Archives: Theatre Reviews July 2016-Jan. 2017

Upper Darby Summer Stage stages impressive ‘Nice Work’

By David Bjorkgren

If you’re a fan of George Gershwin tunes, you’re going to love Summer Stage’s glowing “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

Not a fan, or not familiar with Mr. Gershwin? This show’s farcical humor still works, even without the music, but it really cooks with Gershwin in the mix.

The show previewed July 27 and opens this evening, July 29, 2016, offering audiences an entertaining diversion from a hot summer night.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” has plenty of familiar Gershwin here. Besides the signature song, audience members are treated to “Fascinating Rhythm”, “S’Wonderful,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” as well as some nicely rendered ballads, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Will You Remember Me” and “But Not for Me.”

Director Brian Walsh, a 19-year veteran of Summer Stage, gives us a tight, well-paced and attractive comedy.

“This show is not like any other Gershwin show. It’s hilarious, upbeat and fun for everyone – The show truly is a slice a life from the 1920s,” Brian states in a release about the production. Brian’s directorial finger prints can also be found on productions at The Players Club of Swarthmore, Marple Newtown High School, and Holy Child Academy.

Choreographers Mandie Banks and Kevin Dietzler kept the cast hopping with dance routines pulled out of the Roaring ‘20s, combined with some of their own creative moves that scored well with the audience. Energy abounded on stage, with the ensemble keeping pace with Gershwin’s demanding rhythms (“fascinating” or not, they’re tricky).

Extra credit goes to set designer Timothy Bruno, costume designer Julia Poiesz and lighting designer J. Dominic Chacon, whose combined efforts created a colorful, effervescent environment for the performers to work in. Music director Gina Giachero’s musicians were spot on backstage, with seemingly not a single note out of place. (I was assured it was live musicians, not a CD).

The multi-level art deco set, with steps and doorways and a painting depicted on the floor, suggested the opulence of a wealthy man’s beach house and kept all the action within easy gaze of the audience. Scenery changes were smooth, augmented most pleasantly by Gershwin instrumental excerpts.

It is 1927 and wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter (Wesley Hemmann) meets the tomboyish bootlegger Billie Bendix (Ali Caiazzo) during his bachelor party. Jimmy, who has already been married a few times, is about to wed Eileen Evergreen ( Liz Iannacci), a self-obsessed interpreter of modern dance. He’s not crazy about the idea, but his mother will dis-inherit him if he doesn’t go through with the wedding.

Thinking Jimmy and Eileen will be out of town, Billie and her two bootleg partners hide 400 cases of gin in the basement of Jimmy’s Long Island beach house mansion. Unfortunately, Jimmy, his wife-to-be and her prohibitionist family show up at the mansion for the wedding. Billie and her partners pose as servants to hide their activity but things get complicated when Billy and Jimmy fall in love, at which point this farce really takes off, hitting full slap stick throttle during the wedding banquet scene.

This musical gave everyone a moment…and a song. From bootlegger Duke Maloney’s (Patrick J. Walsh) hilarious attempt to spout love poetry in “Blah, Blah, Blah” to the drunken Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Laura Barron) singing “Looking For a Boy” while swinging from a chandelier, to Liz Iannacci’s Eileen Evergreen singing “Delishious” while “bubble girls” and “soap boys” sang and danced their way out of her bath tub, no moment to pair music to action was lost.

When there were pauses, they were lovely and a little lonely amongst the kinetic comedy. Credit Ali Caiazzo, who showed Billie’s vulnerable side in heart-felt songs like “But Not For Me.” (Caiazzo also gets a Carol Burnett moment in the musical when she clumsily tries to seduce Jimmy Winter).

Wesley Hemmann brings a charming innocence to Winter’s character as well as a lot of enthusiastic dexterity as he moves from moment to moment in this high-energy story.

Kudos, too, for the comic work of Chris Monaco, as bootlegger Cookie McGee turned reluctant butler; and Iannaci’s portrayal of Eileen Evergreen, introduced as the world’s finest interpreter of modern dance, which she happily demonstrates at every opportunity.

This is a solidly delightful romp that combines great music, good dancing and excellent comedic presentation and timing,

A lot of work went into this production and it shows. Once again, Summer Stage provides an enjoyable summertime theatrical experience.

Preview of the preview

Audience members who came out to the July 27 preview were treated to some bonus material about George Gershwin and the show a half hour before curtain, courtesy of Summer Stage founder Harry Dietzler.

He introduced costume designer Julia Poiesz, who talked about what men and women might have been wearing in the summer of 1927 and how she chose the outfits for her cast. Co-choreographer Kevin Dietzler talked about fitting the dance routines into the era of Prohibition and Speakeasies. Set designer Timothy Bruno discussed the look he wanted for the show.

“It’s a very complex, realistic set,” Bruno said, emphasizing a 3-dimensional Art Deco stage with a metallic and colorful look. “It’s not traditional flat scenery. That’s what makes this show really special.”

Dietzler talked about his love affair with the music of Gershwin, pointing out that Summer Stage’s first show, “Of Thee I Sing,” was also a Gershwin musical.

George Gershwin dropped out of school at age 15 and took work at Tin Pan Alley in New York City, demonstrating songs on piano to promote sheet music sales. He wrote countless pop songs and 14 musicals in his lifetime, with his brother Ira supplying lyrics. At one point, Gershwin had six musicals running on Broadway at the same time, Dietzler said.

About Summer Stage

Upper Darby Summer Stage was established in 1976 by Harry Dietzler, who has carefully guided the program as its executive director.

Dietzler has received the distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award at the Barrymore Awards for Excellence for his positive contribution to the regional Philadelphia theater community.

Summer Stage annually attracts more than 720 young people throughout the Delaware Valley to its six weeks of programs. Over 32,000 tickets are sold each summer for its six children’s shows and Mainstage performances.

In the short span of six weeks Summer Stage presents 34 performances including the Children’s Theater and Mainstage performances, one-act performances, a Dance Troupe performance and Cabaret production. Summer Stage’s staff of more than 100 professional directors, choreographers, costumers, and technicians provides musical theater training and high-quality performances for families throughout the region.

Summer Stage participants have included Tina Fey, Monica Horan, Jeremy Morse (currently starring in “Waitress” on Broadway) and Josh Young, who was recently nominated for a Tony Award.

Summer Stage is a five time winner of Philadelphia’s Best Theatre Group on the Philly HOT LIST and has been recognized twice as the “The Best Children’s Theater” by Main Line Parent Magazine.

IF You Go: Performances of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” take place July 29, 30 and Aug. 5, 6 at 7:30 p.m. with one matinee performance on Aug. 6 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $12-16 and may be purchased online at www.udpac.org or by calling the box office: 610-622-1189. All shows take place at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center, 601 N. Lansdowne Ave., Drexel Hill, Pa. The facility is wheelchair accessible and parking is free. The show runs approximately two and a half hours with intermission and is recommended for ages eight and up.

About the author:

 David is an award-winning journalist, editor and outstanding vocalist, and was the News of Delaware County editor for many years. If you like what David’s writing, he’s available for freelance writing and editing assignments and contracted work.

He’s also available for singing engagements–weddings, funerals, concerts and other special events should you happen to be in the market for a pleasant Tenor with good musical skills and decades of singing experience.

 Feel free to email him adbjorkgren50@gmail.com.

A day in Albee’s ‘Zooland’

By Ellen Wilson Dilks

MN Spotlight Theatre kicks off their 2016-17 season with a production of Edward Albee’s intertwined one-acts. Directed by Jessica Bye Stinson, “At Home at the Zoo” runs weekends until July 30, 2016.

Albee likes to provoke reactions from his audiences; he has been on the cutting edge dramatically since he first appeared on the scene. Often compared to some of Europe’s great absurdist playwrights, such as Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, Albee’s works are considered realistic and well-crafted examinations of modern life.

His first produced play, “Zoo Story” which makes up Act II of “At Home at the Zoo”, burst on the scene in 1959 and was quite shocking at the time. The story deals with Peter, a middle-class publishing executive, from the Upper West Side, who has come to a corner of Central Park to escape into a book. Along comes the very hyper and equally strange Jerry who invades Peter’s personal space and his psyche.

Act I, entitled “Homelife”, was actually written after the second. Commissioned by The Hartford Stage, the playlet is Albee’s exploration of Peter’s marriage. In writing this prequel, Albee stated he “felt that Peter needed to be explored in more depth than he had been in ‘Zoo Story.’” It starts out with a very disconnected and preoccupied Peter being forced to examine the minutiae of his life with wife Ann. Things soon get down and dirty as Ann keeps pushing Peter to open up. It ends with Peter leaving to go read in the park…

Ms. Stinson and her cast have done a solid job with this very dense material. The production is paced nicely, and is staged well on Dan Stinson’s multi-leveled, split set. Andrew Montemayer’s soundscape takes the audience back to the 1970s and a lighting design that sets an appropriate mood. Since Zoo Story was written in the 50s and Homelife in 2003, I don’t know if Albee made revisions to the first to place both in a common decade, or if Ms. Stinson and company chose a time frame.

Eric Rupp gives a strong performance as Peter, showing a man who seems to just want life to go by without any challenges or excitement.  And yet, Rupp slowly reveals deeper aspects of Peter’s mindset. As Ann, Emily West portrays a nice mix of the playful and the frustrated. I could relate to her character’s frustration at Peter’s seemed detachment. Having a partner who seems to have checked out can be worse than being alone. West is adept at portraying both aspects of Ann, giving us a fully realized woman. Thomas-Robert Irwin dives right into Jerry’s neuroses full tilt. He has kind of cornered the market on these quirky, dark characters, and isn’t afraid to come across as unlikable—which many actors are. Jerry is a challenge, and Irwin meets it head on.

MN Spotlight isn’t afraid to produce the more edgy pieces, which I gotta give them props for. Some have worked for me, some haven’t. “At Home at the Zoo” definitely does.  So check it out before it closes.

MN Spotlight Theatre performs at Swarthmore United Methodist Church, 129 Park Avenue, Swarthmore, Pa. Tickets are available online or at the door.

‘Boeing, Boeing’ flies high at Colonial Playhouse

By Edna Snidebottom
I was telling a friend how it always

The talented cast of Boeing, Boeing.

The talented cast of Boeing, Boeing.

amazes me how local theaters seem to pick the same show in the same season. This year the show is Marc Camoletti’s Boeing, Boeing. I had just seen this play about three weeks before and was reluctant to see it again because the production I saw was so well done.
But after seeing it again at Colonial Playhouse this weekend, I’ve decided this is an exceptionally well-written show and under the fine direction of R. Bruce Warren, I enjoyed it even more.
Mike Raimondo does a nice job as Bernard, an American playboy in Paris, juggling three beautiful stewardesses. Relying on his book of flight schedules and his unique housekeeper Bertha (wonderfully played by Susan Triggiani), he manages to keep all three of his fiancés from finding out about each other.
Erin Marie Friel (Gloria), Ilana Brookshier (Gabriella) and Virginia Lawler (Gretchen) are excellent as Bernard’s three very different loves.
And last, but certainly not least, is Anthony Marsala as Robert, Bernard’s naïve friend from college. I was so glad he didn’t play him anything like Jerry Lewis (who appeared in the movie version). Besides the fact that I’ve never been a fan of Lewis’ over the top caricatures, playing it honestly not only makes it more believable but much funnier as well. Marsala excels in this role.
As always, R. Bruce Warren’s set design is top notch and I loved Steve Kelly’s sound design.
Don’t miss this hilarious show! There are only four shows left, Fri., Aug. 12 and Sat., Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on Sat, Aug. 13 and Sun., Aug. 14.
Colonial Playhouse is at 522 West Magnolia Ave., Aldan. For more information, call 610-622-5773 or visit www.colonialplayhouse.net.

Riveting ‘Bridges of Madison County’ at Media Theatre

By Christina Perryman

Taking a movie and turning it into a stage musical can be a tricky thing. I have never read the novel or seen the movie, but “Bridges of Madison County: The Musical”, which recently debuted on Media Theatre’s stage, is a riveting drama with lovely music and complex characters rooted in a moral dilemma.Francesca is an Italian immigrant who moved from Naples to Iowa after World War II. She met her husband, Bud, when he was a soldier. Francesca, mourning her fiancé who was killed in the war, is instantly taken with the tall American. She moves to the small farming town and together the couple raise two children, Michael and Carolyn. Life stays pretty much the same for Francesca and Bud until one fateful week when Bud takes the kids to the Iowa State Fair. Francesca, who doesn’t care for the fair, stays behind and her life is turned upside down by a chance meeting a handsome National Geographic photographer named Robert.

Francesca and Robert have an instant attraction that leads to a three-day, life altering affair. With Robert’s help, Francesca finds the ardor her life was missing. When her family returns, she is brought crashing back to reality and is forced to make a tough decision, one that no matter what will lead to heart ache — stay with her family or leave with Robert.

The show features book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and is based on the novel by Robert James Waller. Jesse Cline masterfully directs.

The stellar cast is led by Elisa Matthews as Francesca and Derek Basthemer as Robert. Matthews has a killer voice and really captures the monotony and sameness of Francesca’s life. Before Robert, although Francesca seems content, she also seems defeated. As the relationship develops, Matthews gives the character an unexpected fire and life. Basthemer’s Robert is passionate, especially when he sings.

Robert Stineman’s Bud is steady and dependable. The scenes between him and Matthews toward the end, when the family returns from the fair, were striking. Bud is understandably perplexed and frustrated with Francesca’s obvious struggle.

Bud and Francesca’s kids are terrifically played by Gianni Palmarini as Michael and Anna Rosenthal and Molly Sorensen as Carolyn. The sibling rivalry and bickering adds a realistic element to the show and is relatable to anyone with siblings.

