· Freud Brings Hysteria to Utah...
· Stop Kiss Comes Home to Minneapolis...
· Goodspeed Red Hot with Cole...
The Salt Lake Acting Company pulled off a coup by obtaining production rights to Terry Johnson's Hysteria (Nov. 15-Dec. 17). Literary manager David Mong says they simply wore Johnson down with the doggedness of their pursuit.
Hysteria may be an astute look at Freud's diagnosis and treatment of so-called hysterics, but this British farce plays like a Noises Off for psychology buffs. And with Salvador Dali as a character, Hysteria takes on a surreal quality as well.
Directed by Meg Gibson, this play, set in 1939 London, is well cast, with Gene Pack as a thoroughly believable Freud (quite a feat, since Pack is well-known locally as the classical music host on National Public Radio's KUER). Joe Pitti is a weird and wonderful Dali. Tony Larimer plays Abraham Yahuda, Freud's domineering doctor. And Kristin Kahle is appropriately over the top as Jessica, the hysterical waif from out of the storm who challenges Freud's theory and practice. Or is she simply a dream—Freud's worst Salvador Dali nightmare?
In comparison to the 1993 Royal Court premiere of this surreal romp into the unconscious, this production's only drawbacks are technical limitations: the clock does not melt as well; the door does not turn to rubber; and the lighting is not as bizarre. But overall, Johnson should be proud of SLAC's rendering.
Salt Lake's Pioneer Theatre Company is advertising Joyful Noise (Nov. 29-Dec. 16) as the play's professional premiere. Although PTC's may be the first full Equity production, Utah playwright Tim Slover's story of the writing and performing of George Frederic Handel's "Messiah" has been produced several times. Notably, Joyful Noise premiered at the Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado CA, Oct. 1999, and opened off-Broadway at Lamb's Theatre Feb. 10, 2000. And Joyful Noise opened Nov. 30 of this year in Atlanta, with productions planned in 2001 in Seattle and New Hampshire.
PTC director Charles Morey's rather staid production of this witty play is nonetheless beautifully costumed (Carol Wells-Day) and lighted (Peter L. Willardson). George Maxwell's design is stunning, with tapestry-like screens moving fluidly to set the many scenes.
Charles Antalosky as Handel, Max Robinson as King George II, and Barbara McCulloh and Gloria Biegler as the feuding sopranos all give credible performances. But Libby George as Mary Pendarves lifts the entire production with her comedic style. Joyful Noise kicks off the holiday season well.
Any questions as to whether Dame Edna would retain her appeal beyond Broadway were dispelled when Barry Humphries and his unique creation began Dame Edna: The Royal Tour at the Historic State Theatre in Minneapolis. With more than two hours of "kindly" audience baiting, phone calls to babysitters, dinner served on stage, and a handful of musical numbers (the best one making us "Friends of Kenny," the Dame's outrageous son), well-larded with carefully researched local references, the Dame left no doubt that her national tour will be a triumphal march.
Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, at The Guthrie Lab, has become a regional theatre favorite, and is slated for New York production. Its tale of the deceased A.E. Houseman remembering his unrequited passion for fellow Oxford student Moses Jackson could be told in half an hour. But it is padded with intellectual ramblings and demonstrations of classical learning to almost three windy hours—intelligently, wittily crafted, but much of it theatrically inert. Joe Dowling's direction tends to encourage posturing, particularly by Adam Greer as Moses. However, Richard S. Iglewski has a vivid turn as Oscar Wilde, and Erik Steele and David William bring a graceful simplicity to the young and old Houseman, respectively.
Another work that deals with a budding same-sex relationship, but to more humanistic effect, is Diana Son's Stop Kiss, developed in 1998 at the Minneapolis Playwrights Center, but only now receiving its local premiere by Eye of the Storm Theatre at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage. Son plays with her time frame, as does Stoppard, detailing the relationship of Callie and Sara from the time they meet until their first kiss, in parallel with the aftermath of the beating that one of them endures from a witness to that first embrace. The result is a warm, surprisingly funny portrait of two people discovering their love for each other, engagingly directed by Casey Stangl, and strongly performed by Jennifer Blagen and Larissa Paige Kokernot.
