The Guthrie Theater closed one mainstage season with a powerful staging of Arthur Miller's early success, All My Sons, directed by Joe Dowling, with the company strongly led by Helen Carey and Peter Michael Goetz; and then began the next with the premiere of Miller's latest, the satirical Resurrection Blues, directed by David Esbjornson. The new work, about a new Messiah and a proposed crucifixion to be carried live on TV, has a promisingly comic, acerbic first act, but doesn't seem sure of where it's going after the intermission. The noted playwright will undoubtedly continue to revise this work-in-progress.
Meanwhile, at the Lab, the Guthrie is offering the premiere of Jane Martin's Good Boys, an encounter between two bereaved fathers in the aftermath of a school slaying. Despite carefully modulated direction by Jon Jory and superlative performances by Glynn Turman and Stephen Yoakam, the playwright doesn't seem to have decided on the point of the exercise.
Steven J. Meerdink's Minneapolis Musical Theatre production of the Ahrens/Flaherty musical, Lucky Stiff, at Bryant Lake Bowl, demonstrates that an arch production of campy material is two times too much. On another musical note, although Sandy Duncan might not be your first thought to play Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, her charm and sheer professionalism carry the day in a rousing production at the Ordway Center, aided by effectively broad comic support from Jim Walton and Michael Brindisi. David Armstrong directs.
Park Square Theatre's revival of the Ring Lardner-George S. Kaufman June Moon, directed by Peter Moore, captures much of the play's period humor and does even better with its underlying bitterness, thanks largely to the impressive Virginia Burke as the unhappy wife of a songwriter. And at the Jungle Theater, playwright Craig Wright continues his exploration of the fictional Pine City, Minn., with a portrait of two disintegrating marriages in Orange Flower Water. As in Wright's previous work, the play's compelling relationships are expressed in a truly original voice, and it is superbly performed by Amy McDonald, Brian Goranson, Jennifer Blagen, and Terry Hempleman, under Bain Bohlke's exemplary direction. But it is flawed midway by an inexplicable, gratuitous scene of simulated sex, and never manages to regain its footing.
Fall started off in a sprint with two new play readings at East Hampton's John Drew Theater. Marsha Norman's Last Dance, directed by the playwright, had a staged reading with Marisa Berenson, Michael Nader, Cheryl Lynn Bowers, and Michael Simpson. It is an intriguing look at a successful Southern writer living in Europe who chooses to live out her life in solitude. At the play-reading level, the motivations for the central character, Charlotte, are somewhat enigmatic. The play will be produced at Manhattan Theatre Club this coming spring. A staged reading of poet Naomi Lazard's The Elephant and the Dove, about Frida Kahlo, starred Tovah Feldshuh and Ron Orbach. It is really two plays with too many characters, too much plot, and too many words. A concert version of Mae Richard's intelligent musical revue, Cut the Ribbons (Sept. 13-14), had a sterling performer in Stephanie Kurtzuba. Spindletop Productions' version of Marc Camoletti's farce, Don't Dress for Dinner, runs Sept. 26-Oct. 13.
Gateway Playhouse just finished a controversial run of Jesus Christ Superstar at its large Patchogue Theatre. Set in the year 3027, producer Paul Allan had the songs performed in music-video style, with arrangements similar to U2, Train, Alanis Morrisette, and other pop stars. Local religious groups protested the show, but could not shut it down. The musical Swing! is at Gateway's Bellport Playhouse, Sept. 11-Oct. 6.
Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theatre just closed its production of Our Town with Pat Hingle, Frank Wood, B.D. Wong, and promising young actress, Bryce Dallas Howard, as Emily. Director Jack Hofsiss' updated staging did not always work, but Gary Hygom's set was simple and dramatic. Bay Street has fall weekend performers, including Phoebe Snow (Sept. 21), composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown (Sept. 28), Joel Grey (Oct. 12), and three new play readings (Oct.19-20).
