· It Ain't Ness-
cessarily a Show Yet in Cleveland...
· Leight in the Heels in the Hamptons...
· Curtain Call Theater Debuts With Albee Near Albany...
The latest to join the ranks of grim subjects made to sing is the new musical, Eliot Ness in Cleveland, at The Cleveland Play House through Nov. 5. Given its flawed hero and colorful local lore, Eliot Ness would appear, on the surface, to have all the trappings of success. But the combination of lofty themes and lowbrow humor is at cross-purposes, striking a discordant note throughout the entire production.
The creation of a phantom Al Capone is one of the musical's best conceits, and the imaginary face-offs between Ray DeMattis as the swaggering bootlegger and Burke Moses as the troubled protagonist are equally ingenious. The other characters, though, are two-dimensional, including a pair of Keystone Kops whose lame jokes dissolve the line between taste and tastelessness. While clever lyrics illuminate composer Robert Lindsey Nassif's songs, much of his music smacks of recycled rock.
Based on Peter Ullian's stage play, In the Shadow of the Terminal Tower, Eliot Ness in Cleveland was first developed and workshopped in 1997 with The Directors Company and producer Hal Prince in New York, and then had its world premiere at the Denver Center for Performing Arts in 1998. Along the way here, it lost original director Nick Corley, whose additional book writing credit has also disappeared from the show. Now under David Esbjornson's direction, with musical staging by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, and musical direction by Lee Stametz, Ness clearly has potential, which makes its pitfalls even more glaring.
The Midwest premiere of 2 fi Jews is at Cleveland State's Factory Theatre through Oct. 28. Septuagenarian playwright Alan Brandt's intergenerational comedy, which enjoyed a successful 11-month Off-Broadway run, is not a very deep play, but an eminently satisfying one in its lighthearted dissection of father-son relationships. The co-production, directed by Dr. Sidney Kraus with Dorothy Silver, and starring veteran regional actors Reuben Silver as the feisty immigrant father and A. Neil Thackaberry as his workaholic son, continues at Actors' Summit in Akron, Nov. 2-26.
The current production of N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker at Ensemble Theatre through Oct. 22 proves the enduring power of the well-made 1954 romantic play, coupled with Lucia Columbi's outstanding direction and a solid ensemble. Standouts include Laura Stitt as the eligible spinster daughter and Bernard Canepari as her well-meaning father.
New theatre work and new cinema are center stage this fall. Patricia Watt's Manhattan Drama Collective's new-play reading series just concluded, as did the Hamptons International Film Festival, while Bay Street Theatre's reading series is about to start.
Warren Leight (Side Man) co-wrote the musical revue act High-Heeled Women in his salad days with Cassandra Danz and Mary Fulham. The trio have reworked it with Dick Gallagher as musical director, renamed it Fame Takes A Holiday, and engaged four dynamic singing actresses (Abigail Gampel, Deborah LaCoy, Susan Murphy, Mary Purdy) for a run at La MaMa E.T.C. from Oct. 26-Nov. 19. It's a spoof in the Nunsense and Forever Plaid vein.
Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theatre has three new-play readings on Oct. 21 and 22. Joel Field's romantic comedy How I Fell in Love will be read by Larry Keith, David Marshall Grant, and others at 3 pm on Oct. 21. Tennessee Williams' early play Period of Adjustment, directed by Jack Hofsiss, is at 7 pm. On Sunday at 11 am, Ira Lewis' malicious comedy Gross Points, about an American superstar, will feature Alec Baldwin.
The eighth Hamptons International Film Festival (Oct. 11-15) concentrated on independent features and documentaries by first- and second-time American filmmakers. The Golden Starfish Awards are the festival's highest honor, and the Feature Film Award went to Dani Minnick's Falling Like This, the story of an early 1980s San Fernando Valley delinquent and Katie, the tomboy who loves him. The winning documentary was David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro's Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale, focusing on 78-year-old Greenwich Village anthropologist Tobias Schneeman, who lived with cannibals in Peru in 1955.
