liptak

Penelope Gallagher (Lee Bouvier), Kate Brown (Little Edie), Dick Reed (Major Bouvier), and Cassie Cope (Jaqueline Bouvier) – Photos by Matt Liptak

There is a certain fascination with the privileged and glamorous who have lost their fortune and are forced to live in reduced circumstances.  And this tale does not disappoint. But it is also a fateful story of a mother’s jealousy of her daughter’s youthful beauty and eligible suitors, and her fear of living, and dying, alone.

Director Christopher Dykton has assembled a talented cast, taking us from 1941 with Little Edie played by Kate Collins Brown, and the elder Edith portrayed brilliantly by Nicky McDonnell who segues into the role of the daughter when Act 2 takes us to 1973 and Jennifer Strand becomes Big Edie.  Having seen the documentary, it’s clear the three actresses nailed the characters, and their New York upper class accents, perfectly.  Costume Designer Grant Kevin Lane completes the portrait by recreating the quirky clothing that Little Edie designed for herself.

Jennifer Strand as Big Edie - Photos by Matt Liptak

Jennifer Strand as Big Edie – Photos by Matt Liptak

In the forties, when Big Edie was married to “Major” Bouvier (Dick Reed), Grey Gardens was the setting for many lavish parties where she entertained her guests with popular songs of the day.  Accompanied by her companion, pianist George Gould Strong (Blakeman Brophy), Jackie, Little Edie and Jackie’s sister Lee Bouvier (Penelope Gallagher) sang along.  It was what the Major called “a madhouse, that bohemia”.   Abandoning his family on the night of Edie’s announcement of her marriage to Joseph Kennedy Jr. (Marshall Cesena) and destroying Edie’s chances at love and a hopeful escape from her mother’s clutches, he flees to Mexico for a divorce.  Meanwhile her mother had already been undermining her by regaling young Joe with tales of her daughter’s wild adventures at the local country club.  “I’m not your daughter.  I’m just your shadow,” Edie realizes.

When the women’s dire circumstances are revealed in Act 2, “The money tree came down with Dutch Elm disease,” Big Edie quips, Little Edie is now 56, her beauty fading fast.  When she realizes she is forever tethered to her mother and their 52 felines, it is then she turns a gimlet eye to her mother’s trap.  “Nobody except a cat gets out,” she laments.

Cast Photo of Grey Gardens - Photos by Matt Liptak

Cast Photo of Grey Gardens – Photos by Matt Liptak

Grey Gardens has sophisticated humor, witty Cole Porteresque lyrics, fine dramatic performances and all the schadenfreude of a prominent family’s personal debacle.  It’s tough to handle, but so is the truth.

Through February 6th 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

Holiday Performances Around Town

Jordan Wright
December 3, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

Reviewer’s Pick – Avant Bard’s Theatre on the Edge brings us Holiday Memories, the tender and evocative semi-autobiographical tale drawn from two beloved short stories by Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory” and “A Thanksgiving Visitor”. Having seen this at press night Monday past, I can attest to its indelibly affecting charm.

(From left:) Séamus Miller (Buddy), Christopher Henley (Truman) - DJ Corey Photography

(From left:) Séamus Miller (Buddy), Christopher Henley (Truman) – DJ Corey Photography

Directed by Tom Prewitt and staged by Russell Vandenbroucke the show stars Christopher Henley as Truman, Séamus Miller as Buddy (Truman as a lad), Charlotte Akin as Miss Sook, with Liz Dutton and Devon Ross fulfilling several ancillary roles.

(The cast of Holiday Memories, from left:) Charlotte Akin (Miss Sook), Devon Ross (Man), Christopher Henley (Truman), Liz Dutton (Woman), Séamus Miller (Buddy) - DJ Corey Photography

(The cast of Holiday Memories, from left:) Charlotte Akin (Miss Sook), Devon Ross (Man), Christopher Henley (Truman), Liz Dutton (Woman), Séamus Miller (Buddy) – DJ Corey Photography

The play is set in Depression-Era Alabama where young Truman, who is coming to terms with his homosexuality, lives with his adored aunt, Miss Sook, a forthright spinster who administers life’s lessons with a gentle hand. Henley provides the richly textured narration delivering a riveting performance that is nothing short of brilliant reminding this reviewer of Sam Waterston both in spirit and in appearance. Akin too, seizes her character with a ferocity and nuance that is beautifully developed, while Miller lends an endearing pathos to the fragile boy who struggles to find his identity. Through December 20th at Theatre on the Run at 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets call 703 418- 4108 or visit Avant Barde Theatre

Heather Norcross as Ghost of Christmas Present with Lawrence O. Grey Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge - Photos by Doug Olmsted

Heather Norcross as Ghost of Christmas Present with Lawrence O. Grey Jr. as Ebenezer Scrooge – Photos by Doug Olmsted

The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a lavish, family friendly, Victorian paean to the age-old tale of Scrooge’s redemption. Kudos to the adorable Tiny Tim and a cheery nod to the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Through December 20th at 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314. For tickets call 703 683-0496 or visit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Michael Sharp, Peter Boyer and Tracey Stephens at MetroStage - Photo credit Chris Banks

(L-R) Michael Sharp, Peter Boyer and Tracey Stephens at MetroStage – Photo credit Chris Banks

MetroStage ratchets up Dickens’ tale with a distinctly hilarious, seat-of-your-pants spoof full of dancing and singing to your favorite Broadway tunes. The inimitable Howard Breitbart serves as musical director in Broadway Christmas Carol. Through December 27th at 1201 Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets call 703 548-9044 or visit MetroStage

Nova Y. Payton at Signature Theatre - photo courtesy of Signature Theatre

Nova Y. Payton at Signature Theatre – photo courtesy of Signature Theatre

Signature Theatre brings Christmas cheer with Dreamgirls star Nova Y. Payton backed by a rockin’ chorus and raising the rafters with holiday tunes like This Christmas, Holiday Rock, Santa Baby, and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Through December 24th at 4200 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets call 703 820-9771 or visit Signature

Washington National Opera: Holiday Family Opera: Hansel and Gretel - Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center

Washington National Opera: Holiday Family Opera: Hansel and Gretel – Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center has a host of holiday happenings including the NSO Pops conducted by Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke and featuring the von Trapps, of the famed Sound of Music family, with Broadway’s Stephanie J. Bloch performing Christmas classics and new holiday tunes. The Washington National Opera offers a family-friendly Hansel and Gretel complete with cackling witch, enchanted fairies, dancing animals and a massive gingerbread oven. For the high brow, Handel’s Messiah sing-along is on December 23rd. Check listings for these limited performances at Kennedy Center or call 202 467- 4200.

m-10

The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic presents Two Concertos and a Celebration. Handel’s popular Messiah performed by the NOVA Community Chorus and backed by the splendid symphony who add 20th and 21st century music to the afternoon program. Check the schedule for performance times and locations. For tickets call 703 799- 8229 or visit The Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic

Laughing Stock – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
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

(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

(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

(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

(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

(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