A little comic relief comes in nosy neighbor Marge and her husband Charlie, wonderfully played by Faith Yesner and Nick Saverine. From spying out the window with her binoculars to using the radio antennae as a microphone, Yesner is subtly funny. Saverine’s Charlie is a nice match and a good balance for Yesner. They epitomize of “an old married couple” who is still clearly in love.

Caroline Dooner, Marissa Wolner, CJ Celiero, Kaitlin Davis, JP Dunphy, Deiree Maira, Sam Nagel and Marissa Wolner complete the cast.

Costume designer Jennifer Povish and set designer Kyle Brylczyk both made excellent, period choices (how did Brylczyk find my grandmother’s kitchen table?!). The use of the projection screen was well done, adding to the scenery. The music, under the direction of Christopher Ertelt, was beautiful and haunting. The score including several demanding songs (To Build A Home, Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles) that the cast, particularly Matthews and Basthemer, performed beautifully.

IF YOU GO: “The Bridges of Madison County” is on stage at The Media Theatre, 104 E. State St., Media, through Oct. 23. Tickets are $42 for adults, $35 for seniors 65 and older and $25 for children 12 and younger. Premium tickets are $50 (adults), $40 (seniors) and $30 (students). Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. For tickets, call 610-891-0100 or visit www.mediatheatre.org.

 A hilarious Electoral ‘Collage’ at Act II Playhouse

By Ellen Wilson Dilks

Ambler’s Act II Playhouse jumps right into the 2016/2017 Season with a comedic romp,“Electile Dysfunction” running through Oct. 9. From the recorded pre-show announcement by Barack Obama regarding cell phones and candy wrappers, the Butler Pike venue was filled with laughter as Tony Braithwaite, Will Dennis and Tracie Higgins skewered our current politic scene—and a little of our past as well.  Conceived by Patrick Romano, Higgins, Dennis and Braithwaite, this revue of sketches and songs is 70 minutes of pure fun.

If someone had pitched the narrative of this election season to a film or TV studio, it would have been rejected as “too far-fetched.” And yet, here we are….

Tracie Higgins portrays Hillary Clinton in "Electile Dysfunction, Photo by Bill D'Agostino

Tracie Higgins portrays Hillary Clinton in “Electile Dysfunction” Photos by Bill D’Agostino

The Act II ensemble has plenty of material to pull from for sure. And they make great use of it, accomplishing their goal of being “equal opportunity offenders.” No one is safe, not even dead politicians.  Talented comedians all, they are able to think fast and go with whatever reactions their audience gives them.  Braithwaite zig-zags through some spot-on impressions of several past leaders with hilarious style.  Ms. Higgins and he take on roasting current nominees Clinton and Trump to great comedic effect—Higgins is having way too much fun as Hilary.  Dennis (a funny guy and solid anchor for this crazy bunch) joins Higgins to poke fun at the 24/7 news channels in a bit called “This Just In.”  They even managed to get an update on the Eagles game into Sunday’s matinee.  Even Musical Director/Accompanist Owen Robbins adds some pointed commentary throughout—while playing a mean piano too.

Tony Braithwaite portrays Donald Trump in "Electile Dysfunction," now on stage at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, PA until Oct. 9. Photo by Bill D'Agostino

Tony Braithwaite portrays Donald Trump.

The laughs play out on Adam Riggar’s patriotic and serviceable set, which is nicely lit by Andy Shaw.  Constance Case’s costumes hit the mark perfectly, down to Hilary’s ubiquitous pantsuit, while John Stovicek provides just the right soundscape to set the tone. Dan Matarazzo served as rehearsal pianist and a contributing writer (and, apparently, the gang will continue to tweak the piece throughout the run to keep things up-to-the-minute).  A shout out to PFW Media for their work on filming “On-The-Street” interviews by Braithwaite with folks in Ambler and at the Plymouth Meeting Mall. These were absolutely a hoot.

The events of the current political cycle have been a trip to hell for the rest of us–a gift from Heaven for comedians.  We have watched this circus unfold for over a year now; but we’re down to the wire and we do need to seriously consider what’s best for our future.   It is a “Yuuuggge” blessing to have a chance to laugh about it all for a little over an hour with Braithwaite, Higgins and Dennis.  You’ll like it “bigly.” Believe Me.

“Electile Dysfunction” is performed at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Avenue, Ambler, Pa. For tickets, call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org

Mournful Becomes ‘Electra’—Nova’s Season Opener

By Ellen Wilson Dilks

Oh, you pure light and air! Air, spread equally over the whole earth!
How many of my wailing dirges must you have heard?

Villanova University has chosen to mount a new(ish) adaptation of Sophocles’ “Electra” to kickoff their 2016-17 theatre season. Directed by the Reverend David Cregan, head of the Theatre Department, the production runs on the Vasey Hall stage through Oct. 2, 2016. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on Sundays at 2pm.

Sophocles’ tragedy, “Electra”, takes place in the city of Argos shortly after the Trojan War. The play recounts the tale of “Electra” and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon. The exact date it was written is not known, but based on its stylistic similarities to his other works, such as Philocteres in 409 BC and Oedipus at Colonus in 401 BC, many scholars believe the piece was written towards the end of Sophocles’ career.

The “back-story” of the play is that King Agamemmnon returned from the war with his new concubine, Cassandra; both are killed by his wife Clytemnestra (who has taken Agamemmnon’s cousin Aegisthus as her lover). Clytemnestra feels justified in committing murder because, before the war, Agamemmnon had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia because the gods commanded it. “Electra” rescued her young brother and sent him off with a servant to protect him from their mother.  The play begins many years later with “Electra” mourning the loss of her brother (news has come he is dead)—as well as still grieving her father’s murder. Orestes soon returns, however, to claim the throne and revenge Agamemmnon’s death.

It will be loud crying, loud announcements of my pain,

here, in front of the gates of my father’s palace.

Villanova has chosen Irish playwright Frank McGuiness’ 1997 verse adaptation for their production.  Their blurb states “as “Electra’s rage explodes without mercy, we are propelled to the play’s bitter and bloody conclusion. The New York Times calls McGuiness’ “Electra” ‘soul-satisfying drama at its most passionately, intensely alive.’” I have to be honest and say my soul was not really satisfied…..

Cregan has staged “Electra” beautifully; it is a visual feast, utilizing lights, sound and movement to lovely effect. Rajiv Shah’s set is sleek, yet instantly evokes a sense of ancient Greece, and the painted floor gives an interesting feel of floating through the galaxy. Jerold R. Forsyth lights it with an artist’s eye; beautiful colors and patterns swirl across the stage, eliciting the appropriate mood. The costumes by the always inventive Janus Stefanowicz walk a lovely line between the look of ancient Greece and a futuristic space-age civilization—and somehow it works. John Stovicek’s soundscape supports the production to lovely effect as well. However, I found the adaptation lacking. Cregan states in the press release that he wants to explore what “Power and agency look like for women who are trapped in a patriarchal society.” McGuiness’ version does not give “Electra” any power in my opinion. “Electra” spends the entire time whining about her losses and saying how angry she is—she never really does anything.  It is Orestes who kills their mother and stepfather, while “Electra” stands and watches it happen offstage.

First year grad student Kara Krichman makes her Villanova debut in the title role. She had a few interesting moments, but she started “too high” and had no place to build to as far as I was concerned.  Patrick McAndrew, a second year grad, took on his first major role as Orestes. His limited experience peeked through on occasion, but there is potential there. He handled the part well. Chris Monaco was a real bright spot. The always-entertaining Monaco livened things up as the old family servant sent with young Orestes as his tutor and protector. Also strong was Megan Slater as Clytemnestra. Other than some issues with the train on her gown, she commanded the stage as the powerful and cruel queen. Dan Cullen and Mike Franz contributed nicely in the small supporting roles of Aegisthus and Pylades respectively. Rachel O’Hanlon Rodriguez as “Electra’s younger sister, Chrysothemis, rendered another standout performance.  Rounding out the ensemble, as the Chorus/Furies, were Laura Barron, Kelly McAnally, Kasey Phillips, Megan Schumacher, Lexi Schreiber and Sisi Wright. The ladies were lovely in their flowy white dresses and their singing was beautiful.  I look forward to seeing how these young actors develop over the next season or two.

I am generally always impressed by Villanova’s work. Such was not the case this time—and I can only place that squarely on the shoulders of the adaptation chosen. It was 90 minutes of waiting for something to happen—with all too brief flashes of confrontation actually on stage.  My companion, a seasoned area actress who has performed the classics, had a similar reaction as mine.

I am no Greek scholar, so perhaps I missed something. Support arts education and check “Electra” out. I’d love to hear how others feel….

If you go: Performances continue through Oct. 2 at Villanova Theatre – Vasey Hall, 800 Lancaster Avenue (at Ithan Ave.), Villanova, PA 19085. For tickets, call 610-519-7474 or visiwww.villanovatheatre.org

Dark and funny ‘The War of the Roses’ delights at DTC

By Steven Brodsky

Divorce can be a road to hell.  It was for Barbara and Jonathan Rose, characters of Warren Adler’s novel adapted for the stage The War of the Roses.  The North American premiere of the play has opened at the Delaware Theatre Company.  This dark, funny and over-the-top season opener at DTC is delighting and intriguing audiences.  The stage adaptation is by Warren Adler.

The ensemble of "The War of the Roses" at DTC. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media

The ensemble of “The War of the Roses” at DTC. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media

Direction is by Bud Martin, DTC’s Executive and Artistic Director.

Eighteen years of marriage behind them, the Roses find themselves in divorce attorney’s offices.  They’ve got a beautiful house in common that each wants to keep.  The lawyers provide counsel and serve as provocateurs for their clients unleashing wildly vindictive behaviors intended to force one another out of the house.  There seems to be no bounds to the destruction and viciousness that ensues under their roof.  Their very ugly behaviors fuel the farce and make the audience laugh, sometimes uproariously.

Jack Noseworthy and Christina DeCicco in "The War of the Roses." Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media

Jack Noseworthy and Christina DeCicco in “The War of the Roses.” Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media

Jonathan Rose is played by Jack Noseworthy and Barbara Rose by Christina DeCicco. They are fully up to the task of portraying the Roses and their characters’ descent. They give fine performances of the outrageous entanglements of the Roses as those characters attempt to disentangle through divorce.

Cameron Folmar is cast as attorney Thurmont.  Lenny Wolpe appears as attorney Goldstein. Thurmont is refined and a member of the country club set.  Variously, he appears in status-appropriate garb: fly fishing, riding, tennis, fencing.  Goldstein lacks Thurmont’s polish and has a down-to-earth demeanor.  Clearly, the social circles of the two don’t intersect much.  Their representation of opposing Roses brings them together.  Commonalities become apparent, not the least of which is that each comes to know that he’s never experienced anything like the situation with the Roses.  Like Noseworthy and DeCicco, Folmar and Wolpe are excellent cast choices.  All the actors, including those in the ensemble, perform impeccably.  Most of the actors appear in an especially humorous scene, but I won’t do a spoiler.  Suffice it to say there’s bathroom humor at its finest.

The house interior is opulent and a sight to behold.  Congratulations to Paul Tate DePoo III for the scenic design of this play.  The set is aesthetically and functionally remarkable.

About the aforementioned hell: there’s an enormous chandelier.  There’s swinging from it.  It isn’t gymnastics of connubial bliss.  You’ll have to attend Delaware Theatre Company’s production of The War of the Roses to find out what happens.

The Delaware Theatre Company production of The War of the Roses runs through Oct.2, 2016.  For ticket and other information: www.delawaretheatre.org.

Posted Sept. 18, 2016

Spotlight’s ‘Little Dog’ turns a bitter eye on Hollywood

Show Producer Cecile Charlton, Director Cindy Nagle Walton and actress and new Spotlight Theatre president Cathy Gibbon Mostek on opening night of "The Little Dog Laughed." Photo by Margie Royal

Show Producer Cecile Charlton, Director Cindy Nagle Walton and actress and new Spotlight Theatre president Cathy Gibbon Mostek on opening night of “The Little Dog Laughed.” Photo by Margie Royal

By Margie Royal

Spotlight Theatre has turned its spotlight on Hollywood, with the staging of Douglas Carter Beane’s 2006 satire, “The Little Dog Laughed”, which opened last night, directed by Cindy Nagle Walton. The play looks at the intertwined lives of four characters: Mitchell, an actor (played by Brian Douglass); his acidic agent Diane (played by Cathy Gibbons Mostek), a male prostitute named Alex (played by Oliver Feaster), and Alex’s girlfriend, Ellen (played by Jocelyn Roddie). The story, told in short, choppy scenes, felt a bit like the playwright was grinding an axe over his past experiences as a playwright working with Hollywood stars and producers. The shallowness and hypocrisy of Hollywood is familiar fare for stories; this one deals with Diane’s concern that Mitchell’s “slight recurring case of homosexuality” will hurt his career. The script was written in 2006, but now, in Hollywood 2016, does it still really matter anymore whether an actor is gay or not? Maybe it does, but this premise felt a bit dated to me.
Despite that, the ensemble did a good job of keeping me engaged in the story.
Cathy Gibbons Mostek takes on the difficult role of Diane, the hard-edged and unlikable Hollywood agent. Mostek does a masterful job with making her character real and understandable. She plays her as a businesswoman, who, to get ahead in a man’s world, has sacrificed her compassion and empathy for others. Brian Douglass is a bit young for Mitchell — there are lines in the play that suggest the character is older — but despite that, Douglass portrays a spoiled man comfortable with wealth and fame, moving through life without much of a plan or need for honesty and self-introspection. As Alex, Oliver Feaster brings a bright, youthful energy to his character. He portrays him as a survivor, not yet jaded by his experiences — although that changes a bit by the end of the play. Jocelyn Roddie does a good job creating a very believable Ellen, bringing to life a self-depreciating young woman starved for love and affection whose choices lead into the play’s forced happy ending.
The falseness of Hollywood; the manipulative agent; youthful talent getting eaten up or forced to conform to what producers believe will sell – there’s nothing really new revealed in “The Little Dog Laughed.” Spotlight Theatre  is staging the Delaware County premiere of this play and it’s refreshing to see them continue to make bold choices with what they choose to put on their main stage.
The hotel room set by Jack Gallagher is well done and Andrew Montemayor’s lighting design nicely lights the plays many locations. The soundtrack is also well chosen.

