A Christmas Carol ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
December 5, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Tony Gilbert (Scrooge) - Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Tony Gilbert (Scrooge) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

It’s that jolly, spooky, heartwarming, Charles Dickens time of year again and, like The Nutcracker, many families hold dear the tradition of seeing A Christmas Carol together.  The Little Theatre of Alexandria has been mounting this play for eons, but each year it’s a different version depending on who’s directing and what elements of the story they choose to emphasize.  For Director Michael J. Baker, Jr. it was important to delve into the original book, plumb the depths of Dickens, and cherish some of the best lines.  “Bad lobster in a dark cellar”, in which Scrooge describes the face of Marley during his first ghostly encounter, was taken from the original, but I’d never heard it before.  There’s a certain ominous and indelibly charming alliterative ring to it that sets the tone for shades of things to come.

 Penelope Gallagher (Belle’s Daughter), Eva Jaber (Belle’s Child #1), Clare Baker (Ghost of Christmas Past) - Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Penelope Gallagher (Belle’s Daughter), Eva Jaber (Belle’s Child #1), Clare Baker (Ghost of Christmas Past) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Clearly Baker has done his homework.  As a veteran of the role of Scrooge (five times!), he brings an actor’s perspective and a director’s experience to the classic tale of the penurious, humbugger, Ebenezer Scrooge.  In one particular instance young Scrooge is abandoned by his family at his boarding school, Baker draws on Dickens’ love of Ali Baba and plunks a parrot outside the window.  It’s subtle but it’s there, as is a reference to “Robin” Crusoe, from Defoe, another of Dickens’ favorite authors.

Eva Jaber (Want), Janette Moman (Ghost of Christmas Present), Morgan Jay (Ignorance) - Photo credit Doug Onlstead

Eva Jaber (Want), Janette Moman (Ghost of Christmas Present), Morgan Jay (Ignorance) – Photo credit Doug Onlstead

Baker and Music Director Linda Wells weave in lots of traditional Christmas carols and Sound Designer Lynn Lacey throws in plenty of spooky effects as the trio of spirits (they’re a new addition too) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Clare Baker), Future (Pat Jannell) and Present (Janette Moman, who does notable double duty as the hilariously crooked Mrs. Dilber) haunt the ‘dickens’ out of Scrooge.

Tony Gilbert (Scrooge) and Josh Gordon (Tiny Tim) - Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Tony Gilbert (Scrooge) and Josh Gordon (Tiny Tim) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

The sets, too, have changed.  Set Designer Mary Hutzler treats us to a charming Victorian village with chapel and schoolhouse and scenes of the streets that include both the poor and the posh sides of London town.

But any production of A Christmas Carol must have its adorable children (and these are as sweet as candy canes and hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day), its grisly ghosts (note well Larry O. Grey, Jr. as he smoothly segues between the dual roles of Marley’s ghost-in-chains and the jolly Fezziwig, two of the most disparate characters in the play) and its courtly gentlemen.  Ryan Phillips shines as both Young Scrooge and Topper and Matthew Fager is notable as the kindly Bob Cratchit.  But the thread that holds the piece together is indeed Tony Gilbert as Scrooge whose ability to go from curmudgeonly to compassionate is absolute perfection.

Find the true meaning of the season here and in your hearts.

Through December 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

Full cast of A Christmas Carol ` Photos by Doug Olmsted

Full cast of A Christmas Carol ` Photos by Doug Olmsted

A Party to Murder ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 23, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

L to R: Eva Seville Coll (O’Karma/Henri), James McDaniel (Rev. Merryweather/Elwood), Danielle Comer (Evelyn/McKenzie), Laura Peterson (Mrs. McKnight/Valerie), John Henderson (Konrad/Charles). Photo credit John Olmstead

L to R: Eva Seville Coll (O’Karma/Henri), James McDaniel (Rev. Merryweather/Elwood), Danielle Comer (Evelyn/McKenzie), Laura Peterson (Mrs. McKnight/Valerie), John Henderson (Konrad/Charles). Photo credit John Olmstead

Oh, how I love it when The Little Theatre does a murder mystery – especially when it’s the time of the year when things go bump in the night.  And you’ll know you’re in for a spooktacular adventure when the sign outside the theater reads, “Warning: This show contains special effects such as thunder, lightning, gun shots and explosions.”  Oh, my!  Even with this foreshadowing of a peculiar night with peculiar people, I’d advise you to hold tight to your seat and put your brain in plot-solving mode. 

R to L: Danielle Comer (Evelyn/McKenzie), John Henderson (Konrad/Charles), Eva Seville Coll (O’Karma/Henri), Damian John Legacy (Ernie/Willy).  Photo credit - Doug Olmsted

R to L: Danielle Comer (Evelyn/McKenzie), John Henderson (Konrad/Charles), Eva Seville Coll (O’Karma/Henri), Damian John Legacy (Ernie/Willy). Photo credit – Doug Olmsted

Director Jim Howard and a nifty cast take playwrights Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes’ homage to Agatha Christie and brighten up the murderous antics – yes, antics – as there is gallows humor aplenty to accompany the ghoulish plot.  Stranded on an island at Haddington House in the rustic hunting lodge of famed British author, Charles Prince (John Henderson), five well-heeled guests play a parlor game, adopting the roles of priest, housemaid, conjurer, politician and model.  But are they?  Or are they just recreating a game played by the infamous ‘Phantom Five’, a group of house guests who disappeared on the island during a murder mystery game, never to be seen or heard from again.  What kind of game is this devious host playing? 

James McDaniel (Rev. Merryweather/Elwood), Damian John Legacy (Ernie/Willy), Danielle Comer (Evelyn/McKenzie), John Henderson Konrad/Charles) Photos by Doug Olmsted

James McDaniel (Rev. Merryweather/Elwood), Damian John Legacy (Ernie/Willy), Danielle Comer (Evelyn/McKenzie), John Henderson Konrad/Charles) Photos by Doug Olmsted

When a dead body shows up, especially one each has a grudge against, it’s a rollicking good time trying to figure out which one is prevaricating and which one is posing.  Could it be corporate scions Valerie (Laura Peterson) and her sister Henri (Eva Seville Coll) whose Addison Industries has been found to be poisoning Michigan’s water supply?  Hmmm.  Timely reference.  They know they could be ruined, their father’s company reduced to pennies on the dollar if the truth came out.  Or could it be Mackenzie (Danielle Comer), the street smart model who has it in for her abusive lover, the wealthy corporate magnate, Elwood (played by James McDaniel)? Another prime suspect is the wheelchair-bound Willy (Damian John Legacy) who is worried his dark business dealings with the deceased will soon be revealed.  And then there’s our charmingly debonair host, Charles, who does a devious job of pointing the finger at everyone else.  Could he have engineered the whole thing to shift the blame away from himself? 

This nifty, tightly written, cleverly acted whodunit is filled to the rafters with twists and turns.  Highlighted by David Correia’s spooky sound design; sinister lighting by the JK Lighting Designs team of Jeffrey Scott Auerbach and Kimberly Crago; and spine-tingling special effects by Art Snow, the eerie experience is enhanced to a fare-thee-well.  A special nod to longtime alum, Carol Strachan who designed the myriad of props with Susan Driscoll.  And kudos to John Downing for one of the best sets at LTA. 

Go!  It’s Halloween!  It’s a hoot and a howl. 

Through November 12th 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

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