The Audience ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 5, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of playwright Peter Morgan’s The Audience may be the closest we’ll get to Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle and an audience with the Queen of England.  But no worries, as the Brits say.  This play will give you an insider’s peek, at least an imagined one, at Britain’s ruling monarch and the stream of prime ministers she faced down for over a half-century.

Nicky McDonnell as Queen Elizabeth II - Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Since her coronation in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II (played exquisitely by Nicky McDonnell) welcomed 12 British prime ministers to her private audience room for weekly tête-à-têtes.  There they would bring her up to speed on the affairs of state, and, just as often, their personal and professional travails.  And because England enjoys a constitutional monarchy, the Queen limits her responses to sage advice and a spot of whiskey.  She must receive the heads of both the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives and play her hand judiciously.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV.  It’s an excellent primer on diplomacy and restraint and a far cry from the monarchy’s sweeping powers from Ye Olde Medieval Ages.

(l-r) Robert Heinly as Winston Churchill and Will Cooke as Harold Wilson ~ Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Director Ruben Vellekoop has assembled a fine cast to depict the Queen’s seminal moments with some of England’s best known prime ministers – from Winston Churchill (Robert Heinly), Anthony Eden (Robert Heinly), Harold Wilson (Will Cooke), Margaret Thatcher (Janette Moman), John Major (Brian Lyons-Burke) and Tony Blair (Richard Isaacs) to Gordon Brown (Kirk Lambert) and David Cameron (Richard Isaacs) with Paul Donahoe playing the Queen’s equerry – witness to palace gossip, deliverer of both bad and glad tidings, and announcer of her august guests.  For you Anglophiles keeping track of the PMs of the period, Attlee, Douglas-Home, Edward Heath and James Callaghan are not represented.  They just didn’t make the cut.  Too dull, perhaps.

{l-r) Janette Moman as Margaret Thatcher and Kirk Lambert as Tony Blair ~ Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Queen Elizabeth would be a tough role for any actress (Dame Helen Mirren starred in The Audience in 2013 at the Gielgud Theatre in London and later in New York in 2015), but McDonnell is clearly up to the task.  She brings both intimacy and a incisively dry humor while maintaining the regal haughtiness the role demands.  When Major admits, “I never thought I’d win.” she replies coolly, “Why don’t you resign?” Touché, Queenie!

Nicky McDonnell and Evie Graham Jewett as Queen Elizabeth II and Young Elizabeth - Photographer: Kyle Reardon

You’ll feel like an insider watching Morgan’s imagined Queen justify her role as monarch of Great Britain despite mounting resistance to the monarchy and pressure from her citizenry to modernize.  Watch for Janette Moman who inhabits the feisty “Iron Lady” Thatcher as she goes toe-to-toe with the unflappable Queen, making for some delicious and snappy repartee and spot-on pacing.  Ditto for the rest of the cast including the adorable Evie Graham Jewett who plays Elizabeth as a child and nails some lengthy monologues.

Lighting effects by Ken and Patti Crowley lend drama to the stately meet-and-greets and costumes by Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword reflect the Queen’s penchant for matchy-matchy ensembles.  Another clever touch is Ken Brown’s revolving stage that allows everyone to enter and exit with graceful sangfroid.

Recommended for all Anglophiles and royals watchers.

Through March 17th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit online.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 23, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Mario Font as Vanya and Lorraine Bouchard as Masha ~ Photos by: Keith Waters

Mario Font as Vanya and Lorraine Bouchard as Masha ~ Photos by: Keith Waters

In playwright Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, characters and themes from Chekhov are resurrected in a Bucks County, PA farmhouse.  Sonia (Lorraine Bouchard) and Vanya (Mario Font), have been caretakers to their ailing actor/professor parents for fifteen years and know no other life than their childhood home – a remote farmhouse with a view to their beloved pond and cherry orchard.  The two reclusive siblings include Sonia, a melancholy spinster with slim marital prospects and Vanya, who has not worked out his future (nor his sexual identity) either.  When the last of their parents dies, the two must confront their unknowable future and reconcile the sacrifices they have made to their parents.

: Marilyn Pifer as Cassandra and Mario Font as Vanya - Photos by: Keith Waters

: Marilyn Pifer as Cassandra and Mario Font as Vanya - Photos by: Keith Waters

Their flighty housekeeper, Cassandra (Marilyn Pifer), a self-proclaimed seer fond of reciting grim snippets from Greek tragedies, warns the siblings to beware of many things – especially a character oddly named ‘Hootie Pie’ – who she predicts will upend their comfortable existence.  Despite their doubts the siblings admit that some of her forecasts have actually come to pass – others not so much.