IF YOU GO: The play contains adult language and situations and is not suitable for children. Performances continue Sept. 17, 23, 24, 25*, 30, Oct 1, 2016. Evenings at 8 PM – Tickets $15. *Matinee at 2 PM – Tickets $12.
Spotlight Theatre is at 129 Park Ave, Swarthmore, PA 19081. For tickets and further information, visit www.spotlighttheatrepa.org or call 610-328-1079.

Colonial opens season with a psychological thriller

By Edna Snidebottom
This weekend, Colonial Playhouse opened their season with ‘Rope,’ a whodunit in reverse that has the distinction of revealing the murderers from the start. The thrill is to see whether these two Oxford graduates will get away with it.
Patrick Hamilton wrote this play in 1929 when killing someone for no particular reason was novel. Unfortunately, in these times, we are experiencing senseless killings all too often.
Kudos to Natalie Brown and everyone involved on one of the best sets I’ve seen on the playhouse’s stage. Costumes by Jean-Marie Vance-Martin and Amy Culver added greatly in bringing us back in time.
Although I found Hamilton’s play overwritten especially the final scene, the story is still a riveting one and Natalie Brown has assembled a wonderful cast to bring it to life.
Jon Newcomer (in his first stage role, which is hard to believe) plays Wyndham Brandon with the right amount of arrogance (Brandon believes he’s too smart to be found out).
And Bryan Henry is perfect as his guilt-ridden partner in crime Charles Granillo.
Mike Winterode is Rupert Cadell, a 29-year-old First World War veteran who was a teacher of Brandon and Granillo when they were at school. Winterode does a nice job of making us wonder if he will be a willing accomplice to this murder.
Cindy Starcher as Sabot keeps us wondering about her mysterious past and Ben Connor and Anne-Marie Bruce add much needed humor as Kenneth Raglan and Leila Arden.
In the case of Mrs. Debenham and Sir Johnstone Kentley, I wish Hamilton had fleshed out these characters more fully. Thankfully Kim Garrison and Lawrence H. Geller have the talent to make these characters interesting with little help from the playwright.
I wasn’t surprised that Alfred Hitchcock had made a film of this play and if you are a fan of Hitchcock (as I am), you will really enjoy Colonial’s treatment of ‘Rope.’
You have only five more chances to see this show, Sept. 30, Oct. 1, 2, 7 and 8, so make sure to put it on your to-do list.
Colonial Playhouse is at 522 West Magnolia Avenue in Aldan. For more information, call 610-622-5773 or visit www.colonialplayhouse.net

'Rope' continues through Oct. 8 at the Colonial Playhouse.

‘Rope’ continues through Oct. 8 at the Colonial

Put seeing Curio Theatre’s artistic and creepy ‘The Birds’ on your October calendar

By Margie Royal

When the days grow shorter and leaves start to fall, theaters know their audiences enjoy stories of mystery, suspense and tales which look into the darker aspects of life. Curio Theatre follows this tradition with a good choice: the area premiere of “The Birds” by Conor McPherson, directed by Elizabeth Carlson-Guerin. I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “The Birds,” many years ago, but did not know the film was inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s short story. Although I have not read that story, I am told both the film and McPherson’s theatrical presentation are all different, and feature very different characters. But all three stories share the basic storyline of birds suddenly swarming and attacking humans — of nature turning against mankind.

Aetna Gallagher and Tessa Kuhn in "The Birds" at Curio Theatre. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas

Aetna Gallagher and Tessa Kuhn in “The Birds” at Curio Theatre. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas

I arrived at Curio expecting a story featuring a woman such as the one played by Tippi Hedren in the Hitchcock film. I certainly did not expect to enter the Curio Theatre and find a walkway leading past a shack into beach home. The amazing set by Paul Kuhn takes audiences into the beach house that is under attack by the birds. Seated on three sides of the kitchen and living room area, we are shut inside the house and watch as the story unfolds. We hear the swarming birds all around us, thanks to Chris Sannino’s nifty sound design. When Robin Stamey’s lighting dims through the beach house windows, and the shutters are drawn against the soon-to-arrive attack, we even hear at times, the birds hitting the roof over our heads as we watch the three inhabitants that are living in the home try to survive.

Aetna Gallagher plays Diane, a writer, who saves a delirious stranger, Nat (Rich Bradford). They seek shelter in the deserted beach house, knowing that the change of tides is soon to arrive and with it will come the birds. The story is a little leisurely at the start, it’s likely the pace will tighten up through the run of the play. With the arrival of Julia (Tessa Kuhn), tensions inside the shelter really start to heat up. Suspicion, jealousy, lies and negative thoughts chronicled in Julia’s diary fill the air inside the beach shack with poisonous power, every bit as dangerous as the toxins which have turned the birds outside into murderous birds of prey. All three actors create natural, believable people caught up in an end-of-the-world scenario. The arrival of neighbor Tierney (Ken Opdenaker) takes the tension  level up even more. Opdenaker makes his character creepy and menacing and the scene between him and Diane, as played by Aetna Gallagher is one of the scariest moments in the play.

Kudos to Curio for yet another first-rate, artistic production. It would be hard for me to watch another staging of this play somewhere else; it would be difficult to top the experience Curio provides: of being shut inside the beach house, watching these actors and hearing the birds attack. If you need your fall theatrical fix of a gripping and unsettling story, don’t miss “The Birds.”

If you go: Performances continue through Oct. 29, 2016. All performances are at 8 p.m. For tickets, visit www.curiotheatre.org or call 215-525-1350. Curio Theatre is at 4740 Baltimore Avenue 4740 Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia. Tickets are  $15 – $25, online at http://www.curiotheatre.org

Getting to ‘The Mountaintop’ — An Intriguing Tale At People’s Light

By Ellen Wilson Dilks
Malvern’s People’s Light & Theatre Company opens Season Forty-two—a season dedicated to exploring American playwrights—with Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop.” As the country’s first African-American President’s term comes to a close, Hall’s imagining of Martin Luther King’s final night on earth is an excellent choice to lead off the theatre’s exploration of what being American is about.

Patrese D. McClain as Camae and Bowman Wright Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in "The Mountaintop."

Patrese D. McClain as Camae and Bowman Wright Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “The Mountaintop.”

Hall’s play is an imagining of what might have happened in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel on the night of April 3, 1968. Dr. King has just delivered his “I Have Been To The Mountaintop” speech at the Mason Temple (Church Of God In Christ) in support of striking sanitation workers. Returning to the room he shares with Ralph Abernathy, King is tired and feeling ill. But, he’s also keyed up and wrestling with his personal demons (King suffered from depression for most of his life). Abernathy has gone to get them some cigarettes, and a restless King calls room service. All they can offer him is coffee as the hour is late—shortly before midnight. Soon a maid knocks at the door with his coffee and a highly engaging encounter unfolds before the audience.
“The Mountaintop” had trouble finding a theatre willing to stage it initially, so Hall’s play debuted in London at the 65-seat Theatre 506; the run sold out and the reviews were raves, resulting in a move to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End. The play made its Broadway debut at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on September 22, 2011 with an official opening on October 13. Angela Bassett played Camae and Samuel L. Jackson made his first Broadway appearance in the role of Dr. King. It has since had numerous productions around the US, as well as in South Africa.
“The issue is injustice….Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights,…”
On the morning of Friday, April 5, 1968, my alarm went off as usual for a school day. I started dressing, turning on my radio as I did. It was then I heard the news of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, TN. I was shocked—and frightened. I still vividly remembered the aftermath of JFK’s murder 5 years prior. I kept asking myself “What is happening in this country? Why are good people being murdered?” I still don’t have any answers.
This past year or so we have gone through a highly divisive election cycle, we have seen unarmed young black men and women murdered by police officers, we have had police officers murdered by citizen’s in situations that got out of control, we have seen mass killing in churches, malls and a gay nightclub. The ugly underbelly of prejudice has been revealed yet again. We need reminders of the sacrifices made by people like MLK and others to create a world where all people are equal….

“…And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming the Lord.”

In “The Mountaintop,” Camae (the maid) has brought Dr. King’s coffee because she wants to meet him. She is very friendly—and King flirts with her. The loneliness of the road would get to him; Abernathy wrote in his biography that King struggled with the temptations of the flesh quite frequently. During the play, King does call his wife and demonstrates a genuine love for her and his children. In addition to her outgoing personality, Camea is also very earthy and outspoken. She and King do a verbal dance that is quite amusing; Hall’s dialogue is deft and believable. Soon things take on a more “other-worldly” feel and one wonders who Camae really is. In the midst of the comedic moments, King reveals his fears and doubts. The evening becomes his personal Gethsemane, of sorts. I won’t say anymore, as it would spoil the wonderful way Hall unfolds her story/message.
Patrese D. McClain is absolutely charming as Camae, disarming Dr. King and the audience, and then surprising the viewer with the depth of emotions she reaches in the latter part of this taut 90-minute piece. As Dr. King, Bowman Wright gives us a fully realized man—flaws and all. Not as adept an orator as King, Wright nonetheless captures a sense of King’s style. Well matched, these two actors bounce off each other perfectly, taking the viewer along on this whimsical, yet thought provoking journey.
Director Steve H. Broadnax III paces the piece nicely, smoothly transitioning from light banter to deep soul-searching exchanges. It is clear he and his actors have a love of the material, giving vibrant life to Hall’s script. The action plays out on Tony Cisek’s appropriately shabby motel room set that includes a dingy ceiling (something not often seen on stage today). The details used to create a suitably generic/low-budget motel room from the late 60s are spot on. And yet, there are a number of surprises in store as well. Joshua L. Schulman has lit things perfectly, and the special effects are quite effective. Original music and sound is provided by Justin Ellington—including snippets of King’s speech heard through the room’s cheesy TV. Marla Jurglanis’ costumes capture the period to a tee. Special mention must be made of Katherine Freer’s projections at the end of the piece; they brilliantly span all of the flat surfaces and take the viewer through the history of civil rights in America.
“The Mountaintop” is an important play; it humanizes a key figure in America’s recent past and illuminates that although we have made progress towards equality for all, much still needs to be done. I came of age during the turbulent 60s—a time of protests, of blacks, women and gays seeking basic human rights—basic dignity. These issues are still being fought for fifty years later. Intelligent discourse seems to have died, and compromise has become a dirty word. It is sad that I find myself again thinking, “What is happening in this country?”
If you go: “The Mountaintop” continues through Oct. 30, 2016 on the Steinbright Stage at People’s Light & Theatre, 39 Conestoga Road (Route 401) in Malvern, PA 19355. Box Office 610-644-3500, or visit www.peopleslight.org Performances are Tuesday thru Sunday, with the Box Office open from noon until 6pm daily.

Hedgerow’s ‘Angel Street’ provides plenty of psychological chills

By Christina Perryman
Not all horror stories need to involve blood and gore. Sometimes the most frightening stories involve psychological warfare. There is not a killer, per se, but the manipulation and intimidation tactics can kill a person’s spirit.
Patrick Hamilton’s “Gaslight” (staged at Hedgerow Theatre as “Angel Street), is a chilling tale of psychological control and madness. John and Bella Manningham are a married couple living in a beautiful Philadelphia home in 1924. Mr. Manningham believes Bella is going crazy, as her mother before her did. Bella misplaces items, forgets things and is prone to headaches and other nervous disorders. Bella’s biggest fear is that she will “go off her head” and all she wants from her husband is a little kindness. But is all as it seems? After a particularly nasty confrontation with John over a lost grocery bill, Bella’s way of thinking is challenged by the arrival of Kate Rough, a detective investigating a murder that occurred right in Bella’s living room. What if John is the killer? What if he is the puppet master, pulling the strings so Bella believes she is going crazy when, really, she is saner than her husband? The story is fascinating, keeping the audience guessing.
Under Cara Blouin’s direction, the show moves quickly and keeps the audience invested and engaged. Jared Reed (Mr. Manningham) and Jennifer Summerfield (Bella) are fantastic. Reed subtly intimidates Summerfield, often using just his voice. He could be commanding or gentle, menacing or calculating, all by raising or lowing his voice. Throughout Reed’s performance, the character appeared ready to strike at any moment, cold and calculating one second, warm the next. Summerfield was brilliant as “poor Bella.” She would go from completely fine to hysterical pleading in the blink of an eye. Summerfield’s facial expressions and body language were terrific, making the character one that was pitiful yet easy to pity.
Brittany Holdahl was great as Kate Rough. Holdahl was no nonsense, compassionate and determined. Susan Wefel and Allison Bloechl were terrific as the Manningham’s maids, Elizabeth and Nancy. Wefel was more subservient, caring for her mistress and weary of the master. Bloechl was more forward, critical of Bella and challenging to John. Mark Swift and Josh Portera round out the cast as Officers Booker and O’Shaughnassy.
Zoran Kovcic’s set is elegant; Sarah Mitchell’s costumes are well chosen. Reed’s lighting design is spot on — the dimming and brightening of the “gas lights” was well executed.
“Angel Street” runs at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, through Oct. 30. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $34 for adults, $31 for seniors and $20 for those age 30 and under. For tickets or information, call 610-565-4211 or visit www.hedgerowtheatre.org.