William Finn's musical about his brain tumor, A New Brain, as presented by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at the Bryant Lake Bowl, overcomes inadequate performances in a few key roles to engage powerfully on emotional and musical planes. Kevin Hansen is authoritative in the central role, and receives sonorous support from Kathleen Hardy and Eric Johnson, as well as from Katie Hoody at the piano. Finn's lyric writing is finally catching up to his musical skills.
Narration, that undramatic dramatic device, fuels several Connecticut offerings. At Stamford Theatre Works, Warren Leight's Side Man (closed Nov. 19) was given a less than sterling production, but Brendan O'Malley as Clifford Glimmer was appealing.
At Bridgeport's Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Kristen Howe as the Narrator sets a high musical standard in a flashy Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (through Feb. 18). Also standout are Joe Paparella as Joseph and Todd Dubail as the Pharaoh.
Waterbury's Seven Angels Theatre production of Joe DiPietro's Over the River and Through the Woods (through Dec. 10) features a highly praised performance by Jason Nuzzo as Nick. The production moves to Bridgeport's Polka Dot Playhouse, cast intact (Jan. 18-Feb. 25).
While not strictly a narrator, Michael O'Keefe has an extended solo routine at the end of George F. Walker's Heaven at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven (through Dec. 16). The work regurgitates the author's ideas on racial, religious, and social hypocrisies in the guise of a morality play. The themes are admirable, but the dramaturgy is turgid.
Set in a decayed park surrounded by abandoned, windowless buildings and hovered over by an ominous sky, the play comes down hard on people who expect everything to be all right in the next world, but do precious little to attain heaven on earth. "I hate what people do to one another," says O'Keefe's character, after two shootings, one strangling, one knifing, and assorted beatings.
Things are just as tough at Golden Boy, the 1964 Charles Strouse-Lee Adams tuner getting a headache-inducing revival at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre (through Dec. 17). Directed and newly adapted by Keith Glover, only in its quieter moments does it comes close to scoring a knockout, with kudos to performers Michael Rupert and Frank Mastrone.
Happier notes waft through the East Haddam's Goodpseed Opera House production of Cole Porter's 1936 Red, Hot and Blue (through Dec. 31). Under adaptor Michael Leeds' whiplash direction, Peter Reardon (someone please write him a show), Robin Baxter, Billy Hartung, and Brian Barry find just the right balance between parody and sincerity. And, oh, those songs!
David A. Rosenberg
St. Louis/Kansas City
Theatre building, while not a completely lost art, has been missing in St. Louis for more than 40 years. In the interim, a handful of other edifices were remodeled to more-or-less do the job. Maybe things are changing. There now are plans—or discussions thereof—for a new theatre to house Stages St. Louis in the suburb of Kirkwood, and for a major remodeling operation for the recently closed movie house, the Shady Oak, in Clayton, another suburb.
Stages St. Louis, based in Kirkwood, plays from June into October and features musicals. Working in a 380-seat space, Stages drew 45,000 fans to 123 performances, a giant leap from the 3,000 people for 24 performances in its initial season of 1987. The Robert Reim Auditorium, owned by the community, is unavailable for more performances. Jack Lane, executive producer of Stages, is working toward a new building with an 800-seat theatre and a 250-seat black box, with space for offices, restaurants, shops, and the like sharing the proposed 16-acre site. The Kirkwood City Council is studying the proposal, and fund-raising has begun for the $15 million project. Spring of 2004 is the hoped-for opening.
The Shady Oak, opened in 1933, was closed by Wehrenberg Theatres, Inc., in early fall, but some Clayton arts fanciers have organized to try to keep it open as a theatre. Benjamin Uchitelle, former mayor of Clayton, is spearheading the move, and reports that remodeling would cost about $840,000.
Yasmina Reza is busy across Missouri these days. The Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City just closed Art, with attendance in the 90 % range, and the show is at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis from Dec. 1-29. Artistic Director Steven Woolf directs, as did his counterpart, Cynthia Levin, in Kansas City. Paul DeBoy, in the recently closed run of Side Man, Anderson Matthews, and Remi Sandri are the cast.
