Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Sylvia" a HOWL at DE Theatre Co

Man's love of his four footed pooch knows no boundaries, at least in the mind of renown playwright A. R. Gurney. Greg (Kurt Zischke) and wife Kate (Hollis McCarthy) are empty nesters. Greg is suffering through an insufferable mid-life crisis. He encounters a stray dog Sylvia (Maggie Lakis) in the park and the bond the two acquire is a Gordian knot that the pragmatic Kate cannot sever.
It's a comedy that explains in human terms just what and how your dog would be responding to you if the mutt could do more than whimper and bark and lick and growl. In the first act, when Greg brings Sylvia to the NYC apartment, he asks her, “Did you just pee on the rug?” Sylvia says, “Greg, I won't dignify that with an answer!”
Greg is totally mesmerized by this cuddly lap dog and sighs, “Oh, Sylvia, I would just love to know about your former owner.” Replies a droll Sylvia, “Oh, come on, all present owners want to know that!”
Exclaimed an animated Delaware Theatre patron at intermission, “Yes, that's exactly what (insert name of his dog) would say to me. I know it!. My dog is just like Sylvia!”
Director David Stradley keeps action and movement at a pretty pace. Employing a unit set, he and Lighting Designer Shelley Hicklin devise a creative way to change scenes through the apartment windows.
Lakis plays a cuddly and charismatic canine. We have no reason to believe she is anything but a dog. Her physical action; cavorting around the apartment, lifting her leg between the legs of an embarrassed guest, scratching, etc, was just enough to give us the impression of doggie behavior.
At times we thought Zischke's Greg so shallow and excruciatingly self centered. Choosing a dog over his wife? At other times we heard him as as The Everyman of mid life depression. Zischke reached down in his soul and got through to us.
Aisle Say hoped that McCarthy's Kate would simply go off the deep end and grab and shake her husband. Gurney did not write it that way. Through her eyes we saw her rage and her pain and perhaps that was sufficient.
The comic award goes to multi-talented and cross-dressed David Jadico. Aisle Say has previously enjoyed his mayhem in Philadelphia theatre. Playing three roles, his scene as Phyllis boosted the energy of Act I. One could not take their eyes off his over the top drag queen mannerisms.
The actors are better than the script. The play was disjunctive, the playwright stuffing incongruous bits of dialogue that did not progress the action. Why the Cole Porter tune sung as a threesome? Why the Shakespearean tidbits from Kate said directly to the audience? (The only time in the production where the fourth veil was pierced). And even Stevie Wonder could see the final resolution coming a mile away...and it was too doggoned schmaltzy.
“Sylvia” was a promising beginning to DTC's 32nd season. The production was done several years ago. It's finally time to consider euthanasia. Next up is “Around the World in 80 Days”.
Through November 7. 302.594.1100.

NOISES OFF at Cab Calloway
Coming on the heels of one of Cab Calloway's teachers being named DE Teacher of the Year, Cab's theatre-minded students are staging what is arguably the funniest farce ever written, “Noises Off”. An ambitious director and his troupe of exceedingly mediocre players are rehearsing a titanic flop entitled “Nothing's On”. The actors forget lines, hysterically forget their characters and prat fall all over the place. There are too many slamming doors to count. In fact, when Aisle Say visited a rehearsal this week, 9 doors were counted in this gargantuan set designed and built by undeniably the most energetic and overworked tech department of any high school in the state.
Running Thursday, Friday and Saturday November 4-6 @ 7pm. Tickets at $10.00.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

OperaDelaware's "La Traviata" and Phila's 1812 Productions.

