Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Inventive Christmas Tradition at DE Theatre Co

Delaware Theatre Company's “A Christmas Carol” is a wildly inventive take on the Dicken's classic. The transformation of DTC under ED Bud Martin is moving with Amtrack's Acela type speed (one of their sponsors). There is a whole new inventory of NY trained and experienced actors arriving here at warp speed.
The tech crews have been revamped as well. Aisle Say has seen neither the dramatic lighting nor the creativity of set pieces in this 4 decades old performing arts venue. Credit goes to Chris Lee and Brian Prather respectively.. Lee, for example, has lit over 150 shows on Broadway, London's West End and overseas.
DTC's recent history BB (before Bud) was to attempt to pacify both the budget and the audiences with small casts and unit sets.
While there are only 5 is this cast, all but Scrooge (Andrew Long) played more characters than one could count. Playwright Patrick Barlow solved the dilemma for the audience by simply naming them Actors 1 through 4. (Barlow also wrote Broadways' “39 Steps” which was staged at Philly's Walnut Street Theatre last season).
Huzzah to Director Joe Calarco - winner of 2 Barrymore Awards and 4 Helen Hayes Awards – for keeping the action apace.
3 of the actors play instruments, adding so unequivocally to the gaiety of this message of Christmas humanity. Steve Pacek plays the drum and the flugelhorn; Tina Stafford the accordion - of all things! (I was waiting for the Dickensian take on “Lady of Spain” but it didn't happen); and Jessie Shelton (making her professional debut after graduating from Carnegie Mellon only last year), the violin.
While there was no choreography per se, the paced movement of the actors – and their costume changes – was reminiscent of the UD's REP Ensemble presentation of “Our Country's Good” last year. It was as fluid as the Brandywine Creek being diverted into the millrace and then back again to the creek. You thought you saw a change, but then again it was so sinuous you weren't quite sure.
It's the small things, the devilish details that this whole new era of DTC is about. Tiny Tim is a wooden puppet. It would have been easy to buy one from a theatrical house and train his Dad, Bob Cratchit, how to mobilize that woodeny character. DTC went to one Thomas Getchell, a puppet designer who recently graduated from U of Connecticut's Puppetry Program. He designed and built Tiny Tim expressly for DTC.
Forever imprinted in my Christmas movie mind vault is Scottish actor Alistar Sims' portrayal of Scrooge in the black and white version of 1951. Scrooge awakes realizing he is still alive and the night's torment was only a dream. To call him positively giddy is to say that Rodney Dangerfield was 'somewhat' funny. Sims is deranged, beside himself and we love it. He opens the window and sees the boy passing by. He screams, he cavorts, he implores the boy to go buy the turkey to give to the Cratchits. I am not saying that Andrew Long would replace my image of Alistar Sims..but he was close.
This is a show for the entire family.
It was good to see that in DTC's program was an insert for New Candlelight Theatre, opening with “The Producers' on 25 January. Theatres helping other theatres is a good thing.
Through December 30. 302.594.1100

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bat Boy: The Musical - Hysterically Horrifying

Murder, mayhem and misogyny...passion, perfidy and pathos...fantasy, fraud and pheromones. And that's just in the first act of City Theatre Company's “Bat Boy: The Musical” !!!
This group has worked off of miniscule budgets that tumbled off the fiscal cliff after the first show decades ago. Yet they continue to scale what would be insurmountable precipices for most acting companies.
This merry band of mavericks are the theatrical equivalent to those adrenalin junkies who scale mountains with neither crampons nor belaying ropes. The only equipment they bring is chalk dust and nerve.
Of the words gracing the first line of this missive, perhaps only Pheromone” is foreign. Pheromones are chemicals capable of acting outside the body of the secreting individual to impact the behavior of the receiving individual. Pivotal to this frankensteinian plot is the claim that the party of the first part, “the secreting individual” - (a common household bat) impacted the party of the second part – (the fertile mother Meredith, played by Dana Michael), resulting in the not-so-blessed event of Bat Boy ((Brendan Sheehan).
Director Michael Gray consistently uses every square inch of the black box of Opera Delaware Studios, this time even foraging for air space.
Bat Boy first appears peering over a crib, the identifiable ears a dead giveaway. He learns to speak from his adoptive family, yearns for acceptance and tries to join society, only to face hatred and violence from a town that fears him and jealous rage from his foster father.
The book deals with serious themes (such as hypocrisy, acceptance, forgiveness, racism, revenge and scapegoating), but often punctures the most serious moments with slapstick, surrealism, camp-horror and irony. The show also contains religious themes. Act II begins with a religious revival tent meeting featuring a faith healer (Steven Weatherman channeling his most vociferous Elmer Gantry). It's not so ironic that the town is named Hope Falls.
No other theatre company in Delaware could do justice to this stirring and evocative show. The songs are great; the singing equals the songs. Sheehan has a beautiful arching voice and we pity him as his plaintive calls for love and understanding go unanswered.
Many of the actors have duel roles. Adam Wahlberg plays Daisy, a woman – or is she a transvestite? (Director Gray is known for swapping genders with the same alacrity as our Congressmen trade insults). Wahlburg's show stopper is as Pan. Hold it. I didn't tell you there was a satyr in the story? Well, you'll just have to see it. And, you should.
This production is not for the faint of heart. In Act II we recreate the birth of Bat Boy. I was not the only audience member thunderstruck. Do horrifying and hysterical belong in the same sentence?
A great backstage band conducted by Joe Trainor.
Through December 15.