A fine revival of ‘Wanda June

By Margie Royal

I continue to be very impressed with Spotlight Theatre’s eclectic selection of plays. They tackle shows that other theaters would shy away from, for fear of not being able to draw an audience. I do hope theatre lovers come out in droves to see Spotlight’s well-done current production of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s dark comedy “Happy Birthday, Wanda June”, directed by Kathy Quinn. The show is not only well-acted and well-directed, but will get you thinking about how the revival of this play has many timely themes resurfacing in America in 2016.

Andrew SanFilippo and John Barker in "Happy Birthday, Wanda June."

Andrew SanFilippo and John Barker as son and father in “Happy Birthday, Wanda June.”

The play begins with a direct address to the audience by several characters whose stories we are about to watch unfold. Penelope, the wife of big game hunter Harold Ryan, tells the audience, “This is a simple-minded play about men who enjoy killing — and those who don’t.” The play takes place in 1969, and Vonnegut was clearly writing about the Vietnam War and the changing role of women and the “hippie” mind-set of “peace and love” over war and violence. But it’s also about the impulse towards violence in our natures; what defines the ideal man and woman, and what kind of America will come from how we handle and define these issues. And that’s all very timely and worth mulling over, particularly as we approach November’s presidential election.

The plot tells the story of big game hunter Harold Ryan (John Barker), who has been gone eight years. He left for a hunting trip with Col. Looseleaf Harper (Charles Hoffmann) and both are believed to dead. Ryan has become legendary for his feats of daring, and is idolized by his young son, Paul (Andrew SanFilippo), and salesman Herb Shuttle (Jack Kramer), who hopes to marry Penelope. Penelope is also courted by Dr. Norbert Woodly (Steve Travers), a gentle man, compassionate and kind. Woodly, as we will see, is a direct opposite of Harold Ryan.

When Harold Ryan abruptly returns, the audience meets a domineering, abusive and violent man, who thinks only of himself, his needs and is accustomed to brutishly using his power to take whatever he wants. He is cruel to his son and treats his wife like an object who exists only to serve his needs. His sidekick, Col. “Looseleaf” also returns to find his wife has remarried. He faces the changed world he returns to with bewilderment.

There’s also interesting interludes in the play which introduce the young girl, Wanda June (sweetly played by Alyssa Noel Dytko), German Nazi Major Siegfried Von Konigswald (well played by Joe Tranchitella) and Ryan’s former wife, Mildred, (Cindy Starcher in a nice portrayal of a drunken woman). These characters exist in the afterlife. I thought they represented possibilities for the future: youthful idealism and the energy of change, the old traditions of violence, war and the need to conquer,  and the option of choosing not to face it but to stay in an alcohol-induced escapism. These characters move in a limbo of sorts, and are loosely connected to Harold Ryan’s story. Their appearance makes the play quirky and unpredictable.

John Barker is terrific as the egocentric, self-absorbed and brutish Harold Ryan. Charles Hoffmann does a nice job as Col. Harper; playing him with humor but keeping his character’s befuddlement believable, and, — in the last scene, poignant. Sandra Lawler shines as Penelope Ryan, playing her with warmth, intelligence and conviction. Steve Travers and Jack Kramer also turn in strong performances as  Penelope’s would-be suitors. Andrew SanFilippo is remarkable as young Paul Ryan.

Vonnegut’s story may have been inspired by the ancient tale of Odysseus, but his play as staged by Spotlight Theatre in the year 2016, is “a timely statement about our national passion for violence and offer a thought-provoking perspective on the true nature of masculinity,” as director Kathy Quinn aptly says in the show’s press release.

The detailed set designed by Kathy Quinn is strikingly lit in green and red hues at the opening. The preshow and intermission music is well chosen. Kudos also to the prop and costume team of Jess DeStefano, Rosaleen Gallagher, Kathy Quinn and Brian Gillin.

Spotlight Theatre has installed a new floor and now has black drapes surrounding the seating area. They continue to make nice improvements to their church basement home. Please come out and support this growing theatre!  I’m already looking forward to seeing their next show, “The Miracle Worker,” which plays Dec. 2-17. In the meantime, don’t miss “Happy Birthday Wanda June.” Remaining shows are Oct. 22, 28, 29, 30 and Nov. 4 and 5, at Spotlight Theatre, 129 Park Avenue in Swarthmore, PA. The Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m., all other performances are at 8 p.m. Visit the theater’s website for more details and to purchase tickets: http://spotlighttheatrepa.org/

Angels in America, Part 2 at PCS

Editor’s note: because Edna Snidebottom and other members of the Delco Culture Vulture team were involved with the Halloween Short Play Festival at the Media Arts Council Gallery this weekend, we asked Rachel Kelly to be a guest reviewer and cover the opening of Player’s Club of Swarthmore’s production of “Angels in America, Part II”. We asked to include her perspective on the show as a young person born longer after the AIDS crisis passed. 

By Rachel Kelly

I’ve never seen a show like Angels in America Part Two: Perestrokia before. Directed by Dave Ebersole, it was a beautiful story about love, mortality, and forgiveness, set in the 1980’s New York during the AIDS crisis. It is a show that I think will stay with me.

The story starts with Prior (Ed Donlevie), a young man who contracts AIDS, who was dumped by his partner, Louis (Ryan Goulden). He’s visited by an angel (Lizzy Dalton-Negron), who tells him that he’s a prophet and that there’s a lot of work to be done. He turns to his friend Belize (Walter Hamilton McCready) for help. Prior’s ex- partner, Louis, starts to date Joe (Taylor Darden), who’s just left his Valium-addicted wife Harper (Heather Ferrel). Joe has turned down an offer from his mentor, Roy Cohn (Steve Connor), who had just been diagnosed with AIDS. Joe’s mother Hannah (Rhonda Goldstein), comes to New York to help her daughter-in-law, Harper.

The very first scene was confusing to me and I wasn’t sure what was going on. I knew where it was set, because the program had the scene list, but I couldn’t put together how that scene connected to the overall story. I didn’t see Part One, but I did read the note from the director of what you need to know. There was also a montage of stills and lines from part one. Theses things did help me gather a greater understanding of where the characters are at the start of the show, but it did take me until the second act to understand fully what was going on.

The director (Dave Ebersole) created some amazing staging. There were a few scenes that overlapped; one scene would happen and a character would stay on one side of the stage, while another scene on the other side of the stage would start, creating some striking images.  They also did this with a translucent screen, a scene would happen in front of it, and one would happen behind, creating a beautiful visual.

The set by Tim Bruno was dynamic. The way the cast utilized and changed it, was creative. The screen was used to show rain, snow, or the Bethesda foundation, and helped set the tone or mood for the scene. The effect of the angel flying was magical, she seemed weightless. The way she flew across the stage was powerful, and how she delivered a monologue while being suspended in the air was a feat. The lighting by Scott Halstead and Peter Cavanaugh was brilliant. The light surrounded the angel when she appeared making her look ethereal. The lights in the back of the stage would change colors based on emotional moments, and this helped underscore the tone of the story.

The costumes by Tina Taylor, Randino DelRosario, and Becky Wright were gorgeous. The angel had some of the most beautiful costumes I’ve seen. The dream sequence costumes were exciting and colorful. Even the stage crew were dressed in hospital scrubs.

The acting was phenomenal. The cast excelled in their roles, creating an authenticity that carried the story well. It’s a strong ensemble, and the actors had amazing chemistry. The relationships and moments always felt raw and real. Prior and Belize had a beautiful friendship, while Belize as Ron Cohn’s nurse was funny, and heart-breaking. The romantic tension between Louis and Joe was tantalizing, and Harper’s monologues were heartachingly amazing.

It’s a dark show, but there was lots of humor, especially with Belize and Prior. There was quite a funny scene in the second act, that left me in stiches.

The story was crafted well. How plotlines overlapped, and came together was fascinating. I enjoyed seeing how the relationships changed, and characters broke down and grew. Every character went through an amazing dynamic journey.

It’s important for everyone to know the history of AIDS. It’s a history that not many know about, especially the younger generation, because we didn’t live through it and no one told us about it. Most of my knowledge of AIDS came from Rent. I wasn’t taught about it in school and I didn’t see it on TV or in other movies. An epidemic was swept under the rug, and a large part of the population had forgotten about it.

One the lines that had an impact for me was “We’re not dying in secret anymore.” The fact that so many people died, while fighting for medical care, and fighting to be treated like a human being is terrifying. There was so much pain felt due to losing members of your community to a disease that wasn’t understood well. Victim blaming and homophobia steadily grew during those dark days.  I want to commend everyone who worked on this story, for bringing a part of history to light again in such a haunting beautiful and poetic way.  The gay community is still feeling the loss that AIDS took from them. It’s remains a huge part of people’s lives and the more dialogue that can be created the better.

A note of caution: this is a play for mature audiences, with dark subject matter, cursing, and nudity. There was a bit of non-sexual nudity, but it was tastefully done and a powerful moment. It didn’t appear shocking or obscene to me, but a part of the story that pushed the plot forward and an emotional moment between two of the characters.

It’s a long show. It ran over three hours, but I didn’t even notice, as I was so enthralled by the lives of characters who I grew to love and who I won’t forget. It’s a beautiful and powerful show, that teaches you something, and leaves with you with your own mortality to think about.

Angels in America, Part II:  Perestroika runs through Saturday, Nov. 12Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m.Friday and Saturdayperformances are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.  Advisory:  Strong language, adult themes, and nudity. Parents discretion is advised. Audiences can meet the artists in a talkback discussion after the Nov. 20 performance. Buy tickets either online at www.pcstheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or at the door. For more information about PCS – including upcoming events, shows, ticketing and directions, visitwww.pcstheater.org.

Magic and Mirth at ‘Iolanthe’, or, The Peer and the Peri’ at RVCO

Reviewed by Lisa Panzer

“We know it’s weakness, but the weakness is so strong” ~ Queen of the Fairies, Iolanthe

Frolicsome fairies, or peri, and foolhardy peers make for a super fun time with Gilbert and Sullivan’s IOLANTHE, superbly performed by RVCO as directed by Katherin P. Nealley.  This musical spoof takes some playful pokes at politics, love relationships and the peerage.  Iolanthe (Mary Punshon) a formerly favored fairy, is being punished by banishment, for having committed the capital offence of marrying a mortal.  The fairy Queen (Martha Smylie), out of affection, decides to release her, whereupon she learns that her son, Strephon the shepard (David Price), half fairy from the waist up, is in love and intends to marry a shepherdess, and Ward in Chancery, named Phyllis (Alexis Nicole Droke).  In fact, the whole of the House of Lords is also thoroughly, perplexedly, infatuated with her.  Phyllis, however, not knowing his parentage, only has eyes for Strephon, until she lays eyes on him talking with his immortally young looking mother, mistaking her for a mistress.  Never mind that her guardian, the Lord Chancellor (Edwin Nealley) has rejected Strephon’s proposal anyway. Adding to the merry mayhem is an ensuing  melee of mortal and immortal mixups, and some of the wittiest lyrical commentary ever, particularly entertaining as presented by RVCO.

The choral ensemble appear to be having fun on stage, and this very much transfers outward with numbers such as “Iolanthe From Thy Dark Exile Thou Art Summoned”, “Loudly Let the Trumpet Play”, “Strephon’s a Member of Parliament”, “Love, Unrequited, Robs Me of My Rest”, and many others, ending with the terrific finale, “Soon as We May, Off and Away”.

Mary Punshon delights as the sweetly singing, caring mother of David Price’s bright, sturdy voiced Strephon.  Alexis Nicole Droke also graces her character, Phyllis, with a beautiful voice and great expression, and Edwin Neally’s farcical side shines as The Lord Chancellor.  Martha Smylie is marvelous as The Queen of the Fairies, her singing strong and clear, and her comedic timing and charming character details are spot on.  Colim Dahms steals lots of laughs as Private Willis.  The orchestra, and chorus keep up a splendid pace, pouring forth fabulous sound under the direction of Michael Smith, all delivered in traditional Gilbert and Sullivan style with an extra dash of sparkle.

The fairy costumes (Janet Manley, Cathy Wakefield) are sparkly too, and along with a brilliant touch of lighted headpieces and wands, go adorably against with the more straightforward men’s wardrobes.  Lighting (Cathy Michael, David Furman) is well utilized to effectively enhance action and scenes on facile set (William Michael), and the program (Martha Smylie), complete with fascinating facts and a great glossary, is entertaining as well as enlightening.

Book by W.S. Gilbert

Music by Arthur Sullivan

Remaining performances are Nov. 9 and 12 at 8 p.m., and Nov. 13 and 24 at 2 p.m. at Strath Haven Middle School, 200 South Providence Road (Route 252) Wallingford. For information, call 610-565-5010 (recorded message/voice mail) or visit rvco.org.

Is this the end my friend? ‘Marisol at Villanova Theatre

By Ellen Wilson Dilks

Villanova Theatre’s second offering of the 2017-2017 season is MARISOL, an Obie Award-winning play by Jose Rivera.  The production is directed by James Ijames and runs on the University’s Vasey Hall stage through Nov. 20. “Brooklyn is a war zone, coffee is extinct, the moon has disappeared and angels are trading in their wings for machine guns.” A surreal and timely piece, MARISOL has been called the “anti-apathy” play.

Written in 1990, while Rivera was living in New York City, MARISOL premiered in 1992 at the 16th Annual Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, KY. An NYC premiere followed in 1993 at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Some of the events in the play are based on real experiences of Rivera’s and his family’s during their time in the Bronx. However, elements of “magical realism” appear throughout the play, and there is a strong influence of the “Theatre of the Absurd.”

