A Directorial Triumph and Flawless Cast Reign in Mary Stuart at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

A Directorial Triumph and Flawless Cast Reign in Mary Stuart at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Mary Stuart
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
April 24, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Thomas O’Neill, Maria Ciarrocchi (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Two women, two countries, two rulers, two religions. For Mary Stuart Queen of Scots (Sarah Cusenza), it becomes a fight for her life when she is imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth I Queen of England (Maria Ciarrocchi). While in her cell Mary has only her faithful nursemaid Hanna Kennedy to confide in, Elizabeth has legions of lords acting as her councilors. That doesn’t prove to be as useful as one might imagine when we see how their self-serving machinations muddy Elizabeth’s resolve.

In 1587 England is in a precarious state since Henry VIII divorced as a Catholic (Heaven forfend!) and converted to Protestantism. Wacky six-time wedded Henry even called his daughter Elizabeth a bastard child, but she wound up with the throne so sticks and stones didn’t throw shade on her after all. As for the never-married “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth, it seems she came away with some wisdom after witnessing the knavish ways of good old dad and decided to keep single. Plagued by the divergent views of her lords, she vacillates on what to do with Mary. Will it be more favorable to her reputation if she is seen to be sympathetic to Mary? Should she let her return unharmed to Scotland or show her the scaffold? If you know your history, you’ll know how that played out.

John Paul Odle, Sarah Cusenza (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Set in the 16th century, the play draws from a Shakespearean style of drama to reflect the bloody history within castle walls. Conspiracy, double dealing, spying, jealousy and murder are all on the table in this riveting political drama by author Peter Oswald. As the conniving Lord Burleigh (John Henderson) tells Elizabeth when a plot to murder her is revealed, “You must kill or be killed.” But whom should Elizabeth trust among the flatterers and sycophants? She has already survived three assassination attempts on her life. Each woman feels trapped. Mary in prison and Elizabeth in obeisance to her countrymen, “O, appalling servitude,” she laments.

Maria Ciarrocchi (Photo/Matt Liptak)

We must remember how very young these women were when they took the throne. Elizabeth was 25 years old. At that time a woman had never reigned in England before. Mary was a mere six days old when her father James V of Scotland died, and she was the only living heir. Although she was brought up in the lap of luxury and culture in France, she returned to Scotland and ascended to the throne at a mere girl of 19. Both women so young and with extraordinary power.

Maria C, Sarah Cusenza, Sally Cusenza, Paul Donahoe (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Since the play centers around Mary, it must have a strong actress, one who will imbue her performance with deep emotion and the gravitas befitting her role as a queen. I was totally taken with the acting brilliance of Sarah Cusenza whose Scottish accent was spot on and who held the stage with tremendous aplomb.

Mary Stuart is a powerful production, and it is flawless. You could hear a pin drop in the audience so fascinating are the story and the character’s interactions. Jaw-dropping period costumes by Juliana Cofrancesco, Abbie Mulberg, Carol Pappas and Robin Worthington coexist with Matt Liptak’s Elizabethan period set design to perfectly frame the pulsating action.

The Little Theatre has surprised this reviewer with yet another excellent production and a directorial triumph by Kathleen Barth who has assembled an impressive cast to manifest her vision.

Highly recommended.

With Sally Cusenza as Hanna Kennedy; John Paul Odle as Mortimer; Kirk Lambert as Amias; John Henderson as William Cecil, Lord Burleigh; John Barclay Burns as Count Aubespine and Melvil; Richard Fiske as Count Bellievre and Kent; Paul Donahoe as George Talbot; Stuart Fischer as Dungeon Drury and William Davison; Thomas O’Neill as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Lee Swanson as Officer and Sheriff; Sam Beeson as O’Kelly and Page.

Dramaturg, Griffin Voltmann; Lighting Design by Matthew Cheney; Sound Design by Janice Rivera; Makeup and Hair Design by Robin Maline and Lanae Sterrett; Dialect Coach Hilary Adams.

