Dracula ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 16, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

 “We are all of us invented – cobbled together from cartilage and dust.”  Thus, speaketh Renfield, who finds himself chained to the wall in Dr. John Seward’s lunatic asylum.  Seward struggles to explain the young man’s sudden madness and thirst for blood.  “I will solve the mystery of your mind,” he claims forebodingly.

Heather Benjamin as Mina Murray and Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Tis the season of the witch and the spellbinding legend of Count Dracula of Transylvania… the time for telling ghostly tales and spreading terror in the hearts of our dear citizenry.  To that end, Director Jennifer Lyman gives us a horror story with a soupçon of laughter… all the better to cheer you up and frighten you half to death.

Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra and Chris Andersen as Dracula ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Two young women, Mina Murray, betrothed to Jonathan Harker, and her childhood friend, Lucy Westenra, live together in Lucy’s London home.  Lucy has three suitors, in particular Seward, who is eager to wed her.  But it is the unknown man who visits after all are tucked in their beds that has the most sway over Lucy’s sleepless nights and terrifying dreams.

Chris Andersen as Dracula ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Soon Harker, who has been brokering a deal with the Count to purchase an estate in London, and Seward join forces to solve the mystery.  Professor Abraham Van Helsing, a man with serious street cred for driving out vampires, comes to their aid and the three sail to Transylvania and the castle of the Count hoping to drive a stake through his heart before the Count, aka ‘Nosferatu’, arrives in London to terrorize the city.  As a vampire of note, this Dracula is no ordinary neck-obsessed villain.  In his quest for victims, he is fearsome yet funny with a thick Romanian accent that delivers plenty of hilarious double entendres.

Jeff Elmore as Renfield ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

This creepy pot-boiler is jam-packed with thrills and chills and plenty of vampire paraphernalia to lift your 'spirits' – stakes, crypts, mirrors, strings of garlic, harpies, bats, crosses, clanking chains and more.  Most impressive are the production values – the aforementioned props, atmospheric lighting and billowing fog (Gratefully hyper-allergenic!), eerie music, ghoulish makeup and sinister sound effects.  Even the clever set design of a two-story castle with multiple entrances and exits commands high marks. 

Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker, Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra, Griffin Voltmann as Dr. John Seward, and Kirk Lambert as Abraham Van Helsing ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

With Jeff Elmore as Renfield, Heather Benjamin as Mina Murray, Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra, Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker, Griffin Voltmann as Dr. John Seward, Chris Anderson as Dracula, Kirk Lambert as Abraham Van Helsing.

Director Jennifer Lyman, Assistant Director and Fight Choreographer Michael Page, Set Designer Matt Liptak, Properties Designer Michelle Hall, Lighting Designer JK Lighting Design, Sound Design Janice Rivera, Special Effects by Art Snow, with period Wardrobe Design by Shannon Robichaud.

Kudos to Gothic novelist Bram Stoker’s Victorian vampire and LTA’s cast and crew.  You’ve given us a monster of a ghoulish show this Halloween.

Through November 3rd 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.

August: Osage County ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
September 9, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

In the time-tested tradition of portraying dysfunctional families as a device, playwright Tracy Letts gifts us with a slyly engrossing gem about the Weston family – their children and their spouses.  Set in a country home in Osage County, Oklahoma, Violet Weston holds her extended family emotionally hostage… and it’s riveting.  I mean, who doesn’t want to witness another family’s meltdowns?  It’s the stuff Shakespeare (and soap operas!) are made of.  Schadenfreude – the perfect prescription for diminishing our own problems.

Katarina Frustaci as Johnna Monevata, Fred C. Lash as Beverly Weston
Photographer: Matt Liptak

Beverly Weston is a man of letters – published, pedantic and alcoholic – the poet patriarch of his large family.  When he goes missing and family members arrive to help in the search, Violet is free to wreak havoc.  Armed with a battery of opioids and anti-depressants, this pill-popping drama queen gleefully bullies and guilts her three daughters into disinheriting themselves.  Divorce is a popular theme too.  Within a mere three acts Letts throws every accusation and guilt trip on one and all.  Expect a delectable bouillabaisse of toxicity in every caustic remark.