MARISOL is eerily relevant to events of the past four days. Mr. Ijames states in the press release “We’re doing the play right now because the world is crazy.” How right he is.  In Marisol’s world, things are so out of joint, the sun rises in the west. And yet, there is humor amongst the chaos. Humor has always been my salvation and I think it is for many of us.

Ijames’ direction is subtle, grounded, truthful. Moreover, the performances he has elicited from his student actors are solid. Rachel O’Hanlon Rodriguez leads the ensemble as the title character. Her portrayal is impassioned as she embodies the role of a young frightened Puerto Rican American alone in a world gone mad. She totally draws the audience into Marisol’s life. Alexandra King is quietly compelling as the angel, gently offering comfort and guidance one minute and then a warrior princess the next. As Marisol’s work friend (and others), Laura Barron displays terrific versatility, showing strength and vulnarability. Leo Bond nails the role of June’s mentally challenged brother Lenny. At first scary, bond reveals an inner caring and strength to this damaged soul. Rounding out the ensemble, playing various people Marisol encounters (a odd assortment of vagabonds), are Nikitas Menotiades, Kim Shimer and Patrick McAndrew. All three are terrific, creating unique characterizations throughout.

The technical side of the production is strong as well. Ijames deft staging plays out nicely on Parris Bradley’s spare yet inventive set. Jerrold R. Forsyth’s lighting creates mood and focus on the action. The futuristic (yet relatable) costumes are the work of Jennifer Povish, and John Stovicek’s soundscape is evocative.

I have to admit that I have struggled for three days to write this review. I’ve sat down at my computer and then I’ve heard about someone being attacked for their race or sexual orientation and I have to process that.  It is very challenging to write about a piece with such a dystopian storyline when one feels we are entering an apocalypse of our own right now…

MARISOL forces the viewer to think about their world-view. Forces one to decide if they want to hide or act. As Ijames states in the press release, “This play is about what happens when we’re concerned about the wrong things.” However, Rivera has infused the story with humor throughout. One finds oneself “laughing right through the misery.” (Los Angeles Times)

Not for everyone, MARISOL contains strong language and violence.  Rivera’s hope is that his play will inspire audiences to wake up and agents of change—for good.  I applaud the university for their willingness to present such controversial material. It challenges the audience at every turn. You will be thinking about it—and our world—for days after.

If you go: Performances continue through Nov. 8—20, 2016. Villanova Theatre – Vasey Hall, 800 Lancaster Avenue (at Ithan Ave.), Villanova, PA 19085. 610-519-7474 www.villanovatheatre.org

uirky ‘Mauritius’ Onstage At Act II Playhouse

By Ellen Wilson Dilks

Ambler’s Act II continues their current season with a production of Therese Rebeck’s 2007 Broadway debut, MAURITIUS (pronounced “mor-ish-us”). Directed by David Bradley, this darkly comic play runs now through Nov.20 on the company’s Butler Avenue stage. Who knew stamp collecting could be so fraught with intrigue?

Best known for her television work (Writer/Producer for Law & Order, SVU and Writer for NYPD: Blue, among others), Ms. Rebeck is a gifted playwright, garnering praise for such works as The Understudy, Bad Dates, Loose Knit and Seminar. Though early in her canon, MAURITIUS is plotted well, and Rebeck has created taut dialogue for characters that fascinate as they repel.

The play’s protagonist is Jackie, a twenty-something whose mother has just died of cancer. She appears to be tough, hard—not an easy character to like; but we soon realize she is broken. The brunt of mom’s care fell on her young shoulders, and the burden of dealing with the financial fallout seems to have been the final straw. She is wound tight and desperate.  Enter her estranged older half-sister, Mary—who left at 16. Though never revealed, one senses that Mary has married well and lives in a charmed life. Her condescension towards Jackie is cold, and her seeming detachment from her mother’s suffering is off-putting. Rebeck never explains what caused the estrangement; a bit more back-story on the sisters would be nice.  Amongst Mom’s possessions is a stamp collection that Jackie claims the mother gave to her. Mary says they belonged to her paternal grandfather, and are thus hers. The action starts with Jackie asking the owner of a run-down collectibles store, Phil, to evaluate the group of stamps in her album. He is not interested, but a younger hanger-on in the shop, named Dennis, looks. Dennis discovers the collection contains the “holy grail of stamp collecting:” uncancelled One-Penny and Two-Pence “Post Office” stamps issued on the island of Mauritius in 1847.

The words “Post Office” appear in the left panel, but on the following issue in 1848, “Post Paid” replaced these words. A legend arose later that the words “Post Office” had been an error. The original run consisted of only 500 of each stamp, so they are extremely rare and have sold for ever-increasing amounts. Dennis does not tell either Jackie or Phil what he has seen, instead instantly contacts another collector, Sterling – he’s the money man and rather nefarious. Thus, the games—and cons—begin.

There is strong ensemble work on display in Act II’s production. Director David Bradley’s deft touch is apparent, but it is also clear he gave his actors freedom to invent and “play.” The storytelling is precise and grounded in truth—the best type of theatre. Bradley is adept at drama and comedy, and MAURITIUS seesaws between both at warp speed. He has kept the pace brisk, but gets the message across the footlights: Greed is NOT good.”

The always-engaging Brian McCann is wonderful in the smallish, but pivotal, role of Phil. McCann is highly nuanced as he inhabits a man who is fading fast into oblivion, but still has one last flash of glory in him. Julianna Zinkel handles the prickly role of Mary with panache. Zinkel’s stage persona is generally likable, and she manages to give Mary some appeal without sacrificing the character’s coldness. Not an easy task.  As the mobster-like Sterling, Stephen Novelli is playing against type to great effect. He scares you, but makes you laugh too. He has a real handle on this contradictory character.

Jake Blouch charms and plots and finagles as the wily Dennis. He gets to both sisters, quickly sussing out what will work on each. It is such a wonderfully multi-layered performance; I was spellbound whenever he was onstage. Campbell O’Hare also shines as she slowly unfolds Jackie and her frustrations for us. She is all jittery nerve endings one minute and a sharp negotiator the next. It is an interesting performance to watch. She nicely reels us in as the story progresses.

There is top-notch work on the technical side as well. Upon entering the house, you see a series of worn bookcases across the front of the stage with musty boxes of stamps from all over the world in them. As the action starts, these are rolled to the sides to become part of Phil’s shop—which is rife with great details.  I won’t tell you how they transition to the mother’s worn living room—I don’t want to spoil the surprise.  All of this is the brainchild of set designer Colin McIlvane.  Lilly Fossner lights everything to terrific effect—I especially liked the bars of stark light coming from the sides during scene changes, they evoked the sense of tension needed. Samantha Reading provides some intense fight choreography that had the audience gasping; and Katherine Fritz has dressed everyone to appropriately give insight into their character. The sound design by Christopher Colucci is awesome. Part rocking blues, part “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” and part funk, it gets you grooving in your seat before the show and carries you effortlessly through the performance.

Clocking in at two hours and ten minutes (including intermission), the performance does contain adult language, so I’d recommend 18 and up.  It is well worth the drive to Ambler to catch this entertaining and thought-provoking play that asks (among other things) “What are you capable of doing if your back is against the wall?”

MAURITIUS is a funny, biting, captivating piece. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, Rebeck unfolds a new surprise.  Ever-shifting configurations occur before the viewer’s eyes as these five flawed people pair up and face off.  Rebeck builds the tension, then veers into dark comedy before swerving back to the high-stakes stand-offs.

Performances continue through Nov. 20, 2016. Act II Playhouse is at 56 E. Butler Avenue, Ambler, PA 215-654-0200  www.act2.org

Players Club revives ‘The Dining Room’

By Margie Royal

The Players Club of Swarthmore has brought an interesting and well-performed production of A.R. Gurney’s ‘The Dining Room” to its Second Stage. I have to admit that I wasn’t really keen on seeing the play; the previous production I saw many years ago had squarely focused on the WASP culture of privileged Americans, and I just couldn’t connect with what I was watching, having grown up so differently. But I am glad I saw PCS’ production, and I urge you to make a visit to this  “Dining Room.” By his casting choices and by choosing to repeat one of the short scenes entirely in Spanish, Director Anthony SanFilippo has stressed the universality of the play, and made it relatable to those of us who didn’t grow up with silver spoons in our mouths.

For those unfamiliar with ‘The Dining Room,” it is a collage of overlapping scenes which take place in – your guessed it – a dining room. The talented cast of Jasmine Bryant, Ruth Wells Fischer, Randall Frame, Annaliese Gove, Glen Macnow, Jared Paxson, Tricia Sullivan, and Brandon Young play multiple roles, from children to adults with an assortment of problems to the very elderly. The scenes range from comic (such as an elderly aunt instructing her nephew on the proper use of a finger bowl), to poignant (a Thanksgiving dinner with a mother suffering dementia) with a variety of confrontations mainly between parents and children of all ages in between. Part of the enjoyment is not knowing what comes next, and also seeing adults play very young children.

In the show’s program notes, SanFilippo writes about seeing the play as a metaphor, stating “we each have our own dining rooms where we store the real issues that we tackle in our day-to-day lives.”He’s brought that vision to PCS’s revival and made the play universal, rather than solely an examination of WASP America.

Kudos to the terrific cast for showcasing their ability to play a wide range of characters.

I have to add that I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan and often listen to WIP Radio during football season, so it was also fun to see show host Glen Macnow make his stage debut in this production. Keep at it, Glen, you’re a natural!

Kudos also to set designers Tony Waterer and Jim Carroll who create a formal dining room and seat the audience around it. The intimacy of the Second Stage further enhances the power of the play. Cindy Schneeman’s prop work, Ryan Stone’s lighting and Annaliese Gove’s costume design also adds greatly to the production.

If you go: Performances continue on the Raymond W. Smith stage Nov. 20 at 7 p.m., Nov. 25 and 26 at 8 p.m., and Nov. 27 at 2 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door.  There are no advance sales, but reservations can be made at www.pcstheater.org. The Players Club is located at 614 Fairview Road in Swarthmore, PA. The Second Stage is not handicap accessible.

Miracle on 34th St. will put you in the holiday spirit

By Edna Snidebottom
Colonial Playhouse introduces their youngest generation of budding actors in the wonderful story by Peter Troxell and Rita Faye Wadsworth, Miracle on 34th St. What fun it is to watch these youngsters working with Colonial’s seasoned veterans in the collaboration of a holiday classic.
You will notice that some of them have the same last name as older members in the cast such as Avalon Leech who is a fun elf and the daughter of Kathryn Leech who is formidable as prosecutor Mara, the lawyer who tries to convince the jury that there is no Santa Claus.
Margaret Shelton’s terrific as Susan Walker, a young girl who believes in Santa and the wish he has promised to grant her. Isabel Nagel also shines as Janet, Mara’s daughter, who testifies that Santa Claus is real for her. Olivia Weber plays Adorable Extra and she’s certainly that. Sarah Norbeck’s lovely as German Girl and her duet with Santa was one of my favorite moments.
In fact, I was impressed with all the young actors which also includes David Campbell, Randy Thomas Johnson, Robby Johnson, Steve Guard and Danny Devine. Gina Travis and Frederick Cubler, III will be performing Susan Walker and Johnny in future shows.
Of course, you must have a very good actor playing the role of Kris Kringle and director Erin Guard wisely tapped Jake Sloss to fill Santa’s shoes. He brings a warmth and humility to the role and his interaction with the children is wonderful.
Amy Culver does nicely as Doris Walker, a working mom who doesn’t believe in the magic of Christmas until her neighbor Fred Gayley (well-played by Benjamin Kerr) along with Kris Kringle challenge her beliefs.
John Devine does nicely as Doctor Pierce, a man who genuinely likes Kringle but does not believe he is actually Santa (or does he?). I don’t believe I’ve seen George Webster’s work before but his portrayal of Judge Harper was so effortless, I found myself wondering if he was a judge in real life (the best compliment you can get as an actor).
The elves (Arpy Jones, Jackie Anderson and Marcy Hoffman) were a lot of fun (the costumes by Annaliese Gove were great – loved the ears!), Rachee Fagg does nicely in a variety of roles as does Maddie McCormick. Rounding out this fine cast is Jim Hulme, Jennine Weber, David Campbell, Marilyn Esner, Steve Lythgoe, Aidan Lopez and Jack Gallagher.
The one suggestion I do have is when doing a play such as this with many different locations, lighting changes would work better than moving furniture and props for each scene change. Especially towards the end of the play when we go back and forth from the court to other locations, it would have been nice to take down the lights center stage and bring up lights left or right for the scenes in between thereby keeping the action moving smoothly. This would also tighten up the pace.
That being said, there’s a lot to like about this production, so if you want to get in the mood for the holidays make sure you stop by Miracle on 34th St. Kids can get their picture with Santa on Dec. 4 after the matinee. It continues Dec. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11 at the theater, 522 West Magnolia Avenue in Aldan. Call 610-622-5773 for location and times or visit www.colonialplayhouse.net.

Moving production of ‘The Miracle Worker’ at Spotlight Theatre

By Margie Royal

Spotlight Theatre is presenting a fine revival of “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson, directed by Jessica Stinson, through Dec. 17. This classic drama tells the story of the early years of Helen Keller’s life. She was born in Alabama in 1880, a healthy child for the first 19 months of her life. She then contracted what is now believed to have been scarlet fever.
The play opens with the discovery that the fever has left Helen blind, deaf and dumb. After this short scene, the play moves forward five years, and introduces the Keller family. Helen’s father, Captain Keller, is a stern older man, who runs his household with authority. His young, second wife, Kate, is seemly meek, but as the play progresses, we see her use her charm to intercede on Helen’s behalf, and sway the Captain’s decisions. James, the Captain’s son by his first wife, is sarcastic and resentful of Kate. Aunt Ev shares meals with the family at times, and all of them, including servants Martha and Viney, are subject to Helen’s whims and tantrums.