The Hamptons International Film Festival runs Oct. 16-20. This year, the independent film showcase has a 10-year retrospective and an emphasis on emerging acting talent. It also offers more than $250,000 in juried awards for feature, documentary, and shorts filmmakers.
In adapting Moby Dick for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, writer-director Eric Simonson explained his approach: "When you strip the novel down to its essential elements, it is not that thick. It is the story of a guy looking for a whale." That is exactly what he has delivered in a stirring production for the Rep that continues through Oct. 6.
This Moby Dick is exciting for its theatricality. Simonson peeled away the whale minutiae padding the novel, and he didn't attempt to show the ship, the sea, or Moby Dick on the Rep's Quadracci Powerhouse Theater thrust stage. Instead, he challenges the audience's imagination to see those essential elements in a cinematic staging that relies heavily on sound, designed by Barry G. Funderburg, and lighting, designed by Nancy Schertler, as well as set pieces that rapidly roll on and off stage. Ropes, pulled horizontally taut from offstage into view, effectively portray the harpooning. More ropes hanging from the grid suggest the existence of unseen sails. A bridge that moves to different heights and fragments of rust-colored scaffolding that flank the playing area give the illusion of the ship.
Simonson employs two devices to intensify his adaptation's theatricality. The cast sings a cappella sea chanteys as it works about the ship, and the slow, exaggerated style of stage movement created by Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki underscores the narration delivered by the rookie whaler, Ishmael. Charlie Kimball's Ishmael is sensitive, low key, and a bit wistful. Steve Pickering's burly Captain Ahab is a pretty decent guy before succumbing to his self-destructive obsession, but we need to be given a better understanding of why the men of the Pequod so willingly followed him to their violent deaths.
The Milwaukee Shakespeare Company is beginning its third season with a new partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts and a new managing director. Milwaukee Shakes, which has performed in several venues in the past, will mount all three of its productions on the UWM campus this season, as well as use some undergraduate theatre students backstage and in small roles on stage. The new managing director is Stuart Jasper, a trained opera singer with extensive business experience.
In Anton in Show Business, now playing at the Firehouse Theatre Project in Richmond through Sept. 29, an all-female cast of seven plays 15 roles, many of which are men. What's the deal? In the case of Anton in Show Business, named the Best New Play of 2001 by the American Theatre Critics Association, playwright Jane Martin all but confesses that the male-free cast is a deliberate effort to even the score. According to Martin, 80% of the roles in American theatre are played by men and 90% of directors are men. Therefore, the elusive playwright wrote a comedy and specified that women play all the roles, including the stagehands—a magnanimous move for female performers, since the mysterious Jane Martin is reputedly really a man.
In short, Anton in Show Business is a self-referential play that satirizes the world of theatre. No one is out of target range for razzing, from the body beautiful blonde starlet, the fussy costume designer, the foreign directors, to the audience itself. (There is a point in the play when the playwright actually has the nerve to poke fun at theatre critics.)
Doing a bang-up job in their many gendered roles are Nicole Pintal, Kim Neblett, Sara Heifetz, and Jennifer Shaevel. Fortunately, Jane Martin knows the depth of theatre and ties a tender knot around the roles of three women who are cast in Chekhov's Three Sisters. Liz Ernest (Holly) gives a stunning performance as the bombshell soap star when she reveals she not only has a brain, but a heart as well. Harriett Traylor is a natural in the role of Casey, the actress who has performed in hundreds of shows for the sake of art. Erin Thomas as Lisabette captures the hopeful spirit of the starry-eyed novice and delivers the touching lines that remind us why we come to the theatre—not just to be entertained, but to be moved in a memorable way.
Wendy Mathis Parker
Sanford's Temple Theatre got its fall season off to a bouncy start with a pleasing production of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (closed Sept. 8). This musical exploration of courtship and marriage, with book by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts, was directed by Jerry Sipp. The cast of Debra Gillingham, Donna Shannon, Greg Hohn, and William Stutts created a lovely tapestry of the infinite varieties of love and its many manifestations. Praise is due musical director Justin Depuyot, who juggled the many numbers with consummate skill.