From the characters and plot of Puccini's 1896 'La Boheme' came Jonathan Larson's revolutionary rock opera 'Rent'. Julia Roberts' landmark film, 'Pretty Woman', is based loosely on Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata”, to be performed Nov. 7 at 2 pm and Nov. 12 & 13 at 7:30 pm at The Grand.
Making her OperaDelaware debut as Violetta, the prostitute with a heart of gold, is soprano Colleen Daly of Columbia, Md., a graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts. Daly had performed at OperaDelaware’s Studio Series on the Riverfront and Executive Director Lee Kimball enthused, “We heard her voice firsthand in our Studio Series and immediately hired for the main stage opera.”
The opera is a poignant love story drawn from an autobiographical novel by Alexander Dumas about a young man from the country (Alfredo) who falls passionately in love with (this is opera, and passion is historically the main motivator of action) a glamorous Parisian courtesan (Violetta). Against her better instincts, she succumbs to his advances and leaves the glittering Parisian demi-monde to live with him in a secluded country villa.  Their idyllic life is threatened when Alfredo’s father arrives to demand that Violetta leave his son to protect the family honor. Violetta agrees and returns to Paris, where her life falls apart when she contracts tuberculosis. Alfredo returns to care for her, but their reunion is brief and the opera ends tragically. (It didn't end this way with Richard Gere).
Verdi wrote “La Traviata” ( “The Fallen Woman”) at the height of his powers in 1853, and some consider it his most beautiful opera.  Numerous divas have considered it a signature role, most notably Maria Callas. 
Joining Ms. Daly in the production will be tenor Alok Kumar (Alfredo) of Somerville, Mass., who has sung with Santa Fe Opera, Austin Lyric Opera and the Spoleto Festival in Italy.
Kimball, a veritable umo universale of opera – and one of the state's great advocates for the performing arts - normally stage directs. With this production he will be designing the set.
A free lecture will be presented one hour before each performance.  
'La Traviata' will be presented in Italian with instant projected translations in English, call 800-37-GRAND, or go to  Student rush tickets at $10 are available one half hour before each performance.

1812 Productions – Philadelphia – Plays and Players Theatre 1714 Delancey St
'Why I'm Scared of Dance' – one woman show written and acted and 'danced' by Jen Childs
“Those who can't do”, cries Jen Childs, “mock!” As a child Jen played the flute, but she always dreamed of 'the dance'. Her female cousins were very good dancers, both being long, limber and lithe. Jen was tres short and a bit wide around the buttocks.
Poor Jen's physical characteristics mitigated against a career on pointe. She found her calling in comedy. In this 70 minute tour de force, she mocks not only her stuck up, snotty cousins but herself as well. While 'the dance' is the driver in this original production, the title is a metaphor for anyone who has aspired to greatness in a field where greatness was never to be.
Childs studied with several Philadelphia dancers and choreographers who work in a potpourri of styles. She took to the studio to study basic ballet, hip hop, Broadway jazz, modern and finally improvisational dance. “Each”, she states, “have a special place in my story and a different type of fear connected with them.”
She gamely attempts all of them, but Aisle Say suggests most emphatically she hang up her ballet shoes for good after the run of the show. Of course it was all in fun, 1812 Productions being a strictly comedy house, but Childs displayed most precision with hip hop. At the end of the day, it's not the fear that's extraordinary, it's what you do about it.
Through October 31. 215.592.9560

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Importance of Earnest" at UD REP

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is Oscar Wilde's most popular oeuvre and one of the most brilliant comedies in the English language. Wilde enjoyed satirizing late Victorian (1894) morals, manners and society; accomplished most notably in the glittering (and withering) aphorisms of Lady Bracknell. ( "Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die." )
He also relished the conceit of switched identities. The play's two protagonists, Jack Worthing (Cameron Knight) and Algernon (Andrew Goldwasser) engage in "bunburying" (the maintenance of alternate personas in the town and country) which allows them to escape Victorian social mores.
This being the fourth year of the existing MFA class, Artistic Director Sandy Robbins has integrated the students with the professionals of the REP Ensemble. Of all the productions witnessed by Aisle Say over the past 2 ½ years, “Earnest” was not particularly well cast and did not play to the strengths of the collective ensemble.
Goldwasser lacked the air of upper crust, the insouciant demeanor of the landed gentry and one born with a platinum spoon affixed firmly in mouth. Knight, on the other hand, projects an irrepressible glee in the service of his character. "Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?" Knight's movements and diction is superb, the latter aided in part by Director Steve Tague, himself a member of the REP and company diction and vocal coach.
Sandy Robbins eschews type casting his troupe. That is why last season's Maggie (The Cat on the Hot Tin Roof) is Lady Bracknell (Elizabeth Heflin). Wilde, through Bracknell, serves up some of the most clever opprobriums in English literature. Heflin did not maximize the opportunity.
Gwendolyn Fairfax (Caroline Crocker) and Cecily Cardew (Meaghan Sullivan), women who wish very much to be wedded to a man – any man – with the respectable name of Ernest.
For both women, appearances and style are important. Gwendolen must have the perfect proposal performed in the correct manner and must marry a man named Ernest simply because of the name's connotations. She believes in appearances, upper-class snobbery, correct behavior, and the ability to discuss, ad nauseam, the trivial. As such, Crocker can deliver a laugh line.
Cecily projects a woman a bit more sheltered than Gwendolyn and her character comes across as a naif. Both women are excellent and their interpretations make it clear they possess the common sense their suitors lack.
Two of the stars of the production are costumes and sets. Costume designer C. David Russell's achievements are simply spectacular. He puts Lady Bracknell in sumptuous overstuffed gowns suitable to her overstuffed personality. Aisle Say was reminded of The Queen of Hearts from “Alice In Wonderland”. Russell's choice of colors, his avid research to the Victorian period, his selection of gowns and suits is wondrous.
Paul Wonsek, Scenic and Lighting Designer deserves huzzahs commensurate with Russell. One could almost smell the lilacs in the lush country garden design.
Throughout REP's two years of existence, there has always been microscopic attention to detail with both sets and costumes. Sandy Robbins knows these intangibles are 'actors' as well.
Aisle Say suggests fiercely a season subscription to REP is a great value! It's unquestionably the best theatre in the state and the University should lobby to become part of the Philadelphia based Barrymore Awards.
Through November 6. 831.2204