The Audience Awards went to Hans Petter Moland's feature film Aberdeen, the story of an estranged daughter attempting to reunite her alcoholic father with his dying wife, and Amir Bar-Lev's documentary Fighter, which follows 77-year-old former pilot Jan Weiner and 72-year-old author Arnost Lustig "as they retrace Weiner's harrowing and complicated journey from World War II hero to Italian POW."
Other highlights of the festival included Maggie Greenwald's Songcatcher, starring Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn, about a 1907 musicologist in Appalachia; Pollock, with Ed Harris (who also directed) and Marcia Gay Harden as artists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner; Bob Giraldi's Dinner Rush, with Danny Aiello heading an Italian-American family of restaurateurs; and Shirley MacLaine's directing debut, Bruno, about a young catholic school spelling bee champion who must wear dresses when he competes, featuring Gary Sinise and Jennifer Tilly.
Upstate New York
A determined young woman with boundless energy has given a welcome gift to the people of Upstate New York.
After seven years of scouring Northern New York State, from the city of Albany to the Canadian border, former California actress Carol Max found what she was looking for—a suitable property on which to open a theatre.
Although the area in question was not without theatres, there was not even one open year-round—a lack, which has contributed to Max's success. After several dinner theatre experiments, Max discovered a small abandoned church building near Latham, a small community north of Albany. With the help of her husband, a contractor, Max renovated the church and created a charming 85-seat theatre, which opened in late September to a full house, and will continue in the venue from September to July.
The new Curtain Call Theater's first production was Edward Albee's Three Tall Women (closed Oct. 8)—a courageous gesture on Max's part, since the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, while highly regarded, is not always a popular favorite. Fortunately, the production was excellent, the houses were full, and Max seems well established.
The Puppet Master of Lodz was a surprise hit when performed at Stagework Theatre in North Pointe Cultural Arts Center of Kinderhook, NY, about a year ago. Recently, it was revived in a special engagement at The Egg in the Empire Center in Albany (closed Oct. 8).
The story is that of a World War II Holocaust survivor, a Polish Jew, who cannot accept that the war is over and, for five years, has confined himself and his "family" of puppets to his small apartment.
The survivor, Samuel Finkle Baum, was played by Scott Klavan. Although Klavan is an accomplished actor, his interpretation of the role was flat and perfunctory, never displaying believable emotion for the man's plight. His interaction with his beloved puppets was also lacking in emotional drive. His Baum was mad, but we did not feel sympathy for him.
Only in the last few moments, when reunited with the man who saved him from the Nazis, did Klavan come alive.
St Louis/Kansas City
Joneal Joplin, who made his Repertory Theatre of St. Louis debut in Of Mice and Men in 1972, makes his 81st appearance when he portrays William Jennings Bryan (e.g. Matthew Harrison Brady) in the Rep's production of Inherit the Wind, Oct. 13-Nov. 10 at the Loretto-Hilton Center. Joplin, who has lived in St. Louis since that initial season, has worked every professional theatre in the area and most throughout the Midwest.
The Jerome Lawrence-Robert E. Lee drama had its world premiere in 1955, marking the 30th anniversary of the famous "Monkey Trial" in Dayton, TN. Philip Pleasants, last here a decade ago in The Little Foxes, plays Clarence Darrow (e.g. Henry Drummond). Ed Stern directs, and the drama comes to St. Louis after a run at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, where he is artistic director. In exchange, Cincinnati will be home to Everything's Ducky, which opened the Rep season.
The St. Louis Black Repertory Company, which has performed most of August Wilson's plays, will offer the St. Louis premiere of Jitney as its opening 2001 production Jan. 3. Oak and Ivy, by Kathleen McGhee-Anderson; a revival of Godspell; Legends, by Leslie Lee; and Samm-Art Williams' The Dance on Widows' Row round out the six-month season.
Speaking of premieres, Kansas City's Unicorn Theatre will offer the first Midwest production of Art, Oct. 20-Nov. 12, directed by Mark Robbins, and with a cast including Dan Barnett, David Fritts, and John Rensenhouse. Rensenhouse, making his Unicorn debut, has been a semi-regular in St. Louis, where the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis will present Yasmina Reza's play in December.