In Raleigh, Burning Coal Theatre Company opens its season with Tom Stoppard's acclaimed comedy, Travesties (Oct. 3-20). Dealing with a 1916 meeting of James Joyce, Lenin, and Tristan Tzara, founder of the wacky Dadaist movement, the production is directed by Rebecca Holderness. The cast features Jared Coseglia as Joyce, David Dossey as Lenin, and Terry Milner as Tzara.
Flat Rock Playhouse is staging a new musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt of The Fantasticks fame. Roadside (Sept. 4-22), based on the play by Lynn Riggs, is described as the mythic story of a wagonload of Wild West drifters who are determined to maintain their old ways in the face of the encroachment of civilization. The company will follow Roadside with a revival of the venerable comedy thriller, Arsenic and Old Lace, which plays Sept. 25-Oct. 13.
Manbites Dog Theatre in Durham is offering Tomorrowland by Jeffrey M. Jones (Sept. 3-21). Using collaged media sources from the year 1950, it follows a nuclear family as it journeys from the Wild West to the Robot Era of 2150. Direction is by Jeff Storer, and the cast includes Vanessa Davis, David Ring, Jordan Smith, Natalie Sowell, and Jennifer Terrenoire.
Charlotte Repertory Theatre began its season with Tennessee Williams' classic, The Glass Menagerie (Sept. 7-29), a production featuring the high-powered talents of Broadway vets Joseph Hardy (director) and Penny Fuller (as Amanda Wingfield).
Westchester Broadway Theatre presented a re-jiggered rendition of Nunsense II (closed Sept. 7). Director Charles Repole reportedly enlisted the always-amenable author, Dan Goggin, to switch some of the gags to fit the new backdrop of an amateur production of Cats (WBT's previous production), as opposed to the show's usual backdrop of The Mikado, to positive effect.
Julie J. Hafner was an adequate Mother Superior and Sarah Knapp played Sister Amnesia on the demonic side. Terri White cranked out her songs with poise and ease as Sister Hubert and Rachel Cohen had the proper New York edge as Sister Robert Anne. Holly Rone was the most beguiling of all as the innocent Sister Mary Leo, the novice in the order. She excels at singing, dancing, and roller-skating.
Next at WBT is Kiss Me, Kate, which officially opened Sept. 18.
Fleetwood Stage kicks off its new season with David Mamet's love letter to the stage, A Life in the Theatre (Sept. 19-Oct. 6). George Millenback plays Robert to David Lavine's youthful John.
The Helen Hayes Theater Company opens its regular season with a pre-New York City premiere production of Jerry Herman's Showtune (Oct. 12-27), a musical revue with scant resemblance to Jerry's Girls. The reigning name star in the cast at press time is Donna McKechnie, who last tore up the Nyack theatre as Joanne in Company.
Before that, however, the HHTC is bringing in Jackie Mason in his new Broadway-bound solo show, Prune Danish (Sept. 9-14, 24-29). Pat Carroll and Patricia Conolly then introduce Oldfriends.com to the Rockland audience.
The Schoolhouse Theatre opens its season on the early side (Oct. 4-26) with Rebecca Gilman's Spinning into Butter, featuring Jill Van Note as Sarah Daniels, L.J. Ganser as Ross Collins, Joyce Linn as Katherine Kenney, Jack R. Marks as Burton Strauss, Julio Neira as Patrick Chebas, Josh Mann as Greg Sullivan, and Carl Palmer as Mr. Meyers.
E. Kyle Minor
Soulpepper Theatre rocks Toronto's classical-theatre audiences. In five short years, the company has proven that it can take on the big guns—the nearby Stratford and Shaw festivals—and produce works as good as, and sometimes better, than theirs.
This season's performances at the Harbourfront Centre began with a moving production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (closed Aug. 12), with director Joseph Ziegler capturing the show's humanity, particularly in Tony Nardi's jealous Leontes, Susan Coyne's Hermione, Nancy Palk's formidable Paulina, and David Storch's sparkly-eyed Autolycus. Storch scored again as the shy, innocent Guy in Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval (closed Aug. 14), a clever script that played up the laughs and sadness in the lives of an amateur British theatre group.