Addenda: This the 5th month of no performing arts reviewer from the state's only daily newspaper. How can we be defined as a “World Class Destination” with no full – or even part time - theatre critic?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

As a child, Aisle Say admits to an addiction to Classics Illustrated comics. Composer Frank Wildhorn must have a similar predilection. He has written music for pop musicals entitled “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, “Cyrano de Bergerac” and most notably (and successfully) “Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical”.
Adapted from a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, the musical speaks to the duality in us all; the fine line between good and evil.
Fair haired Dr. Jekyll seeks to discover in his laboratory the nature of the demons that possess man's soul and engender mental illness. The action is of the European Grand Guignol. While there is no blood on stage, Hyde's Mephostophelian side provides abundant mayhem. This show actually makes one think about one's moral center. Jekyll is warned by his friends about his experiments. He responds, “If all I thought about was the consequences, I would never accomplish anything.”
The three leads were outstanding; most assuredly Broadway quality talent. They are privileged to sing 4 certified show-stoppers: “This Is The Moment”, “Someone Like You”, “Once Upon A Dream” and “A New Life”.
In her opening duet with Jekyll (Patrick Ludt), Emma's (Elisa Matthews) soprano embraces the men in the audience as all men dream. I sat in my seat and sighed, 'bring it on, honey' and immediately coursed my program to see when she would be singing again (to me and me only of course). Hers is not only a crystal clear instument but sensuous and evocative.
Lucy (Trisha Jeffrey) debuted the role of the English prostitute at Media 8 years ago and went on to Broadway's “Rent”, among others. Reprising this character now only added to the maturity and naturalness with which she portrays a girl whose alternatives in life are slim. Jeffrey has the pipes to vibrate the theatre's chandelier, but the gift that makes her a great actress is the ability to sing the lyrics so the audience can understand them. She has astute breath control, adding emphasis to a word for dramatic effect.
Both Patrick Ludt's body and voice take a beating in this extremely challenging portrayal. Initially I thought his opening number should be more intense, but his almost sweet lyricism set the stage for the other malevolent side to come. In one of the final scenes, Ludt stands in front of a mirror and with each sentence changes from one character to the next. This is no small feat, for the voices of the two are markedly different; baritone tenor vs. guttural bass.
The ensemble cast was energetic and spirited. The costuming was uneven; mostly period appropriate but other times the garb seemed out of the '50's (the 1950's). Utterson's hat looked like something my father wore at DuPont Company. Choreography was under the direction of Alisa Stamps. The gesticulating fists of “Murder, Murder” seemed to me more reminiscent of the orphans of 'Hard Knock Life' from “Annie” than a clarion call of murder on the back streets of London.
The six member band under Music Director Tom Fosnocht provides more than enough sound to the spacious venue.
The town of Media has a wonderful turn of the century feel, replete with a trolley down Main Street. Many of the restaurants provide discounts for theatre goers.
Til October 31. 610.891.0100