Confounded by the child’s animal-like behavior, the family applies to the Perkins Institute for the Blind and are sent a teacher, Annie Sullivan. Sullivan undertakes the huge challenge of teaching Helen language. I won’t spoil the play by telling you that she succeeds; it’s well known that Helen Keller graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1904 and went on to become a writer, fundraiser and activist for the handicapped. She was honored by many U.S. presidents in her lifetime.
The play takes place in many locations, and Ms. Stinson uses the Spotlight space nicely to show scenes at the railroad station, Annie’s attic bedroom, the Keller dinner table, water pump and garden shed. The scenes flow seamlessly, thanks to the acting and the nice use of the stage area along with some judicious cuts to the script.
Jim Fryer does a great job as Captain Keller, showing a cold, proud man with a soft heart. There’s a subtle humor in the scenes he plays where we see the Captain giving orders, then caving in to a request made by Annie or his wife. Elizabeth Balabayev captures Kate Keller’s ability to cajole the Captain, and shows the fierce motherly affection her character has for Helen. Stephen Travers creates a sarcastic, resentful James Keller, then shows us that his character really craves his father’s love. Emily West shines as the plain-spoken “Yankee” who must stand up not only to the Keller family, but fight inner demons as well. Kayla Teplica is terrific as Helen, and makes a remarkable stage debut with this performance. Others in the solid cast are John Hill as the doctor who pronounces that Helen will recover from the fever, Cheryl Stark as Aunt Ev, Nance Reeves as Viney and Angela Robb as Martha.
Kudos to set designer Dan Stinson who designed the many detailed locations the play requires. John Huber’s sound design and Andrew Montemayer’s lighting design is also well done, and is particularly effective in Annie’s inner demon scenes. Sue Alba’s costume design nicely conveys the late Victorian era.
Although it’s not a seasonal story, “The Miracle Worker” delivers a good message for this time of the year as we approach the winter solstice and the rebirth of the light. The play’s message deals with fighting through adversity, and of persevering in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It also deals with our innate power to grow and learn, and find “the treasure locked inside”, as Annie states. It’s a play suitable for family viewing, for older children who can sit quietly through a two-hour show. Don’t miss Spotlight’s fine production!
If you go: Remaining performances are Dec. 9, 10, 11*, 16, and 17, 2016
Dec. 18 is sold out.
Show times are Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm – Tickets $15
*Sunday at 2pm – Tickets $12
December 10 is a special performance, starting at 7 pm following Spotlight’s Fifth Annual Holiday Production and Silent Auction at 5:30 pm. Come early and enjoy appetizers and refreshments and a Silent Auction featuring a variety of items including: designer household items, luxury brand cosmetics and fragrances and more. This event is a fundraiser; proceeds benefit the theatre.

‘Antagonyms’ at Curio: being an adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

By Ellen Wilson Dilks

In its twelve-year history, West Philadelphia’s Curio Theatre Company has presented 11 world premieres, the latest by Company Member Rachel Gluck. Entitled ANTAGONYMS, the play introduces viewers to four 20-something Philadelphians grappling with identity as they try to outrun their demons. Their pasts meet their presents in this “modern-day noir” that is at times darkly funny and at others deeply tragic. The production runs from now until Dec. 17 in Curio’s intimate downstairs space, located on the lower level of the Calvary Center at 47th  and Baltimore Avenue.

An antagonym is a word that can mean the opposite of itself; an example (used by one of the characters) would be “left”—as in that which is remaining and/or that which is gone. Each of the characters in Gluck’s play has parts of their life that fit both those definitions. Some run away from adult relationships and, by the end, one is gone.

Gluck’s dialogue is crisp, with a dry wit during early scenes. It is also raw—not for the kiddies.  Her characters intrigue… There’s Jonny, the handsome, brooding artist who is also a recovering alcoholic. And his girlfriend, Mauve, a somewhat flinty accountant who’s a bit uptight. The two are about to take the big step of moving in together. Enter Charlotte, who used to sleep with Jonny. Charlotte manages an art gallery, and men.  She is a “femme fatale,” as they would say in Noir.  ANTAGONYMS‘final character is Mauve’s estranged brother, Dorian, who has secrets like the others. He and Charlotte devour each other.  And that’s all I’m saying about the plot.

I have to admit that at times I couldn’t relate to the ANTAGONYMS’ 20-something angst. I spent my twenties raising babies; I didn’t have time to obsess about myself—I was too worried about how badly I’d screw up the two little ones I’d given birth to, (who, I guess, spent their twenties doing the things these characters do.)  I will say the acting was impactful. Director Jack Tamburri has created a solid production that never bores. The pace never lags and the audience is drawn into the world of the play. His touches are subtle but deft.

Curio Company members Colleen Hughes (Mauve) and Andrew Carroll (Jonny) turn in wonderful performances. Hughes is adept at portraying women who are walking nerve ends, doubting their worth. Quite a talent when you are actually the opposite.  Mauve allows Charlotte to get into her psyche, and Hughes lets us see her character’s vulnerability in a wonderfully nuanced way. Carroll’s Jonny is also multi-faceted. He isn’t afraid of displaying his character’s flaws. You definitely feel his struggle to overcome his past.

Two gifted guest artists make their Curio debuts in this production—and I hope we see lots more of them. As Dorian, Alexander Scott Rioh is terrific, all strutting peacock. Rioh holds nothing back, relishing both the moments where his character seems like a total jerk and then switching gears to show a bit of gentleness. Finally, there’s a virtuoso performance by Alexandra Spadoni as Charlotte. Spadoni exudes sex appeal from her first entrance, thoroughly fascinating the viewer as she slowly “peels the onion” that is Charlotte. There’s cruelty, disdain, humor, snark and, at last, a lost little girl hiding her pain. The audience loves her one second and hates her the next.

Abetting the storytelling is the strong technical work of Curio’s designers. As always, Paul Kuhn has created a wonderful set. The intimate playing space is split into the funky West Philly bar where the characters hang out and Charlotte’s cramped studio apartment. Filled with interesting angles and details, the set provides the perfect world for Gluck’s story to play upon. Dominic Chacon has given the whole thing just the right “Noir-ish” lighting to set the tone and mood: all reds and blues—very evocative. As is the soundscape created by Elizabeth Atkinson. Heavy on jazz, Atkinson also mixes in occasional music with a contemporary feel so we never forget the age of these characters. The costumes by Aetna Gallagher are a terrific blend of current and vintage, delineating each character just right.

Not your typical “holiday” fare, ANTAGONYMS is an interesting evening of theatre. It may give parents an insight into what their kids are dealing with these days. It is a much more challenging world than recent generations faced. A college graduate is in debt up to their eyeballs with no guarantee of finding a job in their field. Terrorism and gun violence can happen anywhere—even in America. And we have a government in shambles with the two main parties engaged in a decades-long pissing contest. A bit more intense than what was happening when either my kids or I were in our twenties. Gluck does a great job of illuminating the mindset, while also infusing intelligent humor into the story.  Go see ANTAGONYMS, I think you’ll find it quite interesting.

If you go: “Antagonyms” runs through Dec. 17. All shows are at Curio Theatre Company at the Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 4740 Baltimore Ave, in the Black Box Theatre.  Shows are performed Thursday-Saturday night at 8 p.m.   Tickets are $15-$25 and are available online at www.curiotheatre.org.

‘The Christmas Encounter’ delivers a good message at Barnstormers

By Rachel Kelly

“The Christmas Encounter” directed by Sherri Dubois and written by Timothy Dubois, starts with a group of foster kids, Michelle (Bella Ursone), Jessica (Eliana Ortiza), Shelby (Naomi Walton), Simon (Joshua Ursone), and Jamie (Daniel Brittain) planning to rob a woman collecting for a Christmas charity. The kids are caught, and the women reveals herself to be an angel named Angela, who takes the kids on a journey to learn the true origin and meaning of Christmas.

The group of foster kids worked well together, they had good comedic timing together. Each one had a distinct character, and played them well. Michelle was a lonely child who didn’t feel like she had a family. Bella Ursone played the character with a lot of authenticity and her character evolution was compelling to watch.

Angela the angel (Jennifer Ursone) was sweet, and kind, everything you would want an Angel to be. Mary (Netanya Brittian) and Joseph (Jared Falk), were funny together and had good chemistry. The Sheppard’s were adorable. The wise men (Anna Rose Smith, Alyssa Dubois, John Joseph, and Chandler Ortiz) were quite funny and had a few hilarious scenes. The Angel Gabriel (Autumn Garibay) was funny as well.

The costumes by Sherri Dubois were magical. The wise men’s costumes were colorful, and fun. The angels choir looked adorable but powerful, dressed in white and gold. The set was simple but worked well to help carry the story. They changed the set several times, throughout the show. The stage shifted from the street, to Bethlehem, to a soup kitchen.

The show pointed out that some people don’t know the true story of Christmas. Modern Christmas songs changed the story of Christmas to fit a tune. People have learned fiction over the original telling. It’s almost like how life is now, how we’re being were being bombarded with things that aren’t true. It’s good to go back and learn the story of Christmas, and to understand the meaning beyond the presents..

The final note of the show was that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves. That everybody matters. Jesus came from nothing but still grew up to be a king. We need to take care of each other. Things are tense in the world right now, a lot of people are scared this holiday season. A confirmation that everyone matters, that loving each other is what it’s all about, is a good message for everyone to hear.

It’s a great show to take your family too this holiday season!

“The Christmas Encounter” is playing Dec. 16 and 17 at 7pm and 11 and 18 at 2pm at Barnstormers Theater, 402 Tome St, Ridley Park, Pa.

‘Mary Poppins’ is great fun at Players Club

By Christina Perryman

“Mary Poppins” has long been a favorite childhood story. The neat, orderly Banks home, often disrupted by two unruly children, is turned completely upside down when a new nanny literally swoops into their lives. With a combination of common sense, practical measures and a little magic, Mary disciplines the children and teaches just about everyone in the home valuable lessons of family and love. “Mary Poppins The Broadway Musical,” based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the beloved Disney movie, has all the best elements of the movie with some new and interesting characters and songs. Audiences can catch the magic on stage at The Players Club of Swarthmore under the wonderful direction of Brian Walsh.

The show is led with an outstanding performance by Bridget Thompson as Mary Poppins. Thompson perfectly captures the stern yet caring demeanor of Mary through her voice and movements. She interacts wonderfully with the Banks children and Bert, well played by Neil Kirschling. Leah Sucharski and Eric Carter-Thompson were great as Mrs. and Mr. Banks. Carter-Thompson nicely conveyed Mr. Banks struggle to lead his household while facing challenges at work. His transformation from stuffy, aloof father to an involved dad was gradual and well played. Sucharski wonderfully showed Mrs. Banks’ inner strength and resolve to help her family and stand by her husband no matter what. The scene when Mrs. Banks bursts into the bank to defend her husband was comical.

Ella Grossman and Sam Gorman were excellent as Jane and Michael Banks. They were spoiled difficult at the beginning of the show but are lovable and endearing by the curtain.  Grossman and Gorman play the feisty Banks children on Dec. 15 and 16. Zoe Hunchack and Will Rubin step into the roles on Dec. 17.

I enjoyed Kat Lemon as Miss Andrew (the Holy Terror), Ann Ramsey as Miss Brill, Kevin Gane as Robertson Ay and Chaz Meyers as the beleaguered Park Keeper. Doris Chan was good as the Bird Woman as was Raymond Carter-Thompson as statue come to life Neleus.

The costumes, designed by Tara Hewlett, were terrific. I especially liked the chimney sweeps. Scenic artist Tanya Sistare created a nice English home. The two tier design worked very well. The choreography, by Katie Sienkiewicz was solid but occasionally the timing was off. The music, backed by a live orchestra and under the musical direction of Emily Szal, includes favorites “Jolly Holiday,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Step In Time” along with catchy new songs such as “A Man Has Dreams,” “Anything Can Happen” and “Brimstone and Treacle.” The “Step In Time” tappers, Tommy Bennett, Patrick Gaughan, Liz Iannacci, Emma Dingle, Amelia San Filippo, John Dingle, Jenna Sharples and Kirschling, were fantastic.

“Mary Poppins” continues at The Players Club of Swarthmore, 614 Fairview Road, Swarthmore, 2 p.m. Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15 and 8 p.m. Dec. 16 and 17. Tickets are $25 for adults, $24 for seniors and $13 for students. For tickets or information, visit http://www.pcstheater.org/ or call 610-328-4271. Next up for Players Club is “Entering Laughing,” Jan. 6-21.

Christmas by Candlelight seamlessly blends the old and the new

By Christina Perryman

The Candlelight Theatre, 2208 Milers Road, Wilmington, Del., has brought back a fan favorite for the Christmas season. “Christmas by Candlelight,” on stage through Dec. 23 is excellently directed by Candlelight’s Artistic Director, Bob Kelly, with musical direction by David Snyder. The show is an original production featuring many of the theatre’s best and brightest stars. Starring this year are Timothy Lamont Cannon, Tiffany Christopher, Anthony Connell, Stephen DaGrossa, Rick Fountas, Renee Grant, Heather Healy, Tori Healy, Daniel Irwin, Lindsay Mauck, Samantha Ricchiuti, Ricky Rotandi, Clayton Stacey, Andre Dion Wills, Erin Waldie and Cindy Zern. The cuteness factor was upped with the addition of children Julia Miller and Colin Zern. The show is designed in a way that truly showcases the talents of the Candlelight crew.