The set-up is hilarious and factors in their successful sister, Masha (Carol Preston), a Hollywood film star and five-time married cougar who soon arrives for the weekend with her young studly beau, Spike (John Paul Odle), aka ‘Vlad’, yet another Chekhov reference.  Amid much canoodling with Spike, Masha tells them she can no longer continue to underwrite the expenses of maintaining the family home.  Throwing a wrench into the evening before it begins, she reveals she has put their house on the market and they must make arrangements to leave.  But first she insists they accompany her to a neighbor’s costume party that night at the former home of Dorothy Parker, where they will go as entourage dwarves to her Snow White and Spike’s sexy Prince.  She tells them their costumes have been arranged by her assistant, Hootie Pie.

Meanwhile, Spike meets Nina (Hannah-Lee Grothaus), a neighbor’s pretty niece, and Masha’s claws come out.  The aging actress’ fierce jealousies and cruel insults to Sonia, leave Vanya to put out the family fires.

: (Back) Carol Preston as Masha, John Paul Odle as Spike, (Front) Hannah-Lee Grothaus as Nina, Mario Font as Vanya, Lorraine Bouchard as Sonia and Marilyn Pifer as Cassandra ~ Photos by: Keith Waters

: (Back) Carol Preston as Masha, John Paul Odle as Spike, (Front) Hannah-Lee Grothaus as Nina, Mario Font as Vanya, Lorraine Bouchard as Sonia and Marilyn Pifer as Cassandra ~ Photos by: Keith Waters

References to known locations in Bucks County, a writer/theater community within commuting distance of New York City, will delight and amuse those familiar with its history and famous denizens.  I got a chuckle from a reference to the New Hope Wawa, the only spot open after 6pm for miles around. (My family frequented that very convenience store for over 50 years as their source for emergency groceries.) 

Director Howard Kurtz does his best to pull this lifeless production together, but it never congeals, despite its humorously drawn characters, hilarious one-liners and Vanya’s rousing diatribe on Spike’s addiction to modern technology. “Our lives are all disconnected,” he howls.  And though the cast individually have their moments, there is no cohesion between the actors and the sense that everyone is acting in a different play, on varying levels of intensity, undercuts its success.  Indeed, the whole does not amount to the sum of its parts.

Through November 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

Legally Blonde: The Musical ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 24, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(l-r); Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Ashley Kaplan as Delta Nu, Benita Adams as Pilar, Halle Kaufax as Serena, Rachel Cahoon as Margot, Courtney Caliendo as Delta Nu, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Heather Gifford as Brooke. Photo courtesy of LTA.

(l-r); Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Ashley Kaplan as Delta Nu, Benita Adams as Pilar, Halle Kaufax as Serena, Rachel Cahoon as Margot, Courtney Caliendo as Delta Nu, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Heather Gifford as Brooke. Photo courtesy of LTA.

The Laurence O’Keefe/Nell Benjamin frothy musical comedy of the airhead blonde with smarts who goes to Harvard and makes good, is an inspiring tale for young women who sublimate their dreams to snag a man.  Elle Woods (the effervescent Morgan Arrivillaga) is the adorably peppy sorority president who gets dumped by her rich beau, Warner Huntington III before he goes off to college.  Warner, whose old-line family have chosen a Kennedy-style future for him that doesn’t include Elle, is played convincingly by Brendan Quinn.  No stretch for the suavely handsome Quinn, who is a Harvard Law student offstage too.

Unfortunately for Malibu-bred Elle she’s not in his league, (NOCD – Not our class, dear, as the upper crust say), or so he tells her, “My future’s all planned out.  Time for me to get serious.”  Elle, believing she can win him back, tells her parents she will follow him to Harvard Law, and with a razzle-dazzle in-person dance routine assisted by her Delta Nu sorority sisters, she convinces the Approval Committee to grant the Fashion Merchandising major acceptance to the ivied halls.  “Pink is my signature color,” she perkily pronounces.

(l-r); Brendan Quinn as Warner and Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods Photo credit LTA.

(l-r); Brendan Quinn as Warner and Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods Photo credit LTA.