Continuing Kansas City action also includes Song of Singapore, starring Loretta Swit, at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, KS., through Nov. 5, and Ira Levin's classic mystery, Deathtrap, at the American Heartland Theatre through Oct. 22. Joining Swit, who originated the role of Maj. Margaret Houlihan in the TV series "M*A*S*H," are Erik Frandsen, Billy Grey, Francis Kane, and Elio Pace. Gary Holcombe is Sidney Bruhl in Deathtrap, with Craig Benton as young Clifford Anderson.
Chris Coleman opened his first season as artistic director of Portland Center Stage with an auspicious production of The Devils, by Elizabeth Egloff, based on a novel by Dostoyevsky. Coleman, formerly of Actor's Express, Atlanta, GA, had earlier staged The Devils in Atlanta. Directing this production, he adapted it to fit the stage in Portland Center's Newmark Theatre, larger than Atlanta's. The play, and season, opened Sept. 29, with The Devils continuing through Oct. 22.
The opening night audience drew a crowd from well outside the Portland area, including Pat Patton, producing artistic director of the Tacoma Actors Guild, Tacoma, WA. JoAnn Johnson, married to Patton, plays Mrs. Stavrogin in The Devils.
On Nov. 3, Portland Center Stage will open The Cripple of Inishman, by Martin McDonagh, who is also the author of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which closes its current run at Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland on Oct. 15. Leenane's four roles are solidly played by Teresa Thuman as Mag; Lorraine Bahr as her daughter, Maureen; Mark Schwan as Ryan Dooley; and Thomas Nabhan as his brother, Pato.
A memorial service was held in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland on Thursday, Oct. 5, for David Wieken, a stage manager with the festival. Wieken died Sunday, Oct. 1, as the result of head injuries received in a climbing accident on Mt. Shasta in northern California, about 75 miles from Ashland. Wieken reportedly fell about 1,000 feet down an ice field on the mountain in a Sept. 23 pre-dawn accident. He was taken by emergency helicopter to a hospital in Redding, CA, and placed in intensive care. Life support systems were disconnected Oct. 1.
In seven seasons with the Oregon festival, he managed 18 productions, including this year's Force of Nature, by Steven Dietz, which closed in September, and Shakespeare's Henry V, continuing in repertory through Oct. 29, the closing of the festival's 2000 season.
Wieken's stage managing duties have been taken over by Jeremy Eisen. Wieken is survived by his wife, Christine Williams, an actress in her fifth season with the festival. Her roles in the repertory have been assumed by understudies.
While Arizona Theatre Company offers an impressive version of Yasmina Reza's Art, and Phoenix Theatre presents a great 35th anniversary production of Man of La Mancha (with changes by author and valley resident Dale Wasserman), the local media chooses to cover the packaged touring company Theater League and their production of Evita. What has made them worthy of the extensive sound bytes? This season, rather than paying for a full orchestra, President Mark Edelman has brought in "a state-of-the-art musical enhancement system" to accompany a smaller eight-person orchestra.
Incensed by the move, the local musicians union organized a classy protest. Though Arizona musicians were invited to perform, they all declined. Instead, in front of the Orpheum Theatre, dressed in tuxedos and sporting plastic roses in their lapels, they handed out leaflets to opening night patrons that called attention to the "Virtual Pit Orchestra," asking, "Can an artificial rose smell as sweet as a walk in the garden?" Mr. Edelman countered by having ushers hand out hastily created leaflets in the lobby, countering that he has "done like almost all touring Broadway musicals…and supplemented our musicians with the latest in performance technology." Before it was over, all local television networks, whose coverage of theatre in Arizona is, in a word, non-existent, offered live coverage both inside and outside the Orpheum Theatre. On a single bright note, the coverage did seem more slanted toward the musicians.
It all wound up being for naught. The production was a critical bash-fest, with performances similar to novellas on Spanish television. Despite this, the show was a financial success for its eight-night run. The precedent has been set.
Meanwhile, the new Dale Wasserman/Allan Jay Friedman musical, A Walk in the Sky, has finished its run at Stagebrush Theatre. There's no fear that this will be heading to Broadway in its current condition. The show, which deals with mountain men, Native Americans, and pioneers in the Rocky Mountains in the early 19th century, is packed with perky tunes, a cutesy plot, and not enough dramatic action or multi-dimensional characters to fill a thimble.