The two-act event is more like two shows in one. Act one is a fun and fantastical look inside Santa’s workshop. His elves are busy preparing for the big day with one notable absence – Santa is missing. It’s up to Mrs. Claus and the elves to get everything together and ready in case Mr. C doesn’t make it back in time. The songs include traditional music with original lyrics, such as the opener, “Black Friday,” and “The Finale,” a stellar number set to the music of “One Day More” from “Le Miserables.” The first act also features several enjoyable mixtures, such as the Santa Medley (“Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, etc.), Snow Medley and Yule Rock Medley.

The act was fast paced, energetic and amusing. Each number gave different actors and actresses the chance to shine. Especially well done were “All I Want For Christmas is You,” featuring Christopher, Tori Healy and Ricchiuti. Christopher is a powerhouse singer. Her number during the Elves Got Talent segment, “Santa Baby,” featured 10 hilarious Santas stumbling over each other to grant Christopher’s Christmas wishes. Other first act standouts included “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” featuring Julia and Colin with a very funny Rotandi, “Santa Bring My Baby Back,” featuring DaGrossa and the company, and “Mister Santa” with Heather Healy, Tori Healy and Cindy Zern.

Renee Grant, who leads the pack as Mrs. Claus, was born to play that jolly lady. Grant is welcoming and affable, with a twinkle in her eye and laughter in her voice. Rotandi, who plays the head elf, is very comical, particularly his facial expressions and body language.

Act two is much more traditional and contains songs such as “Little Drummer Boy,” “The Christmas Song,” (great performance by Cannon) “Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and ends with a “White Christmas” sing along. “12 Pains of Christmas” was quite funny and back to back songs “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (beautifully sung by Connell) and “Merry Christmas Darling” (well done by Waldie) were tearjerkers. It was a nice touch having Connell appear at the back of the stage as Waldie finished her tune. It linked the two songs nicely.

Jennifer Polish’s choreography was well executed, energetic and eye-catching. The sets, designed Jeff Reim, matched the sentiments of each act. The elves workshop was whimsical and brightly colored. The second act was festive. The use of the screen off to the left side of the stage was well used. The audience enjoyed the retro commercials played during Elves Got Talent. Great lighting by Mike Cristello and sound by Dennis Mahoney with wigs and hair by Lisa Miler Challenger and makeup by Clayton Stacey completed a spirited show.

Costumer Cannon chose attire both merry and attractive. The elves were terrific and Grant’s Mrs. Claus costume was gorgeous. The elegant dresses in the second act were dazzling and the men looked great in their suits for the finale.

“Christmas by Candlelight” is on stage through Dec. 23. Shows are Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows. Buffet is until 7:30 and the show begins at 8 p.m. On Sundays, doors open at 11 a.m. with buffet until 12:30 and show at 1. Additional performances are Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 20 and 21, doors open at 6 p.m. Sunday shows have sold out, so get tickets as soon as possible.

Tickets are $59 per person and include a fabulous holiday feast including turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, stuffing, chicken pot pie and more. “Christmas by Candlelight” is a show the entire family can enjoy. And remember, theatre tickets can make a wonderful Christmas gift!

Once the show closes, so will Candlelight for a bit for long anticipated renovations, including a new stage. Candlelight will reopen, March 18, with its first show of the 2017 season, “Camelot.” The season continues with “Crazy for You,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “Funny Girl” and closes with “Beauty and the Beast.”

For more information or tickets, call 302-475-2313 or visit http://www.candlelighttheatredelaware.com/

 Media’s ‘A Christmas Story: the Musical’ is full of charm and nostalgia

By Margie Royal

‘Tis the season for Christmas shows and the Media Theatre is presenting a charming musical version of a perennial favorite, “A Christmas Story: the Musical” now through Jan. 8. The musical, with a book by Joseph Robinette and music and lyrics written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is faithful to the classic film version. Book writer Robinette has penned many hour-long children’s shows; this show is also family-friendly for children who can sit for a two-act show with about a two-hour running time.

Ralphie (Ben Pedersen) opens his Christmas gift while little brother Randy (Aidan Crane) watches with anticipation.
Ralphie (Ben Pedersen) opens his Christmas gift while little brother Randy (Aidan Crane) watches with anticipation.
The musical brings to life memories of a man’s childhood in Indiana in the 1940s. The man’s younger self is Ralphie, 9, a boy who wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. We meet his younger brother and mother and father, his elementary school teacher, his friends, and the two bullies who torment him. The play is like a sweet valentine to growing up and learning important life lessons while being protected by two loving parents. The show’s humor is gentle, derived from Ralphie’s perception of the world, and his strategies to attain the coveted BB gun. Some of the humor comes from memories of his father’s quirks, and the prize his father won after winning a crossword puzzle contest.
This production showcases the talented children who are learning theatre arts at the Media Theatre. The role of Ralphie is double cast, as are all the featured children’s roles. On opening night, Ben Pedersen wowed the crowd with a winsome performance as Ralphie. Backed by the ensemble, his performance in “Ralphie To The Rescue” was particularly amazing. Tim Woodward shares this role.The role of Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, was well played by Aidan Crane on opening night. I loved his work in the snowsuit scene! Jacob Shapiro shares this role.
There is also a talented ensemble of children who play Ralphie’s friends and enemies. All had to act, sing and dance, and they did a fine job, delighting the opening night audience.
Media Theatre has assembled a stellar cast of area favorites to play the adults in the show. Kelly Briggs is wonderful as narrator Jean Shepard, who tells Ralphie’s story with wry affection. Jennie Eisenhower plays the role of Mom with warmth, humor and strength. Her song “What a Mother Does” is sung with tenderness and love. Patrick Ludt makes Ralphie’s father, The Old Man, quirky, funny and endearing. Krissy Fraelich shines as teacher Miss Shields; her performance of “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” is the highlight of the show.
The adult ensemble includes Julianna Babb, Dante Brattelli, Glenn Britton, Nicole Calabrese, Larissa Culbertson, JP Dunphy, Nate Golden, Alicia Jayne Kelly, Topher Layton, Mark Marano, Kimberly Maxson, Hillary Parker, Amanda Shaffern, and JD Triolo.
The costumes by Jennifer Povish are well-done and period appropriate. Kyle Brylczyk’s set nicely transforms to accommodate the show’s many locations. Ralphie’s house is detailed and even includes an old-style refrigerator in the kitchen. Ryan Gibbs lighting nicely renders the realistic and fantasy scenes of Ralphie’s childhood.The performers are backed by a live orchestra under the direction of Christopher Ertelt.

Kudos to director/choreographer Dann Dunn, who keeps the show moving at a crisp pace, and gets heartfelt performances from his talented cast. The scenes flow fluidly, with impressive fantasy dance sequences interspersed between them. It’s no easy task to keep a show moving so seamlessly, especially a show filled with so many scene changes and a large cast of children.
If you need a good dose of Christmas spirit, I definitely recommend this production!
If you go: Each role in the youth cast is double cast; if you want to see a certain performer, be sure to call the theatre to ask when they are performing. Schwartz is played by Zachary Divito and Sean O’ Neill; Josh Atkinson and Josiah Jacoby play Flick. Scut is Jared Brito and Andrew Rubin, with Grover being performed by Aidan Brito and Carter Weiss. The youth ensemble who play the school students is made up of Caileigh Crane, Rebecca Hunchak, Jolie Jaffe, Alexsa McKeown, Rachael McVey, Kate Nadauld, Kennedy Ndiaye, Kristianna Ranalli, Noah Scher, Brynn Washbourne, and Violet Wiley.
Performances continue through Jan. 8, call The Media Theatre at 610-891-0100 or visit mediatheatre.org for reservations. Gift cards are also available.

People’s 13th annual Panto is a ‘Beauty’

By Ellen Wilson DilksNow in their 42nd season, Malvern’s People’s Light & Theatre Company kicks off the holiday season with their 13th annual “Panto.” A centuries old tradition in England, PLTC took a chance on bringing this bit of whimsical entertainment to American audiences over a decade ago. The risk has paid off. Running on the troupe’s Leonard C. Haas Mainstage from now until Jan. 15, 2017 is SLEEPING BEAUTY~A MUSICAL PANTO. Written by Pete Pryor and Samantha Reading, the production features original music and lyrics by Alex Bechtel. It is silly fun for all ages.

Mark Lazar as the Dame in People’s Light & Theatre Co.’s annual panto.
Mark Lazar as the Dame in People’s Light & Theatre Co.’s annual panto. Photo by Mark Garvin
Pantos use a well-known story as the jumping off point for the merriment and mayhem. Charles Perrault wrote the story of Sleeping Beauty (a princess who is cursed by an evil fairy) in the late 1600s. It was then adapted by The Brothers Grimm to the version today’s audiences/readers are most familiar with. The earliest known permutation of the story is Perceforest, which is very dark and tragic; it was composed between 1330 and 1344, and first printed in 1528. Perrault’s fairy tale was written in two parts. Some folklorists believe that the two parts were originally separate tales, as they were in the Grimms’. They were subsequently joined together by Basile and once more by Perrault.

The action of PLTC’s SLEEPING BEAUTY takes place in “Paoli Shoals,” and things have been a little rough. Paoli Shoals was once prosperous due to its music industry, which now lies in ruins. Its desperate King (now living in the local Ogre’s hovel) has banned all record players to protect his daughter from an enchanted needle and the curse of the wicked Chanteuse B. Wit (Boo! Hiss!). The action starts on the dawn of Princess Aurora’s 16th birthday (when the curse will supposedly be over). As the day progresses, everything changes: the Moon falls out of the sky—with a young star chasing after it, Aurora finds out she’s a princess, and Chanteuse tracks her down. But, thanks to the Dame and some unique critters, soon the kingdom is rocking—and rolling—again.

Pantos have been an English tradition since the 18th century, and they have certain traditions (which People’s has brought across the pond). There is always the aforementioned “Dame”—a raucous and helpful matriarch played by a man in drag; add an evil villain the audience is encouraged to boo, a hero or heroine, “skin” roles: critters who help the hero, and a “messy bit” that involves something wet, gooey or slippery—or all of those things. There is also lots of music, candy and audience participation.

Associate Artistic Director Pete Pryor directs the fun (his eighth time). Pryor is a master comedic talent and he brings it to the table for the Pantos. He has a light touch, giving the actors room to have fun and improv with each audience. Yet he makes sure the action never lags, there is always something fun for viewers to look at and hear. As usual, he’s assembled a top-notch cast—a mix of regulars who gleefully return to Pantoland season after season and some marvelously talented “newbies” who join in the fun.

The regulars include three company members who have appeared in every single Panto. The first two are audience favorites Susan McKey (having a blast as the redneck “Aunt Tikki”) and the always hilarious Tom Teti as the “King”—both of whom have terrific voices and add to every number they’re in. Then there’s the effervescent Mark Lazar as Dame “Mama C.” Lazar has been PLTC’s resident “Dame” for over a decade now. In addition to rocking out some terrific ensembles, this season Lazar wows us with his skills as a drummer as well. (And, yes, the Dame’s bosom is even bigger than last year, if you can imagine it!). Frequent guest artist Kim Carson is relishing the role of the evil “Chanteuse B. Wit.” Channeling a bit of Mick Jagger, as well as a dash of Gilda Radner’s Candy Slice character, Ms. Carson chews the scenery as she belts out some impressive rock vocals. Her physical comedy bits are a hoot too. Tabitha Allen, Luke Brahdt and Josh Totora return after previously being part of Cinderella and The Three Musketeers—and all three seem to love being back in Pantoland. Ms. Allen is a joy to watch as the loopy fallen “Moon”—a natural comedienne; as “Boy” and “Sam Slug” respectively, Brahdt and Totora add joy to their scenes, as well as great vocals. Totora is also a heck of a guitar player! Previously seen in Pride & Prejudice at People’s, guest artist Brendan Norton brings a bit of Jimi Hendrix to his role of “Mudbug.” He’s also an accomplished musician, playing guitar and banjo for several numbers.

A number of ensemble members are making their PLTC debuts with SLEEPING BEAUTY~A MUSICAL PANTO. And they’ve jumped right into the spirit of things…. Emily Kaye Lynn rounds out the trio of “skin” characters as “Kerri Crane.” She definitely holds her own with the two fellows, and plays a mean guitar. Young Abigail Brown is delightful as “Star.” She enchants the audience and displays terrific dance/acrobatic skills. Hannah Van Sciver is another great addition to the Panto family. She displays great versatility as both the “Ogre” and the “Sun.” Not to mention she has a powerful singing voice.

Finally, there is newcomer Ariana Sepúlveda as “Princess Aurora.” A recent graduate of the University of the Arts, Ms. Sepúlveda is absolutely adorable as the nerdy science girl who has no idea she’s royal—and is appalled when she finds out. In addition to a lovely singing voice, she brings great energy to the role.

The production values on display are topnotch, as always. It always amazes me how they manage to create a full-scale musical in just under a year! The book by Pryor and Reading is clever and witty, while Bechtel’s music and lyrics is quite catchy. Pianist/Music Director Thomas Fosnocht III and drummer Kanako Omae Neale provide terrific accompaniment. There’s something for everybody: blues, rock, pop, even a little gospel. I found myself dancing in my seat a number of times. Roman Tatarowicz is a new set designer to People’s. His scenic world is perfect for the actors to play on and makes Paoli Shoals an interesting place to be. Returning designer Paul Hackenmueller has lit the action with just the right mix of whimsy and magic and the inventive costumes by Nikki Delhomme are a feast for the eyes. Lucas Findlay created additional sound effects, putting nice “buttons” on several bits.