The 25-person cast is impressive giving us a slew of Elle’s high-energy sorority sisters (all of who look like they are out of Central Casting for cheerleaders) as well as her fellow Harvard students most of whom snub the party princess.  There’s Enid Hoops, the Brainiac activist (Karen Kelleher), Vivienne Kensington, Warner’s snooty new girlfriend (Elizabeth Gillespie) and Emmett Forrest (the silken-voiced Kaylen Morgan) the handsome African American student on scholarship who helps Elle get serious about studying rather than man-chasing.

(l-r); Row 1 Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods, Shawn Cox as Callahan, Marcelo Guzman as Ensemble; Row 2 Ryan Walker as Ensemble, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Maria Ciarriocchi as Mom Track. Photo credit LTA.

(l-r); Row 1 Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods, Shawn Cox as Callahan, Marcelo Guzman as Ensemble; Row 2 Ryan Walker as Ensemble, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Maria Ciarriocchi as Mom Track. Photo credit LTA.

The gritty Elle soon realizes that there is more to life than pom-poms and Warner’s affections and shows her supporter and love interest Emmett she’ll get down to business while planning to nab a prestigious law internship with the crusty Professor Callahan (Sean Cox).  Meanwhile she meets Paulette (played hilariously by the very talented Katherine Lipovsky), owner of the Hair Affair who commiserates with Elle over their lost loves.  Elle teaches Paulette how to get a man with the “Bend and Snap”, a bend-at-the waist-stick-out-your-fanny move that’s one of over 23 lively musical numbers.  One of the funnier moments is when Paulette falls for the UPS guy (the hunky Sean Garcia) and she puts her new-found skill to good use.

(l-r); Katherine Lipovsky as Paulette and Sean Garcia as “UPS Guy” Kyle. Photo credit LBA

(l-r); Katherine Lipovsky as Paulette and Sean Garcia as “UPS Guy” Kyle. Photo credit LTA

Director Hans Bachmann (who doubles as Elle’s Dad) has assembled a fine cast of actors/singer/dancers to pull off this stage-filled romp and Stefan Sittig delights with complex choreography, managing lively dance and cheerleading routines that often demand the entire cast to be on LTA’s challengingly-small stage at the same time.  Numerous set changes are smoothly accomplished thanks to Set Designer Dan Remmers and crew, while Orchestra Director Christopher A. Tomasino’s 14-piece band keeps the party rocking.

A fun and frothy musical comedy that aims to beat the summer heat.

Through August 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

Red, White & Tuna Channels Hee Haw ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 7, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(l to r) Stephen McDonnell as Amber Windchime and David Wright as Star Birdfeather - Photos by : Matt Liptak

(l to r) Stephen McDonnell as Amber Windchime and David Wright as Star Birdfeather - Photos by : Matt Liptak

In a series of pastiches that harken to Hee Haw days, actors David Wright and Stephen McDonnell take on ten roles apiece beginning as two aging female flower children returning for their high school reunion.  From there it’s a dizzying escapade filled with twenty crazy characters who enter and exit with lightning speed.  Along the way you’ll meet Didi Snavely of Didi’s Used Weapons Shop, “If you can’t get yourself killed in a small town in Texas, yer not really tryin’,” a pair of radio announcers, Thurston and Arles, who invite townsfolk to upcoming events like the Pest Fest and the Rattlesnake Roundup, Stanley a former juvenile delinquent now artiste, and Helen and Inita owners of Hot to Trot Catering whose country cooking nearly poisons the whole town.

Stephen McDonnell as Arles Struvie ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

Stephen McDonnell as Arles Struvie ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

And that’s just a smattering. There are enough characters in this Ed Howard, Joe Sears, Jaston Williams comedy to fill a jailhouse, or perhaps a Baptist meetinghouse.  Racism comes easy in this tiny hick town where people’s opinions are driven by “Christian values” and the shadow of the KKK is ever-present.

 David Wright as Star Birdfeather ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

David Wright as Star Birdfeather ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

Director Michael J. Baker, Jr. revives this 1998 classic like a fine tuned ’55 Chevy truck with tons of belly-laugh lines aimed squarely, and satirically, at the provincial denizens of the Texas town of Tuna – from whence the title.

Among others, McDonnell plays the cat-eye glasses wearing Vera Carp, the high priestess of Tuna society who is a dead ringer for Dana Carvey’s morally superior character the “Church Lady”.  McDonnell’s version of Vera, the fearless leader of the ever-vigilant Smut Snatchers Society who are always on the lookout for racy songs and lewd activity, is hilarious.