Kansas City offers some interesting contrasts in December. The Unicorn is staging the first non-Coastal production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch Dec. 1-31 while the Missouri Repertory Theatre offers its 20th annual production of A Christmas Carol, Nov. 25-Dec. 27.
For the 25th consecutive year, Ebenezer Scrooge has settled into Milwaukee's historic Pabst Theater, where the Milwaukee Repertory Theater annually produces its adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The quarter century mark makes the Rep's Carol one of the longest running productions of the Dickens classic in the country. More than 890,000 persons have seen eight different actors play Scrooge over the 25 years. James Pickering holds the record for most years in the role—nine; Jonathan Gillard Daly plays the old skinflint in the 2000 edition, which continues through Dec. 24. Director/playwright Nagle Jackson wrote the first adaptation of Carol used by the Rep, and the company subsequently commissioned three other versions. The current production uses an adaptation written by Rep Artistic Director Joseph Hanreddy and Associate Artistic Director Edward Morgan.
Other Milwaukee area theatre companies are also deep into the holiday spirit. In Tandem Productions is mounting Jeff Goode's superb The Eight: Reindeer Monologues for the second time in three years. It runs through Dec. 22. First Stage Children's Theatre is producing Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for the fifth time. It continues through Dec. 24. A Tuna Christmas will be staged by the Chamber Theatre from Dec. 9-31. Dale Gutzman's annual Holiday Punch revue is scheduled for Dec. 15-31, and Next Act Theatre will make its first foray into producing a musical revue with the original Off Their Rockers at the Off-Broadway from Dec. 15-23. A new theatre company, Stepping Out Productions, is presenting the new revue A Christmas Survival Guide through Dec. 17. Contributors to the score include Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Jason Robert Brown, and Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.
Bialystock & Bloom was founded by three fellows who revel in being the bad boys of Milwaukee theatre, so it comes as no surprise that they have counter-programmed the city's Christmas fare with a production of Joe Orton's dark and nasty comedy Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Under Pamela Brown's direction, the fine B & B production captures the ambiguities of the characters and their relationships very effectively. Jonathan Wainwright (Sloane), Susan Fete (Kath), Scott Howland (Ed), and William Clifford (the father) do some of the best work of their careers. Entertaining Mr. Sloane continues through Dec. 10.
Playwright Stephen Belber's Tape offers a complex and emotionally compelling tale that is both a remarkably polished and thoughtful new work featured in last season's Humana Festival. The Florida premiere production at GableStage in Coral Gables (Nov. 18-Dec. 17) delivers the work's kaleidoscope of emotions and is powered by a trio of eye-opening, confident performances headed by recent Carbonell Award-winning Best Actor, Paul Tei.
Playwright Neil Labute's off-kilter and dark sensibility is well served by the Juggerknot Theatre Company's Miami premiere production of Bash (Nov. 28-Dec. 17). The three-part drama offers a deft melding of an unnerving slide of psychological dissolution, ironic humor, and a strong character study. The four-character cast all succeed in traversing Labute's agitated minefield, but it is recent Carbonell Award-winner Pamela Roza who best drives home the playwright's intentions, with her powerhouse performance as a scorned young lover that captures both her character's quiet substance and slow burning, combustible inner anger.
The Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables has managed the near impossible in creating an absorbing and perfectly honed, large-scale production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice megahit, Evita (Nov. 15-Dec. 31). Among the production's highlights are Rachel Jones' performance as Evita, which illuminates both her vulnerability and cunning to equal effect. Also well worth mentioning are David Arisco's fluid direction and Vincent D'Elia's take on Che that delivers a more nuanced and observant portrayal.
The Coconut Grove Playhouse has a bona fide winner on its hands with their Judd Hirsch-directed production of Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning Art (Nov. 21-Dec.23). Featuring a luminous ensemble headed by Hirsch, Cotter Smith, and Jack Willis, the Grove's production captures the work's humor as well as its shifting emotional arc.