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.

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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

In the Heights – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 28, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

“Carnival Del Barrio” (Cast) - Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography

“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

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

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.

Highly recommended.

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

Dirty Blonde – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 8, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

Alexandria Guyker (Jo)  & Daniel Doeuk - Photos by Matt Liptak

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

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

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

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