Gratefully, a superb cast subsumes our angst at their hair-raising conflicts delivering some of the funniest lines ever.  I wanted desperately to memorize a few of these snarky barbs.  You will too.  They might come in handy at your next family gathering.  In one particularly funny/crazy/menacing scene at the supper table, as all the members are gathered around bemoaning Beverly’s fate, Violet toys with her knife, twisting it gleefully while alternately threatening and accusing each one in turn.  Think Nurse Ratched, Virginia Wolfe and Miss Hannigan rolled into one tyrannical villainess.  Fun, right?

Frustaci as Johnna Monevata, Eric Kennedy as Steve Heidebrecht, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston, Gayle Nichols-Grimes as Mattie Fae Aiken, Michael Fisher as Bill Fordham, Diane Sams as Violet Weston, Tom Flatt as Charlie Aiken, Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Camille Neumann as Jean Fordham ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Balancing out the madness is Johnna Monevata (Katarina Frustaci), a soft-spoken Cheyenne girl, Beverly hired as housekeeper before he disappeared, and who proves to be the heroine of the whole psychologically damaged lot.

Director Susan Devine is skillful at extracting a wide range of conflicting emotions from her cast as their respective characters veer wildly out of control from love to hate to sympathy. 

Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Nicky McDonnell as Barbara Fordham, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Notable performances from Diane Sams as Violet, Gayle Nichols-Grimes as her bossy sister-in-law Mattie Fae Aiken, Tom Flatt as Charlie Aiken, Mattie’s browbeaten husband, and Nicky McDonnell as Barbara Fordham, one of Violet’s three daughters and a central character in the conflicts.

With Fred C. Lash as Beverly Weston, Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Michael Fisher as Bill Fordham, Camille Neumann as Jean Fordham, Paul Donahoe as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston, Eric Kennedy as Steve Heidebrecht and Greg Wilczynski as Little Charlie Aiken.

Set Design by Dan Remmers, Lighting Design by Franklin Coleman, Sound Design by Alan Wray and Costume Design by Beverley Benda.

Highly recommended – especially for those with perfectly behaved families.

Through September 23rd 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

Jesus Christ Superstar ~ At The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 24, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

When composers Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber brought their controversial musical sing-through to the Broadway stage in 1971, four-and-a-half decades ago, it wasn’t heralded by critics.  In fact, the mixed reviews didn’t bode well for the young men who at the time had only one successful musical to their credit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  But after thousands of national and international productions, a film and a recent NBC TV staging starring John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Brandon Victor Dixon and Alice Cooper, this musical hasn’t missed a beat or an audience.

Rishabh Bajekal (Jesus of Nazareth) and Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene) in Jesus Christ Superstar, now playing at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Photo by Matt Liptak.

You know the story.  A gentle, charismatic carpenter from Nazareth with a devoted following is betrayed, abandoned, tormented and ultimately crucified by King Herod’s army.  His only faithful supporter remaining is a former prostitute, Mary Magdalene, played by Thea Simpson.  Director Jim Howard interprets the setting as INRI Inc., a subsidiary of Genesis, Ltd., a corporate headquarters where cell phones, laptops and iPads are the preferred mode of communication for text updates on Jesus’s status, and where millennials celebrate with fist bumps and high fives.

Carlos Antonio Ramirez (Judas) - Photo by Matt Liptak

Notwithstanding some mic glitches in Act One on opening night (“blessedly” corrected by Act Two), we could easily hear the powerful and chilling voice of Rishabh Bajekal as Jesus of Nazareth. Bajekal, had at first been cast as Judas when Howard asked him if he would like to play Jesus.  That left Howard to find his Judas, which he did when he discovered Carlos Antonio Ramirez, a local radio traffic reporter and sometime local band member who has an emotional, raspy, rock-and-roll voice that reaches far beyond the theater’s front door.  His star turn commences in the second number with “Heaven on Their Minds”, and from that moment on every time he solos, he rattles the theater’s foundations.  Sweet Jesus, this boy can rock out!

Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene), Cody Boehm (Simon Zealotes), Theo Touitou (Ensemble), Rishabh Bajekal (Jesus of Nazareth), Tyrone Brown Jr. (Ensemble), Michael Gale (Peter), Hilary Adams (Ensemble), Tracey Lucas (Ensemble) - Photo by Matt Liptak

Another pitch perfect belter is Cody Boehm who plays Simon Zealotes.  In the eponymous song from the middle of Act One, she sets a thunder-and-lightning tone that only Bajekal and Ramirez, and the fathoms-deep bass voice of Ryaan Farhadi as the evil Caiaphas can meet.  And Andy Izquierdo, coming off his success as Elwood P. Dowd in LTA’s recent production of Harvey, stuns in his role as the campy/snarky King Herod with a hilarious second act surprise in the number, “King Herod’s Song”.

Cody Boehm (Simon Zealotes) in the center with the ensemble in Jesus Christ Superstar, now performing at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Photo by Matt Liptak.

The excellent 24-member cast is choreographed by Michael Page, veteran of five previous productions at LTA of which this one has the most dance numbers.  How, you may ask, can so many performers dance and sing on a relatively small community theater stage?  Very well!  Music Director Christopher A. Tomasino, a six-time WATCH Award winner, all for six LTA musicals, conducts this jammin' 21-piece band (including ten horns!).  Kudos to guitar soloists Ben Young and Danny Santiago who are outstanding.

Highly recommended, even if you’ve seen it a dozen times or more.

Additional cast members – Michael Gale as Peter, Amy Lapthorne as Annas, Emmy Kampe as Priest, Hans Dettmar as Pontius Pilate and a fifteen-member ensemble.  Lighting by Ken and Patti Crowley, Assistant Choreographer Liz Colandene and Set Design by Matt Liptak.

Through August 11th 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 Nance ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 4, 2018 

Bravo to The Little Theatre of Alexandria for their bold choice of The Nance.

Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles - Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Opening just in time for Pride Month, this little gem tells the story of a performer who plays a gay performer, who is actually gay.  Just to explain, in 1930’s New York with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and the League of Decency in control, this was cause for prosecution.  These were fraught times for gays both in public and in the theatre where frequent police raids terrorized performers and foreshadowed the demise of burlesque.  If you think that sounds far-fetched, Alexandria had a Blue Law, still on the books in the 1980’s, that forbade homosexuals from being waiters.  Former Mayor Jim Moran struck it from the books when a resident threatened to sue a King Street restaurant that had pencil drawings of nude males on the wall.

Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles - Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

The Nance, the three-time Tony Award-winning play, taped by PBS for its “Live From Lincoln Center” series, is enjoying its first DC-area production.  It stars Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles, an endearingly elegant elderly “nance” whose mincing ways in comic musical parodies with stage sidekick and straight man, Efram (Jack B. Stein) are packing them in at the Irving Theatre in Greenwich Village.

As is his nightly habit, Chauncey is cruising the talent at Horn & Hardart’s, a gay pickup spot where he meets the handsome Ned (John Paul Odle).  Young Ned has been on the streets since he left his wife for the gay life.  Chauncey, thinking him “trade”, invites him home for a quickie.  But complications arise when Ned falls in love with his footloose benefactor.

(l-r) Sylvie (Charlene Sloan), Joan (Danielle Comer) and Carmen (Janice Rivera) ~ Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

On the marquee with Chauncey are strippers Sylvie (Charlene Sloan), Joan (Danielle Comer) and Carmen (Janice Rivera) whose risqué bumps and grinds are also being targeted by the Mayor and his morality police.  The girls know there are spies in the audience and warn Chauncey to tone down the “pansy” stuff so they can keep their jobs.  “Don’t camp it up!”  they plead.  But Chauncey’s not alarmed.  He calls himself a Conservative, hates Roosevelt, thinks all liberals are Commies and that LaGuardia is just on a temporary tear awaiting his re-election – until the night the theater gets raided and Chauncey winds up beaten, bloodied and in jail.

Frank D. Shutts II has assembled a terrifically capable cast, though I was particularly captivated by Dluhy’s strong performance on a par with that of original cast member Nathan Lane – shtick for shtick – replete with eyerolls, double takes and pratfalls.  No small feat!  A five-piece band provides bada-bing-bada-booms for the strippers who are sometimes center stage but can also be seen spotlighted while stripping off to the side, thanks to the clever three-sided revolving set design by Dan Remmers.  And a serious hat tip to Ken and Patti Crowley’s lighting that conceives the show-within-a-show as beyond the confines of the stage, as well as the property design by Kirstin Apker for the hilarious personality switcheroo machine and so much more.