That blend of comedy and tears is a hallmark of Chekhov's plays, and Soulpepper revived its splendid production of Uncle Vanya (closed Aug. 17), directed by Laszlo Marton and featuring Diego Matamoros in the title role. The company is so devoted to the Russian master that their final show of the season is an evening called Absolutely Chekhov (through Sept. 28), consisting of a quartet of newly adapted Chekhov vaudevilles alongside the premiere of Coyne and Jason Sherman's "The Old Business," which presents a disillusioned Chekhov (Matamoros) on the disastrous opening night of The Seagull, when both his producer (Victor Ertmanis) and his former lover (Nicole Underhay) accuse him of exploiting their lives in order to create his characters. The Chekhovs were well performed, notably "The Bear," with Martha Burns and Oliver Becker as antagonists whose friction strikes impressive sexual sparks.
Playing in rep with Absolutely Chekhov are Genet's The Maids (through Oct. 3), with Burns and Palk mesmerizing as the two sisters caught in ritualistic upstairs/downstairs games, and the one disappointment of the season, Strindberg's Miss Julie (through Sept. 21), which director Herbert Olschok made so physically explicit that he drained all sensuality from the piece. Nardi's valet, Jean, was suitably manipulative, and Jane Spidell's Christine, the servant he plans to wed, underlined the role's game playing, but Patricia Fagan never caught Julie's deep passions.
The Columbus National Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival (through Sept. 21) deserves an encore, judging from the quality of the opening shows and the attendance (noticeably higher than the previous Los Angeles festival). Happily, Frank Barnhart's sponsoring Act Out Productions plans to present an encore in 2004.
Halfway through the 10-day, 24-show repertory schedule, the most acclaimed productions were New Yorker David Sisco's charming one-man musical, Here I Am; the Midwestern premiere of Tennessee Williams' poignant 45-minute comedy-drama, "The Traveling Companion," sensitively performed by New Orleans' DRAMA!; and Stupid Kids, a hip, fast-moving production of John Russell's absurdist dark comedy by Chicago's Theatre Entropy.
Meanwhile, the cleverest and funniest festival hit was "Hands Up My Bottom," a clever, X-rated one-hour musical puppet revue by Columbus' fledgling Puppet-Queers. Led by Artistic Director (and raunchy lyricist) Beth Kattelman, Dee Shepherd, Ross Shirley, Don Knoblauch, and Andy Scahill sing knowingly about the sex and love lives of gays and lesbians via rewritten show tunes (à la Forbidden Broadway) while manipulating large puppets (à la the Muppets). Hilarious.
Otherwise, Columbus' season is off to a promising start with strong productions by leading troupes: Contemporary American Theatre Company's solid ensemble production of The Laramie Project (through Oct. 20), led by Ed Vaughan, Linda Dorff, and Dudley Swetland as the older townspeople; and Red Herring Theatre Ensemble's The Lonesome West (through Oct. 12), with Kevin Ford Carty and Ralph Scott developing a genuine love-hate chemistry as the feuding Irish brothers.
Dayton's Human Race Theatre Company has launched its season with Dirty Blonde (through Oct. 6), with Deb Colvin-Tener as Jo/Mae West, Scott Stoney as Charlie, and New York actor Kevin Crewell as Man.
Pittsburgh Musical Theatre will perform The Fantasticks, A Chorus Line, a holiday musical, and one other two-week musical this season at the 1,300-seat Byham Theatre. The 12-year-old troupe, originally called Gargara Productions, has reorganized its leadership, with Artistic Director Gavan Pamer, Managing Director Kate Sphar, and Educational Programs Director Amy Heathcott taking over from founder Ken Gargaro, who remains on the board of the $1.5 million company.