Mark S. P. Turvin
This October, North Carolina is observing the 100th anniversary of the birth of its most famous literary son, Thomas Wolfe. In Chapel Hill where Wolfe attended college, Playmakers Repertory Company is presenting Ketti Frings' Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of Look Homeward, Angel. Featured in the cast are Kathleen Nolan and Jonathan Bolt as Eliza and W. O. Gant. Liam Gerrity and Jordan Matter play their sons, Eugene and Ben. The director is Kent Paul, with the stage design by Tim Saternow. Production dates are Oct. 18-Nov. 12.
Charlotte Repertory Theatre offers Neil Simon's comedy Proposals. Directed by Terry Loughlin, the production runs Oct. 13-29.
The Bard is on tap for Raleigh's Burning Coal Theatre Company with a staging of Macbeth. Guest Director Alexander Vannis Stephano has a cast that includes California actor Scott Eberlein as Macbeth and Lynda Clark as Lady Macbeth. The "Scottish Play" runs Nov. 2-19.
In Sanford, the Temple Theatre's second production of the season is The Uneasy Chair by Evan Smith. Described as a Victorian comedy of manners, the play is directed by Tim Morrisey. Featured in the cast are Donna Shannon, Martin Thompson, Debra Gillingham, and Stephen Wilson. It plays Oct. 13-29.
Flat Rock Playhouse is into ghosts with its production of The Woman in Black, adapted from Susan Hill's novel by Stephen Mallatratt. Spooking dates are Oct. 4-22.
Actors Theatre Charlotte opens its season with Jeff Baron's Visiting Mr. Green. It is directed by Dennis Delamar and plays Oct. 4-22.
Raleigh Ensemble Players present Never the Sinner by John Logan. Described as a "riveting and unconventional love story," the drama emerges from the infamous Leopold and Loeb case. Production dates are Oct. 19–Nov. 4. Debbie Royals will direct.
It might be hard to conceive of a pair of more different evenings of theatre than those provided by the Trinity Repertory Company's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Heather Henson's Echo Trace, which opened on consecutive nights in Providence.
Directed by Amanda Dehnert, with a plain wood set by David Jenkins, Trinity's version of Edward Albee's masterpiece sounded like the crack of a rifle for its more than three-hour length.
As George and Martha, two Providence veterans, Brian McEleney and Anne Scurria, began rather playfully. Their interactions gave you the idea that this couple might well be just a pair of boozy-soft academics. But as the evening flashed by, McEleney and Scurria hit the accelerator, and turned Albee's calamitous work into a play with all the heft and depth that Virginia Woolf has to offer.
There was strong support from Stephen Thorne, a new Trinity company member, and from Tanya Anderson, a Conservatory student, whose "interpretive" modern dance was a delight.
Up the block from Trinity the next night, Henson's mélange of marionettes and movers could not have been more different than Trinity's rifle crack. The artist (yes, daughter of Jim) aims to look at and portray the rhythms of nature. On stage at Perishable Theatre (as part of the Providence Puppetry Festival), her Echo Trace saw the birth of several deer as if unfolding from a flower. The dancers, manipulating the deer with long sticks, moved through the tiny performing space with quiet, easy grace. Miguel Frasconi provided the music, via electronic equipment and water-filled pyrex bowls. It was haunting and pleasant at once.
The 26-year-old Henson, who has moved from Providence to Orlando, Fla., once again showed herself to be an artist to watch.
Meanwhile, across town, the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre has a hit on its hands. Its movable version of Macbeth (the audience sits in 20-person pods, which the actors push all over the performing space) is completely sold out, and even three added performances were gone in less than a day.
The play's eccentricities—a pickup truck drives into the former garage to cart off Lady MacDuff and her children—undoubtedly helped sell the show, as did terrific performances by Nigel Gore in the title role, and Jennifer Mudge Tucker as Lady Macbeth.
Finally, Adrian Hall and Katharine Helmond did a lively version of Love Letters at Rhode Island College with Hall, the legendary former director of Trinity Rep, doing quite well—too fast, but lots of emotion—as an actor.