Actually, the very first fully mounted Panto production the Company staged was SLEEPING BEAUTY: A COMIC PANTO IN THE BRITISH STYLE in 2004. This year’s version is a completely new comedic gem, with a definite American spin to it. People’s has embraced the form and made their own mark on Pantos. There will be a number of matinees throughout the holiday season, so plenty of opportunities to take the family. The show is a fast-paced two hours and people of all ages will have a blast. The theatre is also offering a “relaxed” performance on Jan. 15 at 2pm, which is “sensory friendly” for individuals with a range of learning and communication issues. There will also be ASL sign language interpreters at that performance. For full details, visit www.peopleslight.org.

SLEEPING BEAUTY~A MUSICAL PANTO runs now through Jan. 15, 2017 at 39 Conestoga Road (Route 401) in Malvern, PA 19355. To make reservations and /or get further information, either call the Box Office @610-644-3500 or log on to the theatre’s website listed above.

Pleasant memories of John Denver on ‘The Road’ at People’s Light

By Margie Royal

While People’s Light & Theatre’s annual holiday panto is drawing crowds at their bigger Leonard C. Haas stage, John Denver fans will likely pack the smaller Steinbright Stage to see the regional premiere of “The Road: My Life with John Denver” by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman through Jan. 15. If you saw People’s excellent production of “Ring of Fire: the music of Johnny Cash” earlier this year, “The Road” attempts to cover the same ground: to give a lively musical retrospective of a recent singer/songwriter’s career.

But whereas “Ring of Fire” used a whole ensemble to create poignant and high-powered glimpses into Cash’s life through the songs Cash penned or chose to perform, “The Road” uses just a cast of two and doesn’t soley focus on John Denver’s life. Instead, it gives a sketchy overview of Denver’s life — and of Dan Wheetman’s life. Show co-creator Wheetman toured for eight years as a member of Denver’s band. The show uses many of John Denver’s songs to focus on the toll that being on the road took on both men’s lives. Their lives had several parallels: early marriage followed by fatherhood, and constant touring — which soured both men’s marriages.

Wheetman admits at the show’s end that he worked with Denver, but wasn’t particularly a close friend. “The Road” reflects that: it doesn’t give any deep insight into what made Denver tick (other than a deep love for music), or ponder what Denver may have learned from his life’s journey. Instead, “The Road,” is an amiable compilation of Denver’s major songs, and of Wheetman’s reactions to meeting Denver and rememberances of touring with Denver’s band.

It’s a pleasant show, well-performed by Katie Deal and David Lutken. Lutken wowed audiences in “The Ring” with his energy and multi-instrumental talents. Here, he does the same, creating a portrait of Wheetman as a likeable and humble man whose life was shaped and heightened by his love for music. Ms. Deal and Lutken have a nice stage chemistry, and their voices blend well together. Ms. Deal at times plays Wheetman’s wife, and at times, Denver’s first wife, Annie. She captures the love, and later lonliness and pain both women must have felt while their husbands spent so much time away from home on tour.
The show includes many John Denver hits, some of which I haven’t heard in years. Mixed in are some (at least to me) lesser known country songs. If you go, expect to be asked to sing along. If you go wanting to get a deep insight into Denver’s life and music, you’ll be a bit disappointed. But, under Randal Myler’s direction, Deal and Lutken work hard to keep the audience engaged and the evening light and cheerful. The Denver hits “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Leaving On a Jet Plane,” are sure crowd-pleasers.
James Pyne Jr.’s coffeehouse set, adorned with John Denver posters, is a perfect setting for the show. Lily Fossner’s lighting design is well-done; I particularly liked the spotlighting of a Denver poster on the coffeehouse wall during one song transition.
Sam Sherwood, also seen in “The Ring of Fire”, takes over for Lutken from Dec. 20 through the end of the run.

If you attend the Thursday, Dec. 15 show, you can join a hootenanny following the performance. Bring your instrument and jam with the cast following the 7:30 p.m. performance.

For complete ticket information, visit peopleslight.org/production/TheRoad.
People’s Light is at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern.

Starting the New Year with a warm look backward in PCS’s fine revival of ‘Enter Laughing’

By Margie Royal
“Enter Laughing” by Joseph Stein, is a 1963 stage comedy, later filmed, based on Carl Reiner’s memories as a Brooklyn youth who wants to be an actor. Reiner had a long career as an actor, director, producer, and writer. He was the creator, producer, writer, and actor in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in the 1960s, and his other huge hit was as a film director and writer, working with Steve Martin on the 1979 film, “The Jerk.”

“Enter Laughing” tells his story of growing up in Depression-era Brooklyn as a Jewish youth working as a delivery boy for a man who repaired sewing machines. In the play, Reiner’s story is told through the character of David Kolowitz, (wonderfully played by Mike Sokolowski). David is stuck working in Mr. Foreman’s machine shop, but entertains his buddy, Marvin, (nicely played by DJ Gleason) with comic impressions during lunch breaks. When an audition notice appears in the newspaper, David tells Marvin he’s going to try acting, even though he knows nothing about it.
David’s mother (Leslie Norton) wants him to be pharmacist, and his father (Michael Tamin Yurcaba) agrees, although it’s mainly because he knows if he doesn’t agree with his wife, there will be no peace in the house. Yurcaba and Norton mine the comedy in their scenes as overly protective Jewish parents who genuinely want the best for their son.
Wanda, (sweetly played by Blake Eckert) is David’s girlfriend, although he is also very interested in Miss B (Emily-Grace Murray), who he meets during his delivery schedule. Miss B and her date for the evening, Roger, (Ryan Henzes), will unexpectedly come to David’s rescue in a very funny scene later in the play.
David’s audition is attended by other wanna-be actors (Connor Behm and Adam Young, who make the most of their cameo roles). Marlowe, an actor with a less than successful career who tends to drink a bit too much, and his daughter, Angela, are holding the auditions. Joe Tranchitella and Elizabeth Hennessey play the father and daughter, and are terrific. The scene when they actually share the stage with wanna-be actors before a live audience is hilarious.

Although the play is billed as a farce, it’s roots in the true story of Reiner’s first attempts at acting keep it from becoming the wild, door-slamming hyper-active style of farce. The play nicely builds to a very funny culmination, but the comedy in “Enter Laughing” derives more from the characters. The Players Club production succeeds because of its very talented multi-generational cast, under the sure direction of Paul Kerrigan. Kerrigan also had to step into the role of Mr. Foreman on opening night and he turns in an excellent performance as the befuddled Mr. Foreman.

Joe Selfridge and Seth Koch are also featured in this fine cast. Bravo to all the performers, and to costume designers Cindy Schneeman, Betsy Berwick and Sarah Gaughan for capturing the look of the 1930s fashions. Set designer Ann Bacharach stages the many locations the play requires by sliding in the Kolowitz kitchen, the machine shop and theatre, then adding set pieces as required. The first act requires 10 scene changes. Be patient as these scenes introduce the people in David’s life and set up the six scenes which steamroll to the play’s conclusion in the second act.
It’s nice to see a comedy at this time of year, and I also enjoyed seeing one that wasn’t a typical pick. “Enter Laughing” takes us back to a less sophisticated time than the world we live in now. I enjoyed the story of young man’s call to the stage, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fine performances from the multi-generational cast that brought these characters to life.

Kudos to Paul Kerrigan for his fine casting choices and direction, and the stellar performance he turned in when unexpectedly called to step into the role of Mr. Foreman. He writes in the playbill director’s notes that staging “Enter Laughing” was “a labor of love.” It shows — go and see this fine revival on stage through Jan. 21.
Showtimes: Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday matinees at 2 PM.
Players Club oF Swarthmore is at 614 Fairview Ave., Swarthmore, Pa. Tickets at www.pcstheater.org.

Spotlight Theatre stages timely drama, ‘Extremites’

By Ellen Wilson Dilks

Spotlight Theatre in Swarthmore continued their current season with a production of William Mastrosimone’s 1981 drama, EXTREMITIES. Directed by Cindy Nagle Walton, performances continue weekends through Feb. 4, at the United Methodist Church of Swarthmore.

Mastrosimone is not a well-known playwright—probably not even in theatrical circles. I have had an anthology of his plays on my bookshelf for a number of years now. EXTREMITIES may be the most widely known of his works due to the film made of it in 1986. The play premiered Off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre in 1981, and ran for 325 performances. Susan Sarandan played the lead role.

EXTREMITIES deals with the very difficult subject of rape/sexual assault. Marjorie is home alone in the farmhouse she shares with two female friends when Raul walks in; we soon learn he has been stalking the ladies and is angry with Marjorie for ignoring him when he approached her as she rode her bike past his work site. Ladies—we all know how that goes. And we have all done our best to ignore men calling out lewd comments as we pass. The interactions between Marjorie and Raul are very explicit and uncomfortable to watch as he starts to force himself on her. Warning: it will definitely trigger anyone who has been attacked in any way.

Soon Marjorie manages to turn the tables on Raul, tying him up and caging him in the home’s fireplace with her bike and its chains. She injures him and is contemplating further revenge when her roommates return home. Terry, a rape victim in her teens, tells Marjorie that she has to let Raul go, there was no rape and she has no injuries, so she’ll be the one going to jail. Keep in mind that in 1981, unless a woman was severely battered many police officers wouldn’t believe them. And the rapist’s attorney was allowed to put the victim’s sexual history on trial. I won’t reveal any more of the plot; I don’t want to give everything away.

Marjorie and Raul dominate the bulk of the first Act, and Jessica Stinson and Stephen Travers work well together. Stinson rarely leaves the stage throughout the performance, and much is demanded of her emotionally. Her performance rang true 90% of the time; the few exceptions I’ll chalk up to opening night jitters. Relax into it. Breathe. Look for ways to vary the anger and upset. I know she’ll grow in this complex role as the run progresses. Travers is exceedingly believably as Raul, capturing the essence of a predator well. My quibble with him was volume. I was a little more than halfway back, house right and there were a number of times I could not hear him. Especially when he was caged in the fireplace.

Andrea Ong does a nice job as Terry. I could tell she’s still somewhat new to the stage, but I see potential. As the third roommate, Patricia (a social worker), Jillian Bosmann offers some nice variety to her portrayal. She spouts the therapy buzzwords well.

Director Walton paces the production well, and the bulk of the blocking is well executed. There is a moment where Raul shoves Marjorie up against a wall and the flat shook considerably. That took me out of the moment. I’d reinforce that wall like crazy for the rest of the run. Also, there were a couple of times when the other two women were in a bad position upstage of Marjorie and completely blocked from view. The action takes place on a lovely set created by Dan Stinson, and nicely lit by Andrew Montemayer. Sound design is by Sherry Carr; she did a good job with sound effects, but some underscoring music would have really amped up the tension. Scenic painting was by Sue Abla; no credit was listed for costuming.

Spotlight must have been extremely prescient when they chose this play. Who knew we would wind up with a sexual predator/serial adulterer holding the highest office in the land? Who knew we would have a Congress foaming at the mouth to strip women of all the rights for which so many fought and died? Since the election, I have heard numerous stories of friends and acquaintances being harassed on the streets, or viciously and obscenely trolled on social media…. It is a frightening time. I had many emotions and thoughts going through my mind as I watched this performance on Inauguration Day—having seen the White House website scrubbed of all references to Women’s issues and those of the LGBTQIA community. Thank you Spotlight for being an agent for discussion. Theatre is meant to start the conversations.

EXTREMITIES remaining performances are at 8pm on Jan. 27 & 28, as well as on Feb. 3 & 4. Tickets are $15 and the theatre is located at 129 Park Avenue in Swarthmore, PA 19081. For directions or to reserve tickets visit http://spotlighttheatrepa.org or call 610- 328- 1079.

 Gear up for a stellar storyboard at Hedgerow Theatre

By Christina Perryman

The Hedgerow Theatre Company is currently staging a unique and interesting storyboard with their second installment of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams, excellently directed by Jared Reed. The show, which includes a brief recap for those who missed the first installment, picks up with the galactic adventures of Arthur Dent (Mark Swift), Ford Prefect (Josh Portera), Trillian (Allison Bloechl) and Zaphod Beeblebrox (David Titus). Arthur Dent has just learned that the entire planet Earth was really masterminded by mice. The great computer Deep Thought, after millions of years, was able to answer “life, the galaxy and everything else,” however, the actual question remained elusive. Earth was part of a project to find the question but before the program could finish, Earth was destroyed to make way for hyperspace bypass. The mice believe the key lies with Arthur Dent and Trillian, the only humans to survive. (The answer, by the way, is 42.) The four friends are buffered back and forth, through time and space, in their quest for the question.

The plot was a little hard to follow since I’m not familiar with “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” and some of the terminology was technical sounding, however, the show had energy, lots of comedy and fantastic actors. The storyboard reading was enjoyable, like sitting at a radio studio and watching a live recording. Most of the action was depicted on a screen behind the actors through the creative, original art designs of Phoebe Titus.

The actors relied heavily on vocal and facial expression, with great success. Each character was distinct and enjoyable and every actor was expressive. Perhaps my favorite was Marvin, the Paranoid Android, voiced by Portera. Lights and sound, by Leslie Boyden, were great. The music before the show and during intermission was catchy. If you are a fan of the series, you will will enjoy the production, if you’re not familiar, you will still enjoy it. Either way, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Part Two” is on stage at Hedgerow Theatre Company, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, through Jan. 29. All tickets are $20. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Jan. 20 and 27, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturdays, Jan. 21 and 28, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 22 and 29. For tickets or information, call 610-565-4211 or visit www.hedgerotheatre.org. Next up for Hedgerow is “Uncle Vanya,” Feb. 9-March 5.