Through May 13th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information visit www.TheLittleTheatre.com or call the box office at 703 683-0496.

A Frothy Comedy Delights at The Little Theatre

A Frothy Comedy Delights at The Little Theatre

Lettice and Lovage
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
February 28, 2023
Special to The Zebra 

Pat Nicklin as Lettice Douffet: Rachael Hubbard as Lottie Schoen (Photo/Matt Liptak)

In this delectable comedy we find ourselves drawn to Lettice Douffet (Patricia Nicklin), an erudite lady with a penchant for the dramatic. As docent of Fustian House, a historic manor in Wiltshire, England, her tours are peppered with bland tales of its former denizens. Noticing the distracted tourists, she begins to enhance her talks with wildly invented fables designed to titillate. The tourists are delighted and far more attentive as she performs her zany pantomimes which include stories of the occupants making dinners of hedgehogs and rabbits. Unfortunately, the poor dear runs up against some touring scholars who challenge her “facts”. That’s when we witness her uncanny ability to dodge her way out of a pickle.

Soon Lotte Schoen (Rachael Hubbard), the Director of the Preservation Trust and a stickler for facts, calls her into her office to confront her shenanigans. Lettice eloquently holds her own, defending her histrionics by explaining she comes from a theater family where, “enlarge, enliven and enlighten” is her mother’s watchword. (If prevaricating could be blamed on the theater, courtrooms would be a circus. Hmmm… I think there’s a TV show for that.) Notwithstanding her mounting a strong case for performance art, Lotte gives her the axe and Lettice goes off roundly defeated.

Tourists in the castle: Tegan Cohen, Nicole Gray, Nicole Lamberson, Colin Davies, James Blacker (Photo/Matt Liptak)

After a time, Lotte pays a visit to Lettice’s lowly Earls Court digs and offers to help by suggesting a job on a tour boat she thinks would suit her. They bond over ageism in the workplace and Lettice regales Lotte over some serious drinking. They soon become fast friends with a penchant for reenacting historic executions. Yes, you read that right.

To say that Nicklin inhabits her character with zeal would be an understatement. She had the audience well in hand by taking total command of the stage. Hubbard proved to be up to the challenge with an equally memorable performance. The whole dang thing is spot on hilarious.

Colin Davies as Mr. Bardolph; Pat Nicklin as Lettice Douffet (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Look for Tegan Cohen who shows off her comedy chops as Lotte’s secretary and Colin Davies who makes a brief but effective appearance as Mr. Bardolph, the attorney hired to defend the women against a murder charge. Did I forget to mention murder?

Director Juli Tarabek Blacker has Peter Shaffer’s super witty script to work with and makes the most of its snappy pacing and eye-rolling bon mots.

Other cast members include Nicole “Nicki” Gray, Nicole Lamberson and James Blacker.

Produced by sheri ratick stroud and Griffin Voltmann with Set Design by Julie Fischer, Lighting by JK Lighting Design, Costume Design by Joan Lawrence, Sound Design by Manuel Medina.

Light, lively and tons of fun!

Through March 18th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information visit www.TheLittleTheatre.com or call the box office at 703 683-0496.

LTA’s quirky comedy ‘Ripcord’ provides a necessary respite

Janice Zucker, Matt Baughman, Kathy Ohlhaber and Marsha Rehns perform “Ripcord” at LTA June 11.

Janice Zucker, Matt Baughman, Kathy Ohlhaber and Marsha Rehns perform “Ripcord” at LTA June 11.

By: Jordan Wright

Special to the Alexandria Times

Originally published June 25, 2021

It’s nearly impossible to calculate the thrill of a live audience when you’ve been deprived of the joy of a shared experience by this interminable pandemic. Hearing live applause, chuckles and guffaws from your fellow theater-goers is a balm for the spirit. So, it’s not surprising that actors received hearty cheers after every scene change during the June 11 Little Theatre of Alexandria performance of “Ripcord.”