David Wright as R.R. Snavely ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

David Wright as R.R. Snavely ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

One of Wright’s characters is Aunt Pearl Burras, an aging chicken farmer who brings to mind a cross between Jonathan Winters’ Maude Frickert, Vicki Lawrence’s Thelma Harper (Mama) on The Carol Burnett Show and Tyler Perry’s Madea.  “I was not born in a Blue State,” she declares unapologetically.  It’s a brilliant mash-up – classic vaudevillian schtick with one-liners and country colloquialisms that flow like moonshine whisky on a hot, Southern night.

There are critters in spaceships, of course, a side-splitting scene in the Starlight Motel with a sex manual and a lot of misunderstandings, and Vera’s line to the fresh-from-prison Baptist preacher, Reverend Sturgis Spikes, calling him “a born again has-been”.

 David Wright as Leonard Childers ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

David Wright as Leonard Childers ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

Costume Designers Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword deserve praise along with their six wardrobe assistants for getting the actors in and out of their umpteen costume changes.  And kudos to Wig and Makeup Designer Howard Kurtz for the instant transformations.

Get ready to praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

Through June 24th 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 Fabulous Lipitones ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
April 24, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(L-R) kneeling in front is Gurpreet Sarin, back row, Jerry Hoffman, Peter Halverson, John Brown (walker). Photos by Howard Soroos

(L-R) kneeling in front is Gurpreet Sarin, back row, Jerry Hoffman, Peter Halverson, John Brown (walker). Photos by Howard Soroos

Chuck Leonard’s LTA directorial debut has gotten off to a rousing start thanks to a last minute casting choice of Gurpreet Sarin in the role of Baba “Bob” Mati Singh.  Sarin, a graduate and semi-finalist on American Idol, apparently turned up at the same moment final casting decisions were being made and became the clear choice to play the role of a Sikh who auditions for a barbershop quartet.  Does life imitate art, or what?

Playwright John Markus (accidentally omitted in the playbill) is an accomplished veteran of TV comedy shows, selling jokes to Bob Hope before going on to write for Gimme a Break!, Facts of Life and The Cosby Show where he was part of the comedy writing staff for six years.  With Hollywood street cred like that, you know it’s gonna be a zany show.

(L - R) Jerry Hoffman, John Brown, Peter Halverson, Gurpreet Sarin. Photos by Howard Soroos

(L - R) Jerry Hoffman, John Brown, Peter Halverson, Gurpreet Sarin. Photos by Howard Soroos

The story centers around four aging high school buddies who have been performing together in a barbershop quartet called The Fabulous Lipitones – aptly named after the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor.  When their lead tenor drops dead with a major competition looming, the remaining baritone, lead and bass have to decide whether to find a replacement or disband.  During a speakerphone conversation with a garage mechanic pal, they hear an unknown in the background and decide to audition him.  When “Bob”, a turbaned, sword-carrying (the kirpan is an article of faith) Sikh shows up to Howard’s basement these small town, a capella amateurs must face their prejudices as well as their cultural ignorance.  “Everybody is new until there’s someone newer,” Bob gently reminds Phil Rizzardi (Peter Halverson) who insists Bob’s a terrorist.  Ever the peaceful philosopher, Bob counsels the group to understand that, “Music is the opposite of anger.”

(L-R) Jerry Brown, Peter Halverson. Photos by Howard Soroos

(L-R) Jerry Brown, Peter Halverson. Photos by Howard Soroos

Auditioning before the three men, Howard (Jerry Hoffman), Wally (John Brown) and Phil, Bob, in a hilarious bit, is forced to alter his classic Indian style of vibrato singing to dovetail seamlessly into the sound of “Wait ‘Till the Sun Shines Nellie” and they’re off and running.  Eventually Bob’s influence has the gang dancing to Bollywood tapes, “You look like holy rollers getting tasered,” he teases, as they prepare for the finals competition in Reno against such groups as The Sons of Pitches and The High Colonics.

(L-R) Gurpreet Sarin, John Brown, Peter Halverson, and Jerry Hoffman. Photos by Howard Soroos

(L-R) Gurpreet Sarin, John Brown, Peter Halverson, and Jerry Hoffman. Photos by Howard Soroos

Between fourteen classic numbers sung in abridged form in the tradition of American barbershop harmony and with standards as varied as a “Yankee Doodle Dandy” medley, “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” and “Delilah” that caters to Phil’s obsession with Tom Jones, the motley quartet gets off plenty of clever one-liners.

Lots of surprises keep this sweet story humming.  See it if you’re looking for a fast-paced laughfest done to the tune of barbershop classics.

Through May 13th 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