With Sarah Gale and Sarah Holt as Rose, the Wardrobe Mistress.  Music Direction by Christopher A. Tomasino, choreography by Stefan Sittig and conducting by Matthew Popkin.

Kudos to LTA!

Through June 23rd 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

Harvey ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
April 23, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

I find it surprising when a local tells me they’ve never attended a performance at our city’s 84-year old, multi-award-winning The Little Theatre of Alexandria.  Built in the 1960’s on the schoolyard grounds of the historic Alexandria Academy, the two-story brick building boasts a walled garden abloom with plants and flowers from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  Surrounding the garden is a stunning wrought iron fence and gate circa 1873 from the White House.  Until they had their own theater, the actors performed in Gadsby’s Tavern and other locations around Old Town, where they have produced over 360 plays and shows.  If you’re looking to impress friends or out-of-town guests who have never experienced its delights, see this clever production under Frank Pasqualino’s astute direction with a wonderfully quirky cast who breathe fresh life into a comedy better known as a cinematic vehicle for veteran Hollywood actor, Jimmy Stewart.

Andy Izquierdo (Elwood P. Dowd) ~ Photos are by Matt Liptak.

Harvey is a story of an eccentric man, Elwood P. Dowd (Andy Izquierdo), who imagines a 6-foot white rabbit, Harvey, as his best friend.  Harvey is what is known in Celtic mythology as a “pooka”, a mystical and mischievous spirit in animal form.  American playwright Mary Chase, who won a Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Harvey, was touched by a stranger’s post-war sadness and wove the image from her Irish heritage into this tale of an American family.

Meet Ovid-spouting Elwood – a tippler who lives with his socially correct sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Rachael Hubbard) and her daughter, the pretty, yet unmarried niece, Myrtle Mae Simmons (Catherine Gilbert).  Due to Elwood’s frequent forays to local bars with his fantastical imaginary friend, the family becomes the targets of gossip in their small Western town.  This grinds on the ladies’ last nerve and they conspire to commit him to the local sanitorium, Chumley’s Rest.  Only then can they take ownership of Elwood’s house and, with the scandal tamped down, Myrtle Mae can at last find a suitable spouse.  At least that’s their plan.

Catherine Gilbert (Myrtle Mae Simmons) and Rachael Hubbard (Veta Louise Simmons) ~ Photos are by Matt Liptak

But as well-laid plans often do, this one goes south when, due to the ineptitude of the sanitorium’s chief psychiatrist, Dr. Chumley (Chuck Leonard) and his awkward and equally inept associate, Dr. Sanderson (Richard Isaacs), Veta becomes the one committed in a case of the mistaken psychopath.

The audience can ponder the question.  Who is “sane” and who is “insane” and who is to say?  In this instance the doctors prove to be nuttier than the patient.  What’s key here is Elwood’s happiness and harmlessness vis a vis a society that regards him as a screwball.

Richard Isaacs (Lyman Sanderson, M.D.), Andy Izquierdo (Elwood P. Dowd), and Lindsey Doane (Ruth Kelly, R.N.) ~ Photos are by Matt Liptak

Izquierdo’s Elwood is a wonderful blend of the gestures of straight man Jack Benny and the unruffled dulcet-tones of Mr. Rogers.  Other stellar cast members in this three-act comedy include Lindsay Doane as the lovesick Ruth Kelly, RN, Dr. Sanderson’s nurse and love interest; Patricia Spencer Smith as Mrs. Betty Chumley, the sweetly ditzy doctor’s wife; Tony Gilbert as Judge Omar Gaffney, the family’s attorney; Brendan Quinn as Duane Wilson, the doctors’ thuggish attendant; Mary Jo Morgan as Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet, the disapproving society lady; and David Featherston as E. J. Lofgren, a local cabbie.

With set design by Matt Liptak, lighting design by Ken and Patti Crowley, costumes by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley, and sound design by Alan Wray.

Tons of laughs throughout all three acts from this terrific cast.

Through May 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