For Alexandria’s beloved LTA, the COVID-19 pandemic has been both a challenge and an opportunity, especially when many of us are Zoom-weary. I am pleased to report that the powers that be have come up with a clever solution, as I arrived to find my closest seat mates, a good 10 feet away on all sides, were cats. Cut-out color cardboard heads of cute cats graced the nearest seats.

Attendance has been kept to a minimum as theaters have tried mightily to mount productions in a safe environment. An announcement before the first act gently reminded the audience to keep their masks on – then we were off and running.

Director Jessie Roberts kept the mood light and breezy with a quirky comedy written by one of her favorite, though less well-known playwrights, David Lindsay-Abaire, who gifts us with well fleshed-out characters enveloped in wry humor. Abby (Janice Zucker) and Marilyn (Marsha Rehns), two social opposites, have been thrown together as roommates in a retirement home.

Abby is the snarky one: “I never get scared,” she insists – think Maude from the “Golden Girls.” Whereas Marilyn – think Betty White’s character Rose – is full of goodwill and joie de vivre.

Together they contrive a bet to take ownership of the bed nearest the window. Abby wins if she can get Marilyn angry and Marilyn wins if she can scare Abby. Highjinks ensue when the home’s attendant Scotty (Cameron McBride) tries to intervene and Marilyn’s son-in-law, Derek (Matt Baughman), and daughter, Colleen (Kathy Ohlhaber), get in on the action.

It was hard to choose my favorite scenes among ones that featured a zombie, a rabbit-headed thief, an evil clown and an assortment of other kooky characters who provide comic relief to all the underhanded plots the two women concoct in order to win the prized bed. But I’d have to say, though you can expect a happy ending to the delightful mayhem, it was the oft-fraught interaction between Abby and Marilyn that formed the crux of the play.

Rehns and Zucker are well-cast and do a splendid job of convincing us they are arch-enemies. Expect pathos and humor in their clever contrivances to secure the desired bed. And yes! There is a sky-diving episode (thus the play’s title) cleverly achieved through video projections. McBride, as the referee between the warring factions, is the thespian glue that allows the two to shine.

Adam Ressa performs as Abby’s son. “Ripcord” is produced by Lynn O’Connell and Alan Wray; sets by Jim Hutzler; costumes by Kit Sibley and Jean Schlicting; and sound design and very clever projection design by Jon Roberts.

Jordan Wright writes about food, spirits, travel, theatre and culture. Visit her website at www.WhiskandQuill.com or email her at Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com.

The Haunting of Hill House ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 21, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

A highly regarded American mystery writer firmly ensconced in lofty literary circles, author Shirley Jackson had a way with things that go bump in the night.  Through her horror novels, The Haunting of Hill House and later, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, both of which predated both Stephen King and Anne Rice, she became an icon in the field of horror writing.  Joyce Carol Oates who edited an anthology of Jackson’s work wrote, “Characterized by the caprice and fatalism of fairy tales, the fiction of Shirley Jackson exerts a mordant, hypnotic spell.”

Danielle Taylor (Mrs. Dudley) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

As a result of her influence on the genre the Shirley Jackson Award, created posthumously, is given for Outstanding Achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic.  Somewhat recently there has been a real revival of Jackson’s novels.  Netflix’s first season series of The Haunting of Hill House debuted in 2018 and will follow up with a second season in 2020.

James Murphy (Luke) Bruce Alan Rauscher (Dr. Montague)  ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

To get us into the Halloween frame of mind and encourage a visit from the spirits of the dead, Director Maggie Mumford takes us into the confines of Hill House – a dreary castle where a young poltergeist; a professor, his wife and her lover; a society gamin; the handsome heir to the mansion; and a ghoulish housekeeper have gathered to research paranormal activity.  Well, not the housekeeper, she’s just a cringe-worthy overseer.