About 100 people crowded into a room of the public library of Talent, Ore., on the night of Sept. 4, to hear the board of directors of Actors' Theatre say why it was firing Peter Alzado. Alzado's contract expires at the end of September, and is not being renewed. The principal accusation leveled against Alzado was that his play selections were not drawing audiences.
Alzado has been producing artistic director of the theatre for five years. In that time, plays he has produced include The Rainmaker, A Perfect Ganesh, Anton in Show Business, Lost in Yonkers, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Member of the Wedding, How I Learned to Drive, Cyber Serenade (by Mia McCullough), and others.
Many in the southern Oregon theatre community attended the meeting. Most spoke in favor of Alzado. Some said the board, not Alzado, should resign, but the vote was six to four against retaining him. Alzado said the real issue was control. He said that some of the board members had only been in office two months and had little concept of what a theatre board should or should not do.
This is the 20th anniversary year of Actors' Theatre. William Patton, executive director emeritus of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, said, "During my 50-year career with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I saw this same lack of understanding undermine numerous worthy not-for-profit organizations throughout the United States. It is with a heavy heart that I observe this happening to Actors' Theatre."
Brandy Carson, an actress who has been in many Actors' Theatre plays, said that if Alzado were let go, she would never set foot in the theatre again.
The board has replaced Alzado with Livia Genise on an interim basis, and is accepting applications for the position, to be filled after Jan. 1. (The address is Actors' Theatre, Main Street and Talent Avenue, Talent, Ore. 97540.) She has previously worked with the Willows Theatre Company in Concord, Calif. and the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, Calif.
Ashland's Oregon Cabaret Theatre is presenting All Night Strut Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 4. Conceived by Fran Charnas in the mid-1970s, the show includes about 25 song-and-dance numbers. It is directed by James Giancarlo. Musical director is Darcy Danielson. The performers are Wade McCollum, Melinda Perrett, Cheryl Richardson, and Joshua Bott.
For Halloween, the Stardust Repertory Theatre of Grants Pass, Ore. offers lighter fare: Trick or Treat by Tim Kelly (Oct. 4-13) at the Rogue Theater. Then, according to Producing Artistic Director Robert Watt, A Tuna Christmas opens Dec. 6 and will play through Jan. 5.
Impressionist painter Claude Monet, an ill-fated teacher in space, and a retired couple cruising in their Winnebago: What do they have in common? At first glance, not much, but playwright Jane Anderson neatly packages them in Defying Gravity at Performance Network (Sept. 6-Oct. 6). What the painter, astronaut, and Geritol gypsies share is a desire for new perspectives. Defying Gravity posits that flights of imagination and flights into space are essentially the same, differing in process, but all with the objective of seeing things as they've never been seen before. Even the bartender at a Cape Canaveral tavern attains a fresh point of view as she overcomes her fear of heights to stand on a stool and touch the ceiling.
The teacher, played by Sarah Burcon, provides much of the connective tissue, teaching Monet to her students (and conversing with him on board the shuttle) and helping the bartender confront her acrophobia. Based, obviously, on the late Christa McAuliffe, the character is fictitious and is called, simply, Teacher. Particularly appealing in Johanna Broughton's production is Roy K. Dennison, whose gently acted Monet nearly lifts off with the show.
The play itself is impressionistic, a group of related scenes, compelling but a little too discrete to create much gravity.
As the long dormant Strand Theatre in Pontiac undergoes a massive renovation, there are plans to inaugurate the theatre with a renovated, never-produced musical written in 1954 by Luther Henderson and the late jazz giant Billy Strayhorn. Rose Colored Glasses is scheduled to have its world premiere at the Strand in September 2003. Strayhorn composed "Take the 'A' Train" and many other tunes made famous by Duke Ellington. The book has been revised by Los Angeles choreographer and writer David Rousseve.
The Strand renovation involves the theatre itself and two adjacent buildings. Plans call for the creation of a 585-seat theatre, a 90-seat performance space, a cabaret, an art gallery, a screening room, and additional areas for performing and visual arts.