Bruce Alan Rauscher (Dr. Montague) James Murphy (Luke) Kirk Lambert (Arthur) Patricia Nicklin (Mrs. Montague) Shannon Labadie seated (Eleanor) Kathy Ohlhaber (Theodora) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Set in a Victorian era parlor beneath a portrait of the late owner, the characters slowly reveal themselves, and their motives.  Luke Sanderson’s aunt is the current owner of Hill House. He’s a dashing young man and frequent tippler whose intentions are to support Dr. Montague, the lead investigator.  Eleanor is the pretty, and peculiar, young woman whose mother recently passed away, and Theodora, an outspoken young woman full of frolic, who befriends the brooding girl forming a sisterly bond to protect her against the spirits who haunt the house after sundown.  Under a pall of family scandal, madness, suicide, murder and lawsuits, the motley crew attempts to document supernatural phenomena within its evil walls.  As Dr. Montague tells the assembled invitees, “Some houses are just born bad.”

Kirk Lambert (Arthur) Patricia Nicklin (Mrs. Montague) Shannon Labadie (Eleanor) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

But it isn’t until Mrs. Montague arrives with her crusty lover, and a planchette as spirit guide, that the house revs up its hauntings with ominous creaks, ferocious knocking, howling winds and troubled spirits crying out from the grave.  Credit Sound Designer, Janice Rivera, Lighting Design by JK Lighting Design, and period costumes by Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley for a spooky experience that goes far beyond the horribly stilted, and entirely re-imagined drama, that has recklessly been co-opted from Jackson’s original novel.  I don’t have the heart to fault the actors, they are trying to breathe life, or death as it is, into the whole exasperating script.

James Murphy (Luke) Kathy Ohlhaber (Theodora) Shannon Labadie (Eleanor) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

With Shannon Labadie as Eleanor, Kathy Ohlhaber as Theodora, Bruce Alan Rauscher as Dr. Montague, James Murphy as Luke Sanderson, Patricia Nicklin as Mrs. Montague, Kirk Lambert as Arthur Parker, and Danielle Taylor as Mrs. Dudley.

Through November 9th 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 Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Synetic Theater ~ MetroStage ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria ~ ICE! at National Harbor ~ Christmas at Mount Vernon ~ Signature Theatre ~ Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia 

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Hansel and Gretel at Synetic Theater During the bustle of holiday crowds, Gretel tries to keep her brother, Hansel, out of trouble while their babysitter leaves Gretel to fend for them both. As Hansel embarks on his own wonder-filled exploration of his everyday surroundings, he and his sister fall into a magical realm that takes them far away from home. In this wordless production, the well-beloved Grimm fairy tale embraces the fantastical through the eyes of those who see the world through a different lens.  Directed and choreographed by Elena Velasco and Tori Bertocci.  Through December 23rd at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets visit www.synetictheater.org.

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

The Old Bull & Bush at MetroStageOriginally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage writer, director, and actor Catherine Flye will be transferring her 9-person troupe to a circa 1912 replica of the famed Hampstead, England pub to jolly up your holidays with food, 35 songs, jokes, dance, a sing-along and an abbreviated reenactment of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment runs through December 24th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – In a fresh interpretation by director Eleanor Tapscott, enjoy a return of the Christmas classic by Charles Dickens. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with diaphanous ghostly guides (beautifully choreographed by Ukranian Victoria Blum) through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays.  Complete with special effects, Victorian carols and Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street.  For tickets call 703.683.0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer atICE!” at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center – A 9-degree winter wonderland carved from over two million pounds of ice, a Christmas Village, merry-go-round, Glacier Glide ice skating rink, “JOY” – an eye-popping, Broadway-style holiday musical show, nightly snowfalls and dancing fountains at this first-class holiday destination.  Additional events are a Mistletoe Mixology class, Build-A Bear Workshop, photos with Santa, Cookies with Mrs. Claus and so much more. Through January 1st at 201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745.  For tickets and event times visit www.GaylordNationaltickets.com.

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Christmas at Mount Vernon Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling.  Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more.  For tickets and event times visit www.MountVernon.org.

Holiday Follies at Signature Theatre – Starring jazz singer Ines Nassara, David Rowen (Signature’s Diner) and Katie Mariko Murray (Signature’s West Side Story) singing classic holiday songs.  Through December 16th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets visit www.SigTheatre.org.

The Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia in collaboration with the Office of the Arts presents a “Friday Evening Chamber Concert Series”.  The next concert “A Brass Christmas” is scheduled for Friday, December 15th at the Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron St.  For online tickets visit http://bit.ly/2vSKXRd.  Tickets are also available at the door.

Driving Miss Daisy ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
September 12, 2017
Special to The Alexandria T
imes

Boolie (Joel Durgavich), Daisy (Patricia Kratzer) and Hoke ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Boolie (Joel Durgavich), Daisy (Patricia Kratzer) and Hoke (Kevin Sockwell) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

A talented, tightly knit cast of three deliver on Alfred Uhry’s heartwarming tale of Daisy Werthan, a well-heeled elderly Southern lady, Boolie Werthan, her successful son, and Hoke Colburn, her dutiful chauffeur.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, made into a film with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, gave Tandy and the picture Academy Awards in 1989 and has been beloved by audiences ever since.

Daisy (Patricia Kratzer) and Hoke ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Daisy (Patricia Kratzer) and Hoke (Kevin Sockwell) ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Daisy (Patricia Kratzer) is the paragon of Southern respectability in the Jim Crow South.  Adhering to all its social restraints and mindful of her position as an upstanding member of her Jewish temple, she has both a girlish vulnerability and, alternatively, a stern demeanor from her days as a schoolteacher that could set your hair on fire.  Daisy hails from the bygone era of Southern ladies who ruled their households with an iron fist in a velvet glove and kept guard dog-like vigilance in fear their servants would steal behind their backs.  It is the true story of Uhry’s grandmother and the chauffeur she employed for over 25 years.

Set in Atlanta, Georgia in 1948 when ladies of means had drivers and fancy cars to shuttle them from their hairdressers to their places of worship – including the Piggly Wiggly, the legendary supermarket of the South – it opens to a scene with her concerned son Boolie (Joel Durgavich) after she has crashed her Packard due to her failing eyesight.  (Written in the late 80’s, Daisy at 72 is over the hill.  Hmm.)  Boolie, standing firm against her protestations, has decided her driving days are kaput and Hoke (Kevin Sockwell) is hired on as her chauffeur.

Daisy (Patricia Kratzer) and Hoke (Kevin Sockwell) ~Photographer: Matt Liptak

Daisy (Patricia Kratzer) and Hoke (Kevin Sockwell) ~Photographer: Matt Liptak

Director Jim Howard takes us seamlessly through a series of some twenty-eight tricky scene changes with the help of Lighting Designer Marzanne Claiborne who focuses attention on the evolving vignettes from 1948, a time when Jews and Blacks were second class citizens in the South, to 1973 Mobile, Alabama where, decades after they have formed an indestructible bond, Daisy invites Hoke to a dinner for Martin Luther King, Jr.  Setting the tone, vintage photos of the period and Daisy’s fading furniture are featured along with a “car” of sorts where the two converse on life’s puzzlements and injustices.  Shades of the Ku Klux Klan and their fiery reign of terror hover menacingly over both Daisy and Hoke’s life.   When Hoke relates a gruesome tale of lynching, Daisy is faced with the harsh reality that her life shares the same pain and uncertainty as Hoke’s.

But it is the humor and wisdom they impart that strengthens the bonds of their unusual friendship as well as the tender mercies they offer one another that make this tale so heartwarming while affording us a glimpse into the uneasy relationship between mistress and servant, Black and Jew, with charm, humor and poignancy.  Nuanced performances by Kratzer and Sockwell are indelible.

Recommended for its relevance to today’s struggles against the re-emerging political climate of hate and prejudice. Lest we forget.

Through October 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