Martin F. Kohn
St. Louis/Kansas City
In action reminiscent of spring flowers on a warm April day, the St. Louis theatre scene burst forth over a long, warm September weekend. Four companies opened their seasons and a fifth, the summer musical company, Stages, closed its year with Annie Get Your Gun (Sept. 11-Oct. 6).
Sherry L. Edelen, feisty and fine, starred in the title role, though miking problems brought her voice to a painfully piercing level. Stuart Ambrose, tall and talented with a Rhett Butler-style mustache, displayed a pleasing voice, and director Michael Hamilton made the most of a large height disparity between them, especially in "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better."
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis used a translation by Douglas Johnson of the venerable Feydeau farce, A Flea in her Ear, which brought 21st-century vulgarities into an early 20th-century drawing room and, in addition to a rotating bed and mistaken identity, depended on mispronunciation and speech defects for laughs. Anderson Matthews was bright in a dual role, and there was good work from David Diaz, Patricia Dalen, Andrea Cirie, and Thomas Carson. It runs Sept. 13-Oct. 11.
HotHouse Theatre opened with A Streetcar Named Desire (Sept. 13-29) in a downtown theatre only a couple of blocks from where Tennessee Williams worked in a shoe warehouse. Caroklye Hood and Laurie McConnell are Blanche and Stella, respectively, and Jared Sanz-Agero is Stanley Kowalski. The recent death of Kim Hunter, the original Stella, added an extra note of gravity.
Historyonics, the theatre in residence at the Missouri Historical Society, looked at the life of Theodore Roosevelt in Bully Pulpit (Sept. 14-29), using Teddy's own diaries and the writings of his daughter, Alice (a delightful Julie Ganey). The result was often too lighthearted, however, with Pam Sterling's play ignoring large chunks of Roosevelt's life and career.
The Fox Theatre turned to the touring The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, starring Valerie Harper, for a Sept. 17-29 season opener, and across the state, the Missouri Repertory Theatre, located on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, had a Sept. 14-29 run of Michael Sidney Fosberg's one-man drama, Incognito.
A sizable number of the Boston area's better theatres decided to open the 2002-03 season with plays that haven't been seen hereabouts before.
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston opens its season with the New England premiere of Claudia Shear's Tony-nominated Dirty Blonde (Sept. 13-Oct. 12), about a pair of New Yorkers whose obsession with Mae West leads them to love. Directed by Spiro Veloudos, the production features Maryann Zschau, Larry Coen, and Will McGarrahan.
Another local premiere, Seth Greenland's Jerusalem, kicks off the 18th season for the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. Ben Evett and Allison Dunbar star as a pair of young, secular Manhattan professionals whose feelings of spiritual emptiness lead them to a vacation in the Holy Land. Artistic Director Rick Lombardo directs the production, which runs Sept. 18-Oct. 20.
Bee-luther-hatchee is African-American slang for, among other things, an absurd or ironic situation. It's also the title of a play by Thomas Gibbons that is receiving its New England premiere at the hands (and other appropriate body parts) of the Zeitgeist Stage Company (Sept. 13-Oct. 5).
And Industrial Theatre offers the world premiere of local author William Donnelly's Remuda, a comedy about two brothers who, as the press release has it, "find their lives upended by a mysterious woman bearing baked goods." It's directed by Artistic Director Heather McNamara and runs Oct. 4-19.
For three performances only (Sept. 14, 21, and 28), Rough & Tumble Theatre moves its production and its audience along Boston's historic Freedom Trail in what their press release describes as "part deranged guided tour, part epic saga of one man's struggle for breakfast." This original public art play is called, appositely enough, The Red Brick Line, and is directed by Artistic Director Dan Milstein.
It's only technically a local premiere, I suppose, but the Huntington Theatre Company offers Brian Friel's adaptation of the classic Ivan Turgenev play, A Month in the Country, running through Oct. 6. It stars Jennifer Van Dyck as a woman who spurns both husband and lover for her son's handsome young tutor. Nicholas Martin directs.